It’s been a tough week for our country. Riots at political rallies. An increasingly course discourse. Much angst in the world.
And I know you are feeling it.
Well, consider this PODCAST to be a bright and beautiful shot of much-needed adrenaline to your system, some refreshing encouragement from Jesus’ heart to yours.
Let’s begin our discussion with this: It is one of the most precious, and quite frankly priceless privileges in the entire Bible. I am referring to the one verse that concludes the fourth chapter of the book of Hebrews. One glorious verse that speaks volumes, both to the original readers of this verse, and to us as well.
But before I read it to you, I must first set this scene: As its title suggests — Hebrews — this book was written to Jewish believers in Jesus. These precious people lost everything when they become committed Christ-followers. Unlike the letters of Paul, written to local gatherings of believers in a given city — Rome, Corinth, Philippi — this letter was written to Jewish (Hebrew) believers struggling everywhere throughout the Roman Empire because, due to relentless persecution, they were scattered, far and wide.
We get only the barest of glimpses into their desperate circumstances from cryptic statements such as these:
“Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever” (Hebrews 10).
Or this in Hebrews 13:
“Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”
No one was exempt. Not even someone as faithful as young Pastor Timothy, protege of the Apostle Paul, of whom we read in Hebrews 13:
“I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released from jail. If he comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you.”
For the first generation of Jewish Christ-followers, times were tough, their circumstances dire. So in order to encourage them, the writer of this great book made to them (and to us!) this precious promise:
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
Emphasis upon that shockingly bold word “boldly.”
Trust me. That thud you just heard was sound of their jaws dropping and hitting the floor as the original readers scanned those words into their suffering souls, for reasons that you will soon hear.
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It is, without a doubt, one of the most precious truths in all of the Bible. From the lips of Jesus Himself to the seventy upon their return from their first mission’s trip, in this PODCAST you will hear Him say,
“I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”
Fact: Satan is a fallen foe.
Fact: The devil has been defeated.
As we have discussed for the past two weeks, Fact: Satan is not losing the war; he has already lost it.
There is a day coming, sooner rather than later, when in the words of John,
“The devil who deceived them (will be) thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20).
There is a day coming, sooner rather than later, when at the mere mention of Jesus’ name,
“every knee will bow (including the devil and every one of his demonic minions)… and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2).
The day has already come when, in the words of James,
“the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror,” (James 2).
So yes, Satan IS a fallen foe. The devil IS — right now, in real time — a thoroughly defeated foe.
Consequently, there is a verse. Or more accurately, a part of a verse. A half of a verse. One that is buried in the very back of the Bible. In the Apostle John’s first letter, chapter 4. Fourteen words (in the NASB) to be exact.
One sentence we will now highlight and underscore and amplify. A precious truth that perfectly frames any discussion of spiritual warfare and our vulnerability to what Paul described as
“all the schemes, strategies, and deceits of the devil.”
A fundamental fact of our faith that you will now hear, and cherish, in this PODCAST.
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Call it what you will… The Unpardonable Sin. The Unforgivable Sin.
No matter what the name, its consequences are unimaginable.
In this PODCAST (which I believe for you will find to be enormously encouraging and reassuring), you will learn exactly what this sin is, what this sin isn’t, whether or not it is possible today to commit this sin, and if so, whether or not you have or ever will commit it.
In terms of its eternal ramifications, no conversation is more vitally important than this one.
Find out what Jesus said, to whom He said it, why He said it, and what His dire warning means for us today.
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While I am away speaking at one of my all-time favorite places on the planet (Hartland Christian Camp), here in this Encore PODCAST is some much-needed hope for every brokenhearted mom. Not to mention every brokenhearted dad.
This hope comes courtesy of a man named Levi, though you’d never know it by reading his account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
While there is scant little detail in the Bible regarding this remarkable man (Levi is mentioned by name a grand total of only 5 times), scratch beneath the surface and we could write a book about him.
Levi deserves our focused attention, and we will be all the richer for having had this discussion.
A polarizing figure, Levi was. They either loved him or hated him. Or to put an even finer point to that: The religious hated him; Jesus loved him.
And in loving him as Jesus did, Levi becomes a living, breathing canvas on which the heart of Jesus is painted in vivid colors and bold relief.
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And what has the church, and so many of the “Christians” who attend them, become in the process?
We ended our discussion in the previous blog post by making the observation that Matthew 18 is the “go-to” passage when it comes to judging others “holding others accountable.” It has become fashionable today in our evangelical church to suggest that it is a noble thing to hold others accountable, even to the point of remove sinning members from their local churches, all based on Matthew 18.
A noble thing because every time leaders begin the “process of Matthew 18” on a “sinning” church member, they can then make the bold (and sometimes boastful) claim that they are “protecting the purity of the body,” especially when they kick the sinners out.
Doesn’t that sound noble? “Protecting the purity of the body.” Would someone please tell me what that means? I mean, that’s like doctors protecting the health of a hospital by kicking the sick people out. And BTW how’s that for leaders “lording it over” the people? Deciding who’s in and who’s out?
What in God’s name have we become?
Would someone tell me please what local church is in fact pure? It’s the old story. If you find a local church that is indeed pure, please don’t join it. If you do, there goes its purity. “There’s sin in the church,” someone will cry. Yes! You bet there is sin in the church. There was sin in every church that I have ever attended. Know why? Precisely because I was attending it, not to mention everyone else who attended it! Who do we think we are? Paragons of virtue? Pictures of purity?
If Matthew 18 was meant by Jesus to be the process of confronting sinners about their sins, perhaps even to the point of kicking some sinners out of church, where do we start?
May I humbly suggest that this is a common misinterpretation and gross misapplication of Matthew 18 that completely ignores the fact that — Are you ready? — when Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 18, the church wasn’t even in existence yet. Oops.
Ekklesia, translated “church” in Matthew 18, is a general term that means “community.” In our context, for want of a better word, in a “religious” context, an ekklesia refers to a person’s family of faith. A loving redemptive family of faith that gathers together to worship God.
It might just interest you to note that in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the word that Jesus used in Matthew 18, ekklesia, occurs 80 times. Jesus’ use of that word was anything but new, novel, or unique.
Ironically, ekklesia does not biblically refer to nonprofit corporations with by-laws, budgets, buildings, business meetings; personnel, payrolls, politics, power-plays, and all of the resultant problems there-to. Ekklesias, as Jesus invoked the term, were never meant to be run like clubs with crosses on them.
Trust me. Neither Jesus nor His disciples were thinking about tax-exempt religious institutions where a person’s membership can, and sometimes should, be revoked. SMH <sigh>
The 3 interpretive keys that unlock this Matthew 18 passage are its context, the word “sins,” and Jesus quoting of Deuteronomy 19:16.
Listen to what Matthew 18 actually says (not what we have been taught is says, not what we want it to say) in its context, sandwiched as it is in between Jesus saying this:
If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? Matthew 18:12
This clearly refers to someone who is tragically teetering on the precipice of losing his or her faith. How do I know that? Because right before that, Jesus warns “anyone (who) causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble…”
We’re talking here about someone whose faith is faltering. Do you really think that Jesus was instructing leaders of churches that at the time did not exist to identify those whose faith is faltering, start a process of Matthew 18 on them, and if need be, kick them out of church? I could cry!
And then this (the other half of the sandwich) immediately following the “Church (that doesn’t even exist) Discipline” part of Matthew 18:
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matthew 18:21-22)
Now watch! Matthew 18 is NOT a “Church Discipline” passage. Nor is it a let’s-hold-sinners accountable passage. Matthew 18 is a redemption passage, a restoration passage. An all-about-leaving-the ninety-nine-sheep-and-going-after-the-one-whose-faith-is-faltering passage. Not to kick that sinning brother or sister out of their family of faith, their ekklesia. They have already left it.
Matthew 18 is all about bringing that precious little lamb back into the fold.
Don’t believe me? Then read it, IN CONTEXT, Matthew18:15-17:
Moreover if your brother sins against you…
Sins: a clear violation of a biblical absolute. In this context, a clear violation of Torah Law. We are not talking here about a violation of someone else’s personal preferences. This has NOTHING to do with someone not approving of someone else’s music preferences, body art, piercings, or any other of the myriad of things for which people get judged nowadays.
Now watch! If the context of this passage, and the character of Jesus means anything, this is clearly, to use Jesus’ own words, a sheep that wanders away from their faith situation, where a beloved member of a faith family wanders away from their faith-family and is in danger of losing his or her faith.
Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
No gossip here, which is indeed a sin, one of the worst in fact, one that causes division to the unity of any church and untold damage to the subject of the gossip, but one for which anyone is rarely kicked out of church. Hmmm…
LOOK, Matthew 18 is clearly a Galatians 6 situation:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens.
No judging here; no “lording it over” here, no (remember the word from our previous blog post?) krino here!
This is clearly a James 5:19 situation:
My friends, if any followers have wandered away from the truth, you should try to (What? Confront them, and if need be, kick them out of their faith family?) lead them back.
If that person listens, you have won back a follower.
Do you see it? This is clearly referring to a wanderer who returns home to his or her ekklesia, their loving, redeeming, forgiving faith-family.
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’
Here Jesus quoted the Torah, Deuteronomy 19:15. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, was teaching Jews about what to do when someone in their faith-family wanders away from the teachings of the Torah.
Matthew 18 has nothing to do with Christian Church Discipline, specifically when and how to start process to kick someone out of the institution that we have come to call a church. Again I will respectfully remind you that at time Jesus said this, there were no churches.
Jesus took what was already the practice, established at the very beginnings of the history of Israel, quoted from Deuteronomy, the Torah, that dealt with those who wandered away from Torah teaching. And Jesus carefully/purposefully/mercifully inserted it between two passages about restoration, redemption, and forgiveness.
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the Ekklesia.
IOW, to again invoke Jesus’ words, his or her family of faith who will then go looking for their wandering little lamb.
Now here’s the kick-them-out-of-the-church part:
But if he refuses even to hear the church (Ekklesia), let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Striking, isn’t it, that Jesus did NOT say to kick him out of the church! The clear implication, as determined by the context of the passage, is that this wondering little lamb has already left it!
What does this mean, Matthew 18:17 (CEV)?
Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
QUESTION: How did Jesus treat unbelievers and tax collectors? Are you ready for an “Ah-ha” moment of monumental significance? Jesus ATE with them. Jesus loved them. Jesus pursued them. Jesus sought to lovingly return them to fold.
For crying out loud, Matthew who wrote Matthew 18 was a tax collector! What if Jesus had kicked Matthew out of his ekklesia? No! Jesus pursued him! Jesus left the 99 sheep and went after the one who wandered away.
And Jesus told us do same!
How did Jesus treat a member of a family of faith who wandered away? Judge him? Kick him out of family? Hear Jesus’ own answer, Jesus’ own selfie of what this looks like: An all-to-familiar story, the story of the so-called Prodigal Son, someone who did indeed lose his faith and left his family:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him (looking, praying, hoping, expecting his return!), was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Umm, excuse me. But that doesn’t sound like judging, krinoing, kicking him out of the family to me. This son had already left the family!!! That’s the point! It’s all about coming home!
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned (same word as Matthew 18) against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
I am no longer worthy to be in your family. How should an ekklesia act toward its wandering family members who abandon their faith to choose a lifestyle of sin? Krino them? Kick them out of the church? Shun them?
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Now, I need to ask, Is there ever a time to remove someone from a family of faith? Yes. Paul did. Once. Coincidentally, in my 40 years of ministry, I have been involved in what was clearly a remove someone from the church process only once. (And BTW, the church blinked, didn’t remove him, subsequently split, and is today a dying ministry, a church whose lampstand God has extinguished. But I digress…)
Again, this only happened in my 40 years of ministry once!
In all of his 13 letters, Paul called for what we typically call “Church Discipline” only once.
Remember the story? 1 Corinthians 5? A guy involved in ongoing, public, present-tense sins so extreme that Paul described them as something that even pagans don’t do. Yet, the church ethos was such that this scandalous individual felt comfortable in his scandalous behavior, even to the point where the church bragged about how progressive they had become!
Corinth as a faith-community had become an uber-sinful ekklesia. And isn’t it fascinating that Paul rebuked the church, not the individual. Once in 13 letters did Paul call for the removal of a sinning member. And even then Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians for the church to restore this repentant sinner to his ekklesia.
Back to the rule, not the exception to the rule. What we have come to call “Church Discipline” I would prefer to call an Ekklesian Celebration of Restoration.
Yes, indeed! Matthew 18 is in every sense of the words a Celebration of Restoration.
So how did we get to this place of judging others? “Holding others accountable”? Even to the point of considering it a noble practice to kick others out of their churches? Why has it become fashionable to krino others to their everlasting hurt and destruction? You’ll discover the answer in tomorrow’s post. And the answer will amaze you.
But in case you can’t wait, you can hear it all explained by clicking on this podcast player:
Ready to have a huge load lifted off of your shoulders? A load of guilt that God never meant for you to carry?
As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, it is my sense that far too often in the Christian community at large, we display a woefully naive and underdeveloped understanding of person-to-person forgiveness.
Too many times I get the sense that our default position is to demand of the one who is wronged his or her need to forgive the one who wronged him. While at the same time almost giving a pass to the one who committed the wrong in the first place. As if to say, “Yes, it’s too bad that someone hurt you. But you are obligated to forgive that person, whether they acknowledge the hurt they caused or not.”
I mean, is it not one of the most basic of Christian ethics to say to someone who has been deeply wounded, “You need to forgive the person who wronged you, love the person who wronged you, and be reconciled with the person who wronged you. No matter what”? Whether or not they make any attempt to right the wrong that they committed? Whether or not they repent of the wrong, or even admit their wrong?
A woefully inadequate view of forgiveness which (IMHO) ignores Jesus’ purposeful and particular and pointed and powerful usage of the word “debts.”
A naive view of forgiveness which, in far too many cases, only amplifies the pain caused to the one who is wronged. (When we demand of the one who was wronged a forgiving spirit, while neglecting to suggest any obligation on the part of the one who did the wrong to right the wrongs that they committed, or in Jesus’ words, to settle their “debts.”)
A woefully underdeveloped theology of forgiveness which only empowers and enables hurtful behavior.
Which forces me to ask, Why do we do this? Why do we hold the persons who are hurt accountable to forgive the ones who hurt them, without equally holding accountable those who caused the pain to their biblical obligation to right the wrongs that they committed? Thereby empowering dysfunctional behavior on the part of one who caused the pain in the 1st place? Which only motivates them to continue to hurt others with no accountability whatsoever.
Is this really what Jesus meant to teach here, in the Lord’s Prayer, when He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”? That no matter what the hurt, how deep the hurt, we just forgive. End of story.
I don’t think so.
You might be in for a pleasant surprise as you listen to this podcast.
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It’s one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible, and yet (ironically) one of the most encouraging. Especially for one very special junior high student.
The verse to which I refer is John 1:11, which reads in the New Living Translation,
Jesus came to his own people, and EVEN THEY rejected him (emphasis added).
In other words, Jesus wasn’t only rejected by His own people. Jesus was rejected by nearly everyone.
A sad verse indeed. Yet a verse that means the world to at least one junior higher who shared with me that if he was given the chance to ask God any question, he would ask Him this:
How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you? What should I do when this happens to me?
Imagine those heart-wrenching words coming from a twelve year old. Far too young to feel the torment of rejection. But feel it, he did. He does. And truth be told, throughout his life, he will feel it again and again and again.
Just like us.
And I can tell you from personal experience spanning now some six decades, and having felt the rejection of more people than I can count, reeling from rejection never gets any easier. Especially when the person who rejects us is someone whose approval and acceptance we desperately seek, want, or need.
How would Jesus have answered this student’s question?
Before I attempt to answer on His behalf (something I am always hesitant to do), let me first frame the answer by pointing out the following:
The rejection of Jesus became for Him a fact of His troubled life, His entire life. From birth to death.
His own mother was ostracized by her community because the word was whispered around that she got pregnant outside of marriage. Knowing that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, some concluded that Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier. Others merely concluded that Mary had violated her engagement by cheating on her husband-to-be.
Jesus carried that stigma throughout his adult life. His enemies even used it to cheap-shot Jesus when they mocked Him by asking Him (John 8:19, Amplified Bible),
Where is this father of Yours?
They took another shot at Him in John 8:41,
We are not illegitimate children and born out of fornication.
Implication: We’re not illegitimate children, like you!
What a hateful and hurtful thing to say.
Next, imagine this: When Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he immediately ordered every Jewish baby boy two years of age and under to be barbarically butchered in a vain attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib. You talk about rejection. Just imagine what it would be like a) to be hunted by the government as an enemy of the state, and b) to have on your conscience the deaths of dozens of baby boys, all because the authorities were trying to kill you!
We know that Jesus’ own brothers rejected Him (John 7:5).
The Romans, of course, eventually killed Him.
But what about the crowds? The masses of people who dogged His every step? Study the story carefully and you will discover that every single time a crowd formed to follow Him, they eventually walked away. As soon as Jesus failed to give them what they wanted, they turned tail and left Him all alone.
Perhaps the most poignant scene is in John 6, just after Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and the fishes. The thousands came back the next day in order to receive their next free meal. When Jesus basically told them that His purpose was not to be seen as some sanctified Meals on Wheels provider of free lunches, they walked. In the wake of the rejection of these thousands of freeloaders, Jesus sullenly turned to His twelve disciples and asked what must have been a gut-twisting question,
Will you also go away? And do you too desire to leave Me? (John 6:67, Amplified Bible)
I’ll give you just one more. Did you know that Jesus was even rejected by His Heavenly Father?
It’s true. When Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself our sins while hanging on the cross, in that terrible moment Jesus paid in our place the penalty that you and I deserve. God the Father, being so absolutely holy that He cannot even look upon sin, turned His back on His Son and abandoned Him to the white-hot fury of His wrath, as Jesus essentially went to Hell so that we wouldn’t have to.
In that moment of absolute agony, Jesus cried out from the cross these words that ought to send chills down our spines:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Matthew 27:46, New Living Translation)
Put that all together, and let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,
How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you?
He would probably say something like this:
It hurt. It hurt me deeply. In fact, the pain I felt every time someone rejected me was by far the worst pain that I ever felt.
And that pain hasn’t stopped. Every day, all around the world, there are people who hear about me only to reject me.
Every day, all around the world, there are people who once claimed to love me, to worship me, to pray to me, who for whatever reason abandon me and walk away.
There is no greater pain in all the world than to love someone, only to have that love rejected. There is no greater pain in all the world than to have created someone, and blessed them with this miracle that we call life, only to have them reject their Creator.
So believe me when I say that I hear your question, and I “get it.” I know up close and all-too-personal the pain behind your question.
I never wanted the people I created to reject me. And I certainly never wanted them to reject each other. And I definitely never wanted them to reject you.
I can only promise you that I will never reject you. It’s a promise that I made to you, and a promise that I will keep forever. My promise goes like this: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake (or abandon) you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,
What should I do when this happens to me?
I believe that Jesus would answer that question something like this:
You are my friend. You will always be my friend. And as your friend, I am going to answer your question as honestly as I can.
I know that you are hurting. Pain is never pleasant. But your negative pain can be turned into a positive purpose if you’ll consider these few ideas:
First, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain you can cause others when you reject them.
The neat thing about pain is that pain keeps us sensitive to the feelings of others around us. Our pain can help us to be a little more patient, a little more understanding, a little more compassionate, and quite a bit more gentle in our responses to others.
So the next time you treat someone else in an insensitive, unkind, hurtful sort of way, you may be causing them to feel the same hurt that you are feeling now.
Second, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain that I feel each and every day. Your pain is a window into my soul. You will now be able to relate to me on a much deeper personal level than you ever could if you never felt the pain of rejection. You and I now share something in common. I know all about your pain, and now you know about mine. In a sense, you and I now share an intimately personal experience. The bond that we can now build between your heart and my heart is worth the pain of rejection.
And third, please, please, please allow the pain of your rejection to become a power motivation in your life never, never, never to reject me.
There will be times when you will be tempted to think that I have failed you, or let you down. Maybe there will be a prayer that I don’t answer, a relationship that I don’t fix, a problem that I don’t solve. You may be tempted to get mad at me, or fear that I am mad at you. You might even be tempted to think that I have rejected you. But know this: I haven’t!!! It’s just that my plans for you and my thoughts about you are so great that there will be times when it’s hard for you to understand them, or you will feel the need to question them. I get that. It’s OK. You have my permission to question all of those things, and to tell me exactly how you feel. But I promise you that I will never, ever reject you.
Please don’t make the fatal mistake of rejecting me. When times get tough, let’s hold onto each other like never before. And I promise you that together, we’ll get through it just fine.
Wow. Quite the question from a junior higher to God. Thank you for being brave enough to ask it. I only hope and pray that my answer gives you some measure of the comfort of God’s grace and peace in your life.