Moving Past the Status Quo

The Pharisees’ claim that Jesus cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons reveals the absurd lengths to which unbelief will go. Jesus’ response demonstrated the absurdity of this explanation. If Satan were attacking his own forces then how could his kingdom stand? One’s forces are only attacked by an opposing force, which in this case was Jesus. Jesus’ power over demons demonstrated that the Kingdom of God had come and was establishing its power over the kingdom of darkness. The people understood this, but the educated refused to accept it. This is often the case, because the educated are invested so heavily in the status quo. A change in the status quo meant that their positions were now at risk. In opposing Jesus, these Pharisees were actually promoting the continuation of Satan’s domain, rather than joining Jesus in bringing it down. This is the problem with the educated, who become comfortable with their situation that they fail to see how change can bring about something unprecedented and good, because they fear losing what they have. In so doing, they can end up supporting what they once opposed to keep what they currently know and have.

If we are to continue to grow, it also means that we must consider the possibility that our current understanding is inadequate and in need of growth. As the Pharisees illustrate, it is comfortable for all of us to maintain the status quo in our lives, because we have grown accustomed to it. Change requires effort and exploring the unknown, which can and often does produce discomfort, but growth is also one of the great joys of following Jesus. While he does lead us into the unknown, he will not lead us their by ourselves, he will go with us. If the great joy of the Christian life is knowing Jesus, and it is, then allowing Jesus to lead us into unknown territory will also provide us a new opportunity to know him better. Therefore we should never allow the discomfort of change or the realization that our current understanding of God’s kingdom is inadequate to stop us from continuing to follow Jesus.

The Way of Transformation

After Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he went to his house and ate with him and other tax collectors. The Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ action, because they operated on an Old Testament paradigm that they would be defiled if they associated with sinners. With the coming of Jesus, that view became upside down. Jesus willingly associated with sinners; he touched lepers and others who were sick with fevers and other diseases with no fear of being defiled or becoming sick. Jesus’ example revealed the right-side up view of the Kingdom of God. It is never wrong to care for the needy or the sick, there is no longer any fear of being defiled by another person, because the only way we can be defiled is if we defile ourselves. This is what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are only defiled from our own hearts that generate wicked behavior. When Jesus addresses our hearts, then we no longer have to worry about our behavior, because our behavior flows from what is in our hearts.

Solomon advised wise counsel when he wrote to guard our hearts because it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). This is also why Augustine would later write, to love God and do as you please. While Augustine’s statement is counterintuitive is does reflect the transformation of Jesus’ Kingdom in our lives. Our love for God changes our heart’s desires so that what we please is also what pleases God. We can do what we please, because what we desire is what God’s also desires, because his Spirit has transformed and continues to transform our hearts. The Pharisees followed an outside to inside mode of transformation, which doesn’t work, because our behavior cannot transform our heart. On the other hand, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in heart transformation, our behavior is also transformed. Jesus revealed an inside to outside transformation, which then transforms our life and impacts those around us.

Skepticism

The healing of the paralytic was a sign to skeptics that Jesus and men had authority on earth to forgive sins. The scribes who questioned Jesus’ statement that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven, were said to have had evil thoughts. Jesus told the scribes that they would know that the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins, when he told the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk. When the former paralytic did so, it was a sign and proof that Jesus, the Son of Man, had authority on earth to forgive sins. Questioning and then judging the work of the Holy Spirit is evil. We may not understand it, like the crowd who responded with fear and glory to God, but we should avoid skeptical condemnation, “this is blasphemy” which is evil. We are to cooperate with the work of the Spirit, not judge or condemn it. The problem with these scribes was their hardness of heart, which blinded them to the work of the Spirit. In place of spiritual sight, they substituted knowledge of the law. It can be the same for us, who study Scripture or theology, we spend so much time studying that we fail to hear and see what the Holy Spirit is doing and so judge (and maybe condemn) what we see with our knowledge and our own interpretation of Scripture. We need both a knowledge of Scripture and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s working. Jesus said that true worshipers worship God in Spirit and truth. These scribes only had truth, but lacked a knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s work and so their thoughts became evil.

So what are we to do? We need to make sure that our pursuit of knowledge is not merely intellectual, but is motivated by a desire to know Jesus and our Father more deeply. We are to pause, ask and listen to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through the words of Scripture, rather than building up our knowledge of Scripture or theology as an end in itself, while assuming that our own interpretation of Scripture is 100% correct, leaving no room for us to learn and grow.

Little Faith

There is a bit of irony in Jesus’ calming the wind and the waves. As he was sleeping, the disciples came to him, awakened him and out of fear called to him to save them for they were perishing. Jesus got up and first rebuked their little faith, then he calmed the wind and the sea. What is ironic about this account is that the disciples were amazed at Jesus’ power and authority. Sometimes we underestimate the power of Jesus and are surprised when he does what we had never imagined. The disciples probably expected Jesus to join them in their efforts to escape the storm, because it never occurred to them that Jesus would actually calm the storm. When he did calm the storm, they were utterly shocked.

Shortly after we moved to San Diego, my wife, Donelle, and I were visiting neighborhoods and exploring the area. I remember walking around a particular neighborhood standing by a community pool and looking at the homes across the street. At one point, Donelle mentioned that this would be a lovely neighborhood in which to live. I agreed that it was lovely, but I thought to myself that it was more than we could ever afford and didn’t give it another thought. Several months later, we received a large and unexpected inheritance, which enabled us to purchase a home in that very same neighborhood and swim in that pool. Now, when we go to that pool, I am reminded of my “little faith” in what Jesus could do.

Jesus’ Truth Revealed Through Unbelief

The response of the religious leaders after Jesus’ death reveals a curious phenomenon that takes place in those who do not believe what Jesus said. The day following Jesus’ death and after he was buried, the religious leaders went to Pilate requesting that the tomb be guarded and sealed. Their reason? They remembered that Jesus had earlier said that he would rise from the dead after three days. Although they didn’t believe Jesus’ words, they understood them and remembered them, so that they took action. They feared the disciples would come and steal Jesus’ body in order to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead. The leaders also feared that the disciples then would go and preach his resurrection to the people to deceive them. The religious leaders took action in order to prevent this from happening.

The irony is that those who didn’t believe Jesus took to heart his words and took action, while those who did believe in Jesus completely forgot the words that Jesus had given them, to give them hope, and instead wallowed in despair and unbelief. What turned out, in spite of all the religious leaders’ precautions, was that Jesus did rise from the dead; he changed the disciples’ despair and mourning into joy. Then they went out and preached Jesus’ resurrection and turned the Roman world upside down. For the first time to that point in history, the powerless in the world’s eyes prevailed and transformed the powerful. Even today those who advocate for the rights of minorities and powerless groups reveal that they have been influenced by Jesus’ message, even though they may deny believing him. Up until Jesus, no religion or society advocated for women, children or minority groups. After Jesus, those cultures impacted by his message have seen some people in power advocating for the weak, rather than abusing them.

What this story reveals is that opposition to God’s kingdom cannot stop it any more than the religious leaders’ efforts to guard the tomb could prevent Jesus’ resurrection. On the other hand, unbelief in believers does not stop the advance of the kingdom either. However, when believers do take to heart what Jesus said, they are spared great despair and are empowered to encourage others while they see God’s kingdom expand.

The Degradation of Humanity

Jesus’ crucifixion reveals the sad and surprising degradation of man. Pilate realized Jesus was innocent, yet yielded to the jealousy of the leaders and perverted justice. Thinking to preserve his own position, he revealed how unworthy he was of it. In so doing, Pilate reveals the addictive power of an exalted position. Once attained a leader may do unwise, foolish and even evil things in order to preserve that position. The soldiers took advantage of an innocent individual because they didn’t believe or understand who he was. They perverted their power and used it to cause suffering on a person in a weaker position simply for their own entertainment. They reveal the common human tendency to use humor at the expense of another person. Often a person, who is not in a position to respond or clarify, but forced to laugh, while swallowing down the hurt. The religious leaders of the day, used their power and position in order to destroy a person whom they perceived to be a threat to them. They allowed their jealousy and anger to rule. Even today, we see people in positions of power attacking others seeking to destroy the reputation of those with whom they disagree, using ridicule and spinning the facts in order to discredit their opponents. As the common man ridiculed Jesus as they passed by, we need not look very far in today’s world to see people ridiculing others with whom they disagree. The people despised Jesus because they perceived weakness in his being crucified. When their own hopes for Jesus were not fulfilled they turned on him. They reveal to us the all too common response when people become disillusioned; they turn against what they thought would help them. The one thief crucified with Jesus poured upon Jesus his insults out of the bitterness of his own suffering. Only one individual, a thief dying with Jesus revealed a hope for humanity. As he died with all hope lost for this world, he placed his hope and trust in Jesus. While in one scene, we observe all the defects of humanity in the reactions of the people toward Jesus, we also see the one hope for humanity in the response of a dying man who had lived a misguided life. All those who should have believed in Jesus abandoned him, but one who should never have believed did. In him we also observe the mystery of God’s working in, through and with humanity. Even in the darkest moments there is hope! Even when the majority seems to have lost their collective mind, one small voice will continue to speak the truth. For that we can rejoice and be thankful.

The Renewing of Our Mind

On my last post, I concluded with a question: how do we live out Jesus’ instruction to pray this day for our daily bread? As I mentioned, Jesus’ instruction to pray for our daily bread completely transforms the reason for which we work. While God may use our work to provide for our daily needs, our reason for working is different. We work to expand God’s kingdom, according to what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Recently I was driving to work on a Monday morning and feeling blue, I pondered why I was feeling blue. If work was to be an opportunity to expand God’s kingdom, then why should I feel blue on a Monday morning or any workday morning for that matter? It occurred to me how far I still needed to go to change my own perspective of work. I realized that my view of work was still quite similar to that of the world. Back in the 1960’s a new restaurant started on the east coast, by the mid 1970’s it was also on the west coast. In college I worked at Sears, in the same shopping center where I worked this restaurant opened. It’s name? TGI Friday’s, meaning “Thank God it’s Friday”. That is an interesting name. Why wasn’t it called “TGI Monday’s”? Well, there is a good reason; probably no one would go to a restaurant with that name. Friday represents the last day of the traditional work week when people go out to eat and drink to celebrate the beginning of the weekend, when they don’t have to work. Monday is typically not a day of celebration. The celebration of the end of the work week has a very Old Testament view, related to man eating his bread by the sweat of his brow according to the curse on the land in Genesis 3. The TGI Friday mentality considers work to be burdensome, rather than invigorating, as Jesus transformed work to be. It occurred to me on that Monday morning driving to work, that the battle is not outside of me, but inside of me. This is why the apostle Paul instructs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and not be conformed to this world. (Romans 12:1-2) What I need is to be transformed in my thinking each day that I go to work. I need to rethink the way I consider work, and not just how I think about it, but in how I feel about it; it is an opportunity, not a burden. So how do we live according to what Jesus taught? One aspect of that is to take stock of how we think about our work and how we live out each day. Are we living in the present, focusing on the needs of that day or are we letting cares for tomorrow enter in? Jesus instructs us to stay focused on each day, because it has enough for us to think about. When we reach that point we can live, TGI Today.

I invite you on this journey with me being transformed by the renewing of the mind.

Our Daily Bread

When we consider what has become known as the “Lord’s Prayer” or in some circles “Our Father”, we discover that Jesus is giving us the freedom to issue commands in prayer. We are not asking God to do these things, but actually commanding him, because all the verbs are commands, not requests. That is amazing! Furthermore, what is curious about Jesus commanding us to command God for our daily bread is that it is to be timely. Give us this day our daily bread. He could have said simply, give us our daily bread, but he added “this day”. We are to receive our bread on the day it is needed. This reminds us of the method God used to distribute the manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. He didn’t give a week’s worth, but each day he distributed the manna, except on Friday, when he gave two day’s worth to cover what was needed on Saturday, the Sabbath. This method of distribution is much like how God gives light. He gives us light for each day, when the sun comes up. He doesn’t give us any light ahead of time. As we depend on God giving light, we should also depend upon him for sustaining our life, physically and spiritually.

Jesus is addressing something much more than physical bread when we consider this command for our daily bread. When Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread, he responded that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the Father. While bread is needed for part of our sustenance, we need more. We need revelation from God our Father to survive and thrive throughout life. Jesus’ command regarding bread also undoes the curse to Adam in Genesis 3, when God informed Adam that he would eat bread by the sweat of his face. Mankind has needed to toil to earn his bread to eat, but Jesus says here that we are to receive it from our heavenly Father. In making this command in prayer, Jesus changed the purpose for our work. It is not primarily for earning a living, but what Jesus would say later in Matthew 6. We are to seek God’s kingdom and everything we need will be added to us.

Through prayer, Jesus leads us to living a completely different lifestyle, that frees us from the toil and worry of seeking to sustain ourselves through our own efforts. The remaining question is how are we to apply what Jesus instructed?

Our Inner Life

When Jesus instructed his followers from the mountain, he instructed them on their inner life. Merely religious people tend to practice their religion before others to be admired by them for their righteousness. However, Jesus’ followers cultivate an inner righteousness by following Jesus when no is there to see them, because they understand that true righteousness is developed in a relationship with Jesus and their heavenly Father. In this way righteous living flows out of them, because they they think righteous thoughts, producing naturally righteous speech and behavior. We might say that they become fluent in righteousness, much like we become fluent in a second or third language. When we learn another language we have to practice it. When we are first beginning we tend to equate the new language with the one we know, but as time goes by, we discover that we begin to think in that new language so that we begin to speak fluently. Following Jesus, learning to think like he thinks will over time and practice naturally produces speech and behavior that imitates Jesus so that whether we are in public or alone, our thoughts and actions are consistent.

To this end, Jesus instructed his followers to practice their acts of mercy out of the public eye and to retreat to a quiet spot alone with God to converse with their heavenly Father. While Jesus addressed behaviors in his mountain-top lesson, the apostle Paul addressed the inner aspects of what we do in private when he instructed the Corinthians to bring every one of their thoughts in alignment with Jesus’ thoughts. If we fail to practice Paul’s lesson, we will be conflicted as we work to apply what Jesus taught. In agreement with Paul, Jesus said that our speech flows from what is already in our heart. So to change our speech and behavior we must address the condition of our heart. To address the condition of our heart, we must be in relationship with Jesus and our heavenly Father through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Disappointment with God

During Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, Satan took him to the pinnacle of the temple and stated that since Jesus was the Son of God, he should throw himself down so that God would send angels to save him. Jesus saw the devil’s second temptation as testing the Lord God, which we are commanded not to do. Why would the devil tempt Jesus in this area? We tend to test things that we do not trust; so Satan was testing Jesus in the area of trusting God; would God save him? He was using an implied question; do you trust God to protect you?

I think of this in relation to the passage in Malachi that speaks of testing God in reference to tithing. The prophet said this because the people failed to trust God to provide for them. It was not a compliment, but a mild rebuke. Seeing it this way reveals how odd it is that we sometimes use it to motivate people to give today. The real issue is not giving, but our lack of trust in God’s care for us, which results in a failure to be generous. We fail to believe that he will take care of us. This strikes at the issue of our disappointment with God, which comes from not having our expectations met. However, if our expectations are not in alignment with God’s, our expectations likely will not be met and we may become disappointed in God. Rather, like Jesus, we need to align ourselves, our thoughts and emotions with God, so that when we face difficulties we do not become disappointed, but rather we deepen our relationship with Him. This is what Jesus did throughout his life. He had many opportunities to become disappointed with God, but he didn’t because his expectations always aligned with God. For example, in the garden of Gethsemane, he would say, not my will but your will be done. After making that declaration, Jesus was arrested, tried unjustly, beaten and crucified. Even as he was being forsaken by God, he didn’t fail to trust Him, because he released his spirit to Him. We are instructed to live in a like manner to Jesus, to behave as he did, to think the way that he did. When we proceed in becoming like Jesus our lives are radically transformed and we reflect who Jesus is to those watching us.