Friday, January 30, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 21)

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You are not to have sex with anyone else’s spouse.’ But I am telling you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already had sex with her in his heart.
— Matthew 5:27-28 (USC)
So hard is it to obey this teaching of Jesus’ we may quickly shy away from the truth of it and scurry into another part of the Bible more palatable for our thoughts.
But it was never a Jesus’ intention to make us scamper from what is our reality without coming face-to-face with the challenge presented. What are we to do with our lustful thoughts? And it isn’t just sexual lust we must watch for; any lust of the eye is a temptation too far from the will of God.
Two things may be in view here.
Firstly, Jesus wants us to face our sin so that we may properly repent of it.
Secondly, Jesus wants us to understand, afresh, the power in God’s grace that forgives the sinner in us. To quite a certain extent Jesus knows some temptations will remain, and the challenge presented is to be truthful with God in every situation. If we are tempted, and we buckle in the temptation, the Lord wants us to be honest. Having confessed our sin, we have a new appreciation of the grace that forgives something we could hardly forgive in ourselves.
So, on the one hand, Jesus’ expectation must be that we grow through the temptation, first by confession, and second by the action of repentance (which is to turn back to God), but on the other hand, Jesus reminds us that his grace is sufficient for us (refer to 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). We are empowered in our weakness, if, in our weakness, we will derive the strength to succumb to God and not the temptation.
Sexual temptations may be a stretch too far in realising them for most of us, but Jesus says, “That’s not the point.” He highlights the problem occurs in the sinner’s mind, of which we are all afflicted.
May we humbly journey with God, surrendering our sexuality to him so he can purify us day by day.
1.     Being very forthright and honest, confess those sins of your sexuality that cause you most inner angst – give them to God. What is it now that you experience? What does God’s grace look and feel like having partaken in repentance? What does it feel like to be forgiven? Use your own words and journal about it.
2.     How do you think God wants you to grow regarding matters of perennial temptation – those ‘thorns in our side’ as the apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 12?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 20)

Jesus said, “Go and make it up quickly with your adversary who brings a lawsuit against you, while you are still with him on the way to court. Otherwise, your adversary may hand you over to the judge, the judge to his assistant, and you will be thrown into prison.
— Matthew 5:25 (USC)
Fear of God is such a wonderful thing!
It compels us to consider the many situations and circumstances of life we can find ourselves in; to ensure the place of safety, which is wisdom, becomes the place of our choice.
If we are to insist that a certain outcome be surrendered to the truth – that our way becomes God’s way – we may feel imprisoned initially, but we are most likely vindicated later. Again, it’s wisdom to put the Kingdom and God’s righteousness first. By faith, we are blessed with God-sight; the knowledge of the Lord’s faithfulness.
When we are on the throne of our own lives, however, we are not able to see that which might easily dethrone us. Such is the folly of thinking life can be cajoled around our selfish ends, we are quickly blinded to the freight train of indifference and paradoxical justice known to life.
When we, otherwise, see matters more truthfully – the things that might turn suddenly against us – we are readily into the mode of compromising our pride for a safer, wiser humility. Compromise, in this view of things, is a vast and sweeping wisdom.
Self-righteousness is a stumbling block to the so-called wise. They imagine they have every answer, for they never doubt their heart or their integrity. Of course, the paradox of humility means that a humble are often given cause to doubt themselves in the context of their relationships. They are always thinking about others’ perceptions and are willing to adjust their approach, which others generally appreciate.
It is hardly ever a good idea for Christians to enter legal proceedings against one another. It is never usually a good idea, either, for a Christian to settle their differences in court.
It is always better to go and reconcile; to prove that love can be the difference.
The heart of the one after Christ is not interested in being right at the expense of others having, therefore, to be wrong. Add to this heart of the wisdom, the fear of the Lord; by the sheer fact that life is too unpredictable to bank on things always working out our way.
Wisdom accounts for the possibilities, not just the probabilities.
1.     Think of a time in your life when matters backfired – you thought you had the answer, but it didn’t work out that way. What did you learn from such a situation that you now most readily apply?
2.     How is the condition of your heart regarding matters of forgiveness and reconciliation? Do you allow God’s Spirit to humble you sufficiently that issues are able to be resolved amicably?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 19)

Jesus said, “So if you happen to be in the act of offering up your gift on the altar, but, while there, remember that your brother or sister is holding something against you, leave your gift right there in front of the altar. First go off to be reconciled with the person concerned, then come back and offer up your gift.
— Matthew 5:23-24 (USC)
Complementary are these two verses of Scripture with verse 22, even though they each appear to be coming at the issue of anger from two opposite sides.
The onus for reconciliation always remains with the person who is aware of the conflict – and both/all parties should be aware. There should hence be a heart in all parties to reconcile, which is to make of the past an exercise in learning and humility – to focus on the log in one’s own eye and not focus on the speck in theirs.
I am of the view, having been involved in leadership in several organisations, that these two verses, above, are two of the most important verses in the whole Bible. That is, because they offer a challenge to everyone who believes Jesus is Lord; the fruit of such belief is the want and willingness to reconcile with an aggrieved brother or sister, no matter what that takes. To do that first.
It is foolish to take account of great sweeps of theology and broad-brushes of ethics and every nuance of apologetics and miss the relational imperative.
The basic things come first. The milk of our obedience we must readily drink in order that one day we will be able to stomach the exotic meats of the relational gospel.
Nobody can say that they are committed disciples of Jesus and so willingly hold a grudge. If any of us has anything against anyone, on that final day, Jesus might as well call us a liar.
These truths will upset us if we are still on the throne of our lives.
But these truths will liberate us from ourselves if we can subjugate our pride, as we place Jesus up on high, where only he belongs.
A commitment to reconciliation costs. It will certainly cost us our pride, which will feel like we are losing our dignity. But we can only retain our dignity if we reconcile. Dignity only has value when we are at peace with our brothers and sisters.
1.     Who is it that you bear a grudge against, and what have they done? What is required of you in dealing with the matter (Micah 6:8)?
2.     Where will you go for help if your anger threatens to spill over into the court of life? It is a great wisdom to have someone to go to. Do you have someone like that?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 18)

Jesus said, “I am telling you, however, that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister must be brought to justice. Further, anyone who says to their brother or sister, ‘You fool!’ must face trial before the assembly, and anyone who addresses another person as ‘Stupid’ deserves the fires of the rubbish tip.
— Matthew 5:22 (USC)
Anger management is a program domestic violence perpetrators take when they are found out in the process of legal proceedings. But, the truth is, we all must manage our anger, for if we don’t our anger will manage us.
Anger causes us to do great damage to those we both love and despise. It causes tangible damage that we would otherwise see. And it also causes intangible damage psychologically. Little wonder that Jesus wants it dealt with swiftly.
The tongue has a great deal of negative power when it is at the whip hand of our impatience and intolerance. James chapter 3 talks about this in detail. The tongue cuts things down, sets entire forests alight, is so powerful for its size, and has been known to ruin 20-year reputations in one sentence.
What drives the lashing tongue is the heart of visceral malcontent.
Where we are so driven to exact our own justice, anger will justify every sense of foolish self-righteousness. And, because righteous indignation is such a delicate balance, we are most likely to tip into self-righteousness.
But if we are patient and tolerant and necessarily dependent on God, we will have self-control to peruse many of our words before we say them. We will think a little while longer before we act. We will determine indirect paths as the ways of patience and wisdom.
Not every way that appears right to us is right. And we only know this through the discernment of retrospect. We are wise, only, from rear-view vision.
We are wise to watch our words, and smarter still to rethink them. Anger will not be disguised when it is deployed full force. It is always much better to consider the improvements we can make to our own hearts, before we insist on how others may improve themselves.
Friends are made easily when we are more concerned about how we may love them than we are about how they should love us.
1.     What kind of names do you find yourself calling people? We know that Christians aren’t supposed to call people names, but the truth is we do exactly that sometimes, even if under our breath. How is God to help you?
2.     How do you manage your anger proactively? Do you disclose and discuss it?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 17)

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to people in antiquity, ‘You are not to commit murder, but anyone who does commit murder must be brought to justice’.
— Matthew 5:21 (USC)
Murderous hearts! Not me!
We would never have ourselves scandalised like that – for anyone to say we are gluttons for assailing people would get an abhorrent response. Yet, as we are about to find out, we each have a delirious penchant for ending people’s lives. We wish to bring them harm. And, if nothing else, it’s a case of that uncontrollable part of our human psyche getting the better of us.
The unconscious mind – a very real place of mental, emotional, and spiritual transaction and hoarding – bears the trappings of truth real to our inner nature. The ugly truths about our nature are held here and are irrefutable.
Many of us want to refuse that this is true – that we are beggars for crime. But in classically human and intrinsic ways we are.
Just look at how hard it is for us to forgive a person for ‘betraying’ us. Worse, still, is that propensity we all have to get envious without the other person giving us any cause for bitterness. Yet, we are bitter!
There is occasionally the true person who is not embittered at all by their experiences of life. These people are gifted by God that way; they can take no credit for the lack of malice they feel. The rest of us must rely on God’s grace and pray for his mercy, for the Lord may certainly judge the matters of resentment we never dealt with.
With this movement of Jesus’ Sermon we find the first real challenge; have we killed anyone? Phew, we can rest easy. Not so quick!
Jesus is still getting to the heart of the issue: the heart is what issues the feelings we would like to act on, and sometimes do act on: our Anger!
We all know what it’s like to have a murderous intent. All of us have been livid with another person at some point. And we have probably all experienced the fortune of getting away with murder – had circumstances been even slightly different we may well have committed that very act.
1.     How have you recognised in yourself the propensity to harm someone else?
2.     What sort of empathy do you have for those who have actually committed manslaughter?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Monday, January 26, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 16)

Jesus said, “For I am telling you that unless the right that you do goes beyond that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you won’t gain entrance into the kingdom of the heavens.
— Matthew 5:20 (USC)
The heart is central to the matter of our eternal destiny.
We cannot say we are godly and lovers of God if love hasn’t penetrated our hearts.
And when love has broken through we are changed. Until we are changed, beyond our design and will in many cases, we do not have the hearts we need to do the right things that go beyond the Christian legalist.
We see, here, that God is in control over who he changes; that if we are not changed the right things we do won’t go beyond the person who says they’re Christian but cannot live their commitment to Christ.
These are no doubt difficult requirements; didn’t some of Jesus’ disciples also despair at what was demanded of them? (See John 6:60-66)
Yet it is only God who can grant such a purging of oneself – and the only ones who deny this are those who have never experienced such a purging.
These are hard things to read, to hear, to take note of, and to assimilate into one’s being. But such are the things of Jesus Christ.
The main point that Jesus seems to make, here, is multi-faceted; but it’s centred on the fact of God’s grace. If the Pharisees couldn’t please God by obeying the Law we would be fools to attempt to do that which they were masters. The heart is what Jesus is getting to; the heart of knowing God better and loving God more.
When our hearts are attuned to the things of God we readily trust and obey. And, when we know that the only way our righteousness outstrips that of the Pharisees is through the pure acceptance of the grace of God that forgives us, we gain entrance into the kingdom of the heavens.
When God has broken through the layers of our stiff-necked opposition we can and wish to trust and obey.
Transformed hearts, and minds that gladly conform to the Kingdom mindset, are the righteousness of God indwelt in us by his Holy Spirit.
1.     What was it like for you when you discovered the Christian lifestyle was not about trying, but centrally about training?
2.     If you are still confused about grace, how can you investigate what it really means?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 15)

Jesus said, “Don’t imagine that I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophetic Writings; I haven’t come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.
— Matthew 5:17 (USC)
The Incarnation of God, having come to tabernacle with us and set us free by truth, does not in any way, let us off the hook. We all deserve judgment for failing to meet the requirements of the Law – even if that Law is now under the footstool of grace. Jesus’ coming changed nothing as far as the Law and the Prophetic Writings was concerned; the Lord’s coming meant that, finally, the Law was complete. And that is good news!
Because Jesus’ coming has completed the legislative transaction in the sight of God, surely we can stand before the Father, on that day, and be received into God.
But not because we have obeyed the Law.
Not because we are good of our own works, attitudes, abilities, or nature.
We are received into God for the plain reason that Jesus is the completion of the Law and the Prophetic Writings.
The point of this verse is Jesus is correcting his hearers incorrect assumptions – “Here he comes; our Lord will relax the Law and make it more palatable somehow.” But Jesus did not come to relax anything. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is every example of how our hearts are central to obeying the will of the Law.
The Law is written on our hearts and in our minds (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And our devotion to Jesus compels us to know what fulfilling the Law means in our immediate context, through prayer.
Prayerfulness is the absolute denominator of discovering the moment’s need of the Law. His Holy Spirit will speak to us and illuminate our thinking.
Let’s never think that Jesus came to make it easier to please God. That’s why his was a perfect sacrifice. He pleases God for us; on our behalf.
We daren’t cheapen grace by thinking we can do enough to please God. We cannot. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophetic Writings so we would not need to.
Let’s thank God, instead, that, in his wisdom, he planned a way for us to satisfy him when we could never, of our own, satisfy him.
1.     This verse is another example where Jesus turns his hearers perceptions upside down. How has Jesus turned your world upside down?
2.     How has God’s amazing grace amazed you? How do you believe that doing less – accepting what we could never do – is the way to receiving more?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 14)

Jesus said, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under the measuring bowl; instead, they put it on a lampstand, where it provides light for everyone in the house. So too, your light must shine in front of people, in such a way that they may see your good deeds and give the glory to your heavenly Father.
— Matthew 5:15-16 (USC)
Good works, for the glory of God, are purposed toward both challenge and encouragement. Being salty Christians (verse 13) means we challenge the status quo and improve it where we can, whilst being lit Christians means we encourage the Kingdom and sustain it – by the Holy Spirit’s enabling Presence.
Being salty, for a great many of us, is very difficult work; we’d much prefer being lights and preferring grace over truth. Yet, for others, being light is hard, because they find speaking the truth is their necessity.
Being light is further complicated in many cultures by the avoidance of highlighting the mode of being light, because it looks like bragging or pride.
Being light, however, is not about showing off. If being light is part of our character, our hearts will shine forth because we are comfortable with who we are.
A Christian’s job is to stand out and make something of a difference.
That’s not me saying it; Jesus says it. We are to run counter to the darkness and shine our Jesus light into the said darkness that is full of omission, half-truth, white lies, envy, greed, laziness, etc.
Our counter is the fruit of the Spirit. We return humility for pride, generosity for greed, patient smiles for angry grimaces, and graceful forgiveness for rumbling resentment.
We obey the Lord by going against what we would like to do. That’s why obedience is hard. We have to go against what we would otherwise wish to do.
The beauty of grace, being lights of the world, is sacrificial obedience, out of love; and it’s our privilege when glory goes to God.
1.     Think of times you’ve been the light of your world and glory went to God. Describe what you thought and how you felt. How compelling is this example – to be blessed by God, when glory goes to the Lord – to follow?
2.     How do we shine our lights without appearing like braggarts?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Friday, January 23, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 13)

Jesus said, “You are the world’s light. A city situated on top of a hill cannot be concealed.
— Matthew 5:14 (USC)
Identity for Christians is elementary, and it doesn’t get more straightforward than via this verse – one that our Lord connects us with his very self; he, who has also said, “I am the world’s light.” (John 8:12 USC)
If we are the world’s light – and we must be, for Jesus said so – then we must take that as an indicative for the life we are to live. How can we say we are followers of Jesus, yet miss the mark by either intention or by error with no recourse to remedy?
We are the world’s light. We structure our lives around being that city that everyone sees.
To enjoy being a witness to all is a life that has no compromise for wanton sin.
To be that light on the hill – a shimmering city, alight all dark night long – we must arrest our spiritual indolence. One day at a time we are to climb with desperation into the Presence of the Lord, urgently seeking to know his will, clinging to him for the power to carry it out.
Only a little light is needed in the darkness, and, indeed, light is nothing if not shone into the darkness, just as salt is useless without dough in the making of bread.
If we are the world’s light then we have enough in and of ourselves – through the emergent Holy Spirit in us – to make some little though significant difference. Our few grains of salt are enough to season our world with joy, hope and peace.
Jesus’ radical stance that started at verse 3 – the first of his eight Beatitudes – continues into this little four verse section on salt and light. It seems so hard to imagine Jesus saying we are salt and we are light. Yet, he says we are.
We are apt to think we are so far from Jesus’ perfection, but the fact of the matter is Jesus needs us to be everything we can be all the time.
This is not about the pressure to obey our Lord. We will never be perfect. Grace – our divine no-blame insurance policy – covers us. Our Lord simply asks that our hearts shine with his light.
It is very much about striving – as the apostle Paul put it in Philippians 3 – to run our race well, and at last to finish!
We must keep coming back to our Light if we are to be the light on the hill of our lives.
1.     When do you feel like the “world’s light” and when don’t you? How do you overcome, with spiritual resilience, your temptations and trials into darkness?
2.     Do you feel under undue pressure when Jesus says you are salt and you are light? If so, how might you rise above such feelings and enjoy the blessedness of being a child of God.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr. Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 12)

Jesus said, “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”
— Matthew 5:13 (Msg)
Disingenuousness has its roots in fear within social constructs where approval is a more powerful need than telling the truth.
Even at Bible study groups and other Christian community events, our needs of approval, perhaps in getting to know others, are far more powerful, oftentimes, than saying something right because it’s the truth.
Truth is what Jesus is talking about; but it’s only half the picture. Add to truth the value of grace and we suddenly have a great deal of saltiness in view. But, as Helmut Thielicke might say, salt bites. Very often the saltiness of the gospel message is an unsavoury one. We know this, again, by the amount of times we fall short of dealing truthfully in hard interpersonal situations.
Salt is a cleaner. It cleanses and corrodes. Salt erodes what is not pure from the pure thing so that, by chemical reaction, the pure thing may be all it was supposed to be. Salt facilitates integrity. Where integrity is broken down is where the saltiness is lost.
Chemically, being of related numbers so far as the ions (electrical properties) are concerned means salt has a broad-ranging effect as a cleaner: to bring things back to their original integrity.
As Christians, it’s God’s will that we be salt – “You are salt,” Jesus said – in all our circumstances. We need to exemplify the cleanly godliness of Jesus as his followers.
Of course, we will fall short and then it’s up to the humility of our integrity to confess our sin. Paradoxically, we gain respect from believers and non-believers when we confess our wrongs and do what we can to right them.
The commitment to live a life of truth is the sign of our saltiness.
Being a ‘salty’ Christian is about as big a challenge as any disciple of Jesus could be faced with. It requires courage, because the threat of rejection is ever present. It requires wisdom for discerning when and how to pipe up. It requires humility so we don’t appear judgmental. It requires honesty so we don’t fall into the trap of hypocrisy.
1.     To be a ‘salty’ Christian is obviously a recipe for potency. What could be the possible ways we might overdo being salty?
2.     How do you find it hard to communicate truthfully in your relationships? Or, do you communicate ‘too much’ truth, or truth in unpalatable ways?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.