STOP WASTING TIME!

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(This is the last of the series about the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Thanks for all the comments and likes!)

 Disclaimer

We do not have the time to get into all the Hard Sayings Of Jesus, so this will be our last in this series.  I hope by now you have the tools and the courage to tackle on your own the hard, even harsh things Jesus had to say.  Simply because we don’t like them or do not want to deal with them doesn’t mean we have the luxury of simply ignoring them.  Frankly, I do not want to face Him on the day of judgment and have Him ask me why I chose to ignore them.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 10:5-15 (NIV)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 

13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What exactly is Jesus saying here?  There is a principle and a Truth that is guiding all the other messages we see and hear.  And it is in Verses 14-15—If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  2 things about this image:

  1. It was a sign of an unclean place. It’s what devout Jews would do if they ever had to go into a Gentile city or home.
  2. It was a sign that you were finished with that person or place, and you were not responsible for their decisions and actions. It was a sign of letting them know that God’s judgment was now upon them—no more excuses.

It seems that Jesus is saying that when people reject Him and His Kingdom, His disciples are to shake the dust off their shoes and move on, and that Sodom and Gomorrah will do better at judgment than them.  But Where is the Grace and Mercy and patience of God?  Well, let’s apply the process of the 2 questions:

  1. Is It Possible?

Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and in Mark 3:6 we read—“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Obviously Jesus moved on.  Now look at the second question:

  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian where the people began listening to them.  But the religious leaders stirred up trouble and expelled them.  And we read in Verse 51—So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

So the answer to both questions is clearly yes.  If you can remember only 1 thing from Slide15this message, this is it:  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.  I am not more important than The Mission.  You are not more important than The Mission.  Our families are not more important than The Mission.  This nation and its politics are not more important than The Mission.  Your wants and wishes are not more important than The Mission.    The church is not more important than The Mission.  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.

So, how do we apply this authoritative word?  Does it mean that we go up to someone and ask them, “Do you want to be a Christian?” and if they say “No”, we forget about them and ask the next person and the next and the next?  Absolutely not.  Putting this hard saying of Jesus into the right context is the key to the application of His Truth.  This is The Pattern for how The Kingdom works and moves:  Jesus SENDS!  Jesus sends the First 12 Disciples, and He continues to send His Disciples.

This isn’t an Apostolic Age thing.  The word apostle means one who is sent.  Everyone is sent somewhere for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It may not be to a pulpit or foreign country, but you are sent nonetheless.  Jesus is sending Disciples.  They aren’t apostles (lowercase a) until they are sent.  And notice where He sends them:  Not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans—but to those He calls “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Why?

Because The Kingdom Of God Should Begin Here!  Before we can take the Kingdom of God into the world, it must be firmly rooted in our hearts.  God has a Mission for Real Disciples.  Those who attended the Small Group Training learned that it’s wrong to say Slide16the church has a mission.  Truth is that God’s Mission has a church.  We call it Missio Dei—the sending of God.  God’s mission needs a church that will embrace and follow His Mission.  I see at least 3, let’s call them Kingdom Principles, that Jesus demands from us if we are going to be more than Christian in name, but in heart and life.

1] The Mission Needs To Be Focused.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

God sends Disciples to the places that needs what only God provides.  This passage, these words of Jesus, is where we need to focus.  First focus on ourselves, then on others.  Here’s where the focus needs to be rather than on all the external trimmings that we think give us our identity:

  • Heal the sickthe word “heal”, means to serve. The word “sick” means those who are weak, powerless, without the strength to change their life
  • Raise the dead—it means to wake up and cause people to stand in life, not the death that sin produces in us. The Walking Dead TV series isn’t original.  There are the Walking Dead all around us.  Not zombies, but broken and lifeless people.
  • Cleanse those with leprosy—that word leprosy includes the disease of leprosy but was also applied to a variety of skin diseases. Spiritually it’s about those who are carrying around external labels that crush and destroy the human heart.
  • Drive out demons—the devil is having a heyday and causing mayhem because the church has stopped fighting them and starting fighting people. The phrase here means with force and strength.  This is the warfare that God calls us into.

Freely have you received, freely give—It’s about sharing the extravagant grace and mercy that God has shown you with others.

2] We Need To Give A Clear Message.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The church can be really good at sending mixed messages.  For example:  Jesus can set you free—but to be with us, there are certain ways you need to act and a certain way of doing things.  Here’s another:  God has an unlimited supply of grace for you—but don’t be surprised if my supply of grace is limited.  Oh, this is a good one:  Christ makes all things new—just like they were 40 years ago.

The Greek word for “at hand” is eggizō (en-gē’-zō).  It means: to join one thing to another.  The Message of the Kingdom is to connect people to the Kingdom of God!  The gospel message is not difficult. The Message Is Clear:

  • Let’s be clear that brokenness persists in all of us. We are all broken somewhere. We are sinners in need of the Savior.
  • Let’s be clear that Only by faith in Jesus can we be forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion over us.
  • Let’s be clear that when we are forgiven we join in with what God is doing in the world.

Some people place the stained glass windows of tradition and liturgy in front of Christ and hide Him. Some are destroying the Good News of the Kingdom by replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of how we feel and what WE want to believe.  The apostles were to “go and preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It’s about the Kingdom, not the local church.  We are to keep the message of God clear—it’s all about Jesus and His Authority to rule us.

3] Do The Mission With Urgency.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (vs. 14-15)

What I see missing in so many lives is The Passion for the Mission.  Until we see and know how Urgent the Mission is, we will never have the Passion.  Urgency Creates Passion.  And that Passion motivates us to become apostles—people who are sent!

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The Greek word for apostle is apostolos and it means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō—to order one to go to a place appointed.  Real Christians Are Sent People.  You Have Stopped Being A Sent People When You Become A Settled People.  Me?  I’m not going to be a settled person.  I’m moving with God and with those moving with God and I’m shaking the dust off my shoes for those who have settled.

Without that sense of Urgency with Passion, then there is coming a time when those who are supposed to know—know the Truth and Live it in Urgency and with Passion—but have ignored and rejected The Kingdom—that God is going to shake the dust and judgement is going to be upon those people and churches.  The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah will not be as severe as those people and churches that reject God’s Kingdom for their own Kingdom.

Until you know how urgent the message and mission of the Kingdom is, you will never be a real Disciple of Jesus.  People are hurting deeply all around us.  Every day people are going into eternity without Jesus.  Every day people are being deceived and believing the lies.  Our work is urgent.  Join in now before someone shakes the dust off the shoes towards you.

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The High Price Of Following Jesus!

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DisclaimerThis I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means.  Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand.  The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved.  Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:

  1. Is It Possible?
  2. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations.  It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)— Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him.  So, the answer to both questions is YES.  This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.

Slide10 I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free.  It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin.  And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life.  This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.

And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven.  Don’t you agree?  Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a  seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home.  But it’s not; there is much more.  Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals.  The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.

And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more.  This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful!  No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals.  So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift.  And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.

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Think about this:  What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus?  A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany:  DISCIPLESHIP.  This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

 

Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.”  Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life.  Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly.  Here is why it’s Costly:

1]  It Costs Personal Comfort

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Vs. 57-58)

Here’s a man like us.  He wants to follow Jesus.  Promising idea, right?  And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live:  At the level of comfort.  You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable.  And many want to be comfortable following Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.

I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem.  David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight.  After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan.  But there’s a problem:  David hasn’t consulted God about it.  God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation.  As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God.  The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free.  But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.

You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure.  Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding.  Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus.  Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones.  Before she retired she was a computer programmer.  Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable.  But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship.  You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.

2]  It Requires Immediate Commitment!

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”   (Vs. 59-60)

The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet.  So, it’s just an excuse to postpone.  “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.”  This makes Jesus sound less harsh.  But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated:  “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.”  The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying.  And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah.  In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral.  But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd.  Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.”  Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.

John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story.  He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England.  His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin.  He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand.  But hear John’s reply:  “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look.  I have you.  You go and preach the Gospel to those people.  Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.”  There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!

3]  It Involves Unlimited Commitment

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”   Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Vs. 61-62)

Jesus wants you to make up your mind.  There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”.  A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:

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It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation.  People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven.  Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.

Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct.  Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?

First Let Me.

In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me?  What is your “First Let Me”?  Your excuse?

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The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

3 The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

DisclaimerI don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year.  And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series.  And I am OK with this.  Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?  34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

OK, did that last verse sink in?  Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy.  Does He really do that?  Wow!  Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins.  But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?”  Well let’s put our 2 questions up:

  1. 1. Is It Possible? NO!
  • Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?

So, this is obviously hyperbole.  Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us.  To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?

A question is asked by one of the disciples:  Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”  In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness?  What’s His standard?

  1. What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?

Jesus moved on.  In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more.  You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason.  The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.

  1. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?

Let’s go back to the question that started all of this:  “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?”  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone.  And here is the 1 thing you need to remember:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!

It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others.  Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point.  It’s like this little poem I found:

to dwell

Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus.  We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it.  But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy.  We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”

Look again at the story.  Peter asked a question:  “How often should I forgive the same person?  What about 7 times?”  Why did Peter use the number 7?  Was it because “7” is the number of perfection?  I do not think Peter was into numerology.  The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them.  Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees.  The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question.   The question should have been:  “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”

God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy.  Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships.  That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.

We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question.  As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us.  For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.

Listen again to the story.  A King calls in all debts.  One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold.  1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds.  So that’s 1.3  million pounds.  At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars.  The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it.  He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it.  Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness.  Got it?

Now this servant is having a great day.  He wanted an extension but received a pardon.  Life is oh, so good.  Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii.  The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.

This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work.  6,500 compared to 353.6 million.  The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment.  The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full.  When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.

The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom.  He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled.  You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?”  Answer is simple.  He’s a King and He makes the rules.  Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus.  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”

Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!  Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts

First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God.  Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation.  Truth is, it has only just started.  There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ.  When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.

Second, it creates chaos in the community.  What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy.  When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God.  It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts

How does it distort whom God has made us to be?   First, it is hypocritical.  You demand from others what you think is right.   The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other.  It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.

Second, it puts you back under judgment.  If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13).  When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.

First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness.  You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount.  Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.

Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others.  Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!”  And it crushes their heart and spirit.

Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus.  When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”

So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you?  Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you.  It begins with God.  That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.  It was not about him.  It’s about God.  You do not choose to offer grace and mercy.  You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you.  You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.

Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you.  It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded.  We need space and time to process it.  Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:

  1. First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified.  So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
  2. Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.

On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us.  If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you.  Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.

Next Steps

Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven!

2 Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven

(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)

Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:  Disclaimer

OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus.  Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth.  He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth.  He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally.  But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration.  And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole.  2 Steps:

  1. Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself.  If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole

If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole.  But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority.  Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings.  It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this:  Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven.  This is what Jesus is really saying here.  Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven.  These are good, moral and honest people.  This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars.  These are the people who talk a good game.  Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas.  So, is Jesus serious here?  OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:

  1. Is It Possible?
    1. One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was.  And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
    2. The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
    3. Think about this:  Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord?    It happens every day.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
    1. Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
    2. And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.

Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow.  If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.

But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something?  I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others.  It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars.  For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage.  We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.

Then why isn’t this enough?  I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong.  We helped our neighbor a few times.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough.  If we do more good things than bad things—hey!  We should be able to get in.  Makes human sense, doesn’t it.  After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good.   It works in accounting, but not at judgment.  Why doesn’t it work at judgment?

Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.

The Kingdom is God’s realm.  And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness.  Now how righteous are we to be?  Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  How righteous were they?  Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own.  They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion.  They were obsessed with religious function.  As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.

They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting.  They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law.  It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.

God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish.  Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus.  So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?

1) The Problem Of Sin

Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside.  John Wesley called it “Original Sin”.  We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature.  It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark.  We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness.  We miss the mark when it comes to judging others.  We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy.  We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done.  Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.

Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God.  In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  The Law of God is one single Law.  Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws.  When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience.  All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.

2) The Issue Of Holiness

1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness.  We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin!  When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.

We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image.  God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God.  Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain.  Being good is different from being Holy.  Being good is acting nice to others for the most part.  Being good is acting joyful for the most part.  Being good is acting grateful for the most part.  Being good is going to church on most Sundays.  Being good is reading your Bible for the most part.  Being good is helping someone from time to time.  Being good is paying the bills on time.  Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are.  Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.

The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.

Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.

No exceptions and no exclusions.  Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner.  Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone.  And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.

3) The Need For Righteousness

Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God.  But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God.  And we never will by our best efforts.  So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner.  In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God.  Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.

Righteousness is received in two acts.  The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.

  Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.

Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross.  It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness.  By Grace—Through Faith

But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning.  Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness.  Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right.  It’s the reason for:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God.  It happens when we get involved with what God is doing.  It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.

  1. The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
  2. The Great Love For God—with all your life
  3. The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
  4. The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus

Getting into heaven isn’t about being good.  It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good.  So, how do you get into heaven?  It’s by obeying.  Listen again to verse 21:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?

  1. Confess And Repent:  Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins.  Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner.  Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
  2. Trust And Believe:  Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
  3. Surrender And Follow:  Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
  4. Learn And Do:  Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching.  Then do the things you have learned.  In other words, obey Jesus.

Next Step

The Family Values Of Jesus

1 Family Values

(This is from my current sermon series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Feedback welcomed and encouraged)

There is a tendency among us “church-goers” to focus on the kinder and gentler Jesus.  We love the Jesus that is kind and gentle because, well, that’s what we really need.  For one reason, we live in a world that is harsh and unkind.  Another reason is that we recognize our own shortcomings and we need that kind and gentle Jesus to correct us when we’re wrong.  So, we focus on the kindness of Jesus and bypass what I can only describe as the Tough Jesus.  Jesus was at times Abrasive, and I’m not talking about how He dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees.  So I need to begin this series with a, call it, a Disclaimer:

Disclaimer

Jesus said some things that can be difficult to handle.  Most of us don’t want to deal with that part of Jesus.  But if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to teach us the truth about God, then we need to listen to everything Jesus taught, even if it is harsh or difficult to understand.  If Jesus said something, I believe that we need to pay attention to those words.

To understand what Jesus says, we need to get a grasp on Jesus the Communicator of The Truth.  First, He was a great Story-Teller, using ordinary things to describe the extraordinary truth of the Kingdom. Second, He spoke direct authority, meaning we should take them as having authority over us.

A final communication tool of Jesus was his superb use of Hyperbole.  The definition of Hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration, embellishment or magnification.  Here’s an example:  “He’s older than dirt.”  That can’t be because we came from dirt.  It just a way of saying, “Man, they are really old.”  Here’s an easy hyperbole of Jesus:  (Matt. 7:3 NLT)—“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  We know that a plank won’t fit into an eye socket.  Maybe some people’s big mouth, but not their eye socket, OK?

When it comes to the meaning of the words of Jesus, we simply do not have the luxury, nor the authority, nor the wisdom of choosing an understanding that simply makes us feel better about ourselves or about Jesus.  Let’s take a moment to lay some groundwork that will carry us through the rest of this series, and through those passages we will not be able to address at this time.  How do we sort through what is hyperbole and what is authoratative? Here are 2 steps to guide us in this determination:

  1. Is It Possible? Back to the speck of dust and plank story.  It’s simply not possible to walk around with a plank sticking out of your eye.  Not possible?  Then it’s hyperbole.  If the answer is Yes, then go to Step 2:
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus will never contradict Himself.  If it is not consistent with the Kingdom Message, then it’s hyperbole.

If the answer to either of these is No, then there is a very high degree of confidence that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  If the answer to both questions is Yes, then there should be an even higher confidence that Jesus is speaking literally.  Then our response is clear:  do what Jesus said to do.  But if He is speaking in hyperbole, how do we get to the truth?  3 steps that help us find the truth:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
  2. What Happened Or Was Said Right After Those Words?
  3. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make? What is the Kingdom principle Jesus is teaching?  Sometimes it comes with Jesus explaining it directly, sometimes it’s more subtle.  This step may take a while.

Our first passage is from Luke 14:25-35 (NIV)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Wow!  Is it just me, or does Jesus come down hard on our concept of family values?  Yet there it is, in black and white, unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible.  Here’s the one thing you need to remember, and it’s directly from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Maybe the NIV translators did a poor job with the Greek and Jesus didn’t really say “hate your family”.  But, nope, it’s there even in the KJV.  Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Maybe He was just having a bad day, or He was just tried of walking, or maybe tired that all those people were following behind Him and He simply wanted to be alone.  Or better yet, maybe this is that hyperbole thing going on—He didn’t mean it literally—He was just exaggerating.  Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally.  But when Jesus uses hyperbole, He really is making a point and we need to understand the point Jesus is making.  Is today’s passage a hyperbole or is Jesus saying something literally?

 Now, let’s apply the first 2 questions to today’s passage:

  1. Is It Possible? Matthew 12:46-49—46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.”  Now let’s apply the 2nd question
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? (Mark 8:34-35)   34 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

OK, the answer to question 1 is YES and the answer to question 2 is YES.  So, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole, but literally.  But why should we love God so deeply, even more than our closest relationships?  Why would Jesus tell us to set aside everything, including family, and follow Him?  Here’s what I see Jesus saying why we must set our families aside in order to put our love for God ahead of every other relationship:

 1) Our God Is A Jealous God!

“For you must not worship any other god. For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exo. 34:14 (NLT)

God is unwilling to accept any divided loyalty.  Anything can come between us and God.  Usually we think in terms of stuff coming before God.  Those trinkets called idols—like money, that job, that house, that car—physical things.  But it’s not just the physical things that can get between us and God.

Some think it’s the bad stuff—the sinful stuff—like another religion, drugs, pornography, politics.  No doubt this bad stuff can become more important than God.  But it’s not just the bad stuff that can get between us and God.

Good stuff can AND will get between us and God. Have you ever thought that the good stuff gets in the way of following Jesus?   God refuses to play second to anyone and we dishonor Him when anyone takes priority over Him.

2)  It’s The Difference From Following Jesus As A Disciple And Following Jesus As A Spectator

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Here’s the approach many people take.  “OK, I have this, this, and that to do this week, so where can I fit Jesus into my calendar?”  When we look for places to fit Jesus in, we are no longer following Him as a Disciple, but as a spectator.  There was this crowd following BEHIND Jesus.  But they were NOT following WITH Jesus.  Here’s an example from Mark 3:21-34.  That woman had a health problem.  She decided that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she could be healed—and she was.

Now here’s the point—Were there others in that crowd around Jesus who had problems that had physical contact with Jesus?  More than likely she wasn’t the only one with issues.  But only she was made whole.  Why?  She wanted more than to be around Jesus—she wanted the power of Jesus in her life—and that took direct contact of her heart and her faith in Jesus!

We cannot give our families what they really need unless God is more important to us than them.  In our culture, we need a realignment of priorities.  This is the whole point of what Jesus is teaching then—and especially teaching now!  It’s important for families to understand this—because we are the front-line battle formation for the reclaiming and restoration of God’s Creation.

Next Steps

And remember to Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!