Going The Extra Mile to Turn The Other Cheek

“Turn the other cheek.”  “Go the extra mile.”  These are axioms that you have heard and probably even used.  But I suspect many people would have no idea they are quotes from Jesus.  Even within church circles I don’t think there is a widespread understanding of what Jesus was really teaching.  In part it’s because these teachings were culturally based examples of how to live out the foundational teaching of “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

(I am indebted to one of my favorite College Profs, Werner Waitkus for opening up these cultural insights for me a long time ago.  Thank you sir!)

In the Matthew 5 account, Jesus gives us three of these examples.  Each of them were situations where someone was oppressing or unfairly treating another, robbing them of their dignity. Jesus demonstrated how to respond non-violently yet still retain dignity, not allowing the oppressor to just “walk all over you.”

The first is “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (verse 39) Pictured here is a slap, which was always done with the right hand as the left hand was used for, uh, less hygienic tasks.  So the right hand slapping the left cheek would be a backhanded slap imposing an indignity.  But if the “slappee” turns the other cheek the “slapper” has one of two choices:

  • He could slap the left cheek but to do so would require an open handed slap which would indicate the one he is slapping is his equal. Or
  • He could choose not to slap which forces him to back down, again acknowledging the other as his equal.

The second example is verse 40. “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  This references an Old Testament commandment that stipulated a person could not hold another’s cloak as security for a loan overnight because it was his only covering for warmth at night.  Unscrupulous lenders would get around this by demanding a person’s tunic, the undergarment.  But if the indebted person offered his cloak as well he would either force the lender to cause the borrower to be publicly naked, which in that culture brought shame on the person causing the nakedness, or the lender would be forced to deal fairly and take only the cloak.

Finally verse 41. “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Roman soldiers could force any non-Roman citizen to carry his pack for one mile.  But if after going one mile you, of your own will, choose to carry the pack a second mile, the soldier becomes indebted to you and thereby your dignity is regained.

Our challenge now is to take Jesus’ teaching of “love your enemy” and find ways of applying it in our own culture and situations of oppression and unfair treatment.


Foundational Relationship Roles

You would think that after twenty-eight and a half years of marriage I would have gotten this relationship thing down pat and I’d know exactly what to do at exactly the right time and Wendy would respond in exactly the way I expect. The problem with that theory is that we are both growing and changing.  So the adventure continues.

We are, however, getting better and better at working through the changes.  That’s happening, in part, because as I look deeper into scripture I’m coming to a better understanding of the roles God created male and female for. (I think Wendy has always innately had a better grasp of that.)  I see two foundational roles in God’s design and I’ve put these roles in the form of questions.

Before I list those, let me say that the ways in which these roles are expressed are innumerable and will differ from person to person.  These roles do not pigeon hole a man or a woman to say you have to be this or you can’t be that.  By foundational I mean the prime purpose of human beings, relating to God and relating to each other as male and female.  This purpose is true in all of relating, but it’s most clearly expressed in the husband/wife relationship.

When our boys were younger and they’d tell us about a girl they had begun to develop an interest in the question I came to ask was “Does she inspire you to follow and love Jesus more or does she distract you from him?”  In other words does her lifestyle, her conversation, and the way in which she expresses interest in you inspire within you a greater passion for Jesus?

If we’d had girls I would have asked them this: “Does the way this guy treats you heighten your awareness of how much God loves you, or does it mostly focus you on the guy?”  In other words does he draw your attention to God in what he says, his integrity, and in how he puts your best interests ahead of his own?

God’s beautiful design is that as each relationship is deepened, our relationship to God and our relationship with our spouse, it deepens and strengthens the other.  The better my relationship is with God the better I’ll relate to my wife, and the better my relationship with my wife the better I’ll know God.

I would not be the man I am without Wendy daily inspiring me to pursue God more passionately.  Thank you my darling, I love you more than ever.  Let the adventure continue…


The Struggle of Power

What is true power? Is there a difference between the way God views power and how humanity in general understands it? Considering that Isaiah 55:8 says that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways, I would think oh my yes!

Our natural way of understanding power is the old “might makes right” adage.  We use force to impose our will on someone else, unless that someone else has more power than we do and then it is their will imposed upon us.  This is typically our approach whether it’s the school yard bully, climbing the corporate ladder, or sports and all the way up to military strength and political power.

But that’s not God’s power.

Some might object pointing to the Old Testament where God uses force to drive out the nations from the Promised Land. But I can’t think of a single instance when pure military power or even strategy could be attributed for the defeat of the enemies of the Israelites, can you?

The objections may continue in New Testament passages like Revelation 19:16 that talk about striking down the nations and ruling with an iron scepter.

Notice that this and many other passages about the final defeat of the enemies of God use the imagery of a sword coming from the mouth of Christ. That imagery gives us an insight into what Divine power is really like.  Here’s another passage that gives us a clue, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”  There is a power there that goes way beyond brute strength.

Let me illustrate.  Suppose I was presented with an ice cube that I wanted to destroy.  I might take a hammer and crush it into oblivion. That’s human perspective on power.  But suppose that ice cube was the size of a glacier, or even an ocean?  I couldn’t make a hammer big enough to crush that let alone wield it!

But the sun is a completely different kind of power that can overcome an entire ice age.  That comes much closer to understanding how Jesus will destroy by the splendor of his coming.

Two things to take from this.  First, the same splendor of Jesus’ coming that brings destruction to those adamant to be his enemies brings glory and joy for those who have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord.

And second, that power has been given to those who follow Jesus.  The next time adversity approaches ask God for wisdom to show you how to let him use his power through you to overcome it.


Repentance, Rest, Quietness, Trust

thoughtsfromasmalltown

REPENT!  We hear that word and we get visions of the old-timey, hell-fire-and-brimstone preacher shouting and pointing a long, bony finger with one hand while pounding on the pulpit with his other.  That picture does not give us a full understanding of what scripture means when it call us to repent.

The word from the Bible we translate as repent doesn’t simply mean to feel sorry or remorse, though those feelings may accompany repentance. It more literally means to change your mind.   It includes changing the minds perceptions, purposes, and dispositions.

In previous articles I have stated in that the basis of our sinfulness is a declaration that we don’t need God, that we can be our own god or at least choose our own god.  When someone like Peter in Acts 3:19 calls us to repent and turn to God what he is saying is to let God change…

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Bucket List (re-post)

A couple of weeks ago I had a special request from a fellow to reprint an article I wrote a year and a half back about bucket lists. So with your indulgence, here it is:
I got to swim with sharks!
We went to visit our son and daughter (in-law) who were serving at a church in Hope Town, Bahamas. While Andrew and I were snorkeling we came across four black tip sharks, the biggest of which was about 5 feet long. I suppose saying swim “with” isn’t exactly accurate. They were swimming away from us and we were trying to keep up to them. We did manage to follow them around for a few of minutes and get a few pictures, but what a thrill. If I believed in bucket lists this definitely would have been on it.
I can hear some of you say “what do you mean if you believed in bucket lists? Isn’t a bucket list a positive thing?” There is certainly nothing sinful about having a bucket list and actually there are many, many things that someday I would like to do. However I don’t expect and neither is it important to me that I do all or even any of them before I “kick the bucket”. (Hence the name “bucket list” for those who didn’t know.)
You see, I know that in heaven I’ll be able to actually swim with sharks and all those other things that would be on my list if I had one. Many of us have bought into a flawed picture of heaven that has us playing harps and sitting in robes for all eternity. But as much as the Garden of Eden was a place of activity and exploration, so too will the renewed Eden be. So I’ll have more than all the time in the world to complete my list and even to keep coming up with new items.
But there’s another reason I don’t have a list that is even more important; my life isn’t my own for me to determine what I do with it. I am a servant of Jesus Christ and as such my whole life is at his disposal. Because he died for me and I, by faith, have accepted his death in place of the one I deserved, he now lives his life through me. That means he makes the list.
But in case you think this is a huge sacrifice, don’t worry, his list is far more exciting and fulfilling than anything I would come up with, and living out his list for me results in praise and glory to God. That is the greatest thing I can do.
So go ahead and have a list, but if you let Jesus make it for you it won’t be over when you kick the bucket.


My Christmas Non-Sermon

I didn’t preach a Christmas sermon this year.  Instead I tried to read the full story of Christmas, including return of Jesus, without using any readings from the traditional accounts in the gospels. So I have compiled a series of passages from both the First and Second Testaments to tell the story.

Someone asked I could share this reading, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  (John 1:1-5)

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)

So God said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  (Isa 9:2, 6-7)

(So) when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray ,each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.  He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.  (Isa 53)

This Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

 David said about him:  “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.   Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.   You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Brothers and Sisters, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:22-33)

You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:18-21)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  (Hebrews 1:3)  The secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thess 2:7-8)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  (1 Thess 4:13-17)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. . . It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  (Rev 21:1-7)

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.  Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.   I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Rev 22:12-16)

And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”   Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.   In a loud voice they sang:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,  to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength  and honor and glory and praise!”   Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”   The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5:9-14)

(All scripture taken from NIV)


Beyond Behavior Modification

The last time I got kicked by a horse was when I was working at Rafter Six Guest Ranch.  I was leading one horse through the covered area where we tacked up in the mornings past a loose horse that happened to be there.  The loose horse must have thought the one I was leading was encroaching on his personal space and intended to teach some respect with a quick kick as we passed by.  Unfortunately he nailed me instead hard enough that the next day I had a defined outline of a horseshoe in the bruise on my butt.

I subscribe to the philosophy that if a horse kicks or bites you that you need try to kill it. .  .so long as you aren’t holding an instrument that can actually accomplish the feat.  The idea is that you must get into his mind that if he lashes out in aggression he will die, and if you can achieve that without actually touching the horse all the better.

So I grabbed the lead shank off the horse I’d been leading and holding the snap end proceeded to flail the rope around and around, slapping it on the ground right beside him and yelling my head off at him.  I pushed him into a corner and repeatedly cut off any escape for him till I could see he feared for his life.  Then I dropped my arms and gently called him to me.  The horse turned and walked right up to me with his head lowered while I rubbed him around the neck and ears.

When I put the rope around his neck to lead him out I turned to see my two young wranglers with their jaws in the dirt.  They had never seen me apparently snap before and were stunned.  I explained to them that my actions were completely controlled and not simply punitive punishment or venting my anger on the horse.  The goal of the exchange was not primarily to modify the horse’s behavior, but to actually have him want to be near me in a healthy relationship, which was exactly what happened.

While undoubtedly limited, this is a useful illustration of God’s wrath, something we see particularly in the Old Testament and that many people have trouble with.  For example in Amos the prophet speaks extensively about judgement and punishment for the nation of Israel.  Many understand that this is primarily punishment to stop the horrific things the people are doing; even infant sacrifice to pagan idols.  But in the middle of it God repeats 3 times.  Seek Me.  Seek Me.  Seek Me.

Behavior modification will be an outcome, but it’s not his goal.  His goal is healthy relationship with you.  That’s what Jesus died for.