"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Matthew 7 -- Gatecrashers & Relationships

In my last post, I mentioned these verses from Matthew 7,

21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

and then someone left a comment asking me to explain what this means to me. Her opinion was that it was a warning not to go "through" Jesus as most Christians believe and teach. When I reread my post yesterday what she said didn't stick out to me as I stressed relationship (knowing Christ) being important, however, I did ponder "but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." I thought of editing the post to make mention of it, but left it alone in the end. I wanted first to see what others had to say.

As to what this means to me...

First, I need to know what the will of God is in order to do it! Any ideas on what that is?

Second, concerning what my friend wrote, I see it this way. Remember the Gatecrashers who somehow made it through White House security and posed for pictures at the Obamas' first state dinner last year? Although their names were not on the list, they somehow got through security all the way to the President of the United States!

Obama didn't have the knowledge to realize they were not supposed to be at the dinner, but later the news came out and the press had its heyday and a security staffer resigned for this lapse.

Not that the two scenarios are totally relevant, but we can say it is helpful to know somebody, right? Or to be known? Have your name on the list, so to speak. In countries where wasta is important, even in the West where having connections helps oftentimes in landing a job: knowing someone has its perks!

Is Jesus saying that knowing him has its privileges when it comes to entering the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps those who had been prophesying, doing miracles and casting out demons in his name were just doing things instead of knowing Jesus. Can we be so busy doing things for God that we don't take time to know Him? Could it be that this matters a lot to a God who values relationships? We must admit that loving God and loving others involves relationships!

Jesus claims to be the Way to the Father (John 14:6) and the Door (John 10:9). So, yes, we believe we go to the Father through Jesus. I wouldn't likely be invited into the White House just because of my bright eyes and friendly smile. But if I were good friends with Michelle Obama, I would have a better chance of visiting with the family in their personal living area. Relationships matter!

Most of us would see someone casting out demons and doing miracles and assume he was a man of God. I know I would! However, Jesus stresses here that merely doing things in his name doesn't matter. Perhaps you are familiar with those who are bold enough to speak in the name of another or do things in someone else's name without personally knowing the individual for whom they speak.

The Bible says the devil appears as an angel of light and in this passage Jesus warns of those who are like wolves in sheep's clothing.

He doesn't generally appear in such a way that we recognize him.
I think the horns and pitchfork would tip us off that he's up to no good!

Apparently there are some who will appear righteous and lovely outwardly, but God knows they are deceitful wolves. Is this why we are commanded not to judge? Some who have honorable intentions we may judge harshly whereas those we deem as good and holy perhaps are devils in disguise. Food for thought anyway.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Matthew 7 -- Judging, Fruit Inspecting & Knowing

Sorry I got to slacking on the Matthew study lately. We went out of town one weekend, I was a bit in the not-posting mood for a day or so and quite frankly Matthew 7 steps on my toes right off the bat! I didn't really know where to go with this chapter, what to point out, what to gloss over, to speak of it quickly and generally or take my time going through some of the passages. Except for the post the other day touching on the "golden rule" aspect of verse 12 and greeting folks being part of daily courtesy as well as loving our enemies, I'm just now getting back to my Matthew study. Let's see . . .

In the first teaching Jesus warns us not to judge. (Mt. 7:1-5) I think I was born with a judging gene because it comes too stinkin' easy for me to find fault in others while overlooking some of the fault in my own self. (Yes, unbelievably, I have faults. :-)) Later in this chapter Jesus instructs us to watch out for false prophets and tells us that we will recognize them by their fruit. I've heard people say we aren't supposed to judge, but we can be fruit inspectors. Perhaps we cannot judge people's intentions realizing we have distorted views based on our own fallible nature, but we can observe how people act (and react!) to others and circumstances in order to see if they are what they claim to be. What do you think? And what do you think this "fruit" is? Here is what Galatians has to say about what constitutes the "fruit of the Spirit."

Pretty decent stuff, eh? (Oh, and that watermelon looks divine! Yum!)

Right after Jesus tells us how to recognize false teachers, he says this, 21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Knowing Jesus is important to him. So is it less about being able to do good works in his name (prophesying, miracles, driving out demons) and more about relationship?


"Worthy the Lamb" -- love this song!

March Books

Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ by Alfred Edersheim -- The chapters on trades and commerce were interesting as they shared the value of hard work and which trades were thought more highly of than others. Also it shared how certain tasks became more popular while the Jews were in captivity vs. when they were free.

I enjoyed the chapter on Pharisees and the common people and what they wore. I didn't know auburn hair was well-liked. And interesting fact about the nose ring being prohibited from being worn on the Sabbath. By the way, slaves were not permitted to grow beards (pg. 218). I learned the Pharisees added more of "their own glosses, interpretations, and traditions" to the law whereas the Sadducces were more "bare letter of the law" types (pg. 242). The Essenes reminded me a bit of a cross between the nuns of Catholicism and Sufis in Islam because of their practices. (pg. 245)

Synagogue worship was interesting and how they encouraged men to pray in the synagogues rather than their houses if a synagogue were in their community. (pg. 249)

Healing Stones by Nancy Rue & Stephen Arterburn -- I borrowed this Sullivan Crisp novel from Cindy. It's a modern woman-caught-in-adultery story featuring Demitria, Zach, Rich, Jayne, Christopher, Covenant Christian College and so forth. "Humble willingness -- an attitude before God."

Healing Waters by Nancy Rue & Stephen Arterburn -- another Sullivan Crisp novel and the next in the series; this tells the story of Lucia and her struggle with her weight and living in the shadow of her slender, beautiful and charismatic sister, Sonia. Due to a horrible accident Lucia finds herself living at Sonia's house and taking care of Bethany, Sonia's six-year-old daughter. This is a wonderful story of discovery and freedom. Other characters: Chip, Marnie, Wesley and her son James-Lawson, Sullivan (of course) ; This book like the other one deals a little with misguided theology and how suffering is not a result of God's disapproval of you and/or it happening to you because of lack of goodness or faith in your own life.

Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan by Norma Khouri -- This book was interesting in many ways partially because it was written by a Catholic woman who grew up as a dhimmah (the "protected minority" or as she also put it "not exactly an enemy, but closely watched second-class citizens" pg. 62) in a predominately-Muslim country. She shared the story of herself and her best friend, a Muslim named Dalia. The two of them had been great friends since they met at age three and remained close throughout their early adult years. They even opened and ran a hair salon together. Norma intrigued me with her references to the roles of women in her society and how so many of the traditions were based on ancient Bedouin codes. None of it was necessarily surprising in the sense that I'd not heard it before, but to hear a young Arab woman speak of her culture and society this way made it more real to me. I enjoyed talk about favorite Arabic foods and vacation spots in Jordan near the Dead Sea and Aqaba and her thoughts about many aspects of her society and her people.

Though Norma is quick to blame cultural practices and not Islam only because she shares how these barbaric practices cross all classes and religions in Jordan, she is especially hard on Islam since she believes its influence in the region for centuries has kept women down instead of allowing them to rise above these outdated practices. As she put it, "It is safe to say, I believe, that Islam is a totalitarian regime operating under the guise of religion" (pg. 60) then she explains how Islam dictates every aspect of its follower lives down to how to treat others, when and how to eat, drink, sleep, have sex and even how to use the bathroom --oh, and how to clean yourself properly afterward! Talk about controlling every aspect of your life! I suppose some believe we are in need of instruction for the most minute and intimate aspects of our lives.

Through Norma's words, I experienced the art of manipulating and deceiving the men in their lives just so a group of friends could go out together as normal people who want to eat and laugh and talk together. I was sad that they had to go to such measures for something as innocent as this just because of the controlling ways of the men in this society. Norma shared how Dalia's brother would wear western clothes and even go to bars -- all of this was forgivable for men. Though both sexes were bound by many rules the difference "of course, is that if men break any of these rules, they are to be forgiven. Women's limitations are harder to list simply because the list is continually being expanded and edited by both male lawmakers and the men in a woman's own family. And if a woman breaks any of the rules she's required to follow, she is not granted the luxury of forgiveness. She must be punished." (pg. 58)

For what it's worth, I wrote these previous words (up there ^) before I wrote this tirade against honor killings which I posted more than two weeks ago.

I was horrified when Dalia paid the ultimate price for her deceptiveness at the hands of her own father and sadly amazed when Norma's brother reacted to the news with an indifferent "she should have known better." Yeah...as if all women should expect such brutal treatment from men especially men of their own households. These people take that whole "I gave you life; I can take it from you" thing tooooooo far. In reality GOD gives life and He should be the one who can take it away. Not murdering fathers and brothers who happen to think their honor and dignity and reputation are more important than their own daughters and sisters! Curse your blasted honor, stupid men! (Just had to get that out...hehehe.)

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose -- I got this off the new books shelf at the library. The author shared many interesting background stories about Anne Frank and her relationships with her mother and father and school friends. The author discussed the publication of her diary, its revisions and also how writing the plays and producing the films unfolded. She told how this book impacted world culture including how "Anne's diary has enabled readers to confront their troubled pasts" in places like Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and Ukraine. As one person put it, "'She was a victim of her society, but when you talk about her book, it gives people hope and inspiration. It's a catalyst. They begin to think that they can do something different.'" (p. 166).

Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish -- Deputy Ben Patil finds an abandoned newborn baby and he and his wife, Abbi, foster her. This fostering brings to light many of the issues they have and also helps them heal. Another main character is Matthew, a deaf boy who helps Abbi with yard work and watching the baby.

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman is subtitled "Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)" -- Instead of dealing with the devotional approach to the Bible, the author uses the historical-critical method. Of it he writes: "The historical-critical approach to the Bible does not assume that each author has the same message. It allows for the possibility that each author has his own perspective, his own views, his own understandings of what the Christian faith is and should be." (pg. 62) He continues, "Sometimes one author's understanding of a major issue is at odds with another author's, on such vital matters as who Christ is, how salvation is attained, and how the followers of Jesus are to live." (pg. 62) One example is how differently Mark and Luke present Jesus on the cross. Mark's message to persecuted believers who are suffering may be "rest assured: even though they may not see why they are suffering, God knows, and God is working behind the scenes to make suffering redemptive." Mark's version shows Jesus wanting to know why God left him to suffer this way. By contrast Luke portrays Jesus as knowing why he was on the cross and shows him looking out for others. The message to persecuted believers could be to show them that they, too, could be confident knowing that paradise awaits, God is there with them and they can look out for others while going through hard times. The author writes, "[The] Gospels, and all the books of the Bible, are distinct and should not be read as if they are all saying the same thing. ... Mark is different from Luke, and Matthew is different from John, as you can see by doing your own horizontal reading of their respective stories of the crucifixion. The historical approach to the Gospels allows each author's voice to be heard and refuses to conflate them into some kind of mega-Gospel that flattens the emphases of each one." (pg. 70)

I laughed towards the end of the book when the author said he frequently asks his classes how many believe the Bible is God's inspired word and nearly all hands go up. Then he asks how many have read it all and maybe only one or two have. He questions, "Hmmm, if God wrote a book, don't you think you should read it?" That struck me cute -- and true! :)

The author pointing out the beginnings of anti-Judaism within Christianity was of interest to me. Although I'm aware somewhat of how "Christian" circles mistreated Jews in Europe, it's still a bit surprising to me since most conservative Christians in my country are very favorable to Jews and the State of Israel. I read in the past how Americans were influenced by a pro-Jewish European (Darby) who was quite different than most "Christians" in Europe who were much less favorable to the Jewish people.

The author claims - unlike in the American South (where both he and I live about thirty minutes from one another) - to most Christians in the world the "Christian faith is about believing in Christ and worshiping God through him. It is not about belief in the Bible." He points us to the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed which say nothing of the Bible. Indeed he claims, "In traditional Christianity the Bible itself has never been an object of faith." (pg. 225)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Matthew 7 -- Greeting others as part of the 'Golden Rule'

I saw this quote in a publication I just got in the mail about an hour ago. Thought it was worth contemplating.

"Loving our enemy includes those who are hard to love, whether a hostile stranger or a bad-tempered spouse. And therefore the ways of love that Jesus demands are as varied as self-sacrifice at the one end of the spectrum and a simple greeting at the other end. It is remarkable that in the context of enemy-love Jesus says something as ordinary as, 'If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?' (Matt. 5:47). People concerned with global suffering and international injustices might think this is ridiculously individualistic and insignificant. Greetings? Does it really matter in a world like ours whom we say hello to on the street? Jesus knows that the true condition of our heart is revealed not just by the global causes we espouse, but by the daily acts of courtesy we show. Relentlessly he pursues the transformation of our hearts, not just the alteration of our social agendas."

-- John Piper, What Jesus Demands of the World

Now we are moving on to Matthew 7 where in verse 12 Jesus sums up the Law and the Prophets with, "so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

Seems simple enough. If you want others to treat you with courtesy, show courtesy to them. If you want others to be kind and understanding and give you the benefit of the doubt, do the same for them. Who knew that greeting others - strangers or brothers, outcasts or friends - could be such a big deal?

Have you ever been roaming around a workplace or university and notice how people want to send their cordial greetings to the bosses or professors, deans and presidents? I wonder if those same people also greet the hardworking black janitor mopping the floor or the Mexican lady cleaning toilets in similar fashion. Do we tend to greet those whom seem important to us while ignoring those cleaning behind us?

I wonder how Jesus would have acted in this work or college setting. Remember according to him, the greatest among us is the one who serves, not the one who is being served.

Can you think of examples in your own life of people reaching out to only the rich or important while ignoring the poor and common folks? Or maybe you have seen people who reach out to all types with no regard to their stations in life? What are some areas you wish people would shape up and be more understanding and kind? Any other examples or thoughts on this topic? What do you think of John Piper's quote and the significance of greetings? Do you agree or disagree with him?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I Follow Jesus & Still Eat Pork

Several days ago someone left a thought-provoking comment which inspired me to answer the question of why as someone who tries to follow Jesus, I don't eat according to the dietary rules of the Old Testament. After all Jesus as a Jewish rabbi would have followed the Law. Why do some of us claim he "purified all food"? Why do we insist that pork and shellfish are all right for us to eat when it wasn't "all right" for, say, Peter, James, Isaiah, Amos and John the Baptist?

First I must say that there are some people out there who do believe we should stick with the Mosaic Law and not consume "unclean" foods. A quick Google search will lead you to people with that point of view, and I respect them. If they feel God wants them to eat kosher then they should!

But for those like me, I will attempt to explain our reasons for not following the dietary rules given to Moses. I don't want anyone to assume it was just pure rebellion or a lackadaisical attitude on our parts.

1. I am not a Jew. Although it's true that we Christians tend to have a soft spot for the Ten Commandments and will often fight for its inclusion in our courthouse buildings when the ACLU tries to get rid of them, God actually gave the Law to Moses for the children of Israel.

For God's own reasons and not because of Abraham's, Isaac's, or Jacob's innate goodness, God chose this line to bring forth the Messiah, Jesus. God wanted His people to be set apart from the surrounding nations. The Israelites often failed miserably, worshiped idols, mistreated the poor, acted unjustly to other nations and broke the Law, but God sent prophets to warn them to turn back to Him. When they did, He restored them. When they refused, He punished them like any good parent would do.

Israel was to be different thus God gave them explicit rules to follow. The Law showed them how to live and also showed them they were not perfect enough to keep all the rules. It proved they needed a Savior, but that's a whole other topic. :)

From Exodus 19:

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

And Isaiah 49:

3 He said to me, "You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."...

6 I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

2. Food doesn't make us 'unclean.' In Matthew 15 Jesus was asked why his disciples did not wash their hands before eating. After all this was breaking with tradition of the elders. Jesus replied,

11What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "

17"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' "

One might argue that Jesus was talking about unclean hands rather than food, however I believe the spirit of this teaching is that food and unwashed hands aren't what defile a person. Shrimp and bacon go in the mouth and out later as waste. The thoughts that come from within are what defile a person.

3. God purified all food. Peter was a good Jewish man. In fact when he received his vision, he was stunned and argued with God insisting there was nooooooo way he would ever eat something unclean!

Acts 10

9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

14"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

4. We are under a New Covenant. Many people believe Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly and did away with our need for keeping it when he died and rose from the dead. He gave us the New Covenant so we are no longer bound by the Old Law in order to acquire salvation. The New Covenant is written upon our hearts and we have power to live this way through the indwelling Holy Spirit as we follow Jesus.

There are likely other reasons that people have, but these are the main ones for me. Another good passage to check out is Romans 14 which deals with people who argue over which days are special, which holidays to celebrate, which foods and drinks are acceptable. I love the freedom we have in Christ! Not that we are free to do evil, but we are free from the bondage of sin and enabled to do good through his wonderful power! How many of us can love our enemies by our own strength?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Eds & The Ings

Traveled: to visit friends in West Virginia this weekend

Enjoyed: lovely weather & seeing rolling hills with cows and streams

Looked: at Samer's great pictures from Switzerland

Delighted: to talk with Louai when he accidentally called me on Skype

Insisted: to Louai that I don't talk from the bottom of my throat when he told me Arabic was so easy that "even the children in Syria speak it!" :-P

Laughed: when Pop shouted "Sing it, Lady!" as I sang Jesus songs to him yesterday as I cleaned

Finished: the Syrian School series yesterday -- they were great!

And now introducing The Eds' cousins, The Ings!

Catching: up on some online reading I missed while gone

Learning: to be a servant

Struggling: with my selfishness

Reading: Jesus, Interrupted

Working: on a post about why I don't eat kosher food

Going: to get off the computer and read now


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Matthew 6 -- Warnings & Being Worry-Free

"See how the lilies 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." ~ Mt. 6:28,29

Matthew 6 contains a number of warnings:

  • Don't do your acts of righteousness to be seen of men
  • When you give to the needy, do it secretly rather than drawing attention to yourself
  • The same with praying -- no need for showy prayers to impress the masses with your piety
  • Don't babble on and on and on thinking your words are impressing God
  • Forgive others so God will forgive you
  • Anoint yourself, wash and look pleasant when you fast -- there is no need to draw attention to yourself by looking as if you are miserable
  • Don't store up earthly treasure which molds, rusts, and gets stolen -- you cannot serve both God and Money

A few mentionables from this passage for me:

If I seek to please God rather than men, I can do good things without the need for drawing attention to what I'm doing. I don't have to say "Hey, y'all, look at me! See how much I gave to this charity last week? See how proper I am in doing my prayers? Annnnnd how many times per day that I do them? See?"

Ah no, that's not necessary when you seek the approval of The One -- and no one else.

Jesus said to store up heavenly treasure so that got me to thinking "what is heavenly treasure?" and "how do I store it?" Could it be the rewards from God that Jesus mentions in this passage (vs. 4, 18)? Rewards from God could be heavenly treasure. What do you think?

It's also interesting that Jesus mentions heavenly treasure, warns us against accumulating corruptible earthly treasure and then declares no one can serve two masters, one of those being Money. Does he know the tendencies of the human heart or what? How many of us have much more stuff than we really need? Furthermore in verse 25 he instructs us not to worry about our lives and what we will eat or drink and what we will wear. He reminds us of the birds of the air, the flowers in the fields and how God cares for both. In fact Jesus says not even Solomon in all his kingly splendor was as dressed as a beautiful lily!

The birds don't worry and fret. The flowers don't wonder if God will be faithful in providing today. Jesus told us we are more important to our Father than these things and we don't need to worry!

He tells us to first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And if we recall lessons we've learned in past weeks about righteousness being a state of our being declared right BY GOD, we know this is a great place to be! A great gift!

In fact Jesus says when we seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, "all these things will be given to us."

So instead of worrying about material things, we need to change our priorities: seek God's kingdom and trust Him to do what He promised. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19,

"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Matthew 5 -- The Extra Mile & Being Our Father's Children

A few days ago I touched on the latter half of Matthew 5 with this post about Jesus speaking with authority or a lot of nerve. I didn't specifically talk about each teaching although one or two were brought up in the comments thanks to a couple ladies who added their wonderful thoughts and perspectives! Before moving on to chapter six I wanted to address a couple of things. As I concluded in the post mentioned above, Jesus' deals a lot with relationships. Here are a few things I have learned from verses 21 through 48.

The importance of

  • not harboring hatred in your heart (thoughts lead to actions -- hatred can lead to murder)
  • reconciling with a brother before leaving a gift on the altar
  • reconciling with an adversary before being taken to court
  • not lusting after women (again thoughts lead to actions -- lusting can lead to immoral behavior including rape)
  • marriage relationships -- your wives are not easily disposable -- you can't divorce them simply because dinners were burned or they no longer look good to you
  • being people of your word; telling the truth and doing what you said you would do
  • breaking the cycle of retaliation and revenge -- trusting God to avenge you since God says vengeance belongs to Him (Deut. 32:35)
  • going the extra mile
  • loving your enemies

Can you find others? Do you think some of these should be taken off the list I compiled?

Now quick things about the last two on my list and then I think I'll be finished with Matthew 5.

Jesus teaches: 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

I will borrow from this source (Jef Menguin) since I like how he said what I was going to attempt to write. Put yourself in the situation of Jesus' hearers on the day of this sermon.

For us to appreciate the impact of that statement to the Jews who gathered before Christ on that day, we need to know that 600 years before that, the Roman Empire enacted a law that forces every male Jew, young and old, to carry any Roman soldier’s burden when ordered anytime, anywhere.

Imagine the frustration of a father who is yet to earn for the day when told to leave his goods or his work. He must carry the goods of a rude Roman soldier or suffer his day in jail. For every Jew, the law is unfair, inhuman, and unjust. Bound by law, he would carry the burden for a mile, but not for another yard, not for another foot, and not even for another inch.

Do you see the reaction on their faces when Jesus instructed them, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him”? Some of them must have said, "He must be joking!”, or “No way!”, or “WHAAAAAAAAAAT?”

Jef goes on to list three reasons to go the extra mile. I'll only copy the first since it ties in with loving your enemies and returning good for evil.

"First, the second mile is a character mile. When a Jew carries the soldier’s backpack or burden for the first mile, he does so as a slave. But when he goes the second mile, something not required by law, he does so as a master. The first mile is the “have to mile”; the second mile is the “want” mile. The first mile is to love your parents, your friends, and those who love you. The second mile is to love your enemies. The first mile is to return good for good. The second mile is to return good for evil. The second mile is an invitation for us to develop our character."

What do you think?

And from the last verses (43-48) Jesus tells us to love our enemies and then says something strange:

45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

So if we love our enemies -- which is a huge oddity for most people as it goes against human nature - we will be like God?

Jesus continues:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

So God blesses the evil people as well as the "good" people so by doing the same, we are as "sons of your Father in heaven"? We are "our Father's child" as we might say it here in the States?

Must be! Because this chapter concludes with these verses.

46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If we only are good to nice people and greet those like us while ignoring everyone else, we are no better than any other ordinary person out there. Most people return good for good, however, the exceptional person seeks to overcome evil with good! As one of my blogging friends has said she likes that the ideal ethical/moral code is perfectionistic rather than realistic. She wants something to inspire her to do better! One would expect something from God to be of the highest standard possible. Jesus set the bar high.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March!

Goooooood morning! It's a lovely, almost-spring day here in NC. Daylight Savings Time began yesterday so I'm trying to adjust to losing an hour of sleep and get used to the fact that it's already 8:17 AM when it feels so much like it's only a bit after 7! ;)

Thankfully I got over my anger after writing the post that I did yesterday about honor killings. It was one of those things I'd just read about (finished the book yesterday morning) and needed to "discuss." Someone said "I'm sorry you have to put up with this" and in reality, I don't have to put up with it! Those are not my people who are killing their own daughters. I don't know those women. I don't feel I am at risk of being murdered by a male member of my family. I could very easily do the American thing of not reading or caring about what goes on elsewhere in the world and never be troubled by what women are enduring at the hands of their own men. But I chose to read this book and in the process it boiled my blood when I dared to think and put myself in such a situation. I could have been born in Jordan or Pakistan or other places where men's honor are more important than a human being's life. As Andrew put it so well, "I can't even imagine cutting the throat of a stranger. These men have to be demonic in order to kill their own children."

Thank you, Andrew!

Yes, exactly! This is the influence of pure evil and these men are only following what Satan wants them to do. For sure, this is not the direction of God! In fact, I told Andrew I need to do a post on "What happens when land & your honor become your god." Because there is waaaaaaaaaay too much evil being done for the sake of land and the sake of honor. When land and honor - and might I add oil into the mix - become more important than humans, it's gone too far!

Andrew joked that I'd read another man-hater book, but I blamed him because the only reason I stopped at the library was to return two books he'd checked out. I've been avoiding the library this year since I have some of my own books that need reading, but I was lured in there and for some reason checked the section that has books on the Middle East and Islam. I can't help it that book jumped off the shelf into my hands and begged me, "Please take me home and read me!" Andrew said from now on he'd return his own books. :)

In other news, I'm now reading Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose. The author shares many interesting tidbits about Anne's life and family and even ways her life and journal influenced world culture. She wrote, "[An] episode of 60 Minutes reported that North Korean schoolchildren were being assigned to read Anne's journal with instructions to think of George W. Bush as Hitler and of the Americans as the Nazis who wished to exterminate the North Koreans." (pg. 21) Also did you realize "Anne's diary is one of the texts most frequently read and studied by incarcerated men and women in prisons throughout the United States"? (pg. 19)

I didn't either.

Someone made an interesting comment yesterday about Jesus and dietary rules and why Christians reject the Jewish law regarding eating pork, shellfish and other things God forbade the children of Israel to eat. I think I'll write up a post at least sharing my own thoughts on it. Stay tuned for that if you're interested in such things.

Anything else I should discuss? Thanks to all who have contributed to the Matthew study thus far. I've enjoyed your feedback.

Better get a few other things done now. Have a wonderful Monday!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Honor Killings & My (honest) Response to Men Who Defend Them

Quotes from the book. Commentary by yours truly. :)

"He makes me feel special, beautiful, and smart. He respects me, and cares about my wants, needs, and thoughts. He's not like my brothers or my father. I've never seen my father ask my mother for her opinion. He just orders her around and treats her as if she doesn't matter, as if she's just there to serve him. My father treats me the same way. Michael's different; he always asks me things and he listens to what I have to say. My opinion matters to him. ... It feels good to be treated as if I'm important." (pg 92)

-- Dalia to Norma about the guy Dalia was interested in

"Sweetheart, you need to watch what you're saying. Your anger is speaking now. Dalia is only one of thousands of women this happens to every year. I'm sure the others had mothers, sisters, and friends who were just as upset as you are now, but they realized, as you will in time, that nothing can be done about it. They suffer the loss in silence and then find a way to move on, as you will." (pg. 168)

-- Norma's mother attempting to comfort her daughter

"And I suppose I owe you an apology for my loving your daughter like a sister, and finding her loss unbearable and your apathy over her loss infuriating. If so, I apologize for being human. I'm afraid that our God has created me with a very low threshold for pain, and I lost control. I envy your strength, Mahmood, for upholding your family's honor. After all, what is a life in the face of honor? I suppose that because I'm not a man, I can't comprehend such apathy, such disregard for human life. I'm sure you must be right. I mean, what can a woman know or understand about a man's honor? After all, it's a man's place to control and maintain the code we must live by. And I guess Dalia, in your eyes and mind, stepped outside the boundaries. You had the strength to do what needed to be done, and there's no room for emotion in honor, I suppose." (pg. 178)

-- part of Norma's forced apology to Dalia's father; she'd accused him of murdering someone innocent and was forced by her own father to apologize or risk her own honor killing

"All women killed in cases of honor are prostitutes. I believe prostitutes deserve to die." (pg. 202)

-- attributed to former Jordanian Minister of Justice, Abdul Karim Dughmi in August 2001 in response to a question about honor killings in the case of rape

Note: It's estimated 90% of women killed by honor killings are virgins. After these killings, autopsies are done to make sure of this because if the women were, in fact, proven to not be virtuous, the families could then go after the men who "ruined" their daughters. It's a shame the women have to die in order to prove their innocence. Who am I kidding? It's a shame women have to die period! And what about the men who keep prostitutes in business? This man believes prostitutes should die...what about all the Arab men who go to the West every year or go to Syria and other places and use the sharmutas' services? This double standard infuriates me!

This book shared stories and described how often men gloried in what they did to "restore their family's honor" and how they were hailed as heroes and as "gods" as the author of this book put it. While she emphasized this honor killing stuff was cultural predating Christianity and Islam (indeed she says it "has roots in the code of Hammurabi and Assyrian laws from 1200 BC, which declared a woman's chastity to be her family's property" -- pg. 194), she tends to accuse Islam for keeping them down. The reason is that Muslims control Parliament and when King Abdullah, a man with little political power as he's only a figurehead, stood as an ally to women's group in support of amending all laws that "discriminate against women and inflict injustice on them," the draft was defeated "since the Islamic Action Front holds the majority of the seats in the Lower House." The IAF believes those supporting doing away with these honor killing provisions "were trying to demoralize Jordanian society, and that the West was using the women's issue to push Arab women to abandon their honor and values and to start acting like animals." (pg. 199)

Well, since I'm Western and a woman, I must be an animal. So...y'all ready for this? Hear me roar! I think that about sums up my commentary and what I think of stupid rules by stupid men and a stupid society that puts up with murdering innocent women "for the sake of a man's honor."

If I were an animal with really sharp teeth I think I'd bite someone's head off right about now. Or if I saw one of those men, I'd throw my shoe at him ... both of 'em!

(Please don't ask me if Jesus would approve. I'm being animalistic, remember?)

See this post for more from this book, Honor Lost, by Norma Khouri

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Matthew 5:21-48 -- Jesus: Speaking with Authority or A Lot of Nerve!

Right after Matthew credits Jesus with saying what he did about not abolishing the Law and the Prophets, we read verses about murder, hatred, adultery, lust, divorce, taking oaths, not resisting an evil person and treatment of our enemies.

Notice in Matthew 5:21-48 how often Jesus says either "it is written" or "you have heard it said" referring back to the Law and/or Jewish tradition. On nearly all these topics Jesus refers to what they have heard or what is written then he expounds upon and sometimes changes these laws with a "but I tell you" (see verses 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). Isn't this rather presumptuous of Jesus to take the Law that God gave to Moses and dare to "reinterpret" it this way? His way if all those "but I tell yous" are a clue as to who is offering opinion on these matters.

I suppose it's no wonder that when Jesus finished this sermon, Matthew 7 records:

28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Someone suggested we should read straight through the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Joel, Habakkuk, Micah, etc.) to the end of Matthew 7 in order to better realize the amazement of these people. Whereas the prophets stated, "The Lord God says" in conveying the Almighty's message to the people, Jesus boldly declares, "I say to you." Indeed he taught "as one who had authority"!

Another thing to look for as you read these 28 verses, notice how relationships are important to Jesus. In dealing with hatred towards people, settling matters with an adversary, treatment of women and divorce situations. Even oaths and just letting your "yes" be a "yes" and your "no" a "no." Notice how many of these situations deal with relationships with fellow humans.

I speak a lot about how following Jesus is a relationship and not a religion. Religions are humans' attempts at meeting certain moral standards with hopes that God will have mercy and allow them into heaven. Truly knowing Jesus and following and abiding in him is about relationships. Relationships restored, relationships enjoyed - now and throughout eternity.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Arab Culture -- The Role of Fear

"Jordan is a place where men in sand-colored business suits hold cell phones to one ear and, in the other, hear the whispers of harsh and ancient laws blowing in from the desert. It is a place where a worldly young queen argues eloquently on CNN for human rights, while a father in a middle-class suburb slits his daughter's throat for committing the most innocent breach of old Bedouin codes of honor."

The place: Amman, Jordan

The characters: Norma (born Catholic) and Dalia (born Muslim), best friends since age 3

The setting: in the salon they co-own -- Not to worry Dalia's brother is there nearly full time as chaperon / informant

The ladies were discussing an inside joke - a scorebook Dalia had kept since the first time she asked a pregnant client whether she was wishing her baby were a boy or girl. The tally: out of 193 women asked, only 15 wanted girls. As Norma speculated on the reason for that, she said, "I wouldn't want any daughter of mine to grow up like this -- to be a man's slave. And I wouldn't want her to grow up in a place where she's considered a second-class citizen."

Dalia, who was a firebrand revolutionary-minded young lady agreed, "[These women] don't think they can fight it, so let's hope it's a boy."

The conversation continues:

"I believe that a lot of women think like us. And, if that's true, sooner or later things will have to change," she proclaimed, cueing me to play devil's advocate.

"Why do you assume that? There's nothing they can do to change things, just like there's nothing we can do."

"You're wrong. Our mothers' generation lived like this because they believed in the Arab way of life, not because they were afraid to take a stand. We live like this because we're afraid, not because we believe in it. So sooner or later things will have to change."

"Dalia, I think you need to face reality. For all the cell phones and computers and even some women doctors and activists -- what's changed for us? People in this country have had these customs and beliefs for centuries, and it'll take centuries to change their way of thinking," I protested.

"I don't think so. True, they've had these beliefs for centuries. But, as you said yourself, our generation of women doesn't believe, it fears. Fears can be overcome. Think about it -- when someone fears something, there's a chance she may one day find the courage she needs to force a change. But if she believes in the status quo, she has no need to change it. If our generation doesn't change things, then maybe the next one will or the one after that, but eventually the fear will be overcome and changes will be made. Change always follows, you'll see."

. . .

To Middle Eastern men, Dalia's beliefs made her an enemy, a sharmuta, and they would have only one way to deal with her. They would silence her before she had the chance to influence others with her scandalous views. The long-established way to abolish sharmutas was execution. There would be no questions, no judge, no jury and no chance for a defense. Her death wouldn't warrant an investigation or cause the filing of any criminal charges. Her death would be considered justifiable since she was a threat to the Jordanian quality of life and to the customs, morals, and values Jordanian society had upheld for thousands of years.

Then the author described how Bedouin views dominated their society, shared some of these practices and concluded the chapter with: "This nomadic, ancient lifestyle gave birth to that traditional and secretive way of life that still dominates most of the Arab world and pervades our lives in Amman. It is a way of life so important to, and idealized by, Arab men that they will not hesitate to sacrifice women in an attempt to preserve it."

Hmmm, I'm wondering what Arab men have to say about this Jordanian woman's view of them. Are most of them as she described or maybe just men in Amman, Jordan? I like what Dalia said about fear and finding the courage to finally challenge the status quo. It's amazing how fear paralyzes us and keeps us small, submissive and enduring terrible things. Fear keeps us weak. No wonder the Enemy uses it. It works!

information & quotes from pages 1, 24-27 of Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan by Norma Khouri

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Matthew 5:17-20 -- The Law & Righteousness

Last week I wrote about "blessed are they that mourn" in my post introducing the Beatitudes. I recall copying from Kenneth Bailey's book that we are to mourn over evil in our own lives. "Failure to love God and our neighbors should produce grief." He said we should mourn over the realization that we are not able to overcome evil in our lives without God's help. Let's just say that yesterday this verse and explanation came to mind while I was mentally berating myself over how I'd thought about someone and talked about her. I was scolding myself for my meanness and this post popped into my mind. One of those "aha!" moments where a piece of the puzzle falls into place.

On Sunday we sang "Jesus Paid It All" at church. I liked the lyrics to many of the verses, but this one reminded me of myself.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Continuing our study in chapter 5, these are the next words Matthew records of Jesus' sermon:

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Based on these words, do you believe we should still live by Jewish laws if we are followers of Jesus? Some people say that Jesus fulfilled the Law, therefore, we no longer have to keep it. Does this view contradict what Jesus taught here? Or since many also believe Jesus "accomplished" the fulfilling of the Law, we are free from the rules and legalism? Do you think Jesus' ministry was such that people questioned whether he was trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets and that's why he brought this up in his sermon?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law would have been some of the most outwardly pious people of that culture. They kept all the rules of the Law plus added more in an effort to make sure they didn't break any of the commandments accidentally. Why do you think Jesus said our righteousness needed to be more than these people's? I've seen a Muslim writer say that this is where Islam comes into play. Perhaps he meant with all their rules and regulations even in such minute matters, a true follower of Muhammad exceeded the righteousness of those religious people of Jesus' day. Do you agree or disagree with this possibility? Do you believe this is what Jesus had in mind?

What questions or thoughts does this passage bring to your mind?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Out of Africa -- My Grandparents

Not long ago my brother and I quickly went through some old pictures while visiting my grandparents' apartment. I wanted Daniel to scan and post some of them to Facebook which he did. I got these off of there a while back and wanted to share them now.

Remember yesterday I discussed Jesus' challenge about being salt and light in the world? Also in the Bible, Jesus told us to share the gospel ("good news") with others -- those around us and also those in other parts of the world. My grandparents met in Bible college and both had a great love for the Africans. They wanted to share the good news about the salvation God offers with them. Here are a few pictures.

Can you see my grandparents and two of my uncles?

This is my great-grandfather, great-grandmother and their three sons. My grandfather is the one with the arrow over his head. They were missionaries in China and, in fact, this grandmother is buried there. She died after complications from child birth.

My grandparents married in 1949 and soon after left for Paris, France to begin learning French. They were headed to Niger and Nigeria in West Africa soon after.
My grandmother

Ah, we did it!

Pop among the congregation

Two of the American children are my uncles. The one at the bottom is probably another missionary's child.

If you want to see a few photos from more recent years, please go here and here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Matthew 5:13-16 -- Being Salt & Light

We got through our discussion of the Beatitudes, now Jesus continues teaching the multitude and says this:

Matthew 5:13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

I remember when I first met a young Muslim nearly two and a half years ago. In the process of learning about Islam from him, we'd discuss Islamic nations, Muslims and their goal to be ruled according to shariah law. Sounds ideal to be governed by people who believe the same as you, right? Only the problem gets to be ack! all these people don't believe the same way! How do millions and millions of people have the same beliefs and interpretations? Simply - or not so simply! - they don't. There are ultra-conservative interpretations along with very progressive ones and lots and lots in the middle. So the problem gets to be: whose interpretation will rule us? Samer told me when his brother was in London and went to shake hands with the men beside him after the service in the mosque that a few refused saying it was bida'a or innovation. They didn't do this greeting during the time of the prophet therefore it was not something they wanted to do. Goodness, people, it's just simply greeting your neighbor....must there be a rule to govern this?

I digress. You probably wonder what this talk of shariah has to do with Jesus' teaching on salt and light.

Well, it's this. I was asked wouldn't I like to live in a nation that was made up of only Christians -- people like me running the place and enjoying life governed by the laws of Jesus. Well, I suppose a place like that would be OK if people truly followed Jesus, but in reality we are never called upon to build an earthly kingdom. The mixing of "Christianity" into the state has happened with horrible results. God never told us to build Christian nations and rule people and make them righteous through the sword. God knows only HE can change people's hearts and lives -- not some Christian armed forces or Christian police force. Do we really want a Christian version of Saudi Arabia's religious police?

Besides -- and this is where it goes back to Jesus' teaching -- how do we be salt and light to the world if we all inhabit one little corner of the globe? If we're all holed up in the Christian State of Nebraska or Carolina Christian Community or the United Christian Emirates, how do we show people the difference Jesus can make in our lives? How do people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven if we are only in our Christian community separated from the rest of the world's inhabitants? And since I don't believe people are born Christian, what do we do about family members who haven't made a decision to follow Jesus and live according to His teachings? Do they live apart from us until they make this choice?

The challenge is being in the world, but not of the world. We need to interact with people so they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. At the same time we are not supposed to "lose our saltiness." That is, we are not to become so like the world that there is no Christ-like difference.

I fear too many of us have either become deserving of the trash pile or hidden our lights. We've either become too much like the world that there is no godly difference or we've tried to hide anything to do with God for fear of being labeled intolerant or to avoid rejection or unpleasant differences.

One last thing. Notice Jesus mentions our good works in connection with others praising God. The glory shouldn't be for you, but for God. Afterall He is the one who works through us to produce God-honoring good works.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Michael & Susie

See this kid? He's a great little fellow. Today was a lovely almost-spring day so we went to a local park where he found some friends to play with while I walked a bit and then read. Later we went on a walk and then sat down on a bench within the fenced tennis court. Michael noticed a rather large crack on the court. Not something that would hurt a person, but according to him: "if you were an amoeba? this would be a dangerous chasm!" Yeah!

Michael with an ever-present transforming toy on Christmas day 2009

How can I resist hugging this precious little man?

And we always have time for a few goofy-faced pictures ~ Michael's favorites!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"The Eds" Have Made Their March Appearance!

This is some of last week in a nutshell.

a lot of posts from Matthew 1 - 5:1-12 this past week. A big thanks to all who contributed to them by leaving your comments. I enjoy what questions and perspectives and varying thoughts you offer... so, thanks! Keep 'em coming!

Checked: out OK at the doctor's office (yearly physical)

Figured: my federal and state income tax for 2009. This and a physical all in one week. How can a girl get so lucky?

Visited: my grandparents with Michael. This is normal for "The C&E Team." I clean, he entertains. Mema enjoys Michael showing her his new toys. She's likely more "up" on Bakugan than most any other 86-year-old woman out there!

Moved: my brother and his wife to their new residence. Well, I just helped a bit in reality. I did not move all that stuff by myself!

Transferred: pictures from Christmas and Michael's birthday to my Snapfish account. Finally! This is why you got to see Michael signing the Christmas card yesterday - about six weeks after the fact.

Enjoyed: Syrian School part 1 -- a BBC documentary. I saw sights from Damascus and Maaloula where I'd been - loved that! Now I need to watch the other parts and see if I detect any other familiar sights.

Gathered: with some church friends last night at Mike and Cindy's house! Besides us, Mike, Cindy and their son, Jacob, there was Mark & Lindsay, Tommy, Sherel & DJ, Whitney, George & Marianne, Terry and Kevin in attendance. Did I miss anyone? I knew all of them except George and Marianne, but I quickly made their acquaintance and found out George is Egyptian. He came to the US when he was 12.

Laughed: so hard that my face was sore. Many of those people mentioned above have a crazy amount of goofiness that they share liberally with the rest of us!

Played: board game Apples to Apples last night.

Borrowed: UP! and several books from Cindy. Andrew said that movie will make me cry...hmmm.

Discovered: a good fiction book in the pile I brought home! Yay, I'd been needing a good book to read. I have some nonfiction books that need reading, but I'm not ready to start something deep at the moment. Matthew has been deep enough for the time being.

Wowed: how God often uses Charles Stanley's monthly publications and letters to speak directly to things I'm struggling with. Like really. Does this guy read my mind and personalize his messages just for me?

Teared: up thinking of a sweet man, Brother Fred, from my parents' church who went to be with Jesus last night. He was a dear man.

Pondered: this from the margins of my Quest Study Bible

Referring to Matthew 5:11-12,

11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The question is: Why rejoice and be glad about persecution?

"Because it reinforces our identity with Christ and the prophets. We can also be glad because, though righteousness has a price, it also has a reward. Persecution reminds us that we can anticipate something better in heaven. Our joy comes not from the physical suffering itself but from the reason for the suffering: Jesus Christ."

This reminded me of yesterday's post about these verses challenging us towards loyalty to Jesus. Also I thought of Acts 5 where the disciples were preaching, jailed, let out of prison, preached some more, flogged and then

41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

One last thing on this topic:

"The Beatitudes are an ethical model that requires our declaration of dependence on God."

We cannot do those things without His help.

(pg. 1390)