Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1-11)

Here we have Jesus invited to dine with the Pharisees on a Sabbath.  Of course the food was prepared beforehand, but what also was prepared beforehand was a trap to put Jesus in danger of more charges being leveled at him.  Jesus has healed on the Sabbath before, but the Pharisees want a lot of eyewitnesses.  Jesus turns the table on them, and he turns the feast, and the subsequent discourses with his disciples after the party into probably the longest sustained mocking and critique of the Pharisees in the Gospels, lasting over three chapters.  We will look at the first part only, that involving the dinner.

The Pharisees were watching him carefully.  The sick man in question had dropsy, which we can't exactly identify, except that it involved the retention of water.  The man was probably morbidly obese, and Jesus' healing of him would have involved a sudden weight loss before everyone's eyes, so that's pretty spectacular as it is.  But before he heals him, Jesus asks the Pharisees if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? No one answers, because they know the answer is that there is no Biblical law against healing on the Sabbath.  There may be something in their Oral Tradition of the Elders, which is outside the Biblical law, but there is nothing inside it.  Jesus heals the man then asks them which of them would not immediately pull an ox or a child out of a well on the Sabbath. They could not reply, but the answer is no one would.  Oxen (and children) are of great value, and when an ox fell in a well, the whole village would rally to save the animal, usually taking ALL DAY to get the beast out.  That's a lot of work on the Sabbath.

So, the mocking has begun.  Jesus hits them hard with a parable about humility.  The implication is that these Pharisees are not humble in the least.  They fight for the place of honor, thinking highly of themselves, and Jesus isn't giving them advice here.  He's not teaching them how to trick a host into giving them the highest seats at the table.  "Just take the lowest place, and you will be moved up!"  He knows they are incapable of taking the lowest seat.  This is pure mocking, and it shows a universal truth.  Remember, there are two kinds of people who won't repent: the first are those who think they have done something so horrible that God won't forgive them.  These are the people who need a doctor, who know they need a doctor, and Jesus came to save them.  These people heard his words of repentance and faith and became his disciples.  The second kind of people are the Pharisees.  These are they who don't think that they have done anything wrong, that they have broken no laws, that they do not need to humble themselves, because they are good people, and God approves of them.  This does not just include Pharisees.  This includes everyone from everywhere through all time periods: those who do not need God.  That is most of the world.  That's a lot of Pharisees.  That is why Jesus attacks them so vigilantly.  He needs to hit the Pharisees over and over and over, so that we will someday see ourselves as the Pharisees, wake up from our prideful stupor, realize that we deserve death and Hell, and finally repent of our sins and put our complete trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of those sins.  It takes a lot of Pharisee bashing to do that, and yet the world is still full of people who think they are good people.

Jesus hits them again, starting with the host:

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Instead of talking about taking the lowest place at the table, he now extends the humility to the entire banquet.  The Pharisees shouldn't be invited to such things.  Instead, invite the people who cannot pay you back: the poor, the downtrodden.  Is this an exhortation of the social gospel?  One Pharisee responds as if it is:

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 

Here's a nice excuse: what good can helping the poor do? They are unclean.  They are rejected by God. This banquet we are having is irrelevant.  We could feed the poor all we wanted and it wouldn't matter.  What matters is who is going to be eating with the Lord in Heaven!  So, this Pharisee has responded to what he hears as liberal politics with conservative politics.  Jesus clobbers them all one more time:

But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Party is over.  Jesus essentially says to them, "you're missing my point.  I'm not advocating the social gospel.  I'm telling you to repent!"  This final parable at the feast outright shouts at the Pharisees that they will not be inheriting the kingdom of God, and the "unclean" will.  What's more, we are all unclean, even the Pharisees, and its those who understand this fact who repent.  Did you see all the clues throughout everything Jesus said?

We are the son who has fallen in the well.  Jesus rescues us IMMEDIATELY.  There's no waiting for the Sabbath to pass.  The proclamation of the Gospel happens in season and out of season, not just on Sundays.  God's plan for the salvation of mankind was prepared from the beginning.

Who has the greatest place of honor at the feast?  Who deserves it?  Jesus himself.  Philippians 2:1-11 says:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus performed the ultimate act of humility.  Being the real host of the party, he takes the lowest place at the table for our sakes, and only he is exalted to the highest place of honor at the table, for taking the punishment we deserve.  For laying down his life on our behalf, the greatest act of love.

His exhortation to invite the poor to the party is not a social gospel exhortation but a clue to what he has done for us.  He has invited the whole world of people who cannot save themselves to his everlasting banquet.  The people who believe they can repay God for inviting them to his banquet have not repented and are therefore not really invited.  The Pharisees of the world are those who think they are good, have the means to repay their debts, and never repent.  But they aren't good.  They don't have the means to repay, and will therefore be repaying for eternity.  They never repent.

"Come," Jesus calls to us.  "Everything is now ready."  The Pharisees of the world make excuses.  They would rather have their best life now, but it's the suffering ones of the world, the repentant, the humble, out of all economic conditions who come to the Lord on their knees who are saved.  This is the Good News: repent and be forgiven.  Even you can be saved, just like many Pharisees.  In Matthew 3, many Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist and repented.  In John 3, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.  He also helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus' body for burial.  Paul the Apostle is the most famous saved Pharisee of them all. These Pharisees' names are written in the Book of Life.  By the grace of God, yours may be, too.  Repent and be forgiven, take the lowest place at the table, bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity

In the Gospels, Jesus resurrects someone from the dead three times.  We usually think of Lazarus in John 11, because it's the BIG one, as being the only time, but there are actually two other times Jesus raises the dead.  One is the resurrection of Jarius' daughter (Mark 5:22-23; 35-43).  The other one that I want to focus on is actually the first time Jesus rose someone from the dead.  We can tell it's the first time because of the reaction of the onlookers: "Fear seized them all..."  Here is the whole passage (Luke 7:11-17):

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

As with the other two resurrection narratives, we learn two essential truths about reality.  The first is the horror of sin.  Sin causes death.  Death is a great enemy, that Christ destroys when he returns, but right now all human beings have to go through this horrible ordeal--the extinguishing of physical life.  Sin is the cause.  Through Adam, sin entered the world, and the wages of sin is death itself.  It is part of the curse that God placed upon all mankind, which we read in Genesis 3:

"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  We are all included in this curse.  We know this because 100% of people die.  And the reason we all die is because each and every one of us is corrupted by sin.  All have sinned and fall sort of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Sin corrupts everything we do.  Sin prevents us from loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves.  Not only do we not love God, before Christ saved us we were haters of God, rebels.  His truth offended us.  We also were not able love our neighbors but would actually hurt them, if not with our deeds, we would do it with our words and thoughts about them.

Sin causes grief.  As we see in the three resurrection narratives, much mourning is happening.  In Mark 5:38 we read, They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.  We see the massive amount of emotion associated with sin bringing death into our lives.  Even though it is a commonplace occurrence, going back to our federal head Adam, people are driven hysterical by it, especially when a child dies.  We know that death is not the way things are supposed to be.  Jesus' reaction in this narrative is one of confusion.  He marvels at their emotion.

Now, in the famous Lazarus narrative, Jesus' reaction is different to the grief: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” This time Jesus joins in the grieving, not just because Lazarus was a close friend, but because God hates sin.  We, riddled with sin, tend to love our own sin, but we grieve at the consequences of sin.  Jesus has more right to grieve than we.  He is without sin, and he sees us love our sin and hate the consequences of our sin.  His grief is not just a personal one over death, like the kind we have.  His is a grief at the sin of the whole world, the cause of death, the root of death.  His is an all-encompassing grief.  We grieve at the consequences; he grieves at the cause.

Now, in the narrative we are studying, the earliest of the resurrections, Jesus' reaction is yet again different.  He is not angry.  He does not marvel at the grief of the others.  He has a deep compassion for the widow.  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  God hates sin, he marvels at our lopsided grief, but he also has deep compassion for us.  He loves the sinner while hating the sin.

The second truth: look at the resurrections themselves.  Jarius' daughter's resurrection is a private affair, with only the parents present, and with Jesus compassionately take the child by the hand and saying "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  The girl rises and begins to walk about, showing that this raising of the dead is no mere illusion.  For his friend Lazarus, Jesus is not so gentle.  After having the stone of the tomb removed, and after thanking God aloud in front of everyone so that they would believe, Jesus shouts, "Lazarus, come out!"  The resurrection of the young man is similar to that of Jarius' daughter.  He even says the same words (obviously with "young man" instead of "little girl"), and this time the dead man sat up and began to speak (as opposed to Jarius' daughter walking).  We never learn what the dead man says, which is good.  Just like Lazarus' knowledge of the grave being withheld in scriptures, we are not to know what the afterlife is like.

What do these three incidents have in common?  It's not a magic touch.  It's not mud in the eyes or fingers in the ears.  It's the Word of God that raises from the dead.  Just as all things were created through the Word of God, so the dead are brought back to life.  Jesus only touches the little girl's hand.  His voice has the power in all three cases.  We all know that there is nothing we can do to become born again.  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves alive.  We are dead in sins, and that means spiritually dead, unable to save ourselves. Just as Christ's words bring these three back to life, the written word of God, the scriptures, and the preaching that accompanies it, bring the spiritually dead to life today.  The Holy Spirit gives the preacher the right things to say.  The Holy Spirit also regenerates the hearts of the listeners that He wants to be made alive.

There is a third and final truth, and this is about faith itself.  However, this is the only point that is struck home through our narrative in Luke 7.  First let's look at faith in the other two passages.  In Mark 5, While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” Having faith is proclaimed by Christ. Here is John 11: Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  Jesus proclaims to Martha faith in himself.

Finally, here is our passage in Luke 7: And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." There is no proclamation of faith.  The woman does not go to Jesus; they Just happened to intersect at the town gates.  She does not ask for his help.  She is resigned to her fate.  She has lost her husband, and now she has lost her son.  There's no chastising Christ, saying, "If only you has been here..."  There's no running after him and begging him to come quickly.  Jesus never asks her if she believes.  She never says that she believes.

It's easy to put ourselves in the dead person's role.  We are dead in our trespasses.  It is fitting that we should be in that role, but we must also realize that with that role comes no faith.  The dead cannot have faith, and that is truly how we are before we are made alive in Christ.  However, the living loved one, the survivor, seems to need to have faith in these stories.  Jesus exhorts them or asks them to believe.  We may think of ourselves in the roles of the dead, but we also tend to think of ourselves as the living loved ones, who need faith in order for the dead ones outside of us to be raised.

The Luke 7 passage assures us that even if we think of ourselves as the living loved ones, we do not have the faith anyway.  If we are to think of ourselves as a living loved one, we need to think of ourselves as the widow.  She has lost her husband.  Let's call that husband "faith."  She has nothing.  She is going through the motions.  She is in deep mourning for the death of her loved ones.  The procession is happening.  There is no turning back.  She is resigned to her fate as a widow and a mother who has outlived her son. 

Isaiah 61:10 reads, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Something more than resurrection is happening in this passage.  Jesus is replacing her husband.  She has lost her faith.  She has none to give.  Jesus provides her faith, because all that the wife, the bride of Christ, the church has is Christ's, and all that Christ has is the church's. Jesus Christ has replaced the widow's lost faith with his own.  He provides the faith to her, too, just as he provides the faith to us.  We are dead in our sins.  Dead means we don't even have the faith to turn to Christ.  He provides the faith, too.  It is part of his resurrecting us.  Not one thing do we bring to the table to become children of God, unless you count the sin that Christ died for.

But didn't the other two resurrection narratives show survivors who did have faith?  Actually, no.  Jesus exhorts Jarius to believe, which he wouldn't do if Jarius did believe.  In John 11, Martha has faith in Lazarus rising again on the last day, but Jesus corrects her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  Only then does Martha say she believes.  Mary has nothing, like the widow in Luke 7, only grief.

And Jesus raises the dead anyway.  All faith comes from him.  We do not unlock Jesus' power by having enough faith.  That way lies guilt and oppression to the law.  No, Jesus not only heals us, raises us from the dead, but he provides the faith necessary to move this mountain himself.  He truly is a great God, and the only God capable of doing anything like this.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.  Nothing is needed on our part before Jesus can work.  He is always first.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Number of members does not equal real fruit.

Number of members does not equal real fruit. Just because a church has hundreds of members does not mean that it is teaching God's word.  By this logic, the Catholic Church is bearing good fruit, and the Muslims are teaching solid theology.

Intervention giving and preventative giving

Intervention giving and preventative giving are made-up terms that aren't biblical.  They are imagined outside of the bible in order to give you a false scale upon which to measure your giving, so you can see how you're falling short and give more.  Moving from the status quo of intervention giving to preventive giving transitions you into ownership and investing into the kingdom of God.  This is nonsense that gets more money coming to the vision-casting leader.

Matthew 6:33 is also NOT about finances.

Matthew 6:33 is also NOT about finances. Once again, Matthew 6 is not about finances. Much less verse 33.  One of the most famous verses in the whole Bible.  It is about putting God first in your life, seeking his kingdom, putting your faith in the one who saved you from eternal destruction, putting your faith in his blood for the forgiveness of your sins, and also seeking his righteousness, because only Jesus is righteous.  He is the only one who has enough righteousness to impute it to your account so that you can be in the presence of the Lord for eternity.  He takes our sins and gives us his righteousness.  This is not about putting God first in your income and "doing it in the right way."  This is blasphemous, because it is taking his name in vain, attributing a false teaching to Jesus.  This is dangerous stuff.

3 John 2 is a greeting, not God's will for us

3 John 2 is a greeting, not God's will for us. Just like you would start a letter to someone, "I hope this letter finds you well," that is the exact same thing John is saying in verse 2 of his third letter: "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul." Notice the word "prosperity" is nowhere to be found, because these pastors will use a paraphrase that adds it.  This does not mean anything close to "God wants you people in my congregation to be prosperous and healthy."  If only you'll just "go all in!"

Matthew 6:21 is not about your finances.

Matthew 6:21 is not about your finances. This is one of the most blatant butcherings of God's word.  Here is the passage, starting at verse 19: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."  This chapter is not about God getting increase in your life, and verse 21 is not about financial treasure.  Look at the sentence before it.  How could you store a physical treasure in heaven?  Throw it toward the sky?  No, this is a spiritual treasure.  Paul says in his epistles to set your minds toward heaven, not earth. At the end of these very verses, Jesus says you cannot serve both God and money.  6:21 actually means the OPPOSITE of what these pastors say it means.  They even exhort their congregations to not take these verses religiously, essentially the way they are meant.  Also, they will often quote the verse backward, saying over and over, "where your HEART is, there your treasure will be also."  That is backwards.  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)"  To put the heart first and put your treasures there is to lay up earthly, wicked treasure: the exact thing that Jesus warns against.  Jesus says to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  That means put all that you value in life in heaven, and your heart will then be inclined toward God instead of money, because you cannot serve both.  The mangling of this passage toward worshiping money leads congregations down the very wide road to destruction.

Friday, September 11, 2015

God is not unable to give us what he wants

God is not unable to give us what he wants to, because sin is in the way.  God is not impotent or blocked in any way by our sin.  Sin is not a barrier to God's mercy.  It is lawlessness, and God is pure justice.  We are not innocent and there's only a cloud of sin confusing God, so he can't get to us. We are guilty before God of breaking his commandments.  We are unrighteous, and he is pure and righteous.  We cannot coexist with God, but by his grace he has made a way to make us righteous before him.  He gives us the righteousness of his son, who never sinned nor broke His holy law.  Beware the impotent God.  God is very able, and he ably made a way for us to be forgiven.  Repent and be forgiven.

Our lives are not puzzles that we need to let God solve.

Our lives are not puzzles that we need to let God solve. You may hear, "We are part of a puzzle, and we need every piece to get the full picture.  When we are not going all in, we are a missing piece of a picture by God."  Nowhere is this concept found in scripture.  It is made up to put the congregation on a guilt trip that they are not "Going All In."  The Devil apparently gets us to question our piece of the puzzle.  When we don't come to church we are not putting our piece of the puzzle in its proper place.  This is nonsense invented to guilt the congregation.

Exodus 4:1-4

Exodus 4:1-4 is not about throwing down your dead identity, income, and influence before God so that he can bring it back to life.  The reason God had Moses throw down his staff was not so that he could metaphorically bring it "back to life" and show Moses the big picture of his purpose.  Conveniently left out of sermons that claim this interpretation is the actual verse 4:1 and 4:5.  Verse 4:1 reads, "Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The Lord did not appear to you.'"" Verse 5 reads, "that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."  This passage is in no way about throwing down anything to God, so he can bring it to life.  It is a miracle that God instructs Moses to perform (throwing down his staff, so it will become a serpent) so that Israel will believe that God sent him.  This is similar to the healings that Jesus performed, so that everyone would believe that the Father sent him.  This is not about us, it is about Jesus.

Mark Batterson is a heretic.

Mark Batterson is a heretic. His book Going All In has been used for a book studies.  It lays a guilt trip on the reader that he or she is not giving enough to God (through the church) and that the reader needs to "go all in!"  This is unbiblical prosperity teaching.  Notice that "going all in" is a gambling term, and it means to put every last cent of your income into a roll of the dice, most assuredly losing it.  A more famous book by Batterson is called The Circle Maker and is outright pagan heresy.  Here is a review of it:

Romans 6:13 is about turning from sin (repentance).

Romans 6:13 is about turning from sin (repentance). The Good News Translation of Romans 6:13 apparently reads, "Give yourselves to God; surrender yourselves to be used for his righteous purposes."  No mention of sin.  The ESV reads, "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."  Remember Ephesians 2:1-10?  We were dead in our sins, but Jesus saved us by Grace, and we, in response present our sinful bodies as living sacrifices to make them righteous.  We need to preach sin in the pulpit.  The congregation needs to be reminded of sin.  We need to hate our sin.  If we are never reminded of being sinful, we soon forget that we are, and we remain dead in our sins. If talking about sin is unavoidable, the pastor uses words like "failure" or "mistake" instead of sin, to make sin seem less wicked and more accidental.  Other pastors use "flesh failures" and "nobody's perfect" instead of "sin" in their sermons.

The Good News Bible is not a good translation.

The Good News Bible is not a good translation.  It is a paraphrase that twists the meaning of scripture.  Do not use it or listen to any preacher that uses it.  The only worse paraphrase is the Message Bible.  False teachers will use different translations, especially paraphrases, in order to get the special word they want to push on you.  For example, you will find "prosperity" a lot of times in the Message Bible where it isn't there in the original Greek.  The English translations closest to the original Greek are the NASB and the ESV.  Stick with those.

There is no such thing as a Rhema Word of special revelation.

There is no such thing as a Rhema Word of special revelation. Rhema is a Geek word for "word", usually spoken.  Logos is another word for "word" and usually refers to Jesus as God's Word or the written word in the Bible.  The living word.  Rhema is not a special, direct revelation from God into your life with special instructions.  This is made-up stuff.

The Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity

This section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34) probably has the most verses in the Bible that have been twisted by false teachers. There are so many gems here that everyone just loves to lift them out of context and run with them.  There are the verses about laying up your treasures in Heaven.  There's the verse about true Christians being unable to love God and money at the same time.  There is the whole section on not being anxious for things.  Finally, we have the verse about seeking first the kingdom of God.  These individual verses are powerful, but the whole passage is a singular idea from Jesus, comparing the material to the spiritual and exhorting us to seek the latter.

The first section, about laying up treasures for ourselves in Heaven, not only gets yanked out of context, it also gets reversed.  Let's look at it: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." These verses are obviously anti-materialistic, and yet I have heard a pro-materialistic, pro-earthly wealth and success message preached from these very verses.  Worse, many teach the crucial verse (6:21) as "for where your heart is, there your treasure will be also."  Not only is the verse reversed, but the meaning gets reversed, too.  A verse that once meant, "when your treasure is the kingdom of God, what you love on earth changes; the selfish, sinful, worldly things you used to love, you now hate; and the holy, beautiful, heavenly things you used to hate, you now love," now means, "hey, what do you love on earth?  Seek it!  Follow your heart!  And God will turn that sought-after thing, even if it's sinful, into your treasure!" Where does your heart want to go? An ideology?  A social cause?  A business opp? That's great!  Follow your heart, and there your treasure will be.  This is idolatry.

But Jesus is talking against materialism, against earthly posterity, against wealth and success in the world.  He wants us to focus our minds on heavenly things, because those things last for eternity.  The rest of the section confirms this line of thought.  The next passage is usually skipped because it doesn't seem to make sense: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" Jesus isn't talking about light or darkness shining out of our eyes.  Pair it with what he spoke before about treasure.  The eye is not a lamp shining outward but shining inward, which is why he says, "your whole body will be full of light."  Whatever your eye falls upon, like a lamp that illuminates something, that is what fills your soul.  If your treasure is earthly, your eye falls upon your treasure, you are looking at it constantly, admiring it, worshiping it, and the idolatry is brought into your heart, your soul, which becomes dark.  If your treasure is heavenly, your eye falls upon heavenly things, like studying the Word, and God's Word enters the heart, filling it with light.

To drive the point home as clearly as possible, Jesus continues, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." Money, being the ultimate signifier of earthly treasure, materialism itself, is laid bare as an idol standing against God.  You certainly cannot serve both God and money.  Likewise, you cannot have both earthly and heavenly treasures.  

Anticipating his disciples' anxiety about this eternal truth, Christ then goes deeper into their reasoning.  The train of thought goes like this: if the disciples gave up ALL materialism, they would starve, naked in a gutter.  Obviously there needed to be some "treasuring" of material goods in order to live.  Jesus knows this, but his answer is not what they are expecting.  He re-affirms his previous statements by even including food and clothing: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all."  His is an appeal for complete faith in God.  He drives in the final nail: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." 

This is a complete renouncement of materialism, and Jesus has given them an impossible task.  This kind of living is impossible without an amazing faith, and he knows that we sinful creatures are unable to drum up that kind of faith.  Once again, Jesus has given us a rule to follow, a law of the new covenant, that will break us down into despair.  However, he gives us a clue to the Gospel in that famous verse: Seek first the kingdom of God AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.  In other words, the righteousness with which we renounce materialism is not our own, since ours is completely inadequate.  The righteousness is Christ's.

Remember that the Epistles in the New Testament are the Gospel explained, and we find that Paul can help us understand seeking Christ's righteousness better.  The one-year historic lectionary provides a great supporting text with our Epistle reading (Galatians 6:11-end): See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. The false teachers who came to the Galatians after Paul left have corrupted this congregation with the addition of something worldly, fleshly.  In this case it is the rite of circumcision, but it can be anything else worldly, too.  The prosperity "gospel" preached in many churches today focuses on finances and how to be successful.  But Jesus himself said that you can't have those two treasures in the same storehouse together.  The false teachers want this false addition to the Gospel to take place so that they can position themselves as the true teachers of the Gospel.  The extra-biblical focus of today's false teachers does likewise, drawing the attention of the followers away from Christ and onto the teachers themselves.  Paul rebuts this plan of attack by saying that he boasts only in the "cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  The cross itself has separated Paul and the world, preventing him from laying up earthly treasures.  He is a "new creation" that does not take any pride in anything worldly but is heavenly minded, only storing up treasures for himself in God's kingdom.

So, instead of aspiring to have an impossible faith in our own works, trying to live by Jesus' new, tighter rules of renouncing materialism in the middle of a materialistic world, never succeeding, and falling into despair, Paul encourages us to focus on Christ's work on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  That way we will find our minds turning more toward heavenly things, until our focus is entirely on the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  As new creations, we sin less and less, and feed on Christ more and more.

You cannot possess earthly and heavenly treasure; you cannot serve both God and money; you cannot continue in sin and be a new creation.  Remember, continuing in sin means making a practice of it.  Christians still sin, but Christians repent and confess their sins, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel; boast in the Cross of Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity

In our Gospel reading, Jesus cleanses ten lepers.  On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus gave us two kinds of parables.  The first kind of parable is the spoken parable, the second kind is the performed parable.  Jesus acted out scenes packed full of theology and spiritual significance.  These parables are just as powerful as the spoken ones, and they have the added impact of being historical.  God manipulates Biblical history in just the right way to give us more detail on who he is and to point us to his son.

The healing of the ten lepers is a parable about what it means to give thanks and praise.  Jesus healed all ten lepers, at a distance, no less, and only one of the ten came back to give thanks.  This parable from the life of Christ tells us that we must give thanks to God for all the blessings of this life, the everyday blessings as well as the sudden ones.  We must be on our knees to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving every day.

It's also a parable about faith.  The ten lepers had to have faith to be healed.  He did not heal them immediately but told them to go and show themselves to their priests, who would be able to allow them back into the community.  But they weren't healed yet.  They would be going to the priests as lepers, and when the priests saw them, they would be rejected.  It took faith to go to the priests, even though they hadn't been healed yet.  Sure enough, they were healed along the way, so that when they got to the priests, they would be approved.  This tells us that we are not only to give thanks to God for all our blessings, we are to have faith in God that he will bestow on us these blessings, before we get them.

Well, it looks like I just hit you over the head with two slabs of law.  Are you giving thanks enough?  Do you have faith that God will give you blessings in this life?  No?  Perhaps you may be feeling a little depressed that you aren't as thankful nor as faithful as you should be.

Ready for another slab of law?  To the cleansed leper who returns to give thanks, praising God with a loud voice and falling on his face at Jesus' feet, Jesus says, "your faith has made you well."  The Greek actually reads, "hey pistis sou sesohken se," which translates, "your faith has saved you."  We have just moved from the realm of temporal blessings into salvation itself.  Not only do we need to have enough faith for our temporal blessings, but it seems that even fewer of us have faith in Christ for actual salvation.

There seem to be two kinds of faith: one for what God gives us in this life and one for eternal life itself, and the faith that matters is the latter.  Even though Jesus told all ten lepers to go and show themselves to priests, he asks the one who returned, "Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"  As if he expected them all to return.

Look at what we have here: ten lepers were told to have faith in God's temporal blessings.  They go in faith, and they are healed, but then they continue to the priests.  This is like many who have a mystical experience and they believe that theirs is a true conversion, and now they spend their lives working hard for their church, having never heard the Gospel, and they ultimately perish.

One of the lepers was a foreigner, a Samaritan.  He didn't go with the other nine when Jesus told them to show themselves to priests.  His would be a priest in Samaria. He was already going in a different direction than the other nine.  The other nine would be showing their newly-healed bodies to their priests, being allowed back into their religion, and living lives obedient to the law, maybe even working their ways up to Pharisees.

The average churchgoer has a mystical experience, they feel that the gospel has changed them, and then they spend the rest of their lives serving the church that changed them, never hearing the true gospel and now working their way to heaven. Ultimately, they are lost, because they never repented for the forgiveness of their sins, never put their trust in Christ for their salvation from God's wrath.

The Samaritan, the outsider, returns and throws himself at Jesus' feet in thanks.  This is repentance.  When we get gifts that we don't deserve we give a humble kind of thanks, not just a lip-service thanks.  To just throw the gift on the table and shout "next" like a four-year old is not repentance.  There's humble thanks, and then there's falling on your face at the feet of the one who bought you.  That's true repentance.

The human race is plagued with leprosy.  It's called sin, and it has been passed on to us from our federal head, Adam, and all of us have it.  We are not allowed in the Lord's presence with this ailment as a part of us.  Jesus heals us from this ailment, not by just calling out to us from afar, giving us a mystical experience, and telling us to get back into the law and begin obeying harder than ever.  Look at 1 Peter 2:24 and 25:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus himself took on our leprosy on the cross.  The stain is taken off of us and is no more.  We are free to live righteously, but only because he bled and died for our sins. The nine lepers who continued on will subject themselves to the burden of the law, and without repentance for the forgiveness of their sins, they will continue to stray like sheep.  God saved the one Samaritan leper to everlasting life, and his response is to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of his soul.

That is what Christ has done for us on the cross.  The law keeps us far from God; we can only cry out to him from a distance.  He heals us of our transgressions with his own blood, and we bear fruit in keeping with repentance: rejoicing, praying, giving thanks.  Bearing that fruit doesn't save us but are signs that we have been saved.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Romans 12:2 is not about finances, either!

Romans 12:2 is not about finances, either! These passages about discerning the will of God are not about discerning the will of God for our finances. Nor are they about living on purpose.  Read Romans 12:1 as well as 12:2.  This is not about figuring out the plan that God has for your life. This is about being a saved Christian and not returning to the life of sin you had before you were saved, but presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God (repentance), no longer offering your members to sin but offering them to God, no longer conforming to the world's standards but being transformed by God into the image of his son.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ephesians 5:17 does not say "Wise up and stop being stupid."

Ephesians 5:17 does not say "Wise up and stop being stupid." It says "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."  The word "therefore" points back to earlier in the letter, to salvation by grace alone, through faith alone.  Therefore, understand God's will for you.  What is God's will for you?  That you do the good works that he has prepared for you beforehand.  These works are found in Ephesians 4-5-6, and they are gospel-centered.  They are about loving your neighbor as yourself.  The neighbors that God has given you (spouse, children, friends, family, community). They are not about finances!

Ephesians 4-6 is not a to-do list for how to become a Christian.

Ephesians 4-6 is not a to-do list for how to become a Christian. As Ephesians 2:1-10 says, we cannot merit our salvation. We are saved by grace, and then God gives us good works to do in response to the gospel.  If one never hears repentance for the forgiveness of sins then all good works become to-do lists in order to be saved.  The good works in the New Testament are not binding law.  They are marks of a disciple who has already repented and continues to repent daily.  We look at them to see how we are doing as saved Christians, not as a how-to manual to become saved Christians.  If a church does not preach repentance in the shed blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, then the good works in the New Testament become law for the congregation and they get mired down in a works-based religion again.