With a Spoon!

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…
(Matthew 5:29 (ESV))

A couple of months ago I preached on Matthew 5:27-30, the section of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus teaches about adultery, which includes the difficult statement about cutting off the offending member of your body if it causes you to sin.  As is usually the case, it’s not until a sermon has been delivered and tucked away that I come upon a comment or thought that make me think, “I wish I would have said that in my sermon.”

Recently I heard in a conversation the accusation that Christian’s are such hypocrites; that if we really believed what the Bible said, then we would all cut off our hand if it caused us to sin, or cut out our eyes.  We have all sinned with our hands and eyes: we have done idle work, made obscene gestures, used our hands to inflict harm upon others, looked covetously at our neighbor and his/her property.  If we are consistent, and if we say we adhere to Jesus’ teaching, then why haven’t we followed his command to remove the cause of our sin?

The explanation is really quite simply. The reason Christian’s aren’t walking around with their hands cut off or their eyes gouged out is that their hands and their eyes did not cause them to sin.  They may have sinned with their eyes or with their hands, but the source of the sin was much deeper: the heart.  If we want to take Jesus literally here, then we must cut out the cause of our sin – we must cut out our hearts.

Our hearts are dead in sin.  They may pump blood to sustain life, but they can never produce the kind of repentance and love in obedience to God as is required.  Our hearts are self-serving, self-seeking, idle-factories that must be cut out and cast away so that we may be given a new heart.

And that is the promise of the gospel.  That our hearts of stone, our rebellious hearts, our hearts that were consumed with the passions and lusts of this world, have been removed.  God has promised, and has performed, a heart transplant.  Ezekiel 36:26 says, “and I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” He has given us new hearts, hearts that beat for Him, hearts that are capable of loving Him, hearts that are strengthened to love one another.


Worth the Read (6-29)

How Do Plants Know Which Way Is Up And Which Way Is Down? – A fascinating study on why plants grow up and the roots grow down.  Good, and interesting, science.  But, if I may, I think I know the real reason why.

Do Presbyterians Consult the Bible at GA – Here’s something to think about as we are praying for the church while our General Assembly is in session.

The Parent as Youth Pastor – If a child has a negligent youth pastor, Godly parents will easily counter his influence. But if a child has negligent parents, very rarely will a youth pastor be able to overturn the sad effects.

Ministers of Grace in Need of Grace – This may seem a little self-serving, but I put it before you for your consideration.  To be sure, I have been blessed to serve very gracious congregations.

Twelve Propositions on Sanctification – The title may sound a little off-putting, but it is a brief, encouraging devotion on what it means to grow in holiness.

For those in a hurry at dinner time:

Worth the Read (6/22)

This week’s recap of worthwhile reading.

Fifty Shades of Caution – Women are asking, “Should I read Fifty Shades of Grey?” The short answer is, “No.”  But you should read more here about the dangerous trap of erotic literature.  Especially helpful is the question, “Is reading this book helpful to my marriage?”

Heaven Tourism – With another book coming out about one person’s “afterlife/near-death” experience, here’s some insight from Tim Challies on how we should respond as Christians.

The Silence is Deafening – Rev. Mary Naegeli is a pastor and the Executive Director of The Presbyterian Coalition.  She writes a powerful article about the growing disregard for Church policy, and the lack of discipline within denominational leadership.

Hating on Bristol Palin is Back in Style – A disturbing look into the culture of hate that surrounds the Palin’s.

Why I quote the Bible more than Sarah Palin – Yes, more Palin references, but this is actually a nice little article on the issue of Authority, especially the authority of Scripture.

Aging Biblically – A video from Francis Chan on how we out to continue to serve the Lord through all of life.  “As we grow older, let’s not just sit in the rocking chair looking back at those days when we served God. On the contrary, let’s serve God with greater zeal. Let’s pour ourselves into serving others for the glory of God.”

Just what, but not how, I wanted it…

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

(James 1:17 (ESV))

Have you ever prayed for patience, then found yourself surrounded by the most insufferable and tiring people imaginable?

Have you ever prayed for peace in your life, only to be forced into a situation where there was fighting and bickering all around you, and you were the one who had to sort it out?

Or, have you ever asked that God would strengthen and deepen your faith and reliance upon Him, but then found yourself plagued by sickness, setback, disappointment, and loss?

When our prayers are answered this way, it makes us want to give up praying and asking.  It seems like a cruel joke: “I want to grow in my faith and be more Christlike, but the troubles of the world always get in the way.”  We think that God hasn’t heard our prayers, or worse, that He has ignored them.  It’s easy to get cynical and just give up.

But that isn’t the way God works.  Jesus tells us that when we seek first the Kingdom of heaven, all these things will be added unto us; that we must ask, seek, knock – that is, pray – and our Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11).  Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, writes, “Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with wonderful plumage.  No; he faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is heir, and which are bound to come.  But He assures us that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed.”

There is a scene in the Fellowship of the Rings in which Lady Galadriel, Queen of the Elves, gives the remaining members of the Fellowship gifts for their journey.  Among the gifts given, everyone received a cloak that she had made which would help hide them from the eyes of their enemies, Sam received a box containing soil from Galadriel’s orchard and a seed from a mallorn tree, and Frodo was given a small crystal bottle of liquid, containing the light of Eärendil’s star which would shine great light when in deep darkness.  Each gift was a warning of the danger they faced, but each gift gave hope that they would not face their troubles alone.

Jesus said, if we who are evil (by comparison to God) know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father (who is holy and good) give His good gifts to us?

God gives us the gifts we need to endure the trials and tribulations of this world with a witness of faith and love.  In giving us His Holy Spirit, we have the assurance that He is always with us, equipping us with every good gift for building one another up, loving and serving one another, and bearing one another’s burdens.

God does answer prayers.  God gives us everything we need, just not the way we might expect.  God’s ways are higher and greater than ours, and He works through and in all things to bring about His good purpose in our lives.  “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).  God’s gifts are never given in isolation, His blessings are never meant to be hoarded.  If you ask of God, He will give, and you must be prepared to give as well.

If you ask for faith, be prepared to find yourself in situations that will test your faith – that is how He gives it.

If you ask for patience, be prepared to be surrounded by people who will test your patience – that is how He gives it.

If you ask for forgiveness, be prepared to forgive those who have offended you – that is how you know He has forgiven you.

If you ask for knowledge and understanding, be ready to have every belief questioned – that you may return to God’s word and find true wisdom.

If you ask to be more like Christ, be prepared to be ridiculed and rejected – that is how the world treated Him.

If you ask to be more loving, be prepared to encounter the most unlovely and unlovable people – that you may love them as our heavenly Father has loved you.

Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, that our heavenly Father may richly bless you, and so that you may also be a blessing to the world for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord.


Worth the Read (6/15)

Here’s my recommending reading from the blogosphere for the week:

It’s Probably Not the Worship Style – Kevin DeYoung gives interesting insight into the some of the reasons why churches grow (or don’t).

The Nowness of Obedience – A brief read on the topic of obedience.  Obedience to God can only happen in the present tense.  You can’t put it off, waiting for better circumstances in order to begin to be obedient to God.

Just As Long As It’s Healthy – Having been asked to officiate the funeral service for a stillborn baby (not church members), I found this article timely and powerful.  Every couple experiencing pregnancy gets this question: do you want a boy or a girl?  Many will respond this way, “we don’t care, just as long as it’s healthy.”  But “healthy” exists on a spectrum of possibilities just like disability.  And that spectrum is becoming narrower with every year that passes.

Raising Gospel Centered Children – When Jesus instructs us to go out and make disciples of all nations, that includes our children—our closest disciples. Of course, discipleship should not end in the home, but our families are our most naturally-authentic relationships.

My Character – A video from the Bel Air (Presbyterian Church) Drama Department – it’s about theater, but its really about being able to take direction. Actually, its really about just having a good laugh.


Bring the Wet Blanket

You are the salt of the earth…
(Matthew 5:13 (ESV))

I don’t wear a collar; I rarely even wear a tie.  I do have a “Clergy” sticker on the back of my car, but that’s only so I can park in the clergy parking space at the big city hospital.  Otherwise, I don’t think that I have any outwardly distinguishable features: no halo, no angel chorus as I enter a room, no supernatural powers (like the ability to turn baked chicken into peanut butter and jellynwhich my three year old son frequently asks me to do).

Still, most people know that I am a pastor.  I’ve been serving this particular church for 6 years now, I’ve been active in the community, so most people know who I am.  And I guess, because of that, I do have one super-ordination-power: I can kill a party.

My wife and I have noticed this on more than one occasion.  When invited to parties (which we do get invited to them) my wife and I will approach our friend’s home, the sounds of jocular festivities spilling out into the street, only to be greeted with an instant quieting.  It’s as if everyone stops and says, “Great, the pastor’s here, now we’ve got to talk ‘churchy.’”

Recently we attended a wedding dinner for a couple whose marriage ceremony I had just officiated.  There were many people were at the dinner who had not been at the church, so they had no idea who I was.  My wife and I sat with some friends and were having a wonderful evening.  Just to the right of me, however, were some people I had never met.  They sat next to me, adult beverages in hand (and I was having one, too) and began to regale one another with wild stories about the past weekend and lurid gossip about everyone else assembled at the dinner.

Then came time for the prayer before the meal.  I went forward to the table where the bridal party was gathered, prayed for the couple and for the meal, then returned to my seat.  My new companions were obviously troubled.  Immediately their conversation changed.  They told me how they appreciated my prayer, told me how hard it is for them to get to church, gave a history of which church they used to attend and why they left, and even suggested I was too young to be a minister (whatever that means).

I know what they were thinking, “I better be careful, the minister’s right here.”  But friends, let me tell you, I am not God’s spy.

I don’t mind people being careful about what they say when I’m around, as a matter of fact, I’m glad people do change the way they talk when they know I’m a pastor.  Truth be told, I’d rather not hear the vulgarities you were about to pour forth.  I’d rather not be privy to the idle gossip that you feel necessary to share with everyone in range of hearing.  It’s amazing; You can ban a man from smoking in a public place and polluting the air, but you cannot touch the anger and profanity in his heart and mind that pollutes the hearts of those around him.  Only prayer and grace can defeat those demons.

Actually, the change that comes when people know I’m a pastor is something I consider an essential part of every Christian’s influence in the world.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…”  One of the beneficial qualities of salt is that it is a preservative.  It fights off the spoiling and destructive corruption of decay.  In the same way, the presence of the Christian in the world should have a preservative effect, fighting off the spoiling and destructive corruption of sin.  So every Christian should have a healing quality to conversations.  People should speak differently when they are around you.  It is a good thing.

This doesn’t mean that Christians cannot have a good time, cannot be the life of the party, should not be enjoyable company.  In fact, when you have Christ, you have the one true source of joy, and that joy is contagious, infectious, and it lasts.  A Christian can have a good time with friends, never worrying about impressing others, because he has already been validated and received by his heavenly Father.  The Christian doesn’t have to sing hymns to fend off the corrupting influence of Gaga.  But because he has already sung the hymns, he knows the true source of joy, love, and peace and is strengthened against temptation.

The fact is, though, God doesn’t need me to give him a report of your conversation; he’s watching and listening, even when I’m not there.  God knows your every thought and intention, even before you do.

God doesn’t ask me to spy on you; He calls me to pray for you.  When I meet someone new, without knowing anything about them, I give God thanks for the opportunity to meet them, I listen for ways that I can be praying for them, but ultimately, I pray that God would show them the same grace and mercy and love that He has so abundantly shown to me.  I don’t cast out judgment, I offer up prayer.

Does that put a damper on your festivities?  Consider this; if you’re partying things up just to hide the insecurity and doubts from that nagging sense that your life is falling apart at the seams and will quickly end up as a flaming ruin, which would you prefer: a wet blanket or a lampshade?