Thursday, August 11, 2011

Good Religious People still use training wheels. Do you?

Ok – Thursday again! Time for more time in the Gospels, learning what the REAL Jesus is all about. This week we're going to get into what's been called "The Sermon on the Mount" – Jesus' longest recorded teaching (done in one place, that is). It's really good stuff :)

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here.

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you).

If you live on planet Earth you've no doubt heard "Christians" talk about being "different" from the rest of the world, because the Bible tells us God wants that of all His people. Unfortunately, there's something else the Bible tells us (in both Old and New Testaments):
Almost all of those who claim to be God's People don't and never will truly hold to and live His values – and therefore are not actually His People at all, but imposters He rejects today and will punish in the End (right alongside those who outright love evil). 
When we stop seeing what calls itself "Christianity" through Good Religious Eyes, it's incredibly easy to see how far from Jesus nearly all those who claim to be His followers actually are – and therefore how they actually serve in the anti-Christ, and not Christ-, camp. Good Religious People like to claim this is because they are simply sinners like the rest, and we do know that of course they can't be perfect – but that actually has nothing to do with someone's individual sins or sin nature. Instead, it has everything to do with not clearing one's own worldly-values from one's heart and mind, and holding to and living Jesus' (and therefore God's) values, instead.

Being and becoming a (real) Christian is about learning to see and live in the world the way God does – and not in the way other human beings (past and present, religious and secular) have taught us to see and live it.

Jesus gives us a huge introduction to God's way in the "Sermon on the Mount". (A great exercise, by the way, is to read all of it (including that part we're going to cover today) again and again and again, and ask yourself new each time: how is my life, my attitudes, my way of seeing myself and others, my expectations of success in my life, and my understanding of the future still more shaped by always-limited human ways, rather than God's ways and His greater perspective?)

Jesus begins His talk to the Jewish audience that day by listing those God blesses. As always, remember as you read through these scriptures (and indeed all of scripture) what religious and cultural filter His listeners that day would have heard Him through and how that would have affected how (or whether) they heard Him. The Jews Jesus was speaking to that day, of course, still lived through and under the "Mosaic Law" (the laws God gave Moses to give to the Jewish people to follow), as well as other similar religious rules their Good Religious Leaders had added to the Mosaic Law to make it even "better" than God's original law.

The Good Religious Culture of the Jews listening to Jesus that day had, for the last many-hundred years, taught them that God blesses and rewards those who follow all their Good Religious Rules to the letter. If you'd asked, they would have said:
"Want God to count you as one of His People? Then here are the thousand rules (more than 600 of them just from Moses) that you need to obsess on and worry over and make rituals out of, in your life. Do them right, and you can feel proud and sure of being one of God's People."
But Jesus (and therefore God) had an entirely different take on who God blesses and rewards.

Jesus said:
  • It's those who feel least deserving of it who actually get into heaven (NOT those who feel most deserving because they "do" the Good Religious Rules really well).
  • It's those who know the pain of deep loss that get God's healing attention (NOT those whose lives are "good times").
  • It's those outside of power and position who will end up with everything (NOT those who use power and position to get what they want).
  • It's those who crave God's way at work in the world who are going to be satisfied (NOT those who crave God rewarding human ways at work in the world).
  • It's those who give compassionate forgiveness to those who don't deserve it who themselves receive God's compassionate forgiveness even though they don't deserve it (NOT those who apply human "justice" and punish those they know deserve it).
  • It's those whose hearts are filled with God whose eyes will also see Him (NOT those whose hearts are filled with Good Religious Observance).
  • It's those who wage peace who are God's children (NOT those who engage in or support war).
  • It's those who are insulted, attacked, and/or slandered for doing things Jesus' (real) way who will receive the same heavenly reward God's Old Testament prophets earned (NOT those who go to seminary and pontificate to others in front of the "alter").
Truly, the biggest stumbling block to being a real follower of Jesus Christ is still being convinced (and even refusing to be un-convinced) that crappy and creepy human ways of seeing and being in the world, painted in Good Religious colors, are the same as God's ways of seeing and being in the world. Jesus tells us they are not!

But the word-picture Jesus paints of the kind of person that earns God's blessing sounds exactly like what God called on the Jewish people to be in the Old Testament (even though they failed miserably and nearly always on purpose), and sounds exactly like what God calls on Christian people to be since the New Testament (even though most also fail miserably and nearly always on purpose).

How far is your own life from being that person Jesus described as so blessed by God? Talk to God about it – not in any formal religious way, but in a way that speaks your real heart to and with Him. He's on your side – let Him be! He doesn't want your adherence to dead rules - He wants your sincere heart, in its current condition!

Jesus next gives us two images to help us picture our lives as His followers and whether we're actually, truly accomplishing His purpose:
  • Are we salt that tastes like salt – or salt that tastes like dust and grit and dirt and so worthless?
  • Are we light that actually illuminates the world around us – or "light" that's hidden away, leaving everywhere else in darkness?
In other words, are our hearts and lives actually, truly "Jesus-flavor"? Or are they so mixed in with other crap that we're of no real value to God?

Are we truly a tool God can use to illuminate the world around us, helping people to see the real Jesus? Or are we a "light" only to ourselves and our Good Religious Communities, so the world we can touch is still in darkness?

See, unlike what we're taught by Good Religious People and their human organizations ("denominations", "churches", etc) our purpose as Jesus-followers is not to demonstrate the "goodness" of our "godly" religion that claims to benefit God - and thereby get more people into our "church".

Rather, the good deeds Jesus says we are to do so others praise God aren't "good religious deeds" – they are the real-heart-for-God deeds that will naturally spill out of our lives once we are the blessed person Jesus spoke about just a moment ago.

How have you seen the difference between the "good deeds" of religion and "church" and such, and the good deeds that come from people with Jesus really in their heart? What's been the difference in your own life?

Finally for today, Jesus tells His Jewish listeners that He's not come "to abolish the Law or the Prophets", but to "fulfill" them. Good Religious People have kittens all over themselves trying to twist that to "prove" He means that some or part of the old Mosaic Law (or some other Good Religious Rules) apply to Christians. Don't be fooled! Other parts of the New Testament (Galatians and James, as just two examples of many) say otherwise (so this is yet another time when we're screwed if we listen uncritically to "Bible Experts" and other Good Religious People about what the Bible means).

So what was Jesus saying?

One of the biggest (real) messages of the Old Testament is that when God gave rules, He meant them to be applied from the heart-out (as in, what's the intended meaning or purpose or goal?) – but people inevitably apply them from the religion-in (as in, what's the literal interpretation I can apply to my own or others' lives, whether it actually accomplishes what God meant it to or not?).

Yes, God gave rules in the past – but they weren't given just so He could make us live by rules. Instead, their whole purpose was to teach His People about holiness, and righteousness, and goodness, and justice, and mercy, and so on. They were intended to mold people's hearts and minds, so they would grow into spiritual adults. In that way, they were just like the rules we give to little kids, rules like "Don't run near the swimming pool!"

When we're children, we understand such rules in black-or-white concrete (even when we aren't following them). But when we grow up, we understand, for example, that the rule wasn't really about not running near the swimming pool at all, but about being aware and safe around water and slippery surfaces. The adults in our kid-lives didn't tell us to not run near the pool just because they liked making us follow their rules. Instead, they hoped to keep us alive long enough that we could reach adulthood and then be old enough to understand the meaning and purpose of the rule (safety) so well we could even understand when it might actually be necessary to break the rule (like, if a little kid is drowning or someone's bleeding to death) in order to attain an even greater safety result (like, get them out of the water or put a tourniquet around someone's leg). When we grow up enough to "get" and apply the real meaning behind the rule, it's at that point that we've "fulfilled" the rule about not running near swimming pools, because we've accomplished its purpose.

And that's what Jesus is saying to the Jewish people here:
"When you were spiritual children, you were given a lot of rules – but you've not yet grown up enough to understand more than just the literal black-or-white concrete meaning / purpose. But with My arrival, that all changes. Now you need to start learning to be grown-ups.

In fact, we could even say that Jesus came to be the First Real Adult, spiritually. To be our model, out prompt, our teacher.

That's all why trying to make what Jesus said here mean "There are still old Mosaic Laws you still have to adhere to" doesn't work. It would be like going back to telling adults "Don't run near the pool! Never touch the car keys! You can't leave the table until you've eaten all your broccoli! Don't use your bike without your training wheels!" Ridiculous, because now it's completely out of context!

And Jesus let's us know this by His finish of this part, when He tells us that unless we do better than the people who follow the literal rules obsessively and perfectly, we will not please God and will not go to heaven.

But how can we do BETTER than the people who are already perfect at it? By learning to do what they can't or won't do: grow up spiritually and start applying the actual meaning and purpose of God's way to our lives.

Jesus says: Time to kick off those training wheels! Time to RIDE!

We usually think of "right-wing" legalists as being the childish literal-rule followers who miss God's meaning, but others are just as guilty. For example, ever been told you have to "tithe" to your "church" (part of the Old Covenant)? What are the ways religious rules were made part of your life? What ways have they blocked or hindered your understanding of the real Jesus?

What are the ways you still need to spiritually grow up?

See you next week, when we'll continue through the "Sermon on the Mount"!

This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can always contact me (Lynne) at