Paul, Apostle of Christ. A Film Review.

 

 

Paul, Apostle of Christ. A Film Review.

I begin this review with a disclaimer—I don’t generally like movies that are based on the Bible. There are exceptions like The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ. I tend to view these movies with my scholarly glasses firmly planted on my face. Thus I compare the movie to the biblical text, and what movie can live up to the beauty, genius, and truth of the biblical text?

Paul, Apostle of Christ is not based on the biblical text. It is based on historical tradition that comes after the final events of the Book of Acts. Thus, I was able to take off my scholarly glasses and wear my ordinary sit-back-and-enjoy-the-movie glasses. And I did enjoy the movie. And it inspired me was well. That combination of enjoyment and inspiration is rare.

On February 13th, as a pre-Valentines Day date, my wife and I went to see a preview of the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. Perhaps the film is misnamed? Perhaps it should be called, Luke and Paul, Followers of Jesus because the movie equally highlights the story of Luke and his partnership in the gospel with Paul, as it does Paul’s life.

The movie begins with Luke entering the city of Rome after the Emperor Nero torches over half the city in order to rebuild certain districts. Nero blames Christians for igniting the fire and then goes on to order the persecution of Christians.

Roman soldiers stake Christians to crosses, douse them with oil, and set them on fire, creating Roman candles which light the streets of Rome at night. The intense persecution of Christians is a major theme in the movie. The film is dedicated to persecuted Christians around the world.

The setting of the Roman persecution of Christians gives an eerie and gruesome tone to the film. It also gives the movie a deserved PG-13 rating for its “Disturbing Images and Some Violent Content.”

Warning: there are many brutal and gory scenes in the movie. Some of the images stay with you long after you leave the theatre. But in my opinion, that’s a good thing. The Bible is at least PG-13 in its content. The history of the persecution of the early Christians should make a person wince.

Before you show the movie to a general church audience, you should consider the depiction of violence in the film and share with your audience that the movie was not made for a young people or for the faint of heart.

The film is distributed by Sony Pictures and has a March 23rd release date (just in time for Easter).

I appreciated the acting in the movie. The actors were high quality actors. James Caviezel, who is known for his role as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ plays Luke. Caviezel also played Reese, a highly trained mercenary, in the television series Person of Interest. In this film I kept waiting for Caviezel to turn into Reese and rid the streets of the Roman soldiers, but that never happened. Instead, as Luke, Mr. Caviezel struggled with the plight of his brothers and sisters as they prayed to stay faithful in the midst of hardship and persecution.

A major theme of the film is how evil cannot be resisted with evil. That’s not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is the way of love. This is a message the church today needs to hear and reflect on.

James Faulkner plays Paul. He does an admirable job with the role. The Roman courts have sentenced Paul to execution. Paul spends his last days rotting in a dank, dark cell in the worst prison in Rome remembering his past misdeeds as he persecuted the church making wives widows and children orphans. Paul is tortured by memories of his days as Saul of Tarsus. In the words of St. John of the Cross, this moment is Paul’s “dark night of soul.”

Paul also reflects on his ministry as a missionary as he planted churches across the Mediterranean. He shares these memories with Luke. Ultimately this refection becomes the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The theme of grace appears throughout Paul’s dialogue with Luke. Paul clings to the words of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The biblical characters Pricilla and Aquila play an important role in the story. As does Mauritius, the Roman soldier in charge of the prison that houses Paul.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It is rare that you see a film that based on the Bible that is this gritty, raw, compelling, well-directed, and superbly acted. The film will stick with you for a few days. And isn’t that what good films should do? Shouldn’t they make you think? This film makes you put yourself in the place of Luke, Paul, or Pricilla and ask, “What would I have done if I had faced what they faced?”

The answer to that question doesn’t come from reflecting on what you might have done almost two millennia ago in Rome, but from what you are willing to do today as a disciple of Jesus.

Tertullian argued that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” In other words, persecution, instead of destroying the church, advanced the Jesus movement.

Today most of us don’t face persecution. Not like Paul, Pricilla, and the early disciples faced it. We face a plague of complacency, mediocrity, comfort, materialism, and apathy. So what are we to do?

Let’s draw inspiration from our early brothers and sisters who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and give up their lives for Jesus. Let’s decide that every day we will take up the cross of Jesus and die to selfishness, indifference, insecurity, fear, and doubt.

Let’s remember that our first-century brothers and sisters were ignited as human torches, also known as Roman candles, to light the streets of Rome, and let’s ignite a fire within our hearts that will shine through our lives to light the streets and roads of our cities, towns, and village.

If the task seems to large then remember the words of Jesus that motivated the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Grace and Peace,

Dr. G. Steve Kinnard

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream”

Following the photo are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s “I Have A Dream” speech given at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Read the speech silently reflecting on its meaning, read the speech aloud enunciating every word, or read the the speech to others inspiring you and your audience to action. On this day where we celebrate the life and service of Dr. King, let’s continue to dream his dream and act on his thoughts until his dream becomes our dream and that dream becomes reality.

“What you dream alone remains a dream, what you dream with others can become a reality.”

—Edward Schillebeeckx

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“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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What Present Will You Give Jesus This Christmas?

What Present Will You Give Jesus This Christmas?

It’s Christmas Day. I hope you are aware of that. I hope you’ve bought all your gifts. If you haven’t, then Seven Eleven is still open and they have some quality stuff.

Christmas is one of my favorite days of the year. I’d say it’s only second to my birthday. That’s because I celebrate my birthday the whole month of September. But Christmas is a very close second. Christmas consists of Food, Family, Football, Fun, and more Food. But Christmas started with none of the fanfare you see today. It started with a poor couple looking for a place to have their child in a small village that was know its bread. The place was Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” in Hebrew.

Let’s look at the story of the Magi. This story takes place some time after the birth of Jesus. He’s a young child now. Probably around two. He is in a house, not a stable. And the story features three gifts. Not three Magi. There could have ten or twelve Magi (Sages from the east) in a caravan that travelled from Persia (or India or China) to Bethlehem find Jesus. When the Magi arrived, they gave the young child three presents—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Traditionally, it is said that—

Gold was for his kingship,

Frankincense was for his priesthood,

and

Myrrh was for his coming death. Even as a child, Jesus was destined to die for humanity.

These presents beg the question for each of us today—What present will you give Jesus this Christmas?

Let’s read the story:

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

This story of the Magi leads to three questions:

1. Whom do you seek?

2. How carefully are you seeking?

3. What present will you give Jesus this Christmas?

1. Whom do you seek?

When the Magi came to Jerusalem they asked a very important question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”

They knew exactly whom they were seeking. They were seeking Jesus.

You have to know what you want from life. What are you seeking? Are you seeking pleasure? Are you seeking money and possessions? Are you seeking social status? Are you seeking that next rung on the corporate ladder? Are you seeking the security of a relationship? What are you seeking?

You can have all these items and still not have true happiness, joy, purpose, and fulfillment.

That’s because Jesus provides true happiness, joy, purpose, and fulfillment. That’s one reason he came into the world. John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus came to give life to the full.

How? Jesus is eternal. He is our creator and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how to give our lives fullness. He heals our hurts and wounds. He forgives our sins. As the angel said to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

That’s who Jesus is.

He is Savior. He provides salvation.

He is Messiah, the one God sent into the world to give us direction and purpose.

He is Lord, Master, Ruler, who shows us how to live.

The Magi were asking the right question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews.” And when they found him, they worshipped him and gave him presents.

If you want this Christmas to be the best Christmas ever, begin with Jesus. Find time on Christmas Day to focus on Jesus as Savior, Messiah, and Lord and seek to understand what that means for you and your life.

2. How carefully are you seeking?

Verse 8 reports the action of Herod to the Magi, “He (Herod) sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”

We know that Herod was not sincere. He wasn’t planning on worshipping this child; he was planning on murdering the child because he feared he was a future king.

Regardless of Herod’s order, the Magi were already planning on searching carefully for the child. They had travelled a long distance over a long time at great expense to find the child. They weren’t going to give up now. So they followed the star until it came to rest over the place where the child Jesus was.

They found what they were looking for. But it wasn’t an easy discovery. The discovery did not come without effort on their part. If they came from Persia, they travelled around 800 miles to find Jesus. They travelled by camel. Across the desert. This would have taken around eighteen months to two years. It would have been an expensive journey. They would have taken a caravan with tents and water and food and cooks to cook the food. And they would have taken security for protection from bandits. Imagine investing 18 months to two years of your life searching for a child. They did this because they knew something of the prophecies about this child, and they had seen his star.

How carefully are you seeking for Jesus?

Have you read the gospels? Have you carefully explored the gospels? That’s where you begin your search. I suggest you read them in this order—Mark, John, Matthew, John, Luke. Why? Because Mark was written first. They read John between Mark and Matthew and Matthew and Luke because John is so different from the other gospels.

Have you asked someone to help you carefully search for Jesus? They Magi travelled 800 miles, but when they arrived in Jerusalem they weren’t afraid to ask others, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”

Jesus isn’t hiding in a corner. He can be found, but you have to be intentional in your search for him.

On Christmas Day take some time to carefully search for Jesus. Perhaps read the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. When you find Jesus, you will discover what you have been searching for all your life—Purpose, Contentment, Peace, Joy, and Salvation.

3. What present will you give Jesus this Christmas?

Tomorrow morning we are going to open presents. It’s an exciting time. It’s exciting to watch our children open presents. It’s exciting to watch grandchildren open presents.

I was that kid that was so excited to see what I was getting on Christmas morning that I would get up during the middle of the night and go look under the tree. I’d unwrap my gifts and then wrap them back. I’d act surprised when I unwrapped them in front of my parents. But I already knew what the present was.

My Mom was a very smart, discerning woman. I suspect she knew I had already been up. But she never let on that she did. She rewarded my curiosity. I’ve always loved Christmas morning. I love the beautifully wrapped presents around the tree. But I love my birthday a bit more. LOL.

The Magi brought presents to Jesus. They didn’t come to Jesus asking for anything. They didn’t ask the child Jesus for a present.

Instead of thinking, “What will Jesus give me this Christmas?” We ought to be asking, “What will I give Jesus this Christmas?”

What present will you bring Jesus?

You know what he wants? THE PRESENT. He wants the RIGHT NOW in your life.

He wants your PRESENT. He wants YOU. He wants YOU in the PRESENT.

He wants you to live for him because by doing that you will realize who you really and are and what you were meant to be.

He wants your heart to teach you compassion.

He wants your mind to teach you single-mindedness.

He wants your life to teach you how to live a life worth living, a life that makes a difference in the world.

So on Christmas Day give Jesus a present. Give him THE PRESENT. And by doing do, you will have the greatest Christmas ever.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Thanksgiving. Psalm 138.

Psalm 138. New Revised Standard Version. 

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Thanksgiving and Praise

Of David.

1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;

before the gods I sing your praise;

2 I bow down toward your holy temple

and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;

for you have exalted your name and your word

above everything.a

3 On the day I called, you answered me,

you increased my strength of soul.b

4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.

5 They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

for great is the glory of the Lord.

6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;

but the haughty he perceives from far away.

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;

you stretch out your hand,

and your right hand delivers me.

8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

a Cn: Heb you have exalted your word above all your name

b Syr Compare Gk Tg: Heb you made me arrogant in my soul with strength

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ps 138.

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“When You Give To the Needy” Part 1

“When You Give To the Needy” Part 1

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A Study Of Matthew 6

By G. Steve Kinnard

Introduction:

We find ourselves at the beginning of the holiday season. First we commemorate Thanksgiving, where we focus on our blessings. Then we celebrate Christmas, where we rejoice that God sent his Son into the world.

During this season of the year, our minds are often drawn to people who are less fortunate than us. That’s a good thing. But, as disciples of Jesus, healing the hurts of people ought not be a seasonal activity. It ought to be a daily mindset.

What does Jesus have to say about giving to the needy? There are many places to turn in the gospels to answer this question. One place to turn is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Some would look at Matthew 6:1-4 and stop there. Jesus does teach directly on the disciple’s obligation to give to the needy in these verses. However, in Matthew 6:19-34 Jesus continues his thoughts on giving to the needy by helping us with our attitude about money, possessions, and things, and by teaching us what our focus in life should be—God’s kingdom and his righteousness. So it is best to consider these passages together, which is what I will do in this series of articles.

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In his sermon, Jesus begins to define his community. He defines what it means to be his follower, his disciple. So, if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, you need to know his sermon through and through, from the “Blessed are” in 5:3 to the “with a great crash” in 7:27.

What has happened up to this point in the Sermon on the Mount? In chapter 5, Jesus listed the beatitudes, compared his community with salt and light, and then redefined the law by saying, “You have heard it was said to people long ago … but now I say to you …”

In chapter 6, Jesus moves to a new topic—What does it mean to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom? Jesus focuses on three actions and two attitudes.

What are the three actions?

  1. Giving to the needy
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting

What are the two attitudes?

  1. An attitude of caution toward money, possessions, and things.
  2. An attitude of single-minded focus on God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

I think it is safe to say that within evangelical “Christianity” most churches only teach about two of these five aspects of discipleship. Most churches teach about prayer. And, it has become popular recently in churches to teach about giving to the needy.

The most neglected practice of evangelicals would be fasting. When is the last time you heard a sermon or a lesson on fasting? Also, the Christian perspective toward money and material possessions is rarely discussed. Some churches stress the need for a single-minded focus on God’s kingdom and his righteousness, but I wouldn’t say the majority of evangelical churches make this their focus.

Yet, Jesus did not distinguish between these actions and attitudes in his sermon. He expected his followers to practice giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. He also expected his disciples to show the proper caution toward money, possessions, and things, and to have a singular focus on his kingdom and righteousness. This demonstrates how modern “Christianity” has gotten away from following the teachings of Jesus. We must be careful to continue to explore the teachings of Jesus and practice what he taught.

These five expectations of Matthew 6 are “kingdom” expectations. Jesus meant for them to be practiced by his followers in the first century and in the twenty-first century. Although we live in a different culture from first-century disciples, our hearts should be the same as first-century disciples. In this way, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world just like they were. Jesus expects us to be different from the world and different from other religious people. He expects his community to be unique.

Jesus doesn’t want us to play church. He doesn’t want us to be another denomination that looks nothing like the church of the Bible. He calls us to be his “kingdom” people and to live distinctly and differently from the world and from denominational churches. How can we do that? By practicing these three acts and two attitudes.

In this article, we will focus on action 1. Why? Because I’m attempting to answer the question—What does Jesus have to say about giving to the needy? (If you want a more detailed discussion of prayer and fasting, please see my book, The Way of the Heart of Jesus, The Inward Journey.)[1]

Let’s begin with Matthew 6:1-4,

“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.”[2]

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Verse 1 is an important verse because it prefaces everything that follows concerning giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. Jesus says we must practice our righteousness not to be seen by others. Instead, there should be a distinct attribute of anonymity when we give, fast, or pray.

What is our secret life like? What do we do in secret?

What we do in secret is revealing. Do we shop in secret, not wishing to reveal to our spouses what we are spending our money on? Do we eat in secret, now wanting others to know the decadent calories we are consuming? Do we log onto the computer in secret, not wanting our spouse to know what we are viewing on the Internet? Do we drink in secret? Do we binge in secret?

Jesus says there are three acts of righteousness we ought to do in secret—give to the needy, pray, and fast. Do we give to the less fortunate and make sure we don’t broadcast it to anyone? Do we sneak away to pray? Do we fast without talking about it? What is our secret life like? What we do in secret says much about who we are and what our character is like.

In verses 2-4, there are at least three points we can learn about giving to the needy from these verses.

First, notice that Jesus begins with “So when you give to the needy.” Jesus does not command his disciples to give to the needy; he expects them to. Jesus expects his followers to practice certain acts of righteousness—giving, praying, and fasting. Jesus expects us to give to the needy.

Many of you know that my Dad passed in September. God blessed me with a wonderful Dad. He seldom commanded me to do anything. Instead, he taught me what was expected of me in our family and in life. He expected me to respect Jesus, my Mom, my teachers, and my coaches. He expected me to go to church with him and the family every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. He expected me to work hard and be responsible. And I did all those things because he was my Dad, and he loved me and I love him.

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       My Dad

Jesus expects us to have a heart for the poor and to give to the needy. It’s who he was, and since it’s who he was, he expects his followers to be like him.

Second, Jesus expects his disciples to practice these acts in secrecy, not with trumpet blasts and huge fanfare, but in a clandestine manner, so that God alone knows who is giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

How secretly? So covertly that your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing. This is a great image. It’s a radical image. It is physically impossible for the left hand not to know what the right is doing. The brain keeps track of both appendages. Jesus is not speaking literally here. He is painting an image that makes the hearer (or the reader) stop and think. So take a moment and reflect on this—Do you give to the needy, pray, and fast to be seen by people? Or, do you do your acts of righteousness in secret?

Please allow me to use my Dad for another illustration. My Dad wasn’t rich. As a child, I would overhear my Mom and Dad discussion finances, and I would get concerned. I would ask for things, like a new pair of shoes, and my Mom would say “What’s wrong with your old shoes?” What she meant was, “There’s nothing wrong with you old shoes so don’t ask for new shoes.” Sometime she would add, “We can’t afford new shoes.” So, I got a job to save up to buy some new shoes. So there were underlying financial concerns in our family. But every Sunday at church, when the contribution plate was passed, my Dad would drop a check into the plate.

Quite often I would ask Dad, “How much did you give?” He always gave me the same answer, “Steve, the Bible says the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing.”

I’d reply, “Dad, I don’t get that. How can your left hand not know what your right is doing?”

He would answer, “It is Jesus’ way of saying that what you give is between you and God. What we give, we give in secret. So I’m keeping what I give between me and God.”

That was that. At least for that Sunday. The next Sunday I’d ask the same question and get the same answer. I never knew how much my Dad gave, but I did know that whatever he gave, we couldn’t afford it. His gift was a sacrifice. Which is what giving should be.

Third, Jesus speaks specifically of “giving to the needy.” The word is eleemosyne. It is based on eleos, which means “mercy.” Rudolf Bultmann notes, “In the NT ἐλεημοσύνη (eleemosyne) is found only in the sense of ‘benevolent activity,’ and always to the poor (‘almsgiving’).”[3] So it is clear what Jesus meant here. He meant for his disciples to help the poor.

Sometimes we lose sight of the poor. That’s easy to do because the poor tend to get marginalized in our society. Allow me to share with you the words of a welfare Mother in Tennessee. Her words will help us see what it means to be poor.

Poverty

Written by a welfare mother in Tennessee[4]

You say you want to know what it’s like to be poor? Well, you’ve come to the right person. But you won’t enjoy my definition. …

I’m dirty. I’m smelly. And I have no proper underwear beneath this rotting dress. I don’t know about you, but the stench of my teeth makes me half sick. They’re decaying but they’ll never be fixed. That takes money. …

Poverty is getting up every morning from a dirty and illness-stained mattress—a hard, lumpy mattress. Sheets? They have long since been used for diapers, for there are no real diapers here, either.

That smell? That “other” smell? You know what it is—that, plus sour milk and spoiled food. Sometimes it’s mixed with the stench of onions cooked too often. Onions are cheap. …

Poverty is being tired—dog tired all the time. I can’t remember when I wasn’t tired. When my last baby came, they told me at the hospital that I had chronic anemia caused by a poor diet, a bad case of worms, and the need for a corrective operation. …

Poverty is dirt. You may say, in your clean clothes and coming from your clean house, “Anybody can be clean.” Let me explain housekeeping with no money. For breakfast, I give my children grits with no margarine, or cornbread made without eggs or oleo. For one thing, that kind of food doesn’t use up many dishes. What dishes there are, I wash in cold water. No soap. Even the cheapest soap has to be saved for washing the old sheets I use for the baby’s diapers.

Look at these cracked, red hands. Once I saved up for two months to buy a jar of Vaseline for my hands and for the baby’s diaper rash. When I had the money and went to buy the Vaseline, the price had gone up two cents, and I didn’t have another two cents. Every day I have to decide whether I can bear to put these cracked, sore hands into that cold water and strong soap. Why don’t I use hot water? It takes money to get something with which to heat it. Hot water is a luxury. We don’t have luxuries.

Poverty is asking for help. Have you ever had to swallow what pride you had left and ask for help, knowing your children will suffer more if you don’t get it? …

Poverty is looking into a future devoid of hope. Your children wouldn’t play with my children; you wouldn’t allow it. My boys will someday turn into boys who steal to get what they need. I can already see them behind prison bars. … My daughter? She’ll have a life just like mine, unless she’s pretty enough to become a prostitute. I’d be smart to wish her dead already. …

Poverty is an acid that eats into pride until pride is burned out. It is a chisel that chips at honor until honor is pulverized. You might do something if you were in my situation—for a week or a month. Would you do it year after year, getting nowhere, going nowhere? … I did not come from another place, and I did not come from another time. I’m here now, and there are others like me all around you.

Helping the needy should be a characteristic of disciples of Jesus. As Jesus had a heart for the poor, his followers ought to have a heart for the poor. Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider state, “Jesus speaks in vv. 2–4 of almsgiving in order to characterize the disciple’s true piety. What is decisive is sincerity of intention expressing itself in the spontaneity of the good deed not done for the sake of theatrical effect.”[5] Notice he mixes the concepts intentionality and spontaneity together. This idea is expressed by Paul in Galatians 6:9-10, “9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Paul mixes, “As we have opportunity,” spontaneity, with “do good to all people,” intentionality.

With intentional spontaneity, Jesus met the needs of the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the demonized. In Mark 1, the whole town of Capernaum showed up at Peter’s house with their sick family members, and Jesus healed them. In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus fed five thousand hungry people who were following him and listening to his teachings. In Mark 8, Jesus fed four thousand. When John the Baptist was in prison, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the true Messiah. Jesus told John’s disciples to go back and tell John, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22, ESV).

Jesus was known for his compassionate heart. Jesus gave to the needy. That’s who he was. And, he expects his followers to be like him.

So, as we enter this Thanksgiving/Christmas season, let’s be grateful for everything that God has given us, and let’s make sure we give to those who are less fortunate. But let’s also remember, the expectation to give to the needy is not a seasonal expectation for those who follow Jesus. Jesus expects his followers to spontaneously and intentionally meet the needs of those who are needy throughout the year. Perhaps the Thanksgiving/Christmas season should be looked at as a good time to double up on our giving to the poor. Then, throughout the rest of the year, we can look for opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate.

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[1] The full title is The Way of the Heart of Jesus. The Inward Journey: Prayer, Fasting, Meditation, Bible Study. It can be purchased through Illumination Publishers at 832-559-3658 or http://www.ipibooks.com.

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 6:19–24. All Bible passages are taken from the NIV 2011.

[3] Rudolf Bultmann, “Ἔλεος, Ἐλεέω, Ἐλεήμων, Ἐλεημοσύνη, Ἀνέλεος, Ἀνελεήμων,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 486.

[4]“Poverty” was written by a welfare mother in Tennessee. It is quoted by C. E. Jackson in Stan Mooneyham, What Do You Say to a Hungry World? in Christian Herald, January 1968. It can also be found in G. Steve Kinnard’s Jesus and the Poor.

[5] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 429.

Be a Good Fish

Be a Good Fish

The Parable of the Dragnet, Matthew 13:47-50

by Dr. G. Steve Kinnard

           47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and all kinds of fish were gathered into it. 48After it was full, the fishermen pulled it onto shore. They sat down sorting the fish–keeping the good and throwing away the bad. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and gather the wicked from the righteous 50casting the wicked into the furnace of fire. Where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”

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The parable of the dragnet is also a parable about the end of time. Unlike the parable of the wheat and weeds, which precede it in Matthew’s gospel, it does not focus on good and evil existing side by side (although that is inferred from the parable). It contains the same lesson as the parable of the weeds among the wheat—at the end of time God will separate good from evil. So choose to be good.

The parable is short and simple. A net is thrown into the sea and it gathers all types of fish. This is the common dragnet, which was used in the first century and is still used today. The net doesn’t discern what it catches. It catches anything within its reach. As the net is pulled to shore, it becomes full of fish. Once on shore, the fishermen begin to look through the net and separate the good fish from the bad. They keep the good and throw away the bad.

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Jesus makes it abundantly clear that he is talking about judgment at the end of days. In verse 49 he says, “This is how it will be at the end of the age.” At the end of the age, angels will appear. They will separate the wicked from the righteous. The wicked will be cast into a furnace of fire. The righteous will escape the flames.

In this short parable, Jesus continues to explain what will occur at the end of time. The Jews were very confused over what was going to transpire at the end of time. One group, the Sadducees, believed there was no resurrection. They believed that after you died, you were dead and gone. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but there was much discussion among this sect as to what was going to happen at the resurrection. Jesus wanted to take the confusion away, so he spoke often about the end of time.

Jesus is very clear on what will happen to the wicked. They will be cast into the fiery furnace. Will they feel pain as they enter this place of torment? Yes, there will much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus makes it clear that hell is a place of pain and torment, a place to be avoided at all costs. Although we are not given quite as dramatic a picture of hell as Dante gives in his Inferno, Jesus gives us a clear enough picture to let us know that we don’t want to be bad fish.

There isn’t much worse in life than bad fish. They aren’t edible. They stink. They make everything around them stink. You can use them for fertilizer, but the smell of fish fertilizer destroys your day; and if you are around the putrid smell long enough, it will destroy your olfactory nerves. I’m not sure that Febreze can handle the smell of rotting fish. Bad fish are, well, for lack of a better word, BAD.

The other night my family was in New York City enjoying a nice birthday dinner for our daughter by marriage, Corinne. We all met at Union Square Park. There were six adults and two grandkids.

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–My favorite picture of our daughter by marriage, Corinne, and our grandson, Bradley

It was a crisp November night, cold, but not freezing. The buildings were bright. The lights were sparkling. The Christmas season had begun, and NYC at Christmas is magical.

Our meal was fantastic. We enjoyed amazing ramen noodles and pork buns at a restaurant just off of 14th Street, and then we went to Max Brenner for dinner. Yes, it’s true, Max Brenner makes chocolate pizza. My son by marriage, Rob got some. It’s fantastic when you can end a birthday celebration with chocolate.

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The only problem was the walk back to our van. We parked on Thirteenth St. between 5th and 6th. The next day, Monday, was garbage pickup day in that neighborhood. So in the early evening on Sunday, everyone started lining the sidewalks with their bags of garbage. It’s amazing how much garbage can come from one New York City apartment building.

As we reached the van, we had to wait a few minutes to get the grandchildren situated. In those few brief minutes, we were stifled by the smell of rotting fish. There must have been a garbage bag filled with discarded fish, and it stank to high heaven. There isn’t much worse in life than the smell of bad, stinky fish. We couldn’t get away from the reek of bad fish quickly enough.

The moral of that story is the same as the lesson from the parable—Don’t be a bad fish. Be a good fish.

And, how do you become a good fish? Imitate Jesus. Love him. Study him. Learn from him. Think like him. Act like him. Be him.

Imitating Jesus is always the right choice to make in life. And by making that choice, you prepare your heart for the next life.

So, be a good fish. Be like Jesus.