Be Bold with Truth and Love

Acts 4 19 (1)

Acts 4

Despite the change we see in the disciples, the Jewish religious leaders have stayed the same. They continue in the same disbelief they held when Jesus was with them. And because of that, here we see the first of many imprisonments the disciples will endure through the book of Acts. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to silence Jesus, they will try to continue to restrain his message from his followers. Yet the news of the resurrected Messiah continued to spread.

Despite imprisonments and persecution, the apostles speak out with a growing boldness. We see new converts believing from all neighboring areas. The church that we know, started here and had a passion for what is right and true.

I do not think they were intentionally looking to offend but they were also not afraid to tell the truth if it was offensive. I think today’s church has softened its stance on too many issues to avoid being offensive. There are somethings that we cannot waver from. One being found in our passage today “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Don’t be the one that rejects Jesus but further do not be the one that is ashamed of the truth either. Go and share the message of Jesus with love – not looking to offend but not wavering from truth if it could be offensive.

-John Wincapaw

Advertisements

Justice, Mercy and Faith

justice faith love (1)

Matthew 23

Now that Jesus has turned the tables against the Pharisees in their little word games, he turns his attention to the crowds and his disciples. He begins his final public speech and absolutely destroys the Pharisees. He rips into everything that the Pharisees do, calling them out for their pride and hypocrisy. He acknowledges that these men are the best minds when it comes to The Law; they know The Law backwards and forwards, but they are not good examples. In particular, he calls them out for neglecting the importance and weight of justice, mercy and faith. This is one distinction that sets followers of Jesus apart from followers of The Law.

Justice

Justice is the administration of law. Based on this definition, you would think that the Pharisees understood justice quite well. However, this definition has the connotation of the administration of law on the general population, not just in one’s personal life. What the pharisees got correct was righteousness in their private lives without achieving justice in their public life. Justice is law applied equally to everyone, while righteousness is law applied to yourself. The Pharisees look at themselves, see that they are following the law perfectly and commend themselves for it. The problem isn’t their piety, it’s their pride. God didn’t command them to follow the law so that they might puff themselves up and hold themselves in high regard, but rather to benefit all of society. This is justice. Righteous acts are not righteous because they benefit you alone, they are righteous because they benefit everyone around you.

Mercy

Not everyone can follow the law as closely as the Pharisees. Those men were men who dedicated themselves to the reading of scripture day in and day out. Living the law is the only thing that they know how to do. When they look on the masses and see sin: adultery (John 8:1-11), blasphemy (Mark 14:64), greed (Luke 19:7)…what they fail to see are people. People who fall short. People who don’t live the same lifestyle as the Pharisees. The Pharisees know the scriptures, but they don’t seem to remember how God showed the Israelites mercy time and time again. Instead, they turn their noses up at the sin that they see and tell themselves that they are above that. The truth is, no man is above sin except for Jesus himself. The Pharisees poured over their scriptures to make sure that they washed their hands before meals and tithe even their small incomes. They strained their water for gnats. But they swallowed a camel instead. They failed to show mercy. They failed to show people the mercy that their God showed to them.

Love

Love is at the center of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love people. Apparently the Pharisees didn’t get that. They were too worried about appearing like God-loving individuals that they didn’t have the time to love God’s people. In doing so, they made all of their love for God worthless. If you only love God, you are neglecting one of the greatest commandments. It is as simple as that. Show your love for God by showing your love to His people.

-Nathaniel Johnson

It’s a Trap!

Matthew 22

its a trap

In this chapter of Matthew, we see many ways in which people are trying to trap Jesus. It turns out that Jesus is a masterful logician and manages to find the perfect response to all the questions that he is faced with. Let’s look at how we can use these same tactics in our life.

The Loaded Question – Matthew 22:15-22

The first trap in this chapter is the one laid out for Jesus by a group of Pharisees and Herodians, Jews and Romans. They ask Jesus if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus says that you should pay taxes to Caesar than the Pharisees can come after him for collusion with the Roman government (the Jewish oppressor). If he says not to pay taxes, then the Herodians can go after him for tax evasion. This is a loaded question. It comes with certain assumptions that put the person being asked into a lose-lose situation. A common example that most people are familiar with is, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you answer yes, then you admit to beating your wife in the past. If you answer no, you admit to currently beating your wife. The correct way to answer a question like this, as Jesus does, is to reframe the question and tear down the underlying assumption. Essentially, he gives a non-answer. “Give to Caesar what is Caesars’ and give to God what is God’s.” He implies that you should pay taxes but also suggests that the money belongs to God in the end anyways (see psalm 24:1). He also gives the impression that he is neither for nor against the Roman government. In the same way you should respond: “I have never beaten my wife.”

Reductio Ad Absurdum – Matthew 22:23-33

The Sadducees try to get Jesus by using a logical argument called reductio ad absurdum. They took Jesus’ position, that the dead will be raised to life, and pushed it to its extreme limits to prove that it must be false. This is a technique that is often used by people outside the religious community. One example of this is when people argue for abortion. They will inevitably ask you if it is acceptable for a woman to have her baby aborted if the baby was conceived through rape. They are trying to take the pro-life position that it is wrong to kill babies in the womb and push it to an extreme example to show that the position is wrong. However, this tactic shouldn’t work on you, nor did it work on Jesus when the Sadducees tried it on him.  Jesus pointed out that their understanding of the resurrection was fundamentally flawed. They didn’t understand what would take place, that men and women will be raised to be like angels in heaven, without being given in marriage. First, he destroyed their absurd argument: men and women won’t be married at all. And secondly, he proceeded to school them on the explicit statements in the Scripture: God is the God of the living, not the dead. In the same way, you should respond to these types of arguments. First, everyone acknowledges that rape is a horrible act and the perpetrator should not go unpunished. Secondly, one sin does not elicit another; killing children is always wrong.

The False Premise – Matthew 22:34-40

Once again, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question that they believe has no sufficient answer. They ask, “What is the greatest commandment?” This question can’t be answered. No matter the answer that Jesus gives, the Pharisees will not be satisfied. However, Jesus can tell that they are trying to trick him and call them out on it. He knows that the question relies on a false premise: there is a single commandment that is greatest. Jesus refuses to answer the question on their terms and gives them an unexpected response. He says that all scriptural law can be based on two commandments alone. This is a technique that I like to use when people ask me, “How can a good and just God allow children to suffer?” My response is actually quite simple and similar to Jesus’ response to the pharisees. I reject the presupposition that God allows those children to suffer and respond with “God is good and just. And people suffer.” The questioner assumes that those two statements are contradictory when they really aren’t. Rather than going along with their assumption that God is responsible for suffering, you should reject their premise outright.

-Nathaniel Johnson

matthew 22 15

 

Cleansing Your Heart

Matthew 15

 

matthew 15_18

 

In Matthew 15, Jesus is very critical of the religious leaders during his time, which were among the group called the Pharisees. In verses 1-14, the Pharisees had criticized Jesus and his disciples for not following their traditions about “washing their hands” before they ate, as if it was a salvation issue for them. Now, it is definitely a good idea to wash your hands before you eat; in fact, I definitely recommend doing so. However, when we make such small matters an issue for the salvation of others, it becomes a problem.

 

Jesus goes on to tell them that it is the things that come out of our hearts that affect our salvation, not merely the things that we put into our bodies in verse 15-20. You see, God is more concerned about our hearts than he is with our religious duties. Praying and worshiping before God is good, but if it isn’t done with the right motives, it does not profit you at all. We need to develop a heart within ourselves that is truly committed to our God. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that “man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH (God) looks at the heart.”

 

Jesus tells us that we can know whether our hearts are good or corrupt by what they are producing in our life. If you are producing evil thoughts, hatred, sexual immoralities, lies, and more, then you need to have a change of heart. However, if you have a good heart that is led by the Holy Spirit, you will produce these things: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

 

A good biblical example for us to follow would be that of King David. If you know the story of King David from 1 and 2 Samuel, God calls him a “man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). What a compliment from the Creator of the universe! Wouldn’t you like to be described by God in this way? You see, David was concerned with the things of God and longed to worship Him. His whole heart was devoted to making his God pleased.

 

I encourage you today to look at your life and ask yourself, “What am I producing?” If you are lacking in some area in your life, repent and start making a change. Although King David was a highly spiritual man, he also fell deep into sin, just like we all do. If that is your situation today, I encourage you to pray to God the same words that David prayed in Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.”

 

-Talon Paul

What Fills YOUR Heart?

Matthew 12

matthew 12 34 b

We find in Matthew 12 that Jesus hasn’t slowed down. In fact, all the surrounding naysayers,  the Pharisees, are turning the criticism up. They were obviously feeling threatened. What I find most interesting though in these 50 verses is how familiar it all sounds. Just like then, the Pharisee in many of us now is also killing the mission and effectiveness of the church too.

 

Not uncommon in today’s age is to view a Pharisee as bad, yet the Pharisees were, to some extent, well-meaning people. They studied the law and knew it as well as anyone. Some were sincerely seeking God. After all, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both Pharisees, arranged for Jesus’ burial. They were sympathetic to Christ and, from what I can tell, ultimately ended up following him. The mission of the early church was radically advanced by a converted Pharisee – Paul. The irony is the people who declared to love God the MOST ultimately killed his offspring when he showed up to heal and teach the nation.

 

Rightfully, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their pride, lack of compassion and hypocrisy. Observe some of their exchanges in this one chapter alone and you might find it leaving a bad taste in your mouth, too. They were always trying to trip him up and I can’t recall one time where he was praised for his tireless work.  In verse 34 Jesus compares the Pharisees to a cluster of snakes and remarks “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How all too often do I find myself under pressure or stressful situations looking to my own self-justification and self-importance, just like the Pharisees. Denying God is exactly what I do when my attitude justifies me more than reflecting the heart and love of Christ.  

 

The religious leaders of the time were obsessed by their rules and detailed interpretations of the Old Testament law but they had largely ignored the key points of it – justice, mercy and faith. Oh that we learn this lesson in our congregations today opening wide the doors to welcome in the broken, bruised and hurting. Jesus is interested with reality. It is easy to pretend that everything is okay and that we have everything together. If we want to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t that is up to us, but we shouldn’t expect other people to live up to the standards that we are pretending to live by.

 

The gig is up for me. I won’t do it anymore. My heart is full and declaring just like Paul that “but for the grace of God go I.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) I am imperfect and Jesus is restoring me everyday. Use me, Lord, as you will to build your church.

 

-Julie Driskill

Are you Blind?

john 8 34 35

Are you blind!?!  This is one of our favorite questions to ask when those around us are missing something that is so obvious.  It is extremely frustrating to us when they just don’t get it or they just don’t believe us when the truth is right in front of their eyes to see.  This is how Jesus felt when he was dealing with the Pharisees.  His frustration with them oozed all the way through John 8 and 9 because they just “didn’t get it”.  They didn’t believe he was who he was even though it should have been very obvious to them.  They were closed-minded and not willing to listen to witnesses like the blind man who had been healed.
In John 8:34-35, Jesus says that anyone who commits sin is the slave of sin, and the slave does not remain in the house forever.  If you have a sin in your life that you deliberately keep doing, you’re going to get kicked out of the house because you are a slave to that sin.  When you keep choosing to sin, God is getting very frustrated with you, just like Jesus was frustrated with the Pharisees.  He’s probably thinking, “They know I don’t want them to do that, but they keep doing it anyways.  I have given them my Word to read, but they don’t see how they are supposed to act.  Are they blind!?!  They just don’t get it.”  Don’t be that guy.

-Rick McClain

Love Reaches Out

Matt 9 36

Matthew 9:10-13

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The scene that is set in this passage is one that is conspicuous in light of Jewish practices and expectations. The customary expression “behold” is used to invite the reader to give careful attention to what follows. Jesus is described as “reclining” with “many tax collectors and sinners” (v. 10). This is quite unusual from a Jewish perspective for a respectable rabbi like Jesus. A meal where an honored Jewish guest like Jesus was attending would not be typically filled with company of such disreputable people. Eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (who were considered unclean) was an outrageous occasion from a Pharisee’s perspective. But that is exactly the point that is being made—Jesus is unlike the Pharisees. A Pharisee wouldn’t be caught dead eating with these people, but Jesus is making a statement about the difference in character between him and the Pharisees.

Jesus uses the metaphor of being “sick” as a way to address the tax collectors and sinners (v. 12). The Pharisees were concerned with staying away from those they deemed “sick,” while Jesus demonstrates a deep concern for them. However, his desire to help those who are “sick” is taken as his approval of their lifestyle and condoning of their “sickness.” But this is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ intention. In a sharp rebuke, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn” what it means when God said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (v. 13; cf. Hos 6:6).

The prophet Hosea was seeking to exhort God’s people to show love and kindness. He described the superficial and hypocritical love of God’s people as being like “a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hos 6:4). Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were being like the people of Israel that Hosea was criticizing. Jesus was modeling how to show mercy and compassion for the outcasts of society rather than how the Pharisees who were demonstrating outright rejection and criticism of them.

What does Jesus’ actions indicate and how can we too model this love and compassion for sinners? What this passage indicates is that the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their blatant disregard for those in need of help is completely contrary to the love of God that Jesus is demonstrating by coming into the “sick” and tending to them and helping them. Those who are lost do not receive help by having a finger pointed at them. Rather, they are cared for when the value of their life is acknowledged. Love doesn’t default to protecting one’s self-image or with being concerned with what other people think. Love reaches out and shows how God desires to draw a person close to him and to restore them and heal.

If we truly grasp why Jesus would be helping the “sick” and risking the judgment and harassment from the Pharisees, maybe we can understand a little better how to form a Christ-like mindset for reaching the world the way that Jesus did…starting with showing “mercy.”

-Jerry Wierwille