Being Perfect: Matthew 5:49

Perfect.Buddy

To me my little Silky terrier, Buddy, is perfect because I love him. Is he really perfect? No. But when I look at him, I’m not thinking about the times he’s been a bad boy: I’m thinking about how fun he is and loyal and quirky. I’m not focusing on his bad traits (which are very few, of course).

Many Christians love Jesus with all their hearts but don’t really understand their salvation, so oftentimes they’ll preach the bad news to unbelievers. Yet, the Gospel is called “the Good News”. What makes it good, and not bad, news?

During the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus’ most famous sermon, He tells how to be a good person. It’s very convicting because no one can live up to it 24/7, no matter how hard a person tries and how sincerely. Yet Jesus proclaims during the sermon:

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”–Matthew 5:49

Perfect? God expects me to be perfect?

Often, in sincerity, Christians will proclaim that you must do good deeds and live up to God’s Laws to be pleasing to Him. Some even claim you can lose your salvation if you aren’t good enough. But Jesus said that God’s standard was “perfection”. James also proclaimed:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”–James 2:10

What James is saying: if you try to please God by attempting to live up to His standards, yet fail just once, you’re guilty. The law of good works condemns you to Hell.

So anyone who tells you that you can be good enough to be pleasing to God, just doesn’t have it quite right. Because it’s impossible to be perfect. God is so incomprehensibly far holier than we could ever imagine or hope to be in this lifetime.

But here’s the GOOD NEWS: “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.”–Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:8-9

God declares you righteous by faith, not by your good deeds (works): not by being good enough or staying good enough. The truth is: You can NEVER be good enough in this lifetime.

It’s a GIFT: You don’t work to earn it. It’s an act of mercy by a loving, yet holy, God to bring you into a love relationship with Him.

The GOOD NEWS is that you’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ. What is that exactly? By believing that Jesus was God in the flesh, died on the Cross to take the penalty of God’s wrath for your sin, and that He was resurrected from the grave.

“My righteous one shall live by faith.”–Hebrews 10:38.

“And without faith it’s impossible to place Him…”–Hebrews 11:6

And, because it’s still impossible to be perfect after your salvation, you maintain your walk by faith (Galatians 3:1-3). You’re declared “not guilty” by the Great Judge because Jesus nailed your sin to His Cross (Colossians 2:14). If you come to faith in Jesus, on Judgment Day, you will “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”–Jude 24

When you believe in Jesus and become born-again (receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit), God looks down on you like I look at Buddy: with eyes of love and not condemnation.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.”–Romans 8:1

“And their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.”–Hebrews 10:17

More later on the counterbalance: Actions have consequences.

Waiting: Psalm 27:13-14

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Buddy loves to herd me when he thinks I’m walking too slowly on our “walkies”. He’ll swing around behind me and begin bopping me in the back of my left leg with his nose, trying to get me to speed up. He’s impatient to move forward more quickly.

I’m the same way with God. I hate waiting, particularly a long time. I would like to move out of rain-soaked Seattle but events are just not coming together to make it happen, although I am eager to make a fresh start somewhere else where it’s not a major event when the sun comes out.

King David in Psalm 27 also voices his despair. He’s feeling depressed because he wants to be delivered from his enemies. He reminds himself that although the days seem dark, God will come through for him if he’s willing to wait and trust in God’s timing.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

David reminds himself to be patient, that God will eventually come through and bless him in this life. He strengthens himself emotionally by focusing on God’s faithfulness.

Sometimes we’re not supposed to wait, but pray and then step out in faith. At other times, it seems like our hopes keep being dashed and roadblocks tossed into our paths.

May you find your strength in the Lord’s promises in the Scriptures as you wait on Him.

Scripture verses are NASB

Greatest Faith: Luke 23:39-43

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It’s hard to believe that Buddy was abused for nearly three years before I adopted him from Silky Terrier Rescue. He was so afraid of me that he yanked and pulled at his leash, trying to get back to his foster mother (who is a responsible Silky Terrier breeder). I wondered what I had gotten myself into, he was so adamant about not going home with me. Then he kept running away the next week or so. Fortunately, I had a kitty collar on him with a bell, so I was able to locate him by the ringing when I couldn’t find him. I was so afraid he’d get hit by a car. (Fortunately, at that time we lived in a closed neighborhood which lessened the odds of getting hit, but didn’t eliminate it.)

Then, one day, it was like a lightbulb flipped on in his head, as if he was thinking, “Why am I running away? They love me. They give me good food and treats, bathe me, comb me, kiss and hug on me, and take me for rides and walks.” And he stopped trying to run off. Now, he greets me at the door with joyous adoration.

One of the people I admire the most in the Bible is one of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus. Of all the people in the New Testament, I believe he had the greatest faith.

If you don’t know the story, two thieves were crucified on either side of Jesus. On Jesus’ cross, Pilate had a placard nailed above His read which read, “King Of the Jews” to mock Jesus’ claim to be a King, only Jesus claimed to have a spiritual, not earthly kingdom.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him (Jesus), saying ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’

But the other answered, and rebuking him, said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’

And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’

And He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'”–Luke 23:39-43

Though the thief had no opportunity to do any good deeds nor be baptized, he recognized his sinfulness and God’s great mercy. He acknowledged he was a sinner deserving death for his evil deeds, repented of his sin by rebuking the other man for mocking God, and asked Christ to save him. This is why I so greatly admire this man. He was one of the few at the time who really got who Jesus was, the Christ–the sacrificial Lamb of God–who died to cover our sins.

The repentant thief is a great example of salvation. The perfect man, Christ, had to die to take our penalty for God’s wrath against our sin. God is just and must punish evil, and only the perfect God Man was holy enough to take that punishment so we don’t have to.

The thief understood that it was all about repenting and faith, not about working for God’s favor, but receiving God’s approval and gift of righteousness by His mercy alone.

“For by grace you have been saved thorough faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”–Ephesians 2:8-9

And this very kind and loving God, though in great torment, reached out to acknowledge the thief was forgiven and encouraged him to look forward to Paradise.

There were two thieves, however. The other continued in his disbelief. Which is really sad, because God’s grace would’ve covered him too–if he’d only believed in the Son of God.

Religious Freedom Joshua 24:14-15

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It really bums me when Buddy doesn’t want to hop onto my bed and sleep with me some nights and, instead, runs to a family member’s room to spend the night. Sometimes I know the reason–my electronics beeped and scared him off–but often I don’t know the reason why. However, I don’t force him to stay in the room with me by closing him in the room. (He’s yet to figure out how to turn the doorknob.) If I force him to stay, I know he’ll be unhappy, so I let him go. He’s free to make his choice.

Joshua warned the Jewish nation that it was best for them to serve the Lord God of the Bible, the great King who led them out of slavery in Egypt and into the land promised to Abraham’s and his descendants many centuries earlier, a land of great bounty and blessing. Abraham’s father was a pagan and the Israelites had been surrounded with false gods while in bondage in Egypt. (The 10 plagues were judgments against 10 of the important Egyptian gods.) Yet, despite the pillar of Fire at night and the Cloud by day (the visible presence of God) that led the people to the Promised Land, they carried false gods from Egypt with them.

The below is one of the first great statements of religious freedom in the Bible, and I think maybe, the World (but there’s lots I don’t know about religious history).

Joshua said to the Israelites:

“…fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua made it clear where he stood, but he declared that the Israelites had a choice to serve God or not to serve Him.

God created us, loves us and sustains our lives every day. But He doesn’t force us to love and serve Him. We are free to make our own decision whom we will serve.

Then people blame God when people choose evil instead of following Him and doing good.

That’s the price of freedom.

Great Creator: Psalm 36:7

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I love my Buddy; when he’s good or when he’s bad, he’s still my little pal. I do much prefer it when he’s good and obedient, but I’d never toss him aside or give him away because he’s misbehaving.

In my women’s Bible Study we’re learning about the names of God. God and Lord in the Scriptures actually have more exact names in the original languages.

A few weeks ago we studied about Elohim, The Creator.

I often identify with God more as The Creator than His other names because, being made in His image (Genesis 1:27), I also like to use my imagination creatively. I’m not like God, able to speak things into being from nothingness and can only recreate from what already exists, but I really enjoy making up stories and drawing cartoons.

I struggled with my image of a loving God because I know He’s so holy and I’m so imperfect. But one day it finally clicked: I love my cartoon characters from my Cattle Capers(tm) world, both the good ones and the bad ones. Why? Because I created them.

They’re not real, yet I have an emotional attachment to them, as their creator.

The name Elohim is used in Psalm 36:7, but translated as God, per Strong’s Number 430: “How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God (Elohim). People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.”

God loves us because He created us. He fashioned us in the womb and is intimately interested in us. His attention is always on us. (Psalm 139) We exist because He wanted us to.

Lenny the Rat is one of my favorite characters, but he’s far from perfect.

Just as I am, just as you are. But God loves us anyway.

You don’t have to be perfect to be lovable.

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Finding Rest: Matthew 11:28-29

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When we visited Ocean Shores last summer, I wore Buddy out, walking along the beach. He found rest amidst the grass. However, it was inadequate to protect him from the strong wind that afternoon.

I don’t know about you, but at times I want to run away from the nastiness that’s being spewed since the last Presidential election. But, unless I want to hide in a cave for the next four years, I have to deal with it. Jesus has been my hiding place to run to and find rest.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”–Matthew 11:28-29

Preachers claim that Jesus is referring to a team of oxen: A young ox is yoked to the experienced, older ox who plods along, focused on plowing a straight line. When the newer ox stops goofing around, trying to go his own direction, and yields to the older ox, he finds that the yoke becomes easier.

I find anger, fretting, fear and frustration very taxing emotionally. It’s like a slow poison that damages your health and soul. Jesus promises that when we focus on Him, we’ll find rest. When we allow Jesus to direct our lives, we will find we’re happier and our soul feels lighter.

Jesus has a better path for our minds to travel in.

“Do not FRET…”–Psalm 139

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and DO NOT CURSE.”–Romans 12:14

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”–Romans 12:17

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…”–Romans 12:19

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”–Romans 12:21

“Do not FEAR for I have redeemed you…you are precious in My sight…”–Isaiah 43:1, 4

“Do not WORRY about your life…”–Luke 12:22

“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”–John 14:27

As you can see in John 14, peace is something God gives to you. You cannot create peace within yourself nor obtain it from the world we live in. Ask Him to give you peace in your heart and by faith trust Him to have given it to you and thank Him for it. When the world and angry people around you start to make you feel stressed out, turn your focus toward Jesus and follow His way: praying for your enemies/opposition and trusting Him to work it out. Focus on His attributes. He’s the great Lord of Hosts, the Omnipotent God. Nothing is too difficult for Him to handle. (Jeremiah 32:17)  He’s in control at all times. He laughs at the nations. They are but dust in His sight. (Psalm 2)

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.”–Isaiah 26:3

 

 

Lingering: Genesis 3:1-2

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Our area received nearly 7 inches of beautiful snow Sunday evening, while many local areas received almost a foot. Oddly, it snowed all day Sunday but didn’t start to stick to the ground till after dark. Buddy tried to walk around the edges of the snow in our backyard to find a place for “relief”. Finally, he had to trot through the snow, but he didn’t linger in the frigid cold but kept moving.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he (the serpent) said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?'” And the woman said to the serpent…”

Often, when I buy something I don’t need it’s because I linger too long looking at it. If I’d merely glanced and moved on, I wouldn’t have spent money on something I really didn’t need. But if I stop and gaze–whether on the Internet, an email I should’ve deleted, a catalog I should’ve tossed, a store’s window or display stand I should’ve continued walking by–then I’m far more likely to give into temptation and pull out the credit card or check book.

Eve apparently wasn’t surprised that the serpent spoke to her, so she must’ve had at least a prior encounter with the snake. The problem was, when the serpent questioned what God had commanded her, she stopped to continue the conversation. But Satan was the most crafty of all creatures. Once Eve lingered to speak, she was halfway toward questioning God’s good intentions toward her and losing the presence of the Holy Spirit in her life. If she had run away, Satan would’ve been denied that particular opportunity to tempt her to destroy her intimate relationship with God.

So the moral is: Don’t linger unless you really want to buy the goods that are being offered. Something I need to remind myself of more often.