Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and I’m the lead pastor here and it’s a great Sunday to worship alongside you. Not only did the Huskers win but we all survived the earthquake of 2016. Which supposedly occurred yesterday at 7am, which is weird because my daughter and I were both sitting in our living room talking to one another when this so-called earthquake occurred. And neither one of us felt an ounce of movement. But then I came to set up and oh the stories I heard.
I thought everyone was playing a joke on me until Steve Bowman said, “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” And that’s when I knew he was not lying. Because that is a serious oath. So I got to thinking, where did that phrase come from? And you will be amazed at what I learned.
I swear – If I’m lying I’m dying. It turns out that phrase was made up by Benjamin Franklin and it was in the running for the oath that people swore before they took the stand. They were trying to figure out what witnesses should say when they take the stand, right, and so eventually they settled on “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” that was John Adam’s idea and it beat out the stick a needle in my eye by a narrow margin.
In my research, and I swear this is true – I swear on my mothers grave, my hand on a stack of bibles – everything I’m saying here is true. I found the other submissions that were rejected oaths in a court of law.
For instance George Washington offered this, “If I am shown to be a liar, set my pantaloons on fire.” And even though it didn’t win, because of the great respect people have for George Washington, it was adopted into our nomenclature as liar liar, pants on fire.
It’s the truth though, I swear by the hair on my chinny chin chin – this is how it all went down. The guy who made Hamilton is turning this whole episode into another Broadway smash hit. I swear by the sun and the moon and the stars – it’s all true.
Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe none of it’s true. But that’s okay because I had my fingers crossed! HAHA! Fooled you, didn’t I? But isn’t it interesting how many different ways of swearing to tell the truth we really have?
Why do we do that kind of thing? What does it say about humanity that we need these?
The big idea this morning, and I feel that it just has to rhyme, if it didn’t rhyme it would be a crime, the big idea this morning is…
From the inside out, God is making me new.
Without a doubt, He is making me true.
This morning we are going to look at an interesting passage that we read about in the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the most important sermon ever preached – it is Jesus’ declaration about just what is so good about the good news. And you can read the entire sermon yourself in Matthew – which is the first book of the New Testament in the bible – chapters 5, 6 and 7.
It’s very important we understand that the Sermon on the Mount is NOT just a collection of Jesus’ greatest hits. It is laid out with a purpose. And so, in case you missed it so far – this is where Jesus has taken us up to this point today.
We begin with remembering the crowd – who is listening to this sermon? The crowd is filled with people who don’t have their act together. Hurting, helpless, shoved to the margins of society.
To these kinds of people, Jesus announces Good News! Matthew 5:1-11 that these types of people are blessable in the Kingdom of Heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. Good news! Blessable are the spiritually bankrupt. The morally bankrupt. Blessable are those who don’t have their act together!
Not only that – Jesus says, but it’s you kind of people who God is going to use to act as the light of the world – shedding light on what’s important in life – and it’s these kinds of regular Joe’s who will become the salt of the earth – you make life taste better just by being a part of it.
How will this happen? It will require a different kind of rightness. A rightness that goes far above – “Just not doing the wrong thing”. Not doing the wrong thing, doesn’t make you a right kind of human.
It will require more than simply ‘technical’ rightness. Faith in Jesus actually brings genuine rightness.
Jesus is now going to talk about examples that highlight the differnece between technically being right, and genuinely being transformed into the right kind of human being.
And he uses murder as an example.
The rule keeping Pharisees felt they were righteous because they had never killed anyone!
But: Jesus says you hate people! You are caught up in these cycles of anger and contempt. You are the kind of person who hates people enough to spit on them. It’s not enough. It’s too shallow to be godly!
This is why Jesus called these religious experts whitewashed tombs. They were all proud of their external appearance. They appear to be right because they rarely do wrong, and yet on the inside – where it counts – they are rotten to the core.
In it’s place, Jesus offers Genuine rightness: Love people who hate you.
Jesus knows if we are going to become new kinds of human beings it requires the removal of anger and contempt from our life. He knows that anything done in anger is done better without it.
Instead of returning anger for more anger, we become the kind of person who genuinely cares about the welfare of other human beings. We begin to treat one another with respect and dignity and genuine kindness.
The second example is adultery. And the pharisees took much pride in the fact that they were technically innocent of actual adultery.
But: Jesus can read their thoughts and he knows they are lusting after people!
I have been enjoying reading the New Testament in the Message – which I’d call a thought for thought translation of the Bible. Listen to how it translates Matthew 5
27-28 “You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.
Genuine Rightness? Treats people with so much dignity that they wouldn’t even consider degrading another person in their minds by lusting after them.
Jesus is presenting a new picture of they type of human we can become, he is pointing out the utter shallowness of rules based religion. Of technical Christianity.
The third example is about divorce: And we didn’t preach on it – but not for any particular reason other than I thought the concepts are covered by today’s talk.
But Jesus is calling the pharisees out on their feeling of righteous divorce. They believe they have cause and they legally divorced their wife – and as bad as divorce is now it was even more difficult in the first century because wives had very few rights at all, and such an act often led women to having to turn to prostitution.
And so the Pharisees felt they were right because they followed the letter of the law.
But: 31-32 “Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending.
These are tough passages because sometimes they have a way of picking wounds that in some cases are still raw. Divorce carries with it a unique pain – and its wounds run deep into the soul.
Jesus is calling out the pharisees for their callousness in regards to treating people they said they would honor for a lifetime, as commodities. Time to trade in for a different one.
I will say that in Christianity right now there is a lot – too much, really, technical rightness going on when it comes to marriage. Many many books have been written about this passage in Matthew because they want to discover when am I technically allowed to divorce my spouse – when is doing what I really want to do, biblical.
Sometimes, people in an effort to be freed from their spouse, create scenarios in which they feel that Jesus has their back scripturally. Loophole religion. Technical Christianity.
How about we show genuine rightness in our marriages. Instead of seeking ways out we seek with all of our heart to become the kind of people who love and forgive and become more one.
Now let’s talk about the fourth example Jesus gives. And that is when it comes to keeping your word.
33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
I remember very clearly when I was in high school and I was not very far along in my journey as a follower of Jesus I was riding in a car with some friends and I was sharing this incredible story. I don’t remember what the story was but I remember I wanted them to know I wasn’t lying, so I said, I swear to God I’m telling you the truth.
And the guy in the car said to me – you just sinned. You need to ask God to forgive you. The referee came out and showed me the red card and explained to me the rules. And he pointed to these verses. Jesus says not to swear or it’s a sin.
And I remember thinking, of all the things Jesus would get all bent out of shape about, why this one? What’s the issue here? You’d think Jesus would be okay with someone saying I’m seeking as truthfully as if Jesus himself were in this car.
Well, if we look at this passage through the eyes of technical Christianity, we will miss the point. Because we will only walk away with more loopholes. More stuff that’s an infraction!
The point Jesus of this passage is NOT to point out more Pet Peeve’s of God. Guys – my Father – for whatever reason – he doesn’t like that. So…
So it’s okay if I don’t keep my word, so long as I don’t invoke God’s name?
Jesus is telling us here, that what counts is that we become the kind of people who keep our word. We don’t have to call down lightning from heaven with our hands on a stack of bibles to be believed.
Jesus is announcing that we can become the kind of human being who doesn’t need to revert to verbal gymnastics to manipulate people into thinking better of us than they should.
We don’t need to verbally outwit someone in order to get our way. We don’t need to resort to fine print trickery in life. Be the real deal. Not only speak truthfully, be truthful human beings!
Jesus wants to create a person with Character! Deep seated, rock hard, strong, godly, unimpeachable character.
God wants you to be a person with the character that others would never have to question your truthfulness. No need to put parenthesis around statements – I swear this time I’m not exaggerating. This time, I swear on a stack of bibles – this time I’m not lying.
Instead, we just live our lives with character and integrity.
You would think that being a follower of Jesus – this would fall under one of those things Jesus wouldn’t even need to address. Of course we are people of character. We are Christians!
But it’s not that way and often it’s because of technical rightness.
One time someone asked me if Journey would ever form a Church softball team. No way! No way! I don’t want to make a sweeping indictment but the umpires I talked to hate church softball league. Because every church softball team I played on where filled with people who were so convinced about their rightness – they have such a sense of justice that every blown call is a travesty!
No way – join a beer league softball team and be salt and light and love that team.
I remember talking to more than one guy who has told me they will never go into business with a Christian again. Why? They become masters of the fine print. Letter of the law. I am right because I found a loophole that allows me to treat you like dirt and still feel like Jesus got my back!
Back in 2008 when the housing market took a hit, I was talking to a very good friend who lived in Phoenix – his house dropped in value from 400k to 240 in a few short months. Granted – he ought the house when it was 240.
He said that he was having issues with elders on his church board who had taken out second mortgages in order to buy rv’s and boats, and so when the value of their home plummeted they just stopped making payments entirely, put that money into an account, and when the bank finally kicked them out, they bought the house across the street for the 240k. Moved all their toys across the street.
Sat in the elder board room and said, I’ve done nothing wrong. I made an agreement with the bank that if I ever stopped paying they could take the house back.
Technical religion. Loophole living. I have technically done nothing wrong.
It’s not just them. It’s me too. The problem with preaching these messages is that God often convicts me before you. I play on a golf league and I usually like to walk and save the $11 cart fee. But one night I went in and as I was walking out the guy at the counter said, “Hey, you are going to need this key and he threw the key to me as I walked out.” Free cart, right? Technically I did nothing wrong. I did not ask for anything -he gave me permission to take a cart, right? I made an assumption that happened to be in my favor.
Please tell me that’s okay because that’s what I did – without even thinking about it. Until I told my playing partner Kevin – I said good news -they just gave us a cart – and he asked – did you pay for me? Kevin – you are really ruining the taste of getting away with something here.
Some of you guys are like (Don’t put any cash in to the offering plate – Five finger discount Philly up there will abscond with the money)
You ever cash your integrity in to save a few bucks? How about we become people of character. Integrity. Imagine God turning us into people who naturally and genuinely become people others say – that is a person of character.
So let’s just turn to the question of how. How does one develop character. Because it is very important that we understand character must be developed. We human beings don’t coast. We are either striving toward becoming what God intends or we are going backward.
Character is formed on a daily basis – it’s formed from a thousand little choices. It’s formed on the golf course and when we do our taxes.
Can I show you an example of some guys in the Bible who display what character looks like? Believe it or not, they are hard to come by… there are far more people in the bible who struggle with character problems – but in the book of Daniel we come across a story of three friends – all of whom stand out as people of great character. Their names are Shadrack, Meshack, and abednego.
In Daniel 3 we find King Nebachudnezzar doing what other kings had done -setting up some kind of king worship type thing – he builds a huge statue of himself and tests the loyalty of his subjects be whether or not they will worship this statue.
Three guys – these guys were already proven themselves to be honest – they were at this time overseeing the province of Babylon – all three love God. And so – predictably – they refuse to bow to an idol. Brought before the King – they give this simple explanation.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
The rest of the story is that they are thrown into the fiery furnace but God shows up to rescue them and King repents and whatever – the king is crazy. But these guys are men. Men of character.
What do we notice from these men? First – they weren’t alone. Okay? They had friends who stood by them. Friends of similar character. I think it’s important for us who want to become people of integrity to take a look at who we hang out with and ask, are they helping me, or are they hurting me in any way.
Sometimes friends who are good to us aren’t necessarily good for us. But hanging out with people who display character – that has a way of rubbing off on you.
When Jim and I first started hanging out I was struck by how generous he was. I was always like, I will pay for my small coffee and you pay for whatever kind of ridiculous thing you are drinking.
But Jim was always picking up the tab and it challenged me to become a more giving, generous person. Now I just need to find someone who has character and integrity. Because Jim does not have either of those.
And so, the people we surround ourselves with – they do matter. Now I am not advocating ditching friendships, but perhaps there needs to be better boundaries. It’s worth examining.
Second – notice the lack of verbal manipulation? We don’t have to defend ourselves. How much energy goes into a sturdy defense of our character? We want people to think well of us. And so we explain! We defend! Not these guys. No anger here either. No contempt – nothing but a simple straight forward answer. We don’t have to defend ourselves. God will take care of me.
Third – there is an overwhelming sense that they understand the Lord is their shepherd and He is the one leading and directing their lives. They have that firmly settled in their heart, don’t they? God can save us, even if he choses not to. And even if he chooses not to – we will do the right thing.
These guys had been developing their character along the way, so that when they came to this moment – they were ready to pass the greatest test of their character they had ever endured.
But it started with a million right decisions before they ever got to that point. This kind of thing here is like the super bowl when it comes to testing one’s character. But you don’t win the Superbowl if you don’t put the time in in training camp. In the thousand small decisions it takes to be prepared for when the time came.
Character is formed by a thousand little choices. Often hard choices but bite sized training camp chunks of doing the right thing because you have the right heart.
In his book After you Believe, N.T. Wright tells the story of the Miracle on the Hudson – about Captain Sully Sullenburger who was the pilot of US Air flight 1549.
Everything was fine in the Airbus A320 leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York that January day in 2009. Fine until, two minutes after takeoff, the aircraft ran straight into a flock of Canada geese. Almost at once both the engines were severely damaged and lost their power.
The plane was at that point heading north over the, one of the most densely populated parts of the city. Captain Sullenberger and his copilot had to make dozens of major decisions instantly if they were going to save the lives of people not only on board but also on the ground.
None of those decisions came naturally. But thank God they had prepared – so that by Second Nature they were able to do what needed to be done.
In the two or three minutes they had before landing, Sullenberger and his copilot
had to shut down the engines. They had to set the right speed so that the plane could glide as long as possible without power. They had to get the nose of the plane down to maintain speed. They had to disconnect the autopilot and override the flight management system. They had to activate the “ditch” system, which seals vents and valves, to make the plane as waterproof as possible once it hit the water.
Most important of all, they had to fly and then glide the plane in a fast left-hand turn so that it could come down facing south, going with the flow of the river. And— having already turned off the engines— all with no power to the engines.
And they did it! The Miracle on the Hudson.
Wright adds, – The fascinating thing about the whole business is the way it spectacularly illustrates a vital truth— a truth which many today have either forgotten or never known in the first place. You could call it the power of right habits. You might say it was the result of many years of training and experience.
You could call it “character,” as we have done so far in this book. Character is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”— and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say.
If he came what came naturally, who knows what would have happened – but because Sully had thirty years of experience – he, by second nature, knew how to fly the plane – He had done what was necessary to do so that, by second nature, he could do what needed to be done without thinking
May God continue the renovation project within us –
From the inside out, God is making me new.
Without a doubt, He is making me true.
turning us into new kinds of humans – people who, by second nature, have learned to live with character and integrity in this beautiful, right now, kingdom of Heaven.