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Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into kingdom citizens, not to make or justify ourselves.

Do Not Swear at All

Most of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount – you know, those sayings we are to do – are truly beyond our human ability. They are only accomplished by the life of Jesus Christ, the One who has come to live in us. Here we find an exception – one saying that appears quite easy to obey. And yet, mankind has amazingly chosen to do something in complete opposition to what Jesus has said. Truly, how do we excuse ourselves?

Consider the matter of oath taking. Jesus said:

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

Could anything be more clear? Whatever is more than our “yes” and “no” is from the evil one. Why then do so many followers of Jesus Christ submit to the courts of this nation, put one hand on a Bible, raise the other, and swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Is this not taking an oath? Does it make it okay – or does it make it worse – that a Bible is used in this process?

These questions lead us to a deeper kingdom principle; something deeper than dos and don’ts. For those with eyes to see, this is a great example of the subtly of the evil one’s deception; leading to our conformity to the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into a kingdom citizen, not to make or justify ourselves.

Guard the Lamp of Your Body

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

The house that stands in the storm will be the house of the man that guards his heart from the lusts of his eyes. This is an incredibly important issue for the church in America; particularly when you consider the houses that are being built around our pastors and our fellowships. Of all the judgment that will come to the house of God (1Peter 4:17), the judgment for this sin will be one of the most severe.

Consider the statistics. A Leadership Journal survey reports that four in ten pastors online have visited a pornographic Web site; and more than one-third have done so in the past year. Expastors.com reports that, of the 1,351 pastors that Rick Warren’s website, Pastors.com, surveyed on porn use, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year and 30% of those had visited within the last 30 days.

According to Patrick Means (2006), 63% of pastors surveyed confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity. Furthermore, 75% of pastors do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22
Read the rest of this entry »

Generally speaking, learning involves adding knowledge to existing foundations. For example, reading requires a knowledge of the alphabet; geometry provides a base for trigonometry, which in turn serves as a footing for calculus. Foundations and carefully constructed frameworks are critical success factors in education.

Occasionally however, students (and their teachers) are faced with information that challenges their foundations (e.g., a round earth that is not the center of the universe). Those able to understand and embrace these paradigm challenges discover and create whole new worlds. Imagine where we would be if mankind had decided to discard the possibility of human flight. How many would still believe flat-earth theory?

In Matthew 5:17-20 (the passage covered in our previous article), we find Jesus drawing on both forms of learning. First, He assures those listening that the Law and Prophets are foundational to the kingdom of God – that following and teaching the commandments of God is critically important. He then challenges their paradigm concerning the interpretation and demonstration of the Law provided by the Pharisees and Scribes by stating that entering the kingdom of God requires a greater righteousness.

There are several important lessons here, for both students and teachers:

  1. Strong foundations allow for paradigm challenges.
  2. Students need help understanding what is foundation and what is being challenged.
  3. Teachers are most often the creators of false paradigms.
  4. Transformation often requires significant paradigm shifts.
  5. Teachers must be willing to speak the truth in the face of potential opposition.
  6. Examples help tremendously – particularly when paradigm shifts are involved.

In Matthew 5: 21-47, being the best of teachers, Jesus gives ten examples to explain the righteous fulfillment of the Law required by God. We will cover each of these in turn over the next couple of weeks. But first, a few general observations. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we commonly make the mistake of handling Biblical truth as nothing more than facts. In teaching and learning, we must come to understand the differences between the two.

  1. Facts are passive; truth is active (e.g., it makes people free, it is alive and powerful).
  2. Facts are for our head, to be analyzed; truth is for our hearts, to be believed.
  3. Facts are accessible to the whole human race; the truth is accessible only to those whom God gives ears to hear and eyes to see.

The teacher and the student both have responsibility in this regard. I mention this here because, though I did my best to fulfill my part, the following would be easily read as facts. If one does not force themself to receive it as truth, the desired effect will not be achieved.

Therefore, I encourage you to exercise your spiritual ears with a heart desiring to believe. God promises that, if you do so, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Though we may not think of it this way, the Sermon on the Mount is a carefully constructed sermon. As we have discovered, the Beatitudes come first and in a particular, purposeful order. In them, the first listeners (and subsequent readers) are astounded and perplexed by Jesus’ characterization of kingdom citizens. Three dramatic and dynamic descriptions of our relationship with the world quickly follow: we are to be persecuted (vv.11-12) as God’s gifts of proverbial salt (v. 13) and light (vv. 14-16) to the world and for His Father’s glory.

Having given such a radical description of kingdom citizens and their assignment in the earth, Jesus must have felt that it was important to reassure the disciples that God’s Law and the words of His Prophets were fixed and eternal. He did not come to change the Father’s purposes and plans in the earth; rather, it was His assignment to fulfill them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Greek word translated as “repentance” literally means “to change one’s mind”. When Jesus began His ministry, He came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, NKJV). With that in mind, I want to challenge you to consider how you might change your mind about the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not about what we must do to be a Christian, but what God does once we become one (Lloyd-Jones, 1976). In other words, it is not a list of requirements for entering the kingdom of God, but a description of the life we are empowered to live as we enter in.

As we consider hearing these sayings and “doing” them, the greatest challenge we face is coming to terms with not only not being able, but also not being expected, to do them in our strength, power, intelligence, etc. This is not a high-minded spiritual concept. It is a very practical principle for life in the kingdom of God (i.e., our salvation). It is by grace (alone), through faith (alone) that we come to understand and enter God’s kingdom.

In his book, The Sermon on the Mount, Roger L. Shinn (1962) recognizes the salt and light passage as the first half of a kingdom paradox. The second is found in Matthew 6:1, 5, and 16, where Jesus warns His disciples to avoid giving charity, praying, and fasting to be seen by others. So, how is one to be light to the world and not let others see what they are doing? The resolution to the paradox is found in Matthew 5:17-20, the subject of our next lesson.

Before we go there, we must first understand Jesus’ metaphor of salt and light, which itself contains a mystery requiring our repentance (i.e., thinking differently). Doing so will also shed some light (pun intended) on Shinn’s paradox. Read the rest of this entry »

Before we move on from the Beatitudes, there is something more the Lord would have us recognize about the blessings of the persecuted, which are of particular importance to the church in America. Though it is not a saying of Jesus that we must do; it is something we would be wise to consider.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

A friend of mine was one of the first to enter Communist China when the bamboo curtain was opened for business with the West. He went in looking for the remains of the church, those who had for many years been targeted for destruction by that evil government. While meeting with one of their leaders, he began praising the Chinese church for its endurance against the persecution. The leader listened quietly and then responded in a way that surprised my friend.

The leader explained that they also thought the government’s attacks were persecution, at first. In their crying out to God, they learned from Him that their suffering was a result of His judgment. He had found them lacking for His intended purpose and plan. Most proved His judgment right by denying their faith and betraying their brothers. What remained has become God’s instrument for the most powerful evangelistic movement the world has ever seen. Even now they are going as martyrs, back to Jerusalem.

So what does this have to do with the American church? What are we to do with this?
Read the rest of this entry »

It is our hopeful contention that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount so very early in His ministry to prepare those who would follow Him for the storms they would face in sharing and living it with others. The gospel of the kingdom of heaven – the good news of God’s reign in the hearts of His people – would be so radically counter-cultural, not only to the heathen Gentile, but to the Jew as well, that it was only fitting and fair to lay it out from the beginning. Full disclosure; nothing hidden.

As we read the Sermon two-thousand years later, we must use our imagination and consider the timing to appreciate God’s approach in the introduction of His New Covenant. It is both simple and instructional: Jesus first taught His followers about life in the kingdom so they could then observe Him walking it out before them and His Father. “He who hears these sayings of mine, and does them…” is the disciple-makers way.

So, what are we to do about these sayings of Jesus in the Beatitudes? Is there a way we should respond to them? Or, are we left to simply hope the blessings will one day be ours?

God intends for every Christian to respond to every offer of His grace in the same way: through faith. It is no coincidence that the process of faith begins with the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), proceeds through obedience to the faith (Romans 1:5), and culminates with the work that perfects our faith (James 2:22). Indeed, the process of faith answers the question, “How should we study the Sermon on the Mount?” The only way to become a kingdom citizen is by grace, through faith.

The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes for this very reason. Read the rest of this entry »

Recognizing that a storm is still coming (some would argue that it has arrived); and recognizing that the house that stands in the storm is the house built by the man who “hears these saying of mine and does them”; and recognizing that you cannot do something you have not heard; I am searching out the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) – again – for the sayings that my Master would have me do. I hope you will join me.

This is not the first time I have endeavored to understand these sayings of Jesus. Here are a few past discoveries that will help in our most recent searching:

  1. The SOTM is filled with kingdom mystery. A mystery may mean something different to different people; and different things to the same person at different times. In any case, it must mean something. Each one is responsible to search out the meaning. The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are our teachers.
  2. In much the same way that the Law was given to reveal our inability to please God, the SOTM exposes our inability to live the normal Christian life. Only Jesus Christ can live that life. This does not excuse us to live some other life. Rather, it helps focus our attention on the way God intends to save us (Romans 5:10).
  3. While everything Jesus says is ultimately actionable, some sayings are more so than others. For example, “let him have your cloak also” is easily translated into a particular and ubiquitous action; whereas, poor in spirit is more about attitude and belief, manifesting itself in differing behaviors. At this point, I believe God will focus us on the more actionable sayings. However, it should be noted that the Beatitudes are positioned at the beginning of the SOTM for a reason. Giving up my cloak to someone that is suing me for my tunic is only possible for someone that is poor in spirit.

We are revisiting these sayings for obvious reasons: several significant storms are brewing over America and the world. They will likely continue into the rest of this decade. Many houses will fall under their pressure, including those of our sisters and brothers in Christ. These individuals, families, and fellowships will be looking around for a safe harbor. It is the desire of my heart as God’s pen to help raise up houses that will be ministering agents.

Furthermore, we plan to use this revisit, and a providential teaching opportunity, to produce a new book on the SOTM. Our prayer (please join us) is for God’s glory and the advance of His kingdom. You can also help in this endeavor by asking questions, challenging my thinking and providing additional input. God speaks in community; even virtual community. I expect He will use you to make me a more faithful steward of the mysteries of God.

In the meantime, God bless you with grace for the storms in your life and in the lives of those whom God has placed in your spheres of influence.

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, a spiritual amnesia set in; they no longer recognized who they were and who they were created to be. Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil bound humankind’s ability to reason with our rebellious nature. In the process, mankind’s #1 enemy was unleashed. The carnal mind has been at enmity with God and His children ever since.

Our carnal mind, with help from Satan and the world, labors tirelessly to keep us trapped in the amnestic condition into which we are naturally born. Regrettably, Christians have not fared well of late in this regard. Many do not realize the attack continues even after we are spiritually reborn. One particularly critical battle front involves the way we think about the new life we have been promised in Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live… Galatians 2:20a

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

For whoever wants to save their life
will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Mark 8:35

As Jesus took our place in death, He must also take our place in life. Even after we become a new creature in Christ, we must lose our life to fully exist in His. Death and resurrection are not the same; they do not accomplish the same outcome. The transactions, so to speak, are different.

Even on this side of rebirth, God’s promises are conditional. We don’t get to keep our life and Jesus’, too. There is a connection that remains between the old and the new that cannot be fully severed until the new has been surrendered AND sacrificed. Read the rest of this entry »

This article is the fourth in a series based on the assumption that God is after something, He is doing something to get what He is after, and He is willing to tell us everything that we need to know for our participation. God is using this time of chaos (like so many others) to prepare His children for a season of opportunity that will be exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work… 2Thessalonians 2:7a

Lawlessness has been around since Satan rebelled against God. It has plagued mankind since that fateful day when Adam and Eve succumbed to his deception and chose to follow his lead. The events of the last few weeks remind us that lawlessness is already at work.

The truth is, most of us have become comfortable with some level of lawlessness in our lives. We have learned to justify our lack of lawfulness. Who drives the speed limit anymore? For that matter, who loves their neighbor as themselves? Lawlessness is not a respecter of persons. Our comfort with it should cause great concern, perhaps even fear. Things could get worse.

Chapter two of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church describes the tragic culmination of the legacy we have carried since mankind’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. It warns of a great apostasy, a falling away of people from the kingdom of God prior to Jesus’ return and His gathering of the faithful to Himself.

Like me, you are probably wondering how a follower of Jesus Christ could ever leave Him. There are doctrines of man that argue against such a possibility. As you might imagine, such doctrines have become quite popular. Personally, I don’t understand them. But that is not what this article is about.

Our purpose here is to expose the enemy’s tactics and encourage a sufficient response. You see, lawlessness is simply a symptom of, and a cover for, the enemy’s primary weapons.

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish… 2Thessalonians 2:9-10a

The rise of lawlessness is like smoke to a fire. Yes, the smoke can kill you, but the fire is the source. Put out the fire and the smoke will eventually abate. Read the rest of this entry »

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