Christian correction

A lot of Christians feel that it is our religious duty to correct other people. Some of us think that we are supposed to tell other people that they are sinners.

This verse is often used to justify this:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.” Matthew 18:15-17

Notice that this only refers to fellow Church members. Notice also that the first part is that the member is rebuked privately. This is never a public censoring, to be aired outside of the Church. Also, it most certainly is not meant for unbelievers.

Some of us will also refer to Matthew 5:23-24. I have included the preceding verses to put it in context.
21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:21-24

We are not to insult or attack anyone. We are to reconcile – to balance the accounts. We are to make peace.

The trouble with the usual manner of “correction” by calling someone a sinner is that it isn’t Christ-like. Jesus never called anybody a sinner. Jesus spoke a lot about religious hypocrisy, in fact. He spoke often against religious people who thought they had it all figured out. So what we are doing when we condemn people is not only not correct in the eyes of Jesus, it isn’t building up the kingdom. It is tearing it down. It is pushing people away from wanting to follow Jesus.

Note these words of Jesus, right after the most famous verse in the Gospels –
“For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17

Jesus didn’t come to condemn anybody, so neither should we. We represent Christ here on Earth. We serve as his ambassadors. Your face may be the only face of Christ that people see, so make it a good one.

We have certain moral obligations as followers of Jesus, certainly. We are set apart and are commanded to not follow the ways of the world. There is no reason to water down the rules that we are commanded to follow – that is not what I’m saying. But we need to change what we are focusing on when we interact with people who do not yet believe.

Non-believers aren’t obligated to follow our rules, because they aren’t part of the Body of Christ. It is as if we are getting angry with people for breaking contracts they never signed.

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

Our first goal must be to have the person hear the words of Jesus. Give them a copy of the Gospel. Share verses with them. Pray for them. Because once they have the Lord in their hearts, they will change their ways.

“…whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16b-18

Don’t focus on other people’s sin at all. Focus on the Spirit. Encourage people. Be a good example.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 HCSB

I’ve heard a story about African Christians who would move to a different village to be missionaries. Instead of preaching to them with their words, they did so with their lives. They lived among them and showed the light of God through everything they did. The other villagers would come up to them and ask them what was the secret for their happiness. Only then would they share the message of Jesus with them in words. All along, they had been sharing it with them by their example.

You know a tree by its fruit. We can see when people are producing good results – fruit of the Spirit.

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

Our call is to imitate Christ, who waited for people to ask him to be healed. People had to admit their illness to themselves first, and then to him. He didn’t heal people who weren’t called to him first.

The Hebrew word that is translated in English as “sin” does not have nearly the same weight as it does in English. It is from an archery term, and means “missing the mark”. You aim your intentions, act, and your actions fall short of the goal. It isn’t a moral failing. From observing the result of your action, you learn to aim higher so that you can achieve the goal.

To get better, aim higher. This should always be our goal – to set our sights on Heaven at all times.

“6 So he answered me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

May God bless us and strengthen us, and help us to be good shepherds – to feed his sheep with the spiritual food of his Word made flesh, Jesus. I ask this in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

(all Bible translations are HCSB)

The altar call

I find it interesting that in Rick Bragg’s autobiography “All Over But the Shoutin’”, he said that as a boy in church he waited and wanted for the feeling to come over him that he should go up to the altar to be blessed, to accept Jesus into his heart and his life. And he sat and sat and sat in that pew, and no special feeling came over him. He felt that it must be like being possessed, that he would be lifted up out of his seat and find himself walking up to the front of the church to be received into the arms of Jesus. He wanted that feeling, and it never came. So he never got up.

It isn’t a magical thing.
It isn’t a passive thing.

It is a human, on his or her own, of their free will, choosing to hand their lives over to Jesus, to follow along with him in God’s ways.

It isn’t something that happens to you.
It is something you do.

That turning becomes returning – daily, weekly, monthly. Every day we recommit, we choose.

He eventually left, feeling left out, feeling so low. He never understood that just wanting to go up was the call. God needs us to come to God on our own. It has to be conscious. God chooses us, but we have to choose God too.

Don’t worship the door.

“Jesus once said ‘I am the door’ – and he was correct. A door is something to go through. The church, however, has remained at the threshold of the door, worshiping it, afraid to enter.” – former Episcopal priest Peter Calhoun in his book “Soul on Fire”

“We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.” – Richard Rohr

“A rich young man approached Jesus, and kneeling down before him, said ‘Good Teacher, what do I have to do to attain eternal life?’ Jesus asked him “Why do you call me good? There’s only One who is good, and that is God. If you want to have eternal life, then keep the Commandments. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie about anyone, honor your parents, and love your neighbor as yourself.” — Matthew 19:16-17, Mark 10:17-19, Luke 18:18-20 (from The Condensed Gospel rendition, in “The Rich Young Man”)

Jesus never wanted us to worship him. Jesus wants us to follow him to God. Only God is above us.

Remember all the times that Jesus walked away from the crowds who were trying to make him king? He didn’t want it. Even today, the Jews use the fact that he wasn’t an earthly king to prove that he was not the Messiah. They also say that it is idolatry to worship Jesus as God.

Jesus would agree.

Remember the commandment to “have no other Gods before Me”? That includes Jesus. He constantly pointed people back towards God. He didn’t want to be worshipped. He wanted people to follow him to God.

Christianity has made an idol out of Jesus, rather than seeing him as a teacher and a guide.

What about him?

Peter noticed John, the disciple Jesus loved, following along behind them. That was the same disciple who had leaned in and asked Jesus at the supper which one of the disciples was going to betray him. Noticing him, Peter asked Jesus “What will happen to him, Lord?”

Jesus replied “If I want him to stay until I come again, what concern is that of yours? Your task is to follow me.”

So this message spread throughout the community of believers that John would not die. Yet Jesus did not say that, but only “If I want him to stay until I come again, what concern is that of yours?”

JN 21:20-23

Change and clouds

I am not a fan of change. I like a set routine. Yet God has other plans.

Let’s look at what it was like to be an Israelite, travelling in the desert for 40 years. They had no map and no idea of where they were going. They were told that it was somewhere good, but they didn’t know how to get there because they didn’t know where it was. They were led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Numbers 9:15-23
15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and it appeared like fire above the tabernacle from evening until morning. 16 It remained that way continuously: the cloud would cover it, appearing like fire at night. 17 Whenever the cloud was lifted up above the tent, the Israelites would set out; at the place where the cloud stopped, there the Israelites camped. 18 At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at the LORD’s command they camped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they camped. 19 Even when the cloud stayed over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites carried out the LORD’s requirement and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for only a few days. They would camp at the LORD’s command and set out at the LORD’s command. 21 Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning; when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out. Or if it remained a day and a night, they moved out when the cloud lifted. 22 Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. 23 They camped at the LORD’s command, and they set out at the LORD’s command. They carried out the LORD’s requirement according to His command through Moses.

Look at line 20 – sometimes they were there only a few days. Sometimes change came often. They never knew when it was going to happen. The most important part is that “They would camp at the LORD’s command and set out at the LORD’s command.” This is repeated in line 23. Anything that is repeated requires special notice. The Lord would command, and they would go – again, with no idea where they were going. They just followed the Lord.

We don’t hear any complaining from the Israelites about having to move so often and apparently so randomly. Sure, there was plenty of complaining about not having enough food that they liked.

Numbers 11:4-6
4 Contemptible people among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”

They’ve forgotten about how hard it was being slaves in Egypt. Now that they aren’t slaves, all they can think about is the great food that they ate – such variety, and free! They’ve forgotten that here in the middle of the desert, God is giving them food day by day.

Yet they don’t complain at all about having to pick up everything at a moment’s notice.

Numbers 9:22
22 Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out.

I find it significant not only that they stayed for as long as the Lord commanded them, but that they got up and moved immediately when the Lord commanded them as well. This is no simple task, remember. Not only did were they carrying everything they owned with them – there were no Winnebagos on this trip – but they also had to dismantle and carry the portable Temple – no simple feat. That was huge, and had heavy equipment. They had to carry all their clothing, their tents, their cookware – everything.

Anyone who didn’t follow immediately, who was slow in breaking down camp, would have been left behind. They had to move together in order to survive together. Every person was necessary.

Also, if they didn’t all move at the same time they would have missed the cloud or pillar of flame. It would have gone on ahead of them, not waiting for them to catch up. If they didn’t follow it, they would have most certainly been lost in the desert. They’d be on their own, without God, and that is truly lost.

Compare this unswerving obedience to the Lord in the story when Jesus called his first disciples to him, in Mark 2:16-20:

16 As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 17 “Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in their boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.

Note that Simon, Andrew, James and John left everything – their boats, their possessions, and their families – and followed Jesus “immediately”. He didn’t have to convince them. They didn’t have to think about it.

This kind of obedience is what is required. Some other followers of the Lord were hesitant, and they were told they weren’t fit for the journey. Pay special attention starting with verse 59 in the following section:

Luke 9:27-62
57 As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go!” 58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” “Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.” 60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When the Lord calls, we are to answer immediately, without question.

Change is hard, sure, but being left behind is harder. It is better to follow the Lord than be lost and on your own.

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The narrow gate.

Jesus taught in every town he went through while on his way to Jerusalem. “Lord,” someone asked him, “are only a few people going to be saved?”

Jesus said “The only way to get into the kingdom of heaven is to enter through the narrow gate. Many people take the broad road and the wide gate, but those lead to destruction. The road that leads to life is difficult and the gate is narrow. Very few people find it. Many will try to enter heaven and will be turned back. The owner of the house will get up and lock the door.

Then they will stand outside knocking, saying ‘Lord, open up! Let us in!’ And he will answer ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from here all you guilty people!’

Then they will say ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our towns!’ But he will say again ‘I don’t know you or where you’re from! Get away from me!’

Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when they see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets of the kingdom of God thrown into the outer darkness, except for the true disciples. Many will come from the east and west to take their places in the kingdom of God. Mark my words, some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.”

MT 8:11-12, MT 7:13-14, LK 13:22-30

I will follow you…

When Jesus noticed how large the crowd was growing, he instructed his disciples to prepare to cross to the other side of the lake. Just then a teacher of the law said to him “Rabbi, I will follow you no matter where you go.” But Jesus said “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest.”

Later when he invited a man to come with him and be his disciple, the man said that he needed to go home to bury his father. Jesus told him “Now is the time to follow me. Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own. Your job is to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.”

Another asked to follow him but said “First let me go and say goodbye to my family.” But Jesus said to him “Anyone who turns aside from the work I plan for him to do is not fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

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MT 8:18-22, LK 9:57-62 (HCSB, LB, NIV)