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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Law and Prophets through Christ (Read Sermon on the Mount)

My iPhone contains my contacts, email accounts, podcasts, apps, pictures of the four cutest grandchildren, and my playlist of running songs. The song that inspires me to sprint the last half-mile of my five-mile run is John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song,” which he dubbed "our new version of 'I Fought The Law.'"[2]
“I Fought The Law,” composed in 1959, is about a guy jailed after a robbery spree. The phrase "I fought the law" remained in our American lexicon ever since. Even landscapers change the lyrics to "I fought the lawn."[3]
Americans love figures that fight the law, even if they do not always win. Characters like Cool Hand Luke and Don Corleone, and movies like Star Wars and Hunger Games ka’ching Hollywood. But as much as we admire their heroics, as Christians, we need the law. We reject the view that Christians are free of all moral law,[4] and recognize the triple use of the Law: curb, mirror and rule.[5]
Playlists and pop culture aside, we focus on (1) Jesus, the Law and the Prophets; (2) how the first disciples saw the Law and Prophets through Christ; and (3) finally, what the texts teach us about Christian living in the world today.
When Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, he contrasted how the scribes and Pharisees interpreted God’s Law with its true authoritative meaning, which Jesus himself proclaimed.[6]
In verses 21-48, Jesus clarified how God intended people to live the Commandments. He spoke forcefully about murder and anger, marriage vows and public oaths, retaliation and love of enemies. He did not abolish any of the commandments, but contrasted his teaching of God’s Law with other teachers within Judaism – the scribes and the Pharisees – who relaxed the least of these commandments and taught others to do likewise, especially when it benefitted them. Later Jesus would condemn his hypocritical opponents because “they preach, but do not practice.”[7]
Clearly, Jesus did not abolish the Commandments. So, what did He mean when earlier He said, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” What did Jesus mean when he said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets?
To fulfill means to bring to realization, as a prophecy or promise.[8] The general thrust of Matthew was to establish, on behalf of 1st century Jews, that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of the Scriptures. Matthew listed dozens of Old Testament references. Nine times, he used the expression, “it is written,” to express the authority and truth of what was written. Twelve times, he cited Old Testament prophecy together with the term fulfill.[9]
Why was it imperative for Matthew to demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled Scripture? To answer that, picture yourself as an observant Jew 2,000 years ago. For you, Mosaic Law ruled life. Mosaic Law was the “canon within the canon” or the rule of rules, Mosaic Law determined everything else in Scripture. The prophets were the protectors and authorized interpreters of Mosaic Law.
Matthew upended that view with two points. First, the prophets were the rule of rules or the “canon within the canon.” As an observant Jew, you were to live according to how the prophets interpreted Law. Second, while the prophets looked back to the Law to interpret it for their day, their primary role was to point forward to the Messiah. Once the Messiah came, their central position in the life of the people of God was taken over by the Fulfiller of the prophets. Jesus Christ fulfilled their prophetic promises and He fulfilled the Law.
Jesus Christ fulfilled their prophetic promises and He fulfilled the Law. Now, let us explore how the disciples saw the Law and Prophets through Christ. … Instead of asking, what is the relation of this Jesus to our Mosaic Law, which stands at the center of our faith, 1st century Christians, like Matthew, started asking, what is the relation of Mosaic Law to Jesus Christ, who stands at the center of our faith?
Let’s face it; although the first disciples were Jews, they saw Jesus – not the Law or the Prophets – as their focus and prism. They were not without Law, but accepted the teaching of the Law from the Messiah who fulfilled the Law and Prophets. 1st century Jewish and Gentile Christians accepted Matthew’s conclusion that Christ commanded Apostles: Teach people “to observe all that I have commanded you.”[10]
Having seen the Risen Lord, the Apostles said, “It is not our option to teach anything contrary to Christ’s teaching.”
In the 1st century, doing and teaching the least of God’s commands were the priority and goal for all disciples. That meant Christians were not obliged to follow all 613 laws of the Torah or accept the interpretation of scribes or rabbis, but having now received the gift of salvation and entry into the Kingdom of God through baptism, Matthew expected more than the minimum.
Matthew expected Christians to grapple with the same issues the people of God faced 700 years before them (and perhaps the same ones we face today). Imagine early Christians discussing their daily devotions with members of their small group. They share their thoughts of fasting as written in Isaiah 58. Through the lens of the Risen Christ, they ponder its meaning and why, when the economy went south, the empowered who delighted in seeking God in their comfortable homes, oppressed workers as beasts of burden, and shared neither food nor shelter with the hungry or the homeless (even though they had stocked up on milk and bread).
Empowered by the Risen Christ, Matthew’s Christians fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, offered hospitality to the homeless, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned. They performed acts of mercy because, like the prophets, they looked forward – not to when the Messiah would come, but when the Lord would return. Matthew’s Christians were great in the kingdom of heaven because they taught what Christ taught, and did what He commanded. They fasted to feed the hungry, slept on the floor to shelter the homeless. Matthew’s Christians joyfully embraced the Gospel and the sacrifices it demanded. Doing and teaching the least of God’s commands – the priority and goal for all disciples.
When the priorities of life are doing and teaching the least of God’s commands, I am salt and light to the world. Unfortunately, fewer people choose to be salt and light. Today, 15% of Americans claim “none” as their religion, double what it was 20 years ago. For 22%, religion is not a factor in their lives.[11] When President Obama described America as a nation of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers,” he was right. Non-believers are bright, moral, self-reliant freethinkers, whom I will probably not move by my personal witness of the Gospel, but that should not prevent me from witnessing.
Over the next week, as we have time reflect because it’s cold outside, and there are no Winter Olympic Games or Superbowl, we each have time to ask ourselves some questions about Christian living in the world today.
Does my faith enhance other people’s lives as salt enhances food? In other words, when did I last share with an unchurched or non-Christian person my story of what the Living Christ did for me? Or, is my faith story as appetizing as soiled salt?
Does my life offer the light of the Gospel to people in darkness? When did I last talk to someone experiencing a crisis how God’s grace moved me through the darkest moments of my life?
Do I spend enough time with God so that He will reveal new insights about my life? Or am I too busy? Finally, over the last month, did anyone see my good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven?
The opportunities before us are boundless. I may never prompt change in the heart of an unbeliever, but I can start close to home. If I desire to be salt for the world, I can start with the people in my family and add what is missing in their lives.
I can ask my children or grandchildren which of their friends is experiencing darkness now and bring them the Light of Christ.
Schedule 15 minutes this week to read the Sermon on the Mount. Be as attentive as Christ’s first disciples. God will speak to your heart.
Ask the Holy Spirit to accompany you when you leave home so someone will see how you love Christ and glorify your Heavenly Father.
Finally, since Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, heed the words of this singer. “Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. And you will be happy too.[12] And when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Amen.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ornaments from Around the World

Collecting Christmas ornaments is something Cindy and I started since we began dating in 2009. Every place we lived or visited, we bought an ornament or two to remember being there. Cindy's memory is clearer than mine is, however.

The first ornament we collected was from a 10K we ran in San Ramon, the Bah Humbug 10K, and the first of many races we ran together in California, Oklahoma and Illinois.

When we started dating, Cindy worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and made annual trips to Albuquerque. She bought this handcrafted angel in the fall of 2009.

In subsequent years, we picked up other ornaments from Santa Fe and Taos, the famous havens for artists like Georgie O’Keefe and tourists looking for New Mexico’s magic. In Taos, we snowshoed - a wonderful experience.

Cindy and I married in August 2010. We honeymooned in Alaska. These two ornaments are from that trip.

In June 2011, Cindy met my extended family in Pennsylvania. As my cousin proudly proclaims, “We put the fun in dysfunctional!” A side trip to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake including visits to wineries where we tasted ice wines completed the trip.

In November 2011, we moved to Oklahoma, where we lived for three years. While there, we purchased a home, as well as some ornaments. The first one is the state of Oklahoma, which is the home of Cindy’s mother.

Cindy’s ancestry includes the Chickasaw Nation, one of five Indian Nations within Oklahoma. While living in Oklahoma, we visited the amazing Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, where we purchased this handmade ornament depicting their cultural heritage.

I worked at World Neighbors for two years. Each year, we held an international market fair featuring items from the countries where we had a presence. We bought this pear-shaped ornament.

During that time, we lost our beloved Golden Retriever, Lindsay. Before we moved, we took ownership of another Golden, Travis. This ornament expresses our love of Goldens.

In December 2012, we vacationed for a few days in Branson, where we picked up this ornament.

From Oklahoma, we moved to southern Illinois. While there, we visited St. Louis with family and friends. The two main attractions in St. Louis are the Arch and the Budweiser, depicted by these two ornaments.

Nashville, IL is a five-hour drive to Graceland in Memphis, TN, home of Elvis Presley. Elvis bought Graceland in 1957, the year I was born, for his family. Graceland is today as it was when Elvis lived there.

When we moved to Chicagoland, we celebrated our fifth anniversary. To commemorate this, Cindy found a splendid ornament of lovey doveys.

Poles heavily populate Chicagoland. There are Polish restaurants, delis, radio and TV broadcasts and a museum. We purchased two ornaments displaying my heritage.

In January, we celebrated five years of marriage with a cruise through the Hawaiian Islands. We picked up these to remember our trip.
Finally, we hang this ornament because we live in the Steeler Nation and are fans of the greatest football franchise in the world, The Pittsburgh Steelers.

What Christmas traditions have you incorporated into your marriage? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Blessings on Your Holidays

In our sixth year of marriage, we now live in our sixth home. We bought a home in Aurora, IL in April. In January, we celebrated our (August) wedding anniversary in Hawaii. In October, we reunited with family in Pennsylvania.

We welcomed into the world our third and fourth grandchildren. Henry John Paul Gardner was born on September 7, and Kinley Lynn Gregg was born on November 2.

Cindy works for Keypoint Government Solutions. Paul is in transition to his next position of success. He wrote his first book, Simple Sermons for Serious Christians, available on Amazon. He preaches throughout Chicago, and is a Realtor®. Check his site,, and business page, If you are going to buy, sell or rent, contact Paul. He can help you no matter where you live.

Cindy and Travis train weekly on an agility course. He and Pepper enjoy walks daily. They also look forward to visits by dogs or people. Our cat, Winnie, enjoys finding new spots to rest throughout the day.

Our new home has two guest rooms for family and friends when they visit. (Hint)

May God bless you during the Christmas holidays and throughout 2017.

Paul & Cindy Cwynar

Travis, Pepper & Winnie

Sunday, November 13, 2016