Watch and Stumble

Have you ever heard it said, “The church is full of hypocrites. I want nothing to do with it,” when you invite someone to attend your church? How many people do you know who’ve walked away from a particular church because of something someone said or did? When was the last time you heard of a church split?

These are all things that happen to a body of believers when one brother or sister has something against another, and they do not resolve the issue. Non-believers see us as hypocrites. They watch the infighting and want nothing to do with us.

Jesus was very clear when He spoke about our attitudes. Love was a major theme when He said we must love our neighbors as ourselves, and even love our enemies. He knew the world would be watching and judging, not only the church, but Jesus himself.

The Apostle John, not John the Baptist, was described as the one whom Jesus loved. In his book, 1 John, chapter 2, He writes in verse 9, “If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness.” In other words, that person does not walk with the Lord.

John further reiterates in verse 10, Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. A Christian, or a person claiming to be a Christian, cause others to walk away from the church when he hates a fellow believer. They are responsible for that person who says, “Why would I go there?”

We need to pray for fellow believers who have been duped into believing that their attitudes don’t matter.  John is clear when he states in verse 11, “But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”

Take a look at your attitude regarding the people you worship with, or the people who attend the church down the street. Do you hold anything against them? Do you openly speak against them where others can hear you? How many times have you treated another believer with disrespect? The world is watching. Don’t be the one to cause them to stumble. Jesus is watching.

For further study: 1 Kings 21:20; Est. 5:9; Eccl.3:8; Jonah 1:3

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Love for Enemies

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set the bar pretty high. He knew that in our naturalness, our human-ness, the first thing we’d do when confronted by someone we consider an enemy, is to hurt them back, to remove them from our presence. We separate ourselves from an enemy, place great distance between us, and fume about their crimes against us. An enemy actually consumes more of our thinking than does a friend, in a lot of cases.

Some people have gone so far as to cross the street when they see that person approach. They avoid public events where that person may be or even leave the church because the person they consider an enemy is still attending. In many cases, the person we’re angry with, does not even know that they are part of our thought processes.

Recorded in Matthew 5, verses 43-48, Jesus told his followers on the mountain that day, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Jesus wants us to be different, to act as true children of God. He wants us to go the extra mile, in some cases literally. Is this easy? Of course not. But He never expected us to do it alone. That’s why He left the comforter when He ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit enables us to do whatever it is that Jesus asks. He gives us courage to turn the other cheek.

It takes courage to act as Jesus describes in these verses. We have a whole world that writes people off when they make a mistake, especially when it’s on purpose. We, as believers, are to be different. We are to set the example, just as Jesus did when He walked among us. With unconditional love, we can reflect Jesus to a dark and sinful world where a single light can make a tremendous difference and is seen by all.

For further study: 2 Sam. 3:1; Jonah 1:3; Matt.5:25-26

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Worth the Effort

Jesus Teaches on Loving Your Enemies

A few years ago, I heard of a group of people who practiced the principle of “an eye for an eye”. If one person committed a crime against another, a similar offense would be perpetrated against that person, something that fit his crime as a form of punishment. Some religious sects still practice this today. The term revenge killings is bandied about in some countries.

Then there was a series of movies that came out several years ago about a vigilante, someone who walked around killing criminals in an effort to clean up the streets of his city.  He was using revenge as a weapon and felt justified in his actions. Retaliate means to return like for like, especially evil for evil; to pay back an injury in kind. Revenge means to inflict punishment in return for injury or insult; to seek or take vengeance for oneself or another person; to avenge.

Wikipedia goes on to describe a person who seeks vengeance or revenge as someone who’s spiteful or vindictive. You can certainly understand why Jesus, in Matthew 5, verses 38-41 said, “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.”

The whole idea of taking the law into our own hands is widely frowned upon in Western culture but little pockets of humanity still make concerted efforts to keep the practice alive. Forgiveness is completely absent from this kind of thinking. Jesus spoke to the men who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery and asked the person who was sinless to cast the first stone. The men all knew they had committed a sin or two themselves, so could not do it.

Anger washes over us when someone treats us in a manner that is abhorrent, but Jesus wants us to be better than the one who committed the crime. We have been forgiven. He was nailed to a cross for that forgiveness. He suffered great indignities on our behalf so He has the right to expect us to rise above the emotional decision making that accompanies vengeance.

Make a concerted effort to go the extra mile. You never know how that will affect the person receiving the kindness. Your attitude will blow their minds, and maybe send them on the road to search for the one who walks with us, and whom we serve. Love people in spite of what they have done to you, instead of being spiteful and angry and vengeful. That person will not know what hit them and the door might open wide for an opportunity to share the gospel. Not easy…but always worth the effort.

For further study: Numbers 21:34; Joshua 6:2-5; Ps. 25:2; 1 John 2:9-11

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Let Your Yes be Yes…

Jesus Teaches on Oaths

Years ago, when my father-in-law had to go to court, he was asked to swear that he would tell the truth. He refused. His belief was that it was wrong for him to swear on a Bible so the judge allowed him to affirm that his ‘yes’ would be ‘yes’ and his ‘no’ be ‘no’.

People swear an oath for a variety of reasons. They swear on their mother’s grave, on their children’s life, on the Bible, or on any number of things that are supposed to signify that they mean what they say. Yet, we know that people perjure themselves all the time in court, and that while someone is swearing on their mother’s grave, he has his fingers crossed behind his back, all the while telling an outright lie.

Wikipedia defines an oath as “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior; a sworn declaration that one will tell the truth, especially in a court of law.” He promises to pay back a loan, or give a partner a share of the profits. She promises a neighbor that she’ll reciprocate when she borrows a bowl of sugar. There is any number of ways that we make, but later break, promises today. Our word is no longer something that people can count on.

Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, spoke directly to this issue. It was important to Him that Christians, especially, be true to their word and not by taking some silly oath. In Matthew 5, verses 33 – 37, He states, “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”

It can’t be any clearer than that. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Jesus even goes so far as to say anything beyond that is from the evil one. Could it be that even the enemy of the people knows that we don’t keep oaths and so besmirch our own name and the name of the One we follow?

Contracts, legal documents signed by a plethora of lawyers, are broken all the time. What makes us think that by swearing an oath, we’re any more committed? When was the last time you accepted the word of someone, who vowed to do what it was he said he would do, only to find out that his word could not be trusted? How did that make you feel? Did this act erode trust?

God wants us to trust Him, and he wants us to be able to trust the people who walk with us on this journey of faith. The enemy wants us to be distrustful, cautious, suspecting, and untrustworthy. Where will you walk? How will you behave? Will your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your “no’ be ‘no’? Only you can decide and then stick with the promise of that decision.

For further study: Matt.26:72-74

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Jesus Teaches on Divorce

When my children were teenagers, almost all of their friends were from single parent homes. Busy moms left teens, with little or no guidelines, to fend for themselves. Morals were not taught in these homes, or at least most of them, and the results were girls and guys flitting about the streets at all hours of the night, skipping school, practicing Satanism, and getting into drugs and sex.

Now, I realize that not every single parent home is this dysfunctional. I had a girlfriend whose husband walked out on her, leaving her to raise two young girls by herself. Those girls were great kids and the mom did the best she could, even making sure that she had a job that allowed her to be home when the girls were.

Divorce, the epidemic that it is, has devastated families, left children for the most part, fatherless, and forced women to take on the role of both mother and father while holding down a full time job. Children are greatly affected by divorce, even those who have two-parent homes. Those children, because they have friends who have divorced parents, fear every time their parents argue that the same will happen to them.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:31-32 says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”

He seriously believed and taught that divorce was wrong, destructive, and a perpetuating evil. Biblically, there is little excuse for a man to leave his wife, except for adultery, and yet Christians and non-Christians alike, use excuses like irreconcilable differences, or “I fell out of love with her or him.” They use a whole lot more than that to excuse their bad behavior but the point is, there is no excuse, according to Jesus.

I know that in a whole lot of cases, divorce is not the victimless crime that many would believe it is. For a large percentage of those who divorce, the choice was made by only one partner. The remaining partner is left shell shocked. Oftentimes, the children are left to wonder what they did wrong or why Mommy doesn’t love Daddy anymore or vice versa and what they could have done differently. They blame themselves and carry that blame into their adult life.

In the majority of cases, divorce is preventable. If the people involved weren’t so self-centered, if they thought about the far-reaching effects of the decision they were about to make, maybe the practice would decline in a major way. Jesus knew and taught that the family unit was important. He knew the damage that the lack of commitment in marriage could cause. Jesus knows best.

Whether you are currently divorced or not, there are things that you can do differently to ensure that your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no” be “no”. When you say, before God, or a Justice of the Peace, that you will commit till death, mean it. Do what you can to avoid conflict but when it comes, deal with it in a manner that doesn’t destroy the parties involved. Above all, make sure that God is the center of your home, practice His attitudes for life, and maybe the road will not be so full of potholes.

For further study: Deut.24:1-4; Matt.19:3-12; Matt. 19:7-8; Luke 16:18; 1 or.7:12-16

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A Mind Game

Jesus Teaches on Adultery

Defined in Wikipedia, adultery is sexual relations outside of marriage, in one form or another. The definition varies in different states and countries, however. In the traditional English common law, adultery was a felony. In New York, an adulterer is a person who engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse. North Carolina defines adultery as occurring when any man and woman lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed, and cohabit together. Minnesota law states that when a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, whether married or not, both are guilty of adultery.

In Canada, though the written definition of adultery in the Divorce Act refers to extramarital relations with someone of the opposite sex, a British Columbia judge used the Civil Marriage Act in a 2005 case, to grant a woman a divorce from her husband who had cheated on her with another man, which the judge felt was equal reasoning to dissolve the union.

I find it amazing that even with our general tolerant attitude about people living together these days, there are still laws that define adultery and countries that prosecute the offense. This just goes to show that the Bible was and still is the basis for our law system in most countries.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ Here He is talking about that inclusion in the Law of Moses, handed down to Moses from God. But Jesus elaborates, “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus was clear. Adultery begins in the mind. If we watch, read, or imagine anything that causes us to stray emotionally from the one to whom we have committed ourselves for life, we have committed the act of adultery. Our world bombards us with sensual images that force us to compare both our looks and our spouses to those images. The result has been the erosion of marriages and the disintegration of the family.

Now who do you think is responsible for this and laughing out loud (or as you say on FB-LOL) when this happens? Our enemy is licking his chops, rubbing his hands together, and jeering his approval every time we succumb to the temptations that the world places in front of us.

Keep your mind focused on the one you committed your life to till death. Forget the internet sites that flash and dangle or the magazines that titillate. God honors faithfulness because He is faithful.

For further study: Isa.1:21-22; John 8:11

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Words Don’t Hurt, or Do They?

Jesus Teaches on Murder

These days, the airwaves are filled with articles about bullying, as if this is a new phenomenon. During his 3rd to 8th grade at a Catholic private school, our youngest son was bullied repeatedly and the more we tried to stop it, the worse it got. It seemed that no one wanted to do anything about it and our son spent many days hating his school experience instead of looking forward to it.

Eventually, after one summer’s growth spurt, he managed to put the bully in his place. That very misguided boy tried a couple of times after that to regain his control over our son but with no success.

Today, the internet has become the tool of choice for bullies. They post messages of hate for the entire world to see, targeting someone who, in all probability, has done nothing to earn the unbearable comments. Teens have committed, or attempted to commit, suicide because of this practice. The perpetrators walk around as if they’ve done nothing wrong.

When I worked in a newspaper office for a couple of years, I was astounded to hear the backstabbing that went on. As soon as one employee left the room, the words of disrespect and jealousy, even hate, flowed freely. At other times, I’ve overheard people speak words of hate about another person who may be a neighbor or someone who attends the same church.

We all believe, even the person who commits the crime, that murder is wrong. But the Bible, in Jesus’ words, is very clear about what constitutes murder. He said in Mathew 5:21 and 22 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

People who treat another with hate, disrespect, and anger, are as guilty of committing murder as the person who is charged and judged for the crime. Bullies murder a person’s soul. They destroy their target’s self-respect and make them victims in the eyes of the people who watch it go on but do nothing. People who attend church, all the while harboring hate toward another member, are committing murder in their hearts.

Murder is serious. That is something on which we all agree, but do we do what we can to keep the evil one from making us all murderers at large. Do we deal with issues in a Biblical manner so that anger and hatred can be rooted out and do we treat others as we wish to be treated? Tear it out. Get rid of the evil inside and watch how much brighter the sunshine will be tomorrow.

For further study: Gen.4:8-10; Gen 9:5-6; 1 Kings 21:4

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Given For Enrichment

Years ago, I attended my first writer’s conference. There I learned what characterized good writing and what I needed to look for in order to make sure that people enjoyed reading my work and weren’t distracted by errors. I learned the rules. I was a writer before but now I had some parameters to guide my work and make it the best it could be.

The same is true of the law. We are Christians…believers…not because we obey the law but because of what Christ did for us on the cross and our response to that gift He offers. There’s nothing we can do to earn the gift of salvation. There are no laws that we can obey and there is no work that we can do that will open the doorway to heaven for us. Jesus completed that work on the cross.

However, we have to receive the gift…make it ours by admitting first that we need it…that we are sinners. We need to seek Christ’s forgiveness and then accept the awesome price He paid for us. After that, the law shows us how to become the best follower of Jesus Christ that we can be. The law helps us see where we sin, where we mess up, and shows us how to improve.

Paul wrote in Galatians, chapter 2, verse 16, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

He wanted to impress upon a world of people who’d been taught that the Law of Moses was the not the way to gain salvation. The Pharisees controlled the people by horsewhipping them with law after law that kept them subjugated and in constant need of their intervention. It made them feel important. Paul simply said that Christ comes first.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, told his followers that He came to accomplish the purpose of the law. He was the one who brought everything the law pointed to, to fruition. He made it happen and then He asked His followers to follow Him and only two laws…Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. and love your neighbor as yourself. The entire Law of Moses is summarized in these two verses.

Take a look at the life you now live. In what areas do rules make life easier or do they make life harder? I think that rules will only make life harder when we strain against them, rather than adopt them to see how we can make them work for us. It used to be said that rules were meant to be broken. But if we look at the people saying this, we see unhappy, frustrated, secular humanists who believe they, not God, control the universe,. Which side of the fence are you on?

For further study: Matt.1:24; Matt. 4:3-4; Luke 23:13-25; James 4:17

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Rules Provide Freedom

Steve trudged toward the kitchen door. “I can’t believe it.” He yanked the kitchen door open. “Stupid lawyers.” He grumbled and then slammed the door behind him. “We have rights, too.” He strode toward his motorcycle, placing each foot down so hard it looked as if he was stomping on the head of some government legislator. He straddled his Harley Softail. “Helmets are for sissies.” He stuck his key into the ignition and relaxed as the bike roared to life. Putting it into gear, he rumbled down the driveway and then let it rip as he sped toward the center of town.

In another part of town, sixteen-year-old Tamara was just as upset. In her case, her parents were the ones enforcing the rules. “I’m sixteen. Old enough. Kevin is a good driver. The bike is safe. Just as safe as that old car you drive.” She looked toward her father, sparks flying from eyes that once looked at him with nothing but adoration. “I’m going and you can’t stop me.”

Rules or laws are something that all of us, at one time or another, have resisted or, at least, tried to. We desire independence from ‘Big Brother’, a term coined in the early sixties by people who cried ‘freedom’ as often as they could. Our children, from an early age, test their boundaries…look to see how much they can get away with, and if parents aren’t consistent, the rules get left in the dust.

Jesus, when he sat with his disciples and thousands of followers, talked about the importance of the law. He taught that people should obey their leaders, and the government. The Apostle Paul, when he wrote to the people in Rome, said, in Romans, chapter 7, verse12, “But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.”

He believed, since the law was given by God, it was Holy as every part of God’s Word is Holy. Paul knew that since God loved us unto death, the death of His Son, the law He gave for us to follow was right and good. Parents love their children, or at least, most of them do. Their love for their child demands that they put rules in place to guard the child.

The law is set in place to protect us from ourselves. It also protects anyone who lives alongside us. It helps us be responsible citizens. Jesus said He came to fulfill the law. He taught specifics about how we are to treat each other and how we are to relate to the heavenly Father.

Do you embrace God’s laws or do you walk away, shaking your fist in His face? Many use the excuse that the Christian life is so full of dos and don’ts, they don’t want any part of it. Life has rules. God has rules. They are for our good. Rejoice in a Father who loves us so much, He took the time to provide guidance. Rejoice in the freedom His rules provide.

For further study: Gen. 3:5; Gen.50:5; Ps. 68:19-21; Rom 5:20

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Boundaries, Our Security Blanket

Jesus Teaches about The Law

Years ago, after the birth of a litter of Shih-Tzu puppies, I watched as they explored their limited environment. They lived, for the first couple of weeks, in a large cardboard box. I’d take them out several times a day, place them on a couple of sheets of newspaper for a few minutes, but that was the extent of their view of the world around them.

When they were about three weeks old, I placed a large blanket on the living room floor. I took the puppies, a couple at a time, to the middle of the blanket until all six were relocated for a new adventure. I expected that they’d be running helter-skelter all over the living room, happy to explore. That is not what happened. They cringed in the middle of the blanket, mewling as little puppies do, and frightened.

They had no walls, no protection. Their security lay within the limitations of walls and when the walls were removed, they had no idea what to do with themselves. It frightened them. Little children, left without clear guidelines are a little like those puppies. They do not thrive as well as children who understand and have boundaries.

Boundaries were set up by God Himself. When Moses led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, God gave him a set of tablets, laws, which set up boundaries. The book of Leviticus is full of laws, guidelines that protected the people of Israel, mostly from themselves. God knew that boundaries were a good thing, that His people needed them to feel the security of His love for them.

Jesus said, in Matthew 5, verses 17 and 18, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.”

Jesus fulfilled the law by encapsulating it into two commands…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the borders that surround every person who professes to be a Christian. These laws are our security blanket.

There are warnings that go with these verses in Matthew 5:19 and 20. “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

We should neither ignore them nor teach others to ignore them. God demands obedience and He’s quite clear about what will happen if we disobey. And He further warns us not to rely on the righteousness of our teachers and spiritual leaders. We are to strive for our own righteousness. In other words, we are responsible for obeying God as individuals and staying within the boundaries He has provided.

Does your big toe cross the line once in a while? Do you spend your days looking to see how much you can get away with? God knows. God cares. God wants only what is best for us and His way works.

For further study: Ex. 15:26; Ex.20:1ff; Ex.31:1-8; Lev. 19:9-10; Deut.4:8



Define and Protect

I remember, when in high school, studying hard, never praying because I didn’t know how, but stressing over exams. I wanted to pass. I needed to pass. Exams were intended to give a clear picture of what I’d accomplished as a student and where I still needed to focus my attention to improve. They were the mirror into which I looked to see how I was doing.

Laws are like that. They help us recognize when we’ve messed up and when we’ve done something right. describes a law as “the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision.”

That almost sounds complicated but it’s actually quite easy to understand when you look at a Biblical definition. The book of Romans, chapter 7, explains law from the Apostle Paul’s point of view. He said in verse 9, “At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life…”

Paul explains that the law was the guideline by which he understood that he was not perfect. He knew that he had room for improvement and where the improvement was needed by reading, in his case, the Law of Moses. Laws protect, guide and teach.

Young children, when they begin to walk, are taught guidelines to keep them safe. They learn those rules under the loving guidance of their parents. Once they venture out into the world, riding a bicycle down the street, they learn the rules placed there to protect them but administered by the local government. As their world expands, the laws they are subject to expand also.

God gave the people of Israel leaders to administer His laws. But He also instructed parents to teach their children, as they walked by the wayside, or whatever else they were doing. He wanted to protect His people and that protection began while a person was still in his or her mother’s womb. She obeyed some rules about health and hygiene to keep her unborn child safe, didn’t she?

Everywhere we go, there are rules or laws. When people travel abroad, it’s suggested that they learn the laws of the land to which they are traveling. It just makes life a whole lot easier if you know what’s expected. God’s laws are like that. We know what is expected of us by looking at and understanding His laws.

Do you rebel against rules? Or do you embrace them? When we see them as a means to protect and guide, they are not so hard to obey but when we see them as restrictive, then we strain at the chains that we envision them to be.

Jesus did not add to the law of His Father. He didn’t have to. God had already thought of everything. Jesus simply fulfilled and extolled what was already there. When we wholeheartedly give our life to Him, obeying the law is a simple matter of loving Him back by being obedient.

For further study: 2 Kings 4:1; Luke 6:3-5;

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