Why Can’t We Perfect? (Like Jesus Said.)

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Imagine how wonderful it would be if we all did this. I would never lose patience with my children. I would always listen deeply to my wife. I would never give into temptation and eat the forbidden fruit in the pantry at midnight. My sermons would always end on time, and all of my relationships would be healthy and wholesome.

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The Twilight Zone, “A Nice Place to Visit.”

This world reminds me of an episode of the Twilight Zone, where a criminal dies and wakes up in the afterlife. Everything is perfect: He has a nice house, a  beautiful girlfriend, an endless supply of money and unlimited success.  The criminal eventually becomes bored with having his whims instantly satisfied. He is tired of heaven and wants to see “the other place.” He is horrified to learn that this “paradise” actually is “the other place.”

As we know, perfection does not exist, and yet Jesus says it should. Would Jesus require us to do something that is impossible for us to achieve?

Theoretically, perfection is possible. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God gives us a way to escape every temptation and overcome sin. At the same time, sin is inevitable because of our weakness and because of the multitude of opportunities we have to sin.

None of us can claim perfection, but we shouldn’t live in perpetual guilt because of our imperfections. Forgiveness is available through Jesus Christ. However, we must acknowledge that on any given occasion, sin is never unavoidable.

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The Compassion of Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot Retiring from the Last Supper, Carl Bloch

During Holy Week we recall the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, and the men who played a part in having him executed: The religious aristocracy, Pontius Pilate and even one of Jesus’ closest followers.

The name of Judas Iscariot went down to the pages of history as the man who betrayed Jesus. Luke attributes this to Satan.  Matthew and Mark say it was because of greed.  John points to both, and also mentions theft as one of his sins (John 12:1-8).  I think if we could travel back in time to the first century and actually see Jesus and His disciples, we wouldn’t see Judas Iscariot as the sinister man we would suspect. In fact, he might even appear to be compassionate.

For example, when Mary began to wipe Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume Jesus was deeply touched, but it was Judas who pointed out that this costly perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor (John 12:1-8). Those listening may have thought, “That’s a good point.  You know, Judas is a good steward, and he has his priorities straight.”

John, of course, reminds us that people are not always as they appear.  As Jesus would say, people will eventually know us by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:16, 12:33; Luke 6:43-44).

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Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

I just received a bag of ashes in the mail from Amazon. According to the labeling, it should be adequate to impose ashes on 1,000 people. I have my doubts the supply will go this far, but only time will tell. I’m also wondering about the lasting impact these ashes will have on those of us who are receiving them.

Is Ash Wednesday an empty ritual?

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By the Rivers of Babylon, Gebhard Fugel

On occasion I’ve debated with some evangelical friends regarding the legitimacy of the Ash Wednesday service. After all, Jesus warned against practicing our piety before others in order to be seen by others. Interestingly, this same warning happens to be the lectionary Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday. But since God accepted ashes as a sign of repentance in the Old Testament, I think it is an acceptable sign for us today. (Jonah 3:5-7; 1 Kings 21:27; Daniel 9:3)

Ashes can remind us of our mortality (Genesis 3:19) and the day when we will stand before God and be judged. To prepare for this day, we must die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ (Luke 9:23; 1 Peter 2:24). Ashes are an invitation to set aside the next 40 days for prayer, fasting, self-denial and meditating on God’s Word. It is a time for being reconciled to God and each other.

Ash Wednesday ashes are a call for us to repent and believe the Gospel.

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Arguing Can Be Good For You!

“When Peter came to Antioch, I (Paul) had to oppose him to his face.” Galatians 2:11

Our recent election provided numerous opportunities for arguing. Many of these centered around the candidates themselves, while others took place at a philosophical level. Either way, arguing over politics can be a bitter experience, which is why many choose to avoid the subject.

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Peter and Paul, Icon of Antioch

The church can be a good place to argue. Christian couples will argue with one another. Ministry teams can argue amongst themselves. Personalities will clash. Peter and Paul argued (Galatians 2:11-13), Paul and Barnabas argued (Acts 15:36-41).

How can we argue in a way that honors Jesus?

On the TV series The Amazing Race, couples race against other couples to reach a certain destination. Sometimes couples lose ground, argue with each other and lose the race.

When we look at our Christian lives like a race (Hebrews 12:1), we realize that we are here to seek God’s kingdom. Arguing with each other can distract us from God’s mission, which is to make disciples. So when you argue at home, church or anywhere else, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I treating the other as a fellow heir of God’s grace, or as an opponent? (1 Peter 3:7)
  • Am I speaking with humility, or with pride? (Titus 3:2)
  • Am I building others up, or tearing them down? (Romans 14:19)
  • Is my goal to win the argument, or become more like Jesus? (Hebrews 12:1)

Arguments will arise in the healthiest of relationships, and they can be a source of growth. How we argue can be a powerful witness for Christ.

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God’s Dysfunctional Families

“While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:8

It’s pretty easy to find biblical principles applying to marriage and family life. Ephesians 5-6 highlight sacrificial love, mutual submission, trust, respect and nurture as foundations of a healthy family. These virtues are taught throughout the Scriptures.

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Cain Smiting Abel, Sebastiano Ricci

It’s even easier to find stories of dysfunctional families. Consider these in Genesis:

  • Adam and Eve’s firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4:8).
  • Sarah’s gives her servant to Abraham to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). Sarah then abuses her in jealous anger, while Abraham remains passive.
  • Lot’s daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
  • Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their boys, creating a horrible sibling rivalry. (Genesis 25-27)
  • Laban smuggles Leah in as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel. Jacob marries them both, causing a sibling rivalry where the sisters’ compete for children (Genesis 29-30).
  • Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine, the mother of some of his brothers (Genesis 35).
  • Ten of Jacob’s sons sell brother Joseph into slavery, and lie about it to their father for 22 years (Genesis 37).

This isn’t too surprising, considering humanity is alienated from God and one another (Genesis 3). Put a group of selfish sinners in a home, sharing possessions, having different personalities and an unequal distribution of power and you have a recipe for dysfunction.

There’s redemptive potential in dysfunctional families. God wants us to become aware of our sinfulness and our inability to save ourselves. God wants us to believe in the message his son preached, and love one another.

The family is a good place for all of these to happen.

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Political Parties, Corporations, and a Peasant Baby.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

It’s easy to feel insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where news headlines are dominated by political and economic movements, led by people with power and prestige. Don’t be disheartened, for Christmas serves as a constant reminder that these mammoth forces are not the authors of redemptive history.

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The Census at Bethlehem, Peter Bruegel II

While the powerful often use the common people for their own purposes, the Christmas story reminds us that God uses them – even without their knowing it – to serve the kingdom of God. God used the oppressive power of Rome, who decreed that insignificant Mary and Joseph be registered in their hometown, to fulfill the prophet’s Micah’s prophecy:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2).

Do not think that, because our well being is often dependent on government policies and corporate practices, God’s purposes are thwarted. God seeks our holiness, not our prosperity.  To that end, God rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.”

The Christmas story gives us hope that God is for the little people. We have great cause to rejoice because presidents, CEO’s and other billionaires of the world follow the sovereign decrees of God, so that we, the little people, might be conformed to the image of that peasant baby who was born in a manger.

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What Happens When God’s Messengers Challenge Authority?

“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” Exodus 1:8

The story of Moses begins where the story of Joseph ends: in Egypt. There are some interesting parallels between the two:

Both were unlikely candidates to be God’s messenger. Joseph was a slave and a condemned prisoner. Moses was banished royalty.

The Rod of Aaron Devours Other Rods

James Tissot, The Rod of Aaron Devours the Other Rods

Both messengers were heard by the Pharoah…but received in very different ways: Pharaoh believes Joseph’s message of impending disaster, knowing from his dreams that all was not well in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh rejects Moses’ warning, being confident in Egypt’s unrivaled power, wealth and divine favor.

God directly influences both Pharaohs’ receptivity to the message…in different ways. God warns Pharaoh through dreams that disaster is coming, preparing him to hear Joseph’s message. God harden’s Pharoah’s heart, so that he is unable to see the impending disaster, even when the signs are everywhere.

Both messengers eventually receive positions of power and responsibility. Joseph becomes second in command in the Egyptian empire, and is tasked with protecting an entire civilization from destruction. Moses takes on the roles of prophet, priest and king over God’s people, and is tasked with protecting them from self-destruction. 

 Both messages affect the geographical relocation of God’s people. As a result of Joseph’s message, God’s people are relocated to Goshen and offered security. As a result of Moses’ message, God’s people are liberated (or expelled) from Egypt. God leads them to the land promised to Abraham, after a generation of wandering into the wilderness.

So, what happens when God’s messengers challenge authority? It depends on the crisis, the messenger and the authority.

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