Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jesus' Wisdom from the Desert Fathers

Translation from Thomas Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert:

An elder said: Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste, for if you do, you too are violating the law as much as he is.  For He who said 'thou shalt not fornicate' also said, 'thou shalt not judge.'

Malice will never drive out malice.  But if someone does evil to you, you should do good to him, so that by your good work you may destroy his malice.

An elder was asked: What does it mean, this word we read in the Bible, that the way is straight and narrow?  And the elder replied: This is the straight and narrow way: that a man should do violence to his judgments and cut off, for the love of God, the desires of his own will.  This is what was written of the Apostles: Behold we have left all things and have followed Thee.

One of the elders said, It is not because evil thoughts come to us that we are condemned, but only because we make use of evil thoughts we suffer shipwreck, but it can also happen that because of them we are crowned.

A certain brother came to Abbot Poemen and said, What ought I to do, Father?  I am in great sadness.  The elder said to him: Never despise anybody, never condemn anybody, never speak evil of anyone and the Lord will give you peace.

A brother came and stayed with a certain solitary and when he was leaving he said: Forgive me, Father, for I have  broken in upon your Rule.  But the hermit replied, saying: My Rule is to receive you with hospitality and to let you go in peace.

Abbot Pastor said: A man must breathe humility and the fear of God just as ceaselessly as he inhales and exhales the air.

One of the elders was asked what was humility and he said: If you forgive a brother who has injured you before he himself asked pardon.

A brother asked one of the elders: What is humility?  The elder answered him: To do good to those who do evil to you.  The brother asked: Supposing a man cannot go that far, what should he do?  The elder replied: Let him get away from them and keep his mouth shut.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery: but I say to you, that every one that looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

For Fullmetal Alchemist fans

Adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love.

To follow Jesus means self-renunciation and absolute adherence to him and therefore a will contaminated by lust can never be allowed to do what it likes… Instead of trusting to the unseen we prefer the tangible fruits of desire, and so we fall from the path of discipleship and lose touch with Jesus.  Lust is impure because it is unbelief, and therefore it is to be shunned.  No sacrifice is too great if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jeus.  Both eye and hand are less than Christ, and when they are used as the instruments of lust and hinder the whole body from the purity of discipleship, they must be sacrificed for the sake of him.  The gains of lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings—you forfeit your body eternally for the momentary pleasure of eye or hand.  When you have made your eye the instrument of impurity, you cannot see God with it.

 Surely, at this point we must make up our minds once and for all whether Jesus means his precepts to be taken literally or only figuratively, for here it is a matter of life or death... If we decided to not take it literally, we should be evading the seriousness of the commandment, and if on the other hand we decided we decided it was to be taken literally, we should at once reveal the absurdity of the Christian position, and thereby invalidate the commandment. 

Jesus does not impose intolerable restrictions on the disciples, he does not forbid them to look at anything, but bids them to look at Him.  If they do that he knows that their gaze will always be pure, even when they look upon a woman.  So far from imposing on them an intolerable yoke of legalism, he succours them with the grace of the gospel. 

For Ang Lee fans

Taking the Supernatural Out of Jesus

Many say that we can follow the morality of Jesus, but avoid the supernatural overlay that has been placed “over top of the pure gospel” of that moral message.  I appreciate these concerns and the heart that is behind such a belief.  They recognize that Jesus’ extreme teaching of love is a high and noble standard, even for those who cannot abide a “foolish” belief in resurrection or supernatural healing.

However, Jesus cannot be divided in such a way.  With almost all of his moral positions, Jesus also gives reason for such extreme good actions and they are all based on supernaturalism.

  • Jesus says that surrender one’s own possessions to the poor is based on the idea that such a one would receive greater goods in God’s future kingdom. (Luke 12:33-34)
  • Jesus says that loving one’s enemy is a good act because imitating the God who gives food even to the ungrateful is a proper goal of life. (Luke 6:35)
  • Jesus says that we forgive others because otherwise God would not forgive us of our sins. (Matthew 18: 21ff).
  • Jesus says that we should not look at the opposite sex with lust, for to do so would send us into hell, and likewise insulting another, and so displaying hate toward them. (Matthew 5:21-32)

Thus, Jesus bases his morality on the final judgement and the resurrection. 

Frankly, to have such an extreme morality makes no sense in a strictly material world.  Loving all, even those who do us harm, makes no sense if this world is all there is.  After all, those who do us harm should learn that harm-doing is unacceptable, and the best way to do that is to harm them for their harm-doing.  That is basic human morality.  That is what makes sense in a limited universe.  But Jesus’ high level of morality only makes sense if there is a second chance on life for those who live that high morality.  Only if this life is not all there is could there be enough time for all to be made right. 

On the other hand, Jesus recognizes that such a high level of morality is necessary for this world to be made right.  Only if some live to never punish another, but to help all those in need—even those who do not deserve it— can the world be a place of justice.  Only if we forgive the unforgiveable can we be forgiven for our unforgiveable actions.   Only if we give to those who have nothing to give back will our needs be met when we have nothing to give.   For us all to survive, at least some must live the outlandish morality of Jesus.  But none of us will do it unless we believe in an outlandish justice, beyond life’s limitations.

Thus, faith is the basis of living.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jesus' Moral Teachings-- A Summary

Jesus’ teaching isn’t just some general statements, but a whole lifestyle. Jesus didn’t just tell his people to love. Rather, he told us who and how to love. And his teaching isn’t just a good idea or some wise suggestions. Rather, they are the commands of a king to his people—the law of the kingdom of God. If we live our Jesus’ commands, then we are paying attention to the following principles of Jesus: “Be alert”, be prepared for Jesus’ coming, “abide in me”, “do the Father’s will”, “come to me”, “my burden is light”, “you are the salt of the world”, “follow Me”, “in this way everyone will know that you are my disciples” and many more.

Jesus—the basis of morality
To live according to Jesus’ life, we must have Jesus. Jesus spent quite a bit of time speaking of the necessity of being committed to him. He said “believe in me”, “follow me”, “learn from me”, “whoever loves his father and mother more than me can not be my disciple” and “whoever would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” To have Jesus, we must invite him to be king and Lord of our lives—where his nation is our nation and our first priority. To be a part of Jesus, he wants us to be baptized and to regularly participate in the Lord’s supper. But most of all, we must learn about Jesus, his teaching and live it out in all of our ways. If we commit ourselves to Jesus, He will give us the Holy Spirit—God within us—to guide us in His ways.

Jesus’ Commands—
A. The Basics
Jesus basically summarized the ten commandments, but he also applied them in specific ways.
Don’t murder

Don’t steal

Don’t defraud—
This means not lying in court or trying to cheat someone in business.

Don’t commit adultery—Jesus described this as not cheating on your spouse, not having sex with someone else’s spouse—even if they are divorced—and not desiring that someone else’s spouse was your own.

Honor your parents—Jesus described this as giving respect for your parents and providing for them in their old age.

B. Loving God
“No one can serve two masters”—This command also comes from the first two of the ten commandments. Jesus doesn’t want us serving other gods, nor does he want us to worship images as God. The main issue that Jesus spoke of in this regard was wealth. He considered wealth, money and possessions to be another god that demands service. There are certainly other gods that we can serve instead of God as well, such as sex, drugs, alcohol, or television/movies.

“The Lord’s name in vain”—Part of respecting God, Jesus says, is using His name carefully. So we do not use God’s name in cursing, falsehood or broken promises.

“Pray this way”—Jesus told us that we need to pray on a regular basis. When we pray, we use the Lord’s prayer as a model. Also, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit. Another thing that Jesus would often do when he prayed is to listen to God and see if he has anything to say to us.

“Clean the inside of cup”—To be right before God, Jesus says, we have to have our intentions and motivations pure, not just our actions. Even the smallest of actions display our true intention, and that is what we will be judged on. This is why we pray for the Holy Spirit, to clean our inner thoughts.

“Don’t be as the hypocrites”—Jesus wants us to take care when we worship or serve God that we are doing it for Him and not for other people. Jesus said that it would be good if we did some of our religious deeds in secret, so no one would know else would know we are doing them.

Porneia— As a part of our purity before God, Jesus wants us to not participate in sexual immorality. By this Jesus meant not being involved in: sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, or incest.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”—Jesus wants us to focus on two things—what God says and helping people. But he doesn’t want our added traditions or commands—our religion—to in any way harm others or to stand against God’s commands. This means, for instance, that we don’t use the Bible to destroy others, emotionally.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed”—Jesus wants us to recognize that God can do anything He wants to—and that He will respond in love to our prayers. This means sometimes that we need to step out in faith to do what God wants us to do, even if it seems crazy to those who don’t trust in God.

“Seek first the kingdom”—Jesus wants us to do work for God, expecting no wage. There are different kinds of work Jesus affirmed—evangelism, giving to the poor, prayer, teaching Scripture, healing the sick and more. Also, Jesus tells us to pray that God would call more workers.

C. Love your neighbor
“Do Unto Others”-- Treat others as we would have them treat us. We want to be respected, communicated with and supported—so, Jesus says, we do the same to others.

“Whoever is angry”—Jesus told us not to act in hostility against others, including insulting them or harming them in revenge.

“Look of lust”—Jesus told us that our sexual purity must include even the smallest actions such as looking at someone with lust.

“Certificate of divorce”—Jesus tells us that the only thing that breaks a marriage is adultery or divorce. But to divorce and get remarried is adultery, and a forced divorce could cause great harm.

“Let your Yes be Yes”—Jesus said that if we make a promise, we must keep it, even if it’s inconvenient. To do less than keep our word, Jesus says, is of Satan.

“Love your enemies”—Rather than getting revenge, Jesus says that we are to do good to those who do evil to us. We are always to think of how to best benefit others in all circumstances.

“Be reconciled”—If we have done anything wrong to others, we should make our wrongs right by going to the person we have wronged.

“Judge not lest you be judged”-- Don’t judge without mercy. Always assume the best and give people a chance to make their wrongs right.

“Forgive and you will be forgiven”—Jesus says that if anyone tries to make their wrongs right, we must take them back into relationship. We cannot keep people at arm’s length because we don’t like something they’ve apologized for.

“Give to the poor” – Jesus says that if we see anyone in need, we should do what we can to help them.

D. Church Morality
“Love one another”—Jesus said that in the church we are all to look out for each other, caring for each other as we would family members.

“Be at peace”—Jesus doesn’t want us to have arguments about minor matters. Nor are we to divide ourselves from others in the church, except for continuing sin.

“Rebuke him privately”—Jesus told the church to correct anyone in the church not living up to Jesus’ morality. This correction is to be done gently, with the intention of restoring the sinner.

“Well done, good and faithful servant”—Jesus said that everyone in the church needs to do work for the kingdom of God, with God as our employer and rewarder.

“Wash each other’s feet”—Jesus wants us to be hospitable to others who follow Jesus—including feeding each other, inviting others to our homes, praying for each other, and visiting each other when we are sick or in prison.

“I came to seek the lost”—The church of Jesus is to constantly be open to those who have failed God and wants to come back to Him.

“Preach the gospel”—Jesus tells the church that we—especially our leaders—are to proclaim God’s kingdom, the death and resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins.

“Heal the sick, cast out demons”—The church of Jesus, especially the leaders of the church, are to pray for others to give them spiritual freedom from sickness and evil spirits.

“Beware of false teachers”—The church is not to put leaders over ourselves who teach something apart from what Jesus taught. Nor are we to place people who are disobedient to Jesus over us as leaders.

“The last shall be first”—The leaders of Jesus people are there to serve all the others, to be humble and merciful.

“Freely received, freely give”—The teaching and the ministry that Jesus gave the church to give to others is to be free—without cost.

“The worker is worthy of his hire”—The church of Jesus is to take care of their leaders, providing for their basic needs.

E. Humility and Sacrifice
“The humble will be exalted”—Jesus says that we are to allow ourselves to be humiliated, disrespected and put down. If we do this, God will honor us and raise us up.

“Invite the poor”—We are to give honor to the lowly, poor and outcast, who cannot repay us, so God will give us honor.

“Sell your possessions”—Jesus wants us to not just give to the poor when it is convenient, but to sacrifice our own personal wealth for the poor.

“Turn the other cheek”—We are to submit to authorities, even if they do us harm. The only time we do not submit is if they tell us to disobey Jesus.

“Take up the cross”—Jesus wants our lives to be surrendered for the sake of others and God. Doing minor acts of mercy or devotion is not enough—we must surrender our whole lives, even literally if necessary.

“Rejoice and be glad”—Jesus said that if we do get persecuted, hated, isolated, or rejected because of following his way, speaking the gospel or living for Jesus, then we shouldn’t be depressed, but happy. For God will look at our faithfulness and reward us greater than the persecutions we suffered.

To love Jesus is to obey Jesus willingly

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Insignificant-- Matthew 18

At that time, Jesus’ students approached him and asked, “Who gets to be a boss in God’s coming kingdom?” He called over a boy with Down's Syndrome and put him right in the middle of them. He said, “Pay attention now. Unless you become completely transformed and become like the incompetant, you won’t even get through the front door of God’s kingdom. 

"The one who will be boss is the one who will be on the level of this toddler-so ignored and considered so ignorant that they aren't consulted for decisions. And if you welcome and show hospitality to a child like this, then you are welcoming me. But whoever spiritually deflowers one of the insignificant ones who believe in me, he might as well strap himself to the bottom of the Titantic, because his punishment would be worse than that.  The world is a terrible place because of people and things that deflower your faith! Yes, it is true, such traps are inevitable—but how awful to be the agent of the trap! 

"So if something deeply important to you—even one of your own limbs!—causes you to stray away from God, get rid of it! It is better for you to be without one of your limbs, but alive, than to be whole but punished by God. And if whatever you see causes you to stray away from God, get rid of it! It is better to be half blind but alive than to see everything but end up punished eternally.

 "And be very careful that you do not disrespect one of my insignificant disciples—for they have a line directly to the throne of God!"

Expecting The Kingdom Like Jesus

Jesus’ Life
Mark 1:15
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Jesus fully expected the kingdom of God to come at any time.  What is the kingdom of God?  It is the time when God will directly reign over the earth through his appointed king and bring peace and justice to all that is in the kingdom.  Jesus was expecting this to happen anytime, and everything he did was in accordance to that soon coming: He chose out twelve to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).  He healed and cast out demons to indicate God’s soon-coming redemption (Matthew 12:28).  He preached repentance so that many might be ready for the kingdom (Luke 13:6-9).  And he was in a hurry because he knew that it would come soon! (Matthew 10:23)

Our Lives

Mark 13:24-27; 33-37

They will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven...Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 
Jesus is letting us know—we need to look for the coming of the Son of Man.  At this time God’s kingdom will be in full force and all the powers of heaven and earth will be judged. God’s people will be gathered to one place in order to rule and to live in God’s peace.  Jesus tells us two things about this time—first of all, we don’t know when it will come.  It could be today, it could be in a thousand years—we don’t know.  No matter what anyone says, we still don’t know.  Second, we need to be ready, prepared for the event to come. The fact that we don’t know when it is just means that we need more preparation—it could be at any time, so we must be ready at any time!

Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, may your name be sanctified.  May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Jesus tells us to pray daily a prayer inviting God to clean up the earth.  We want God’s reputation to be purified—this will only happen when God gathers his people.  We want God’s kingdom to come—this will only happen when Jesus comes to earth to establish the kingdom finally.  We want God’s will to be done—this will only happen when God establishes his Spirit in people’s hearts.  We want God’s provision—which will only be guaranteed in God’s kingdom.  We want forgiveness, we want deliverance from trials—these will only finally occur on the final day.  This prayer is our expectation, our hope and our deliverance.

Luke 18:1-8

Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Jesus is telling us to pray for justice in a manner that we feel that we might be bothering God.  We need to bug him again and again for his justice and righteousness to come.  And we need to recognize that justice will come only when Jesus returns.

II Peter 3:1-15

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.

Many will claim that the kingdom will never come.  That it has been so long and Jesus hasn’t returned, so he never will.  All we know is that God proves faithful when doubters and scoffers all prove faithless.  We will continue to abide in Jesus and to trust in him.  The main reason that God hasn’t returned yet is because he is patient with sinners and is waiting for all who will come to repentance.  Because he is coming, though, we need to make sure that we are pure before him.

The Anabaptists (early Mennonites) were focused on obeying Jesus—not because it was a good, moral life to live, but because they were confident that Jesus was coming soon.  And it was true, there were many signs to indicate that Jesus’ coming was soon.  There was a world-wide oppression of God’s people, headed up by a world-wide ruler. And so they were motivated to teach the word of Jesus and encourage everyone to repent from their evil and focus on the Lord.

Living It Out

·         The anytime arrival of the kingdom of God is not just a doctrine, but a daily hope and expectation.

·         Get a sense of urgency!  Note how many things are wrong and could be improved by God directly ruling the earth through Jesus.

·         Be Ready!  Think what you would change if Jesus were to return today.  Then make those changes necessary!  Repent of what you need to repent of now.  Love those who need love today.  Live as if this world won't make it another day

·         Get your life straightened out! Is there anything that Jesus would be displeased about your life?  Get it right, before you can't change it anymore.

·         Tell others of God’s soon return! It is easy for us to live our lives as if everything will continue on as it always has been. Remind others that the world can change at any point.

·         Pray for God’s kingdom to come! As Jesus taught us, ask God to come and change the earth, both in the Lord's prayer and in prayer for others. 

·         Bug God for justice!  God's return is about him standing for the innocent and helpless.  Pray that He do what He must to establish justice on earth. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Everything Jesus Said About Prayer

Well, maybe not everything, but here are all of Jesus' major teachings on prayer:

John 15:7
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you

Luke 11:1-13
It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples." And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" Then He said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"

Matthew 6:5-13
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Mark 11:22-25
"Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."

Luke 18:2-8
"In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal protection from my opponent.' For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

Luke 18:10-14
 Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Mark 12:38-40
Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation."

Matthew 5:44-45
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 26:36-41
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
John 16:23-27
Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.