The theme of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is Jesus’ call to righteousness. In the commentary section of the NLT Bible, it says (emphasis mine):
“Jesus uses the term for moral behavior that conforms to God’s will. Specifically, righteousness is doing the will of God as Jesus reveals it. This ‘revelation of righteousness’ unifies the entire Sermon. Jesus reveals the will of God as it contrasts with traditions. The realization of the law in Christ means that obedience to all of his commands is the only acceptable response for his disciples.”
Jesus lays out the lifestyle and character of his followers – those who do the Father’s will – through the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). By recognizing our weaknesses, by being humble, by thirsting to do God’s will, we shine a light on the nature of God. By having pure motives and being peacemakers, we carry forward the intent of Jesus.
By doing the right thing – even when no one is looking, even if we are badgered or insulted – we are faithful to the One who saved us by His grace alone. By loving all people, we do not becomechildren of God; we show the world we are God’s children, transformed by Christ.
We must carry the commands of Jesus in our hearts, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions, for “whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)
Jesus spoke strongly against anger, name-calling, adultery, lying, retribution, violence, hate and judging others. He told us in order to follow him we need to turn the other cheek, forgive, and love our neighbors. He commanded us to love our enemies, pray for them and go the extra mile for them! Significantly, Jesus told us to ask, and continue asking God for help in keeping these commands because we cannot – and in fact, have a tendency not to – do it on our own.
The apostle Paul clarifies this command beautifully:
Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord. But, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21, Deuteronomy 32:35, Proverbs 25:21-22)
How can we continue to justify chaining ourselves once again to the traditional, pharisaical Old Testament Law and revert back to blood and sacrifice when the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross ended all that forever? We have embraced exclusion and wall-building, support state-sanctioned killing and national war. We have supported class- and race-based justice. How? With our votes. With our sarcasm. With our silence.
In doing so, we allow the Gospel to be kidnapped by wolves in sheep’s clothing professing to be Christian but following an entirely different and destructive “gospel.” When we ignore His true commands, we nail Jesus to the cross all over again.
We must read and deliberate long and hard on the words of Jesus. We must consider the consequences and impact on our own eternal life when we distort his words into something he never had in mind. We must remember The Son’s words came directly from The Father he served – our Father, who desires all of us to be reconciled to Himself.
(Holy Bible, New Living Translation, 1996, 2004, 2007, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Il., 60188)
I live in the U.S. in the State of California and I voted this morning.
Did my Christian world view influence the way I voted? Sure. How could it not. I’m also a 65-year-old woman. That also influenced the way I voted. So did the sum total of my life experience.
So now I await the results, along with the residents of this state, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. The final primary is next week when the District of Columbia votes.
Of course, these are only the primaries. The general election date is November 8th.
And every presidential election year I pray. I began praying back in April last year.
“This prayer is also for all the believers who will follow [these disciples] and hear them speak. Father, may they all be one as You are in Me and I am in You; may they be in Us, for by this unity the world will believe that You sent Me.
“All the glory You have given to Me, I pass on to them. May that glory unify them and make them one as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23)
Why do we allow The Enemy to throw us into disunion over anger or litmus tests?
How many give The Enemy a foothold by ranting on Facebook, “liking” or retweeting a negative comment, telling or passing along a sarcastic political joke, or refusing or forgetting to pray for those in office?
How many choose to protest with fists and angry words? Applaud the arrogant and proud rather than humble and courteous? How many prefer those who can shout the loudest rather than those who listen and work for peace and unity? (Matthew 5:3-9)
How many, if the person you vote for is not elected, are already determined to pass along your anger to others, to become bitter and cynical, to refuse any attempt at peacemaking or unity?
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5:21-22 The Message)
Why is unity so difficult for those of us who call ourselves Christians? Why do we make life difficult for each other, disown each other and tell each other we’re going to hell if we disagree doctrinally with each other? Do you know how many different theological doctrines exist? The images shown are from the table of contents from only one book* – 323 pages of seventeen different doctrines and 2-4 different sides of each of those doctrines. Doctrine is merely man-made and though it may be based on Scripture, it is still widely interpreted.
Jesus did not pray for us to be one with doctrine. He prayed for us to be one with Him and with the Father.
The Holy Spirit is in us in order to accomplish this oneness. If we ignore the Spirit of God and instead worship doctrine or agendas or a person running for office, aren’t we guilty of idolatry? Haven’t we walked away from our First Love? If we have, we must turn back, and remember what the Gospel is truly about. (Revelation 2:4-5)
May You hear again this faithful refrain of the words Jesus prayed: may we be as one as You and Your Son and the Spirit are as one; may we all be as one in You as You are in us. In that oneness, may be treat each other with love, grace and dignity, and in that unity show the world who You are in us.
May we remember this today and every day throughout the rest of this year. May we pray for all our leaders, whoever they are, that they would seek to lead justly and compassionately, and that they would seek to be peacemakers and unifiers. Amen
What is the cost to us of being redeemed by Christ?
Have you ever wondered what we owe to God?
Well, the true answer is nothing. There is no debt to repay. No obligation or encumbrance upon us.
Yet the closer we come to God, the more vulnerable and intimate we become in our relationship with Him, the more we surrender to the Holy Spirit, the more we delight in taking up the mission of living our lives for Christ.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
What does this mean exactly?
Eugene Peterson in The Message expresses it this way (emphasis mine):
So here’s what I want you to do [with] God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
So breaking it down even further, what does being a living sacrifice mean to you and me?
The closer we come to God, the more vulnerable and intimate we become in our relationship with Him, the more we surrender to the Holy Spirit, the more we delight in taking up the mission of living our lives for Christ.
And to go back to the question, what is the cost if we choose to pay it? What is it God wants for (not from) us if we allow Him full and complete access to our hearts and minds? The cost is living in continuous renewal and transformation of our hearts and minds. If we allow God full and complete access, we receive the unrestrained love He bestows freely and unequivocally.
For some of us, this extravagant love is difficult to receive,
which is why it is so difficult to give.
Yet this is the Gospel. It is the cost of following Jesus.
I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one; one; one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. Mother Teresa.
I have a friend who is perplexed about the emphasis “we” Christians place on sin.
Well, I admit, sometimes I’m perplexed, too.
Color Sin before Christ is accepted
(Is our mission to call out sin?)
I often read or hear the following rationalizations from evangelizing Christians:
“If we don’t point out their sin, they might be damned to an eternal hell.”
“If we don’t judge them, we’re not doing our job as Christians.”
“We need to take a moral stand in this immoral world without values.”
Jesus tells us not to judge; plain and simple. And Jesus only called out one group of people: the Pharisees. Yet, he also formed individual relationships with at least two of them – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Instead of calling out sinners, Jesus dined with them. Sharing a meal first century Jewish culture meant acceptance at a deep level.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 (Luke 6:37)”
“If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)
The thing is, no one will listen unless they feel safe, unless they feel loved. And really, it’s never a matter of “they” or “them,” but of he or she; individuals with whom we take the time to establish authentic and loving relationships. Individuals with whom we take the time to learn history and struggles and hurt and pain. Jesus loved first, drew individuals to His heart, creating the desire to follow Him.
If the death of his Son restored our relationship with God while we were still his enemies, we are even more certain that, because of this restored relationship, the life of his Son will save us. (Romans 5:10 GW emphasis mine)
Sin after Christ is accepted
(Are sinners separated from God?)
Christ died on the cross; He took our sins and buried them forever. More important, His resurrection brought us back into a redemptive relationship with our Father. He has restored us into our Father’s arms.
Sin can lead us to an earthly hell and make us “feel” separated from God. But,
All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Jesus. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him.It is central to our good news that God was in Christ making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 The Voice)
If God does not hold our sins against us anymore, why do we? How can our sin separate us from God if Jesus took them away, once and for all?
When we focus on sin, we miss the point of the Good News. Rather than fixating on sin, shouldn’t we stress God’s love, His grace and His mercy? Shouldn’t we extend an invitation? Invite someone in and get to know him? Welcome someone to dinner and make it safe for her talk?
If it’s true once people know the love of Christ they desire to transform their lives; if it’s true lives can only transform through a relationship with Christ, then we must love first. For if we judge and expect people to repent before they feel the love of Christ, we task them with an impossible burden, just as the Pharisees did to the people of their day.
It circumvents Christ, ignoring the cross and undermining the Gospel of Jesus.
What will separate us from the love Christ has for us? Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. As Scripture says:
“We are being killed all day long because of you. We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered.”
The one who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us. We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation. (Romans 8:35-39 MSG)
Yesterday, some friends and I engaged in a lively discussion of Greek, the Bible, translations, and meanings of words. We explored the challenges of trying to take first century concepts, worldviews, of Greek and Mediterranean life and culture, and Old Testament Jewish culture, and “make them fit” into our twenty-first century pragmatism. We were working on a “project”, a “preaching project” about central concepts in the New Testament… but more on that later.
We were doing what’s called “content analysis” comparing the Four Gospels, then adding in Acts, and noticing their dramatic differences from both the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament.
In the course of that discussion, we started comparing “recommendations on Bible reading for new believers”, as they had experienced that across their lives and churches, and as I had (and my eventual determination for my own teaching and discipling).
Then, this morning, I see in these Church Set Free pages, this lovely post, “A Letter to New Believers”, by Susan Irene Fox on almost precisely the same topics as we discussed. Neat, huh? 🙂
So, let me recommend you look at Susan’s post, and then look over the comment section below it as well. Wonderful conversation there! I want to “weigh in” on that with my own 2 cents, but just as “contribution”, not to be meant as “defining conclusion”.
And then, following, I am attaching another Podcast, by that same “anonymous” teacher/preacher, addressing “making disciples”. I attach this because it expresses in a glorious and succinct form, both my own approach to making disciples of new believers, and the Gospel foundation for the view.
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So: When a new believer comes under my care, my recommendations are simple…
As to “Bible Reading”… Don’t.
Don’t try to read and understand (yet), the “Holy Bible”. That comes later. Your task right now is not to comprehend the history, majesty, and revelation of God Almighty’s heart as manifested through His management of the history of Israel. Your task right now, having heard Jesus’ call, “Follow Me!”, and having answered that call… is to BE WITH HIM!
So, start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order…
(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John
Why that order?
Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.
Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!'” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.
Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.
Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.
And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond! I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God.3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!
John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.
Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)
Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)
[Note: One thing that was mentioned in last night’s discussion here in my home… and is quite true. If some is already a contemplative, a mystic, or a philosopher who has disciplined their mind and heart to deal rightly with words, with meanings, with the boundaries and nature of constructs and consciousness… then yes, they well may enjoy and richly feed from John’s Gospel as a first course. It’s been rare in my experience, but yes, it happens betimes.]
Anyway, there’s my two cents on “where does the New Believer start”… Until their relationship, their love, their communion (including TWO WAY communication) is secured with Jesus Himself… there is no need to rush off to become a theologian. Confine study to the Gospels themselves, then move forward through the Epistles… THEN (about two years in), take on the Old Testament (hopefully with the companionship of a good teacher or two).
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The other big element, far better dealt with by this “Abbot” (rather than this “Little Monk”) has to do with the “process”, the “mechanics” of “discipling”. The most fundamental need of a “new believer” is not their “reading list”…
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
For the very first time, you feel an immense relief. Your burden is lifted. You feel embraced by the love of the Father. You feel the total acceptance of Jesus. You are ready to let down those old barriers and give yourself completely to The One who invited you into His family. You think you can hear the Holy Spirit leading you in truth and love…but then you begin to hear other voices.
If you feel like you are surrounded by a forest of conditions and laws and rules and you need a machete to clear the way to the Father’s heart,
If you seem to hear noisy, clanging cymbals that don’t sound like love but sound like accusations – you know, accusations like:
If you don’t go to church you’re not a Christian;
If you vote that way, you’re not a Christian;
If you do yoga you’re in partnership with the devil;
You’re just a new believer so you don’t know how we do things;
Please recognize we’re all trying to do our best. And sometimes we make big mistakes.
Sometimes we treat you as a number, a filled seat in our church.
Sometimes we consider you converted and assume you believe the way we do because you attend our church.
Sometimes we attempt to indoctrinate you into our convictions because we’ve been raised into a theology or worldview from birth, certain it’s the correct and only one and passionately want to save you from incorrect beliefs.
Sometimes, we’re so busy proclaiming our own views, we alienate the very people Jesus wants us to save.
We forget to introduce you to the heart of God, to teach you to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit so you are able to hear the unique way He speaks to you.
It is a huge responsibility, to share His love, to invite and train in discipleship – a huge distinction from making converts. I think we sometimes shirk the great responsibility Jesus left to us by doing the latter, which requires no relationship, no grace, no pouring out of God’s love.
The former is a commitment, coming from the power of the Spirit; it produces fruit which lasts and reproduces itself out of His love and grace. It forms relationship and brings someone into the family of the Jesus. It’s a joining of hands and heart in the Father’s embrace.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) This word, make disciples, mathēteusate, means to teach or to be trained as a disciple.
God’s love is radical. His grace is provocative and socially unacceptable. It is not for the faint of heart, but for those courageous enough to pick up this cross and follow Jesus.
Your Relationship with God is Sacred
What matters is your relationship with the Father, your conversation with the Holy Spirit, your willingness to receive and give away the love and grace of Jesus.
What matters is you refining your unique journey with God because He speaks to each of us the way He created us to listen. And rest assured you responded to His invitation at the exact right time for you. He alone knew when you were ready to take His hand and walk with Him. Continue to trust His love, His guidance and His embrace.
What to Read
Before you read any theological books or current books that profess to sway you one way or another; before you read a version of the Bible someone recommends but you can’t understand, get yourself an easy-to-read study Bible. One that has lots of commentary notes and a good index (concordance).
Instead of attempting to follow a 365-day Bible reading program, read the apostle John’s Gospel and in particular the words of Jesus. Highlight them if your chosen Bible doesn’t print them in red. Also read John’s first letter (1 John), his sermon on the Gospel of love. Read it slowly, like dessert.
After that, read the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke)along with their introductions, again paying particular attention to the words of Jesus. They write about many of the same events but from their own perspective.
Don’t be afraid to make notes in the margins or underline certain passage. Write question marks, and begin to look at the Scripture references in the inside margins. They refer to other places in your Bible where the same things are being said.
When you’ve finished, you should have a pretty clear idea of what Jesus considered important.
After that, take a look at this list ofresources, then ask trusted friends for one or two books to read.
Above all, don’t lose hope. Don’t lose your own connection to God.
Talk with Him every day. And be sure to take time to listen.