Tag Archives: Matthew 18

Of Drownings and Gouged Eyes

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from the past, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Little boy sleepovers and little girl slumber parties are two pretty different things. I learned this as a father of girls, whose wildest conversations in the slumber parties we hosted don’t even register on the “grotesqueness” scale I am sure my parents used to measure the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of the stuff about which my childhood friends and I talked. I mean, we talked about sick, morbid stuff, from “What’s the grossest sound you ever heard?” to “What’s the absolute worst way to die?” I have long since decided that these were perfectly normal topics of discussion for little boys and that there is nothing wrong with me. Please don’t comment and tell me otherwise.

I think boys are just drawn to extremes…the worst, the grossest, the hardest, the biggest. It is actually a communication style for them. You know, when they want to really hammer a point home and leave no doubt in the listener’s mind, they use an extreme illustration. It works for them.

millstone-around-the-neckIt worked for Jesus too. In Matthew 18, when he describes the way his followers will influence one another in His “church”, he wants to make a critically important point about the effects of sin in our lives. Here is what He understands about us: the only consequences of sin that really influence us are the immediate, physical consequences. If we don’t see immediate, physical consequences, our attitudes and behavior are not really being changed. That is just a part of the human condition. We are a short-sighted bunch.

So Jesus used extreme illustrations to make his point about the Spiritual impact of sin in His church. He talked about throwing someone into the …

The Key to Your Church’s Strength

And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” Judges 16:17

 I in them and you in me,that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:23

strength relationshipsI remember Samson (of the Bible) holding “superhero” status in my mind as a child. Studying his tragic story now as an adult, I realize his character flaws throw a very different light on his super-human power. Isn’t that what intrigues us about God’s story? It is told through the lives of so many horribly flawed–even dysfunctional–people. 

That is one of the ways of God: to use markedly flawed people to accomplish His will. It is intriguing about Samson and it is intriguing about the church. We are all flawed, and yet (like Samson) we, the church, are filled with God’s Spirit and collectively empowered to represent His spiritual authority in this world. Samson was a tragically flawed hero of God’s story, and Christ’s eklesia is likewise embarrassingly flawed. I’ve written about that here.

But also like Samson, the church has a peculiar source of its strength…a “lynch pin”, if you will, to all that empowerment God promises us. For Samson, it was his hair. But for the church, it is our relationships with one another.

We can talk about the power of prayer (if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven); we can talk about …

The Parable of the Unmerciful Driver

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

The kingdom of Heaven is like when you’re driving home on Friday evening and the interstate is a parking lot with cars bumper to bumper for like miles and miles and there is this one pitiful car trying desperately to get in line but nobody will let him in because everybody is being a jerk and this poor guy is sitting there with his blinker on waiting and waiting and waiting and so you decide to be the good guy and you let him get in front of you. Good job. You are a Christ-like person. But then along comes another pitiful soul in the exact same situation and he pulls up along side the first guy hoping the first guy will let him get in front of him because he’s thinking, “this guy just had mercy shown to him so surely he will show a little mercy as well” and, frankly, you’re thinking the same thing which is why you are so angry when the first guy WON’T BUDGE and will not show any mercy at all to the second guy. Suddenly, you’re not thinking nice things anymore. You just want to do physical harm to the first guy’s car for being such a jerk. You’re thinking, “Hey, I showed you some mercy, what’s your problem!?” And that is like the kingdom of heaven.

As a church mediator working with conflicted congregations, I have come to believe that the sin posing the most significant threat to church unity today is the sin of unforgiveness. I cannot …

Investing in a Sure Thing

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. Jeremiah 32:15

“I’m not religious…but I’m spiritual.” It is the mantra of an entire young adult generation who has left the church. They would say they have not given up on God, but they have had quite enough of God’s people. To them, the church is seen as a failing institution, no longer worthy of our investment. There’s a story about that in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, was either such an amazing salesman he could have sold snow cones to Eskimoes, or he was literally filled with the Spirit of God so as to make his sales offer to Jeremiah miraculously irresistible. At a time when Jerusalem was about to finally fall to a Chaldean occupation and life as Israel knew it was about to end, Hanamel says to Jeremiah, “Hey, you wanna buy my field?” If it were not God’s doing, it would have been a laughable moment. Jeremiah made the investment.

old churchWhy in the world would anyone want to invest in Jerusalem at that point? It was ending…going down the toilet. Generations of wrong decisions had finally caught up to it and it was literally crumbling from the inside out. It had ample reason and opportunity to change in order to better fit God’s design, but it would not. The consequences of all those wrong choices were here…it was over. There was, quite literally, nothing left in which to invest.

In all these ways, it sounds remarkably like the church, doesn’t it? At least the church as it is perceived by an awful lot of people. They think of it as an irrelevant, rickety, out of date, embarrassingly stuffy institution whose time has come …

How Many Breaths Have You Taken So Far Today?

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

hot-air-balloonThe average person breathes about 28,800 times a day.  Did you know that?  That’s a whole lot of hot air.  I wonder if that’s enough to fill a hot air balloon?  If the average adult breath is about 1 liter of air, and if the average hot air balloon is about 77,000 cubic meters of air…how many of us would it take breathing all day long to fill a hot air balloon? Somebody do the math on that and give us the answer in the comments!

For the Christ-follower, forgiving is a lot like breathing.  I think when Jesus corrected Peter in Matthew 18, saying we are to forgive seventy times seven, what He meant is that we’re not even keeping score like that.  We don’t count at all, because we will be doing it way too much to keep track!  For us, it is like breathing.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive again.  That is the way it is supposed to be in the church.

Forgiveness may be the most misunderstood concept in Christendom.  That’s ironic, because forgiveness, it seems, is supposed to be the hallmark of the …

Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It

Tuesday Re-mix –

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5

Triage:  the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors  merriam-webster

“Triage” is the term for having to make quick, hard decisions (usually medical) about which wound or patient to treat first in order to do the most good.  In the spiritual warfare we call “church”, there are casualties…and none more so than when blatant and public immorality are at issue.  That is what Paul confronted in the Corinthian church, and his counsel is both passionate and harsh.  It is about spiritual triage.

If you are being honest, you will admit that you do not like this instruction from Paul one bit.  Furthermore, if you are like me, you have twisted and contorted and struggled to find some way of interpreting and teaching this passage that somehow takes the “harsh dogma” out of it and makes it more understandable…more palatable to the mainstream Christian…more “in line” with our notions of grace and mercy.  We do this in light of Jesus’ treatment of church discipline in Matthew 18 (“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”…remember how Jesus treated the tax collectors?) and in light of Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman (“Then

Childlike Connectedness

Tuesday Re-mix –

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-3

Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to choosing playmates, children don’t seem to be bothered by any of the same concerns which we hold? When we find out that our child has taken more than a passing interest in another child, we have a thousand questions about that child…and we are frustrated when our child doesn’t know the answers to ANY of them. Where does she go to church? What does he believe? Who are his parents? What does her daddy do for a living? Where does he live? WHAT IS HIS/HER LAST NAME? And when we ask, we get nothing from our own child about any of these concerns. Because children just don’t care about these things when choosing a playmate.

Of course, the longer they live in the world, the more and more the world teaches them about what “really matters” when it comes to judging people. Unless they are intentional about staying childlike, they begin to lose this ability to connect with anyone and everyone irrespective of outward appearance or social status or even belief systems. This makes me sad. And I believe it makes Jesus sad too.

This post comes on the heels of last week’s post about generational differences in the church today, specifically, how Gen X’ers and Millennials tend to BELONG first, and BELIEVE second and what that teaches us about how we connect with people in the church. Today, I am pinning …

The Truth Behind “It is finished.”

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Matthew 6:14-15

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

This is the time of year when we, as Christ followers, remember the three events which all happened within a few weeks of each other and which changed our world forever: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost.  Within the Christian world, different groups have tended to focus more on one of these events or another.  In my particular flavor of Christianity, we tend to focus more on the resurrection than on the other two; so much so, in fact, that I sometimes lose the practical significance of either the crucifixion or of Pentecost.  This week, as an exercise to help me balance this, I have been thinking a lot about the crucifixion.

In The Gathering this past Sunday, I challenged everyone to consider their daily routine, their life and their world without the crucifixion.  What would it look like?  What would it be like?  It made for some interesting discussion, as we each began to come to grips with what the crucifixion means to us individually.

So, I have also been asking the same question with regard to the entire church.  What does the crucifixion mean for us corporately?  What would “church” look like without it?  For me (so far) the picture is both simple and scary: there would be little forgiveness and there would be little grace.  I believe that because, over and over again, scripture draws a clear and convincing connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of each other.  Don’t …

Rejoicing at the Foot of the Mountain

Tuesday Re-mix –

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Matthew 17:1-2

Have you ever wondered what it was like back down the mountain with all the other disciples who did NOT get to make the trip up to the transfiguration?  I have:

So what do you guys think this is all about?  I mean, surely I’m not the only one of us who is a bit troubled by this.  Why would the Master choose those three over any of us?  O.K., I suppose James & John make sense…Jesus has shown a special affinity for  them before.  Just because John is so “relationship-oriented”, so “intimate” in his relationship to Jesus…and I suppose if my own mother had made a plea for me the way theirs did for them, maybe I would be up there with them right now.  I don’t necessarily agree with those choices, but I guess I understand them.

But Peter?  Really?  Over any of us?  Not a shred of education…sticks his foot in his mouth every time he opens it…so very impulsive and childish…remember just last week how Jesus rebuked him?  Why Peter?  Why on earth would Jesus pick him?  Are any of you worried about what this means about our place in the new order of things?  Jesus keeps talking about the kingdom of God being at hand and how everything is about to change.  Do we even know what that means?  What do you think our roles will be in his new kingdom?  Do we really have to put up with Peter outranking us?  I just don’t

No Keeping Score with Forgiveness

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

As of the original writing of this post, if Michael Phelps were a nation unto himself, he would have ranked third in the number of gold medals won at that point in the Beijing Olympics. That’s impressive. Watching him and his 4 x 200 relay team members shatter a world record by almost 5 full seconds was impressive. Watching the Chinese gymnastics teams (both men and women) was also impressive. I do love the Olympic games.

One of the things I noticed about myself as I watched is how many new numbers I learned. Before last Summer’s Olympics in Beijing, I never knew what a world class split time was for 100 meters freestyle. Before then, I never knew how to calculate team averages in gymnastic rotations in the team competition. But I found my brain awash in these calculations night after night as I watched with anticipation. For a guy who went to law school so I wouldn’t have to learn any more math, I got wrapped up in the math of competition quickly…because the numbers are important in Olympic competition. It is how we remember athletes’ performances. It is how we keep score. And let’s be honest here, keeping score is important to us.

But in matters of grace and forgiveness, numbers are apparently not important to God. So I believe Peter was a bit befuddled by Jesus’ response to his question about forgiveness in Matthew 18. And I believe we are right there with Peter. Our chests swell with pride over how forgiving we have just been with a brother…for the [fill in the blank with your favorite number]-th time. We are proud because we are …