The Christian Calling to Resist Evil

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

In Matthew 5 Jesus offers some challenging words: “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39). I want to offer today some first thoughts of a conversation rather than just a post to read. Please offer comments as you process these ideas and “leave a reply” below.

The ever thoughtful Adam Mills engaged this word with our staff as he pointed out the distinction offered in the New Testament about “resisting evil.” Matthew 5:39 tells us not to resist an evil person while James 4:7 tells us to “resist the devil.” There is a difference between an evil person and the evil they are acting upon or even the “evil one.” Jesus elevates the person, whether good or evil. After all, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). We are called to love all, because the Father loves all and we reflect His heart in the world. We war against the one who is unseen and seeks to destroy the good creation of God by provoking humans to all kinds of evil.

In the United Methodist tradition, we affirm the following vow at our baptism:

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves?” (United Methodist Hymnal, p.34)

We are to resist evil in this world as we proclaim with our words and actions the goodness and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ as He brings His Kingdom.

I honor the wrestling of our service men and women as they seek to honor their primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and their allegiance to their nation, laying down their lives for the sake of others. Is Jesus calling for total pacifism? Would Jesus call a nation to relinquish its military force in order to truly follow His teachings? Is there a way to love our enemies when we are charged to fight against them, even take lives? These are some great questions. While the following notion may not seem to apply directly I believe it does. When Jesus’ accusers were attempting to trap Him they asked about taxes. Jesus asked, “Whose face is on that coin?…Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:20-21).

Graduation day

Jesus acknowledges that we have a duty individually and as the community of His followers to the Kingdom of God. Yet, our national duty is also a part of our witness. We should reflect on the heart in which we comply with each duty – do we do it out of hatred or vengeance or even religious obligation, or do we comply with each out of love and humble service, caring especially for “the least of these.”

Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and Titus 3 are among the chapters of the New Testament which admonish the early Christians to submit to governing authorities as far as it does not conflict with obeying the laws of God, which John Wesley summed up as “the holy law of love.” I am mindful that some of the earliest converts were even Roman centurions, officers, and soldiers. The call to follow Jesus did not demand they give up their vocation, but rather reflect the character of God in the carrying out of their duties. For this is truly what it means to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-14).

These are not easy concepts to wrestle with, but I believe we must if the Church is to take seriously the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and other New Testament teachings. After all, staying at the level of children is not an option. In Eugene Peterson’s words, “it’s time to grow up.” We must mature into the call of Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I’m so encouraged to think that Christ, in offering Himself and the Holy Spirit the Father would send in His name, would make this possible for us. Let it be so in Jesus’ name!

Father, your Holy Spirit work within us, that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. May He raise us to new life also, even this side of heaven that we might be its citizens upon the earth. Amen.

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Recap: Which Kingdom? Attitudes or Beatitudes?

upsidedown.250w.tnYesterday we began Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with His introduction. He paints a picture of an alternative Kingdom that is upside down, backwards, and turned around from the kingdom of this world. “Blessing has come” to those whom the world would not called “blessed.” This is the meaning of “Beatitude,” from the Latin word beatus, meaning blessed.

Living by the kingdom of this world and its rules results in egos and attitudes. Too often we even see those of us who call ourselves disciples, members of Christ’s Body, the Church, slipping into this cycle of self-centeredness, resentment, and entitlement. So, let’s review and reflect on what this false reality looks like. How might we slip into this list of our own culture’s worldly attitudes? This is my list. I’d be interested to hear if you combat other attitudes that counter the calling of Jesus:

  • Happy are the self-sufficient. Make something of yourself, because you can do anything you set your mind to.
  • Happy are the apathetic. If you can put up emotional walls and boundaries you won’t ever need to be comforted.
  • Happy are the loud, strong, dominant, uninhibited, and unyielding. This is the only way to conquer the earth, and it’s there for the taking.
  • Happy are those who have the means to satisfy every craving. Hungry? Why wait?
  • Happy are the unmerciful. It’s a dog eat dog world. Nothing personal, it’s just business.
  • Happy are those that “follow their heart,” which may mean following something new every hour. After all, absolute truth is a narrow-minded prison. Do whatever makes you happy.
  • Happy are the warmongers, fear mongers, anxiety producers, and stress causers. After all, “am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s hard enough looking out for me and mine.
  • Happy are those who are free of persecution, because let’s face it, that just hurts and I will not be violated.
  • Happy am I when others learn what happens if you insult me. I don’t care how you treat anybody else. You’ll learn that doesn’t fly with me.

Jesus offers another way. This is the invisible Kingdom which has come into our visible world, offering blessing to those who the world would not typically see as “happy” or blessed:

Matthew 5:3-12 (New International Version)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Session One

Pastor Philip introduces the Beatitudes! This video is meant to be used with the “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” Leader Guide for small groups. Enjoy and be blessed.

Mountaintop Experience

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (Matthew 5:1-2)

Jones, E. Stanley. (Abingdon Press: 1931) The Christ Of The Mount A Working Philosophy Of Life

Levenson, Jon D. (HarperOne: 1987) Sinai and Zion

What If Jesus Were Preaching?

We begin a new week. This week we begin a new season. And this season we begin a new chapter in The Great Story. As Ash Wednesday begins Lent day after tomorrow we have closed the Book of Genesis and our ORIGINS series and will pause before entering the land of Egypt with the Israelites before the Exodus. We will spend this next chapter during Lent turning our attention to the One who was God and was with God in the beginning . . . The Word. This “Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). And this Word in Person even spoke words of His own. So, this week we begin to ask the question, “What if Jesus were preaching?” What would He say? What action would He call His audience to? How would He inspire us to see God, ourselves, and our world differently? Well, we can answer these questions. Because we have a sermon out of the mouth of Jesus Himself.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (Matthew 5:1-2)

I invite you to read through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with us from today to Easter with the “Read Something Daily” plan available on this blog. If you are Reading the Whole Bible in 2015, you will be wrapping up the Pentateuch over the next couple weeks. The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Five Books of Moses, The Torah, or The Law. I invite you to journey through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount looking for the parallels between the Kingdom of God Jesus describes and the stories and laws given to the people of God in the beginning.

This Lent, let Jesus be our Preacher and Teacher. Let Him guide us to the Cross of Calvary and the empty tomb as He describes for us and lives the example of laying down our lives for others while experiencing newness and Resurrection.

I’ll be posting here throughout each week as we reflect on just a verse or few from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and how it might feed our souls today. See you tomorrow!

Dreams, Vision, and Magic Eyes

When I was a kid there were these pictures that became a fad. I had a few hanging on the walls of my adolescent bedroom. They were called “Magic Eyes.” They looked like a whole lot of nothing unless you focused right. I learned that the trick was to relax your eyes rather than look at the surface of the image. Instead of concentrating on the picture I would allow my eyes to find a focal spot beyond it, as if I was looking through the wall to the yard outside. And then it would happen. The geometric world within the picture would come to life. I would see whatever the image-creator had designed for me to see and it would become crystal clear. Go on, try it!

saturn

In Genesis 40 we learn that Joseph doesn’t just have the gift of dreams. He also is able to interpret them. Dream interpretation was actually really common in the ancient near east. But Joseph operated a little differently. The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament contains the following comments:

“Dream interpretations were usually carried out by experts who had been trained in the available dream literature. […] Since dreams often depended on symbolism, the interpreter would have to have access to these documents preserving the empirical data concerning past dreams and interpretations. It was believed that the gods communicated through dreams but not that they revealed the meanings of dreams. If they were going to reveal the meaning, why use a dream in the first place? But Joseph held a different view. He did not consult any ‘scientific’ literature, but consulted God. Nevertheless, he interprets along the same lines as some of the dream literature would have suggested.”[1]

This is one huge characteristic I see in Joseph – regardless of circumstances or what he must endure (being thrown in a pit by his hateful brothers, sold into slavery, prison, worked his way out of prison, falsely accused, back in prison again) his focus remains the same – His God. And all the rest of the image around him falls into perspective.

gn40_08a

What I also love is what we see about Joseph’s God. Again the quote from the commentary above: “the gods communicated through dreams but not that they revealed the meanings of dreams. If they were going to reveal the blindfold-removemeaning, why use a dream in the first place?” But not Joseph’s God. Joseph’s God wanted to be consulted. He was waiting to shed light, revelationupon reality. The God of Israel would ultimately reveal Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), but this has always been who God is. He wants to be known, revealed, seen, understood. So, today I invite you…

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Prayer: Almighty God, You are so great and I am so small. Yet You would choose to stoop to my level, speak in plain talk, even dress up just like me. Open my eyes that I may see You more clearly, see myself more like You see me, and see others as the wonderful creatures You have made them to be. I focus on You today that everything else would come into proper focus. Amen.

[1] Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., Ge 40:18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Tattletales and Dreamers

honeyjarYou’ve heard it said,

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

This week we begin looking into the story of a man named Joseph who really steps onto the stage as a main character in Genesis 37 and closes out the book in chapter 50, receiving more attention in terms of book chapters than any other character in Genesis. Joseph is an exemplary figure for a number of reasons, but today I notice something in the very first scene in which he stars. Joseph, it would seem, has some issues of immaturity. He is not a man lacking in integrity. Spiritually, he seems pure and above reproach. By Genesis 39, after being sold as a slave into the hands of Egypt he would rather escape without his cloak than be caught with the wife of a high ranking palace official. So why would the brothers of this holy man want to kill him? Because he was a tattletale and a dreamer.

There is a common viewpoint that “the gospel is offensive.” We have a story, a revelation of who God is and how He has interacted in human history. We desire to reflect His image and do His work. This is going to create problems for the faithful, even causing us to be disliked, even persecuted. Thus, we don’t need to worry about how we are received. What matters is the truth, and “the truth will set us free” (John 8:32). However, I remember the words of the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest evangelists of all time: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

The truth is,

What we do with the truth is important, because the goal is to earn favor and to win souls.

Fortunately, Joseph will grow and mature. He will teach us what it means to win the favor of the very ones who would persecute him. He will continue to have dreams, gifts from God, but he will learn how to be a better steward of those dreams.

Prayer: Father, today I receive your love for me. I also receive your love for every person in whose eyes I will look this day. Help me to know the truth and live in freedom. Help me also to share the truth that others might be set free. Restrain those parts of me that would turn others from Christ. May others see me decrease and Jesus increase as the Holy Spirit makes me look like Him. Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

800px-Blake_jacobsladder

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .”

Not only will God keep, guard, and sustain the souls of those who seek Him. He also keeps His promises. Always! God’s promise to Abraham involved “descendants,” a family line. Thus, His promise would be just as important to Abraham’s children and grandchildren. Little did grandson Jacob know in Genesis 28 when he made camp one night in a little place called Luz – not a destination, but really just a pass through zone – that he would have an encounter with the living God who would renew His covenant promise to Abraham. This reminds me of when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain (which mountain was that again?) and something so significant happened that Peter deemed the place holy and wanted to build permanent encampments there. The emphasis, however, was not supposed to be on the place but the Presence. Jacob had simply turned a common rock into a pillow and drifted off to sleep. But when he woke from his dream about a heavenly stairway, the rock became an “Ebeneezer stone,” a memorial rock to symbolize a significant historical event. He named the place Beth-El, “the house of God.” Then, like his grandfather Abraham he was stirred to practice the tithe, giving a tenth of one’s resources as a sacrifice of praise and thanks to God for His promises and provision.

And what of that stairway? I love when God reveals to His servants the reality of the unseen. The invisible becomes visible and faith is made strong. (One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is about invisible chariots of fire in 2 Kings 6.) Jesus teaches us that there is the reality of the seen, the reality of this world perceived by the five senses. Then, there is the reality of God, the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven. If we are children of God we are actually citizens of that second reality while present in the first. We are to be “in the world, but not of it.” We are to be always pointing the citizens of reality #1 to reality #2 so that eyes are opened and souls awakened.

So, take heart today. The stairway is there. Jesus urged us to live in response to the truth that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Heavenly beings in the realm of the unseen are going to and from our realm to engage in our reality in ways we are too often unaware. And most of all, God Himself is at work.

Morning Prayer:

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)

Evening Prayer:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)