Showing posts with label Matthew. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew. Show all posts

06 August 2013

Gifts, prayer and needs

Leaders in the church, Part 13
< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

As we grow in living the way Jesus calls us to, we become examples for those around us, those coming next. If we live wrongly and make bad choices we will mislead others and that would be a fearful thing.

Bread of life
Bread of life
It's becoming clear to me that everything in Matthew's Gospel is of value to all believers and also to all leaders. In other words there is nothing here so far that applies only to leaders or only to followers.

Instead, the pattern is a progression, from new believer to disciple and from disciple to leader. As we learn and grow we should all aspire to guide and encourage and build those around us. Even at the earliest disciple stage we can do what Jesus' followers did; bring more people to Jesus.

We need to learn to exercise ourselves in these activities, bringing people into Jesus' presence, helping them to grow as disciples, and continuing to grow in the process ourselves. In a sense there is no distinction between leader and follower; we are, without exception, called to be both.

Giving and praying - So here in Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus speaking about giving to those who have insufficient and doing it secretly without show or boasting. And in Matthew 6:5-15 he tells them that it's the same for prayer. Pray privately, just between yourself and the Father. Nor is it about fancy words, the most striking thing about the prayer Jesus taught them is its simplicity. Even so, each of those simple words is loaded with meaning and significance. This is not a prayer for those who do not mean business!

Again, fasting is not for show but to be done secretly (Matthew 6:16-18).

Focussing on heaven - Matthew 6:19-24 shows how Jesus wants us to focus on heaven, not earth; to be full of light, not darkness; and to serve the Almighty, not material things.

And we are not to be anxious about food, drink, clothes or time (Matthew 6:25-34). Instead we must search for the kingdom of the Most High and for his righteousness.

By doing all these things we will become living books that people can safely follow. 'Do what I do' needs to consistently bring people right into the places where Jesus is present.

Questions:

  • If I do not give to those in need or those who ask, how will this affect my friends' understanding of Jesus?
  • Can you list some ways in which secret prayer is better than public prayer?
  • Now list the ways in which public prayer is better than secret prayer.
  • How will this affect the way you pray in future?

See also:


< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

10 July 2013

Some issues to grapple with

Leaders in the church, Part 12
< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus stresses the importance of avoiding anger, lust, divorce and swearing; he also tells them how important it is to be selfless. He was speaking to leaders in training and it's important that we understand these things are especially significant when we lead.

An angry man
An angry man
Matthew 5:21-42 records some of Jesus' teaching about negative things - anger, lust, swearing oaths and retaliation. After these are dealt with he continues with some positive essentials.

As we pay attention to what he says about both negative and positive, we should bear in mind that he is speaking here to leaders in training, the followers he will later send out to work on their own.

This stuff applies to everyone, but it applies especially to anyone who leads. And if we are truly following Jesus we will do what he does (and that includes leading others into the truth).

The highest standards are demanded of people who lead others. We need to be very serious in understanding the harm that we can do, and we need to accept that we are held accountable by Jesus himself.

Anger - In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains that murder is illegal and will be judged. But then he says something quite astonishing. He tells us that anger, insults and even calling someone stupid will be judged equally seriously.

He tells his apprentices that even if they're in the middle of an important and public religious act at the Temple, if it occurs to them that they've wronged someone in any way they should drop what they're doing and go and put things right straight away.

Or, if someone has a legal case against you, come to an agreement with them before the court appearance. It's just common sense really. But it's an illustration of spiritual common-sense too. We are called to love one another, and amongst other things that means keeping our relationships with one another healthy. If we let anger, differences, grudges or hostility creep in we are failing in love. That is a more serious matter than we may realise and it goes against the new, great commandment to 'love one another as I have loved you'.

Lust - Once again, Jesus' standards exceed those of the law. Even looking is condemned as adultery. It is the heart that counts, not just the actions of the body.

Jesus presses this message home by using a Hebraic figure of speech, absurd exaggeration. Hopefully nobody will take these remarks about gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand literally! But the point about lust is important enough to warrant such words.

Truly loving other people is the key to resolving this issue, as with anger. We cannot hurt those we truly love.

We don't need to list recent examples of sexual misconduct in church circles. It happens more often than we like to think. It's usually well hidden for as long as possible and it's always shocking when the truth comes out.

Divorce - Once again, Yahshua insists that the parting of husband and wife is more serious than many assume. The paper certificate is not the issue here. As with anger and lust we need to see that love will prevent this. But we'd better not mix up the different kinds of love in our minds, I don't mean romantic love here, I mean the kind of love Jesus himself calls for, sacrificial and compassionate.

Swearing - Yes or no is enough. Does this apply only to everyday conversation or does it also apply in a court of law? It applies in both cases. When asked to swear in a court of law, find out if there's an option to affirm that you will tell the truth instead. Such an option exists in both UK and USA law.

Whether or not you consider yourself a leader, remember that you are setting an example that others may follow. In this sense whenever we speak or act we are leading those who are watching and listening.

Selflessness - We must be humble, accepting injustices and giving over and above what is asked of us. This, too, is Christlike. He went to the cross without complaint and neither should we complain when harmed or taken advantage of.

We are to love our enemies. This is an astonishing statement! We are to pray for them. What is this all about? It's a matter of being like our Father who is perfect. The more we are like him the better. Jesus told his disciples that if we have seen him we have seen the Father. So it's just the same as saying we are to be like Jesus.

This is what leadership is all about, becoming daily more like Jesus. Jesus is on a mission and we must follow him in that. And out of mission will come discipleship. Others will follow us as we follow Jesus - that's what it means to 'make disciples'. Jesus reveals the Father to us and we must reveal Jesus to those around us.

We can do nothing greater then lead; we dare do nothing less. All of us. And we can copy Jesus in one more thing. If we remember that he was speaking here to trainee leaders we should understand that we, too, need to be training leaders. It is the most important and effective thing we can do.

Questions:


  • Can you think of some ways in which you could become more like Jesus in thought and deed?
  • In what situations have you led others by your actions or words this week?
  • Which of the negatives and positives above do you find most problematic?
  • Are there strategies you could use to better deal with those problem areas?
See also:


< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

24 June 2013

Those beatitudes

The beatitudes are well known and much loved by many. We try looking at the opposites of those who are blessed to see if we can throw more light on the meaning of these eight statements. If we take them seriously and personally there are some real challenges to all of us in these beatitudes.

A peaceful river scene
A peaceful river scene
Let's look at the beatitudes in a little more detail. I mentioned them in my last post and wrote that I'd revisit them in a bit more detail. And I linked to an older post that I'd now like to expand on.

The beatitudes are presented in Matthew 5:1-12, but my earlier post reversed them, stating what is not blessed as a way of better understanding the meaning.

Here are the beatitude statements again (NIV version), with the opposites that can't be blessed in italics, followed by some thoughts about the meaning.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The super spiritual.

The kingdom of heaven is simply not open to the super spiritual. This is astounding, most of us, most of the time, would say that to be worthy of the kingdom one would need to be very, very spiritual. But no! The kingdom is in fact open to those who are spiritually weak and lacking. Not only is it open to them, it is theirs, in some sense they inherit it and therefore own it.

Why is this so counter intuitive? It's because we don't inherit the kingdom of heaven by means of our own spiritual power and authority. Instead we need to understand our desperate lack, turn to Jesus, and receive from him the right to enter in as a gift of grace and love.

If I think I am spiritually rich and self-sufficient I will not (cannot) make the grade. It needs humility and dependence, not arrogant self-sufficiency.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The ones who think everything's fine.

Mourning is not possible unless we are grieving about someone or something. If instead we think all is well, how can we be blessed? This may not refer to those mourning about the dead, but about those mourning over their own worthlessness and sin and that of those they love (the spiritually dead).

Yet in Christ there is no fear of any such thing. Perfect love casts out fear, and his love for us is indeed perfect. He is willing to comfort us in our shame and sorrow, but how can the happy and content be comforted?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The arrogant.

At face value this one seems simple, even obvious. But it's not. Look a little deeper. Very often it seems that the arrogant are the ones who inherit the earth. In their cocky, self-confident way they trample over others to get exactly what they want. It seems to be a dog-eat-dog world.

In fact, it's the meek who will inherit the earth. Why? The arrogant who think and say and do whatever they like will get what they want in this world - but no more. In their haste to have and consume they will forget that there is a King of Kings, the Prince of Peace who will have his way in the end.

The earth and everything in it belongs to the Almighty who will see justice done. The kingdom of heaven is not just in heaven, heaven rules over earth too. The kingdom is coming, is already here, and nothing is not under the King's lordship and rule. The arrogant need to be careful, someone more powerful is saying, 'Enough! I recognise neither you nor your authority'.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who have no appetite for righteousness.

If you have no appetite you will not eat or drink, so how can you ever be filled? We need to be zealous for righteousness. We need to be like a starving person who will seek out food wherever it can be found, or a thirsty person who will drink whatever is available, even water from a river or a puddle. If you drink nothing you will die of thirst.

If you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness you will find it at any cost. You will find it in Jesus no matter what you must give up to receive it. You will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The merciless

Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12). The parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

There's a simple principle at work here, as far as mercy and forgiveness are concerned expect to receive what you mete out to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The impure in heart

Impurity gets in the way. The Almighty is holy, so to stand in his presence we must be holy. We must be set apart for his use and his use alone. If there is anything impure in my heart, part of my heart is not available for his use. Therefore I am not holy. So I cannot stand in his presence. I cannot see him.

We don't have pure hearts through our own efforts of will. It's just not possible for fallen people living in a fallen world. So what hope do we have? Why, every hope in Christ who not only cleanses us but also gives us new hearts, new life and a new future with him.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The peace destroyers

We usually think in terms of peace makers and peace keepers, but rarely if ever of peace destroyers. If those who make peace will be called 'children of the Most High', perhaps those who destroy it will be called children of the 'most low'. And who is the lowest? The enemy, the one who fell from heaven, who creeps along the ground on his belly.

But to fully understand we need to know what peace is. It is not just quiet and absence of conflict. Peace in Hebraic thinking is wholeness, completeness, it is health of body, mind and spirit, utter wellness. It is blessing. We could rewrite this beatitude, 'Blessed are those who create holistic blessing because they will be recognised as the children of the Most High'.

Because the Father blesses, his children will bless also. The nature of the Father is in his children and we will be named with his name. If we cannot or will not bless, if we are not peacemakers, we have no part in him.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who are not righteous enough to attract persecution

Have you been persecuted yet? If not, why not? If you are righteous you will be persecuted by almost everyone.

You will be criticised by church leaders who fear you may undermine them. You will certainly be persecuted by the enemy who knows you speak the truth and fears it spreading. In some countries you will be persecuted by the civil authorities who think you will cause social unrest or spark religious violence.

John the Baptist was executed, John was exiled on an island, Paul was hounded out of Ephesus. And Jesus himself was arrested and executed because of his life and teachings. Religious and civil authorities will fear the things you do and say and the light you shine into places they might prefer to remain dark. If you are righteous, persecution is inevitable.

Questions:

  • Which of the beatitudes is your favourite? Why?
  • Do you find the reversals useful in understanding the meaning?
  • Have you been persecuted, even in subtle ways? Be prepared to share your story with others.
  • What does it mean to you, personally, to be a peacemaker?

See also:

21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

28 March 2011

THOUGHT - Blessing or curse?

With all that's been happening in Libya recently (and in the wider Middle East and North Africa) I was deeply impressed while reading Matthew 5 this morning.

Have you ever wondered what happens if you reverse Yahshua's statements about blessing?


Church of the Beatitudes in GalileeHe had headed up the mountain because the crowd was pressing in. Yahshua always had compassion on the crowds, he saw them as lost sheep in need of a shepherd.

But he also clearly saw that it was essential to spend time teaching his closest followers. That is what he did on this particular day, leaving the crowd in order to teach the disciples (verse 1).

And what teaching it was!

Backwards beatitudes? - On this occasion he tells them what will bring blessing; it's the simple, basic, kind and loving things that are blessed. It was true then and it's still true today - a fundamental fact about the nature of the kingdom of heaven.

Looking at the opposites of these statements is instructive because it's a list of what will not, and cannot, be blessed. Here's the list...

  • The super spiritual
  • The ones who think everything's fine (so do not mourn)
  • The arrogant
  • Those who have no appetite for righteousness
  • The merciless
  • The impure in heart
  • The peace destroyers
  • Those who are not righteous enough to attract persecution
And there is no blessing in being praised, championed, and having good things said about us if Yahshua is not in us!

Salt and light - We are salt and light, in other words we need to have flavour and not be hidden away. Yahshua is clear that he is not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets, (the Old Testament). These writings speak of him over and over again and he is here to be and do and say what they have set out in words. The law cannot be set aside, it must instead be fulfilled (fully filled, fully met). This is what he came to do.

The demands of love go further than the demands of the Law. In other words anger is embryonic murder and reconciliation is more important than an offering. We have a choice, settle our accounts with Yahweh now (the Son has made that possible) or wait until we are thrown into a place from which there is no escape! Looking at a woman lustfully is embryonic adultery, we must get rid of everything that causes sin. Divorce is wrong unless the circumstances are extreme, swearing an oath comes from the evil one.

We are not to struggle with evil people, we are to love even our enemies and pray for them.

Love in action - The last verse sums it all up, we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Is that a tall order or what? We are called to lives of love for Father and for those around us. It seems to me that the worst figures in history did few of the things that lead to blessing and all the things that do not. Yet still we must love our enemies.

Pray for the people suffering in Libya at the hands of Mr Gaddafi, but also pray for Muammar Gaddafi himself. Even now it's not too late for him to turn away from the things that do not bring a blessing. While there is still time, pray that he will even seize a chance to meet and honour Isa (Jesus). It may be an opportunity that is finally slipping away.

(See also: Being radical)

30 September 2010

Eaton Ford - At sea in a storm

Jim is away on holiday but Sean and I planned to travel to The Bull in Watton at Stone to meet David. Due to unforseen circumstances David had to call the meeting off at short notice, so eventually it was just me and Sean and Jesus at my place. I include the Lord in the list because he really was unmistakably meeting with us this evening.

A storm on the coast of Israel, near CarmelAfter our usual start of coffee and a chat we began to focus on Yahshua. Quite soon, Sean shared a picture of a storm at sea. Some friends we know are in a storm like this, driving headlong into it. But Yahshua can calm the storm - he's done that sort of thing before! Our friends are moving into the storm but beyond that, everything is calm.

This reminded me of the storm on Galilee and how Yahshua had actually walked past his followers in the boat. They were battling a strong headwind and they were just terrified when they saw a figure walking on the water. But he told them, 'It's me, don't be afraid!' And then they called out to him and Peter began to walk on the water too. But it was essential that they communicated with him.

We need to communicate with him too. Reading the passage in Matthew 14 later I noticed that when Yahshua stepped into the boat the wind immediately died down. How we need him in our boat when a storm blows up! Something else that seems significant is that when the storm took place they were in the dark - it was the middle of the night and they'd been battling the headwind for a long time.

Sean remembered that Yahweh once said, 'I have plans to prosper you'. He was speaking through Jeremiah to the exiled people of Israel (Jeremiah 29:11-14). If the Almighty did this for them, won't he also do as much for us?

Sean thought that these truths are there to point us to him and give him an opportunity to show us his miraculous ability. For example, he is able to change our hearts to love him just a little more - we don't need to be able to do it, even when we can't - he can.

I imagined one of our friends having a conversation with the people who have mistreated him. He was saying, 'I forgive you. I forgive you for believing the lies you were told about me. I forgive you for not believing what I told you.' And I became aware that the pavement (or patio) was flooded. It was only an inch or two deep and the water was stained pink with blood. The details were very clear but I could only see the stonework and brickwork - no people or plants or anything else. The ground in front of me was covered with large paving slabs and a red brick wall rose from the edge of the paving. The bricks were old and crumbly. I have no idea what this means.

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