A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Suburbianity

suburbianityI’ve been reading a very interesting book titled, Suburbianity: What Have We Done to the Gospel? Can We Find Our Way Back to Biblical Christianity?” (2013), by Byron Forrest Yawn, senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN. A synopsis of the book and a few editorial reviews on Amazon.com state the following (quote source here):

Rick Warren famously wrote, “It’s not about you.” But much of the Western church seems to disagree, having settled for a self-centered message of personal fulfillment. With incisiveness and a passionate love for the church, pastor and author Byron Forrest Yawn offers a compelling call away from narcissism and back to the powerful and transforming gospel of Jesus. He shows the difference between…

  • Sunday-morning life coaches selling self-help seminars, and preachers proclaiming God’s redemptive work through Christ
  • promises of prosperity and comfort, and a realistic and helpful perspective on suffering
  • escape from unbelievers and their godless world, and redemptive engagement with people

As Byron exposes the false gospel of “suburbianity,” he offers readers a better alternative: to look beyond themselves and embrace God’s call to be His image-bearers and ambassadors, partnering with Him as He restores people and all creation to His original design.

Editorial Reviews

“Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Byron Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia. Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by impotent gospel-free suburbianity. Byron writes not as a sociologist but as a pastor, calling Christians to be shaped far more by the timeless Word of God and far less by the changing preferences of the suburbs. May every Christian heed this call!”
Tim Challies, Christian blogger, pastor, and author

Suburbianity is one of the most refreshing and disturbing books I have read in quite a while. Refreshing because my friend Byron Yawn has managed to make the gospel even more attractive and alluring to me. Disturbing because he makes such a strong case for all the ways we tend to miss and ‘dis’ the gospel by settling for much of what is accepted as conservative, Bible-believing Christianity. Byron doesn’t write as a cynic, but as a man who longs to see his own heart, his congregation, and our culture come more fully alive to the grace and truth of the real gospel. This is a book for believers and nonbelievers alike because everybody needs the gospel Byron highlights.”
Scotty Smith, Pastor of Christ Community Church, author of Everyday Prayers and Restoring Broken Things

Suburbianity is about the life-giving recovery of the most important reality in the world―the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Found herein is delightful refreshment to the weary soul bombarded by tireless pop-evangelical trendiness. Pastor Byron Yawn delivers a welcome mix of pointed sobriety, self-criticizing humility, and yes, even some gut-busting humor. I hope Suburbianity will produce a multitude of wonderfully dissatisfied Christians who will insist that pastors unashamedly and explicitly preach Christ rather than moralism masquerading as the eternal gospel. Everyone should read this profoundly Christian book. For the glory of Christ in the churches!”
Patrick Abendroth, Pastor, Omaha Bible Church

“This is not a how-to or 12-step self-help book. Nor is it a book of character sketches from which to draw and apply life lessons in morality and ethics. If you have ever tried to bootstrap yourself into favor with God, read Suburbianity, and you’ll approach Scripture differently. Instead of seeing the Bible as a series of stories, you’ll discover the one story of Christ’s finished work of redemption. And it will transform you.”
Perry Stahlman, Chairman of the elders, Community Bible Church

charles-spurgeon-quote-god-does-not-changeIt was the title of Yawn’s book, “Suburbianity,” that caught my eye as I was glancing through the book titles on the bargain book shelves in a Christian bookstore. Personally, I’ve never actually been a part of the suburban lifestyle in America since I’ve been single all of my life and I have lived, for the most part, in apartment complexes. In other words, I’ve never experienced the house (big or small) with a garage (or carport), lawn, spouse, kids, neighbors, or been a part of PTA or homeowners meetings, etc., (other then when I was a kid before my parent’s divorce–and that’s been decades ago and there were no home owner associations way back then).

The churches I have attended over my lifetime could be described as suburban churches, and I usually gravitated to any “singles” groups that those churches might have had (some did, some didn’t). Once megachurches became popular (and a number of today’s suburban churches fit into that category), I attended them, too. However, being a professional working woman and also being single all of my life, as I got older I sometimes outgrew, by virtue of my age, the “singles” groups (as they were in a younger age category–often college age and young unmarried professionals looking to find a spouse). I did try several women’s groups (the professional women’s groups, when they were available which was rare, were the best), but many of the women’s groups catered to wives, mothers, and grandmothers, and I didn’t fit in with that particular demographic or the topics they discussed (child-rearing, husbands, grandparenting, family stuff). So as you can see, my actual experience with “suburbia” has been somewhat limited.

I read several pages of this book in the bookstore and it certainly piqued my interest, and best of all, it was on sale, and I always love finding a good book on sale. It has not disappointed me, either. Yawn states early on in his book what his book is not about (p. 36):

This book is not specifically about gospel centeredness. That message has been so well articulated by others that any addendum by me would be the equivalent of white noise. Horton, Bridges, Keller, Carson, Tchividjian, Wilson, Chandler, and others have all honed the message for a new generation of believers. They have spread the message of Jesus, Paul, Athanasius, Calvin, Burroughs, Warfield, Machen, and a host of others. I have read their works and thank God for them all. They have each helped me reawaken my own soul to the truth of the gospel.

This book is the volume before theirs (although I in no way pretend to be their equal in influence). It’s a prologue to the details of redemption they expound so thoroughly in their works. My basic message explains why messages like theirs are so important for suburban Christians to hear (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” p. 36).

Tim Challies, Christian blogger, author, and book reviewer, wrote a book review of “Suburbianity” when it was first published in 2013, and here is some of what he had to say:

Byron Yawn is the pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, a church I have been to a couple of times and one I have very much enjoyed. He loves Christianity, the Christian faith, but despises Suburbianity, a contemporary perversion of that faith. Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia. 

Suburbianity is the general conviction among professing evangelicals that the primary aim of Christ’s death was to provide us with a fulfilled life. We came to this perspective by persistently reading the mindset and aspirations of the suburbs into the biblical story. It relentlessly seeps into our Christianity. It comes through in nearly all forms of Christian media, including songs, books, movies, and sermons. God has big plans for you. You are important. You should not be discontented, There’s more out there for you. This is the suburban gospel. By it we’ve saved countless sinners from a poor self-image but not much else.

Of course the Christianity of the Bible is not about this at all. It is antithetical to this. “You can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. You may cite Moses, but he never meant that. Even if you make Jesus say it, He didn’t really. Jesus never commissioned anything close to this. We’ve made all this stuff up.” Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by an impotent gospel-free suburbianity.

Yawn proposes a three-part antidote to suburbianity. The first part of the cure is to recover the true gospel and he writes three chapters on what the gospel is and why it must be central to all of Christian doctrine and practice. The second part of the cure is to recover the true and most meaningful storyline of the Bible, looking beyond the moralisms that plague today’s churches. He gives two chapters to the Bible. The third part of the cure, which receives two chapters, is to embrace the local church as God’s plan to save the world. This antidote is so simple and so obvious, yet so commonly overlooked.

In the third part of Yawn’s book which is titled, “The Church,” the cure for suburbianity is found, as Challies stated above. In the first chapter in Part 3, titled, “Hanging On Till Jesus Gets Back,” Yawn opens with this statement (pp. 175-177:

The American church is bored. You can feel it. The giant isn’t sleeping so much as it’s twiddling its thumbs. The frustration is palpable. We’ve spent so much time asking, “What’s my purpose as an individual?” we forgot to ask the greater question: “What’s God’s purpose for the church?” For all our emphasis on personal identity, we’ve no idea what our collective identity is. We’ve no real sense of what we’re suppose to be doing as a people. The reality that defines all of us has been overshadowed by the likes of us.

Boredom creates a unique sort of desperation. As others have said, it’s a very underestimated emotion. Evangelical Christians, especially the younger ones, are desperate to experience church as God intended. Younger Christians can feel pressed between the faith traditions of their parents and the shallow pragmatism of contemporary church models. The pendulum, as it always does, has swung. There is a desire to worship. D.A. Carson observed this reaction among young Christians:

We start attending meetings because it is habit, or because it is the right thing to do, or because we know that the means of grace are important, but not out of the heart-hunger to be with God’s people and to be fed from God’s Word. Sermons are filled with clichés. There is little intensity in confession, little joy in absolution, little delight in the gospel, little urgency in evangelism, little sense of privilege or gratitude in witness, little passion for the truth, little compassion for others, little humility in our evaluations, little love in our dealings with others.

There is currently an intense push back against the failed strategy of marketing techniques and the narcissistic philosophy of seeker churches [Note: Yawn discusses the “seeker-sensitive movement” which started in the church back in the 1970’s in Part 1 of his book. Also, an article titled, “How a Seeker Sensitive, Consumer Church is Failing a Generation,” by Dorothy Greco, published in August 2013 in Christianity Today, is available at this link for additional information]. The failure is now more than obvious. Designer religion for the affluent Americans only works in the suburbs and is not designed to save. The trendy suburban seeker models have left a confused spiritual wasteland in their wake. The gospel is all but forgotten. The suburbs are the new burned-over district. Christians are leaving in droves, seeking more meaningful experiences of church. The church is suddenly getting off the couch and going outside.

Christians want to be a part of churches that are disruptive forces in the culture, not indistinguishable from it. These evangelical dissidents have no interest in over-correcting and returning to the religion of their parents. The idea of forming fundamentalist conclaves and hiding at safe distances from the culture is unthinkable. They’re not seeking asylum behind the walls of traditional church. What they want is the chance to throw grenades. They are hungry for the front lines. . . (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” pp. 175-177).

Well, you get the picture. . . . And I daresay it’s not just the younger generations that feel that way, either. While I can only speak for myself, I can imagine there are a bunch of us older folks who feel the same way, too. I’ve recently had a friend admonish me as to my lack of church attendance of late as if somehow it equates to me being “less Christian” then those folks sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. This book clarifies the situation much better than I could ever try to explain to my friend. We need to start with a definition of what genuine Christianity is really all about, and Yawn has done just that in his book, “Suburbianity.”

For those who might be bored with church but can’t put their finger on why that is the case, Suburbianity is a good place to start. . . .

Actually, Jesus is the best place to start. . .

So bring on those grenades . . .

It’s time to hit the front lines. . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac (with Kirk Franklin and Mandisa):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What Did Jesus Teach?

sermononthemountOne of Jesus’ most famous teachable moments occurred in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). GotQuestions?org gives a summary account of the Sermon on the Mount as follows:

The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew chapters 5-7. Matthew 5:1-2 is the reason it is known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them…” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by anyone.

The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics. It is not the purpose of this article to comment on every section, but rather to give a brief summary of what it contains. If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

Matthew 5:3-12The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:13-16Salt and Light
Matthew 5:17-20Jesus fulfilled the Law
Matthew 5:21-26Anger and Murder
Matthew 5:27-30Lust and Adultery
Matthew 5:31-32Divorce and Remarriage
Matthew 5:33-37Oaths
Matthew 5:38-42Eye for an Eye
Matthew 5:43-48Love your enemies
Matthew 6:1-4Give to the Needy
Matthew 6:5-15How to Pray
Matthew 6:16-18How to Fast
Matthew 6:19-24Treasures in Heaven
Matthew 6:25-34Do not worry
Matthew 7:1-6Do not judge hypocritically
Matthew 7:7-12Ask, Seek, Knock
Matthew 7:13-14The Narrow Gate
Matthew 7:15-23False Prophets
Matthew 7:24-27The Wise Builder

Matthew 7:28-29 concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the following statement: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” May we all continue to be amazed at His teaching and follow the principles that He taught in the Sermon on the Mount! (Quote source here.)

Here is the complete Sermon on the Mount” from the New International Version (NIV):

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Fulfillment of the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Murder

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister,Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

counterculture43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Giving to the Needy

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
    For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.
 (NKJV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,  your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

True and False Disciples

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught as one who had authority–and Jesus has the ultimate authority, too. After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (read about his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection in Matthew 26-28), he made this statement to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In a summary on Life, Hope & Truth,” on the Sermon on the Mount,” the author, John Foster, states, “Nearly 2,000 years ago, Christ preached a profound sermon showing how converted Christians are to live. How essential is the Sermon on the Mount today?” (Quote source and summary at this link.) At the end of the summary he states:

The words of this sermon are as relevant today as they were when Christ spoke them! For “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). (Quote source here.)

The Sermon on the Mount is profoundly relevant to our lives today. I’d like to end this post with the entire words found in Matthew 6:13, of which the words in the second part of the verse are often left off in later versions of the Bible. They are found in the King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 which states (KJV): And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power . . .

And the glory, forever . . .

Amen . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Lord’s Prayer” – Andrea Bocelli (w/choir):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

He Reigns

god-reigns-over-the-nationsAlmost four years ago I published a blog post titled, Invitation to the Thirsty,” which contains Isaiah 55 from The Message Bible. Below I’ve included Isaiah 55 from the New International Version along with the first two verses in Isaiah 56, and I’m adding a little background information on Isaiah, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. The following background information on Isaiah is taken from Truth for the World:

Isaiah is often calledThe Messianic Prophet.” He is called this because he records many prophecies of the coming of the Messiah [Jesus Christ] into the world. “Messiah” means “the anointed one.” In the Old Testament, priests were anointed with oil when they were appointed to their office (Exodus 30:25-30; Leviticus 8:10-13). Prophets and kings were also anointed with oil when they were appointed by God (1 Samuel 16:1,13; 1 Kings 19:16). The prophets foretold the coming of One who would hold all three of these offices and be prophet, priest and king all in one. Therefore, He was called “The Anointed One” or “the Messiah.” The New Testament word for “The Anointed One” is “Christ.”

Isaiah prophesied during the rule of four different kings of Judah. They were Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). Isaiah was probably born in Jerusalem about 760 B.C. He likely began prophesying about 740 B.C. He was God’s spokesman to Judah for fifty years or even longer. Hebrews 11:37 speaks of some men of faith who were “sawn in two.” According to the Jews, this is the way Isaiah was killed. When he was a very old man, the evil king, Manasseh, had his body placed between two planks of wood and sawed in two.

Isaiah lived and preached during a very important time in the world’s history. During most of his lifetime, Assyria was the most powerful nation on earth. Babylon was only beginning to gain strength as a nation. While Isaiah lived in Judah, Romulus and Remus were beginning the city of Rome. The Greek cities of Athens and Sparta were just being built. It was during Isaiah’s lifetime that the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Micah, Amos, and Hosea were other prophets of God who lived during Isaiah’s lifetime.

During most of the time that Isaiah preached to God’s people, the nation of Judah was very prosperous. People forgot about God because they were so involved in the things of this world (Isaiah 59:1-8). The rich people lived in luxury and idleness. The poor suffered from lack of food and clothing (Isaiah 3:14-15; 32:9-15). Many of the people were drunkards (Isaiah 3: 16-26, 5:11-12, 22-23; 28:7-8). . . . Government officials were corrupt. They used their offices to oppress the poor (Isaiah 1:21-23). Even the prophets failed to do the job God had given them. Instead of rebuking sin and delivering God’s message, they preached what the people wanted to hear (Isaiah 9:14-16; 30:8-14).

The Book of Isaiah has sixty-six chapters. The first thirty-five chapters speak of God’s judgments on evil and evildoers. Chapters 36 through 39 tell of a time when the Assyrian army surrounded the city of Jerusalem. They planned to attack and destroy it. The leader of the Assyrians boasted that God could not save them just as the gods of other nations they had conquered had been unable to deliver them. King Hezekiah prayed to God about the matter. That very night God sent His angel into the camp of the Assyrians. The angel killed 185,000 Assyrians and the rest of the army fled (Isaiah 37:36-37).

The last section of Isaiah contains chapters 40 through 66. These chapters foretold that the nation of Babylon would arise and oppress God’s people. They also told of the sending of God’s Servant to suffer for the sins of the people. Finally, the glory of the Messianic Age is described. (Quote source here.)

Dr. Allen Ross, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University states the following in his Introduction to the Book of Isaiah on Bible.org:

The Book of Isaiah is one of the most important books of the Old Testament. While little is known of the personal life of the prophet, he is considered to be one of the greatest of them all.

The book is a collection of oracles, prophecies, and reports; but the common theme is the message of salvation. There was, according to these writings, no hope in anything that was made by people. The northern kingdom of Israel had been carried into captivity (722 B.C.), and the kingdom of Judah was in the middle of idolatry and evil. The kingdom of Assyria had dominated the Fertile Crescent and posed a major threat to both kingdoms; and the kingdom of Babylon was gaining power and would replace Assyria as the dominant threat. In view of the fast-changing international scene, the people of Israel would be concerned about their lot in life—what would become of the promises of God? How could the chosen people survive, let alone be a theocracy again? And must the remnant of the righteous also suffer with the nation that for all purposes was pagan?

To these and many other questions the book addresses itself.

There would be a purging of the nation because God is holy. Before the nation could inherit the promises made to the fathers, it would have to be made holy. So God would use the pagan nations to chasten Israel for its sins and cleanse it from iniquity. And even though the judgment of the captivity would punish sin and destroy the wicked unbelievers, the removal of iniquity would ultimately be the work of the Servant of the LORD, the promised Messiah. On the basis of such cleansing and purification, God would then establish the golden age, a time of peace and prosperity that the world has never known. When the holy God would make the remnant holy, then He would use them to rule over the nations rather than allow the nations again to discipline them.

The messenger of the message of salvation is the prophet Isaiah, whose name means “salvation of Yahweh,” or “Yah saves.” He was the son of Amoz; he may also have been related to the royal family, perhaps King Manasseh, by whom he was believed to have been sawn asunder (see the Apocryphal literature; Heb. 11:37). He prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and also may have lived past Hezekiah into the reign of Manasseh. Assuming that he was a young man at the death of Uzziah in 742 B.C.when his official ministry began, he might have been 70 or 80 at the time of his death (ca. 680 B.C.). Therefore, the prophet would have ministered for at least 60 years in an effort to bring the nation back to God. . . .

. . . The setting of the first half of the book is Judah in the days of the Assyrians, and the setting of the second half of the book is Babylon, then Jerusalem again, and then beyond in the age to come. (Quote source and full article at this link).

he-reignsThere are several major themes in the Book of Isaiah: Sin, suffering, justice and judgment; power (human power and God’s power); loyalty; dreams, hopes, and plans; compassion and forgiveness including mercy (source here.) And within the Book of Isaiah is found one of the greatest invitations in the entire Bible–Isaiah 55:

Come, all you who are thirsty
    come to the waters.
And you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
Because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
     so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
    but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
The mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.

And I’ll include the greatest invitation found in the New Testament–John 3:16-18:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

I’ll end this post with the words from the song He Reigns (YouTube video below):

“He Reigns”

It’s the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It’s the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain
The song of Asian believers
Filled with God’s holy fire
It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Let it rise about the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground
Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
‘Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word

When all God’s children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God’s people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

(Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com)

Yes . . . 

He reigns . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Making The First Move

Reconciliation-Who-Will-Make-the-First-MoveBack in December 1964, protester Jack Weinberg told a reporter, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and with that statement the 1960’s youth movement was born (source here). Weinberg (born April 4, 1940) is an environmental activist and former New Left activist who is best known for his role in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964-65 (quote source here). The entire story can be read in an article titled, The Free Speech Movement,” by Gene Marine, published on December 21, 1964 in The Nation at this link. Weinberg is now 76. I wonder what he thinks about his statement now?

I was 12 years old at the time the youth movement got it’s start. And back then it became a motto for an entire generation for those us of who were under 30. However, trust is a delicate issue at any age–young, old, and everyone in between. So is freedom of speech.

For those of us living in America, we are lucky to be living in a country where freedom of speech (sometimes also referred to as freedom of expression) is a Constitutional right given to us under the First Amendment which states:

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. (Quote source here.)

The First Amendment as noted above also includes several other freedoms besides freedom of speech: the free exercise of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble. These freedoms are rights that we should never take for granted.

For the purposes of this blog post the freedom in focus is freedom of speech/expression. It is defined as follows:

Right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of press is part of freedom of expression. (Quote source here.)

Often in our society freedom of expression is used by some people or groups who are trying to silence others who don’t agree with their own particular view or agenda. For example, in this highly charged presidential election year here in America we often see the two primary opposing sides (and many of their followers) relentlessly badgering each other. While that is not unusual in political elections, trying to suppress or silence an opposing view of any kind goes against the rights of those citizens holding that opposing view, whether it is of a political nature, religious nature, or any other issue that is going on in our society.

Being human, we all have a tendency to think we are right while viewing those opposing us or our views as being wrong, or worse yet, as being irrelevant. Watching TV or spending time on social media on any given day gives us a wide variety of opinions of what people think on a particular subject/topic whether they are liberal or conservative or anywhere in between. And verbal fist fighting is nothing new when people disagree.

A friend mentioned a situation that came up recently in a church he knew of where a disagreement between the senior pastor and other members of the church leadership came to a serious disagreement that resulted in the senior pastor resigning from the church and moving to another state. My friend stated that in hindsight, the church leadership thought they were doing the right thing but ended up “shooting the pilot at 30,000 feet” and realized they had done some “really dumb things.” Unfortunately, the senior pastor won’t respond to phone calls, letters or emails. While this type of situation has occurred in other churches (often causing church splits), the travesty is when one side thinks their views are right and presses the point to where serious damage is the outcome. In this case the senior pastor resigned and now, apparently, the church leadership relents.

Unfortunately, we can destroy others with our words. Sometimes it’s intentional, and other times it is not (as is the case in the above stated scenario). Nevertheless, for the person being denigrated (or whose opinion is deemed to be irrelevant) the outcome can be ugly, and their point of view rarely gets a hearing.

reconcile-sibling-after-fightIn reviewing the definition of freedom of expression stated above, key in that definition is the right to express our opinion in various media forms “but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements.”  With ever increasing frequency we tend to vocalize our views and disagreements, and in the process we can, whether intentionally or unintentionally, cause harm to another person’s character and/or reputation by spreading misleading or even false statements to prove our point of view or carry out our own agendas. And with all of the technological wonders and social media available to us to dispense our own views at a moment’s notice, it’s hard and sometimes impossible to tell the truth from the lies, especially if those being silenced are not allowed to present their point of view. It often seems that the loudest voices win, and others’ views are seen as irrelevant.

As for the loudest voices winning, sometimes it is very intentional. Smear campaigns are nothing new, and it’s a very effective method of destroying the opposition, whether in the workplace, or in the political arena, or in any other social and/or work setting. And this has nothing to do with freedom of expression that is our Constitutional right. Freedom of expression is a right of all Americans, and not just those with the loudest voices. And there are many in our society without a voice–the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.

Jesus Christ faced constant opposition from the loudest voices of his day–the religious ruling class known as the Pharisees. With increasing frequency throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus encountered opposition from them right up until they got their way with his death on the cross. However, his resurrection on the third day brought about the way of reconciliation for all of humankind (see John 3:16-18).

Opposition and reconciliation are major themes in the Bible. Two well known stories of reconciliation are the subject of an article on Reconciled Relationships on Bible.org by Stephen J. Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship. Here are the opening paragraphs to that article:

Two stories in the Bible evoke strong feelings in me every time I read them. One is the story of Joseph and his brothers. The other is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The reason that these stories often cause tears to well up in my eyes is that they are stories of reconciled relationships.

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, treats them kindly, and forgives them for the terrible thing that they had done in selling him into slavery, it is a moving testimony to the power of reconciled relationships. Later, when their father has died, the brothers fear that Joseph would inflict revenge that he had been withholding. But Joseph wept and treated them kindly because he recognized God’s sovereign purpose in what had happened.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the young man impudently rejected the love of his father and chose instead the company of his fast-living, fickle friends. The father’s broken heart longed for the return of his wayward son. When he finally saw him coming in the distance, the father felt compassion for him, ran to him, embraced him, kissed him, and joyously welcomed him back into the family. That powerful story shows the tremendous joy both of reconciled human relationships and also of sinners being reconciled to the heavenly Father.

God created us to have close, personal relationships with Him and with one another. Jesus said that the greatest commandment in the Law is to love God with our entire being. The second greatest is that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). (Quote source here.)

Loving our neighbors as ourselves. . . . And it doesn’t come with any “but” statements, such as in “but I’m right and he or she is wrong.” James 4:1-12 states the root cause of our problem:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in usBut he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

As we can see from the above verses, humility has never been our strong suit. However, Philippians 2:3-4 states:

where change beginsDo nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Being genuinely humble is at the core of all of our relationships with others and with God. I Peter 5:6 states, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” GotQuestions?org gives us the definition of humility:

The Bible describes humility as meekness, lowliness and absence of self. The Greek word translated “humility” in Colossians 3:12 and elsewhere literally means “lowliness of mind,” so we see that humility is a heart attitude, not merely an outward demeanor. One may put on an outward show of humility but still have a heart full of pride and arrogance. Jesus said that those who are “poor in spirit” would have the kingdom of heaven. Being poor in spirit means that only those who admit to an absolute bankruptcy of spiritual worth will inherit eternal life. Therefore, humility is a prerequisite for the Christian.

When we come to Christ as sinners, we must come in humility. We acknowledge that we are paupers and beggars who come with nothing to offer Him but our sin and our need for salvation. We recognize our lack of merit and our complete inability to save ourselves. Then when He offers the grace and mercy of God, we accept it in humble gratitude and commit our lives to Him and to others. We “die to self” so that we can live as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We never forget that He has exchanged our worthlessness for His infinite worth, our sin for His righteousness, and the life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). That is true humility. (Quote source here.)

Keeping that in mind, I can think of no better verse to end this post with then Ephesians 4:32 which states . . . .

Be kind one to another . . .

Tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .

As God in Christ forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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