Small Group This Fall: Studies in the Book of Psalms

Thursday September 6…3 pm

Hi Blog Friends,

If you are interested, Donna and I will be leading a small group for ten weeks this fall. It will begin on Weds. Sept. 30 and conclude on Weds. Dec. 15.  Our meetings will be at CORNERSTONE and begin at 6.45 (or so) 🙂 and conclude at 8.15.  Some of you have asked me about this group study.  Cornerstone is located at 9455 Hilton Rd. in Brighton, MI.

Those attending will need to bring their Bible and a notebook.  We will spend time in fellowship and prayer and then look at a number of Psalms seeking to apply them to our walk with the Lord Jesus.

IMPORTANT:  Sign up for this group will begin on the Cornerstone website on Sunday Sept. 9. THERE WILL BE ROOM FOR A MAXIMUM OF TWENTY PEOPLE.  So…if you’re joining us please check the website early on  Sept. 9.  ALSO:  There will be many other small group offerings and you may be more interested in being a part of one of them.  Our Psalms Study is by no means your only opportunity.

This invitation is open to all even if you have never attended Cornerstone.  Have a look!  Thanks for your time! Blessings!

Pastor Alberta

 

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 25: “An Eye for an Eye” 09.05.2018

Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

In the old movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” Rectevia is the leading citizen in the fictional town of Anatevka around 1900 in Russia. At one point, the people are considering fighting against the Cossacks to defend their little village. One man speaks up and says “Yes, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!” Then Rectevia turns and says “That will be great. We will all be blind and toothless!” A clever response that has burned its way into the minds of some in the pacifistic tradition. Sincere but nonsensical. That statement shows that the person making it simply does not understand the meanings and origins of the Biblical requirement for justice:

Leviticus 24:19-22 (NIV) “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.”

God is a God of justice. In the ancient world, it was not unusual for a punishment to far exceed the reality of a crime. More than one ancient code called for death if one was found to steal another’s mule. Often, very small infractions yielded horrific and sometimes tortuous sentences. This reality is not unheard-of today. A whole patchwork of laws and consequences still can be found in America. One state gives probation while another demands five years often for the same crime.
The law outlined above was called “The Tooth Law.”

The Latin phrase is “lex talionis” or the “law of retribution.” As it made its way into ancient societies, it was considered enlightened and overdue. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ was in no way being dismissive of that principle. He was speaking of something else to his true disciples. His concern was not civil law but yet another spiritual practice that he expected to see in his own sheep. Namely, you do not have to get even “eye for eye” if you are harmed by another person. Ok. This is quite different.

Jesus would not abridge or dismiss the principle of justice that calls for a commensurate response to harm. What is important here is that Jesus is not addressing the civil authorities if a crime is committed. If a man sets fire to my house, I am not free to “turn the other cheek” even if I want to because he has broken the law. He has not only hurt me but, in a sense, he has attacked the state. Perhaps we should clarify what the Lord Jesus Christ meant by turning the other cheek. In short, the true disciple is willing even eager to behave in a paradoxical manner and BE WILLING TO BE VULNERABLE AS JESUS HIMSELF WAS.

This was a teaching directed at adult disciples reminding them they could react with mercy when harmed. It should be clear that this was not a teaching directed to children on the playground. We raised four sons who experienced the typical bad behavior that can happen among kids. I never asked them to allow themselves to be bullied. Sometimes the best thing for a bully is a good smack for everyone’s sake including his own.

Jesus is saying something much deeper. Jesus wants his own to be willing to be Christlike. To accept injustice when it comes their way. To not respond by demanding every “right” that might ever be available. This all touches on the issue of forgiveness that we will address soon.

Important: as a Pastor I must honor the conscience of individuals. Matters of justice are complicated. The REAL POINT here is to cultivate a Christlike heart that allows itself to remain vulnerable that God may be glorified. “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

As a true disciple, am I a man who will never turn way from people who hurt me? Am I willing, yes eager, to still reach out to those who do not deserve my kindness? Why would I … should I… be that way? Because Jesus said that the goal is to be like my Father in Heaven. Consider:

Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV) “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Question for myself and all of us: Do we want to be like our Father in Heaven? Or are we happy to just be saved? Next: “Love for our Enemies.”

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 24: “Oaths” 09.04.2018

Matthew 5:33-37 (NIV) “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

In the classic movie “A Man for All Seasons” Sir Thomas More is imprisoned for his refusal to support the marriage of Henry the Eighth to his mistress Anne Boleyn. His friend the Duke of Norfolk visits him and suggests that he simply take the oath of allegiance. He argues that it doesn’t matter. More should just say the words. But Sir Thomas replies, “If I heeded not the taking of an oath I should do that and be gone from here!” In other words, taking an oath was a matter of honesty and he refused to lie just to be set free.

The word “oath” in English means a solemn promise often calling upon a witness, even a Divine witness, to attest to the promise implicit in the oath. Thus, we sometimes hear people say that very careless statement “Oh I swear to God!” As if God would act to punish or prove the oath-taker guilty if the person failed to deliver an action as promised.

In modern law, a witness is sworn in to give testimony. Lying under oath is a felony considered perjury if it can be proven the witness has sworn falsely about a topic. In any case, there’s plenty of room for shading the truth and deceiving those who listen. And there is plenty of room for hubris. The kind of pride that demonstrates overwhelming arrogance. But what did Jesus mean and why did he mention this matter to his disciples sitting on the mountainside? We look closely ….

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’”

The words that our Lord used were literally “Do not swear falsely.” Interesting that the Old Testament did not really forbid oaths or swearing as to the truthfulness of a matter. Consider:

Leviticus 19:12 (NIV) “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.”

Numbers 30:1-2 (NIV) “Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: ‘This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.’”

Deuteronomy 23:21 (NIV) “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.”

We can easily see from these and other passages that oath-taking was not forbidden or unheard-of. Yet, Jesus was saying to his own disciples “You really don’t need to be in the business of taking oaths!” Why? A couple of reasons.

Oath-taking can be rooted in impulsiveness that can bring horrible consequences. Who can forget a man named Jephthah found in the Book of Judges? He went into battle against the King of Ammon. The Spirit of God had come upon him and his victory was assured. Yet, he made a rash vow:

Judges 11: (NIV) “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: ‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’”

He won the battle after his unnecessary vow. Then we read:

“When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.”

Scholars sometimes suggest that perhaps he did not keep that vow. But that would have been extremely bad behavior in the ancient world. We see the same thing in the Gospel of Mark. King Herod made a rash vow to the daughter of Herodias after she danced at his banquet. In all likelihood, hers was a fabulous sensual offering and the Godless King was overcome with excitement. We read:

Mark 6:22-28 (NIV) “When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ ‘The head of John the Baptist,’ she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: ‘I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

John was in prison no doubt downstairs in that very palace. We read this and think that Herod should have just said “No I can’t give you that. That’s not in the offer!” But he did not. So important was his vow that we read:

“The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So, he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.”

So, where does this leave us? Simply realizing that oaths can be very prideful. Usually, we should speak with honest humility. And yes, it’s ok to say the Pledge of Allegiance or swear to tell the truth in court. We make vows in weddings all the time. What Jesus is saying to his own is that we should just speak truthfully. And if we do make a vow, it should be understood first by us that we cannot keep it without God’s help.

As Luther said when the king demanded that he recant his views on the Gospel and the Word of God: “I cannot renounce these writings. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me!”

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 23: “Divorce” 09.03.2018

Matthew 5:31-32 (NIV) “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

Divorce. A tough and tender reality. Painful to families. Hurt hearts. Sometimes it seems as if almost everyone we know has been divorced. Years ago, when our sons were little, one of them brought up divorce at the dinner table. He was maybe in fifth grade or so. He said “Ya’ know, I think I might be the only kid in my class who has his own original parents! Everyone’s got an extra mom or dad and other grandparents.” Then he looked at Donna and me and asked, “Are you guys ever gonna’ get divorced?” We said “No. No matter what happens. No way.”

Regrettably, divorce is almost as common in the church today as it is in the society in general. There are so many instances of non-marrieds living together without a marriage covenant. They are “trying things out.” Yet, that hasn’t diminished divorce rates. Some even admit to “starter marriages.” Fully understanding that they might “move on” if things get boring. So, divorce is as common as fast food in today’s America.

As background let’s remember as we sit and listen to Jesus … what he said earlier. That we are to be people longing for spirituality and mournful about our world, and meek and hungry for righteousness, and merciful and pure in heart. Peacemakers willing to endure persecution. So, Jesus is saying “If this is you, then you will behave in the following ways. Our attitudes will be as follows.” Then he goes on to talk about these real-life questions. Including divorce. Consider exactly what he said:

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’”

Who said that? To whom is Jesus referring? In the “Mishnah” (the written collection of the Jewish oral traditions) it said that a man should give an unsatisfactory wife a certificate of divorce that made it clear the marriage was severed. Hence, she would be free to marry again. In the first century, including among the Jews, divorce was common. That was a patriarchal society in which women had few if any rights or options. Such a certificate was an attempt to free the woman if her husband no longer desired her as his wife.

Now, Jesus is about to stun his listeners by telling them that this act of executing a “certificate of divorce” was itself quite unacceptable for any reason except one. We hear him say:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

Once again, Jesus is claiming the right to supersede the teaching of even the most famous rabbis. Now, in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, the similar passage is not as complete. As we sit on the mountainside, we hear Jesus say something that is more developed. Namely: “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness…” Marital unfaithfulness includes the Greek word “porneia” from which we get “pornography.” Jesus is specifically referring to sexual infidelity. This then is the only exception that Jesus offers. His point is that a marriage covenant is so sacred and permanent, that it should NEVER be broken. In Matthew we read:

Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV) “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.’”

Now, back to the mountainside. We might put up a hand and say “Excuse me Jesus. We heard you say at another time that man must never break apart what God has joined. But now you are saying it can be broken if there has been marital unfaithfulness. Ok…adultery is very bad but why is it bad enough to justify divorce?”
At this point, I am uneasy imagining the response of Jesus. But I think the answer lies in the fact that when a married person literally joins himself or herself sexually to another, not their spouse, they have, in a sense married that person.

In other words, by entering into sexual union with someone, we are entering into what God designed to be a marriage. After all, what did Jesus say was the primary indicator of marriage? “The two become one flesh.” My own thinking is that Jesus offers the “exception” allowing divorce because the unfaithful partner has already divorced their spouse by their unfaithfulness.

An important question should be considered: were these words of Jesus all that can ever be said about divorce? Paul certainly seems to suggest that desertion would be a valid reason to dissolve a marriage. Consider:

1 Corinthians 7:15 (NIV) “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”

Volumes have been written on this subject. From a pastoral point of view, sometimes divorce, even when there has been no adultery, must be considered. I have, at times, encouraged the dissolution of a marriage when there is ongoing abuse and even danger to one party in a marriage. But the Lord Jesus Christ was saying something deeper. He was saying that the true disciple ought to honor God by keeping the marriage covenant. He was not saying that a violated party must divorce the unfaithful partner, but that they may if they choose to do so.

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I have known a few people who forgave the violation and resumed their marriage successfully to the person who had betrayed them. I’ve never told anyone so violated that they really should do that. But it is a work of grace to see that happen. Indeed, it is an example of these words: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 22: “Lust” 08.31.2018

Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

This has gotten quite complicated. In our last discussion, we pictured one of the men on the mountainside listening to Jesus becoming very perplexed. We suggested that he might say:
“Jesus…wait please. What you just said about adultery in our hearts? It’s just…impossible! You’re a man. You have never lusted? Really? Please excuse my asking but do you mean this?”

Yes, Jesus means it. If we have murderous thoughts in our hearts, we are, in some sense, murderers. If we have lust in our hearts, we are, in some sense, adulterers. So, this whole matter of Holiness is about far more than behavior. It is about our hearts. Of course, it is far better not to actually murder or commit adultery. But it is infinitely better, even righteous, to not do either in our hearts. In short, we are to long to be like Jesus who, as a man did not sin. Remember, he was fully man and fully God. In his humanness he fell asleep and ate and drank. He was not just God pretending to be a man. He was the second Adam who did what the first Adam did not do. He lived to please God and we benefit by faith from our trust in Jesus! His sinlessness is attributed to us and relieves us from condemnation. Just as we were under condemnation before we came to Christ because the first Adam fell into sin and we got his sin nature. But we are moving too fast.

The question is: how can we love God more than we love sin? How can we love God far more than we love our flesh so that there never is murder or adultery in our hearts? So that we do not avoid lustful thoughts only by turning away and not incubating them, but not even having them? Here is a true story. Please do not take offense. I am a major league sinner even after 41 years of walking with Jesus. But this illustration might help…

Way long ago, before salvation, I was in management in a corporate banking office in New York. My beautiful wife Donna was at home expecting our first child. One day, a woman in my office offered herself to me at lunchtime. She was attractive and sensual and quietly invited me to her apartment. By the grace of God, I did not go. I can honestly say that I did not want to go. I did not spend five seconds in the days that followed wishing I had gone. I just recoiled at her attempted seduction. Why? Because I was so in love with my wife that I had no desire to go with her.

Now, the matter of heart-sin is really very simple. I can and should develop rules and ways of living to avoid temptation and displeasing God. But, in the end, we can avoid sin by loving God more than we love our flesh. When we love God fully, we don’t care to gossip or lust or be unforgiving. So, sorry to say it to myself and to you but we have heart sin to the extent that we do not love God. We can appreciate God and love Him but not fully.

This is unsettling. Consider what they asked Jesus and his reply:

Matthew 22:35-40 (NIV) “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus just surprised them. There were hundreds of commandments and laws. In Luke’s Gospel (Chapter Ten) they have a big discussion about “who is my neighbor?” That is marvelously interesting but here we want to stop on the first clause: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind!” That is really asking a lot! Most of the time, we like God. We appreciate God. We want to honor God. We are eager to see God. But love Him? More than just “sort of?” With all of our hearts and souls and minds? With every thought that comes our way? Can we ever hope to love God to this extent and thus become “pure in heart?” Remember: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God?” Matthew 5:8?

Now. Let’s be clear. Not loving God perfectly will not make us lose our salvation. But are we content to love God imperfectly? No. Rather we are to strive to be more and more like Jesus, the Son of God. Think of what Jesus said:

John 8:29 (NIV) “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

John 8:46 (NIV) “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?”

Ultimately, to love God with all of our hearts is to hate sin with all of our hearts. More on this in the days ahead.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 21: “Adultery” 08.30.18

Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Fifty years ago, in the late sixties, the concept of no-fault divorce was introduced in America. Within a few years, most states adopted it. Without commenting on the wisdom of such a decision, we can point out that prior to that, families and couples had to endure the often sordid process of proving that adultery had taken place. At a time when marital laws still reflected respect for the Word of God, the Seventh Commandment was still honored: “You shall not commit adultery.” Thus, for an aggrieved marriage partner to secure a decree of divorce, he or she had to provide proof to the court that their spouse had committed adultery.

This requirement spawned an entire industry of sleuthing detective/photographers who would be retained to follow the husband or wife who was suspected. A folder of photographs of the adulterer entering a motel with an illicit lover was brought to the bench. I knew many adulterous men and a few women. In the ministry, I’ve spoken with too many others who claimed to be disciples of Christ but were guilty of this sin.

Picture this. We are sitting on the mountainside and every single man, with a very, very few possible exceptions, every single man…notices a fellow with a camera taking pictures of our hearts. Probably many of the women too. Jesus just said that we have committed adultery when we lust after someone who does not belong to us in marriage. With God as our Judge, the spiritual photos will be presented.

Of course, I am writing these things as a man. I hope my sisters in Christ will not take offense when I say the following. Some years back I spoke from the pulpit reminding the ladies, as summer began, to be thoughtful about their dressing choices. Modesty for a Christian man or woman should be a given. All the more in a worship service. I correctly quoted the Lord Jesus Christ who said:

Luke 17:1 (NIV) “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

For men, lust is as automatic as breathing. Put simply, unless a man has a very muted level of libido, his eyes will be drawn to the woman whose physical gifts are obvious. He doesn’t even have to think about it. What he does at that point is another matter. We will return to that. But, after that sermon, I received an outraged note from a woman who identified herself as a psychologist. She made it very clear that she was offended. I needed to know, in her view, that it was entirely a man’s problem if he could not or would not control his thoughts. She insisted that no man had to have lustful thoughts even if a woman was dressed seductively.

I did not suggest to her that her feminism had taken a turn to the irrational. I merely said something like “You can speak this way because…you are not a man. This is every man’s problem, and women can certainly contribute to it. In fact, many committed Christian women have admitted to me as a Pastor that they have done so.” I did not hear back from her.

We said above that we will return to the question of what the lustful heart should do when it begins. Of course, there’s the very practical step of “incubation.” That is, whenever we are tempted to sin, we must make a very simple and immediate decision to turn away. A woman cannot help it if she notices a man, not her husband, who is attractive or even exciting sexually. The same with a man who has eyes that are operational! But she or he can determine to take their minds elsewhere and not fantasize about this one who has come into view. That’s the best thing to do but even then, they have probably committed adultery in their hearts! Thus, this whole teaching from our Lord is downright discouraging and, dare we say it, unrealistic.

Perhaps one of the guys sitting on the mountainside, close enough to Jesus to be heard, might gently interrupt. He might say “Jesus…wait please. What you just said about adultery in our hearts? It’s just…impossible! You’re a man. You have never lusted? Really? Please excuse my asking but do you mean this?” What might Jesus say in response at this point? I have an idea he might respond…

“Actually, this teaching is not primarily about adultery. It is about sin in the heart. You have been thinking that God’s displeasure with you is all about your actions. So, you fret endlessly about every behavior. But your hearts are the real issue. What I am saying is that you will only be delivered from adultery in the heart, or murder in the heart, or any other heart sin…when you come to hate sin itself! That is why I said that sin is so bad you should cut off your hand or gouge out your eye if necessary to avoid it!”

Now, of course Jesus was using hyperbole. Exaggeration for effect. No one is expected to start self-mutilating. The real question is how can I come to hate my sin? Not just hate it because of some set of reminders that I develop when I feel lustful or murderous. But to hate it without even thinking. Is it possible that my heart could be changed in that way? Do I want it to be changed to hate sin?

I can’t stand olives. I like olive oil (my father was born in Sicily. They are big on olives.) But as a little boy I tasted an olive, and spit it out. I will never like olives! Can I reach a point where I spit out sin as it tries to enter my heart? Not because I should spit it out but because I just can’t stand it?

Next: Can we put sin in our hearts to death?

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 21: “Settle Matters Quickly” and the Heart 08.29.18

Matthew 5:25-26 (NIV) “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Modern medicine has given us several forms of “cardiography.” Before surgery, a cardiogram is often required to measure the condition of the heart before the body is challenged. We are a heart-conscious society. Many millions of Americans take statin drugs daily to reduce the cholesterol levels in the blood hoping to impede the clogging of the heart arteries. Imagine if we could take a drug to clear out our spiritual hearts?

My point is simply this: do I have a heart to “settle matters quickly?” Or is my spiritual heart clogged with vanity and pride and self and condescension towards my fellow sinners? And how does this closing statement from our Lord Jesus Christ touch on the matters of the heart (we will stop modifying the word heart with “spiritual” at this point; we get it.)

First, let’s review the importance of the heart. Interesting that the word “heart” … “kardia” appears 153 times in the English Standard Version of the New Testament. It refers to the deepest part of our emotions and feelings and values. It is that private place that only we know about. And one other knows about. God Himself. A great example is found in Acts Chapter Eight when Peter rebuked an indecent man named Simon who thought he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit.

We read: Acts 8:20-21 (NIV) Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

That should give us pause. God is assessing our hearts. He knows who we really are and what we really care about. Consider the many statements of Jesus about the heart. Here are just two:

Matthew 12:34 (NIV) “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

We mentioned this in an earlier article. If we want to know what’s in a person’s heart, just listen to their words. Self included. This may be why many of the ancient Christians set aside whole days determined not to speak as a way of being reflective. Not talking but listening to self. So….

Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV) Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

This phrase “all your heart” is the key. Is my heart divided between love of God and neighbor and love of self? Ok…now let’s try to connect our opening verse and see why in the world Jesus would finish this teaching about murder with this statement:

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Because the heart that is totally committed to God and neighbor is a peacemaking and reconciling heart! And it is a smart heart! Why? Because it wants matters resolved. In ancient Roman law, two people in a dispute were expected to come together before the court. If they were able to settle matters between themselves BEFORE they got to the judge, the case was dismissed. But if they did not get things settled, they could not return to negotiations after the court got involved. So, Jesus just told us for our own sakes and because it is pleasing to God, we must cultivate reconciling hearts.

So, we are all the way back to this verse from Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) “ Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Literally: “Keep, guard, build a wall around your inner self…(labe) for out of it come the well springs of life.” This is all part of the ancient teaching that there is something inside of us that either wells up to righteousness and God-centered joy or to the darkness found in self-absorption.

Remember what Jesus said to the woman he met at the well? John 4:13-14 (NIV) “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Our Lord is saying that your inner heart … self… is what you are about. Watch what you put into it! We all see the vulgar nonsensical trash that our culture is spewing forth. I often wonder at this marvelous but unrealistic statement from the Word of God: Psalm 101:3 (NIV) “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.”

In summary, we want undefiled hearts that purely see the Glory of God and want to live accordingly. So, we should allow no time or energy to be wasted in disputes. Get them settled to the best of our ability.

“Oh God, grant out of your storehouse of mercy that I would have a tender heart that is eager to be reconciled to everyone whenever possible. Just as you have settled natters with my soul when I came to Jesus, make me to be a person who loves peace making.”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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