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Archive for Sermon on the Mount

Jun
11

On Judging Others:: Part 3

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”
(Matthew 7:5, NIV).

What if we exchanged the practice of judging others for the practice of helping? Our Christian community is not bound by legal relationships, but by relationships of love. How can we be helpful to one another? Galatians 6:1 offers a crash course in helping our brother or sister with the speck in his or her eye.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NIV).

Step 1: Get the facts straight. (…”if someone is caught in a sin”…)

Step 2: Make sure your own house is in order. (…”you who live by the Spirit…”)

Step 3: Be clear about your motivation. (…”should restore”…)

Step 4: Be clear about your tone. (…”gently”…)

Step 5: Maintain humility. (“But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”)

The thing that stands out to me most about Paul’s crash course is his emphasis on restoration. We are not spiritual vigilantes, righting every wrong that is unattended in someone’s life. The goal is not punishment, the goal is restoration. Until your goal is restoring someone, you’re not ready to remove the speck.

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Jun
10

On Judging Others:: Part 2

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4, NLT)

Jesus moved from condemning the act of judging others to the hypocrisy of trying to fix other’s problems to the neglect of one’s own problems. Jesus used hyperbole to make his point regarding the foolishness of fixing one’s gaze on something minor is someone else’s life while failing to note the significant error in their own life.

His words speak to the fact that judges have the tendency to maximize the faults of others while minimizing their own. Too often we are tempted to condemn the weaknesses in others that we are not willing to face in ourselves. We self promote when we put someone down simply to elevate ourselves.

The truth is that the best way to help others is from a position of health, where you have first dealt with yourself. John R.W. Stott once wrote that condemnation IS the splinter in our own lives. We would all do well by taking time to look within before we look around.

Tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on Jesus’ conclusion to this very difficult theme.

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Jun
09

On Judging Others

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

Jesus never anticipated that we, living in community, would be perfect. Which begs the question, “How do we deal with each other’s fallenness?” The seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ harshest words:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV).

Jesus words here are plain spoken. Literally, they read, “Do not make a practice or habit of judging others.” Before we get into what that means, let’s be clear on what He does not mean. Jesus is not, as Tolstoy suggested, recommending that we eliminate the legal system and abolish formal government justice systems. Neither is he suggesting that we live our lives turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the world around us. His command is not a prohibition against having discernment or discretion (cf. Matthews 7:15-20; 10:11-15; 16:6-12; and 18:17-18).

Jesus’ condemnation is addressed to those who evaluate the motives and character of others, casting a verdict based on your own evaluation of him or her. Judgmental people evaluate others (note the word “measure”) to see if they meet a particular benchmark. These self appointed persons assume responsibility to fix others, and even seem to enjoy the human failings of others.

There are three things that God has not delegated to his children: condemnation, vengeance, and judgment. So if you’re not on the jury, perhaps its time to stop trying to reach a verdict. We are not permitted to judge, not because we fail but because we are fallen. We are disqualified to serve in the role of judge.

Matthew 7:2 has always been one of the hardest words of Jesus for me to hear. He clearly stated that the way we measure others is the way God will measure us. I don’t know about you, but when I stand before God someday I’m going to be seeking mercy and grace, like anyone would. The thought that Jesus would judge me as harshly as I judge others is frightening.

So if you are prone to the practice of judging others, stop it. Just quit. Its not worth it, and its not your responsibility.

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May
25

Six Reasons Not to Worry

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV)

Worry is the anxiety we feel that is fostered by uncertainty regarding the future. Jesus spoke to this in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount, giving six reasons why we are not to worry.

1. Do not worry because you are valuable to God.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV)

2. Worry does not change anything.
“Can any one of your by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NIV)

3. God regularly demonstrates his faithfulness.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30, NIV)

4. Worry betrays our claims of faith and trust in God.
“So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things.” (Matthew 6:31-32, NIV)

5. God already knows your needs.
“…and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:32b, NIV)

6. Our priority is to focus on the Kingdom of God and trust God’s promise to care for us.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)

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Mar
18

A Strong Challenge from Jesus

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“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.

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Mar
14

Be Better Than That

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

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!

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Mar
04

Influence:: Three Summary Thoughts

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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.

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Mar
03

Influence:: Light

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“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.

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Mar
02

Influence:: Salt

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

“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.

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Mar
01

Influence

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

If you think about your life, you can count on several fingers the names of those who have made an impact or continue to bear influence. These are the people who have spoken the words into your life that you replay over and over in your mind. Maybe that impact came from a parent or a grandparent. Or perhaps a coach or a teacher. Maybe you have been blessed to have a mentor or a close peer relationship that has been beneficial. My guess is that there have been many more than one, and that you even have one or more people today that you turn to for wise counsel or sage advice.

But did you ever stop to think about who you are influencing? Have you considered that your words or actions are making an impact on someone else? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invited his hearers to push past the humility of this consideration and to take seriously his challenge to bear influence on those around us. He did it through two common household items: salt and light. This week I’m going to post some highlights from this weekend’s sermon, titled “Influence.” I hope you’ll stay tuned.

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