Saturday, March 25, 2006

The last shall be last

After years of trying to train my kids not to fight over being first in line at the dessert table, we recently encountered an interesting twist. They were fighting over being last.

That's right, instead of arguing about who was going to be first, they began arguing over the right to be last in line. And they apparently thought this would get them big kudos from Mom and Dad.

This new phase was only slightly better than the first. Instead of selfishly seeking the first plate of dessert, they were selfishly seeking the last. It struck me that it is possible to be selfishly selfless. How paradoxical is that? We can do wrong by doing right with the wrong attitude.

It may make a funny illustration, but it's a serious problem for Christians. Getting together with other believers can be an awesome and uplifting thing to do. But if it's done in order to check it off our list of Christian duties for the week, it's pointless. Or if it's done to illustrate how "spiritual" we are, it's similarly futile. We're doing a good thing with the wrong attitude.

In a recent discussion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, it became increasingly obvious to us that the overriding theme of his lesson was that the heart is where the real battle is. In the familiar series of "You have heard," followed by "But I tell you," we learn that the thoughts and intents of the heart are at least as important as the outward manifestations of them.

Murder is bad. But murder begins in the heart, Jesus says. Charitable deeds are good. But make sure your heart is in the right place when you do them, because if you are doing them to be seen of men, you get your reward as soon as you get the desired pat on the back. Doing them from the heart is what God wants.

The same could be said of so many of the topics Jesus discusses in this sermon. Fasting can be a good thing done for the wrong reason. Even telling the truth can be done in a boastful, condescending, or hurtful way.

This may come as a complete surprise, but even the command to love, which is the ultimate of God's commands, can be obeyed for the wrong reason. Yes, it is possible to be kind for the express purpose of irritating someone!
    Romans 12:19-21 - Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)
Here, Paul is saying that showing kindness to an "enemy" will give him a major guilt trip. Now, it may be tempting to want to give our enemy a guilt trip, but that is not the goal of expressing our kindness. Of course, we shouldn't stop being kind to our enemy, but we certainly shouldn't relish the thought of heaping those coals of fire. Instead, we should relish the thought of showing our forgiveness and compassion, even if we don't believe it's being reciprocated.

In short, brothers, let's do good from the heart, not simply to get kudos from God or men. There's no point in being selfless if we're doing so with selfish motives. In that case, Jesus' axiom is turned on its head, making the last come in last right along with the first.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Dealing with one another

I don't know who compiled these "One Anothers," but they illustrate how important our relationships are with people. All of the "book knowledge" in the world can't replace the value of our one-on-one relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Knowing how we ought to behave is quite different from actually doing it.
  • be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
  • wash one another's feet (John 13:14)
  • love one another (John 13:34)
  • love one another (John 13:35)
  • love one another (John 15:12)
  • love one another (John 15:17)
  • you are members of one another (Rom. 12:5)
  • be devoted to one another in love (Rom. 12:10)
  • honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10)
  • live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
  • love one another (Rom. 13:8)
  • stop passing judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13)
  • edify one another (Rom. 14:19)
  • be like minded one toward another (Rom. 15:5)
  • admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)
  • greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16)
  • wait for one another (1Cor. 11:33)
  • have the same care for one another (1Cor. 12:25)
  • greet one another with a holy kiss (1Cor. 16:20)
  • greet one another with a holy kiss (2Cor. 13:12)
  • serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13)
  • bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2)
  • speak truth for we are members of one another (Eph. 4:25)
  • be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
  • submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
  • do not lie to one another (Col. 3:9)
  • bear with one another (Col. 3:13)
  • forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
  • abound in love toward one another (1Th. 3:12)
  • love one another (1Th. 4:9)
  • comfort one another (1Th. 4:18)
  • incite one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
  • encourage one another (Heb. 10:25)
  • do not speak evil of one another (Jas. 4:11)
  • do not make complaints against one another (Jas. 5:9)
  • confess your sins to one another (Jas. 5:16)
  • pray for one another (Jas. 5:16)
  • love one another deeply, from the heart (1Pet. 1:22)
  • offer hospitality to one another (1Pet. 4:9)
  • clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1Pet. 5:5)
  • greet one another with a kiss of love (1Pet. 5:14)
  • have fellowship with one another (1Jn. 1:7)
  • love one another (1Jn. 3:11)
  • love one another (1Jn. 3:23)
  • love one another (1Jn. 4:7)
  • love one another (1Jn. 4:11)
  • love one another (1Jn. 4:12)
  • love one another (2Jn. 5)

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Thoughts on anger

I originally put these scriptures together to have a little chat with two of my kids who have been having a little temper problem lately. Then I realized they would make good reading for a discussion that our group does frequently involving all the kids. Then I realized they would be great for us adults as well. And finally, I realized they'd be great for the blog.

So enjoy, and I hope these verses challenge you to handle your anger better. I know they help me.
    Psalm 4:4 - In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. (NIV)

    Psalm 37:8 - Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. (NIV)

    Psalm 103:8 - The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (NIV)

    Proverbs 15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)

    Proverbs 15:28 - The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (NIV)

    Proverbs 22:24 - Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered. (NIV)

    Proverbs 26:4 - Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (NIV)

    Proverbs 29:11 - A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (NIV)

    Proverbs 30:33 - For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife." (NIV)

    Ecclesiastes 7:9 - Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. (NIV)

    2 Corinthians 12:20 - For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger… (NIV)

    Ephesians 4:26 - "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. (NIV)

    Ephesians 4:31 - Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (NIV)

    Colossians 3:8 - But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (NIV)

    James 1:19-20 - My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (NIV)

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