December 20 Esight, 2011

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42This week, I’d like to focus for a brief moment on a story that may be familiar to many of you but one that over the last week has spoken volumes to me. The story is the one of Mary and her older sister Martha. Jesus was to be the invited guest in their home, and Martha was busy with all of the preparations and the duties involved in serving.

Traditionally, the interpretation of this story, in my opinion, has been watered down. It is about so much more than Martha simply being “busy” working for Jesus and Mary choosing to spend time with Jesus. That point can be derived too, for sure, but I know for myself that when I stop and meditate on what this story is really whispering, the meaning of what it means to “be Jesus” to the world around us takes on a whole new dynamic. However, to see what is really taking place in this story, you have to know something of the culture behind this event.

In first century Judaism in Palestine, sitting at a rabbi’s feet was for men only. For women to be among a crowd listening as a rabbi taught was not unusual at all, but to sit at a rabbi’s feet was a position reserved for men only. But not just for any young man: This was a position for those young men who were aspiring to become rabbis themselves. Notice the words of Paul in Acts 22:3:

“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.” (See also Aboth 1:4)

In their culture, women were not rabbis, and for a rabbi to allow a woman to sit at his feet would have been scandalous. It meant that you were recognizing this woman as an aspiring teacher in Israel. This was not acceptable.

Now go back and reread Martha’s words to Jesus and listen to His response.

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

Martha is essentially saying, “How dare my sister take such a presumptuous position? Jesus, put her back in her place. She should be in here where she belongs, taking care of the domestic duties of preparing and serving. Jesus, say something. Jesus, rebuke her!”

But how does Jesus respond?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Mary was being drawn to Jesus. In her heart, she knew this rabbi was different. She wanted not only to follow this Jesus but to lead others into becoming one of His followers too. Jesus saw this and recognized it in a way that would have made a significant statement to all who were present. Jesus was not going to allow “cultural” gender issues to be placed in Mary’s way. His kingdom was to be different. Something very special was happening in Mary’s heart toward Jesus, and Jesus’ treatment of Mary, according to first century standards in Judaism, is breath-taking. Later, Mary would be the first at the tomb. She would be the first to see the risen Jesus, and she would be the first to proclaim the message of the risen Lord. Mary was the very first to proclaim the Gospel message.

Today, the issues of male versus female still abound in many churches, and although this eSight does not afford us the space to analyze the many times in Scripture that God makes concessions to cultural gender sensitivities, what this story does reveal is God’s ideal that — stripping away all of the concessions of God trying to reach cultures — in God’s heart, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). Strip away all the concessions, and you get a God who looks like Jesus.

But what does this mean for those who claim to be followers of Jesus today? At the very least, it should awaken in us a sensitivity to the outsiders, the marginalized, the outcasts of our culture — those who are being told that they don’t fit in, that they don’t “belong” because of their gender, race, or social status. This story is a call to us, as followers of Jesus, to welcome all when it comes to “sitting at the feet” of Jesus, knowing that for Jesus, in His cultural setting, to allow Mary, a woman (and in other places, even demoniacs, see Luke 8:35) to “sit at his feet” means something. It should speak volumes to us today.

Go out and love somebody Jesus-style this week, and Merry Christmas to each of you.

Keep living in love and building the kingdom,

I love you guys,

Herb

December 13 Esight, 2011

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10.25-37)This week I’d like to step backwards a chapter or so in Luke and take a look at an interaction between Jesus and a first-century Jewish lawyer. Luke is clear that the motive of this lawyer was not rooted in a sincere desire to answer some question for which his own heart sought an answer, but rather this was a test. Knowing this, and being wise and knowing His own religious culture, Jesus responds with a very safe answer, which is actually another question, “What is written in the Law?”

The lawyer then sums up the entire law, showing a good deal of familiarity with the law and insight in regards to its root principles, which are loving God and loving your neighbor. Jesus then affirms his answer as being correct and then quotes from the law Himself, “Do This and You will Live.” Jesus here is quoting from Leviticus 18.5, showing that He too had an excellent knowledge of the law even in its details, but you have to imagine, up to this point, the conversation is very “surface,” shallow, or formal quid pro quo.

But then the lawyer’s motives transition from testing Jesus to now wanting to show off, or “justify himself.” He now is endeavoring to draw Jesus into one of the many disputes of that day over the law. What does the law mean when it uses the word “neighbor”? I am convinced that the dispute over the law’s use of the word “neighbor” in this context was rooted in a desire to escape the most obvious meaning of the law because it was too demanding. To truly love your neighbor as yourself was a level of other-centeredness that far surpassed the “religiosity” of the contemporary religious system of Jesus’s day and demanded too much. And it was in direct contradiction with their own emotional investment in things such as their nationalism, their own violent picture of God, and their investment in their own sense of moral superiority to the world around them. But Jesus, never one to miss a “kingdom” opportunity, I imagine, says to Himself, “I can work with this.” He then answers this lawyer’s second question with one of the things Jesus was famous for—a story.

This story is so famous that I fear to spend too much time repeating it for fear that many of you will simply tune out at this point, but there is a unique element here that I believe most religious folks just gloss over. I’d like to focus on this missing piece this week for just a moment and see if we can’t really get into Jesus’s headspace on this one.

Jesus here is contrasting a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. To get the full impact of what Jesus is doing here, we must realize the roles of each of these in first-century Judaism.

A priest was the highest position in the religious system of Jesus’s day. He was the embodiment of all that their religiosity stood for. Originally the priest role, I believe, was one of teacher. His office was richly symbolic. It was designed to teach us something of the character of the Father. But by the time we get to Jesus’s day, the office stood at the pinnacle of their religious system, the heart of their religiosity. A Levite, in addition to this, was simply an assistant to the priests. But a Samaritan was much different. “Samaritan” was the name given to the new and mixed inhabitants that Esarhaddon (King of Assyria, 677 B.C.) brought from Babylon and other places who settled in the cities of Samaria. They replaced the original inhabitants who had been previously removed (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2,9,10). These Samaritans had amalgamated with the Jews and gradually abandoned their old idolatry and partly adopted the Jewish religion. Their religious beliefs would have been a hybrid of the teachings of Jehovah and paganism. They were considered “outsiders” by those who considered themselves the people of God, not on the basis of rightness of behavior, but rather on the basis of rightness of belief, because their beliefs were a mixture of truth (teaching of Yahweh) and error (paganism).

Now I do not want to be misunderstood at this stage. Being “right” in what you believe does have intrinsic value. It is important. But it’s important in the sense that it sets you on a trajectory of having a more accurate picture of God and thus a more restored relationship with God and becoming a conduit of His radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love toward others. But it does not guarantee you will follow this trajectory. You can have all the right beliefs intellectually and still have a heart severely estranged from a correct picture of God and the love that defines what His kingdom is all about.

This is the point of what Jesus is teaching here. The lawyer had all the right answers intellectually and religiously. But he had not made the connection yet about what the right answers were saying about God and the love with which we should relate to others. He still considered himself on the “inside,” considered himself to be more holy than others, more saved than others, as having more truth than others. He looked down with disdain on others, especially that group whose beliefs were a theological hybrid at best—those Samaritans.

And this is the beauty of how Jesus taught. The ones whom this lawyer would be the most likely to revere, the most religious, were the bad guys of the story while the one whom the lawyer would be the most likely to look down on with disdain was the hero. And the reason? Because that which reveals if one is truly following Jesus is not necessarily being right in all your beliefs, or being right in all your behaviors, but rather, it’s in how you choose to love.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.35)

By this all men will know we are following Jesus, not by how religious we are, but by the degree to which we allow the radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love of the kingdom to flow through us.

Again, this isn’t saying that rightness of beliefs is not intrinsically valuable, because it is. But we are never to derive our identity from how right our beliefs are (or how right our behaviors are). Our identity, our assurance of whether we are on the inside (versus the outside) of Christ’s kingdom is to be rooted and grounded in the love for us that we see inside of God’s heart, which He revealed to us on the cross of Calvary. Our identity then is not to be rooted and grounded in how “right” we are but rather, whether we have embraced God’s radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love for us and are allowing that love to be more than a concept, but also our way of doing life. Are we allowing the love that God has for us to flow through us to others? Are we allowing His love for us to awaken in us love for those around us, even our enemies?

This is a significant foundation to what it means to follow Jesus. Now, this week, I’d like you to consider who would fill the roles of this story if Jesus were to tell this story in the context of our religiosity today. Who would the Samaritan be in our contemporary Christian culture? Would it be a “pro-choicer” who may intellectually disagree with you on the issue of abortion but who is more loving to those around them than maybe some of us? Would it be a homosexual, which many Christians would look down on with disdain and consider to be a “sinner,” but who relates to others with a greater degree of radical selfless love than some of us? Or would it be someone of another denomination, or someone who disagrees on some area of theology that you consider to be of great significance, but who is allowing the radical love of the Kingdom to flow through him or her to others to a greater degree than you? We must allow Jesus’s story to confront us too.

And, lastly, who would the priest and Levite be? Who would it be who would play the role of being too busy with his own “religious” agenda to stop and become “unclean”?

I cannot escape the conclusion that what God is whispering to my heart this week is it would be me.

Something to think about this week for sure.

May God’s radical love become the basis of our deepest identity. But may it not simply define our theology, but also how each of us, as His follower, “does” our life. Are we doing life in a way that mimics God? Are we living the life of love? Are we being Jesus to the world around us, not just collectively, but on an individual basis as well? This is the question.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, and during this holiday season, keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.

Herb

December 6 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say (Luke 11.52–54).Last week we talked about Jesus’ accusation of the Pharisees, that they were only offering lip service to the prophets and what Jesus’ kingdom was truly about, but in their hearts they were truly hostile to it. These words are the harshest spoken by Jesus in the Gospels. This is not the way we see Him talking to those who have been abused by religion or who were outside of His kingdom. This is the way we find Him speaking to the religious leaders of His day, who were claiming to represent the Kingdom, but in all actuality were the greatest obstacle and barrier to folks actually attempting to enter the Kingdom. This distinction, I believe, is important. Too often, people misinterpret these harsh words and take them to mean that evangelism of the lost should be done with harsh denouncements of others and their sins. It would behoove us to remember that this is not how Jesus addressed those who were considered to be “sinners,” but rather those who considered themselves to be guides, leaders or teachers. You’ve got to imagine Jesus saying all of this with passionate tears and anger in His voice on behalf of those who have been hurt by the religion of His day.

There are three phrases in this week’s passage I’d like to look at as we close this series of eSights on the Woes of Luke 11: 1) You have taken away the key of knowledge; 2) you yourselves have not entered in; and 3) you have hindered those who were in the process of entering.

First let’s talk about this key of knowledge.

One of the key distinctions of the Gospel is that it actually sets you free. It’s not oppressive. It’s not bad news; it actually is good news that empowers you and changes you from the inside out. Many times, we can see in our day that the good news of the Gospel really has been twisted so that it is bad news. These perversions of God’s Word don’t bring light; they bring darkness. The truth of the Kingdom becomes obscured. It has a certain negative, oppressive, “gotta” or “should” ring to it. It shames people through legalism rather than empowering them to live out the radical Love of the Kingdom. All of this is rooted in a wrong picture of God. It has all the right terms and phrases, but at its heart is a fundamentally different picture of what God is like than the picture Jesus revealed and referred to as the “key of knowledge.”

What is this key? Our first clue is found in In John 5:39, where Jesus said, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but these are they that testify of Me.” If you have this key then you begin to see that Jesus is what all of the Scriptures are testifying of. Jesus is the lens through which we discover the truth about what God is like. He is “the exact representation” of what God’s character is (Hebrews 1:1–3). But if you do not have this key, if it is taken away, then you can search and study the scriptures all day long and miss all of this entirely. You study the Bible but you get distorted pictures of God, distorted theologies, and distorted views of salvation. And too often, in this context, the Bible becomes used as a weapon. (Completely misunderstanding what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6, some call it a sword; although Paul indeed refers to the Bible by this name, his intent in this passage is not that the Bible is to be used as a weapon against people; rather, our enemy, remember is not “flesh and blood.” In other words, if it has “flesh and blood” it’s not our enemy! The Bible is NEVER to be used as a sword or weapon on other “people”… ever.) When this happens, the Bible ends up leaving others with a jaded perception of itself and of God. What then is this key?

It’s found in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” The Greek word for ‘love’ in this passage, “agape,” indicates radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love. When this kind of love is rejected in theory or practice, we lose the very key that enables us to gain a correct knowledge of God and the Bible. This love is demonstrated in living form in the person of Jesus Christ. So one could say that this Key is Jesus Himself. Yet, remember that the reason this is true is that Jesus is the incarnate embodiment of what God really is—Love. And only by love is love awakened.

When this love is rejected, this true key is abandoned, we get a distorted view of all things related to God including His character, and in this process, we, in our rejection of love, refuse to enter into God’s kingdom of radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love and everything that flows out from our religiosity becomes a hindrance, a barrier, a hurdle to those God is drawing into His kingdom of love in spite of us. In John 1:9, Jesus is called the true light that gives light to everyone. He is right now drawing “all people” to Himself (John 12:32). Every person on Planet Earth is, at this very moment, being drawn toward God’s kingdom of other-centered love and if they do not resist, they will be drawn to the foot of the cross. The question we must answer, as those who claim to be followers of Jesus today, is: are we ourselves entering into this love, not just as a theology, but as the way we do life? Are we ourselves entering in or are we refusing to be drawn and, in our religiosity rather than love, in our religiosity that could very well be associated with “Jesus” in name only, are we—in our rejection of love and how we relate to others—hindering those who themselves are also being drawn?

Especially during this consumer-driven holiday season, may we, as followers of Jesus, be characterized by the other-centered, self-sacrificial love of our God. May His humble servant love be seen in us, and may we not be part of the hindrances that abound, but a help and even a conduit to the grand universal drawing of God’s love that is taking place all around us.

Happy Holidays to each of you.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ and building the kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb

November 28 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all” (Luke 11.47-51).Good news everyone! I’m back! Thanks for your patience during the months of October and November. The sixteen presentations of The Jesus Dialogue are now on our website, and my voice has recovered from the last two series in North Carolina and Northern California. It is so good to be back. I’ve missed you guys.

Let me encourage each of you to check out the new series online. We are getting such good feedback, and I trust you will be tremendously blessed as well.

Now, let’s get back to our study of Jesus’ words in Luke chapter 11. This will be our next to the last eSight on this chapter section. This week, we see Jesus reaching His climax.

He had been warning of the impending, but not unavoidable Woe that would be coming upon the abusive religious system of His day. He cautioned that if people remained unchanged, destruction would occur in AD 70. This quite possibly would be the final generation. The cumulative shed blood of all the prophets from the first in their sacred cannon (Able) to the last (Zechariah) was about to be accounted for. Sadly, history tells us that this is exactly what happened.

Jesus begins this section with a reference to the Pharisee’s building of tombs for the prophets. Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of a kind of “lip service” to the prophets. Yet in their hearts, they were actually aligned with the spirit that lead the original leaders of Israel to kill the prophets.

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.”

Have you ever felt like the religious environment around you is simply giving lip service to the gospel? That it carefully used all the right phrases and terms but remained antithetical to what the Gospel is really all about? We must be careful not simply to clothe our teachings in the terminology of the Gospel, but to allow the Gospel to actually reshape our teachings from the inside out.

We must make sure that our religious program and agenda is not just giving lip service to Jesus. The Pharisees “spoke” highly of the prophets and built tombs in their honor, but in their words and actions, they were part of the very paradigm that led their predecessors to murder the prophets. With their mouths, they spoke of honor while their hearts meditated on murder. They “spoke” highly of the prophets, but they were only months away from killing the Greatest Prophet ever sent to Israel, Yahweh Himself, in human flesh. Rather than allowing God to confront their religious system, they would reject God Himself to sustain and protect the system in which they had become so invested.

Today are we trying to make our religious agenda fit the true message and meaning of Christ’s kingdom of radical, self sacrificial, other-centered love, while engaging in a religious paradigm that is completely antithetical to this kingdom? Or are we really allowing Jesus and His teaching on the Kingdom to turn our religious agendas on their head. We cannot force Jesus’ teachings into our own religious program, and we cannot try to force Jesus to support not simply what we are doing, but how we are doing it as well, when too often He is saying just the opposite.

We cannot pretend to follow Jesus. We cannot ignore the contradiction when we see it. We must come to Jesus and His teaching with an honest heart, holding our religious agenda in an open hand, allowing Jesus to confront it. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken in this process, and what remains at the end will truly reflect the beauty of the Kingdom. We will no longer simply enlarge a religion, a denomination, or an institution; we will find ourselves, like Jesus, humbly and lovingly serving others, enlarging a Kingdom.

We must allow these words to confront us. It is a very scary thing when religious people are so sure that their agenda, program, and system are absolutely “right” when fundamentally, they are as far from the kingdom as imaginable.

That generation was held responsible for it all. In AD 70, it all came to an end. Those who had received the promise of being God’s people had rejected Him while giving Him lip service at the same time.

Wherever Jesus’ words find us this week, may God save us from the very same mistake.

I know these are solemn words. But in my heart of hearts I feel that this issue is one with which me must come to terms with ourselves as those who claim to be God’s people living today.

Thank you for listening with an open heart. I pray God’s spirit will usher us all into the glorious love, joy, peace, and beauty of His Kingdom.

Keep living in love and letting the love of the Kingdom transform everything we are about from the inside out.

I love you guys with all my heart,

Herb

October 3 Esight, 2011

One of the experts in the law answered Him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:45-46)First, I am on my way to Honolulu tonight to get ready for the new The Jesus Dialogue series and I’m so stoked I could almost pop. Never have I felt such clarity in thought. And I am so excited about this upcoming event. It begins this next Friday night (October 7)at the Honolulu Central SDA Church. Please make this series a priority in your prayer. I have never felt a series fit so perfectly together. It’s almost as if revealing the Character of the Father through the lens of the person of Jesus Christ was the emphasis our beliefs were to always have. It makes perfect sense and it works so seamlessly. In each presentation, as I’ve written them, God’s love keeps getting clearer and brighter each step of the way. It is my aim to publish each night’s presentation to the website each following day so we can share it with everyone. So, please partner with us in prayer, pray without ceasing with us, and keep an eye out on the website for it beginning next week.

But enough about that. Let’s get back to Luke 11. This week, I want to continue with verses 45 and 46.

Jesus has, up to this point in the passage, been directing His comments toward the Pharisees, but now we see Him changing His focus from the Pharisees to the Scribes. The Scribes were the law experts, the ones who interpreted the law for the Pharisees. The Pharisees simply applied the law; however, the scribes told them how to apply it. So the Scribes are the real culprits, the ones at the foundation of this religious environment Jesus is so vehemently opposed to in these passages.

To begin, notice that out of anything Jesus could have focused on, that this is what Jesus chose to point out first:

“You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry.”

Greek word here is phortizo, which was the verb used for loading boxes or cargo on ships. In other words, you are loading people down with thing after thing. Here’s another thing you need to do and here’s another and here’s another. Here’s an “ought,” here’s a “should,” here’s a “gotta do.” Imagine if you will, a person to be a cargo ship, and all their religious community’s endless religious rules are the cargo that they find themselves weighed down under.

Jesus was ministering in the midst of a religious environment that made following God difficult, while according to the words of Jesus, it was supposed to be easy.

By contrast, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30)

This is such a misunderstood subject. And before we dive into it, I want to just add at the beginning that if you find in your heart the tendency to lean more toward answering that following God IS difficult, then I would submit that to whatever degree we find this feeling inside of us, to that same degree we have not yet truly seen the God Jesus come to reveal to us.

But I can already hear someone out there bristling, “what about the struggle with the flesh?” If I can be open and honest for a second, too many times we become too preoccupied with “battling” our flesh. (I know I know, but don’t misunderstand me.) The flesh dies in the light of the Cross. Our self-centered bent becomes eradicated in us to the degree that we live in the light of the Cross. Now, of course this does not happen overnight and, yes, it is especially experienced in stages or degrees, but listen: The struggle should not be to fight the flesh, but to fight to keep our eyes on the love that streams from the cross of Calvary so the flesh remains dead! Wouldn’t it make sense to—instead of always going around wrestling with the fruit of our self-centeredness—to rather simply cut it off at the root? Doesn’t it make more sense to, instead of wrestling from the outside in, to go right to the heart of the matter and cut it off on the inside at its very core? This is what Paul wrote happens inside of us when we genuinely grasp what Calvary is whispering to us—the love that’s in God’s heart for us all.

The love of Christ controls us, having concluded that one died for all, we can reason that therefore all died; and He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for He who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

Did you catch it? “No longer live for ourselves.”

Does this mean we should never wrestle? No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that the more preoccupied we are with the revelation of God’s heart of radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love as revealed through the cross of Calvary, the easier our internal wrestling will be. Listen, none of us have arrived. Of this, I am sure. But something else that I am equally sure of is that when I, in my heart, am focusing on God’s heart for me, when I cease to be so preoccupied with getting God in my heart and I focus instead on seeing how deeply I am in the heart of God, every sacrifice I am called to make for the kingdom ceases to be a sacrifice and becomes a delight, every duty I am called to for the sake of the kingdom ceases to be a duty and becomes a pleasure.

Now again, Jesus was ministering in the midst of a religious environment that made following God difficult, while according to the words of Jesus, it was supposed to be easy.

What we have here are two contrasting realities. One which from the outside looks very hard but is actually easy, and the other which, if I can be honest, for most people is easy, but when we attach endless “religious” rules to it, make it much more difficult for folks.

First let me explain by what I mean by “from the outside looks hard but is actually easy.”

Listen, Paul’s life of living for the kingdom was, looking at it from the outside, hard! But if you were to look at what was going on in Paul’s heart in response to Jesus, you would see, really, it was the easiest thing in the world for him to love someone back who was so unselfish, so other centered, so beautiful, regardless of the cost to himself and with no thought of what he may have received in return.

Those who follow the opposite, which is the “actually easy but we make it hard” paradigm, are really in a spiritual prison where they receive life, value or security from either the rightness of their beliefs or the rightness of their behavior. (See last week’s eSight.) That’s what makes it hard. No matter how many beliefs they have piled up or how many rules they have, it just never seems to be enough. This kind of religiosity is very hard.

Two things I’ve noticed with these folks are that usually, if you look carefully enough, you find they believe some really strange things that puts them in a minority, a special group of people, where only they believe this way, because they actually are getting life or value, or self worth, or a sense of eternal security from believing this way. (I like to remind those who really believe they are right about some unique doctrinal position, that, if it’s true, the Devil too must know and believe this but it doesn’t do Him any intrinsic good. Only when we allow right doctrinal facts to lead us to the truth of a right understanding of God’s love for us, does the rightness of our belief ever have any intrinsic value and relevance.)

Also, I’ve noticed that these folks tend to degrade what following Jesus really means in the realm of lifestyle. They begin to characterize rightness of behavior as “I don’t listen to this type of music,” “I don’t eat these certain foods,” “I don’t wear this type of clothing or adornment,” and the like. (Now I can already hear it, some of you do have strong opinions about what is right or wrong in these categories, and listen to me, I do too, but hear what I am saying.) It is much more attainable through reliance on our own willpower not to eat certain foods, not to listen to certain music, and not to wear certain attire than it is to actually love your enemies, give all your possessions to the poor, and throw parties in our homes for those who materially have nothing (see Luke 14:12-14).

Because these folks are receiving self worth, value, or eternal security from the rightness of their behavior, there is a tendency with many, sometimes without their even realizing it, to belittle what it means to follow Jesus to a matter of simple externals. Now, to escape any possibility of having to deal with the emotions of failure when so much is at stake, they tend to degrade following Jesus to a level that they themselves can reach with simply the strength of their own will power. They can do it. Now it is hard. But it’s just hard enough to give them a sense of value and worth for actually achieving that behavior, but it’s not so hard that they can’t do it. Jesus would disrupt the lives of people who were invested in this type of religiosity. “You want to play this game, fine, go sell everything you have and give the money away to the poor. You want to get worth or security from your behavior? Here’s where the standard really is—good luck with that!” I call this kind of religiosity “easy” because that compared to what God’s kingdom really is about, what I eat, what I listen to, and what I wear are a breeze! These are actually the very things that people in our secular world do quite easily. Watching your diet is a secular health trend right now. Some folks actually prefer one music already over another. And I’ve noticed in my area, even folks who aren’t religious are very simple or humble in their appearance, and none of this is for religious reasons at all. These are actions even sections of our secular populations do, and for them it’s EASY! In reality, when you truly grasp what Jesus actually was teaching, Jesus lifts the standard so high that it would take a miracle for us to live that way, but then shows us such an incredible love that we find ourselves genuinely desiring to live that life of other-centered love. We begin to witness it actually coming from, not ourselves, but the strange work that Jesus himself is doing in our innermost heart.

Again, we have two realities. One that on the outside looks very difficult but is actually made easy, and it’s opposite, the paradigm where we find ourselves doing things from a religious motive that most people would find easy, but because we attach religiosity to it, it becomes difficult.

This second paradigm actually does damage to people’s perception—both within religious communities and without—of what it really means to follow Jesus. These types of religious environments burden their adherents with “here’s an ‘ought,’” “here’s a ‘should,’” “here’s a ‘gotta do.’” They load people down and they exhaust them.

Instead Jesus calls us to live in a way that on the outside, to the natural heart, looks extremely difficult if not impossible, but through the revelation of his love, changes us from the inside out and makes it all easy.

Let me wrap it all up this week.

In summary, what Jesus is doing with rebuking the Scribes in the opening passage is condemning religious environments that simply want to look good or holy by having a people who look good, according to their standards, so they give them all these things to “carry.” They simply load people down and exhaust people with thing after thing after thing and don’t do a thing to help people carry it all. Environments like these tend to care more about religious rules than people. They pile on the rules even though people are dying, they tend to control people with their rules, and ultimately they tend to exhaust people. (If you’ve ever come out of this kind of religious paradigm you know as well as I do that one of the main ways that environments try to control you is by shame, fear, and intimidation.)

By contrast, Jesus really does give rest to people. Instead of exhausting those He came in contact with, He empowered them. To Jesus, people mattered more than all the religious rules. Jesus would heal people on the Sabbath, feed people on the Sabbath, affirm a lady who was bleeding for touching Him. He’d embrace lepers. It was almost as if Jesus looked for anywhere where there was a religious taboo that placed religious rules above concern for people—the very people He loved and came to die for—and He goes out of His way, with extravagantly overt and public methods to break the taboo because people come first! (In our Christian culture, the more I read about Jesus and understand the culture in which He was ministering, the more clearly I begin to see how radical Jesus, His picture of God, and His teaching of how we are to follow that kind of God really were and continue to be today.)

We, too, then as followers of Jesus must begin to create religious environments where people feel genuine rest for their souls: environments that, through the same revelation of God that we find in Jesus, empower people to embrace a life of other-centered love; environments that, through the revelation of who God really is and what dwells in His heart for you, genuinely empower people to live other-centered lives; in light of what Jesus so strongly said to this Scribe, environments that care more about people than they do about loading people down with thing after thing; and in the areas where rules are needed, environments where the rules that do exist genuinely reflect the intrinsic nature of reality rather than simply being another form of imposed religiosity. We must begin to create religious environments that care more about helping people than exhausting people—environments that seek be a living corporate demonstration of God’s love for this world.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this week’s eSight. Please keep this upcoming series in your prayers. And in the light of God’s extravagant unbounded love for the evil as well as the good, this week, live a life of that kind of love. Love like the sun shines and like rain falls. (Matthew 5:44-45) Love like Christ, and keep building the kingdom.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week,

Herb

September 14 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” (Luke 11:44)This is an interesting word picture. In the first century, if you were a Jew, and you walked on someone’s grave, even if you did it accidentally, you were considered unclean for a week.

What Jesus is saying here is that one of the elements of an unhealthy religious community is that it claims to make people clean, save them, and set them free. Yet in reality, it’s full of unmarked death and actually enslaves people, makes them sicker, wounds them, brings them into even greater bondage, and makes them even more lost—without them even knowing it! There is a level of being “oblivious” to it all; there is an “unknown” quality to it. This happens often in religious environments because of their very nature. First, Jesus did not come to call us to join a religion. He called us to a way of life: the way of love. Secondly, religion to some looks very good. It looks like the right thing to do. But if we are not careful, that which we think is helping us can really be doing greater harm. We can be in a religious environment that is actually pushing us farther from the Kingdom while making us feel as if we are “being saved”, being made whole or clean, or being made healthier.

Let me explain.

I want to be clear from the very beginning about what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that having the right beliefs isn’t important. Certainly, our beliefs shape our understanding of God and His love (i.e., His character) and are therefore extremely important and relevant. Secondly, I’m NOT saying that right behavior is not important. There are many self-destructive behaviors that God wants to set us free from. What I AM talking about is the reality that too often in religious environments, worth, value, security, acceptance, belonging, and life are bestowed upon people on the basis of the rightness of their belief or behavior. (We’ve discussed basing our acceptance of others on the rightness of their behavior elsewhere, so this week I’d like to discuss briefly the problem with basing our acceptance of people on the rightness of their belief.)

I want you to consider something that, for years, I have been reluctant to share because when I do, it always seems to be misunderstood. Within the last twelve months though, it struck me right between the eyes once again. In Genesis 2 and 3, the fall of man centered on believing a lie about the kind of person God actually is. But the actual “act” that we call “the fall” was an independent effort to obtain LIFE from knowing the difference between “good and evil.” The options were either to eat (gain life) from the tree of life or gain life from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, God wants us to be able to discern the difference between what is good and what is harmful. But this isn’t what this story is about. There is a difference between knowing the difference between what is good and what is evil and actually endeavoring to get LIFE from that knowledge.

When it comes to the rightness of your beliefs, is it being correct in your beliefs that is going to determine whether you are saved or lost in the end, or is God Himself your Savior? You see, when we base someone’s eternal destiny simply on what they intellectually believe, doctrinal or otherwise, we are inadvertently supplanting the place that God alone is to hold and exalting doctrinal beliefs to the place of “savior”. Is it important to have right beliefs? Absolutely! But what we are talking about is deriving worth, acceptance, belonging, assurance of salvation, or LIFE from the rightness of your belief instead of Jesus and the Cross.

The difference is so subtle, but the result is HUGE. You see, in an effort to share Biblical facts with others, we must be careful not exalt those facts to a place of determining who is in or who is out. The center of any healthy kingdom community is Jesus. And what we believe grows out of following Him who is at the center of all we are to be about. What determines whether someone is “in” or “out” of God’s kingdom, according to Jesus, is always their heart orientation to HIM, not their intellectual position on certain facts. (An example of this is the thief on the cross. Jesus saw the orientation of this man’s heart toward Him. He didn’t give him a questionnaire about what he believed. Jesus saw the orientation of the man’s heart and simply whispered to him, “Welcome to the Kingdom.”)

I know this may challenge a few of us. I’m challenged by it too. But if we do not begin to make this distinction, we are in danger of also becoming “unmarked graves” that claim to set people free by introducing a clearer knowledge of the Bible while actually polluting them even more by supplanting the position only Jesus is to hold in their lives and replacing it with something that looks on the surface to be correct. It is something that is very right, but in the very wrong place.

In contrast, Jesus really did heal people. He brought them life. He made people whole. He made people clean. And He has given us the authority, through the revelation of His love, to do the same.

Whenever a community bestows worth or value on others based upon the rightness of their beliefs or the rightness of their behavior, they inescapably become a community described as an unmarked grave. It wounds people often without being aware of what it is doing.

Let me close with this: As followers of Jesus, we have failed to understand and internalize the biblical teaching that our fundamental sin is not our “evil,” as though the solution to sin was being good. Rather, the issue was trying to obtain LIFE from the knowledge of good or evil. Our fundamental sin is that we place ourselves in the position of God and divide ourselves and others based on what we evaluate as evil or good. In the garden, we were not content to simply love like God (Genesis 1:26); we desired also to be able to judge as only God can. This obtaining for ourselves and bestowing upon others LIFE based on our ability to evaluate good and evil is the primary thing that keeps us from doing the central thing God created and saved us to do—namely, love like He loves. I can hear some already. Living in this love in no way implies moral relativism. Certainly there are contexts in which it is appropriate and necessary to share with others and even confront others with our detection of the impact of evil in their lives. (Sadly, we as Christians have specialized and become known for doing this in the wrong contexts and in completely and utterly inappropriate ways.) But remember, even in the appropriate contexts, we are not to derive any worth, value, assurance, or LIFE from our discernment of good and evil. We are not to EAT (an effort to get life) from the ability to discern what is good or evil. Nor are we to draw conclusions ABOUT PEOPLE on the basis of it. We are to derive worth, value, security, assurance, salvation, and LIFE from a very different tree—the Cross of Jesus alone. And we are to love without evaluating others and without conditions. God’s original purpose and the goal of the restorative work of Jesus is to bring us back to Eden where we once again love without evaluation, without judgment, and without conditions. (Matthew 5:44, 45: If they are breathing the same air as us, we are called to love them.) Again, Jesus calls us not to a religion, but to LOVE.

I think that’s enough to ponder for this week. As always, I’m always open to questions, and there is always room for clarification.

I love you guys, and God does too!

In the light of how God loves us, keep loving like the sun and loving like rain. (Matthew 5:44, 45)

Now go build the Kingdom.

Herb

August 31 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.” — Luke 11.43This week, we are continuing our study of Jesus’ woes to the religious leadership of His day and the religious environment they had created. We are going to be looking at Verse 43 of Chapter 11 of Luke’s gospel. However, in order to fully understand the full impact of Jesus’ rebuke, we need to understand another statement by Jesus said elsewhere about the nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish.

“And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22.24-27)

As followers of Jesus and this new kingdom, we are called not to a position of feeling superior to others, but rather of coming under, loving, serving and blessing all with whom we come in contact.

A sign of a healthy “kingdom” environment is first and foremost humility, or a sense of “all ye are brethren” (or sisters) spirit. No one is better than another. If anything, others are considered greater than oneself. There is a spirit of equality and humility and simply a desire to help and bless each other. The ground at the foot of the cross is level—perfectly level. Furthermore, no one has any right to be a “lord” over anyone else. Again, we are all called to come under each other and to serve and to love one another.

This may not be very apparent, but this is so central to the kingdom Jesus came to establish. No one is supposed to feel superior to anyone else. Sadly, this is the single greatest criticism against Christians in our culture today. The term or title given us is hypocritical, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that it’s more than simply holding high a standard that no one is actually practicing (the common cultural definition of hypocrisy.) What is meant by most by the term “hypocrisy” in our culture is that someone possesses a feeling of moral superiority to others, especially those outside the church, which is a fundamental violation of the basic principles of love and acceptance that Christ’s kingdom is to espouse. This lack of humility, this feeling of moral superiority—as if we are better than others, even those who are not Christians—indicates we truly are not walking in harmony with the basic principles of the very kingdom of which we claim to be a part.

In this passage specifically, Jesus is addressing a religious environment where things were very unhealthy, even toxic. Listen closely to what Jesus is actually saying here.

You love being a leader. You love everyone knowing you’re a leader. You love obtaining those privileged positions when you go to church. Or, you need everyone to know that you are a leader. Whatever you position of leadership is, you are not using that position to serve, but to feed something inside yourself. You love recognition and the prestige of your position. You feed off of the congregation rather than feeding, serving, and giving of yourself TO the congregation. You place inordinate stress on your position. You tend to demand rather than earn others’ respect. You also demand compliance with your own opinions, rather than giving freedom to people to grow or simply to disagree. It’s sick, sick, sick. Again, look closely:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.” (Luke 20.46)

“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23.6)

Jesus is saying here, “Don’t go sitting in the privileged seats of honor. Serve instead of being served.” Jesus turns dysfunctional religious environments on their heads. He is saying, “I don’t what anyone being put up on a pedestal in My kingdom. That’s NOT what My kingdom is about.” Respect is one thing, and respect is fine, but there are to be no celebrities in the kingdom of God. Leaders in the kingdom established by Jesus are to take measures to make sure that other people don’t put them up on a pedestal.

Why?

Because all of this presupposes and communicates to others a completely inaccurate picture of God and the kind of being He really is. God is god, not because He is the most powerful entity in the sense of might and “power over” strength. God is god because out of everyone in the universe, He serves all. He is the most powerful in His ability to come under all and serve all. His might is in His ability to love, bless and care for everyone. His strength is in His complete other-centeredness.

Secondly, God bestows value and worth to people NOT based on their labels, titles, positions, race, color, or gender. He loves all individuals equally, unconditionally, and esteems each one, as being of enough worth to risk heaven and even His own existence on. He died for all. Yes, some may be more talented than others, or more gifted, but all talents, gifts and abilities—whether used for good or bad—are talents given by God. (I wish we had time to discuss how this affects our view of the arts, as well as what I call the Hollywood syndrome in our culture today, but I believe first we must address this same attitude in our religious communities before we can change the world around us).

A central element of any environment that truly embraces the kingdom is humility, rather than superiority. Again, if anything, we must go even beyond equality and consider others as being better than ourselves. Notice how the Apostle Paul applied what Christ’s kingdom is all about in the following passage:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2.1-4)

Again, note Paul’s complete lack of any feeling of superiority in his letter to Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”f (1 Timothy 1.15 )

This is not hypocrisy. It’s honesty, and it’s humility.

Again, Jesus’s own words to those who felt morally superior to others in His day.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.” (Luke 6.41-42)

Jesus is calling each of us to be a part of a kingdom where we ALL serve in different roles, but we are ALL serving and, as the ones God came and died for, we are ALL equal, regardless of gender, race, position, or belief.

Let me close this week with the words of the Apostle John.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3.14)

If you have ever been offended by someone who claims to follow Jesus because of an air of superiority he or she possessed, let me apologize. This is not what Jesus is all about, and I’m deeply sorry.

May each of you not covet position, title, recognition or privilege, but rather, in light of God’s love for us all, begin ascribing to others the infinite worth that Calvary gives them. May we, as followers of Jesus, be known not as hypocrites, but as those whose chief desire is to help, bless, serve and simply love others.

Keep living in love, my friends, and loving like Christ. Thank you for reading this and for your support of Renewed Heart Ministries.

I love you guys—keep building the Kingdom.

Herb

August 22 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Luke 11.42This week, as we continue through Luke 11, we are going to be looking at Jesus’ first “Woe” to the leadership of Israel in His day. I believe that for us, as followers of Jesus today, this passage serves as a warning of what type of religious environment not to participate in producing.

First I want to look at this word: “woe.” It is a declaration of impending judgment. But this is not necessarily about an eternal judgment. Jesus here is most likely not referring to the modern Christian idea of Hell, but rather to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which would take place in 70 A.D. He is referring to the destruction of an entire religious system. That system was infested with religious cancer, and if things did not change, it would be done away with. The picture of God and His character that was being presented to the world by that religious system was the exact opposite of what was really true about God. This is not to say that there is not an ultimate judgment, but that in this passage, Jesus is not talking about the ultimate judgment per say.

Something else we need to understand is that Jesus’ “woes” in these passages were not about inevitable doom. Most of Biblical Prophecy is NOT predictive but rather prescriptive. Follow closely: The Greeks held an “inevitable” view of prophecy. They sought out oracles to tell them their future. Their idea was that the future was fixed. They were fatalistic; that is, they believed things would happen as they were predicted, no matter what. They viewed prophecy as predictive. (We are in danger of doing this today as well.) This was not the Jewish understanding of prophecy. On the whole, God, through the Hebrew prophets used prophecy not primarily as predictive but as prescriptive. Let me explain. God often, in prophecy, is simply sharing what is going to happen if the present course is not changed. On the whole, when God would say that something was going to happen, it was so people would change their behavior and so that what was prophesied would not happen. We can see this exemplified in Jesus’ words to Peter about his future denial. Once Jesus said that Peter would deny Him three times, Peter did not have to do it. The whole reason Jesus shared this with Peter was so that Peter would change his course and the denial would never take place. (See also Jeremiah 18:5-9 for another example.) The Jews did not view prophecy as predictive per say, as the Greeks did, but rather as prescriptive. Now, this is not to say the prophecy is never predictive, but rather simply stating that most of the time it is not predictive. This point, I believe cannot be overemphasized. Today, we have many folks trying to figure out every last detail of end time events, pouring over the Book of Revelation and Daniel, trying to pinpoint the chronology of the closing events of this world’s history. And honestly, it is almost like spiritual caffeine. It gets you all pumped up at first, but then when it wears off it leaves you lower spiritually than when you first began. The point of all prophecy is to know, not the exact order of all future events, but rather, to know Him in whom you have believed, so that no matter how things end up, you are in a reconciling relationship with God.

Lastly this week, I want to focus on what it was that Jesus actually condemned in the Pharisees’ religious system. This first woe is centered on their focus on externals (which we have looked at in the past five eSights) and their “majoring” in the minors. You see, they were producing a religious environment that focused on the “dos and the don’ts” of behaviors, which led them to place great significance on matters of little importance while giving little emphasis to matters of significant importance. In short, their focus led them to a place where they could not see the forest for the trees. The example Jesus gave was that they were giving a tenth of their mint, rue and other garden herbs, which held a very low—if not the lowest—economic, “marketplace” value in their culture. The economic value was almost insignificant, but they were very strict in paying a tenth on this amount, though it was so small. At the same time, they were ignoring justice toward others and love toward God. You see, they were giving great attention to detail in things that really were of minor significance, while they were completely ignoring the big stuff.

Now I want to be careful here. There is a sense in which all sin is sin, in which all things are equal. This is especially true under the “imposed” paradigm. (For more on this topic, see the presentation on our website, entitled Intrinsic or Imposed.) But under the intrinsic paradigm, not all sins are equal. Not all sins set in motion the same intrinsic destructive force. Some sins cause more intrinsic damage than others. The point here is that the Pharisees were creating a religious environment where things of minor significance were focused on with great conscientiousness, while things of great significance (acting justly toward other people; being the guardians of fairness and equality, so that no one was violated; and holding love toward God as the sum total of all they were about) were grossly ignored.

I want to be clear. Jesus was not condemning their great conscientiousness. Rather, He was condemning their directing greater conscientiousness to matters of little importance while ignoring things that were of infinite importance.

One of the insights Jesus gives us is that He brings to us a sense of perspective and balance. He had a sense of prioritizing things. He taught that if you love God and love your neighbor, you are going to fulfill the whole law. Jesus could distinguish the center from the parameter. (And He largely ignored external behaviors and dealt almost exclusively with matters of the heart.) To the Pharisees, everything was equally important. But to Jesus, there was, again, perspective.

Today, as followers of Jesus, we, too, must create spiritual environments that major in the majors, and minor in the minors. We must produce—in light of the last few eSights—environments that focus on the heart rather than trying to control people’s outward behavior. But we must also focus on matters that are truly major with the same perspective that Jesus possessed. We must begin to use the same sense of prioritizing that Jesus demonstrated. And what is the most significant matter—also the deepest matter of the heart—that we can focus our attention on? I believe the matter of greatest importance—one which Jesus spent the majority of His effort trying to affect—is that matter of answering the questions, “What is your heart-level understanding and picture of God’s Character and what He thinks and feels toward you? What kind of person is God; and given this, what is in His inmost heart toward you?” Only when this is answered will we be able to help others see the truth about who our Heavenly Father is, too.

We will continue with verse 43 next week.

Keep living in love and loving like Christ.

I love you, guys; now go build the kingdom.

Herb

August 8 Esight, 2011

“But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.” – Luke 11.41For the past four eSights, we have been looking at the first part of the dialogue here between Jesus and the leadership of Israel. This week I’d like us to turn our attention to Jesus’ mention of giving that which is “within” as charity, and thus, “all things” would thereby be made clean.

We have discussed, from four different perspectives, why a religious system or environment that places more emphasis and importance on the outside of people’s cups, rather than the inside of people’s cups, is dangerous and religiously and relationally destructive. We have seen, based on four different reasons, how damaging an outward, external, performance-based, behaviorist emphasis and focus can be. In contrast, we have also seen the life-giving, intrinsic ability an environment that places greater importance and emphasis on what is taking place on the insides of people, their hearts, has as well. With this background, notice this week how Jesus drove the point home. His message to this Pharisee is to focus on that which is with and all things, both the things that are within as well as those which are without will be clean. How do you get the cup clean? The irony is twofold. Forget about the outside and focus on the inside. BUT, forget about getting yourself clean as well, and just give everything you do have away!!! Clean or dirty, stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on giving to others! This approach, according to Jesus, will accomplish the cleansing we desire, while our attention is focused in an entirely different direction. Stop worrying about getting clean and just go help someone!

I know this raises some questions. First, I’m not saying that “getting clean” isn’t important. What I am saying is that the kingdom is many times very messy first. It’s only when we stop worrying about whether we ourselves are measuring up to being “clean,” or we stop analyzing how others are measuring up to our own “clean” standards, and we simply start giving away whatever we do have, clean or dirty, to help others?only then do we really start experiencing what the kingdom calls “clean.” You see, in an outwardly focused, external, performance-based religion, sometimes we get misfocused on what I like to call false pollutants. We make a big deal for ourselves and for others out of the externals. But the “clean” that the kingdom wants to give us, is too often not about externals. It’s about the conversion from the pollutant of self-centeredness to the purity of other-centeredness. The real pollutant that the kingdom wants to uproot and take out of our lives as followers of Jesus is the pollutant of focusing on ourselves rather than on the needs of others. A person can be very religious, but be doing all of the external, outward stuff only out of concern for changing their “salv-a-meter” from the “lost” position to the “saved.” (I wrote about this at the beginning of this year in the eSight about “being good” vs. “doing good”; you may want to check that out as well, if you’re scratching your head right now.) Jesus spoke of this in other places as well:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.—Luke 9.24

If your focus is on yourself, it’s no good. This is precisely what Jesus is endeavoring to save us from.

And this leads me to my final thought this week on giving away to others whatever you have, clean or dirty, as “charity.” (Remember, you don’t have to get all cleaned up for God to be able to use you to bless others. His blessing others through you is the very thing that cleans us up.)

The Greek word here for charity is Eleemosune. And the best way for me, I think, to share with you the nuance of this word’s meaning is to translate it into the phrase “disinterested benevolence.” This is the very essence of what God is. It’s one of the most powerful qualities of His love. Disinterested benevolence is kindness given to others, with no interest in personal reward or what you may get back in return. It’s giving just to give. This is most clearly shown in the most well-known but also most misunderstood verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

God so loved that He gave. He gave everything He had, with no thought of getting anything back for Himself. It’s a giving with no strings attached! It’s giving for the sake of giving. It’s a completely other-centered, selfless style of giving. (I encourage you to also take advantage of the presentation on our website entitled Love, Give, Believe for further explanation of this concept. I believe you can find it on our Sermon of the Month page. If not, email me and I’ll send it to you.) It’s what Jesus was referring to when He said to “give, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). It’s what Jesus exemplified when He healed ten lepers (Luke 17), and even though only one came back and said “thank you,” they were all healed nonetheless.

But how do we give away what’s inside of ourselves, clean or dirty, in the spirit of the disinterested benevolence that is the very heart, soul, and foundation of this new kingdom? Well, in short, we can’t. All you can do is first, let go of trying to clean yourself up from the outside in, and second, place all of your effort on seeing, understanding, and believing in God’s disinterested benevolence toward YOU! Because when, and only when, His love for you reaches your heart, love in your heart will be awakened for those around you. You can’t exercise disinterested benevolence toward others by simply trying to. (If this were possible, you wouldn’t need a Savior at all.) What we need is to encounter God’s disinterested benevolence for ourselves. To see it and believe it! To embrace it! To bask in it! To walk? no, run ?in the expanse of it! For when this happens, by God’s disinterested benevolence toward us, disinterested benevolence toward others will be awakened making us . . . Clean!

We only love, because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. For whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7,8.

And where do we find God’s disinterested benevolence shining forth in its clearest rays?

Calvary. What I am convinced we must see is God’s disinterested benevolence, as it’s revealed on the Cross, for anything inside of us to become clean. But once it does, we will also desire to no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who loved us so selflessly, and we will desire to live for everyone else too as we embrace the value and worth that Calvary also ascribes to them, as well. This is what it means to be clean from the inside out. To actually care about and live for the benefit of others over and above one’s self. In encountering the giving heart of God, His disinterested benevolence, as revealed through the cross of Calvary, we cease to be so focused on ourselves and we begin to live the life of giving away to others whatever we have, clean or dirty, to help and to bless them.

This is getting clean from the inside out. And it’s what Jesus was all about.

Well, once again, I think I’ve given you enough to ponder for this week.

Keep basking in God’s disinterested benevolence toward you this week as revealed through the cross of Calvary. Let it change how you interpret everything you previously thought the cross was all about. Keep living in that love and loving like Christ.

I love you guys. I’ll see you next week. Go build the kingdom.

August 1 Esight, 2011

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him,”Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.” Luke 11.37-41This week, I would like to conclude my thoughts on religious systems that place a greater emphasis and importance on the outside of the cup versus the inside of the cup in order that we may move on next week to what I believe Jesus meant by giving that which is within, on the inside of the cup, as charity, so that both the inside and the outside of our cups are clean.

To wrap up, I wish to discuss my third reason for believing that these types of religious environments are dangerous and spiritually destructive, namely that they breed people who focus more on other people’s outer appearances than on what is taking place inside of them. There are countless beautiful people on this planet; if we, as Christians, can, like Jesus, ignore what is occurring on the outside and look into their hearts, we will see who they really are inside. In addition, if we do not begin to place a greater emphasis on the insides of other people’s cups, rather than on their outsides, then we will continue to make those who come into contact with us feel as though we care more about their outer appearance than about THEM. Let me give you an example:

Recently, I bumped into a dear sister, who had decided to visit a church in her area that took a strong stance against wearing any outward adornment. I belong to a denomination that has historically taken a strong position against certain forms of outward adornment, but strangely enough, ignores others. Thus, I possess first-hand knowledge of the head-space of the interpretation of some of Paul’s and Peter’s statements. Let me briefly share some of the relevant background with you.

In Paul’s letter to the Timothy, we find the following words:

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 1Timothy 2.8-10

What I find odd about those who take a strong position on this text is that those individuals with whom I have come into contact reject the parts regarding lifting up hands when they pray. They also ignore the prohibition of braiding hair or wearing expensive garments. Yet they take the sections about gold and pearls very seriously. How they know which portions of this text should be taken as timeless truths that are valid in all ages, situations, and cultures and which parts should be interpreted to apply only to Paul’s day and situation, at the very least, makes me scratch my head. But before we look at what I believe Paul is actually saying in this text, let us add Peter’s comments as well:

Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1Peter 3.3-4

Peter’s words make it extremely clear. Like Jesus, Peter warns us here of the same focus and emphasis, of the danger of placing more importance on the outside of our cups versus the inside. He is applying the principle to his situation in his day, but the principle remains the same in all ages. As followers of Jesus, we are called upon to place greater importance and emphasis upon the inside of our cups than upon our outsides. We are not to content ourselves with merely looking as though we have it all together. We are to allow God’s healing work to enter first and foremost into the inside of our cups.

Yet, there are some religious environments in which these passages are taken and utilized for the exact opposite purpose. Continuing to fixate on the outside of the cup, wearing earrings, rings, necklaces, and the like is strictly prohibited (meanwhile, gold broaches or pins with pearls and hair clips are acceptable, which still leaves me scratching my head), while everything else in Paul’s and Peter’s statements is forgotten. In other words, if you were to show up in one of these environments wearing one of these prohibited items, the people in the environments that I have witnessed would, for a minute, fail to notice what was going on within you. All that they would see is what you were wearing on the “outside,” which would greatly impact the manner in which they treated you. In other words, these environments utilize the very words that Paul and Peter wrote in order to help people focus more on the INSIDE of their cups so as to place a greater emphasis and importance on the OUTSIDE of people’s cups! This interpretation is clearly a gross misunderstanding of Paul’s and Peter’s true intention. These texts become the foundation of systems that place a greater emphasis and importance upon external, outward, performance-based religion, when, in fact, these statements were intended to bring about just the opposite in environments and situations in which more emphasis and importance was being placed upon outward appearances than upon matters of the heart, upon the inside of their cups rather than the outside. Such religious environments take these texts and turn them upon their heads, employing them for a completely different purpose than for which they were written.

Let us return to the example of my dear friend. She showed up to church one weekend wearing earrings and was met in the foyer by one of the saints, who informed her that if she desired to “wear that idolatry on her ears, then there was a church down the road where she would be more welcome.” My heart broke when I heard this story.

Picture for a minute the crowd that would be attracted to Jesus, knowing what you know of Him, if He were to show up in our day. I imagine not just prostitutes, but folks with piercings and tattoos, on the one hand, and tax collectors or the very wealthy on the other. BOTH would be in the crowd. Now, just ponder for a moment what Jesus would notice about the crowd. Would He focus upon the outside of their cups or upon what is taking place within their cups? What would He try to affect? What would receive His focus and emphasis? Would those gathered there feel as though He were placing a greater emphasis upon their outward appearances, valuing this above their own intrinsic worth and value? What would they feel really mattered to Him? And, in addition, what would be going on in the hearts of all of those who place a greater emphasis upon the outside of people’s cups as they look around at those who are attracted to Jesus?

The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Luke 5:30-31

Again, these types of religious systems presume a picture of a God who places greater emphasis and importance upon individuals’ outward appearances than upon their insides and attempt to pass this picture on to others. This representation is one of a God who cares more about what people look like than about who they really are.

I was introduced to a system like this 19 years ago as a teenager. Rather than being repulsed by it, I was extremely impressionable, swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. I cut my hair. I threw away half of my clothes. On the outside, externally, I went through dramatic and drastic changes. The transitions during those years were violent and extreme in every new direction. But on the inside, I remained lost, broken, and in need of a Savior. Externally, I may have appeared to be perfect. But internally, I was an extreme train wreck. And my picture of God was such that I did not feel as though He really cared about me; instead, I thought He cared only for my appearance, my diet, my intellectual beliefs, my externals. This period began a spiritually and religiously self-destructive two- year journey from which God finally saved me by means of a very private revelation of who He really was and of His unconditional, no-strings-attached love for ME above all else.

Let me close this week by challenging you to ponder the kind of environment that our churches must become in order to convey to others that what matters most to us is what is taking place on the inside of their cups rather than on the outside. The kind of environment in which people clearly matter first and foremost as who they are within themselves, in which people actually can feel from us the worth that Calvary ascribes to them, in which they can sense that the God of this universe cared so much for them that He was willing to die for THEM, regardless of their “outsides.” And lastly, I invite you to ponder the kind of picture of God that we must embrace in order to produce this type of environment. I propose to you this week that the kind of picture that each of us, including myself, must embrace is the exact representation of God that we find in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ becomes the center of everything we believe about God, when the Old Testament God is held subject to the Jesus-looking God, instead of the other way around, then, I believe, the followers of Jesus will be radically altered. We won’t merely be Biblical; we will be true followers of Jesus.

Once again, I have certainly given you a great deal to think about this week. May our picture of God continue to be ever more strongly influenced by the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and intercession of our Lord, Savior, Friend, and Lover, Jesus Christ.

Next week, we will turn to what it means to actually emphasize the inside of our cups, giving what lies within away as charity.

Keep basking in God’s unconditional love for you this week. Continue living in that love as it is expressed to others, loving like Christ.

I love you guys. Now go build the kingdom.