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Matthew | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Matthew

Identity

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to make my way through a book called Negotiating the Nonnegotiable. Sounds exciting, eh?

It is actually a pretty interesting read and I have enjoyed thinking through the ideas presented by the author. The author, Daniel Shapiro, has spent a great deal of his professional life working with people who are in the midst of conflict around the world– from Serbians to Israelis.

In one of the workshops he runs, he will break professionals into teams (or tribes as he calls them) and ask them to reach consensus on a list of issues in fifty minutes. This task is designed to be nearly impossible. After the fifty minutes are up, he will insert a twist. All the tribes now have to join and agree on one tribe to be the defining tribe of the group.

The point of this exercise is for the people to see how strongly they adopt their first tribe's stances on the issues. Fifty minutes ago, they didn't even know the people in their tribe, now they are fighting to defend their tribe.

Shapiro calls this "The Tribes Effect." The primary point of his book is the issue of identity and how it relates to conflict. People identified with their first tribe and fought to defend a position that they might not have held an hour before.

Where do we get our identity? Theologian David Lose writes, “Our identity comes from the people with whom we hang out and is always received, rather than created. It comes, that is, always as a gift and a promise. And that’s why it’s so important to be reminded that you only know who you are when you realize whose you are.”

You are God’s beloved child.

In these days where the world tells you who you are, we must be reminded of the truth. If your identity is reinforced by who you spend time with, make sure you spend time with the people of God.

My challenge to you is to remind one another whose they are. Come together as the family of God and fellowship, laugh, share meals together, and most importantly, remind each other that they have value, worth, and purpose.

Hypocrisy

When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to spend time with my great-aunt and uncle, Tommie and Milton. Milton served as a pastor, missionary, and District Superintendent for over forty years. There were very few occasions to spend time with them prior to Heather and I moving to Kansas City. One day as Milton and I sat in his study, he mentioned a Bible passage and said, “This text just preaches itself.”

As a seminary student who spent a semester writing one sermon, I had no idea what he was saying. Last Sunday, we started the sixth chapter of Matthew. This is one of those passages that brings Milton’s words fresh in my mind. There is so much to say about the text, that you can’t fit it all into one sermon.

There is one word mentioned three times in this text (vss 2, 5, 16). The word is ‘hypocrites’. It is not a word we like to talk about in church. Most of the time the word is used when talking about the church. We hear our friend say, “The church is full of hypocrites” or “I’m not going to church, everyone there is a hypocrite.”

We hear those statements and a list of excuses come to mind. We want to explain, “Jesus said that He came for the sick! Just because someone goes to church doesn’t make them perfect!” We are so afraid of being a hypocrite, we don’t spend the time looking at Jesus’ words.

The greek term ‘hypocrite’ literally means, “an actor who wears a mask.” Think about what this means for a moment. Jesus is saying, “When you pray, do not put on the mask of a righteous person. Your prayers must come from your heart.”

Jesus is still dealing with our hearts. He wants us to stop pretending and come to Him out of honesty and humility.

In Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Matthew, he points out three things that hypocrisy robs from us.

Hypocrisy robs us of reality in Christian living- The Christian life is lived from the heart. Hypocrisy means we put on the mask of being a Christian. This robs us from the freedom of living in the life of our Lord.

Hypocrisy robs us of spiritual rewards- Hypocrisy keeps us searching for the approval of those around us. This praise gives the false sense of filling, but ultimately leaves us empty. We replace the approval of God for the approval of man.

Hypocrisy robs us of spiritual influence- The Pharisees used their faith as a negative influence in their world. Hypocrisy robs us of the opportunity to be salt and light.

How do we defeat hypocrisy? The only way to defeat hypocrisy is through honesty with our Lord. When we give, pray, or fast for the benefit of people who we think are watching, we gain nothing. The only gain we can receive is from the One who wants us to live in His fullness.

Wiersbe says it best, “It has well been said, ‘The most important part of a Christian’s life is the part that only God sees.’ When reputation becomes more important than character, we have become hypocrites.”

May you remove the mask that hinders you from opening your heart to your Lord.

Meeting Us Where We Are

Our passage for this week is Matthew 7:1-5. In preparing our hearts for worship, I would ask you to read another passage in preparation- John 8:1-11.

The text in Matthew, gives us a directive for how we view one another. Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Then in John 8, we see Jesus living this out.

There are a couple of things that I would like to point out in John’s story. Let’s focus on the last couple of verses. Jesus gives the famous line in verse 7, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, starting with the older men in the crowd, the stones started dropping.

Jesus is then left, bent down, with the woman standing before Him. John then records a subtle detail. Look at verse 10. Jesus stands up. Jesus meets her on her level- eye to eye. In the midst of her sin, Jesus meets her.

When we hear the words, “Judge not, that you be not judged," we sometimes assume that Jesus is offering a blanket of tolerance and moral indifference. I would hope, that as we read John 8:11, we would see the love and beauty of Jesus’ parting words to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus is concerned about her sin. He knows that sin separates us from life with His Father.

My prayer for this passage is that we begin to not just understand judgement from God’s perspective, but that we also see ourselves as a community marked by love, peace, justice, and reconciliation.

"In the Doing"

One of the great things about this week’s passage is Jesus’ ability to hit everyone's hearts on the same level. I believe that we fall into the same temptation that Jesus’ original audience fell into.

We hear Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (7:1). Then we think, “I hope ________ is listening to this!” I can imagine that we aren’t the first people to be tempted by this.

Then, we get to verse 12, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

It is though Jesus can see into our hearts. When we think of the Pharisee culture, we understand their desire to strengthen the Law. When you have someone wanting to strengthen the Law, you also have those who want to relax the Law. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, speaks directly to both groups. At the same time, He speaks through the ages to us today. In Matthew 22:34-40, we hear Jesus echo these words.

Author Scot McKnight writes, “There is nothing complex about this most simple of moral maxims; its difficulty is in the doing, not the knowing.”

Our challenge this week is simple- How do we live lives that turn from the selfishness of our society and turn to the selflessness of Christ? Again, the difficulty is "in the doing, not the knowing."

Philippians 2 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. There, Paul, quotes one of the great hymns of the early church. He knew that living out the selflessness of Christ was difficult. However, in that selflessness, Paul found beauty and life.

I’d like for you to commit to do something with me. What if we memorized Paul’s words together? What if, during the times of selfishness, we had a passage to push to the front of our minds?

Philippians 2:3-11 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

May God bless you as we seek His life together!

"I will give you rest."

Don’t you love this simple verse in Matthew 11? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

After a busy week, I could use some rest. I bet you could too- it is Friday after all! How do we find this rest?

Jesus continues, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Hmm…my yoke? Though most of us don’t use horses or oxen to get our work done- we do understand that ‘yoke’ is a term pertaining to work. I thought Jesus was talking about rest. How exactly did we get from rest to work?

A yoke increases the power of one animal by binding them to another animal. When the two animals are joined together they can get more done compared to working alone. Think about that for a moment.

I think Jesus is giving us a pretty plain example. Jesus is saying, “When you are joined to what I am joined to, your strength will increase.”

Before we finish this thought, Jesus makes one more point, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The question I have is- What exactly is Jesus’ yoke? Most theologians would tell you that the Law of Jesus as compared to the Law of Moses is His yoke. Biblically, there are some great arguments that support this idea.

This week, I was challenged to rethink this idea. You see, if you go back a few verses, the context brings new light to the passage. Jesus is speaking of His relationship to His Father.

Take a moment and read Matthew 11:25-27. It is all about Jesus and the Father. Jesus is telling us something very important. We are all yoked to something. Good or bad. You might be joined to a sinful behavior. You might be joined to addiction. You might be joined to your job. You might be joined to your family.

I believe Jesus is telling us- You must be joined to my Father. Verse 30 gives us a clue to this point. “For my yoke is easy.” Let’s rewrite this for a moment. “For my relationship with my Father is easy.”

Some of you are thinking, “Now you have lost me, pastor. I know my relationship with God is not always easy. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Jesus would say dying for our sins was easy.” To that, I would say- I totally agree.

The problem is our translation. The word we translate as ‘easy’ is better translated ‘proper fit’. Think of this in the terms of a tailor made suit. It is to your specifications- it fits you perfectly. Why is this? Because this suit was made just for you.

You see, you were made for a relationship with your Father. When we live our lives in this relationship, we realize we were made for Him. When we are yoked to Him, God can give us more strength and rest than we could ever find on our own.

My question for you is this, “What are you yoked to?” You were made for an intimate relationship with the One who created you- and in that relationship is true rest.

May God bless you as you seek Him,

Pastor John

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Yoked to the Father

After last week’s email, I received some great questions. If you missed last week’s email, you can read it here .

One question that has been with me all week is this, “What does ‘being yoked to the Father’ look like?” This a great question. I believe the answer is subtly found in the text itself.

Look at Matthew 11:29. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon us and then do something– “Learn from me.” Jesus is calling us to learn from Him.

Many times, we approach our faith as strictly academic. We read. We study. We learn. Though Jesus studied the Law, His relationship was deeper than a knowledge of the Law. Jesus approached His Father the way a child learns from a parent. He lived in His presence. He listened for His voice. He learned from Him the way an apprentice would learn.

How do you approach your faith? Does your relationship with our Father look like the relationship of a parent/child or a student/professor?

Think about the stories in the Gospels. Who are the ones that connect with Jesus’ message? Do the Pharisees, with years of education in their faith, connect with the message of Jesus? Or do the common people (the fishermen, the tax-collectors, the broken and needy) connect with His message?

The people who connected are the ones who came as apprentices. They came hungry for the life-giving message of Christ. I believe this is the answer to the question from last week- “What does ‘being yoked to the Father’ look like?”

In 2003, Heather and I moved from seminary in Kansas City back to Nashville. We bought a home less than a mile from my childhood home. This house was a fixer-upper. We stripped wallpaper, rearranged the kitchen, gutted bathrooms. My mom would come over on many of those late nights for dinner and to keep us company as we worked. I would be building a cabinet or moving plumbing and my mother would ask, “How did you learn to do this?”

The simple answer is- my father-in-law and men from the church on mission trips. But there is a more complex answer. There are few times those men said, “Do this, now do this.” They taught me by doing it themselves and I watched. I was their apprentice.

Christlikeness is to approach Christ as the One whom we imitate. We are the apprentices. Being yoked to the Father is to approach Him as Jesus did- out of love, obedience, and a desire to live in His presence.

May God bless you as you seek Him,

Pastor John

The Poor in Spirit

If you are like me, you read the quote above and your mind quickly flashes a picture of someone who is homeless. Knowing the quote came from Mother Teresa, your mind might flash to a picture of the poor in Calcutta. As we prepare for worship this week, I’d like for you to take time and rethink the term ‘poor’.

‘Poor’ simply defined means lacking. Economically, it refers to someone who lacks sufficient economic means to live at a comfortable level. I think this quote is pushing us to think of the disguises those who are lacking might take. Who in your life is lacking all that God has promised them? Poor is much deeper than economics. Are you lacking trust in your Lord?

A verse that comes to my mind is Matthew 5:3, “Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours” (The Kingdom NT). What if we use the term ‘lacking’ instead of poor? “Wonderful news for those who are lacking in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.” I think we could all use that wonderful news.

This verse is one of the Beatitudes. Matthew’s gospel has been said to declare the ‘Upside-Down Kingdom’. The kingdom that Jesus is proclaiming is one that turns the world upside down- or from God’s prospective, one that turns the world right-side-up. N.T. Wright states, “[The Beatitudes] are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth.”

My question for you today is this, “Who are the poor among you?” Remember, as Mother Teresa challenged you- the poor have some interesting disguises! Once you identify the one who is ‘lacking’ in spirit, do they know the promise of Jesus in Matthew 5:3? Here is the hard question, “How is God going to use you to proclaim His Kingdom to this person?”

If you spend time thinking about this, it will make you a little nervous. Take heart, if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then you know you are not alone in proclaiming His Kingdom.


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Staying on Mission

“The women scurried off quickly away from the tomb, in a mixture of terror and great delight, and went to tell his disciples. Suddenly, there was Jesus himself. He met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up to him and took hold of his feet, prostrating themselves in front of him. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Jesus to them. ‘Go and tell my brothers that they should go to Galilee. Tell them they’ll see me there.’”
–Matthew 28:8-10

Good Morning!  It is only Wednesday, yet for many of us we feel as though we have lived a lifetime in the past few days.  This morning, I can’t help but think of the words we looked at on Sunday.  When we deal with loss, the emotions of Easter morning take on new meaning for us.  We understand that you can have a mixture of fear and delight at the same time.  One point that I didn’t deal with on Sunday still lingers in my mind.  

The women leave the tomb that morning.  They are walking in a confused state of ‘terror and great delight’ as Matthew records it.  Then, Jesus suddenly appears to them.  Jesus greets them and then gives them nearly the same instructions the angel gave them.  To paraphrase, Jesus essentially says, “I know you are afraid, but do not be.  Go and tell my friends that I am risen and they will see me.”

What do I think would be Jesus words to us today as a church?  “I know that you are working through loss, but do not be afraid.  Continue on the mission I’ve given you- to tell the world that I am risen and they will see me.”  Monday night as visitation wrapped up,  Zac's great-uncle pulled me to the side.  He said, "You and I both know there are people who go to church and people who
are the church.  You have some great people who are the church."  We are truly blessed and we must 'press on' because it is Christ who has conquered death!  We must continue being the church!

“For the Messiah’s love makes us press on. We have come to the conviction that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all in order that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised on their behalf.”
–2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Grace and peace,

Pastor John