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Born to Win with Ronald L. Dart


Extreme Grace

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ronald L. Dart

It had been a hard three days. David and the handful of young men with him had left in hurry and they had taken no food. By the time they got to a place called Nob, they were in a bad way. They needed food and there was only one place David thought they might get something to eat. So he went to the priest at the tabernacle, a man named Ahimelech.

“Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee? And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have sent my servants on ahead” (1 Samuel 21:1–2).

Now, David lied to the priest, because Saul hadn’t sent him anywhere. David was running for his life from Saul because Saul had ordered him to be killed. Should he have done that? Should he have lied to the priest? Well, he goes on to compound his lawbreaking.

“Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the showbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away” (1 Samuel 21:3–6).

Now, this is a real classic of rationalization, of reasoning your way around the law because the law was clear as crystal. If you were the judge, what would you do about this infraction. Because it was an infraction of the law—this is beyond dispute. Only the priests were allowed, by law, to eat the holy bread. How do you think God would judge it? Well, fortunately, we have a clue, because Jesus himself evaluated this instance.


The Gospel of Matthew #32 - Thursday, March 15, 2018

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like, really? Listening to preachers when I was growing up, I was under the impression that the Kingdom of Heaven was Heaven itself—that is was a city with streets of gold, where we dined on milk and honey, and spent all of our days looking up into the master’s face. There was a river there where we could get together with loved ones, renew old acquaintances and shed copious tears when we embrace someone that we had not seen in so very long and had been worried about.

But, you know, Jesus’ disciples started out with a rather different view. They were looking for a messianic kingdom. They thought the Kingdom of Heaven would be Jesus leading a revolt and throwing out the Romans. We’re going to get a mob together, arm the people with swords, assault the Roman strongholds, and reestablish the Kingdom of David. Things would be like they were in the good old days.

But as the disciples listened to Jesus, they became a little confused about the Kingdom because when Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” the parable that followed did not fit their presuppositions—it was not what they expected at all. The funny thing is…it doesn’t fit ours either. We’ll begin in Matthew 19, with Jesus’ answer to a question posed to him by a young, wealthy man: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”

The Gospel of Matthew #31 - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What is it about children that makes some people so ready to dismiss them as though they were of no consequence? You know, I have finally become convinced that one of the the reasons children behave badly is because no one pays any attention to them when they behave well. After all, a kid who behaves all the time is like wallpaper, a piece of furniture, or background music—they’re there, they’re appreciated. We pat them on the head, feed them, make sure they have clothes to wear and a bed to sleep in, and there’s really no worry apart from that. On the other hand, when children are bad we pay attention. Many kids are willing to risk the wrath of Mom and Dad just to get some recognition.

Too often, children are treated like non-persons. When I was growing up, I heard it said that “little owls have big ears” when the conversation around children turned to something they shouldn’t hear. Now, people say all kinds of things in front of children like they were waiters in a restaurant. And when they are inconvenient, we can just get rid of them. I don’t mean kill them off (though, regrettably, in extreme cases, that happens). I’m talking about parents who leave their children home alone and go off on vacation—little kids. And then there is the ever-increasing number of children who are being raised by their grandparents because their parents are unable, or unwilling, to get their lives together. I wonder about what we are going to do when the last generation of grandparents—who really care about children—are gone. Jesus provides for us an excellent example of the proper attitude and responsibility towards children in Matthew 19:

“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Allow little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:13–14 KJ2000)

The Gospel of Matthew #30 - Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When you were on your way home from work yesterday, and you drove by a schoolyard with a couple of hundred kids out there—either playing, or waiting for buses, or waiting for Mom and Dad to pick them up—did it ever cross your mind that, of all those children out there, fully one half of them are going to have to go through (or have already been through) a divorce? That’s the way it is nowadays, about half of all children, before they reach adulthood, are going to experience the rupture of their family. Their parents who, once upon a time, loved each other more than any other human being on the face of the planet, have now come to loath and despise one another with the same intensity. So they’re splitting up, and guess who gets the greatest emotional and psychological burden of it all? Right—the children. And about one third of those kids will go through it again.

One of the stupidest things I’ve heard on this subject it that, “Well, the kids will be alright. They will adjust to it.” Yes, they’ll adjust to it—just as people who go to prison adjust to it. People who get committed to a mental hospital adjust to it. What kind of adjustments to kids make to divorce? Well, they’ve done some studies on that, so we don’t have to guess. Many become more passive, dependent, and repetitive in the way they go about their days. Some become less affectionate, more disobedient. Some display resent, anxiety, and grief. One study found that, ten years later, children show signs of stress left over from a divorce—with more ulcers, poor school performance, and a higher suicide rate. And when they grow up and get married, they are far more likely to get divorced.

So children do make adjustments to the breakup of marriage. But these are not adjustments I would never want my kids to go through, would you? Maybe, then, we can begin to understand why Jesus took such a hard line on divorce. When the Pharisees confronted him with a contentious question regarding divorce in different schools of rabbinical thought, they were again challenged by his answer. We’ll find it in Matthew, chapter 19.

The Gospel of Matthew #29 - Monday, March 12, 2018

Is it possible for a sinner to be forgiven and then have that forgiveness taken away? It doesn’t sound right, does it. After all, God says he will remove our sins from us “as far as the East is from the West” and that “your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more.” Then surely once we are forgiven, we are always forgiven, right? No one can take that away from us, right?

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus said unto him, I say not unto you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21–22 KJ2000).

In case your Math isn’t good, that’s 490 times you’re supposed to forgive your brother. You should know this is not a literal number—they are symbolic numbers that mean you should keep on forgiving your brother as long as there is anything to forgive. There is no limit to your forgiveness. To underline this point, he gave Peter a kind of parable. We’ll find it in Matthew, chapter 18.

The Sin Unforgiven - Friday, March 9, 2018

Is there such a thing as “the unpardonable sin”? It’s a disturbing idea—that there might be something I could do that could never be forgiven. And, since I have had the question in last day or so, I thought I might tell you what I know about it. It is, I think, rather more complicated than a set of a few proof texts commonly quoted and explained. Let me start with what God is really like.

The images people carry around in their heads about God often bear little resemblance to the real God of creation and the Bible. To some, God is a kind of grandfather in the sky. Not really a Father, because a father is more immediate and judgmental. No, a grandfather is better, because they let you get away with more stuff. I might despair of really understanding God if it weren’t for some revealing statements in the Bible. Take this quote from Jeremiah, for instance.

“Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24 KJV).

The Gospel of Matthew #28 - Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jesus told Peter that he was giving him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that whatever he bound on earth would be loosed in heaven, and whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. On the face of it, that’s a lot of responsibility. It seems to imply an absolute authority by a human being—one human being—over the entire church, universally, wherever and whenever, through all time. At least, that’s the way Catholic theologians have taken it. They consider that authority to have been passed on down through generations to the Pope, and that he holds that kind of authority over the church universal. If their interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew is correct, then all other churches are in rebellion against the mother church.

Now, I’m sure I’m not going to surprise you when I tell you that Protestant theologians don’t see it quite that way. They approach this passage a little differently. They look carefully at the Greek tenses and they translate the passage along these lines: “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be what has already been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be what has already been loosed in heaven.” The idea being that whoever the religious leaders are in the Christian church on this earth don’t have the authority don’t have the authority to bind and loose things differently from what God would bind and loose in heaven. In other words, the initiative comes from heaven and then they follow through—as opposed to the initiative coming from the apostle (whoever he may be) and God following. In French, that kind of authority is carte blanche and is a little scary when it comes to man.

So who’s right? It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that this is pretty important. Who today has the authority to tell you what to do about your faith and your obedience to God? Who can bind and loose matters relating to you and your church? I think people make to mistakes when analyzing this idea. To begin, let’s discuss them.

The Gospel of Matthew #27 - Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Would you assume that Jesus wanted everyone to know that he was the Messiah? There was a lot of controversy at the time about who he was. On one occasion he asked his closest disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” Well, Herod had thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back to haunt him; some thought he was Elijah of Malachi’s prophecy; there were still others who thought he was a latter-day Moses. But when he asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter didn’t hesitate for a heartbeat. “You are the Messiah!”, he said.

This was saying quite a lot. There was a very widespread notion at the time of a messiah who was going to come in, throw out the Romans, re-establish the Kingdom of Israel—the throne and dynasty of David—and rule over the Jewish people. So this is what Peter and many other people thought the Messiah was going to do.

The word “Messiah”, as it is used now, really means he who would come and deliver the Jewish people. But the Hebrew word that is translated as “Messiah” or “Christ” merely means “anointed”. Since every Israelite king was anointed, then David, Solomon—the whole lot of them—were all messiahs. So Peter’s confession meant that, to Peter, Jesus was the anointed king who was to come and deliver Israel. But out of this exchange came something of a surprise. We’ll find it in Matthew, chapter 16.

The Gospel of Matthew #26 - Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Unless you’ve just arrived from another planet and are not yet up to speed, you probably have some notion about what Jesus Christ was like. I would guess you even have some visual images of him from paintings, magazines, and so on. (All of which are wrong, didn’t you know?) But I’m not really talking about visual impressions, I’m talking about your ideas of his character, his personality, what he was like. You pick these up along the way from many, many sources.

And all these sources come together to form a “Jesus of the imagination”—something you have put together in your own mind as a model. And then when you sit down with a Bible, and you actually read the Gospel accounts, your imaginary Jesus is going to encounter the real man, and some adjustments are surely going to have to take place. Because, every once in a while, Jesus would do something that, to people standing by and observing, seemed out of character. Sometimes it even seemed downright offensive.

There is one incident like this that is recorded by Matthew. Jesus has been trying to get away from the crowds. He goes away into the desert and winds up having to feed the 5,000-plus people who followed him out there. Since that didn’t work he tries leaving the country and goes off to the seacoast around Tyre and Sidon. His encounter with a woman of this region can seem rude and dismissive, but reveals a great lesson in faith. We’ll find this meeting in Matthew, chapter 15.

The Gospel of Matthew #25 - Monday, March 5, 2018

Even when Jesus went to the desert to be alone, he could not get away from the crowds. There’s nothing particular unusual about that, I suppose. If you had a little girl with a terrible disease, who was not expected to live, how far would you carry her to reach a man who had the power to make her whole and heal her completely? You’d “climb every mountain; ford every stream,” as the song goes. You would do whatever it took to bring her to the feet of the Master—Jesus.

Jesus the man was, after all, a man of some feeling. He could be firm—maybe even hard—when he needed to be, but he was also capable of great compassion toward those who were sick and hurting. On a particular occasion, he had gone out into a desert place. John the Baptist had been murdered. Jesus heard of this, was deeply moved by it, and wanted to be alone. But when the people heard where he was, they followed him—on foot—out of all the surrounding cities. When this tremendous multitude (numbering more than 5,000 by the time they all got out there) came to Jesus he was moved with compassion, and began to heal the sick among them.

Even though Jesus went out there to be alone, he did not want to send them away—even when his disciples suggested the crowd leave to get something to eat. The sheer joy of healing the suffering and the sick had bound him to this crowd. Those healed did not want to go away, and he did not want them to. I think I understand that. When you have shared something very special with someone, you want to prolong that experience. So when the crowd grew hungry, Jesus took matters into his own hands, displaying to us a very down-to-earth truth. We'll find this in Matthew, chapter 14.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, March 18th, 2018
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
There are 14 days til Easter!
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