Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

(Kind of a gross picture, isn't it?)

Murder.  Adultery.  Divorce. (Matthew 5:21-32)

It was another difficult morning at Bible study yesterday because the topics were so personal.  But Jesus doesn't tend to pull punches - He lays it on the line and forces us to respond.  So here was the basic teaching:

  • God wants to get to the heart of the matter.
  • God considers sinful anger against another human as murder. All men are image bearers of God and only God is the judge of men, therefore we are to reconcile relationships as far as it is up to us so that our worship is not hindered and so that we aren't found guilty of murder.
  • God also considers lust to be adultery.  Therefore, radical amputation is sometimes necessary to remove the temptation, but it pales in comparison to the punishment that comes from not dealing with sin.
  • And finally, God views divorce and remarriage as adultery with the exception for unfaithfulness in a marriage. We also concluded that remarriage is allowed to a believing spouse whose unbelieving partner refuses to stay in the marriage.  This was particularly hard teaching because bad marriages and divorces abound in the church...abound.  I mean it, they abound.
The holiness of God should become more apparent as you study the word of God.  It should make Him much bigger and reduce you to your proper size.  The hindrance to this happening is our pride. We don't want to view ourselves in light of scripture, but rather we tend to justify ourselves by saying our sin isn't really that bad.  

If lust in your heart is considered adultery, then sin is pretty damning.

If anger towards someone is considered murder, is really underrated.

As for divorce, I think that sexual impurity also abounds today, which makes most divorces "biblical" per se, but that hardly justifies doing something God hates - both the immorality and divorce are abhorrent to Him.

So yes, sin really stinks and after a study like yesterday, once again I find myself poor in spirit and mourning over my sinfulness.  God wants to get to our hearts, my friends.  And when I say hearts, I am not talking about our feelings but to the core of our minds - where our beliefs are born and where we form understanding that drives our actions.  He wants us to see sin as He sees it.

Why is Jesus making this so hard on His audience?  Why is He shining a light on their sin, rather than building them up and encouraging them?  Again, this is our pride asking this.  We must understand that in shedding light on the enormity of our need, Jesus is being more gracious and loving than we deserve.  For without us recognizing our sin, we will never repent of it, we will never see our need for a Savior, we will never beg for forgiveness and we'll never fully receive His mercy and grace, which He freely and abundantly bestows on us.

We need to marinate in this teaching for a few days, then own it, repent and determine to put off sin and put on righteousness.  God is forgiving and He's also extremely powerful and helpful when it comes to victory over sin.  He knows what is best for us - He knows what pure hearts produces in the lives of His children. Therefore, let's not embrace our sin only because then we will have to endure the consequences, but let's not embrace our sin because we see God more clearly and want to please Him more than indulge ourselves.

If you are not convinced that letting Christ rule in your life is a better way to live, then you will never release your kung fu grip on sin.

Not I, but Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lesson Summary

Good morning, friends!

After the hard lesson yesterday, my friend who watches online in Washington, sent me this summary of the lesson.  I thought she got the main points and decided to post them here for you:

The law of God has three parts:
  • the moral law
  • the judicial law
  • the ceremonial law
All of it reveals the character of God.  The law flows out of God's character and gives us the heart of God, what He cares about and what we are to care about.

The law shows us Jesus - it's a picture of Jesus.  The law and the prophets point to Jesus.  

The Pharisees had taken the heart of God out of the law, leaving legalism - they were trying to please God with only action, not heart, when God wants our hearts. They had changed the call from internal holiness (having an attitude like God) to living external rules.  They thought even with a dirty heart, if you had the right actions you could please God. (No wonder they hated Jesus and were legalistic, not seeing Jesus as God because as God, Jesus is the heart of God!)

We see the tender compassion of God in the law from how the Israelites were to treat the animals of their enemies. 

God wants our hearts and minds (Hosea 6:6). The Mishnah shows how far the Pharisees had strayed from the heart of God.  

Jesus came to fulfill the law, since it was a picture of Him.  He lived the law out.  (Parts of the ceremonial law will not be fulfilled until His second coming.)  Because the law is Jesus, to annul the law or to abolish the law is to do away with Jesus.  The Word of God (including the law) is permanent. Jesus was establishing the permanence of His Word.  The law of God does not change because the character of God and the heart of God does not change. (The penalty phase of the law will be the day of the Lord - I loved that truth.)

We don't have to live according to the law for righteousness, Jesus did that for us.  We live according to the law because it is His heart and we want to please Him.  The judicial law - this was for Israel, as a nation under God's leadership. When Israel rejected Jesus as their king, they rejected the judicial law and so it has been set aside for them.  The judicial law will be back in place during the millennium for Israel!  

We do not observe the ceremonial law because Jesus fulfilled it.  Before salvation, the law reveals our sin - after salvation, the law reveals righteousness.  The law now give us joy, because we have the ability to keep it.  When we live by the moral law, it increases our joy because it shows we are after the heart of God!

In the story of the prodigal son, the father had the second son's actions, but not his heart. The Father wants our hearts! 

What about the Sabbath? Why don't we keep the Sabbath part of the moral law?  Nine of the moral laws are restated in the teaching of the New Testament, but not the Sabbath.  The Sabbath (and there were more than one) were days set aside for rest. The law was a huge burden and a Sabbath was to rest from this burden.  Jesus is our Sabbath, our rest!  The Sabbath was also a call to holiness.  Jesus is also our holiness and every day is a call to holiness for us.  This is why we don't observe the Sabbath, because Jesus is keeping it for us, as our holiness.

The final point I would make about the Sabbath is this - we do not find our rest in a day.  We find our rest in Jesus.  This is why every day is now a sabbath of sorts - a call to holiness in Jesus Christ.  The early church met on the Lord's day, which was the first day of the week - not as a day of rest, but as a day of celebration - to remember the resurrection and to celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ...

Okay, time to start looking at what is coming next week...have a great week!

Monday, October 15, 2012

In the same way...

This week at my women's study we will be looking at Jesus' teaching that if you are persecuted, you are blessed.  Having just returned from a formerly communist country, Romania, this subject of persecution has been greatly on my mind, but probably not how you would think.

Persecution historically has been unable to extinguish the church. As a matter of fact, in most places it strengthened the church and caused revival.  How can that be?  When your life is on the line, why would people choose to die?  The believers who gave their lives for Christ understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain.  In A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir, Collin Hanson and John Woodbridge say this:

“Persecution doesn’t always . . . sow the seeds of revival.  When the persecution is sufficiently systematic, severe, and sustained, as it was centuries ago in places such as modern-day Libya and Saudi Arabia, the church disperses and disappears.  The persecution in Kenya and Uganda, however, failed to stamp out the flames of faith fanned by revival.  A church already broken by its own sin and desperate need for a Savior is better positioned to withstand attack.  Revival reaches Christians who recognize and admit that God is their only hope."

This confirms Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, as He explains that the citizens of His kingdom come completely broken over their sin, with mourning and sorrow - they recognize their beggarly state.  Understanding what they have been saved from produces a willingness to lay their life down for the Savior and whether it's revival or not, persecution becomes validation of their loyalty to Christ.

Fast forward to today - there is still physical persecution in the world.  Christians are losing their livelihoods or lives for the sake of Christ.  Men, women and children are beaten for the cause of Christ, they have had their hands cut off, they are thrown out of their families, their homes and businesses are burned and in many cases their lives are taken from them.  They are ridiculed and mocked, considered weak and rejected.  And yet the church survives.

But this is not the persecution seen in many places today.  In Romania, the persecution of the church mainly comes from within the church.  Churches within the same denomination are vile and wicked toward each other - spreading lies and gossip to destroy other believers.  The ridicule and mocking still accompany the threats, and lines are quickly drawn for believers to choose with whom they align.  From music to clothing, preaching styles to head coverings, leadership organization to women's roles - the legalism is weighty on the shoulders of the believers and the controversy is not simply difference of opinions but all out hatred against brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sadly, this is the type of persecution experienced today in America.  While the nation as a whole is testing the waters of freedom of religion, currently the in-fighting within the body of Christ is the main source of harassment in the church.  Churches have become social engagements, seeking membership more than discipleship - straying from the call to preach the Word, deal with sin and love one another. Sin has separated family members as well as church members, all who are covered by the blood of Christ. 

As I have prepared for this lesson on persecution, I couldn't help but wonder if the in-fighting in the church was included in the persecution Jesus was teaching about. So this morning, I was reading through the passage again and this phrase stuck out to me:

"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you..."

Insults and false, evil gossip are exactly what is flowing through the churches today, and Jesus' reference to the rejection of the prophets who were rejected by whom? The people they were called to preach to - the chosen children of God - these words confirmed in my heart that Jesus included persecution within the church in His teaching.  He knew exactly what was going to happen and He gave words of comfort to hold on to in times of struggle.

The key is the three words, "because of Me."  If we want to embrace and rejoice in our persecutions, we have to be sure that it is because of Jesus that we are being harassed and rejected, even within the church. We have to check our motives and what we stand on - are we being mocked and ridiculed because of our love for Jesus, or because of our own sinful tendencies?  This is a high mark that forces us to examine ourselves before crying "foul!" before the Lord.

Father, forgive our petty differences.  Forgive our in-fighting.  Forgive our selfish, sinful attack on other believers.  May we love each other in the name of Your Son.  May we be unified in Your Word. The fields are massive and the workers need to quit fighting and join ranks for the glory of Your name. May our church be a beacon of light to a dying world, rather than the object of harassment or the source of persecution of other children of God.  Strengthen Your church in Your Word and give endurance to those who are experiencing the false, evil gossip within the church.  Specifically strengthen our brothers and sisters in Romania who are battling to establish the biblical model of church within a nation crushed by communism and legalism.  We love You, Lord - You are our God. There is none like You.