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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”


How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.

Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.


Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.


In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.


Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.


On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.


The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]


The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  

Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.


Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 


Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.


How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?


Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.


You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 


Will you? 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Guest Blog: Church Can Nurture Your Soul and Your Health

About the Author: Jason Lewis is a personal trainer by day and the primary caretaker of his mom after her surgery. He writes for and enjoys creating fitness programs that cater to the needs of people over 65.

Many people quit going to church as adults. Having children and full-time, challenging jobs can certainly make it difficult to get up early on weekends and attend to one’s spiritual needs. 

But, as we grow older, many people rediscover their faith. Doing so comes with many blessings. Church not only nourishes the spirit, it gives you social support, no-cost services, and a framework for mindfulness. Here’s a guide to nurturing your heart and soul through church, presented by Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. 

Social networking

Many seniors find that their social circle has narrowed. The death of a spouse and other family and friends makes that circle smaller. Meanwhile, children move out of the house and are busy with families of their own.

Where do you go to restore your social network? Gyms may be unappealing, especially if the clientele is generally younger. Church, on the other hand, is a good place to connect with folk of all ages. And you may already know some of the people there — especially if you find a church in your neighborhood or go with a friend. Of course, if you get a group of like-minded churchgoers together who want to improve their physical health, getting together and utilizing a program like SilverSneakers (which is offered through certain Medicare Advantage programs) can be a good way to socialize and get in a little exercise at the same time.

Additionally, many churches offer Sunday School programs and Bible studies that meet in small groups. These small groups offer a way to network with other people and make friends and associates.

Having a strong social network is one of the keys to good health. When we engage with other people, we feel a sense of purpose. When our lives are rich in purpose and other people, we have good reasons not to get depressed or resort to drinking or drugging.

Services extend beyond worship

Churches are strong in providing support to their members. For instance, if you need help getting to church, most churches will assign someone to give you a ride.

Church ministers and priests also offer informal counseling services. For people of faith, these conversations can be as comforting and potentially more useful than secular counseling. Your minister, for instance, may identify passages of the Bible that help you understand what you are going through and how to deal with it.

Churches also provide a wealth of entertainment. Many churches hold picnics, field trips, concerts, films, and sports activities for every age group. You can do everything from watch a movie to pick up a game of volleyball at your local church.

After Sunday morning services, coffee is served in most churches, and this is a great time to meet other people with whom you have at least one thing in common: your shared belief system. Some churches even have single groups of all ages that allow you to network with other people of your faith and possibly find romance.


You’ve probably been hearing about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of living fully in the moment, letting go of past pain and anxieties about the future. Many healing regimes include mindfulness therapy.

The goals of mindfulness are in sync with the goals of most religions. Religion teaches us to be grateful for what we have, as does mindfulness. Religion teaches us not to nurse grudges, as does mindfulness.

It can be difficult to make ourselves focus on the here and now, especially if we’re going through a transition as life-changing as addiction recovery. But taking even a few minutes a day to be mindful of all we have in the present moment - and especially all we have to be grateful for - can help us feel more at peace with ourselves, our surroundings, and our circumstances.

In conclusion, church is a great blessing to many seniors. Growing old may come with wisdom, but it can also come with decreased mobility and decreased energy. Having a strong support group, such as is offered in church, can go a long way toward helping us deal with the trials and temptations of old age.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay. 

Monday, March 22, 2021


Introduction I’m was so glad to have my mom at church with me Sunday.  It’s been over a year since she’s been able to come visit with us because of COVID.  But she’s been vaccinated and she’s here today (along with my mother-in-law and my daughter who is home from college).  Actually, Mom has been worshipping with us almost every week.  Since COVID forced us to innovate and ramp up or online worship experience, she has been able to join us for worship online—even though she lives all the way down in Hawkinsville, GA—4 hours away.  We’ve had other worship with us like this, who are too far away to join us. That's one of the blessings the pandemic has brought to our church. We now have a good online broadcasting capability.

My mom was a great mom.  She was my primary care giver, nurturer, teacher, and disciplinarian.  One of her rules was not to fight at school.  In fact, I can remember several times I refused to fight someone simply because my mom told me not to.  I was too afraid of the consequences I would face when I got home if I fought while I was a school.

But sometimes, not often, but sometimes, my mom would decide not punish me herself.  Instead, she would say something that I would dread.  She would pull out the ultimate punishment card when she said, “You just wait until your dad gets home and I tell him what you did.”  That was enough to send ice through your veins!  You didn’t want Dad to punish you.  That was the worst!

Parents are responsible for disciplining their kids.  It’s a heavy burden.  As a parent, those times when I had to discipline my own children were some of the most difficult, heart-breaking moments of parenting.  You have to set aside your anger and disappointment and try to teach and “encourage” your kids to do better, even if it “hurts you worse than it hurts them”.  That’s why I’m so thankful I am NOT responsible for disciplining everyone.  Taking care of my own kids is enough responsibility for me.

In this series, we’re comparing the world’s conventional wisdom to what Jesus said.  One thing the world says is: “Revenge is sweet!”  Along those lines, people say things like, “When someone does you wrong, don’t get mad; get even!”  It seems like the most natural thing in the world.  If someone pushes you, you push them back. Right?  You don’t even think about it.  If you don’t get back at them right away, you might wait for bit until they forget about it because another thing people say is: “Revenge is a dish best served cold!”

We’ve heard these expressions, but what does Jesus say?

Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 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. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[c] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

God and Revenge
People today expect to hear Jesus say something like this.  We know Jesus is supposed to be merciful and forgiving.  However, Jesus message was revolutionary to the people of his day.  They;d never heard anything like it. People want revenge.  They want to get even with those who’ve wrong them.  

Most primitive societies were very vengeful.  Every wrong had to be avenged.  In fact, the biblical command to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was originally given to calm people down.  In the ancient middle east, if you attacked my son and poked out his eye, I might come after you and take revenge by killing you and your whole family.  That was the world’s type of “justice”; really it was just evil vengeance.  So God said, “Only take and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That's fair. That's justice."

Left to our own devices, people are incredibly vengeful and vindictive.  In fact, have you ever thought maybe we think God is vengeful because we are so vengeful? The fact that we see God as being an angry, vengeful God may be more of a reflection of our own attitudes than the attitude of God Himself.  Think about it.  If there’s anyone in the universe who has a right to be angry and seek revenge, it’s God.  He created this beautiful world where everything was absolutely perfect and then he made human beings as the crown jewel of His creation.  Then God put people in charge of it all and we screwed the whole thing up!  No matter what God has done to fix it, His rebellious human creatures disobey Him time and time again and have turned the world into an incredibly ugly place full of evil.  If anyone has a right to be angry and vengeful it is God.

However, when God comes down to the earth and puts on human flesh as Jesus Christ, instead of being vengeful, He is incredibly merciful!  In fact, he’s patient with our sin—even though so many misunderstood or rejected Him.  Even through all his suffering and people disrespecting him or cursing him, Jesus does nothing but good to people while He’s on earth.  And ultimately, Jesus doesn’t even resist when they falsely accuse Him and crucify Him.  As he is hanging on the cross, this God everyone thought was so “vengeful” prays, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus on the Cross
I think so much of the blood lust for vengeance we perceive in God may actually be our own sinful attitudes we transfer onto God.  Because throughout the Bible, God speaks out against taking revenge.  Leviticus 19:18 - “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”  Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  

Is it possible to give up on revenge?  There is something in us—a divine spark—that cries out for justice.  We know in our heart of hearts that wrongs need to be made right.  Justice is required.  That’s not a bad thing.  Justice is part of God’s original design and ultimately justice must be served.

The issue is, we are not the ones to bring Ultimate Justice.  God is responsible for seeing that true Justice is served.  Too often, our judgment is clouded—especially if we or someone we really care about has been wronged.  Our anger and resentments, our hurts distort our view of Justice.  Furthermore, we don’t see the big picture.  Things may be at play behind the scenes that we don’t understand (or even care about if we’re the one who’s been wronged).  God is the only one who has the wisdom to institute the right kind of justice.  Furthermore, He’s the only innocent party beyond reproach who has the right to pass ultimate judgment, because we're all guilty of something.  Lastly, God is the only one with the unlimited power necessary to bring true evil to justice.

Let me share a little secret with you.  It is a great relief to let go of revenge.  You don’t have to carry the burden of exacting revenge anymore.  It’s almost like what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid and I got in really bad trouble.  She would say, “You just wait until your Father gets home!”  Can you look at the person who wronged you and say, “I’m done with this.  It’s not my job to get you back.  This is in God’s hands.  Just wait until your Heavenly Father comes back!”  Can you trust in your heart of hearts that vengeance is indeed the Lord’s?  Let me tell you something, God can punish people in ways you can’t even imagine.  Think about that for a minute…  

(Also know, God will never punish someone in ways they don’t deserve, but you might…)

Love Your Enemies
Jesus goes even further.  Not only does he tell us not to seek revenge.  He says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”  As followers of Christ, we follow His example.  Jesus was merciful and forgiving.  Even when people crucified Him, He forgave.  We should too.  

I understand that is incredibly hard to do.  In fact, we can't do it by ourselves.  We need God’s Holy Spirit to help us.  As the Holy Spirit helps us love people who have done us wrong, the Holy Spirit heals us.  So when you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, it actually helps you.  You’re opening up your wounded heart to the healing touch of God.  And He will heal you and make you stronger and better.


Now, forgiveness doesn’t mean you pretend the way someone hurt you is no big deal.  It is.  You’ve been hurt.  It may even be necessary to hold someone accountable.  They may need to be legally prosecuted and face human justice though our legal system. That in itself can be a loving thing to do—to hold someone accountable.  (The most unloving thing to do might be to just let them keep on running wild). So don't confuse forgiveness with a lack of accountability. Forgiveness simply frees you from the burden of expecting payback when payback can never or will never be made.

Closing Meditation

As I close, I would like to guide you in a meditation. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit and consider:

Who has wronged you and how? Thin about that for a minute...

Have you forgiven them? Why or why not? Can you forgive them? Are you still expecting payback? Can they make it right? Will they? Talk to God about this...

Finally, how could you actually love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

"Father, help the person reading this to understand Your wisdom and love.  Help them to have a breakthrough today.  Take away all vengeful spirits from them.  Fill them with the compassion of Christ.  Release them from the burden of needing payback.  Help them to trust You to take care of justice and to be thankful for the mercy you offer them in Christ for their own sins.  I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Monday, March 15, 2021

Don't Judge Me


In this sermon series, we are comparing the prevailing wisdom of the world to the way of Christ. So far, this has meant contrasting what Jesus said to what the world says. But in today’s message, we see that sometimes people misuse what Jesus said.

One of my pet-peeves is when people misquote someone on social media. Do you know what I mean? For instance, look at this meme of Abraham Lincoln that says, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” Now this humorous meme illustrates a point about something that happens all the time. It’s just too easy to see a sentiment you like that’s been attributed to some famous person and you share it. And because some famous person said it, it must be true. Right? Not really.  

A more insidious form of false information is “fake news” where false information presented as “fact” is spread so widely people accept it as truth.  We are overwhelmed with so much information, who has the time to check every source and verify all the information we receive?  And so fake news is passed along and goes viral until everyone believes it's true.

Recently, I was guilty of sharing false information myself. I saw a supposed quote from CS Lewis’ book The Screw Tape Letters that was turned into a meme that seemed so fitting for our times.  Fortunately, a couple of my friends (gently) alerted me that (though the sentiment is good) this quote is not an authentic CS Lewis quote.  After checking, I verified that is not in CS Lewis’ book. 

Many people misuse Jesus’ words.  I will never forget being a young pastor of a small church in Griffin when a lady stopped by seeking assistance with her rent.  She told me a story of how she was down on her luck and needed some help.  Well, we were a small church with a very small budget.  We didn’t have the funds to help her, but my church treasurer worked at the local Salvation Army.  I told the lady my church couldn’t help her, but I had a contact at the Salvation Army who could probably help her.  I was in the process of calling my member to get her to help when the lady I was trying to help flew off the handle and stormed out the door shouting, “Jesus said do not judge!” 

Well, I wasn’t judging her.  I was trying to help her and probably could have if she hadn’t stormed out of my church in a rage while misquoting Jesus.  Jesus did say, “Do not judge,” but it doesn’t mean what this lady thought it meant and it doesn’t mean what most people in our world think either.  So let’s take a look at two things Jesus said. 

Matthew 7:1 & 12:33
7:1 – “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

12:33 – “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus is preaching against being judgmental. Being judgmental is rushing to judgment without reason. It describes someone who forms a lot of harsh, critical opinions about many people. It describes the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who tried so hard to follow the Torah perfectly and criticized anyone who didn’t live up to their standards. Their judgements revealed their lack of love and compassion for people. They saw themselves as better than everyone else.  Jesus preached: Don’t be like that. Don’t be judgmental. If you spend all your time pointing out everyone else’s problems, you won’t take a good hard look at yourself and see all your own flaws for which you desperately need forgiveness and healing.

We live in a world that holds two values in the highest esteem—freedom and tolerance. First of all, we value freedom. I mean, this is America, right? We can live however we want. Furthermore, this is the 21st century. Most people don’t want to confine themselves to what they consider outdated moral constructs of the past. We are modern people who live modern lives. We don’t want anyone telling us the way we live is wrong.  That's the prevailing attitude of our times.

Second, we value tolerance, because there are so many difference people living different ways by different moral standards.  Who is to say who is really right and wrong?  So, we must learn tolerance. We say, "I’ll let you be you and you let me be me."  Ironically, the people who preach tolerance the most can be some of the most intolerant people you will find. They preach tolerance of their own behavior when it offends moral standards they consider outdated, but they want to “cancel” anyone who doesn’t live up to their own “new” moral expectations.  Tolerance, in our times, is a one way street.  

So, people take Jesus’ command not to be judgmental and make it, “Don’t judge me!” That’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus never expected people give up on thinking critically about what is right and wrong. Furthermore, he even taught that we should look at the way people live and make informed judgments about whether it is good or bad.  Since Christians live together in community, we are supposed to hold one another accountable.  This important work requires us to use good judgment and even tell one another when we see behavior that is unhealthy.

In Matthew 12:33, Jesus teaches, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” Now, Jesus is not really talking about fruit trees. He’s using an illustration. He’s saying, look at the results of a person’s life. Has their work produced good or bad results? Have they made the world a better place or is the fruit of their life all rotten?

I don't ever want to come to a place where we just accept as truth whatever "most" people say.  Let's always remember how to look deeper at the facts and evaluate and find the truth.

Use Good Judgment
Jesus expects you to use good judgment.  Don’t ever let someone bully you by throwing a misquote of Jesus up in your face.  Don’t ever feel guilty for using the brain God gave you to judge for yourself about a person or situation.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all you mind, and all your strength.  So use your mind.  And of course, you want to avoid a judgmental attitude where you think of yourself as better than someone else.  But you still need to make a good, informed decisions.

Don’t try to deny others the freedom to judge you either—especially when you know them to have your best interest at heart.  Isn’t it interesting, we usually want to throw around Jesus’ words “do not judge” when we ourselves are feeling judged?  Someone says something we perceive as judging us and we immediately want to retort back “Don’t judge me!”

Really?  Do you really want to deny others the permission to help you?  You know, sometimes people see things about you that you can’t see about yourself.  If you are a Christian, you have committed your life to follow Jesus—in community with other Christians who are there to help you and you are there to help them.  Part of the way we help each other is by seeing each other’s flaws and (not being judgmental, but) speaking the truth in love.  Are you open to letting someone else tell you a hard truth?  Are you able to prayerfully, carefully, and lovingly tell someone else the truth in a non-judgmental way?

Do you have the kind of close relationships with other Christians where sharing constructive criticism is even possible.  You know, you have to earn the right to share some things with people.  You don't just go up to a stranger on the street and start telling them all about their flaws.  You wouldn't want someone you don't know and trust to do that to you either.  So, you have to spend time getting to know people and tending the relationship ad building trust to the point that you can give and receive some deep accountability.  When you do, they may get mad at you for a day, but that will probably pass and they will receive what you share because of the relationship you have. And the same would be true if a true sister or brother in Christ came to you and told you something your didn't want to hear, but needed to hear.

Closing Meditation
As we close, I would like to lead you in a meditation to help you consider how you could let go of a judgmental attitude and be open to making the right kinds of judgments according to the Spirit of Christ.  So open your heart to God right now as you read.

Ask yourself, do you think you are better than someone else? What about the person who doesn't live the way you think they should live? What about the person who hurt you, betrayed you, or sinned against you?  Are you better than them?  Are you better than the younger generation (who just doesn't get it because they don't know how life works)? Do you think you are better than the older generation (who have lost touch with the modern world and still believe in outdated ideas)?  Are you better than someone else?  Who?

I invite you to repent of your feelings of superiority. You are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Take a moment to ask Jesus to forgive you and let go of your judgmental attitudes...

Now, ask God to help you have good judgment. Ask Him for wisdom to be a good judge of character—not as a way to feel superior, but—so you will know who to trust and who to avoid…

Now, ask God to give you humility so you may receive constructive that might help you grow as a person…

Finally, ask God to reveal any ways you may need to share constructive criticism with someone you love…

Closing Prayer
"Father God in Heaven, thank You for revealing Your truth for us today and for hearing our prayers.  Help us to follow the way of Christ that uses good judgment but avoids being judgmental.  Help us to have the kinds of deep personal relationships with others that enable us to hold and be held accountable and to grow to become more and more like Christ, Your perfect Son.  In His name we pray, amen."

Monday, March 8, 2021

Children of God

In the early 2000, Kelly and I lived in an apartment in Lithia Springs, GA.  One of our neighbors was an man named Nadeem. Nadeem was from Iran and had a very different upbringing than me.  It was interesting to talk to him and learn about his culture.  Nadeem was also a Muslim, which was a very interesting because Nadeem was also an alcoholic.  Now, Muslim's in Iran are fairly stric and drinking alcohol is forbidden, so I don't know how that worked, but Nadeem could often be found sitting on a bench outside our apartment building, which is how I met him.  Nadeem was also married to as Catholic nun.  I know.  That doesn't make any sense either, but that is how Nadeem described her (I'm thinking she must have been a former nun because nuns are celibate and do not marry.)  

I had many good conversations with Nadeem and I always think of him when I cook rice because one time he invited me into his apartment to teach me the "proper" way to cook rice.  He would always add a little olive oil and salt.  Sometimes he would add other things like garbanzo beans.  His rice was always very good.

My conversations with Nadeem would often work around to religion.  I was interested to know more about Islam and he was curious about Christianity.  Of course, I also felt a burden to share about Jesus and how He changed my life.  Nadeem would often say, "You know Chris, Jesus is in the Koran too.  We believe in Jesus."  I would ask Nadeem what he believed about Jesus and he would say the Koran teaches Jesus is a great prophet.  "But do you believe Jesus is the Son of God," I would ask and we would go round and round about this.  Finaly, Nadeem would say, “Chris, Chris, we are all children of God.”

The subtle disagreement we had was over what it means to be a child of God.  The Christian Bible says Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  The Greek word the New Testament uses for “only begotten” is monogenes and means “uniquely born” or “one-of-a-kind birth.” The conception and birth of Jesus was unique—nothing like it had ever happened before and will never happen again in the future. He was conceived in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit and is the only one who has two natures—divine and human; all God and all man.”[i]  Though is some sense all people are children of God, we are not children of God the way Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.

I hope you will follow todays message, because it is very important.  It will takes some twists and turns along the way, but the destination is worth the drive; I hope you will stay with me.  The problem is we are dealing with some half-truths and partial truths of the world and comparing them to the Whole Truth of God.

Many people in our world like to say, “We are all children of God.”  Now, in a sense this is true.  The world (and even the Church) has emphasized this claim over the last century to make some important points to help us deal with the serious problems of racism, war, and division in our world.  The statement is true in the sense that God created us all. 

Furthermore, there is no one race that is superior to any other race.  We are all really one race. To speak of a black race or a white race or an Asian race is really technically wrong. The misguided idea that humanity is divided into different “races” began in the 15th century mostly as a way for Europeans to justify the conquest of other countries inhabited by Africans, Asians, and Native Americans (even the Irish).  Since they believed they were different races of people, the subjugation of different races was acceptable (or even inevitable). "Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races…”[ii] Genetically, we are all one race. When we say the word race, what we really mean is ethnicity, culture, or people groups.  There is no significant genetic difference between the different people groups of the world.  We are all part of one human race.

Furthermore, according to Genesis in the Bible, God created all people through Adam and Eve--the first human beings. So to say, “We are all God’s children” is true in a broad sense.  Christians who believe the Bible's account of creation accept that we all descended from the same ancestral parents. 

Usually when people say “We are all God’s children,” they are calling on everyone everywhere to live together in harmony. It’s a noble call. We certainly do need to set aside petty squabbles and see all human beings as being part of one human family. Let’s treat everyone fairly and be done forever with racism and discrimination. Let us, as Martin Luther King, Jr. so passionately preached, “Judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.”

But in this series, we are comparing what the world says to what Jesus says. What did Jesus say?

John 8:42-44
42 Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! 44 For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.  

The Devil’s Children
Most people prefer to think of Jesus as a kind man gently holding a baby lamb. Quite often, that’s not the Jesus we see in the Bible. It’s not the Jesus we see in John 8. In John 8, Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees in Jerusalem and He’s telling the cold hard Truth. There are some people in this world who aren’t God’s children; they’re the Devil’s children.  

Now, this message is about to take curve in the road so brace yourself. Hold on.  Scripture teaches all people who have not repented of sin and turned to Jesus are children of the Devil.  According to Jesus own words, those who reject Him are children of the Devil. 

Most people think of a devil child as an especially “bad” kid.  Surely, it's the toddler who sneaks the chocolate syrup out of the fridge and smears it all over the kitchen who qualifies as a devil child.  Or maybe it's the person is is especially evil or does evil things that is a devil child.  

Surely it's not good people who are children of the Devil.  However, we need to asks a pertinent question.  Who among us is really good?  Isaiah 53:6 says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” 

Romans 3:10-18 is even harsher.  “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.  Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.  Snake venom drips from their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  They rush to commit murder.  Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace They have no fear of God at all.”

Romans 3 might seem harsh, but understand holiness and righteousness are not measured by human standards.  They are measured by God’s perfect standard.  Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glorious standard."  When we compare human goodness to God’s perfection, human goodness doesn’t even compare.  Romans 3 describes you (and me).

Isaiah 64:6 puts it this way, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.”  Remember, the Pharisees were the holiest people where Jesus lived.  Everyone looked up to them as righteous dudes.  They memorized the Torah--which is the first five books of the Bible.  They sought to live good, holy lives that avoided all sin.  Furthermore, they refused to associate with anyone considered sinful, unclean, or ungodly.

“But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” (Mark 2:16) 

Back to Our Question
Are we all children of God? The answer, according to Jesus (and Scripture) is a resounding no. Those who reject Jesus (and thus reject God) are children of the Devil. And really, everyone has done this.

There is a little used, but sometimes used, legal processing in American whereby a child can "divorce" there parents.  It is called emancipation and it doesn't happen often.  If it is determined that a parent is not truly advocating for the best interest of their child, a child can be set free from the authority of their parent.  The parent then no longer has any guardianship rights over the child.  Now, in our fallen world where parents don't always do what they should, it may be necessary for a child to "divorce" their parents.

Here’s the thing. God created us and He is a perfect parent that always looks out for our best interest, but we have turned our backs on God because of sin and rejected God as our Father. We walked away. We divorced our Heavenly Father.  We have said, "I don't want to be beholden to You anymore.  I don't accept God's authority over my life.  I am walking away to go live my own life the way I want to live it."  

By our sin, every person who lives has rejected (or divorced) God. We have walked away from the relationship. It’s not just prostitutes and notorious sinners. Even the supposedly good, holy people have turn their backs on God through sin. God is no longer our Father.  Therefore, by default, we become “children of the Devil.”

It is only by the grace of God that we can return to a right relationship with God. Ephesians 1:5 says, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Why would God need to adopt us if we were already His children? Because people are not God's children before He adopts them through Christ.

The whole story of the Good News of God can be summed up in a single parable told by Jesus —the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.  Jesus uses a powerful family story to analogize the relationship between people and God.  The Father in the story represents God. The younger son represents the notorious sinners of the world. The older son represents the “good” people of the world who generally follow the rules, but have defective attitudes and perspectives.  The story goes like this (I will add my comments in italics):

“A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’

The younger son wants to divorce his father and go live his life his onw way.  He doesn't want to work on his father's estate anymore.  He doesn't want to be subject to his father's rules and authority.  He can't wait until his father dies and he can get his inheritance and leave.  So he just comes out and basically says, "I can't wait for you to die.  Give me my inheritance now so I can go ahead and leave."

So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. 

This is an amazing story of grace.  The Father loves his son, despite the terrible, hateful way the son left.  Now that the son has come home, the Father adopts His son back into the family.  The gifts of a robe and ring and sandals are symbols that the has not a servant, but a son.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

The older son was angry.  He thinks he is better than his younger brother.  He thinks his Father (who remember is God) owes him a reward for being good.  Do you think God owes you something for being good?  

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”


I want you to notice something important in this story.  Jesus doesn’t tell us whether or not the older son ever went in to join the party.  He did that on purpose.  You know why?  He left us hanging because most of us are the older son.  We the ones standing out in the cold while all the prostitutes, gangsters, and despised sinners of the world are inside partying with Jesus because they already knew they were sinners who needed Jesus to forgive them.  Meanwhile, so many times, we think God owes us something (especially if we are generally good people).  That attitude is a great sin in and of itself.  God doesn’t owe you anything.  However, He still graciously invites you to receive His grace and come in to the feast. You are the one who decides how the story ends.  You can choose to stay outside with your arms folded and pouting lips or you can let go of your pride, recognize your own sin, seek forgiveness just like everyone else, and go in and join the party.  Are you going to come in and join the party?

Jesus left His church with a very special meal to celebrate what He did for us on the cross and to foreshadow the everlasting feast awaiting those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  On the night He was arrested, Jesus sat down to a special meal with His disciples.  At the meal, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples and said, "This is my body that is given for you. Take and eat."  Likewise, after the meal, he took the cup and raised it to heaven and ask God to bless it and said, "This is my blood of the New Covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Drink it, and as often as you do, do it in remembrance of me."  Ever since that night, this memorial meal has been shared by Christians as a way to remember Christ's death on the cross--a sacrifice that atones for our sins and makes salvation and a right relationship with God possible.

I invite you to come in and enjoy the Father's feast.  Don't stay outside as a child of Satan.  Come Home and be a child of God once more.