“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:41
Roughly 2000 years ago in Judea, the mood was one of great tension. The Roman empire ruled the Jewish people with the usual Roman iron fist. Brutality and executions were the norm, and the subjugated people did what they were told or paid a horrible price. Even those who obeyed orders were forced into various further humiliations to remind them they were under Roman authority. One of these humiliations was the law of the mile.
By law, a Roman soldier could force a Jewish male to carry his load for one mile. There was to be no discussion. If you were told to do it, you did it. As you can imagine, the Jews despised this flaunting of power. Most all of the Jewish homes would have markers placed exactly one mile from their homes in all directions so that when forced to carry they wouldn’t go even an inch beyond what was required. It has been said that when the mile was completed the Jews would throw the Roman’s gear down and spit on the ground as a meager but useless protest.
It was in this context that Jesus, while preaching the amazing and famous Sermon on the Mount, said the words of Matthew 5:41. When you’re forced to go one mile, go two. This probably did not sit well initially with His audience. Seriously, Jesus? You want us to do more than is required for these brutal and pagan Romans?? I’m sure the indignant Jews stared back at Jesus incredulously. But Jesus was indeed quite serious. If we are to follow Him, we must become second mile people.
This second mile principal could be a game changer for all of us. Are we people who do the required mile but no more? If so, we are missing the joy of the second mile. You see, the first mile was one done under a certain type of slavery to the Romans, but the second mile was the free mile! No one made them do mile two. And that’s why it’s so special and so impactful. I can only guess the tremendous impact this had on the region as many men who heard Jesus’ words began to practice the second mile. Who knows, maybe they won over a few Roman soldiers!
If we are to be people of the Gospel, we must live in the shadow of it’s power and witness. Jesus most certainly went the second mile for us. What if we, in His name and power, began to live this way? What would our marriages and homes be like if we stopped only doing what is required and begin to go above and beyond? I believe it would transform our lives and those around us. Look, anyone can do the required mile! Wicked people will often do what is required when it benefits them. But the second mile requires not only feet, but hearts. May we all in the power of Christ become second mile people this year in every arena of our lives.
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and JOY in the Holy Spirit” – Romans 14:17
The Christian life can be summed up in 3 words, one of which is joy. This means joy is no frivolous thing for which we should wish. Rather, it is an essential part of our experience with Christ. Joy is an emotion, but it’s no ordinary one. This is an emotion that is produced in your human spirit and is produced by the Holy Spirit. Being full of joy is a byproduct of being indwelled with the Spirit.
Christmas is supposed to be a time where our joy intensifies. Unfortunately, our modern version of Christmas often brings anything but comfort and joy. We run ourselves into the ground with the endless calendar commitments and gifts to buy. As we try to fill in the space under our tree we inevitably end up with an empty space in our hearts. Something is missing; Joy.
This Christmas I invite you to look beyond the lights and trees and instead look upon ancient texts. The Gospel of Luke records that angels appeared to a group of shepherds in a field and proclaimed GOOD NEWS that would lead to GREAT JOY. You see, true joy isn’t found in a mall but in a message. This message of good news was what we know as the Gospel. The message of the person and work of Jesus Christ leads us to great joy.
The Holy Spirit constantly points us to the Gospel with all of its earth shaking implications because it is there we find what our hearts so desperately long to have. As broken human beings our hearts have appetites for true joy but we have no idea where to find it. This leads us to walk an endless array of dead end roads in our frantic pursuit. Thankfully, Jesus came and shined light on the dark path and it led straight to Himself.
This Christmas, allow and even ask God to give you a new appetite for Him and His ways. He will give your soul a new set of taste buds!! He loves you so much that He will break your old tastes while giving you new ones. Instead of letting another December slip into the murky fog of materialism, stress, and exhaustion turn to your Heavenly Father and find righteousness, peace, and JOY.
If you’re like me, you grew up with the 10 Commandments in close proximity. Every home that I spent significant time in as a kid had a copy hanging somewhere on a wall. My mom actually gave me the one from my childhood home for my first office. Here in the great state of Alabama (roll tide) these commandments had a huge moment in the light as a bitter political war was waged over their placement in the state capitol. This all leads me to this point; most of us have a degree of familiarity with the 10 Commandments, but few of us understand them and therefore few of us actually live them. I think its time we remedy this problem.
In Exodus chapter 20, we find the Hebrew children of God at the foot of the famous Mount Sinai. Led by Moses, this massive group of people had recently and miraculously been set free from hundreds of years of brutal slavery under the cruel hand of Egypt, the most powerful nation on Earth at that time. To call the Exodus out of Egypt spectacular would be a huge understatement. The great I Am had literally moved heaven and earth on behalf of His beloved people. After the grand finale of a march through the temporarily split Red Sea, the freshly free Hebrews were about to get the greatest miracle yet…….God would SPEAK to them. Yep, the terrifyingly powerful Elohim was about to become personal.
To understand and appreciate the commands you must grasp this aforementioned context. You see, grace comes before law. It always has and it always will. In Exodus 20:2 God reminds His people that He is “the Lord YOUR God who brought you out of Egypt.” He then gives the commands. You see it? Grace then law. God is saying that He is a personal God who loves, provides, and even fights for His own. It is out of the context of His amazing love for us that He gives us the commands. To see the commands as simply a heavy handed rule book to keep us in line is to completely miss the heart of them. This is a loving Father directing and protecting His family. They are for HIS glory but also for OUR good!! The more you see this the more you will want to understand, live, and even teach these commands.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting the commands. Today, I want you to focus on that 2nd verse of Exodus 20. The Lord YOUR God gave you these commands. Like the Israelites, we have all been saved from our own Egypt. You see, the Exodus was just a preview to the main event. What God did in setting His people free from Egyptian slavery was a foretaste of His ultimate setting of His people free on the Cross through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the great freedom fighter on our behalf.
As you see the commandments I pray you’ll begin to see them in a fresh light…..the light of Christ. They point to Him. They come from Him. So let’s embrace the commands and take a new look at them with open minds and hearts. Remember, Jesus said “If you love me you will follow my commands”.
Questions are powerful. The right question can lead to the right answers. As busy people living busy lives, we have a tendency to become insanely over busy. It is into this insanity that I would like to offer a couple of powerful questions that hopefully will help us all get to the heart of our issues with busyness. Now, as a warning, these are questions that will be hard for you to answer honestly, but I urge you to do so.
You see, unhealthy busyness isn’t just an exterior behavior to be managed or modified, but it is a symptom of deeper issues of the heart. That’s the point of the questions……to bore down through the layers of your image, walls, and veneer. It would seem that the fix to crazy busyness would be to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change. This, unfortunately, is just a band aid for what is often a gaping wound. Human issues are rarely just skin deep. We are deeply complex creatures with deeply complex problems and tendencies. So, crank up the drill and start drilling. Here are the questions.
First, who are you serving with your serving? Are you truly serving people or God for His glory and their good? Or, are you really ultimately looking for your own glory. Before you blow this off, allow it to really sink in. As broken people, we tend to dress up our hidden narcissism with selflessness. We are masters at making caring about what people think about us look like we are really caring for them.
Secondly, are you doing good or trying to look good? Yeah, I know, it’s painful….very painful. I know how you feel. You see, I’m pretty good at doing things that look outwardly like they are for God’s glory and people’s good, but they are ultimately for my glory and for my good. I’m broken just like you. I’m not who I used to be….but I’m also not who I’m going to be!! I, like you, am a work in progress.
Here’s the deal. If you will allow these penetrating questions to shine light into the jagged crevices of your heart, the healing process can begin. If you live in denial, it will just get worse. If you are super busy because you’re trying to prove yourself and have a good looking outward image, you will walk this demanding trail to a potentially destructive end. It will wear you out and leave you insecure and empty. You will use people for your own good under the disguise of doing what’s best for them. It’s an issue of WHY instead of WHAT. It’s not just the things you’re doing, but it is the reason you are doing them in the first place. So, why are you so busy? What are you trying to prove?
The only answer to this issue is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He called us to “come to Him and find rest.” We must rest in the finished work of Jesus. The only way we can serve God for His glory and people for their good is to be complete and secure in Jesus. It is in and through Him that I find that I have nothing left to prove. My identity is nailed down in Jesus. It is a daily process of doing what we do underneath the shadow of the cross. It is in that shadow that the purest light can actually begin to shine out from our lives.
Hopefully these questions will lead you to where they’ve led me…….to a statement. I do what I do because of my identity in Jesus, not to find it. This has set me free. I hope it will for you.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was dining with a powerful group of Pharisees and teachers of the Law on the Sabbath when a very sick man showed up. Jesus healed the man, knowing He would be adding to the case the religious leaders were building to have Him executed. He then began teaching the men about the value of all people, and how they should treat others with more honor than themselves. I’m sure it was a tense time at the old dinner table!! Jesus always had a way of bravely speaking the truth. When one of the men tried to break the tension by basically making a presumptive statement about the group’s eventual joy in the Kingdom of God, Jesus told one of His most famous parables which was intended to teach them and us.
Parables were little stories that taught big ideas. Jesus was definitely teaching big ideas with this brilliantly told story. A good and generous master decides to host a feast and invite some folks to it. In Bible times, a feast was an enormous undertaking. There was no refrigeration, electric stoves or microwaves. A feast would entail killing, cleaning, and preparing an animal. Vegetables would need to be harvested and wine would be purchased. This was a big deal! A host would invite the guests first and when the feast was ready, the previously invited guests would be notified under the full assumption that they would attend. Well, in this story, they came up with horrible excuses to bail. The angry host, with the steaming hot feast prepared, sent his servants out again with the command to get people to the table. He said, “Make them come in so that my house will be full.”
Jesus was showing us the heart of the Father and the mission to which we are called. The feast is Jesus and the Gospel. The hard work was done and finished by Jesus on the cross. Blood was spilled to provide this feast. God went to unfathomable lengths to provide humanity with this feast. It is clear He wants guests at the table and the house to be full. He wants the lame, maimed, poor and blind at the table.
So what will you and I do this Easter season to “make them come in”. Will we invite? Are we willing to become uncomfortable for the sake of someone else’s eternity? What will we sacrifice to ensure God’s house is FULL? You see, God cares about the empty seats in our churches. Not the fabric and metal, but the person who isn’t sitting in it yet. We must align ourselves with the heart of our Heavenly Father. God loves people!! He sent His only Son on a mission to save people. Are you partnering with Him on this mission? My motivation comes from a powerful truth tucked away in this parable. You see, I am the poor, blind, maimed and lame. I came to Jesus with nothing to offer. I came to Him blind and in darkness. I showed up at the table maimed with wounds and scars from the past. I was lame and totally unable to help myself or move the needle of salvation in my life. I needed Jesus. I NEED Jesus. So, I must invite others like me to this table. Make them come in, so His house will be full.
Anger is a two sided coin. On one side, there is righteous or holy anger. The other side of the coin is sinful and destructive anger. As Christ Followers, it is imperative that we understand the anger issue. Anger isn’t always sinful, but it always has the potential to be sinful.
“In your anger do not sin” Ephesians 4:26 is a verse that makes it pretty clear that we can be angry without sin. In fact, we should absolutely be angry about the things that anger God. Yep, that’s right…..God gets angry too. However, He isn’t like us…..His anger is always sinless and perfect. Our anger becomes righteous anger only when it lines up with God. Injustice, sin, dishonesty and devaluing life all anger our God, so we should absolutely get angry about these things. The point is that in that anger we are forbidden to sin. We have a choice. Out of control anger always ends up controlling us.
We see a stunning example of unrighteous and destructive anger in the Biblical book of Genesis. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Able. These brothers both offered sacrifices to God, but only Able’s was accepted by Him. This angered Cain immensely, and God lovingly warned him that his anger would destroy him if he didn’t get on top of it. Genesis 4:6-7 gives us this warning. God’s command to Cain was to rule over his sinful anger! You and I MUST get control of our anger. We must do something about it. Cain refused, and it led him to murder his own brother.
Unresolved anger sets up in our heart like a stagnant body of water. It begins to breed the bacteria and insects of bitterness, wrath and malice. It becomes destructive to the angry person and those around him. Don’t let this happen to you. Avoid the trap that Cain stepped into. Your relationships with others and with God will be better off when you deal with the roots of your anger and get the water of your heart moving again. This is a work that only God can ultimately do in our hearts. We must, by the power of the Holy Spirit, begin to get on top of our anger, before it gets on top of us.
God asked Cain a penetrating question; “Why are you angry?” It’s a question all of us must answer in order to begin the healing and transforming process in our hearts. Why are we angry? What the REAL reason? I challenge you today to look in your heart and truly answer that question. Once you’ve identified the infested pond of water, bust open the dam and get it moving. Deal with it. Resolve it. Get God involved by asking Him to help you. It’s this process that Cain refused but we must embrace.
I live on the beautiful Gulf Coast where fresh seafood is in abundance. The water is blue, the sand is white, and the fish are wild! This means there is ample supplies for one of my favorite culinary delights, sushi, and I often partake.
My wife will not eat it today, but there was a time early in our marriage when she actually gave it a try. Although I give her credit for giving it a shot, I must point out that she really did it all wrong. My beautiful southern belle bride would take a knife in one hand and a fork in the other and proceed to gruesomely destroy the sushi piece by cutting it in half! Now, any sushi aficionado knows this crucial fact: sushi is made to be eaten one piece at a time.
Our lives are a lot like Sushi. God created us for a specific rhythm. We were made to live a sushi life, one day at a time. Now before you blow me off as simply stating the obvious, let me assure you of my deep conviction that most of us are actually living life completely off beat. You see, this life rhythm isn’t just a physical reality. It must become a mental and spiritual reality as well. The battle for God’s rhythm in our lives is waged primarily internally.
We all have two things pulling against our God given rhythm; the past and the future. Like two bullies on the playground of our lives, they do a terrific job of snatching us back and forth causing the dance of our lives to become a mangled mess of missteps. Some get stuck in the past with guilt and regret or nostalgia and revisionism. Others get caught up in the future with worry and anxiety or control and presumption. Both sides to this viscous coin become extremely destructive to the life giving rhythm God made us to enjoy. Whether it the past or the future, both of which we can’t fully change and control, if we get consumed by either we end up robbing ourselves of the amazing gift of TODAY! Each sushi bite of a day is a gift God has given you and I to enjoy, maximize, and fully live.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of blogs on this crucial subject. Join me in exploring what it means to live in the day by day rhythm that our Father created for us. Our lives can be so much more deep and full, but that cannot happen apart from God’s plan. I want to dance the dance of life, step by step and day by day. I want the same for you.
“Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
Spring is my favorite time of the year. I happen to live in one of the most beautiful areas to enjoy this particular season. Here on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Southern Alabama, the azaleas are blooming and jasmine can be both seen and smelled. Pecan trees are exploding with green leaves and the mighty oaks are offering shade for picnics and walks. The sunsets on the Bay are brilliant and breathtaking. Sadly, all of this beauty often get’s overlooked. We simply miss the show.
Creation is God’s show that we get to watch and enjoy. Theologians often call nature God’s “general revelation.” This means God generally reveals Himself to us through the amazing work of His creation. The songs the birds are singing, the breezes coming off of the Bay, and those gently swaying oak trees are all shouting and whispering that there is a Holy and loving God behind it all. God wants us to know Him and make Him known, and the wonders and beauty of creation are part of the language He uses to speak to us.
The first six verses of Psalm 19 testify to the revelation of God through His creation:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat (Psalm 19:1-6).”
Now, to be clear, the creation is NOT God. It is His handiwork. So, as we care for His creation and enjoy His creation, we can worship Him in a powerful way. No one on the planet should appreciate our surroundings more than those who call themselves by the Name of the One who created it all. Christians should be known for both our caretaking of the Earth and our exploration and enjoyment of it.
The problem is that our busy and technology driven lives have a disastrous side effect. We end up missing the show! We watch TV’s and computer screens rather than taking a walk and getting outside. We breathe in air-conditioned environments rather than jasmine saturated breezes. Our kids bury their faces in video games rather than bury their toes in the sand. I’m not against modern advancements, but I’m convinced they don’t compare to God’s handiwork.
So, during this beautiful season, don’t miss the show. Get outside and take a walk. Load your family up and have a picnic. Skip rocks on a bay, river, or creek. Find a beach and play in the sand. And while you’re enjoying the wonders and magic of creation, be sure to thank the Creator. After all, He put the show together for His glory but also for you to enjoy.
This weekend we will begin a teaching series at COTES called TRINITY. This will be an extremely theological and doctrinally intense series. To be clear, every sermon series at our church is both theological and doctrinal, but this series will zero in on one of the major Christian doctrines in particular. We will spend 4 weeks studying and communicating about the Trinity, our Triune God. I’m hoping that God will do great things in the life of our church through this series.
So, why would we spend a month intensely studying one doctrine. And, for that matter, why does doctrine and theology matter that much anyway? Shouldn’t we just love each other? Isn’t it good enough that we attend church and serve from time to time? Well, while as a pastor I certainly desire to see our church be loving and I encourage both church attendance and service, we must also pursue what A.W. Tozer called the “knowledge of the Holy.”
Our aim at COTES is to be a feeling, thinking, and doing church. I believe as we THINK more about who God is, we will FEEL more deep affection for Him, and in turn we will DO more good works for His glory. The TRINITY series should start in the mind and heart and end up working out through our hands and lives.
As a 35 year old christian, I have watched some very positive things happen in the church over the past few decades. My generation has become extremely missional and socially and culturally sensitive in a way that has built bridges and opened doors for the Gospel. However, I do think many of my generation and the church in general have developed a mild disdain for the intellectual side of Christianity. This is regrettable, because the scriptures clearly teach us to “love God with all our mind”. Knowledge is not a bad thing. In fact, the knowledge of God is transforming and foundational to the believer. We must develop a deep desire to truly KNOW our God.
So, this weekend I will dive into the mysterious and wonderful deep waters of the Trinity. I will do so with great humility and healthy fear. I do so as one leading a group of finite people up an infinite mountain which we will not summit until we meet Jesus and we finally see completely and clearly. We will worship Him and approach Him in all His splendor and majesty. We will see what He has revealed about Himself in His Word. My prayer is that we will never be the same. Theology and doctrine matters because it is our study and belief in the One True God.