English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, “God loves you” can sound patronizing and meaningless because, in my experience, Christian culture often seems to be on a mission to minimize human value.

For example, suppose you increase sales at work, or write a fantastic term paper, or run a great Sunday school class. Some would say that you had nothing to do with it, that it’s simply “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” is the mantra of many Christians. But I rarely hear the rest of that verse in the same breath. “…and [all] are justified freely by his grace” through Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). So it’s easy to conclude that humanity has little value or anything worth celebrating in God’s eyes.

Yet Scripture consistently reaffirms human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ earthly mission was to restore to mankind God’s vision of worth and to give his own life to defend it by abolishing spiritual Death.

You can tell what’s valuable by what people celebrate or the way they behave when something’s lost. What do you do when you can’t find your keys or wallet? Likewise, you can tell what God values. In Luke 15, Jesus illustrates this with three consecutive parables, so it must be an important point. (more…)

English: Tiger jumping through flaming hoops, ...We’ve been following Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, learning about 6 sinful habits universal to all people that sabotage love and good will. By gradually “gouging” them out and incorporating 6 new habits, a more loving heart, mind, behavior, and relationships become the new normal.

In Bible-speak, it’s called repentance. It’s a cumulative process, not a one-time thing, which requires intention and practice, or “abiding in me,” as Jesus put it.

We’ve reviewed 4 of the 6 sinful habits so far: willful anger/contempt, spiritual adultery/divorce from God/obsessing over others, swearing/insistence, and score-keeping/payback. The corresponding new habits are: mercy (Step 1), keeping our eyes to ourselves (Step 2), letting Yes be yes and No be no (Step 3), and embracing a gracious, debt-free mentality (Step 4).

Like building a house, each step ties to the previous ones and presumes they’re in place. The Sermon isn’t random; it’s a brilliant, divinely planned strategy to make good will easier and smarter, not harder.

So the 5th destructive habit is worry over outer appearance, i.e., image and reputation, getting notice and applause, trying to impress. At this stage of spiritual re-formation, people who aren’t habitually angry, aren’t obsessed with everyone else’s faults, have no need to swear to manipulate opinions, and can spiritually afford debt-free thinking won’t find this too difficult. They’ve already substantially overcome the underlying evils that cause it. (more…)

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I just discovered that March 2 is one of those obscure holidays that sound made up by a third-grader: Old Stuff Day. Apparently, it’s about not saying or doing the same-old-same-old and doing something new and different. (In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, maybe someone should rename it New Stuff Day.)

Jesus has his own version of Old Stuff Day, except his is for a lifetime.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luk. 12:32-33)

Instead of the same old view of this verse, I suggest that Jesus intended something different:

1.) While most people have assumed that the kingdom of heaven is primarily about dying and the hereafter, it’s primarily about life to the full here and now. Jesus offered a new vision of kingdom living in joy, value, and enduring significance. He brought the treasures of life down to Earth.

His gospel is all about a rich, new life—about new wine bursting old wineskins, a new patch tearing away from an old garment. The verse about selling possessions is only one of his many encouragements to get rid of old stuff and to embrace new stuff.   (more…)

English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, those three little words, “God loves you” can seem terribly patronizing. Despite much talk about love and joy, we live in a Christian culture (in the U.S., anyway) that seems to be on a mission to minimize—even eliminate—human value and success.

In misguided, over-corrected attempts at humility, it makes for a very one-sided relationship with God where He does everything and our only part is to get out of His way.

For example, if we increase sales at work, or write fantastic term papers, or run a great Sunday school class, many are quick to say that we have nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you. Humanity is thus presented as having little value, rightness, or anything really worth celebrating. How tragic and crippling!

One of the themes that Scripture consistently reaffirms is human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ core mission on Earth was to restore to mankind God’s vision of value and worth. It was so central, in fact, that he planned to give his own life to show us this reality. (more…)

English: Tiger jumping through flaming hoops, ...

Culprit #5 is worry over outer appearance. Image. Reputation. Getting notice and applause. Trying to impress. The bad news is that seeking approval from others, when it’s a life-style, will sabotage you.

The good news is that without willful anger, obsession with others, swearing, and score-keeping (steps 1-4), this culprit is much weaker because it has little left to draw on. Add grace and assistance from the Holy Spirit to our practice, and success is built in (assuming we’ve followed correctly).

At the start of this series, I said that chopping the Sermon into random bits causes it to become the Sermon That Doesn’t Count. Well, because the entire chapter of Matthew 6 is devoted to outer appearance, space here allows me to hit just the highlights, but I encourage you to read all 34 verses.

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, don’t announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full.” (Mat. 6:1-2)

Verses 5-18 bring similar cautions for when you pray and when you fast. (Jesus offers his famous Lord’s Prayer here.) He hasn’t banned public prayer and goodness, of course. The trap is in doing them to get notice and approval. If you get it, you will have received the reward you sought—until the next time you need it. If you don’t get it, you’ll feel like a failure. Either way, your “reward” will be a hoop-jumping life-style that leaves you at the mercy of everyone else’s opinions.

Your Life is Your Treasure

Verses 19-23 talk about storing up treasures in heaven. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Jesus isn’t saying that nothing on Earth is valuable or worth pursuing. Rather, this is about kingdom realities of living well, what we hold dear. (more…)