God’s Repeatable’s

The Importance of God’s Repeatable’s – pay attention, they are important.

In the Torah, the Law of Moses, we are told “love your neighbor as yourself” only once (Lev. 19:18), but to “love the stranger,” thirty-six times (Lev. 19:34). Why?

Man has a tendency to love and treat with kindness those familiar or similar to themselves; after all, it’s easy to treat kindly those with whom we identify (Matt. 5:46-47).

The call to “love the stranger” is a call to love, respect, and treat with kindness those we are not familiar with, or similar to. It is a directive to recognize the dignity of the human other, and to see in them the image and likeness of God, and the commonality of man.

Example: The Good Samaritan.

Be well. Shalom.

Don’t Play the Surgeon

The Song of the Mountains – Part 46

Frequently we hear this verse quoted in the public square, “judge not, lest ye be judged yourselves” (Matt. 7:1). Social commentators, politicians, and protestors a like use this verse, most often while denying the existence of the One who said it. Even many well-meaning and sincere Christians quote this verse out of context, attempting to quiet those with a differing opinion. What is important to remember when interpreting any verse or concept in Scripture is that it must be interpreted in light of the entire canon of Scripture.

Matthew 7:1-5 is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to rightly apply. Have you ever had someone take you aside to do eye surgery on “what the Holy Spirit” revealed to them, only to be rebuked for not “receiving” their correction for a non-existent sin? It happens. It’s happened to me on several occasions, and I expect it will happen on many more. Just what is Yeshua/Jesus teaching us? 

How would Yeshua expect us to understand and apply His words? 

When considered in light of the entirety of His teaching message, we will recognize that He is not forbidding judging per se, He is teaching us to not prejudice, twist justice, or assume some position of moral superiority. In John 7:24 Yeshua said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” This helps to clarify what Yeshua is explaining in Matthew 7:1-5. 

Righteous judgment. 

First, we must consider the concept of righteous judgment as defined in sacred Scripture. In the Torah, Israel is commanded to establish “judges and officers” in each of their settlements, as we read in Deuteronomy 16:18, “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” 

Judges and officers addressed issues as minor as property disputes, to more serious issues of adultery and murder – and everything in between. They ensured that peace and justice was maintained in the community. The judges ruled based on available evidence in concert with others, and officers ensured the ruling was carried out. Yet, some would point out that we are under the “dispensation of the grace” through the New Covenant, therefore, we are commanded not to judge. This conclusion, however, is nonsensical, and not in keeping with the teaching of Messiah or the apostles. 

A rebuke. 

Consider Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian congregations, as he writes, “Should any of you, holding a matter against another, go to be judged before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (I Cor. 6:1). He then expresses the need for judges to be established in the messianic community in order to resolve issues between brethren. Biblically, judges are to consider evidence, evaluating actions against the objective ethical norms established in the Bible, hear witness testimony, and consider its truthfulness; not relying on the testimony of one, or to favor one over the other. The ruling is to be righteous. It is a very serious matter. 

So what is Yeshua teaching us?

He is teaching us to avoid unfair, unjustified, and uncalled for criticism. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do, as we always seem to find fault with others; and all too often will express that fault to them or to someone else. Puritan theologian William Perkins once wrote, “Don’t believe the devil even if he tells the truth.” Yeshua is reminding us that we often ignore our own faults, and see what we consider faulty in others; this type of criticism does not build up, it only tears down. 

This criticism surfaces from our own sinful, depraved, deceived, and stony heart – deceived, as we believe that somehow we have arrived at some point of perfection, simply because, in actuality, we are sinning differently than they are. There are better, however, more godly ways to correct, instruct, and shepherd people, even in our own imperfection, that does not involve rushing to judgment, prejudicing, or negatively harming another disciple. Is our ability to remove the speck from someone’s eye – by way of our words – really capable of “fixing” them? How successful have we been at fixing ourselves? Honestly, I’ve never met a single soul capable of fixing themselves, only covering over their imperfections – this author included.   

This is what Yeshua is teaching. He is directing us to not play the hypocrite by finding fault with others, while ignoring our own faults. It is so easy to take a hyper-spiritual, “holier-than-thou” posture, and disrupt the work of the Lord in someone’s life. Start in prayer. Not a prayer that affirms your suspicions; but prayer that sets your heart right first

When you approach someone. 

First, do you have the position or authority to speak into that person’s life? Just because you are a “believer” does not mean that you have the godly authority to shepherd another, particularly if you are ill-equipped to do so.  

If you see a lack in someone’s faith walk, do you have the ability to meet their specific need? If not, be silent and pray. Do not attempt to be someone’s Holy Spirit. However, if you have the authority, the right motivation, and the ability to shepherd them in their need, prayerfully approach. Even then, do not proceed without seeking godly direction yourself.   

Ask yourself these questions before you presume to remove someone’s speck:

Is what you about to say truly necessary? Will it be encouraging? Will it energize them to seek the Lord? Will it maintain their dignity? If you can answer no to any of these questions, then you will harm, not edify. 

Don’t assume. 

Dear reader, few of us know each other well enough to know all that is happening in the lives of others. Let us be very cautious about how we are judging, or criticizing another person who may be struggling enormously in some area of their lives. What Yeshua is forbidding is making yourself the judge, jury, and executioner – the specialist surgeon. He is instructing us that righteous judgment is done in concert with spiritually mature, equipped, and accountable disciple leaders.  

Even if what we are about to say is truthful, it may not be expedient – and we must learn to discern between “truth” and subjective opinion. Ultimately, the truth we wish to point out to someone might be entirely too much for them to bear. It takes discernment, humility, discipleship, and patience to know how to shepherd someone. Therefore, with our words let us build the life, not destroy it.

Be well. Shalom.  

Don’t Worry, Be Faithful

The Song of the Mountains Verse 45.

Time. We never seem to have enough of it. Well, we do if we make different choices. We will never have time, unless we commit to making time. The number one reason that I am aware, given by people in pre-Covid days, for not attending religious services, is time. We value our time, as we only have so much. What we invest our time in says a lot about what we value. So when people of faith stop investing their time in the Kingdom, something happens: worry creeps in. This is the heart of this lesson. 

He provides. 

This article covers a broad section of the Sermon on the Mount concerning overcoming worry with faith, Matthew 6:25-34. These can be difficult verses to understand, as Yeshua/Jesus uses an illustration of God’s provision for nature in order to illustrate His care and provision for humanity. Think of the birds, the lilies, the grass; the Lord provides for their need, and makes them beautiful, even though most of them will never be directly admired. He still provides. 

Don’t worry. 

Yeshua instructs us, “Don’t worry about your life,” about food, our bodies, clothing, or our needs. It is not beyond the scope of reason to say, “How can I not worry?!” 

The answer to this is found in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What is Yeshua saying? It is a strong correction, albeit a subtle one. In verse 33 He is telling us that we are focusing on the wrong thing. What? People become anxious, for the same reason that they become hypocritical: they begin to focus on the self rather than God. The worried person focuses on providing for his or her own needs, and in doing so, become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Why? They no longer discern, or receive the reality of the grace of God operating in their lives. 

What is the cure? 

Grace. As we seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness first, we are reminded that the Lord cares for us, and will supply the need that we are desperately attempting to fill ourselves to no avail. How much more does the Father loves us whom He has redeemed through His Son? If He cares for nature, certainly He will care for us.  

Peter reminds us that the Lord desires to see to our concerns, “Throw all your anxieties upon him, because he cares about you” (I Pet. 5:7). Yeshua is giving us permission to give our worries over to the Lord. He is giving us permission to believe God for our needs; but it does not necessarily imply our “wants.” There is a difference. Needs are necessary for life. Wants are what we believe will make our lives better. The sad thing is that we do not really know how well we have it, until we are with those who are lacking.

Supplying.  

This leads us to the other side of this word from Yeshua. There are times, in our seeking of God’s Kingdom, that we are the source of His provision for others. There was a time in our history when family and friends took care of each other when times were tough – today that generosity of spirit seems to be disappearing, largely due to the weakening of relationships in general. 

Seeking, or convenience.  

Yeshua is teaching us to place faith, and the seeking (actively pursuing) of God’s Kingdom and righteousness, in the place of priority. After all, what has worry added to us but stress, sickness, and fear. What does it mean to “seek” God’s Kingdom? Yeshua is speaking to us about lifestyle; it requires time and effort. Yet, we have so much pressing in on our time that we too exhausted to make the effort – largely because we don’t see the need – and when we don’t see the need – we will not see the reward of the seeking.

Today the number one reason that “identifying” Christians do not attend weekly church services is time. Here is how we find the time to attend church, which still has enormous benefit to the heart, mind and soul if done properly: we turn off the TV, and the tablet; we stop texting 24×7; we stop chasing after every event every night during the week; we politely refuse to participate when events are scheduled during the time of corporate worship. Contrary to popular belief, children do not die because we say no to them, or bring them into the house of God. 

Causal Messianic faith has placed worldly pursuits first, and His Kingdom and righteousness second. Priority.

As we begin to take our eyes off God, placing Him in a secondary position, we find that fear creeps in, worries build, and the things that we have, which is more than enough, can no longer satisfy. Today people are looking for “peace” by adding to their schedules events to create “peace” that is immediately lost after they leave that environment. Peace comes to us by faith in Messiah, who then establishes in us peace that is in us everywhere we go; but faith, and a pursuit of the things of God in every area of life, must be part of our daily lives to overcome worry and trouble.

I write to you from personal experience, that nothing I have ever worried about has benefitted me. To the contrary: worry consumed my strength, hope, and faith.

How should we live our daily lives? Let Him lead, as we make the most faithful, prayerful and purposeful decisions that are available to us at that time. Let us be thoughtful, obedient and good stewards of the lives, and goods in our care.

Be well. Shalom.  

One Master

The Song of the Mountains – Verse 44  

A Crescendo. 

Yeshua/Jesus has asked us where our treasure is, what sort of treasure it is, and He has instructed us regarding how that treasure causes us to experience the world around us. He now brings this section of the Sermon on the Mount to a crescendo – causing us to ask ourselves, “just who are we serving?”

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick by one and look down on the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). 

The underlying meaning of this verse speaks to an ethic of worship – who are we serving, who are we trusting, and at who’s command do we respond? 

No other.

If you recall the language of the second commandment, “You are to have no other gods before me. You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, the Lord you God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my commandments” (Ex. 20:3-6). 

The second commandment directs the people of God to exclusive worship, based upon His act of salvation referenced in the first commandment. Still, the allure of money, possessions, and the power it seems to bring is always tempting. 

The wallet. 

John Wesley famously remarked that the last part of a person to be converted is his wallet. I can attest from many years of preaching, that few things that I have taught on, in dozens of congregations, causes people to shift in their seats like the mention of money. It might surprise you to learn that regarding the subject of faith, the Apostolic Scriptures has about 500 verses. On the subject of prayer, also, about 500 verses. On the subject of money, however, we find an astounding 2,350 verses, approximately 29% of the Apostolic Scriptures. 

Why would this be? For many of us, money is intimately connected to our understanding of survival, of comfort, and is a direct representation of the fruit of our labor. Keeping all this in mind, unfortunately, we can see that our faith and our finances are closely linked together – undoubtedly warring in our heart. Paul warns us that, “The Love of money is a root for all kinds of evil.” Therefore, money can, if we are not cautious, harden our hearts to the needs of others.

What Yeshua taught. 

Yeshua often spoke of money, and its various applications, in the form of parables. He spoke of investments (Matt. 13:44-45), of savings (Matt. 13:52), of debt (Matt. 18:23-35), of earning wages (Matt. 20:1-16), of capital and interest (Matt. 25:14-30), money lending (Lk. 7:41-43), of inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32), and of the contrast between the rich and poor (Lk. 16:19-31). 

As I have addressed in previous articles on the Sermon on the Mount, earthly treasure does influence how we see and experience this world; and as we walk this life in faith with Messiah, we must be cautious to yield ourselves to the Lord God, and not to the powerful influence of money. 

Life lesson.

On my first trip to Kenya, East Africa, I became aware of a need of particular importance. My host was speaking to a gentleman that I had traveled with about a situation regarding a young man was now orphaned, and the primary provider for his four (4) younger siblings. The family had been fishermen on Lake Victoria, and both of this young man’s parents died within weeks of each other. “Steven,” who had wanted to become a teacher, then took on the burden of the family business, but was soon overwhelmed by it and he turned to drugs and alcohol. 

Having reached the bottom, he had heard of my friend Pastor Peter, who frequently took in orphans, and walked the fifty (50) miles to his house barefoot. After a time, Peter found a sponsor so that he could go to a local teachers college, and I enter the picture after the boy finished his first year, and lost his sponsor.

I had spent a considerable amount of time with “Steven,” and after I learned of his situation I pledged that I would find the money for his second year of college.  

As the Lord would have it, I was preaching at a conference on the compound of the school he attended for a week. I had met the overseer of the school and went to speak with him. He informed me that “Steven” could not return until his fee was paid, but when I guaranteed it, he admitted him marked paid in full – the money was quickly dispatched after I returned home, as my home congregation sponsored the remainder of his education.

“Steven” finished school, found a work-study position to finish a third year qualification to be licensed to teach in any Kenyan school; and when I returned in 2014, he immediately found me and before anything else, brought me to his apartment to introduce me to his wife (he married a young widow with a small daughter), and his new baby. “Steven” not only supported his wife and children, but he paid the school fees for all of his siblings. 

With a little generosity of spirit, lives were changed and bettered. 

Dear reader, individually we are not called to change the world, that is the position of Messiah, but we are called to share joyfully of what we have – and this is not limited to money – and we do this because we love the Lord more than our earthly treasures.

The longer we live in this life of faith, the more that we discover that money makes the same exclusive demands as the Lord; but while one takes of us, the other gives to us. The Lord loves a cheerful giver – one giving freely – because it is a demonstration, of not only our love for our fellow man, but also our love for Him.

Be well. Shalom.  

Idioms, O Idioms!

The Song of the Mountains – Verse 43

Flashlights.

Have you ever had occasion when you needed a flashlight to see in the dark, only to find that the batteries were dead, leaving you to fumble around in the dark to find what you need or make your way? It is an unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous experience for sure. What causes the flashlight to work is that internal charge, its power-supply, the batteries. When the batteries are full, the flashlight gives off a bright light; but as they drain, the light begins to darken until its dead.

The lesson. 

In Matthew 6:22-23 Yeshua/Jesus teaches, “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” 

These verses are often approached from an esoteric perspective. Drawing on some hidden meaning of light, darkness, eye and lamp. What does Yeshua mean by “light” and “darkness,” “eye” and “lamp”? I submit that there is nothing inherently esoteric about these verses at all. Their meaning is rather simple, and the lesson flows in perfect harmony with the context of what Yeshua has been speaking about.

Context.

In the past two articles on the Sermon on the Mount, we have been corrected regarding what we treasure, and upon what we rest our hearts – as what we treasure will be the position from which we experience this life. Then, in the verse that follows our present subject, Matthew 6:24, Yeshua tells us that we cannot serve two masters: we cannot serve both God and money

The question we need to ask is this, “How do we demonstrate the location of our treasure? How do we demonstrate that we serve the Lord alone? Yeshua provides the answer, yet He does so in a way that is rather unusual to us, but well known to His audience.

Idioms. 

Yeshua uses two rather well known Hebraic idioms. Every language has idiomatic expressions, which do not often translate well into other languages. In English more than I have space to list, but as examples: “kick the bucket,” “when pigs fly,” “hit the books,” “hit the sack,” “go cold turkey,” “on the ball,” “under the weather,” etc. 

If you speak English, specifically American English, you know what these expressions mean; the imagery, however, created by these expressions is rather confusing to non-American English speakers. One idiomatic expression that I like comes from the Luo Language spoken in the lake district of Kenya, it’s the name for Kale, “sua wiki,” which means “push the week,” meaning in English terms, “I’m broke but this green stuff will get me through the week.” Yeshua is using well-known Hebraic idioms.

The eye doctor. 

The “good eye” in first-century Jewish culture meant to be content and generous; conversely, the “bad eye” meant to be discontented and stingy. 

If we are full of treasure that has been laid up and secured for us in heaven, we are content, generous, selfless and care for the condition of others. If we only care about earthly treasures, we will be discontent, stingy, selfish, and not care for the well-being of others. 

Yeshua is speaking to our inward condition, and how it affects our relation to, and outlook on the world around us. The contextual flow of Matthew 6:19-24 can be paraphrased something like this:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth that time degrades or thieves steal. Be open handed, trusting in God, thereby laying up treasure in His heavenly depository. It is that treasure that is of real value, and infinite worth. Heavenly treasure allows your eyes to see well beyond natural sight, to the infinite worth of those around you. Earthly treasure closes your eyes as you begin to focus on the glitter of this world, not recognizing the encroaching darkness. In a daze you sleepwalk through life. Serving money, a slave to the very thing you believe you control. Lulled to sleep, the darkness deepens until the light overcomes your darkness.   

We can be abundantly blessed in this life, and never bless others. This is darkness.

We can be abundantly blessed in this life, and share that blessing with others. This is light.

So where is it? Your treasure? 

Messiah has said where our treasure is, there our heart will be. He then inquires as to our generosity – the way in which we “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This section of the Sermon on the Mount will come to a conclusion when Messiah asks us where our allegiance is: with the God’s Kingdom? Or with money? 

Dear reader, I pray that we are walking in His light, and not in the darkness of fear. 

Shalom. Be well.