Sunday, August 28, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 15: "God Knows Your Hearts…”

Have you ever heard someone say, “Hey, God knows my heart!” If so, it probably came just before or after the phrase, “Don’t judge me!”

Often when I’ve heard people repeat this quote of Jesus, that God knows their heart, they seem to be insisting that certain sinful behaviors are acceptable since God knows they are ultimately good people. I’ve heard that rationale given to excuse sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, racism, illegal drug use, and many other actions that God calls sin.

But how is the phrase ‘God knows my (your) heart(s)’ used in Scripture?

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. – Luke 16:13-15

Here in Luke 16, Jesus is trying to lead a group of Pharisees to repentance. In order to do this, first He must show them how their hearts are in rebellion toward God. Like millions of Western Christians, their hearts are devoted to the god of money because of the worldly power, influence, security, comfort and control it affords them.

But Jesus keeps pressing the issue. He tells these professing lovers of God that because they are so devoted to wealth, they neither serve God nor love Him.

And the Pharisees’ response to God incarnate's rebuke?

They scoff at Him. That word carries the picture of blowing your nose at someone. Utterly disrespectful and dismissive. Why would they do that? Because clearly, they know their own hearts better than Jesus does, right? So they tell Jesus to buzz off.

You can almost see them thinking to themselves, “Hey, You need to calm down, Jesus! Take that stuff somewhere else. God knows my heart!”

And Jesus, operating in the power of the Spirit says to them, “You’re exactly right! God does know your heart, and if you were thinking straight you’d be trembling rather than scoffing.”

What would cause someone who claims to love God to scoff at a warning and rebuke from Jesus? One of the early Christians gives us a clue as he comments on our passage:

It is written, “But the man that is proud and boastful shall bring nothing at all to perfection, who has enlarged his soul as hell.” And the Lord in His Gospel blames and condemns men of that kind, saying, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” He says that those are repulsive and detestable who please themselves. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 653 [CD-ROM]

Pride is a dangerous quality. God hates it. God opposes those who are characterized by it. It utterly deceives us. It convinces people to not seek God. It is a forerunner for destruction. And as Luke 16 describes, pride is behind the drive to constantly justify our sinful behavior in the sight of others.

If you sense pride in yourself, I want to encourage you to seek God’s remedy.

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. – James 4:6-8

God gives special grace to those who humble themselves under His hand. And one of the most amazing blessings of grace that God offers to the world is to grant a brand new heart for those who will humbly receive His Son. Our almighty God can take a prideful, hardened heart and transform it into one like Jesus’.

If God can take the chief of sinners and turn him into a church-planting apostle who’s responsible for writing half the books of the New Testament, He can work an incredible turnaround in you as well! God knows your heart, and He also knows how to transform it into something beautiful!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 14: “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust for Her…”

I read an article the other day about a professing Christian minister who believes that Christian singles can have sex outside of marriage as long as it is “pleasurable” and “affirming” for both parties.

Yes, you read that right.

The Reverend Bromleigh McCleneghan is married, a mother and an associate pastor for ministry with family in Illinois. This purported ambassador for Christ believes that Christian singles can be faithful to Jesus while having sex outside of marriage, and that it is unfair to ask the majority of people to practice abstinence before marriage because men and women, “need sex”.

She also states, "Plenty of women and men love sex, and need it — we need bodily pleasure, remember — and the abundant life for them will involve seeking out relationships of mutual pleasure.”

Is that how far we’ve fallen as Christians? We are actually now defining ‘abundant life’ as living in direct disobedience to Jesus?

How do we know that McCleneghan’s teaching is completely contrary to Jesus’ way? We should only have to read what Jesus said.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28

“The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” – Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus spoke directly against all forms of fornication and adultery. You can about them in Leviticus 18. That passage is precisely what Jesus was referring to when He said in Matthew 15 that fornication defiles us. (It’s also one of the several ways we know Jesus spoke out against homosexuality and absolutely viewed it as a sin.)

But Jesus doesn’t simply call us to avoid the various physical forms of fornication and adultery; He digs deeper.

He commands us to stop ourselves long before physical actions take place. He tells us to take adulterous thoughts captive and make them obedient to Him, because adultery starts in the heart and mind.

And if you keep on reading Jesus’ words, you’ll find that He says if your eye or hand cause you to sin, you shouldn’t just say, “Hey, I need this in order to have a fulfilled life.” You shouldn’t just say, “Hey, this is the way I’m wired.” No, He says it would be better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye than to have two hands and two eyes, keep right on sinning unrepentantly, and go to hell as a result.

However, what if you’re speaking with a person who doesn’t believe the Bible should be the ultimate authority on moral matters? (And no surprise, this supposed minister of the Gospel doesn’t believe in the infallibility of the Scriptures.)

One avenue that I’ve found helpful in discussions like these is looking at how the earliest Christians lived out Jesus’ commands. Did they take Him seriously and simply or not? If they took His words at face value and lived them out, there’s an incredibly high probability that that is the same approach we should be taking.

Justin Martyr was a philosopher and evangelist living in the middle of the 2nd century CE. He boldly ministered during a time when Christianity was outlawed and Christians were widely persecuted due to many false rumors about them and their practices. Though it endangered his life, Justin wrote an apology, an address to the Roman Emperor, describing the beliefs and practices of Christians around the entire known world. Here is an excerpt from that work concerning the sexual habits of Christians in his day:

The teachings of Jesus have transformed our lives. We who formerly delighted in fornication now embrace chastity exclusively. … Concerning chastity, He taught us: “Whoever looks upon a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart before God.” And, “If your right eye causes you to sin, cut it out; for it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye than to be cast into everlasting fire with two eyes.” … Many men and women who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years. In fact, I can produce such Christians from every race of mankind. Not only that, but there are countless multitudes of those who used to live in debauchery but have now changed their lustful habits and accepted these teachings. – Justin Martyr 160CE, Vol. 1., p. 254-255 [CD-ROM]

McCleneghan says it’s fine for Christians to have sex outside of marriage as long as it’s pleasurable and affirming for both people. Justin says NO WAY, and quoted the Sermon on the Mount.

McCleneghan says it’s unfair to ask Christian singles to practice abstinence before marriage because men and women, “need sex”. Justin says that abstinence outside of marriage was the norm for the early Christians because Jesus transforms lives.

Which one of those sounds like a sheep, and which one sounds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

The New Testament authors told us these days would come. False teachers began to arise within the Church even in their day, but clearly they are out in force in our culture. Please, please cling to Jesus and His teachings tightly, and guard your heart from the seductive and perverted teaching of the wolves.

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. – Matthew 7:15

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. – Acts 20:29-30

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. – 2 Timothy 4:3

There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. … Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words. … The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:1-3, 9-10

Certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 4

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 13: “… Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness…”

Last week I started going to physical therapy for my knee. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but as Stephanie was driving me there on Friday afternoon, I was actually beginning to get a bit scared.

I have a fairly high pain tolerance as long as I feel like I’m in control of the painful situation. Basically, I don’t mind a decent amount of pain as long as it’s on my terms. The initial physical therapy sessions after ACL reconstruction are quite painful, and they put the control squarely in the therapist’s hands. Not a good combination.

Feeling more and more like a wuss there in the passenger seat, my mind drifted toward how to approach this blog post. I remembered these words from Jesus:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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.” – Matthew 5:10-12

When we get a new car we feel blessed. When we get recognized for doing a good job we feel blessed. When we get a raise we feel blessed. But when we are suffering, especially when we are being persecuted for doing the will of God, we usually don’t initially feel blessed.

The early Christians, however, viewed suffering for Christ as one of the greatest blessings one could receive from God.

What more glorious or more blessed can happen to any man … than to confess the Lord God, in death itself, before his very executioners? Than among the raging and varied and exquisite tortures of worldly power, even when the body is racked and torn and cut to pieces, to confess Christ the Son of God with a spirit still free, although departing? … Than to have refused to obey human and sacrilegious laws against the faith? Than to have borne witness to the truth with a public testimony? Than, by dying, to have subdued death itself, which is dreaded by all? Than, by death itself, to have attained immortality? …

For to this battle our Lord, as with the trumpet of His Gospel, inspires us when He says, “He that loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loves his own soul more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that does not take not cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

And again, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men persecute you and hate you. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for in the same way did their fathers persecute the prophets which were before you.” And again … “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” – Moyses, Maximus & Nicostratus 250CE, Volume 5, 538-539 [CD-ROM]

The early Christians may have taken Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 seriously and simply, but what matters more is the New Testament witness. Please take some time and read the apostles’ approach toward suffering for Christ.

The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. … They flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. – Acts 5:17-18, 40-42

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:19-22

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. – Philippians 1:27-29

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. – 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14

For the last decade or so, I’ve made it a point of prayer to die giving my life for Jesus. I don’t want to die peacefully in my sleep. Yet, there I was in the car getting anxious about enduring an hour-long physical therapy session.

Perhaps we should change our perspective on pain. Perhaps we should bless God for opportunities to endure times of unexpected or unjust suffering, and view them as blessings He has allowed into our lives. Perhaps they are helping to prepare us for a far more important test with a far greater blessing. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 12: “Render to Caesar What Is Caesar’s…”

In Mark 12, a group of Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus in His words. They ask Him if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. Evidently, this tax was wildly unpopular with the Jews and viewed as extremely unfair. 

To make matters worse, the tax of a denarius coin bore the image of the Emperor on it, with an inscription declaring the Emperor to be the son of god. To a pious Jew, this coin and tax were both idolatrous and blasphemous. You can therefore understand why a large portion of them wanted to rebel and not pay.

Desiring to have Him killed, they knew that if Jesus outright said not to pay the tax, he would be guilty of treason against the Empire. However, if He outright said to pay the tax, many of the people would turn on Him. They thought they had Him trapped. They thought wrong.

“Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Mark 12:15-17

The command, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” is one of the most widely interpreted statements of Jesus I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen folks use this quote to support voting, becoming a participant in war, justify racist societal laws that were in direct violation of God’s commands and other ideas that have nothing to do with the passage.

Seldom if ever do I witness teachers use this passage to instruct others to pay the required taxes to the federal government. I wonder why that is.

Americans aren’t fans of taxes. Most people aren’t, but Americans have a special distaste for them. I believe it goes back to the indoctrination of our elementary school days.

My son took American History two years ago in 5th grade. One of the lessons he was taught about the American Revolution is that the Colonists were justified in rebelling against the British because they were being taxed without representation in Parliament and that was unconstitutional. Have you heard that?

First, the Colonists never sought representation in Parliament. They knew that because they comprised only 1/7 of the British population, even with representation in Parliament, laws like the Stamp Act still would have easily passed and the Americans would have no excuses left.

The claim of the unconstitutionality of the Colonies being taxed without representation is also a fabrication of history. England absolutely had the constitutional right to tax the Colonies without them being represented in Parliament. Nothing in any of the Colonies' charters afforded them the right to a seat in Parliament. Also, none of England’s other Colonies had direct representation in Parliament.

What’s ironic is that though many claim the Colonies had a duty to rebel against the British tyrant, the USA has assumed much of the role of mythological England in its relationship with Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a US commonwealth/territory where all persons born there are US citizens.

However, everyone born in Puerto Rico has to live by US laws, pay US taxes, and cannot vote. Worse than that, all Puerto Rican males have to register for the draft, and therefore have been forced to fight in Vietnam, Korea, the Pacific and Europe. Taxation and conscription without representation.

I guess by Colonial American standards, they have a duty to rebel against a tyrant. … And that’s when you hear modern American Christians say, “Bu bu but Jesus told us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

And they are right. That’s the historical, orthodox position of the Church. Pay your taxes whether you like them or not.

And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavor to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Caesar; and He answered, “Tell Me, whose image does the coin bear?” And they said, “Caesar’s.” And again He answered them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Justin Martyr 160CE, Volume 1, p. 257 [CD-ROM]

We American Christians have always had a complicated relationship with the State. We say that we want separation between Church and State, but then lament over laws keeping us from praying in school, conducting ‘See You at the Pole’ days, or when godly politicians (whatever that means) aren’t elected into office.

In our Sunday gatherings, we talk about the Church being the hands and feet of Jesus, but as soon as we walk out the doors, we revert right back to our core belief that Caesar is our practical Immanuel.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not me. I don’t worship the State. I worship God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Maybe you’re right. But just for kicks, I’ve included a Jeff Foxworthy-ish type of test for Christians to gauge their devotion to the false master of the State. Fill in the blanks with, “You might worship Caesar.”

v If the President or prospective President frequently evokes in you extreme emotions such as joy/elation, depression/hopelessness, rage/hatred, or panic/dread, ________________________.
v If you get emotional when you hear The National Anthem or God Bless America, but can’t remember the last time you cried in church, _____________________.
v If you proudly sing The National Anthem and God Bless America at public gatherings, but you keep quiet when it’s time to sing in church, _____________________.
v If the number of times you’ve voted in governmental elections exceeds the number of people you’ve personally led to receive Jesus as Lord, _______________________.
v If you’ve ever cussed someone out or lost a friendship over that person saying something cruel about your favorite politician, _____________________.
v If you full-on celebrate when America’s enemies are killed, ____________________.
v If you feel much more comfortable sharing your political views with strangers than your testimony, _________________________.

If you can honestly say ‘yes’ to any of the statements above, I want to encourage you to bring that to God in prayer. Biblically speaking, the piece of land known as the USA is not responsible for any of the good things in your life. It hasn’t given you anything.

God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and everything in the world belongs to Him since He is our creator. That means all that we are and have is a gift of God; therefore, we owe Him our undivided allegiance. As Jesus said, “Give to God what belongs to God.”