Thursday, January 17, 2019

EmmDev 2019-01-17 [Sermon on the Mount] Legalism? (Part 2)


Legalism? (Part 2)

Yesterday we saw how the crowd must have, at first, been depressed when Jesus started talking about the Law saying "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets..."

They would have said to themselves: "Here we go... another lecture on how bad we are..." So, I can only imagine their delight when the finger-pointers (the Pharisees) were also indicted. If I were in the crowd that day, I would have leaned in to what Jesus was saying, just because He was indicating very clearly that the finger-pointers weren't any better than me.

What comes next would be depressing if we don't take to heart what we referred to yesterday: Jesus is changing the landscape completely: The Law is not external, but internal.

And so Jesus offers us some examples:

  1. The physical act of murder (not manslaughter or self-defence) starts when we store up hatred in our hearts. The word "Raca" was Aramaic and it was dismissive and contemptuous in the extreme (It could roughly be translated as "Empty head".) We can witness a murder and indict the murderer, but only the individual can curate the attitudes of hatred in our own hearts. Law is internal.
  2. When we are standing in front of the altar to make an offering, our gift is worthless if we have broken relationships in our lives. Loving God means caring about what God cares about and God cares about people. The tithe or offering that we bring is merely a symbol of our love, respect and worship - but the real gift we give is ourselves and if we are not in good relationship with those God cares about, then this needs fixing.
  3. Jesus third example seems out of place: He urged the crowd to settle with someone who was taking them to court, otherwise they would end up in prison. At first glance this looks like we're back to the old "big stick" interpretation of the Law - "do right or get zapped". When we reflect on it though, Jesus is still saying the same thing: "If you're on the way to court, then there has already been a string of conflicts. If you let conflict fester, it will drag you on a path that ends up in the courts where no one really wins.
  4. Adultery doesn't begin with the physical act, but with unchecked desires and a dissatisfaction with self and others that causes us to treat precious people as sources of satisfaction rather than individuals to be treasured.

When it comes to Jesus, His approach to the Law is always "inside out". He's much more concerned about what goes on inside us.

Pay careful and prayerful attention to some of your inside attitudes today...

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25 "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny
27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.      (Matthew5:21-28)


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

EmmDev 2019-01-16 [Sermon on the Mount] Legalism? (Part 1)


Legalism? (Part 1)

Legalism, Grace and Hypocrisy are hot potatoes for believers and also for those who are sceptical of Christianity. (Or should that be skeptical?)

Jesus teaches us three important things in this passage:

  1. To the crowds (considered the "unwashed masses" by the Pharisees) Jesus would emphasise the Law. Initially this might have sounded depressing to the crowds because the Pharisees made a big and complicated show of observing laws and by-laws and for the average wage-earning hand-to-mouth crowd this was unattainable.
    But, as we will see tomorrow, Jesus moves Law from external to internal and this gives us a hint at the real issue. The Law is not a set of hoops to jump through, but a revelation of God's purity and righteousness and also His care for us. Jesus made it clear, for example, that we weren't made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for us.

  2. To the crowd's delight, Jesus would point out that the Pharisees, who made an ornate show of law-abiding, were not "making it." For all their arguing, posturing and "majoring on minors", they generated more heat than light. Similarly and sadly, to those on the outside, Christians often seem to be like those who argue over the spelling of s(c/k)eptical!

    The problem with the Pharisees was that the law was external, the Law had become their god (note the small "g") instead of being a signpost to God.

  3. Very often we play Grace and Law off as enemies. We argue that we should avoid legalism, and, if legalism means obeying the law for the sake of the law, then I would agree. But, while grace means that I don't earn righteousness by being law-abiding, grace means that the righteousness that God works inside me through my rebirth and new creation in Jesus, should spill from the "inside" to the "outside". The prophet Jeremiah longed for the day when God's law would be "inside" us - written on our hearts.

We'll take this further tomorrow...

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew5:17-20)


"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)




Tuesday, January 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-01-15 [Sermon on the Mount] Salt and Light


Salt and Light

In New Testament times salt served three main purposes:
- It provided flavour
- It preserved
- It purified

We take light for granted. At night these days we have so much light that the astronomers are talking about light pollution! In New Testament times light was a luxury that was very much appreciated and valued. Imagine the traveller for whom the journey from one town to the next took longer than planned... When it was getting dark, the lights of the city in the distance would be a very welcome sight!

We are called to be salt and light. We need to preserve Christlike values and attitudes and we need to purify ourselves so that what people see in us is attractive and that they can honestly say that life is better (more flavourful) when we are around.

Commentators explain that salt "lost its saltiness" when it was mixed ("diluted") with similar looking gypsum particles in the marketplace, to make a little salt (which was valuable) go a long way. When we "dilute" the influence of Christ in our lives, we lose our saltiness.

Isn't it sad that Christians are often seen as the opposite of the 'spice of life'? Instead of being people who appreciate, love and celebrate life, many Christians are characterised as dull party-poopers and wet-blankets. Our lives should bring hope and fullness to those around us. People's days should be better because of their contact with us. This is what bringing flavour to people's lives is about.

And if we are salty enough, people will become thirsty for Christ who is the Water of Life.

"You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavour, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honour to your Father in heaven.      (Matthew5:13-16)


Friday, January 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-01-10 [Sermon on the Mount] Subversive


Subversive

Jesus is talking to the gathered crowd which is made up of a broad spectrum of society who have started following Him because of the miracles and healings He has been doing.

And He starts with the word: "Makarioi -- Blessed, fortunate, happy."
What do you think of when you think of the word "Blessed"?
What does it mean someone says: "Well! I'm blessed" ?

  • That it's going well.
  • That my family is well.
  • My business is well.
  • My health is good....
So basically... to be blessed is prosperity....

The people of the day would have agreed with you...
They thought that blessedness had to do with financial and material and physical security.
And, put the other way round: If you were healthy, wealthy and secure -- you were blessed by God -- God was with you...
And, if not, then God wasn't with you...

Job's Comforters had the same circumstance-based theology... In their minds, Job's diminishing circumstances proved that he had fallen out of favour with God.

But how did the crowd hear it?
If you looked at the crowds that were there that day -- there would have been many there who felt that that they were not prosperous.
When Jesus starts with the word "blessed are"... they would have expected words like "the holy, the perfect, the successful, the prosperous."
And they would expect to be shut out, once again by the divides of class, wealth, fortune and structure.

But let's look at Jesus unexpected list of the blessed:
- the poor in spirit - those who are dependent
- the mourning - who have suffered loss
- the meek - who have resisted the temptation to go the route of power
- the righteousness-hungry - who long for something better
- the merciful - give kindness where it is not deserved
- the pure - untainted
- the peacemaking - there is always a cost
- the persecuted and insulted ones.

This is incredibly subversive! Jesus is calling the poor, the sick, the downtrodden and the struggling blessed! To be subversive is to overthrow or undermine a government, political or religious system by working from within.
Jesus is dynamiting preconceived ideas and calcified theologies.

What's even more interesting is what He promises them:

  • To the poor - God's Kingdom is Yours;
  • the mourning - God will comfort you;
  • the meek - You will inherit the earth (you will fulfil God's purposes);
  • those who hunger and thirst - your hunger will be filled;
  • those who are merciful - you will receive mercy;
  • the pure in heart - you'll see God;
  • the peace-makers - you'll be recognised as God's children
  • the persecuted ones - you'll be certain of your heavenly citizenship.

So the kingdom of God is inaugurated with these powerful words:
The people who least expect it discover that they are blessed - that God's face is turned toward them!
At the very start of His teaching Jesus makes it clear: He has not come for those who have it all together, but for those who struggle and strain. Blessing has nothing to do with circumstances and everything to do with God's care for those in these tough circumstances.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers,for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.       (Matthew5:3-11)


EmmDev 2019-01-11 [Sermon on the Mount] The Price


The Price

Yesterday we saw how Jesus used the idea of blessing to completely transform people's picture of God.

His next point of emphasis is sobering...
"Blessed are you when people when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."

The other "Blessed" sayings are in the third-person - they are described with "the" and "those": Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those that mourn... but this "blessed" is is in the second person "you" (or, better put, "youse" or "y'all") which makes it more personal. He's applying it directly to those who hear His words. (Preaching is a powerful if not dangerous thing!)

A new picture of God, broken out of the stereotypes of privilege and prosperity, is a cage-rattler. If God is not only the God of the privileged and the prosperous, but especially the God of the poor, the downtrodden, the knocked down and the righteousness-hungry, then it means that those who know and love this God will be found among the the ones He is with - the "least of these".

This is an uncomfortable picture for the comfortable. (Someone once said that Jesus came to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable).

Throughout His ministry Jesus was misrepresented, misjudged and ultimately mistreated by the comfortable. A new picture of God will cause us to behave differently and re-evaluate our value systems. People won't always understand when we leave behind the trappings of comfort and wealth to serve uncomfortably.

When this happens, we need to dwell, not on what is done to us, but on the fact that we're in the company of the prophets and saints that have gone before us.

And ultimately we're in His company too...

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
      (Matthew5:11-12)


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

EmmDev 2019-01-09 [Sermon on the Mount] A Sermon for us...

A Sermon for us...

Greetings and Blessings for the new year!
I hope you had a blessed Christmas and that you will be God-guided and God-strengthened in 2019!

For the next couple of weeks we'll be looking at the Sermon on the Mount. As many of us have spent a bit of time thinking about the new year and how we want to approach it, I am hopeful that Jesus' insights recounted in Matthew 5,6 & 7 will give us great insights.
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Most commentators argue that the "Sermon on the Mount" is actually a compilation of a number of sermons. There was definitely a sermon (if not a few) that took place on the hillside of the Sea of Galilee, but it wasn't all the material we find in ch.6,7,8 (there's just too much material to absorb in one sitting). The understanding is that Matthew collected the core teachings of Jesus and used the context of the Galilee hillside to present them.

The Sermon on the Mount is often described as a masterpiece that showcases Jesus' preaching and teaching. These descriptions create an expectation of poetic beauty and sublime comfort for the original hearers (and for us as readers), but a close reading of these three chapters gives us cause to use different words... like "controversial", "unsettling" and "revolutionary"...

In these "hallowed" chapters, Jesus will tell us:
- that the poor, mourning, and righteousness-hungry are Blessed
- that it is not only murder -- but hating people that is problematic,
- it not just adultery -- but looking,
- that salt that can lose saltiness ("Seems unlikely but tragic"),
- that lights can be put under bushels ("But who would do that?"),
- that we must love our enemies ("And carry their backpacks 2 miles??"),
- that prayers should be short ("Take that you Pharisees!")
- and giving should be done in private ("Really?"
- and more!

There is a subversive note to the Sermon on the Mount (especially in the so-called "Beatitudes" - more on that tomorrow) but for today, I want to highlight two other thoughts...

Firstly, Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount in the context of Jesus' busy time in Galilee. Our reading gives a picture of an itinerant preacher who is actively connecting to and involved in the "knitty gritty" of people's lives: He's teaching in synagogues. He's healing the sick. He's driving out evil spirits. He's travelling from town to town.

The second thought is about Jesus' posture of teaching. He does not stand and preach as we with our 21st century lenses expect... instead He sits down. Sitting down to teach was the habit of the Rabbis at the time. It was a recognised posture indicating authority and calling listeners to pay careful attention.
At the start of a new year there are some beautiful thoughts to glean from this passage:
  1. Jesus' teaching comes out of His deep involvement in our humanity. His preaching is not ivory tower theory, but rooted in the practice of complex and messy life.
  2. Matthew tells us that Jesus taught in the synagogues, but now He takes preaching (and the authority of the Rabbi) to the hillsides of Galilee. His audience is now not only the comfortable synagogue attender, but also those on the roads and pathways of daily life.
  3. People listened to Him. The crowds gathered to hear His teachings and Matthew collected these together at the beginning of his gospel to give us the heart of the 'Kingdom' that Jesus proclaimed. We would do well, especially at the start of the year, to pay attention to these core teachings.
My prayer is that we would walk this year with the One who knows us and finds us where we are... If we pay attention to Him, we'll find peace.


Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them      (Matthew4:23-5:2)


Friday, December 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-07 [Encouragement] The Ultimate Encouragement


The Ultimate Encouragement

Most of you will know the story about the pig and the chicken who walked past the orphanage. "Let's give them breakfast," said the chicken. To which the pig replied, "Well, for you it's a donation, for me it is total commitment!"
When tough circumstances bludgeon us, we have this amazing comfort and encouragement: God did not make a quick donation to our brokenness and need. He made a TOTAL commitment.
No matter what we go through, Christ went further. We will never be more lonely, more hurting, or more suffering than Christ. No matter where we are, Christ is with us because He gave everything for us.
Our victory is not in the absence of trouble, but in the fact that wherever we are, Christ already blazed a trail through.
And the crunch is this: He didn't have to! He chose to.
And now, this God who gave up everything to buy us back when we sold ourselves to sin, also
- gives us the right to be His children,
- fills us with His Holy Spirit
- and prepares a place for us to be with Him in eternity.
If this is this the extent to which God gives Himself for us and if we remember that Christ has already overcome suffering, sin and death for us, we can look trouble in the eye and say:
"Hey trouble! Is that the best you've got?"
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?      (Romans8:31-32)


This brings us to the end of our our series on Encouragement and I pray that it has encouraged you.
This is also the end of the EmmDevs for the year. I will resume in January, but will send you a short five part Christmas reflection early next week.
If you have a moment, I'd really appreciate it if you filled in a brief evaluation of the EmmDevs this year. Just go to https://tinyurl.com/y7oxqztj .
I pray for God's blessing over you and your loved ones over this Christ-mass season and I pray that you may have time to rest, reflect and revive.
God bless and Love,
Theo


Thursday, December 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-06 [Encouragement] Comfort in a VUCA world


Comfort in a VUCA world

Our third encouragement comes to us in a VUCA world. The clever people who coined this phrase say that VUCA stands for: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. (Some have suggested that the V can also stand for Violent.)

There is evidence of this everywhere, in business, politics, relationships and even in the weather!

Volatility and Violence have us living on the edge the whole time. We find ourselves suspicious, fearful and distrustful with the feeling that there is no solid ground to stand on. This leads to Uncertainty that can gnaw at us and suck the marrow out of our backbones while Complexity and Ambiguity exhaust us and overload our brains and common sense gets thrown under the bus!

Jesus described the VUCA world that the early church would be born into. Christians were going to face the resistance of hardcore conservative Judaism and the harsh intolerance of the Roman Empire. He talks about how the disciples will be sheep among wolves, about how brother will turn against brother and the how the Christians will face persecution and violence and how they will need courage to stand up for what is right.

But He ends this description of a VUCA world with an incredibly beautiful picture of God's care for sparrows. In the birding community the acronym LBJ stands for "Little Brown Job" which is the catch-all phrase for those nondescript, unidentifiable, common place birdies that we're barely interested enough in to even identify them. Sparrows were the LBJ's of Palestine.

But Jesus points out that God is interested in them. And God is interested in us to the point that the hairs on our head are numbered.

In a VUCA world God is very aware of what we are going through. We don't always get to go around pain and heartache - sometimes we have to go through it. But God knows the intimate details and He is with us.

The overwhelming sense I get whenever I read this passage is that I am deeply and profoundly loved. I am worth more than many sparrows!

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.      (Matthew10:29-31)


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-05 [Encouragement] In spite of pain


In spite of pain

Our next encouragement from God comes via the prophet Habakkuk who is a contemporary of Jeremiah. His work as a prophet was to write up a dialogue between himself (representing the remnant in Israel) and God. The dialogue is about the reality of suffering and the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

What is significant is that after a thorough exploration of the pain Israel was experiencing and the conundrums this caused, the book ends with the three-verses that were their (and our) encouragement

The reality is that life is not always easy - sometimes the fig-tree does not bud and crops fail. We are not always prosperous and often suffering and loss find their ways into our lives. But the presence of trouble is not a show-stopper for faith - Faith can outlast trouble. Not because faith is strong in itself, but because our faith is in God and God is by nature a Saviour.

Habakkuk was confident that Israel would be saved from exile. He was hopeful that the exile was not the end of the line. He knew that it is God's nature to save.

But Habakkuk also believed that when we have to make the perilous mountain-crossings over trouble and hardship, we can trust God to give us strength and sure-footedness.

I like to use this passage as a call to worship because on any given Sunday there are people in the congregation who have experienced the crop-failures and stable-emptiness of sadness and pain. These verses acknowledge that reality but point toward our saving and strengthening God.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.      (Habbakuk3:17-19)


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-04 [Encouragement] God's encouragement when it's daunting


God's encouragement when it's daunting

As we conclude this series on encouragement, I want to end with four passages that are encouragements from God.
The first encouragement from God is for when we are overwhelmed and daunted by the task ahead...
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God is speaking to Joshua who has to step into Moses' shoes and lead a new generation of Israelites into the Promised Land where a variety of enemies and dangers await.

All of God's instructions to be strong and courageous and to build a just and Godly community are bracketed by God's promise to be with Joshua.Right at the outset God promises Joshua: "As I was with Moses, I will be with you." And after numerous exhortations to Joshua to be strong and courageous, God says: Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

"Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged..."
These two "do nots" need thinking about...

Terror is something that happens in a moment. We experience terror when something unexpected or overwhelming happens. Terror is the emotion that goes with being out of control. It is a moment that pushes rationality into the corner and gets our fight-or-flight endorphins pumping. Terror can cause paralysis, bad decisions and fear-driven behaviour. It swallows trust and hope and in a few moments of terror we can tear down things that took months and years to build. In moments of terror we must think of Jesus asleep in the boat on the stormy sea of Galilee and know and believe that He will calm the storm. (Mark 4:35-41)

Discouragement is a war of attrition. It takes time and is a relentless series of little setbacks, doubts and tough obstacles that tire us physically, deplete us emotionally and diminish our store of faith. Discouragement robs our joy, reduces our rest and fills our mental radar screen with so much noise that we struggle to make sense of the bigger picture. Discouragement is overbearing - it makes us bear too much. We must remember the One who calls us to Him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt.11:28-30)

God promises Joshua that, when life becomes overwhelming or overbearing, he will not be alone.

He promises us the same!

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."      (Joshua1:5-9)