How can you really tell if someone is good at what they do? I mean that’s a pretty subjective value, isn’t it? What is good to me may be average to one or excellent to another. Over time I have come to a very simple conclusion to help me decide if someone is good at what they do.
My conclusion? I think I can do what he or she does. There is something about those who are good at what they do that make it look effortless. The good ones always make whatever they do look easy, and the exceptional ones motivate you to actually try it.
Some time ago I was reflecting on the ironic nature of the day “Good Friday.” When I think about it, nothing was good about Good Friday. Good Friday was a day devoted to betrayal, denial, false accusations, beatings, condemnation and death.
I understand theologically that God used all of those things for our good. We are beneficiaries to all that Christ suffered in his passion. But for Jesus it was not so good.
2,000 years later we still live in a world filled with Good Friday experiences. Not a lot has changed, really. We still witness and perhaps have even experienced betrayal, denial, false accusation, physical and emotional abuse, and condemnation. Death is still among us. Everyday we are surrounded by people plagued by the very things Jesus came to overcome.
Yet we, the people of faith, are not governed by Good Friday. We are people of the resurrection. We are Sunday people in a Friday world. May our lives reflect the victory that Christ gained through the cross and resurrection, and may our lives shine forth like a beacon, pointing the way to hope.
We need a new perspective on death.
Most of us, reasonably so I suppose, view death as the end.
The end of life, the end of all things good. The end of all things we love.
Heaven is nothing more than the rest of everything; the reward for enjoying all of the good stuff here and now.
But is that right?
I think evangelicalism has done a disservice to everyone in leading people to believe that heaven is the reward for now. It’s not. Heaven is the real beginning to life as God sees it.
We dread, even fear death. We view it as some tragic end to the good stuff of life. But from God’s perspective, its not the end, its merely the beginning to all that God has planned all along.
The gift of life that we have is nothing more than an opportunity to get to find and know God. Once we do, we have an obligation to help others come to know and find God.
All death is is a transition to knowing God fully, and spending an eternity experiencing the life that He has planned for us all along.
There’s nothing wrong with dreading death or even prolonging our lives. But let’s not look at death as the end of something great and heaven as settling for something “ok.” Death for the believer is the beginning of what’s truly great. It’s a step across the threshold of what God intended from the beginning.
The following poem, written by Muriel Blackwell, has always stuck in the back of my mind as I think about children’s ministry.
On Sitting Still
by Muriel Blackwell
He told me just to sit right here,
But not to make a sound;
And he would teach me all the truths
Within the lessons found.
Although I sat still on a chair,
My mind went out to play;
For God’s blue sky called out to me,
“This is a lovely day.”
I soared the vast expanse of space
Without an earthly care,
And built me castles in the clouds,
Yet never left the chair.
It’s true I didn’t make a sound;
But he could not discern,
That sitting still does not assure
A single thing I’ll learn!
According to the most recent Barna Group report, 1 in 4 unchurched persons in America is either an atheist or an agnostic. You can read the full report HERE.
“But I warn you–unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teacher of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NLT).
I can’t imagine the disbelief that swept down the hillside as those words left the lips of Jesus. The religious teachers and Pharisees were experts in both the knowledge of the law and of its practice. Most of the listeners in the audience would have probably thought, “impossible!” Jesus would spend the rest of what we call Matthew chapter 5 providing compare and contrast examples of what he was teaching, which could best be summarized as living life from the inside out versus outside in.
I think Paul’s letter to the Colossian believers is helpful at this point, providing some guidance on how to actually exceed the righteousness of Pharisees.
First, he reminds us that keeping a thousand rules won’t make you one iota more like Christ.
“You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Colossians 2:20-23, NLT).
Next, he tells us to change the direction of our thinking about our lives as Christians.
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is youra life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Colossians 3:1-4, NLT).
Then, he challenges us to put to death the evil thoughts that come from thinking about the things of earth.
“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds” (Colossians 3:5-9, NLT).
Finally, he encourages us to put on our new nature.
“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:10-15, NLT)
A helpful way to remember this is to think about the recent reality television series, “What Not To Wear.” In the show, a person would have an opportunity to receive a wardrobe makeover. The condition to this premise was that the individual would be required to trash their old wardrobe before they could be fitted for a new one. As part of the process, experts would teach the person how to pick new clothes that would compliment their physical appearance and personality. I think the key thing Paul would appreciate about the show was the requirement to throw the old away. No matter how nice the new is, it is somewhat diminished when blended with the old. That’s why I buy a new shirt and tie each time I purchase a suit.
Paul’s challenge seems a bit out of reach. But in the end I think he’s right.
I believe the Sermon on the Mount should be read as a unified whole, not a collection of individual thoughts. Jesus, who was the most gifted communicator the world has known, wove these thoughts together with smart transitions. For example, be began with The Beattitudes which display the core of a disciple’s character. Out of that character comes the disciple’s influence, namely salt and light, which preserves and illuminates a dark and decaying world. As the disciple’s good deeds shine forth, those who are influenced in turn praise and glorify the Father. Those good deeds become the transition for the remainder of Matthew 5 where Jesus describes the relationship between the Old Testament law and genuine righteousness.
Jesus teaching was new. Those who heard him confessed that no one had ever spoken like that before. I imagine it could be compared to the first time a person hears a new genre of music. It was different. So the implied question would have been, “What about the old teaching?” Was the old going away? Is it being replaced? Jesus clarified the relationship between his teaching and the old teaching by saying, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17, NLT).
Jesus affirmed the law of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) in at least five ways.
1. The law revealed the standard of God’s perfect righteousness.
2. The law was designed to instruct God’s people in his will and to expose the sin in his people’s lives.
3. Jesus’ issue was not with the law itself, but with misinterpretations and misuses of it.
4. Jesus’ life was a perfect example of obedience to the law.
5. Jesus’ demonstrated that all of the law hangs on love of God and neighbor.
The Pharisees were masters of the law and practiced rigid observance of it. They taught that there were 613 commands, 248 voiced in the positive (Thou Shalts) and 365 voiced in the negative (Thou Shalt Nots). They memorized and lived each one with meticulous care. And they judged everyone accordingly.
These religious teachers of the law believed that doing good led to being good. Jesus turned that thinking inside out, saying that being good led to doing good. Over the next several days I’ll unpack what that looks like and provide a helpful suggestion on how to make that work. Thanks for checking in!
This week I’ve been posting some thoughts about our Christian influence by way of Jesus’ metaphors of salt and light. Today I want to offer three brief summary thoughts to wrap up this thread.
1. Our Christian influence (salt and light) is driven by our Christian character (the Beattitudes).
A friend recently reminded me that every fairy tale has a villain, and in those fairy tales the villains never give gifts. The reason is that nobody wants a gift from a villain. Our influence will only be palatable if it is offered from a place of character. I believe that Jesus offers to us the Beattitudes before the metaphors on influence for that reason.
2. There is an inference in the text that cannot be overlooked.
The reason we are salt is because we live in a world of decay, and the reason we are light is because the world is dark. Jesus doesn’t call that truth out, but it is there by inference. I think its positive and helpful to pause every now and then and see the world through the lens of the cross.
3. Jesus’ call is as common as the metaphors themselves.
Every home has salt and light. This call to be salt and light is not for the spiritually elite. Jesus is addressing everyone within sound of his voice. Jesus assumes our discipleship, and he assumes our participation in mission.
“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16, NLT).
Sometimes I hear people say that their Christian witness is the good deeds they perform for others, as though those deeds are a suitable substitution for a verbal witness. More often than not, the people we serve see our good deeds and praise us for being good people. Good works are certainly a part of light bearing, but I believe the purpose of those deeds is to provide us a platform, or lamp stand if you will, for our verbal Christian witness. We cannot bear the influence we need to bear in the world in total silence. In order to clearly point people to Christ there comes a moment when we must confess that our good works are not offered because we are good. We do them because God is good. To silently perform our good deeds without a verbal testimony is like hiding our lights under a basket.
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless” (Matthew 5:13, NLT).
My grandfather has been gone for over 20 years, so my memories of him are diminishing. One thing I do remember is that when he sat down to eat a meal he salted his food before he tried it. Even as a child I thought this was a little absurd, given the fact that he used so much salt you could see it glisten. When we think of salt we usually think of using it to season food. But in Jesus’ context salt was more frequently associated with preserving meat given their lack of refrigeration. Granted, salt would have been used for flavoring in Bible times, but it was first and foremost a preservative.
Scholars believe salt was mined from the Dead Sea. Several years ago I participated on a mission trip to Haiti. As we travelled up the Caribbean coast our guide pointed out a section of the beach where Haitians would dam up water from the rising tide and then let it evaporate so they could mine the salt from the ocean water. It seemed like a primitive practice, but it does speak to our multicultural value of the product.
Jesus indicated that salt’s effectiveness is conditioned by its purity. I am told that sodium chloride is a fairly stable chemical compound. But even table salt can become contaminated or diluted. Jesus’ point is well taken. As salt of the earth we must make sure that we remain free from contamination so that we may bear our influence well. We have a responsibility to act as a preservative in a world that is decaying. If we don’t, our influence will be diminished and ultimately without value.
Tomorrow I’ll turn my attention to the second metaphor, light.