Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meditation: Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

Throughout this year, we will be looking at many of the Spiritual Disciplines; last week, Adam V introduced us to them by examining the discipline of meditation.

photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr
Spiritual Disciplines rarely get talked about among America’s churches. If I asked you name a few, you would probably name praying and reading the Bible, and maybe even fasting; and not that these are unimportant, but that’s usually all we ever hear about.  Disciplines like solitude, service, and simple living get much less airtime, but they can be vitally important. 

What is a spiritual discipline, and does it matter?  They are tools that we have to strengthen our spiritual muscles.  We do not use them to change ourselves by our own strength, but they are indispensible methods of allowing God’s power to transform our lives.  

Meditation, in some ways, opens the door to the other Disciplines, because it teaches us how free our minds from distraction and listen for God’s voice.  Here's Adam V's lesson:

What is Christian Meditation? (And What it is Not?)
  When a lot of people hear the word ‘meditation’, they might think of relaxing and doing nothing. People may say that it helps you get in touch with your inner self or spirit, or helps relieve stress. When I looked up the word ‘meditate’ in the dictionary, it said, “To think deeply”. But we as Christians (when we meditate) are not supposed to just ‘think deeply’; it is about thinking deeply about, to, and on God. Meditation is different from prayer because you aren’t asking for his blessings or confessing your sins. The definition of biblical/Christian meditation is “The ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word.”
  The differences between worldly meditation and that of the Christian variety are this: worldly meditation is an attempt to empty the mind and Christian meditation is an effort to fill the mind; filling the mind with things of God. Those are two very diverse thoughts.

  A common misconception of meditation is that meditating is too hard and too complex. They say it is best left to the professionals. To the contrary, meditation is said to be a natural human action. Something even I can do.

What Prevents Us From Meditating on God?
  Ways that keep us from meditating ourselves are things such as busyness, thinking it is too difficult, being uneducated about it, leaving it to the ‘spiritual giants’, and thinking that it is simply weird.
  Why is Meditation Important?
  Christian meditation is important because… 
·         It reveals who God is.
·         It helps you understand Scripture.
·         It calms you.
·         It brings you closer to God.  
·         God speaks to us through meditation.
Meditating on God reveals who He is and what He has to say to you.  You can’t hear what He has to say if you aren’t listening to Him.
  Meditation connects us to God in ways prayer and reading the Bible does not allow us to.
   The truth of the matter is, God desires our companionship. Meditation allows us to, in a way, walk with him as a friend walks with a friend.
  The following verses are some situations where meditation comes up in the Bible. 
  1 Kings 19:7-14
  Joshua 1:8
  Psalm 1:2, 19:14, 104:34, 119:15&78&97, 145:5
   In these circumstances, they are meditating on the Law of God and on the Works of God.
  There are also some circumstances where Jesus has gone away from the crowds for purposes that include prayer and probably meditation as well.

  How Should You Meditate?
  You cannot properly learn to meditate on God just by reading about it in a book, by watching a ‘how to’ DVD, or even by listening to me. You learn how to meditate by, well, meditating.  

Meditate When?
   Well from what we read earlier the answer is “day and night or all the day”, but with schooling and other activities it is difficult to devote your entire day and night to meditating. That being said, the best time to meditate is at a time when you have a clear mind free of distraction and you can put full effort of thought into meditative matters.  It’s difficult to be in a peaceful state of mind when your thoughts are constantly jumping from different things you need to do when you are done meditating.

Meditate Where?
  The best location to meditate is at a place of few distractions. Distractions, such as, phones or (in some cases) people, should not be present. Some people prefer to meditate in the great outdoors, where God’s immense creation is most evident, with trees and birds and such.

On What Shall We Meditate?
  I came up with a few things on which to meditate. The first of which is God’s creation in which God’s greatness is tangibly showcased. Looking at the clouds on a warm afternoon or the colorful leaves of autumn spikes amazement inside of me. I love watching snow cover the ground and the sound of the rain hitting the pavement.      

  Secondly, you can meditate on God’s word. From the verses we read earlier, the psalmists wrote a lot about meditating on the law. When you are reading the Bible, it is good to stop on a passage that means a lot to you, take a key word or phrase and let it take hold of you.
  Branching off of that, I like to spend time pondering the words of a worship song or hymn. One of my favorite hymns is How Great Thou Art. The refrain and verses of that song move me. Here is the first verse of the song. “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.” 
  I had not noticed before, but the writer of the hymn is writing about meditating on the greatness of God.
  I have also read about people who like to imagine that they are in at a biblical event. Say, for example, you pretend you are one of the five-thousand Jesus fed or the prodigal son or witnessing the trans- figuration. It may help you understand the stories in a way you have not before.
  Meditating on the works of God is my third and final idea that I came up with on which to meditate. We can’t take for granted everything God has done for us, but I think it is safe to say that we all do.  Thinking about Jesus getting spat upon, stripped of his clothes, flogged, humiliated, and nailed to a cross should send shivers down anyone’s spine.
To sum up on all that I have said, Meditation is important in helping us take the next step in our relationships with God.

  For further study on the disciplines in general, please check out these resources:
Inside Out Pt4: A sermon by CTK Bellingham Pastor Grant Fishbook

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Who Really Wrote the Gospel of John?

How do we know that the John the Apostle really wrote the Fourth Gospel? And even if he did, how do we know he didn't just make it up?

If you are serious about your faith, at some point you have to consider why you believe the Bible.  This slideshow outlines the discussion we had at the TFC Monday Night  youth meeting on Oct 4, 2010.

John 1:1

In one amazing opening sentence, John speaks powerfully and specifically to three radically different schools of thought.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Discovering God in the Psalms: Secret Codes

I have always loved the Psalms, but learning how to read them was like discovering a secret code.

The Psalms are some of the most beloved of all the Scriptures, for good reasons --
  • There is a Psalm for every situation: whether you are rejoicing, grieving, in trouble, searching for meaning, or marveling at God's creation, the Psalms cover the entire range of human emotion.
  • The Psalms is the largest book in the Bible.
  • The writers of the New Testament quote Psalms more than any other source in Scripture.
Over the next few weeks, we're going to be looking at the character of God, using the Psalms as our tool. But before we can begin to do that, we need to learn a bit about how the Psalms are written.  They're poetry, right?  Well, yes -- but Hebrew poetry doesn't always match our Western way of thinking of poetry.  The commentator sheds some light on the subject:
How the Psalms Communicate Their Meaning
Although the psalms are poetry, they do not deliver their message through rhyming words. They get their point across by laying out a thought one way and then immediately following it with a parallel thought that takes the first thought a step further. It is this interplay between parallel thoughts that forms the individual bricks that add up to the meaning of each psalm. In order to understand the psalms, the reader must avoid seeing the sentences of each psalm as independent wholes and recognize the relationships between parallel lines and sentences.[1]
Looking for parallel lines can unlock our understanding of the Psalms and reveal their beauty.  Whenever you see a line that repeats, that should be a red flag that that's important; ask, what is being emphasized here?
In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.
In Psalm 5:3, by repeating that he goes to the Lord in the morning, David emphasizes that he is putting his time with God as first priority, before anything else in his day.  In the first line, we know that that he is taking time to talk to God; the second line takes this thought further by telling us what he is saying (requests), and especially that he expects to get a response, and that response often requires us to wait and listen for it. It's not enough to blurt out what we want and then "hang up" on God -- it's supposed to be a two-way conversation!

But looking at one or two lines is not enough to understand a Psalm's meaning; you have to look for structure and parallelism throughout the entire poem.

Psalm 5, like many other Psalms, is structured as something called chiastic parallelism, a symmetrical pattern which can be diagrammed like this:
A - first point or idea
    B - next point
       C - center point (usually the most important)
    B - reflects second point
A - returns to, or answers, the first point

The Chaistic structure is something that can be found in a LOT (but not all) of the Psalms, and in fact a lot of other places in the Bible. Even the New Testament has examples of chiasm -- some scholar's even believe the the entire Gospel of Matthew is arranaged in this pattern!

Returning to our example in Psalm 5, we can find this structure:
A1 ( vs 1–3) Confidence in the Lord
   B1 ( vs 4–6) The Lord’s rejection of the wicked
      C ( vs 7–8) Commitment to the Lord’s righteous way
   B2 ( vs 9–10) The Lord’s banishment of rebels
A2 ( vs 11–12) Joy in the Lord

Thus, this psalm is framed by David's confidence in the Lord (remember how he expects an answer in v.3?), expresses his need for protection from evil, and its central focus is his request to come into God's house, and to have the Lord lead.

The fantastic thing is that not only can you see this parallel structure in many Psalms, not only in other passages of the Old and New Testaments, but you can actually see it in the organization of the entire collection of the book of PsalmsJoin us as we continue to explore the Psalms, and what they tell us about the character of God!

View and print the handout for this lesson! (Opens with Internet Explorer.)

1 Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (, The Tyndale reference libraryWheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 200.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Problem of Pain

"If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy. And if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form." – C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

There's no getting around it: Pain is a part of life. Why? There are many possible answers.

If you don't believe in God, you don't have any trouble answering this question. There is no "why". There is only what is, and what is not. There is no reason, no purpose behind it. But that also means that you have no reason, no purpose for your life.

We, however, believe in a God that loves us absolutely, without hesitation or condition, and who at the same time has absolute power, and can do whatever he wants. And that is where we come across this problem: If He loves me, He wouldn't want me to be in pain, would he? If He is good – perfect, in fact – wouldn't he want to eliminate evil from the world? But He hasn't, obviously, since we see evil and pain and suffering all around us.

So, the thought goes, if He hasn't eliminated pain or evil, either

  1. He doesn't want to, which would mean He's not good, or
  2. He can't, which would mean He isn't all-powerful.
However, this doesn't take into account one other possibility: maybe pain has a purpose. Maybe – just maybe – God is smarter than us, and knows of a good reason to allow pain to exist.

Are there any good things about pain that you can think of? What is a purpose it could serve?

  1. Pain tells us when something is wrong. Pain helps to prevent you from twisting your arm the wrong way, or jumping off a building, or any number of things that would harm your body. And if your body is injured, pain screams at you, "Fix me!" If you ignore that pain, like professional sports players sometimes do, you risk causing permanent damage.
    In the same way, emotional pain can tell us when something is wrong. If you cringe when you hear one friend lying to another, or when you see someone suffering from abuse, that emotional pain is screaming at you that something needs to be fixed.
  2. Pain can be God's way of getting our attention.
    "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."— C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
    It is almost a reflex for people to turn to God when they are in pain. Even when they are not regularly devout, those who find themselves in dire situations have a natural tendency to look to the Lord for help, and perhaps He has allowed those things to happen just so that they would see their need for Him. 
The problem of pain becomes even more complex when we try to answer why bad things happen to good people. There is something built into us that desires fairness, most of us believe at a gut level that that life is actually fair. Sometimes we even blame the victim, reasoning that if something bad happened to them, then they must have done something wrong to bring it on themselves.
That's what we find Job's friends doing to him in the midst of his pain:

"Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap? Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end? It's my observation that those who plow evil and sow trouble reap evil and trouble." (Job 4:7-8, The Message)
In effect, they are telling Job that if he's in pain, then it must be his own fault! Does that sound like what a person in pain needs to hear? No! When a person is in pain, it is not our role to find problems with them, or to add guilt to their discouragement.  Instead, we are to be a people who lift each other up in spirit and in prayer (Hebrews 3:12-13).

The Lord himself answers Job's friends in the last chapters of the book, telling them that their view of Him as a vengeful and unmerciful God are plain incorrect:

“My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right" (Job 42:7, ESV)
To Job himself, the Lord shows again and again that He is the ultimate in power and knowledge.  He challenges,

 8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
 9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his? (Job 40:8-9, NIV)

In other words, how could you, Job, possibly know what the Creator of the Earth knows? How could you dare to challenge my reasons for allowing what happens? No, it is because of who God is, not what He does, that we are to trust Him.  In the midst of our pain, we can always to the Lord as a source of comfort who never fails. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“We can’t afford not to.”

Last year, Teens for Christ received almost $10,000 less than average in annual donations. We're looking for 200 alumni and friends to make new commitments for a monthly donation – even if it's only $10/month – or we may be forced to close the doors to our office.
 Over the decades, Teens for Christ has impacted many young lives, and if you are reading this, chances are it has been important to you personally. We are committed to a ministry of real, lasting relationships with God that are grounded in Scripture, understanding, and community. 
Through Bible Quizzing, teens are discovering God's Word in ways that few people do, while building relationships that will last a lifetime. In our Monday night meetings, youth are engaging God in a way that is real and relevant; as Servant Leaders, they are developing potential in themselves that they did not know existed. Most importantly, they are laying the groundwork for lives devoted to the Living God.

I love this job. In a culture where at least two-thirds of Christian high school students lose their faith after graduation, I'm thrilled to have a role where I can have a real effect in their lives. Even though I work for TFC only part-time (I also work for Logos Bible Software to supplement my income), I almost feel guilty that I get paid to do something I love so much. But the truth is, it's a sacrifice for me, too, and I can't continue this work on our current level of support.
TFC's savings have carried us through this dry spell so far, but that money has run out. To the families that are currently involved, we suggest they give $30 a month, but the reality is, the cost of running the ministry is much higher: about $55 per student, per month. If we can't raise support to the level we've seen in previous years, either we'll have to close our office space, or I'll have to minimize the hours I work for the ministry, or both.
Has Teens for Christ ever made a difference in your life? Are there verses that still stick with you, years later, because you memorized them as a quizzer? Was there a mentor who guided your spiritual walk, or a peer that has become a lifelong friend? Are you a better Christ-follower because of TFC?

Maybe you have been meaning to give back to Teens for Christ, but you've put it off for one reason or another. If ever there was a time, it's now. Your contribution does far more than keeping our lights on and our rent paid; the direct result of your support is changing lives. 

Thank you for keeping us in your prayers, and considering us in this time of need.

Adam Borries, TFC Director

Will you support today's teens?
It's quick, easy, and safe to donate on our website with PayPal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rich Towards God

Read Luke 12:15-21

As you might be able to tell, this is kind of a continuation of last week's lesson. Our question is, what does is mean to be "rich towards God?" But we're going to try to understand some things before we answer that. 

First, what is it that the Rich Fool has done wrong?
He stored up his possessions for himself. Or more broadly, he loved his possessions and himself more than anything or anyone else. 

Here are some other verses that talk about this idea; what is the key phrase that keeps coming up?

  • 1 Tim 3:3 requires that a church leader must "not love money"
  • Heb 13:5 "keep your lives free of the love of money"
  • 2 Tim 3:1-5 lovers of money are included in a list of selfish, ugly traits, which concludes with "having a form of godliness but denying its power."
    Does this list sound familiar? Does that pretty much describe the culture we live in? Maybe even ourselves? Do you have a form of godliness that has no power to change your life, or anything around you? Is that the God we know?
  • 1 Tim 6:10 This is the famous one. (If you really want to understand what it says, read v.5b-10.) We Christians are quick to point out that this verse doesn't condemn money – "the love of money is the root of evil," we like to call attention to. And in that way, we can justify that its OK for us to have money, "just as long as we don't love it."
    And as far as that goes, that's true.
    But do you realize how hard it is to have money and not love it? Or, especially, how small of a distinction it is to want to keep your money (or want more of it), but say that you don't love it? It's such a fine line, it may as well not even exist. Instead, the "love of" clause becomes a convenient excuse for our wealth.
Does this mean I can never have money? I can never live comfortably?
No. But it does mean that you need to be very, very careful that it does not control you. Just as in the parable of the talents, everything that you have, God has given you to use. If we ourselves belong to God (I Cor 6:19-20), how much more that things that we call "ours"? Everything you have is really His, and you should be ready to give it back the moment He asks for it. Remember, you cannot serve both God and Money.

What can the Rich Fool do with this wealth?
Let's return to the Rich Fool. In v.17, he says, "What shall I do?" There are only 3 choices that I can think of:

  • Store/save it up. Jesus says, uh-uh.
  • Spend it all immediately on himself. Think about that one for sec. I don't think that's where Jesus was going.
  • Share. To give it away is the only option left.
So, how do we be Rich Towards God?
You should be beginning to get the picture. But to really drive it home, let's go back to Paul's letter to Timothy. Read 1 Tim 6:11-12, 17-19.
What do these keywords tell us?

  • pursue It doesn't just "come" to us… we have to chase these things! They require work and diligence!
  • put hope in God like we talked about last week, God is worthy of our hope and trust, because he will take care of us
  • for our enjoyment God does not want us to be unhappy! Sometimes we think of God as some cosmic killjoy that just wants to take away anything that's fun, but that is NOT the case! It's okay to enjoy the things he blesses you with!
  • rich in good deedsSuch a great phrase. Not only does it tell us to fill our lives with good deeds (think "make your life thick with good work"), but it also implies that our lives, our character will be richer for having done them. We are the ones who actually benefit from our own good deeds!
  • Be generous… -- This is the ultimate way to show that money has no hold over you. In addition, it specifically spells out that this lays up treasure in heaven. So if you never how to put Matt 6:20 into practice, now you know!
  • life that is truly life – Only God can give true life. You can chase after fulfillment, and try to create a meaningful life, for yourself, on your own… but you will end up losing yourself (Luke 9:24). Instead, if you give up control of your life to God, and live richly toward him without holding anything back, he will give you a life you never dreamed of!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Intimacy with Jesus

By Abigail Ludeman, with the Holy Spirit
 Psalm 27:4-One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
When I first read verse, it did not click. One thing? I ask for lots of things! Dwell in the house of the lord?  What does that mean? Isn’t he everywhere? Beauty of the Lord?  Ok, so Jesus is beautiful.  That’s nice… Seek him in his temple?  Well, there are Muslim mosques in India.
 But this verse has changed my whole paradigm. Who wrote this? King David.  Who was he?  The Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart.
Read verse again—remember this is Old Testament.  The curtain to the holy of holies wasn’t torn in two yet.  Only the high priest could enter into God’s presence. And yet David wanted to be with the Lord.  And he didn’t sit there, he didn’t play Nintendo, none of that.  David gazed on the beauty of the Lord.  He gazed…not just glanced for a moment, the beauty of the Lord captured all of his attention
I want to propose to you that there is so much more to our God than we think. Our God is a mystery.  He wants us to seek him.  He wants us to gaze on his beauty.  He wants us to be intimate with him. 
 And not only does God want us to be close to him, but we need to be close to him! I love this book The Seven Longings of the Human Heart—One thing it says is that “God hard-wired us to need, to want, and to find our satisfaction in Him and him alone…When these longings are not fulfilled in God, we are left empty, with pain, mourning and dissatisfaction.  We have built into us a God-shaped vacuum, which remains empty until we allow God to fill it by fulfilling our deepest longings.” 
You know what, we all have deep longings.  We can’t ignore that fact.  America is the picture in my opinion, of dissatisfied people.  We buy huge houses. We have so much stuff that there are now organizational companies who come and help people find a way to fit it all into their homes.  We have turned to sex, drugs, alcohol, and pornography.  60 million people in America are obese.   
And I’m not excluded.   I struggle with thinking that food will make me happy.  It never does.  I feel so bad about it when I stuff myself.  But we can only grit our teeth and resist sin for so long.  We are human, we need to be satisfied.  If I don’t go to him, sit at his feet and listen to his voice, that void will stay empty. 
Sometimes it’s hard to get away from everything in our busy lives, but we must.  The only way we can be truly satisfied is through Jesus Christ.
So go wait.  Wait on the Lord in a secret and quiet place.  God wants us to be fulfilled people, and his love is better than life. Take a couple minutes right where you are to quiet yourselves and listen to your loving Father.
This devotional message 
was prepared and delivered by Abby Ludeman
at the March Bible Quiz Meet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Kingdom of God

by Zac Ahrens

When most people think of the kingdom of Heaven they think of a place up in the clouds. The most common thing we think of when we think of a kingdom is a large area of land ruled by a king
              The Kingdom of God is the number one thing Jesus talked about while on earth. So to start off with what is it: What is this mustard seed like, or pearl, or treasure hidden in a field? First we must ask what a kingdom is. A kingdom is one of two things. It can either be a group of people united by a common ruler, or it can be a piece of land under the control of a single person. In Mark 12:34 Jesus tells a teacher of the law that he is not far from it. This after the teacher had asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. So was Jesus talking about a physical place or a that was close by or a condition of the heart. In this case it is clear that Jesus was talking about an attitude of the heart.
              The next question is when is it? We know from the word that it will never end. So the only question is when the does it begin. Of all the questions this is one of the hardest ones to answer. The most interesting illustration we heard (but still true) is that it is like a train: It is here but still coming. It is the idea that parts of it are here already, but it will not be here in full until the return of Christ. 
              A final question is who does the kingdom of God belong to? Mark  10:14-15 says “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What is it about children that Jesus says the kingdom belongs to them? Personally, I think it is the trust that children have in their parents, the security they have in their parents, and the dependence in their parents. In Mathew 5, Jesus says Blessed are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I think poor in spirit means those who know that they have a long way to go those not proud of where they are. Just as important though is the question who is it not for. The first group that sticks out is the legalistic such as the Pharisees. Another group is the proud for such people it is not impossible but it is still very difficult.
              The Kingdom of God still provides many questions. Even though we have answered a few questions about it there are still many questions about it. Such as when will Christ return and bring it in full and what will heaven be like. Such questions will be asked until the we see them for ourselves. 

 This lesson was prepared and 
presented by Zac Ahrens
at the TFC  Youth Group on 3/1/2010.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking Every Thought Captive

2 Corinthians  10:3-7
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the word. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every though to make it obedient to Christ
I just think this is a good reminder that we live in the world but we aren’t like the world. The weapons we have are from God and so they have divine power. Since we are from God we demolish arguments and pretensions that come up against what we know about God. A pretension is a claim.
It also says that we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. If you think about it literally you might see something like what we were saying at our Servant Leadership team meeting. The picture we came up with was a bunch of little thoughts flying around in a bird cage.
After you stop thinking about it like that, just think about how hard it is to make all your thoughts obedient to Christ. A different version says that though probably means plot, or design so this means that we need to submit not only outwardly but also inwardly meaning in thought or mind.
So if you need to make all your thoughts or plots obedient to Christ that would mean that every time you try to plot your revenges on some one your thoughts wouldn't be obedient. So try it strive to make your thoughts obedient to Christ.
This devotional message 
was prepared and delivered by Katie Hersman
at the February Bible Quiz Meet.
Watch Katie's message on YouTube!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Going Above and Beyond: The Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule

Jesus says "I have not come to abolish the Law"… so why does the Sermon on the Mount sound like he's contradicting the commandments given in the Old Testament?

The Pharisees get a lot of bad press in the Gospels; but it's important to remember that they were the "good" people of the day. They studied the Scriptures, they followed the rules, they didn't smoke or drink or cuss; they were respected role models of community. In today's terms, they would be pastors, professors, church-goers... Bible quizzers.

But they completely missed the point, because the Pharisees focused on _APPEARANCES_; Jesus focused on _INTENTIONS_.

God has given his Commandments as ways for people to better their lives and draw closer to him; the Pharisees made a "fence" of rules around the law, defining what technically does or doesn't break the rules, and missing the matter of the heart entirely.

Did Jesus come to get rid of the old laws? Look again at Matt. 5:17-20.

Jesus says that he hasn't come to abolish the Law (which God gave Moses in the Old Testament), and then he seems to go on and repeatedly undermine it with the phrase "You have heard… but I tell you (instead)." But really, Jesus is supporting the intention behind the commandment, and attacking the way people have interpreted it for their own benefit. Instead of taking a step further away from the Law, in a legalistic sense, Jesus takes the principle a step further inward and upward.

"You have heard…"

  • Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'"
    • Comes from: Ex 20:13, the Sixth Commandment
    • The reason for the commandment: To protect _LIVES_.
    • Jesus makes it clear that the sin is not just the act of murder, it's the _HATRED_ behind it, which is an issue of _THE HEART_. Anger can murder a person or a relationship, without actually killing the person.

  • Matthew 5:27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'
    • Comes from: Ex 20:14, the Seventh Commandment.
    • The reason for the commandment: To protect marriages, and promote personal _PURITY_.
    • The Pharisees condemned _THE OUTWARD ACT_.
    • Jesus said that _THE DESIRE_ was just as sinful and harmful to yourself.

  • Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'"
    • Comes from: Ex 21:24, and others
    • This is a tricky one, because it sounds so brutal by today's terms. But think about it: if I knock out your tooth, is your instinct to inflict exactly the same about of damage to me? No! The natural reaction is to escalate, and cause me more pain than I caused you!
      The reason for the commandment: To restrict _REVENGE_.
    • The Pharisees used this law against its own purpose: to _JUSTIFY_ their own personal retribution and revenge.
    • Jesus was teaching to _FORGIVE_ , and do not resent. In fact, you should pursue peace and love kindness at any cost.
      - What did it mean to lose your tunic, or cloak? In the first century, clothing was difficult and time-consuming to make, and most people had only one set of clothes. The "tunic" was the shirt they wore next to the skin, while a "cloak" was the outer garment, which they also could use as a blanket, a carrying bag, or other uses. If you gave both of them away you had nothing left. Can you imagine giving away everything you own?
      - What kind of person could force you to "go a mile"? Remember, this was a nation who was conquered by the Roman army, who was present everywhere. And if the army needed work done, the soldiers had authorization from Rome to require labor from the local population. They could take your work animal, eat your food… and if they want, force you to carry their things. What a difference from the Zealots, who wanted to fight the Romans: Jesus says, don't resent them for making you work for them. Instead, put on a smile, and offer to do a double shift!

  • Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
    • Comes from Lev 19:18 – Look it up! What does this verse NOT say?
      __it doesn't say "hate your enemy"__
    • The reason for the commandment: To live _IN PEACE_
    • This was a common saying at the time, but it appears no where in the Old Testament. Someone (I wonder who) had added it, and it was repeated so often that people took its validity for granted.
    • Jesus _SURPRISED_ the crowd by telling them to love your enemy. The enemy was a foreign power occupying their country. This was a complete 180 for them!
The Golden Rule

Matthew 5:45-48
When Jesus says the Father in heaven "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good", he's saying that God _BLESSES EVERYONE_, and if we really want to be God's children, then we also shouldn't make distinctions on who deserves our love and who doesn't. After all, if we only love those who are good to us, how could we be called God's children? How is that any better than anyone else? He makes a very similar comparison in Mt 7:9-11.

Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This is Jesus' _CONCLUDING STATEMENT_; it wraps up everything else that he was trying to communicate in the whole section. Remember Matt. 5:17? What does He start with? "The Law and the Prophets."

He ends in the same place he started, and his message is that righteousness is not something that can be attained by keeping a list of rules; it has everything to do with your attitude and your relationships.


Friday, January 29, 2010

How should we respond to Haiti?

Whenever a disaster of this scale occurs, it's natural to ask how God fits in the picture. Is He angry? Even if He is not, how can He allow an atrocity like this? Finally, how should we respond?

Since the Haiti earthquake less than a week ago, we've seen reactions that run the gamut. Most people have responded with compassion; millions have donated to charitable relief organizations; everyone is shocked by the extent of the damage and loss of life.

And then, some have criticized. A friend of mine recently asked me if I think the Haiti earthquake is God's judgment. After all, Haiti (like New Orleans) has been a center for voodoo and dark magic for years. Pat Robertson, now infamously, preached that this is God's punishment on a wicked nation that made a deal with the devil 200 years ago. A New York Times contributor surmised, "If God exists, he's really got it in for Haiti." The Washington Post reports that even some of the Haitians themselves view the catastrophe as God's judgment.

I don't believe that this is a special act of God, for many reasons. First, the conditions in Haiti were made by man, following anything but godly standards. Haiti is a country born of slavery, plagued by corruption and oppression, and impoverished to the point that she has devastated her land and, in a sad irony, sold her own children back into slavery. Second, it is always hard to understand God's reasons for allowing pain; but that doesn't mean that He has no reason. If we say that we believe in an all-loving and all-knowing God, we have to trust that He knows what He is doing when He allows disaster.

Finally, we serve a God who sends His mercy on all alike; Jesus told us to be like our Father, who "causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good" (Mt. 5:45). If we are to bless those who curse us, how much more should we bless those who most desperately need it? The sad thing is, many people will give to Haiti to relieve a sense of guilt for living in a privileged country, and then do their best to forget that half of Earth's population lives in poverty. Instead, as true children of God, "let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 Jn. 3:17-18).

This article appeared in the
January 2010 issue of the TFC Newsletter.
For another excellent opinion of how to respond to Haiti,
see the Chicago Tribune.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January Devotional

Give your all to God; He will always give back to you more than you could ever need .

This devotional message 
was prepared and delivered by Nick Roth

at the January Bible Quiz Meet.