When Good Goes Bad

February 23, 2011

Scripture:
Matthew 6:1-19

In the previous sections of Matthew 5, Jesus warns his followers that their bad thoughts and intentions can lead their hearts astray.  In this section of Matthew 6, he warns his followers that their good thoughts and intentions can also lead their hearts astray, and thus, far from the “blessed” life one should lead in Christ.

In his teachings, Jesus talks of three hypothetical stories of “hypocrites” who give, pray and fast only to gain the attention and approval of others.  He states in each of these stories that those who live this way have already received their reward in full.  Jesus goes on to compare these people to others who do good things “in secret” so as to gain the approval of their heavenly Father and no one else.  These people, according to Jesus, will be rewarded by God, who sees what is done in secret.

To bring this teaching into our times, the reason we give should be out of a profound desire for God’s ends to be met in our world.  The reason we pray should be out of a profound desire to seek relationship and communion with our Father.  The reason we practice any kind of spiritual discipline should be because we desire God to form us and make us into people who desire his will to be met in us and through us.  If we do any good thing so that people will take note of us or praise us, the praise we get will be the only reward offered.

Remember the section of Jesus’ call to us to be salt and light?  The reason we are called to be light is so that others, “. . . will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”  This should be our sole strategy for anything we do in our lives – to bring glory to God.

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What Matters?

February 15, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

I think it wise to review Christ’s counter-intuitive teachings so far in Matthew 5.  A few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ words on anger and lust in Matthew 5:21-30—your actions matter and they are born in your mind; a citizen of heaven must work on his mind and, if necessary, take drastic measures to do so.  Last week, we discussed his thoughts on divorce and oaths in Matthew 5:31-37—God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in everything we do and everything we say; a “blessed” one knows this and lives as though it were true.

Now, we come to Jesus’ teaching this week (Matthew 5:38-48) on revenge and love for our enemies.  He calls us to the impossible.   Not only does he call us to turn the other cheek to someone has struck us, but he follows it with this thought: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect.”

Seriously?  Who can do this?  What man or woman can claim that they are perfect?  Does this not go against his earlier thought of us being, “Poor in spirit?”

When looking at these teachings of Jesus, remember the following:

  1. Jesus fulfilled the law.  You are not under law, but grace.  God looks at us and see Jesus’ blood, not the ways we do not measure up.
  2. We are called to be imitators of Christ who when he went to the cross and endured, not just humiliation and physical harm, but the sins of all mankind.  And, what better way to bring the flava and gleam of the present tense kingdom of heaven than to imitate the One who bore such shame and pain on our behalf?
  3. Jesus’ interest is always that our hearts be tuned to him.  These teachings, when brought into our hearts, allow us to be pulled by Christ into the people we are supposed to be, not pushed by our past sins (which is harder by far).

May these teaching be accepted into your hearts and may you allow them to draw you closer to Christ’s heart.  May you not see them as more ways in which you do not deserve to be called “blessed” (you will never deserve that).

Divorce and Oaths

February 7, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:31-37

Jesus has pronounced us “blessed” (Matthew 5:3 – see teaching here) and has turned his attention now to dismantling the “ladder to God’s blessings” set up by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Since, as we learned a few weeks ago (here), Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and his blood has bought our righteousness in the sight of God and makes us “blessed” already, this ladder they wanted set up does not exist.  The ideas Jesus is putting forth do not give us more law, they give us freedom to live in such a way that we can spread the blessings of God to everyone.  Having dealt with the thought life of followers (here), he now speaks to how we should deal with people.

On divorce (Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-12): The teachers were obsessed with how to obtain one, but Jesus says, “Your spouse is not a piece of property to be done away with on a whim.  Marriage was ordained by God at creation and almost nothing (with the exception of adultery) should separate two that God has joined together.”

On oaths (Matthew 5:33-37): In Jesus’ day, if two parties were making a deal and a person said, “I swear by God’s name that I will follow through on the terms of our agreement,” the person felt an extra push to come through on his part of the bargain.  However, if a person did not invoke God’s name, he did not consider his part of the deal to be binding.  Jesus is saying here, “You cannot take God out of anything you do; he is in everything already even if you don’t want him to be, therefore do what you say you are going to do.”

Recognize the progression here: God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in every conversation we have and a “blessed” one should know that and live as though it were true.

I recently read Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice (co-founder of Youth Specialties and one of the true pioneers in church youth ministry today).  It has inspired several thoughts in me about student ministry from which I plan to write (the first of which can be found Here).  This quote and this list combine to make another:

God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids . . . God gave that responsibility to the parents, not the local church or the youth ministry (page 24).

Rice also puts forth a pragmatic list for why the above quote is true (page 28-30):

  1. Parents love their kids more than anyone else.
  2. Parents care about their kids more than anyone else.
  3. Parents have more time with their kids than anyone else.
  4. Parents have more authority over their kids than anyone else.

We all know this to be true and student ministers should see it as one of their main jobs to encourage parents in their call to make disciples of their children.  The question is how do we do this?  Here are a few ideas I have had to encourage parents as the true student ministers:

  1. Embrace a discipleship strategy which includes parents in the discussion. I try to put into the hands of parents resources which help them progress the conversations I am having with their student.
  2. Favor parents in volunteer roles within the ministry. If I am in need of volunteers, I seek out parents of students in my group first to fill these roles.
  3. Find areas of the student ministry in which the interests of the students and parents intersect. As you seek to help students find service  roles in the youth ministry, seek students whose parents have expertise in those areas and can help their student fill those roles.  For example, if you need pictures taken, find a parent who has an interest in photography to take their son and daughter out to take them.  This gives them time together, creatively exploring how to serve the church and the ministry.

What are some methods you have used to empower parents as disciple-makers?