The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Sermon on the Mount

A Christian Response to COVID-19

Although it is not an official policy of mine, it is pretty rare that I write in response to major events that are going on in the world. It is not that I am unconcerned with current events, but usually, there are already a ton of voices weighing in on a given issue, I rarely feel like an expert who needs to have his opinion shared, and in general, I try to be more proactive than reactive in what I write and post.

I am not totally sure what prompts me to write in this case; certainly, there are a lot of people talking about Coronavirus already, and I am definitely no expert. Perhaps I am writing because (1) I feel a sense of uneasy concern, so the reminders I will share below are reminders that I need to hear, and (2) I took the day off of work so I could focus on watching the SEC Basketball Tournament, which has now been canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, so it is on my mind and I have a little time on my hands.

So here is the issue: we have what is now a global pandemic on our hands, which is leading to unprecedented cancellations of major events. It is quite contagious, and many times more lethal than the flu. Although many people who contract it barely suffer at all, it is particularly dangerous for those who are elderly and those who have compromised immune systems. It light of these realities, what might be a “Christian response” to Coronavirus?

Here are a few ideas, all taken from the Sermon on the Mount.

Christians are not to live in fear.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

(Matthew 6.25-34)

There is a lot of fear and anxiety in the world right now. Plans are being upset and lives are being unsettled. A lot of recreational events that normally help to distract us from the concerns of life are being canceled, which seems to magnify the problem. It is easy to be afraid.

But it is inherently un-Christian to live lives that are driven by fear. We are not called to be people of fear, but people of boldness who absolutely rely on our Heavenly Father to protect us.

Currently, there is cause for concern and a need for wisdom and discernment in what we do. But we should not be alarmists or fearmongers.



Christians are to value truth.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

(Matthew 5.33-37)

This one should be pretty obvious; we know that we are supposed to be people of truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught His followers that they should be people of such absolute integrity that it wouldn’t be necessary for them to take elaborate oaths because others implicitly trusted them.

Christians should value truth at all times, but perhaps especially so in times of fear and uncertainty. Part of that means that we should be careful about what sort of information we share online. I have seen multiple people (some of them preachers no less!) share disdain for the “hysteria” surrounding Coronavirus saying it is nowhere near as deadly as the common flu. Although COVID-19 is not nearly as widespread as the common flu (currently), it is far more lethal to those who contract it—that is a statistical reality. We need to be very careful about the information we share, and make sure to verify that it is accurate.

Related to the point above, it seems to me that a remarkable number of my online friends and acquaintances have suddenly become amateur epidemiologists, and speak with a great deal of certainty that is probably unwarranted. Part of being truthful is not giving the impression that we know more than we do; I am the first to admit that I am not the most informed about what is going on. I want to be careful about who I listen to, careful about what I share with others, and careful that I do not give the impression that I am an expert. I want to value truth.

Christians are to love their neighbors.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5.43-48)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

(Matthew 7.12)

A common response I have seen from many people, a lot of them Christians, is something like, “What’s the big deal? Maybe I’ll get the virus, and if I do, I’ll probably recover. And even if it kills me, as a Christian, I don’t fear death. I’m  not going to change what I do just because of this virus.”

There’s some truth to that, and it would be a great perspective…if we all lived on islands by ourselves. The reality is that whether or not you are concerned about catching the disease yourself (and personally, I am not), you should be concerned about the possibility of spreading the disease to others, especially those who are less able to fight it off, and those who may not share the same Christian hope of conquering death that you do. Loving our neighbors means that we want to go to reasonable measures to keep them safe from the spread of illness.

Also, loving others means that hoarding supplies probably isn’t the most Christian thing you can do either. Sure, it is important that you have enough to provide for your family, but a Christian response to possessions—at any time—is that we should be prepared to share whatever we have with others (so if you have 300 rolls of toilet paper stocked up, you might want to keep an eye out for people lamenting that they can’t find any and help them out!).

Christians are to pray.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6.9-13)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Matthew 7.7-11)

Prayer should always be at the forefront of how Christians respond to…anything. We should pray for those in positions of authority who are making decisions about how best to proceed while limiting the spread of the virus. We should pray for those suffering from financial fallout from the effects of travel being limited and events being canceled. We should pray for those who are sick. We should pray for those treating and caring for them. We should pray for those working for vaccines and anti-viral drugs. We should pray for those who have lost loved ones. We should pray for those dealing with the difficulties of quarantine. And as Jesus reminds us, we should pray with fervency and perseverance.

Prayer reminds us of our own limitations and is an acknowledgment of our unlimited God. Prayer leads us to trust instead of fear. Prayer makes us mindful of others rather than just ourselves.

Conclusion: Christians are to let their lights shine.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5.14-16)

Jesus says that His followers are like a city set on a hill—incredibly visible to the world around us. The reality is that people in the world see how Christians behave, and they are paying attention. Perhaps this is especially true in times of uncertainty. When we fail to live as we are called to, it is incredibly damaging to the cause of Christ. But when we live according to the commands of our King, others see that and are brought to give glory to God:

  • In a world filled with fear, Christians are called to rely on our Heavenly Father.
  • In a world filled with misinformation, political posturing, conspiracy theories, and hysteria, Christians are called to value truth.
  • In a world filled with shortsighted self-interest, Christians are called to love others.
  • In a world filled with uncertainty of what to do, Christians are called to pray.

May we seek to live as Jesus calls us to, and in so doing, to bring glory to God our Father!

Counter Culture: A Study of the Sermon on the Mount

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Despite being one of the most beloved sections in all of Scripture, the Sermon on the Mount is also one of the most neglected and ignored sections, because in it, Jesus calls His disciples to live in ways that are completely at odds with the way the world operates.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out a vision for how His followers should live and what life in His Kingdom is all about. Counter Culture makes Jesus’ Kingdom vision accessible to students—explaining the historical context and applying the teaching to modern-day life—while in no way minimizing the challenge that Jesus gives.

Although this book was written specifically as an aid to teaching the Sermon on the Mount to junior high and high school students, it is also useful for personal Bible study, and the depth of the material makes it a great resource for adult Bible classes.

Glorifying God in Conflict

Introduction

Last summer and fall, I spent six months teaching through the Sermon on the Mount in a couple of different classes at church; at the same time, I also took a graduate school class called “Managing Conflict in Ministry.” Together, these two sources caused me to re-think the way I look at conflict.

By nature, I’m not someone who enjoys conflict. I basically hate it, and my natural inclination is to go out of my way to avoid it. But really, I don’t think it’s possible to always avoid conflict, nor is it healthy to do so. In reality, conflict is inevitable, and this is true in the world, and it’s true in the church as well:

(1) God created us as unique individuals who are meant to live in community. We each have our own thoughts, desires, and preferences. We each think that certain things should happen in certain ways. We have differences of opinions. Combine that with the fact that God does not expect us to live our lives as hermits; we are to live in community. God calls us to live as the church with our different personalities and perspectives, and it’s inevitable that those  things are going to bring us into disagreement and conflict with one another at some point.

(2) We live in very anxious times. There was a famous psychiatrist named Dr. Murray Bowen, who suggested that societies go through periods of regression where the amount of anxiety in the culture spikes upward. When these spikes of anxiety occur, the symptoms in society include a rise in crime, violence, terrorism, high divorce rate, willingness to take people to court, racial division, less principled decision-making by leaders, and a focus on rights over responsibilities.[1]

Now, Dr. Bowen proposed his theory in the 1960s, but it’s almost prophetic in describing our own time: if you look around at our world, I don’t think you need me to convince you that we live in anxious times! And when you have a lot of anxious people who are worried and uptight about things, it naturally follows that you’re going to have a lot of conflict to deal with.

So I really do believe that conflict is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently a bad thing. In fact, I think we could benefit greatly from changing the way we look at conflict, and viewing it as an opportunity to glorify God. A lot of time conflict happens not because anyone has done anything wrong, but simply because, as we mentioned above, we have differences of opinion about things, and when that occurs, we have an opportunity to glorify God by dealing with the conflict in a way that shows love for one another and honors the things that Jesus has commanded us to do. Now, sometimes we are brought into conflict with one another because one party has sinned, and I’ll refer to that below, but even in those instances, we have the opportunity to address the sin in a way that glorifies God.

When it comes to addressing conflict, there are four different steps or ideas that I would like to suggest. Sometimes only one of these ideas will be necessary, while other times, more of a combination will be needed.[2]

Get Over It

We should begin by noting that not everything is a big deal, and sometimes we just need to get over things.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

(Proverbs 19.11)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

(Matthew 5.5)

The proverb is probably straightforward enough, but this beatitude has an Old Testament background in Psalm 37.11, and refers to those who don’t worry about what others do to them because they put their trust in God instead. Meekness describes those who are able to remain patient and composed in the face of insult and injury. It is not the surrender of our rights, but it is the ability to overlook slights, knowing that God is sovereign and will ultimately vindicate us.

I hinted at this in the introduction, but we live in a society that is highly anxious, where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and that naturally leads to a lot of conflict. In such a climate, it may seem a brave thing to constantly shout about how everyone is annoying you, but really, it is a very weak position: you are admitting that other people have constant control over your emotions and responses. Those who are meek, on the other hand, boldly refuse to give others control over their responses.

Now, there are times that we shouldn’t overlook things: if someone does something that seriously dishonors God, or hurts another person, or harms themselves…not everything should be overlooked. But I submit to you that a lot of conflict happens or, at least, is escalated, because we get involved in situations when we really should just get over it instead.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is about retaliation, about getting what we are owed, getting satisfaction. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to sometimes just get over it. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Get The Log Out Of Your Own Eye

This second principle comes from Matthew 7.1-5:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

In context, Jesus is limiting the way we are to judge one another. In 21st century America, Matthew 7.1 might be the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. Since our society values tolerance so highly, it is no wonder that a verse which at first glance seems to indicate that Christians have no place telling other people how to live would be very popular.

However, it is clear that in context, Jesus doesn’t mean for this to be an absolute statement: later on He will talk about how we are to judge people by the fruits they bear, and even here He says that we will be judged in the same way we judge others, and that argument assumes that we will, in fact, judge other people in certain ways. The point of what Jesus is saying here is that we should be gentle and grace-filled in our judgments of others (because that’s how we want God to judge us!) and that we should always begin by looking at ourselves first. And Jesus illustrates that with a humorous picture of a guy who has a massive log sticking out of his eye but who has the audacity to try to remove a splinter from a friend’s eye.

I think this is a really important idea for conflict situations as well.

When we have an issue with someone, maybe they hurt our feelings or we just have a disagreement about something, it’s so easy to focus only on what the other person is doing, and to ignore our own contribution to the problem. But a key first step in conflict is to give ourselves a hard look in the mirror to make sure we don’t have any logs sticking out of our own eyes: how much of the conflict comes from our own stubbornness, poor attitude, or unwillingness to work toward reconciliation?

It’s always easy and tempting to blame any conflict on the other person, but the reality is that we ourselves are almost never as innocent as we’d like to think. It’s essential that you get the log out of your own eye first.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world doesn’t really call for a lot of careful self evaluation, and it assumes the problem is with someone else rather than ourselves. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to get the log out of our own eye. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Go And Be Reconciled

The next principle for glorifying God in conflict comes from Matthew 5.23-24:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This comes in a section of the Sermon on the Mount that deals with our relationships with other people and it is very important that we notice how strongly Jesus emphasizes that when we become aware of a problem we have with another brother or sister, another believer, we stop what we are doing and go to seek reconciliation with that person. Consider this—Jesus places the urgency of reconciliation before even worship! He says to leave your offering at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation.

That’s how important Jesus sees the resolution of conflict to be, and yet, I wonder if we view things the same way. When you have a problem with a brother or sister in Christ—some disagreement or hard feelings over something—do you stop what you’re doing immediately to go and work things out with that person, or do you hold a grudge and develop a long-lasting feud?

Jesus instills an urgency in a need to be reconciled with others. He also instructs a directness. Later in Matthew 18.15-17, He says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here, Jesus outlines the process for how we should deal with sin within the community of faith. We could probably spend quite a bit of time dealing with this, but I really want to focus on the first part. What is the first thing Jesus tells us to do when a fellow Christian sins against us? “Go to your brother, just you and he alone.” We are supposed to go directly to the offending party.

Just like we struggle to appreciate the urgency of reconciliation, we also struggle with the directness. Be honest: when you are upset with someone or feel like they are in the wrong about something, what is your natural reaction? Do you go directly to the person? Or do you go talk to about the situation to someone else?

I’ve had people at church come to me before to complain about the wrong they feel someone else has done to them. When that happens, I try to encourage them to go directly to the person, as Matthew 18 teaches, and to be honest with you, that advice is rarely appreciated!

Again, I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is to hold grudges against people and to talk about people who have wronged us and make them look bad. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to go directly to the person, immediately, and seek reconciliation. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Grant Forgiveness

In Matthew 6.14-15, at the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, either will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The implication here is clear: if we want God to be forgiving toward us, we need to have an attitude of forgiveness toward others. In fact, our willingness to forgive others should be only natural in light of the forgiveness that God offers us.

Jesus teaches a parable on that specific idea in Matthew 18.21-35. It starts with Peter trying to figure out the limit of forgiveness: Lord, how many times do I have to forgive my brother? Up to seven times? And Jesus sets about to describe the limitless nature of forgiveness. He tells the story of a king who had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, which is an amount of money that he would never be able to repay. The servant asks the king to take pity on him, and the king forgives the debt. But then that same servant goes out to a fellow servant who owes him a relatively insignificant amount, and mercilessly throws him into prison because he can’t pay. And the king finds out and is furious and throws the first servant into prison, because how dare he not offer forgiveness when such amazing forgiveness had been offered to him?

The expectation of Jesus for those who would be His followers is clear: since God has forgiven us for so much, how dare we not extend forgiveness to others? Here are, perhaps, the hardest words of this post: it doesn’t matter what the conflict is, it doesn’t matter what the source of disagreement is, it doesn’t matter what sin a brother or sister has committed against you. Jesus makes no exceptions; forgiveness is the only answer.

And when I say forgiveness, I mean real forgiveness. Sometimes you’ll hear people say things like, “I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t forgotten.” Guess what? That’s not forgiveness. Or you might hear someone say, “I forgave her, but I don’t speak to her anymore.” That’s not forgiveness either!

Forgiveness means that you don’t dwell on the incident. It means that you don’t bring it up again to use against the other person. It means that you don’t talk about the conflict with other people. And it means that you won’t let the incident stand between you and the other person moving forward.

Something I heard the other day that I thought was really good: a good indication of whether or not you have forgiven someone is whether or not you would be willing to accept that same level of forgiveness from God. If you’re not comfortable with that level of forgiveness from God, then you still have work to do.

Forgiveness is not what the world suggests; it’s not something the world even understands. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to forgive, no matter what. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Conclusion

Whether or not you or I like it, conflict is inevitable. We don’t really have a choice about whether or not we will ever have to face it. We do have a choice, however, about how we will face it. Conflict can be an environment for sin; it can lead to destroyed relationships, and hard feelings.

But it can also be an opportunity for glorifying God:

  • We glorify God when we just get over things that don’t really matter.
  • We glorify God when we look at ourselves in conflict situations and see how we are contributing to them, and get the log out of our own eye before we try to correct other people.
  • We glorify God when we go to the other party to seek reconciliation and when we do this with urgency and directness.
  • We glorify God when we grant forgiveness to the other person, no matter what.

These are not easy things to do, but they are what Jesus commands. And if we’re going to be followers of Jesus, He’s the one who gets to tells us what that looks like.


[1] I was introduced to Bowen’s theory of Societal Regression by Dr. Carlus Gupton in Managing Conflict in Ministry. 

[2] These points were partially informed by Ken Sande and Ted Kober, Guiding People Through Conflict (Peacemaker Ministries, 2005), 9-13.

Two for One Book Reviews: Heaven on Earth and The Treasure Chest of Grace

I enjoy reading and sharing helpful things that I read with others. I like to read lots of different kinds of books, but as a minister and a theology students, a lot of what I read tends to focus on those areas.

As a part of my schooling, I read widely across the spectrum of Christianity. This invariably means that I read a lot of things I disagree with, but also that I am challenged to think about what the Bible teaches and what I believe frequently. That’s a good thing, I think.

Over the last several years, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of books being put out by ministers and thinkers within Churches of Christ. This is also a good thing, I think, and I have made an effort to read some of those books when I get the chance (and in the process, have come across some very good material). Having said all that, I wanted to offer some quick reviews of a couple of those books: Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now, by Chris Seidman and Joshua Graves, and The Treasure Chest of Grace: Following God’s Map to Untold Riches in Christ Jesus, by Wes McAdams.

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth was good, although it was not what I expected. The book is actually a careful examination of Jesus’ Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and how living those out makes a difference in the here and now (while also identifying us as the kind of people who will be with Jesus eternally).

The subtitle, “Realizing the Good Life Now”, could potentially mean a lot of things, but basically, the authors assert that living this way (according to the Beatitudes) constitutes living the “good life”, and helps us to establish the ideals of God’s Kingdom on earth (to be clear, there are no hints of prosperity gospel nonsense in this book about how God wants us to be happy and therefore will shower us with material blessings if we are faithful to Him).

Each chapter covers a Beatitude, and discusses what it means as well as illustrating it with an abundance of real-life examples, mostly from modern day. The two authors do not write together, and instead, take turns writing different chapters. This is probably my main criticism of the book, as I think it gives it a choppiness in thought and style that wouldn’t be present if either writer was working entirely on his own.

Here are some good quotes:

“The good life is only possible in so far as God is involved. Experiencing the good life is more about what God has done and is doing that what we have done or are doing.” (xi)

“For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven had everything to do with life on this side of the grave while many of us are inclined to think it mostly has something to do with life on the other side. Consequently , we think of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven coming near as meaning through Jesus we now have access to the pace of heaven after we die. Even though this is one aspect of the context, it is not the entire context.” (3)

“The longer Paul dwelled in the kingdom of light the more aware he became of the darkness in his own life.” (16)

“Mourning is a pure vision of the large gulf between how things could be versus how things actually are.” (28)

“How do we respond to the pain and suffering that haunts us? Something’s amiss. Is life beautiful? Yes. But just on the horizon of its inherent beauty is a wild storm, waiting to tear everything to pieces, total destruction. Life is beautiful. But life is also deadly, depressing, and full of pain.” (33)

“Doing the right thing—whether individually (righteousness) or collectively (justice)—is always a primary interest of God in the prophets, because a life is the totality of choices made for the individual and the community.” (57)

“The person you are setting free when you reconcile is yourself.” (99)

“The most dangerous believers in the world to the kingdom of darkness are the ones who live as though they have nothing to lose.” (109)

“Faith is about seeing the world as God sees it. Not simply seeing the world for what it is—in all its paradox of beauty and death—but also seeing the world for what it will one day become.” (131)

The Treasure Chest of Grace

The Treasure Chest of Grace focuses on the fact that we have been saved by grace—nothing we have done or can do on our own has any bearing on salvation apart of the gracious acts of God on our behalf—and then sets about determining what conditions we must meet in order to become recipients of that grace. This is where the “map” of the subtitle comes in: the pages of Scripture reveal to us what we must do in order to come into contact with God’s grace.

This book differs significantly from Heaven on Earth in that McAdams uses no stories or modern-day examples to prove his points; he only uses Scripture. This is by design: “I have made every effort in this book to prove every point with Scripture, and only Scripture. No quotations of man are used to prove any point, only words inspired by God” (8). I understand his reasoning and certainly agree with him at the core (we should base our religious beliefs on Scripture, not something else), but I think the writing suffered somewhat as a result: a short book peppered with hundreds of Scripture references and no other illustrations or examples is harder to read. My other gentle critique is a subjective one: I don’t like really short chapters. The main body of the book is 144 pages long, and those pages are divided into 25 chapters, rendering the average chapter as a little less than six pages long. Constantly shifting from chapter to chapter gives the reader the impression that some thoughts haven’t been well developed (which I don’t think is true, I just think that many of the “chapters” would function better as sections within longer chapters).

Anyway, on to the quotes:

“Man is utterly incapable of earning the things we receive from God. This does not mean, of course, that we are incapable of obeying Him, pleasing Him, honoring Him, glorifying Him; but we must remember that by doing so, we have earned nothing.” (16)

“When people try to save themselves, they are communicating to God that they have no need for His grace.” (25)

“If there were nothing man had to do to receive salvation, there would be none who were lost.” (46)

“Too often people have assumed that because God freely gives grace, He gives it without conditions.” (78)

“Unfortunately many in the religious world have tried to sever the biblical ties between salvation and baptism” (97)

“Man is not saved because he obeys the gospel; he is saved when he obeys the gospel. The gospel itself, not the obedience of man, is the reason man is saved.” (106)

“Your salvation lies at the lace where His “amazing grace” meets your “trust and obey”.” (152)

“Do not mistake the emphasis on baptism to mean that it is more significant than it really is. Nor should you make the mistake of assuming baptism is meaningless or insignificant. Because it is a part of God’s plan to redeem man, it has great importance. But without the blood of Christ, baptism is nothing more than a glorified bath.” (155)

I thought both of these books were short, easy-to-read, helpful treatments of two very biblical ideas: what living the Beatitudes means for us as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and how God’s grace and our obedient faith work together in the act of salvation. I was thankful to have read both.

Scripture Reflections 3: Saltless Christians

I mentioned this before, but the Bible reading plan I am following for this year has a daily reading from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament, which I like a lot. It provides a lot of variety in each day’s reading, and also helps me to scale back and keep the big picture of Scripture in mind.

I say all of that to explain that today’s thought comes from the Book of Matthew, which I read through back in January. In Matthew 5.13, Jesus says,

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

This is obviously a well-known passage, but what struck me about it this time is just how absurd the metaphor Jesus uses is and how harsh the implication of that metaphor is.

First, the absurdity: can you imagine sitting down at a restaurant with a plate of bland food and reaching for the salt only to discover that the salt had lost its flavor and was itself completely tasteless? Of course not: salt is inherently salty; it can’t be anything else. In the same way, it is absurd for someone to claim to be a Christian, and yet not “taste” anything like Christ.

And the harshness: did you catch what Jesus said about salt that had lost its taste? He said it was worthless and ought to be thrown out. So while it is absurd to have someone who claims to be a Christian but fails to exhibit the character of Christ, if that absurdity actually happens (and it does, all the time), then those “Christians” are worthless. Ouch.

It is very tempting for me to soften the words I just typed, but I’m not going to, because Jesus certainly didn’t soften them in the Sermon on the Mount. These words, which come right at the beginning of that sermon, are serious and weighty, and they provide sobering reminders for those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus: (a) it is absurd for us to call ourselves Christians and then fail to resemble Him in our lives, and (b) if we do that, we are “no longer good for anything.”

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