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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Matthew 5: Jesus says, Jesus does

The majority of Community Groups in Sunrise are following up outreach through the Christianity Explored course & dinners by imparting a very simple and memorable discipleship strategy to new/young believers. We are engaging with the major events and teachings of God's Word (from Genesis to Revelation) while learning together how to feed ourselves with God's Word and how to teach others to do likewise.

Last week the five guys within our larger group were working through sharing a 'lightbulb' moment that God gave each of us as we read Matthew 5. As we did so, God opened my eyes to something I had never before seen.

Jesus, in the wisdom that typified his every parable and pericope, is teaching at 2 levels here and we'd do well to pay attention at both levels. Jesus speaks to his disciples many high ethical standards for them to live out or embody - but (lightbulb!) he speaks of himself doing just one thing. 

Level 1: Jesus speaks - high heart standards. "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying" (v.2) is how Jesus begins and this continues for 9 Beatitudes (happy promises), 2 lofty embodiments (salt of the earth & light of the world), and 6 of the loftiest moral standards I've ever heard - all of which begin with the formula: "You have heard that it was said...but I say to you." As we discussed anger tantamount to murder, living through unhappy marriages, looking at a woman that second time with the wrong intent, loving those you feel you should probably just avoid because they press all your buttons - the consensus amongst these 5 men in our little group: "They must have shook their heads in defeat as Jesus went through each of these one by one." On the one hand, each of these ratcheted-up standards are for our good. For example, When we allow anger to fester and grow at the heart level, the other person becomes, in effect, dead to us (Mt. 5:21-22) so it is worth leaving even a worship service to do the hard and humbling work of reconciliation (Mt. 5:23-24). On the other hand, the further Jesus goes up the list, the more one feels his/her inability - not striking back when struck, given more than what a mooch might ask for, love and pray for those who wish you ill?!

Then the kicker - Jesus teaches we are to do and not relax any of these commandments (Mt. 5:19), our righteousness must exceed a group of persons who had spent their lives and quit their jobs (in some cases) to dedicate themselves to meticulous obedience to every law and every possible way to obey it (Mt. 5:20), and he concludes: "You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). Jesus means for us at this point, I believe, to feel our utter inability. 

So to re-cap so far, Level 1: Each of these individual "doing what's right" would serve us and others well - while brining great glory to God. The bridge: We are meant to feel the impossibility of actually doing them.

Level 2: Jesus does. Did you ever notice that for all the speaking, teaching, and "but I say to you's" from Jesus in Matthew 5, there is only 1 thing he says he will do? And it's the one thing we absolutely need!  "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (ie. the entire Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Mt. 5:17-18).

The word translated "fulfill" (pleroo) really does give a sense of "fills full." Imagine the Old Testament as a large bucket not yet filled to the brim. Jesus fills full the entire Old Testament where it lacks: (a) All the Messianic prophecies that are left open; (b) All the types of leaders/deliverers who didn't quite live up to God's standard (Moses, David, Aaron, Joshua, and every prophet-priest-king); (c) All of the Law and commandments -- moral law: Jesus does it; ceremonial law: Jesus becomes the sacrifice; civil law: Jesus is exalted as the ruling king worth submitting to.

For our immediate purposes, Jesus perfect living fills full the bucket of where we fall woefully short (cf. Matthew 3:15). So he offers to credit to us his filled-full righteousness by simple trust in Him.
To the one who works [to be perfect & fill full his own bucket of right-living], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts in Jesus who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).
So here in Matthew 5, Jesus is giving us a high-heart ethical standard that is meant to be lived out for our good and the good of our neighbor; yet, he's also purposely set the standard so high that we are meant to feel our inability - so he hints here at one thing he  will do: Fill full all righteousness and right-living that we could not - including willingly becoming the right sacrifice to fulfill the Law and becoming our rightful king by way of resurrection to fulfill the Law.

Jesus Level 2 fulfillment then empowers us to live out his Level 1 standard. When we trust in Him, He causes us to be born again (John 3:7-8), giving us a new and tender heart that wishes to please our Father (Ezekiel 36:26), so tender that the high-heart standards will be permanently etched onto our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The great 20th century German theologian (and martyr) Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well in The Cost of Discipleship in which he examines Jesus' sermon on the mount. He says with respect to chapter 5 of Matthew's gospel:
God is the [the Law's] giver and its Lord, and only in personal communion with God is the law fulfilled. There is no fulfillment of the law apart from communion with God, and no communion with God apart from the fulfillment of the law. To forget the first condition was the mistake of the Jews, and to forget the second the temptation of the disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, who alone lives in perfect communion with him, vindicates the law of the old covenant by coming to fulfill it...It is Jesus himself who comes between the disciples and the law, not the law which comes between Jesus and the disciples. They find their way to the law through the cross of Christ. Thus by pointing his disciples to the law which he alone fulfills, he forges a further bond between himself and them.
If on your own or with a group, you are studying Jesus' wise and lofty teaching on this mount and finish feeling defeated. Do not worry yourself further: You are meant to! Look to Him who fills full the life you cannot on your own. He bonds you to himself through a relationship of simple trust and He will walk you through each step of obedience.

Monday, May 26, 2014

10 Most & 10 Least Popular Books of the Bible

The folks at the Overview Bible Project received raw search data from   to determine what the majority read and altogether avoid since the inception of the popular Bible tools website in 1993. 20 years of data and Bible searches now in the billions seems like a good sampling. 

Surprised to be Left-off the Most Popular List: James. James may be looking down from heaven disappointed* but he can justify this by reminding himself his letter remains a go-to Bible study book with other people, but perhaps we are not necessarily looking for verses of his letter on a search engine or as part of our personal Bible study. 
* - unlikely since he is in the presence of Jesus.

Infographic: the most popular book of the Bible

Surprised to be Left-off the Least Popular List: Leviticus. Moses surely thought included on this list would be his guidebook that includes how to deal with unseemly cold sores and which precious livestock you need to have sacrificed if you accidentally touch a dead fly. Rejoice my main man, Moses! I've still never heard anyone preach a sermon series from it, but Leviticus ain't no cellar-dwellar either. 

Infographic: least popular books of the Bible

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Wonderful and Free Marriage Tune-Up with Tim & Kathy Keller

My wife Katie and I were blessed both before and during the early years of our marriage with some wonderful marriage mentors. And frankly: We needed all the help we could get!!

Tim & Kathy Keller
Increasingly couples are getting hitched with neither the benefit of mentoring or counseling. You might be one of those people and even if you are not: I am linking below a wonderful marriage overview and refresher in 1 1/4 hours. 

Here you can access a brilliant 2005 talk from Pastor Tim & Kathy Keller on Cultivating a Healthy Marriage. You will need to create a user name and PW but otherwise it's free. The couple rotates back and forth speaking candidly, biblically and practically on six major marital hot-spots (again SIX in just an hour and some change!!):  (1) Purpose & Roles; (2) Communication; (3) Love Languages; (4) Sex (pre & post childbirth); (5) Conflict; (6) Spiritual Life together.   

Some Highlights that were impressed upon me:

  • Purpose: (Tim) The purpose of marriage is Gospel Re-enactment
  • Roles: (Kathy) The Hebrew idea for "Helper" comes from a position of strength not weakness or inferiority.
  • Roles: (Kathy) Great stuff on understanding the roles & value of each person in marriage in relation to relationship of the Godhead in the Trinity.
  • Roles: (Kathy) Great point about how both man and woman get to 'play the role' of Jesus in the marriage.
  • Communication: (Tim) Never tire of asking: What is the motive of this message I'm about to send?
  • Communication: (Tim) Addressing the problem not the person - 4-part strategy.
  • Communication: (Tim) Make sure it's a safe place for the spouse to offer criticism by slowing down our responses and giving your spouse permission to keep on talking.
  • Conflict: (Kathy) Sometimes you need gospel humility to call a 'foul' on yourself in the midst of the conflict (humbly ask: Please strike that last comment from the record).
  • Conflict: (Kathy) Sometimes you need to be the coach by telling your husband, especially, "I'm just looking for a hug here" or " I'm just hoping you'll admit you're in need of help also."
  • Conflict: (Tim) Always take time the next day, after repentance & restoration, to to review how you can improve next time - both the trigger of conflict and how you both handled the conflict as a team.

Tim Keller, as many of you know (since I've referred to him often and is likely my favorite living preacher) is Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. He and Kathy also joined together on a larger work released in 2011 called The Meaning of Marriage - which is not free. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

(FREE Audiobook) If God's already planned it, what's the point of praying, preparing & sharing my faith?

There is an argument against evangelism goes like this: 
"If God knows all things, is in charge of all things, and has planned all things, my friend, neighbor or co-worker will trust Jesus no matter how much or how little I pray, prepare, or share with them."
In what is probably the New Testament's paramount passage on evangelism, the bottom-line, takeaway action verb is "persuade others" (II Corinthians 5:11). It is interesting, however: The Apostle Paul makes clear that neither the persuading nor the converting ought motivate us. Indeed, you can imagine how our persuasive performance (or lack thereof) might lead to disappointment about ourselves, bitterness toward God, and even frustration toward the slow of heart we are trying to persuade. Accordingly, Paul gives two motivations to open our mouths about Jesus: (1) The fear of God (II Corinthians 5:11); (2) The love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14). 

He will ask us to one day give an account of how we have stewarded the good news and the tongue that GOD the Holy Spirit has entrusted to us (fear - see II Cor. 5:10) and Jesus has given his life for us (love). 

With such teaching, J.I. Packer reminds us in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God that it's not up to us and, yet, there are enormous and compelling reasons for us to share. Indeed, adopting a vision of a God who is both Large and in Charge can significantly aid us in the cause of evangelism. J.I. Packer is arguably the greatest theologian of the late 20th century. While I don't agree with a couple of his finer points in explaining the doctrine of God's sovereignty, I wholeheartedly recommend downloading and listening to this Free audiobook for the month of May.