Bible

Cookie Monster said it best, didn't he?

I blame Sesame Street.

How many of you have ever been in line at the grocery store and you hear a conversation happening next to you? It goes something like this?

Mommy, can I have a candy bar?  No, dear, not this time.

Please mommy! Just one? No, dear, not this time.

But mommy, I’m hungry? I’ll get you a snack when we get home.

But mommy, I’m hungry now! You’ll have to wait sweetie.

BUT MOMMY!!!! [Screams and crying follow…]

I’ve seen moms react in a variety of ways. Some are embarrassed but I always like when they simple shrug, stand strong, and move on. To me, that teaches the child an important lesson about delayed gratification. But then, how many of us grew up with Cookie Monster demanding his cookie?

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I blame Cookie Monster

“Me want cookie”

That said…

How many of you have ever acted the way the child did but towards God? Think about it for a moment. Have you ever wanted something and thought He should give it to you at that exact moment? Have you ever wondered why He didn’t respond as you thought He would / should? Have you ever gotten… angry?

In continuing to walk through the Gospel of Matthew, the personal conviction I’ve felt in the Sermon on the Mount has been strong. Now, I’ll be quick to say, I’m not that bad. However, in the light of the Law (and the absolute perfection held only by God), I must admit to feeling like a whining baby when I don’t get my way.

The Christian journey and the process of sanctification (being made holy) calls us to accept the reality of our situation while also accepting the grace that has redeemed us. We must confess and press forward. It’s simple, yet oh so difficult…

Let’s jump into the particular text that called me to consider this more deeply.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7: 7-8

Jesus has promised us that we only need to ask. It’s just like the little child asking his parent for a candy bar. We are to ask, through prayer, for our Heavenly Father to give us what we need. His ear is inclined toward us. But, as I imagine you are already guessing, His response is not to give us something that will harm us.

There exists a difference between wants and needs.

Jesus is clear. When you pray, it’s ok to ask God to give you what you need. It’s ok to ask your Heavenly Father. He is your Abba, your daddy.

The act and discipline of prayer changes us. It takes us closer to God as we speak and listen to Him. It allows Him to work in our hearts and minds and change us to follow Him more closely. We may not like His response to our “asks” (Yes, No, or Not yet) but we know that our Father always wants what is best for us.

Jesus illustrates this when He then gives us the example of bread and fish:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? Matthew 7: 9-10

A quick reminder. If we don’t have our sandals on, this can sound a bit peculiar. 2,000 years ago, bread and fish were common. Think of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. Everyone connected with the bread / stone or fish / serpent analogies.

And so, when Jesus gave that example, followed by what He said next, these words were streams of living water. They nourished and refreshed those who heard them. And then Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Again, keeping the words in context and culture, imagine how these would have felt. These were God’s chosen people. They had been living under the rule of the Romans. They had been praying for generations to be delivered and restored. And now, they are receiving hope and words of life.

And now we have what many people call the Golden Rule.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7: 12

What is the Law and the Prophets? Jesus summarized it later as the Greatest Commandments, but I believe the essence of it is right here. Love God and Love your neighbors. If you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them. If you want people to help you, help them.

Of course, the requirement we sometimes miss is that we need to do these things to them first. If we are cruel to others, then we shouldn’t expect them to be nice to us first. Act the way you want to be treated. Do the things for others that you want them to do to you.

Now, the last two verses deserve a bit more time. There is something a bit unpleasant that I’d like to discuss. This isn’t about any of you, but it is about all of us.

In the last several weeks, there have been two notable people in Christian circles that have stated that they are leaving the faith. I won’t say their names because that is not the important part. In fact, it’s the least important part.

One of the individuals is an author and former pastor. Over two decades ago, he wrote a book that became a best-seller. He went on to become a speaker and traveled around receiving all sorts of accolades. He pulled back from the spotlight a bit and then wrote more books and came right back into it.

And then he renounced his faith. He said that the terms that we would use to define Christians no longer applied to him.

The other person is a musician and song writer. He became a part of one of the most successful groups in Christian worship music today. Awards and all sorts of whatnot followed. He also has just come out and said that he has questions and would no longer consider himself to be a Christian.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to hear Jesus’ words sometimes. We want to think that everyone will go to Heaven. We don’t want to think of our loved ones not going. But Jesus said very clearly:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7: 13-14

Now, there are about three or four messages I could share from those two verses. Let’s keep it simple and to the point.

Two-thousand years ago, the gate imagery was in the forefront of people’s thinking. Jerusalem – like other cities at the time – was a walled city. They were north, by the Sea of Galilee, and to go to the Temple inside the walled City of Jerusalem, had to go through a gate. If you were riding a camel or hauling a cart, you had to go through a large gate. If you were walking by yourself, you could use the small, narrow one.

First point. The gate had to be unlocked. Our sin destroyed our relationship with God. There is no way for us to get through. But Jesus, through His death on the cross, paid the price and He opened the door for us to be restored. It is only through receiving Jesus as your Savior that you can enter.

Second. You go through alone. It’s a narrow gate. You can’t take your husband or wife, son or daughter, friend or neighbor. If they want to go through, they need to receive Him as well. You can’t do it for them.

Third. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. I’m talking about life AFTER you walk through the gate. Life with Jesus isn’t easy. Why not? Because sin still happens. We do it and others do it. Sin has ramifications. Sometimes we cause those. Sometimes we feel them.

But life with Jesus – knowing that God is sovereign and, in the end, God wins, makes everything a lot easier. How? You simply learn to walk in trust. No matter what, God is good and He is always in control.

God will supply your needs. But that doesn’t mean He will supply your wants.

I’ve found that when God does not give me what I think I need, when I think He isn’t listening, then I have to check myself. Am I like that kid screaming for a candy bar? Am I stomping my feet and whining? That’s a pretty good sign that I’m focused on a want and not a need.

God is always faithful to provide for our needs. Trust in Him.

HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME!?!? Or wait... Maybe you should

It’s been over five decades since the Manson family brutally murdered several people. It was not only a shocking crime but it rocked countless lives as both the brutality as well as the horrific nature of the acts came to light.

Did that sound “judgey” to you?

If it didn’t, then please read it again. What right do I have to state an opinion on things that happened at a different time, in a different state, involving people I’ve never met?

But then, why would I NOT be able to cast a judgement? Why would I not be able to offer my opinion based on what I have read, heard, and seen? Why should YOU not be able to do the same?

Well…

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Some people might cite Matthew 7:1-2: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Those two verses have been used countless times to justify behavior – either our own or that of someone else. And yet, I think we would easily state that when it comes to ‘judging’ someone like Charles Mason, Adolph Hitler, or Genghis Khan, we are quick to convict. After all, we ‘know’ they are guilty. It’s not judging as much as it is simply stating a fact, right?

Well…

For those who follow the Way (Christians), we must remember the challenge of God’s living and active Word. In order to understand His Gift to us, we need to read it in context and culture. We must also never forget that God’s Word begins with “in the beginning…” It finishes with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Between those opening words in Genesis and concluding with the final blessing in Revelation, we have a total of 66 books written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit using 40 people from shepherds to a doctor to everyone’s favorite IRS agent, Matthew.

The amazing thing – and one of the things that helps us to understand how the Holy Spirit was at work – is to see the connectivity of God’s Word. From a man named Moses who went from Pharaoh’s palace to become a shepherd in the wilderness to a man named David who went from being a shepherd in the wilderness to becoming king, we have threads. These threads connect together to form a picture of a Messiah Whom we know as Jesus.

We meet Him in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and we then read of the beginning of the Church – not a building, but God’s people in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Galatia, and many other places. Then we read of a revelation, given to John, of Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things.

My point is simple. To understand God’s Truth – especially about something like judging another, we have to read all of it.

These verses come in what scholars have placed as the final third of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is telling His hearers of the difference between Law and Grace. As He attempts to drink more deeply from the living water, Jesus mentions judging.

For context, let’s remember that the Pharisees had added over 600 bonus laws to Scripture (the Old Testament). Even their prayers – often made in a loud voice so that others could hear – contained judgments of others (See Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:9-14). In other words, Jesus’ hearers knew what it was like to be judged.

And so, in light of that, Jesus speaks:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? If you choose to judge someone else, then expect others to judge you with the same filter and lens. If you criticize someone’s clothing, expect someone to judge yours. If you just someone’s appearance, expect the same. Whatever measure you use when looking at another person will be the same measure that points back at you.

We then have two different illustrations. The second one might be a bit odd to our ears, but still clear.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7: 6

Dogs were considered scavengers. You would see them wandering about, sniffing, and generally eating whatever they could find. It may sound a bit strange, but there is a bit of “disrespect” that we associate with our canine friends. They are beggars. We joke that our dog, Coco the Wonder Dorkie, doesn’t even taste food. She sucks it down – whatever it is.

So, when we are dealing with sacred things, we should give them to people who will not respect them. If I take two hours to talk with someone about faith, I don’t want them to disrespect that time by then going and laughing about it with their friends. Even if we disagree, there should be that level of “this is special to that person”.

Pigs were unclean animals. Jewish people did not eat them and, to remind us of how bad the prodigal son became, part of the giant scandal was the shock of him not only working with pigs but also wanting to eat their food. Pigs could also become quickly violent. If you threw them pearls, they would realize it was not food and turn on you.

It’s the first illustration, though, that I’d like to spend a few more minutes considering as well as some related texts.

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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7: 3-5

The illustration is clear. If you have a plank – a sin – in your own life, stop worrying about the sin in your brother’s life. Take care of your own sin first. Jesus uses the label “hypocrite” for this type of person. The word literally means “an actor”. If you dig around on the word origins, it points you to the two words that were put together: “interpreter” and “underneath”. That may not make much sense until you remember that Greek actors wore HUGE masks. They would speak or act behind those masks. The hypocrite holds up the mask and says, “I’m fine but you are not.”

Again, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls out a lot of people. He calls out those who give, who pray and who fast to get noticed. He calls out those who are living for money. He calls out those who worry and stress. He tells them – grace is better. Living in relationship with God is better.

And, if you are one of those people who has the spiritual gift of criticism and judging and ripping others down, SURPRISE! Those are actually not gifts. Worry about your own sins, your own struggles, your own issues. Deal with those first.

Now, what about when we CAN judge?

If we are trying to understand passages, as I said, we need to go to the immediate context. For this passage, it is within the Sermon on the Mount. We can also go to a larger context and, in this case, it would be within Matthew’s Gospel. We’d want to look for other passages that talk about the same or similar things. For example, we can look in Matthew 18.

In this chapter, we have the fourth block of Jesus’ teaching shared by Matthew. In the immediate context, someone comes to Jesus and asks who is the greatest. Jesus pulls a child to the front and says, if you want to be great, be like this child. Be humble. Be innocent. Be receptive to God’s teaching.

Then Jesus says, and don’t mess with the innocent. It would be better to be drown than to hurt one. He then illustrates going out to find the lost. If you have 100 sheep and one is missing, leave the 99 and go find the one. Restore it back.

Restoration.

What a wonderful word! We can think of a family home, a bit ‘broken and battered’ after the passage of time. And yet, after it is restored, it can be a gift to the next generation. HGTV has made program after program of people buying a dilapidated home, restoring it, and then flipping it to another person.

Jesus gives us beautiful images of restoration but we might miss the beauty in the next one because it follows…

Wait for it…

Yes, it follows “judging”.

 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18: 15-17

We believe there is a sin by our brother. We judge it. We go to him to try to correct the sin and restore the relationship. If it doesn’t work, we try with someone else. If that doesn’t work, we try the Body of Christ. If that doesn’t work, then – and I LOVE when Matthew says this, “treat him as a pagan or a tax collector”. Matthew knows!

But we are to judge if we believe there is sin by a brother in the church. We judge NOT with the goal of condemning but with the goal of restoration.

There is a lot more that could be said, but for the sake of time, let’s focus now on this aspect of judging in the church. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. His first letter addressed many things that were getting out of hand. He was clear:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 1st Corinthians 5:12-13

A long time ago, I heard a pastor say, “Why are we surprised when sinners sin?” That’s a pretty great question. Yes, we are all sinners. We all mess up. But the question was really directed to those outside the church.

If someone is not a believer, then don’t be surprised when they don’t act like one. They are going to shock and surprise us.

That said, go ahead and BE SURPRISED when someone who claims to be a Christian does NOT act like one. If you see them getting drunk, wonder what’s going on. If you hear them cursing worse than a sailor, wonder what’s going on. If you see them living a bad lifestyle, wonder what is going on.

And don’t be afraid to judge them.

But when you do, be sure to heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. Check out your own life first. Are you doing the same thing – OR WORSE?

If I criticize and judge someone for driving too fast, I’d better be driving slower. If I criticize someone for getting drunk, I’d better not be. If I criticize someone for gossiping, then I had better be controlling my own tongue. And, when you do judge, make sure your goal is restoration.

How do you know when to judge and when not to judge? What is the bottom-line? It’s tough, but let me give you some simple guidelines.

First, is it a sin? Does God’s Word clearly state that whatever it is that the person is doing is wrong? And when I say that, I don’t mean that we take things out of context. A ‘popular’ odd, “am I sinning” question follows an Old Testament prohibition against wearing clothing with mixed fibers. That’s a sin. Well, in culture and context, that was referencing a problem with the pagans. They did stuff with clothing that was wrong. Without going into details, let’s just say that God gave His children a prohibition against it. If you, as a parent, have ever wondered about something your son or daughter was wearing, it’s kind of the same thing. (But it is not a sin today to wear clothing of mixed fibers!)

If it is a sin, then is it your business? Here’s what I mean. If Bert goes to Ernie and tells him something that Big Bird did, it’s not yet Ernie’s problem. Bert needs to go to Big Bird first. Then, following Matthew 18, if it is a sin, then Bert and Ernie can go to Big Bird. What do we call it if someone just runs around blabbing? GOSSIP!

So, if it is a sin and it is your business, then go to the person in Christian love. Don’t be cruel. Be kind and loving. Don’t challenge them but ask them about it. See what’s going on. Love your neighbor.

From there, seek restoration. Seek to help the person move forward. Don’t seek to keep beating them over the head. Seek to heal and restore them.

Why does that matter? Because that is what Jesus did for you.

He didn’t sin. I did. I broke God’s Law and my relationship with Him.

Jesus is the one who, in love and mercy, came and did what was required to restore it. That’s what Law and Grace are all about.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

Radio Interview: Brian Mavis #NeighboringChurch

Brian Mavis, president of America's Kids Belong, joined Encounter to discussThe Neighboring Church, a book that he co-authored with Rick Rusaw. Although the question "Who is my neighbor?" has been asked countless times, Rusaw and Mavis approach it from a hands-on, pastoral perspective. The present a myriad of examples to help you and your church get better at what Jesus said matters most - Loving God and Loving your Neighbor.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on May 26, 2017.