Love My Enemies?

Love My Enemies?

In his famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and to not resist an evil person.  While Jesus is certainly calling us to a high standard in human relationships, we wonder about how literal to take his words of instruction.  It sounds almost as if Jesus is encouraging us to become silent victims of abuse.  Are we supposed to become a doormat and let people walk all over us?  Are there any situations where it might be appropriate to set reasonable boundaries so that dysfunctional people cannot harm us or harm those we love? Isn’t there a difference between being kind and being weak?  

We should remember that Jesus sometimes uses hyperbole when he teaches us.  Hyperbole is a literary style that involves making an extreme statement, perhaps exaggerating, in order to foster reflection and deeper thought.  When Jesus uses hyperbole he intends for us to take him seriously, but not necessarily literally.   Jesus is not encouraging us to endure physical abuse or to have no reasonable boundaries regarding how other people treat us.  Jesus is reminding us that in our everyday relationships with ordinary people, sometimes we will be slighted, disrespected, and perhaps not appreciated.  We need to choose to be bigger people and resist the natural desire to retaliate.  Listen to the sermon, “Turn the Other Cheek and Love My Enemies?”

There are two basic rules of human relationships.  One is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  The other is the Reciprocity Rule: Do unto others as they have done unto you.  Jesus is pointing out that the problem with the Reciprocity Rule (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”) is that we are always looking to even the score and pay someone back for any slight or harm they might have done to us, intentional or otherwise.  It is better to live by the Golden Rule as much as possible, because the goal of our lives is to be instruments of God’s grace and goodness in a broken world.

Jesus is not saying we can’t defend ourselves when we are truly in danger.  He is saying that it’s better not to respond to a jerk by being a jerk yourself.  This is similar to the wisdom many of us have heard growing up: “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Human relationships are going to be a challenge because we are imperfect people.  But living by the Golden Rule puts us in a better position to have a positive influence upon others, and that is always the goal for our lives.

Pastor Mark Miller

Is Divorce and Re-Marriage Adultery?

One of the most difficult teachings of Jesus has to do with divorce and re-marriage.  Jesus is clear and consistent. Divorce should not occur for any reason other than adultery, and if a person gets divorced for some other reason and then decides to re-marry someone new, that person is committing adultery (See Matthew 19:3-9Matthew 5:32-32).

The reason why this teaching seems extreme to our modern ears is that we do not understand what life was like for women in first-century Palestine.  In that patriarchal culture, women were considered inferior to men and did not have the same rights as men.  A husband could divorce his wife, but a wife could not divorce her husband.  Additionally, there was a growing trend of “easy divorce” where men could divorce their wives for any reason, including such offenses as talking back, not preparing a meal well enough, or even not being attractive.  The lack of economic resources for women combined with trivial grounds for divorce put women in serious danger and threatened to undermine families and communities, so Jesus makes it clear that marriage is intended to be a lifelong covenant of faithfulness and mutual support.

We can and should embrace Jesus’ standard for marriage, but we must also face the reality that divorce happens today for a variety of reasons.  In such cases we should always seek for justice and fairness in the division of economic resources.  We should also demonstrate compassion, kindness and love toward those who are dealing with the pain and brokenness caused by divorce.

But most of all, we should do our best to equip couples with the resources, encouragement and skills they need to build happy, healthy and holy marriages that can go the distance and last a lifetime.  The Church should always embrace the high standards of Jesus, help people work toward that standard, but always offer grace and support when we fall short of that standard. That’s not being “soft on sin,” that’s being “strong in grace.” Listen to the sermon, “If You Divorce and Re-Marry, You Commit Adultery?”

Pastor Mark Miller

Why Do the Rich Get Richer?

Have you ever gone to a yard sale or checked out one of the many online platforms for trading and selling used goods? Every time I open Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or any number of similar sites, I can’t help but smile and think, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.”

I had a similar reaction when I learned of three people who were particularly gifted at trading on Craigslist. Over a series of fourteen trades in two years, Steven Ortiz of Glendora, CA traded his friend’s old cell phone for a Porsche 2000 Boxster convertible. Rachel Dempsey of Madison, WI, turned an old Playstation 2 into a mint-condition 1986 IROC Z28 Camaro. Kyle MacDonald, a Canadian blogger, traded fourteen times from one red paperclip to a house. Check out Steven’s story here. These stories always make me wonder what I might have in a junk drawer or at the bottom of a closet and how many swaps it would take to get something of real value.

Many of us have something tucked away, but we fail to recognize its true value. And no, I’m not talking about an old cell phone, a Playstation 2 or even a paperclip. Many people have gifts that go unrecognized or undervalued because we don’t realize that God can turn our humble gifts into powerful tools to build the kingdom of heaven. As he told the story of the valuable coin, Jesus offered this difficult saying: “Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them.” If we apply this idea to the gifts that God has given us and the calling that God has placed on each of our lives, we realize that God values our gifts more than we can understand. Listen to the sermon, “Why Do the Rich Get Richer?”

In the familiar story of two faithful servants and their procrastinating partner, the value of the coins is extravagant. Read Matthew 25:14-30. So while the third servant focused on how little he had in comparison to his coworkers, he neglected the immense value of the coin in his possession. And here, Jesus is offering us an important lesson on the way the kingdom of heaven operates. Because this story is all about the work that servants are called to when the master is absent. We are called to respond faithfully to God’s gifts while we await Jesus’ return in glory.

This story has a great deal to offer us as we get to work building the kingdom, including a truth to teach and a role to fill.

  1. We don’t get to choose our gifts or keep our gifts. Everyone has gifts that are of value to God. Instead of focusing on the gifts that God has given to others, take stock of where God is at work in your life and where you can be a coworker with Christ. The third servant operated with a spirit of scarcity. Instead, imitate those who have been faithful and whose work bears fruit for the kingdom of heaven. Because we don’t get to keep our gifts. Rather than fearing making a mistake with the gift they were given, the first two servants put their gifts to use. And God celebrates even when we make mistakes, because they are opportunities to demonstrate grace.
  2. We have a role to fill. We are called to serve joyfully. The third servant fundamentally misunderstood his master by calling him a harsh man who unfairly profited off his servants. The valuable coin is not a seed that he can plant or an egg that he can sit on. Instead, when we use our gifts as individuals or as a church we will be taking risks. We cannot gain what we are unwilling to risk.

I guarantee that we as individuals and as a church will fail at least one, but the fear of failure should never keep us from doing God’s work. Do not fear failure. It is the beginning of growth.

Pastor Matt Potter

Must I Hate My Family to Follow Jesus?

Jesus spoke many beautiful and wonderful truths during his earthly ministry. But he also said some disturbing things.  Perhaps one of the most disturbing statements Jesus made is found in Luke 14:25-27, where he declares that anyone who wants to be his disciple must hate his parents, spouse, children, brothers and sisters.  Not only are these words shocking, they are also uncharacteristic of the many other words Jesus spoke about the importance of loving others.  So, what is going on here?  Are we supposed to start hating our family members in order to prove our commitment to Jesus?  Of course not.  In speaking these words, Jesus is not intending for us to take him literally, but he does want us to take him seriously.

Jesus is employing the language of a first century Jewish Rabbi.  Traveling Jewish Rabbis in the first century were teachers who invited students to “follow” them as they traveled in order to learn.  Rabbis would often remind those who wanted to follow, that the work would be difficult and you need to be willing to make sacrifices.  Rabbis would often use “hyperbole” (making exaggerated statements in order to force people to contemplate).   So here, Jesus is explaining to people that following him would require sacrifice and commitment.

We live in a culture today that almost worships comfort and convenience.  And sometimes we Christians begin to drift into an attitude that allows comfort and convenience to become the values we build our lives upon.  If a commitment becomes too uncomfortable and too inconvenient, we just quit and declare that “it just isn’t worth it.” 

But Jesus wants us to know that a commitment to him will sometimes make us uncomfortable and it will often be inconvenient.  We should not be surprised by this, because the two greatest dangers to the human soul are laziness and selfishness.  Nothing feeds and breeds laziness and selfishness more than a focus on comfort and convenience.   So Jesus calls us to make a deep commitment to him, and to make sacrifices that might be inconvenient.   We don’t have to hate our family to do that, but we do need to understand that there is a cost to being a true disciple of Jesus.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Pastor Mark Miller

Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?

I appreciate the creativity of the Tricuna Tribe of Brazil.  These indigenous people who live in the Brazilian rain forest, capture monkeys in a very clever way. They put a small hole in a hollowed-out gourd and then the fill the gourd with a piece of fruit.  Then they attach the gourd to a tree.  When a monkey comes along and smells the sweet fruit inside the gourd, he reaches his hand down inside to get the fruit.  But once he makes a fist to hold onto the fruit, his hand is too large and he is unable to get it out of the hole.  He could let go of the fruit and easily remove his hand, but he won’t let go. He is now trapped because he has a grip on his prize and won’t release his grip.  (Watch how this is done.)

We might be tempted chuckle at the monkey’s foolishness, unwilling to let go of a piece of fruit in order to set himself free. Silly monkey!  And yet, I wonder sometimes if we might find ourselves trapped in a similar way: in unhealthy patterns of thought, in bad attitudes, in resentment and bitterness, in toxic relationships, and poor habits.  Perhaps we should learn to let go and set ourselves free.

Jesus once encountered a man who was trapped by his unhealthy attachment to wealth.  He had accumulated a lot of it over the years, storing up his earthly treasures.  When Jesus invited him to let it go and set himself free, he wouldn’t do it and walked away a sad man trapped in his self-imposed prison (Mark 10:17-27).  

Is Jesus saying that it is impossible for rich people to be accepted by God?  The good news is that Jesus does not teach that wealth is evil or awful or that rich people are evil or awful just because they have achieved some level of financial success in this life.  Having money, being wealthy does not put eternal life out of reach.   Jesus is not offering a blanket condemnation of wealth, but He is telling us something very important that we need to remember.  So having clarified what Jesus is not saying, let’s look at what Jesus is saying. 

What we find here is a warning to heed, a practice to engage in, and a promise we can count on:

First, the warning.  Wealth can be dangerous to our soul. Wealth can exert a corrupting influence on our heart, our soul, our character.  I chuckle at the tee shirt I once saw that said, “Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won’t spoil me.”  Truth is, winning the lottery actually ruins a lot of people.  If the main goal of our lives is to grow a healthy God-honoring soul, then money can become a danger to that goal if we aren’t careful.

Now here is the practice.  Be consistently generous.  Put together a plan for regularly and consistently giving away portions of your wealth. Generosity is a character quality that must be intentionally cultivated, and it only gets cultivated through regular and consistent practice.   This requires discipline.  Discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you know you should do whether you feel like it or not.  Jesus tells the rich man to give it all away.  There are instances in our lives when that might be the best approach.  But when you read through the Bible, you don’t find any other instance where Jesus insisted that someone sell everything and get rid of all material possessions in order to experience eternal life.  But let’s make it very clear that there will be times in our lives when Jesus will call us to be very generous in our giving, more generous that what we would be comfortable with.  Maybe not giving away 100%, but giving a lot more than we want to give.  We do need to let some of it go, regularly, consistently, generously.  

Now here is the promise. Eternal life is available to all people no matter what their socio-economic status.  You aren’t so poor that you can’t have it and you aren’t so rich that you don’t need it.   Jesus doesn’t hate rich people.  In fact, today’s scripture lesson tells us that Jesus loved this rich man.  Remember, when Jesus warns us about wealth, he does it out of love for us. And he offers us this promise: That nothing is impossible with God.  No matter who you are, no matter where you find yourself on the socioeconomic ladder, you have an eternal soul and you matter to God. But we can’t save ourselves.  We need God’s grace and mercy.  That’s why Jesus came into the world.  That’s why he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Eternal life is possible, the promise of Heaven is real and it is available.  And you’re not so poor that you can’t have it and you’re not so rich you don’t need it.

I wonder, are you “trapped” in any area of your life right now?

Are you ready and willing to do whatever must be done in order to be set free? 

Perhaps you need to let go of something in order to receive what Jesus wants to give you. 

Think about it, pray about it, and then ask Jesus to help you release your grip on the things that hold you back. Listen to the sermon, “Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?”

Pastor Mark Miller