I recently had to call our tv-provider about a discrepancy in our bill.  I won’t tell you what company we’re with, but let’s just say I phoned in hoping to speak to someone DirectLy!  The issue was that we had signed up for a plan six or eight weeks ago that was supposed to lessen our fees by $30 per month.  We were very pleased when we received our next invoice and it indeed reflected the discount.  We happily paid it when it was due and felt very thankful to be saving nearly $360 per year!  However, our elation was soon tempered by the arrival of the next month’s bill.  It not only didn’t include our $30 discount, but it was $5 more than what it had been before we signed up for the savings program!  I called in.  You might be surprised to know that I wasn’t able to speak to someone DirectLy!  I spent several minutes answering the questions of an automated female voice informing me the reason I couldn’t converse with a real person right away was because they wanted to “know how to properly Direct my call.”  Finally, thankfully, perhaps even miraculously, I did get another human (at least I think it was—but who knows for sure—maybe it was one of these artificial intelligent Google or Amazon machines that can turn off the iron you left on in the bedroom while you’re in the bath tub!).  He said his name was Mike.  (Likely story!).  I told Mike our issue.  He thanked me for calling, told me he understood my concern, and assured me that he was going to escalate my grievance.  Mike typed feverishly for a few moments electronic messaging his supervisors, those higher up on the escalator than he.  When Mike’s attention returned to me he said he was informed by his managers that all of the charges were valid.  I asked him how that could be since I agreed to a contract that would lower our bill, then we received a lower bill for one month, and then the next month received the highest bill we had ever had from their company.  He asked me to wait while he again escalated my issue.  More typing.  More waiting.  More escalating.  Mike came back to me and said that he had an explanation from his supervisors.  Whether these were the same escalated supervisors or ones a tier or two up on the escalator I don’t know.  Apparently, I had not been properly educated by the representative I had spoken with some weeks ago about the discount program.  Apparently, one of their computer systems improperly gave us the discount a month early.  Apparently, their other computer system (how many systems they have I do not know) picked up on this error and charged our account with the amount we had improperly received from the first computer system and that’s what made our subsequent bill so high.  Apparently, their new computer system was going to show the amount of discount recharge as a past due balance.  However, we should not be alarmed because we wouldn’t be charged a late fee on this amount.

So, I calmly and Christianly (so my wife confirmed when I double-checked with her afterwards) said to Mike.  “So, what you’re telling me is that I need to be properly educated because your representative didn’t tell me right the first time; our bill is showing a past due amount even though my wife promptly paid the entire amount showing on the invoice you sent us; we now have to pay a higher bill because one of your computer systems caught a mistake that another one of your computer systems made; and I should feel happy about paying a high bill because at least you’re not charging us a late fee on a past due amount that we had never been told we owed.”  Mike listened, and as you may have guessed, assured me he would again escalate my concerns.  (By this point the only thing escalating was my blood pressure!)  Escalating didn’t mean much to the company I was dealing with.  We have to pay the higher bill and basically have no recourse.  In this month’s newsletter, we will look at a passage from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48) where Jesus tells us to escalate, in a way that is meaningful, our view on some spiritual issues.

Escalate Our View Of God’s Commands (Going From Externals To Internals)…The Lord’s pattern in this passage is to declare to His audience, “you have heard it said” and then He quotes some commandment from the Old Testament, “but I say to you” something that escalates said commandment.  We’ll deal with the first two points Jesus made in this passage using this pattern.  The first law addressed is that of murder.  Now, most people have not committed homicide, at least as they would define it.  (Indeed, if you’ve ever asked anyone why they think they’re going to Heaven they often will reply “well, I never killed anybody!”)  However, Jesus says that if we are angry with our brother, or if we call him “a good for nothing” or “a fool” then we are guilty enough to go to the Supreme Court and potentially to a fiery hell!  Many might not be guilty of following through on murder with their hands, but who could say they’re not guilty of harboring anger in their hearts.  Notice how the Lord escalates the focus from mere externals to internals.

In Matthew 5:27-30 Christ deals with the sin of adultery.  In the world we live in, I’m not sure I could say that most people are innocent of adultery, even by their own definition.  However, those who haven’t committed the physical act of infidelity find no sigh of relief in Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord teaches that if we look on someone with lust then we have committed adultery in our hearts!  Some might not have committed adultery with their outer man, but who could say they haven’t had lust in their inner man!  Again, Jesus escalates the focus from mere externals to internals.

Most folks have a low view of God’s laws and a high view of how well they’ve kept them.  We would do well to escalate our view of the Lord’s commands because only then will He be seen as high and holy, only then will sinners be convicted of their need for the Savior, and only then will saints be convicted of their need for ever increasing sanctification.

Escalate Our View Of Punishment (Going From A Slap On The Wrist To Eternal Conscious Torment)…Many people (unfortunately even many who profess to be Christians) do not believe in the biblical view of Hell.  Some think there’s no afterlife at all and don’t believe in God at all, so they “eat, drink, and are merry for tomorrow they may die.”  Others believe an Almighty does exist and that there is a recompense for what we do, but any Hell or punishment is all experienced in this life with no eternal factor associated.  Some hold to the view that “God is so good that He would never send anybody to Hell” (of course what they don’t realize is that if God is good then He must punish sin, and do so severely.  Nobody thinks a judge that lets the criminal go free is good).  There are those who believe that if you have sinned so much that Heaven won’t take you, then you go to purgatory where you can atone for your sins and get to the Promised Land on a delayed payment schedule of sorts (note: the idea of purgatory is a thoroughly unbiblical idea—no Scriptural support whatsoever).  Some think that there is a Hell, and some people go there (after all, nobody wants to be around Hitler for eternity!), but the place really isn’t too bad, and all this talk of fire that goes on forever is overblown.  I could go on and on telling of what various groups of people think about Hell, but there’s only one view that matters, that of the Lord Jesus Christ!  In our newsletter passage (Matthew 5:21-48), Jesus twice refers to Hell and describes it as a place of eternal, conscious torment with everlasting fire.  Hell is not a slap on the wrist and we do well to escalate our view of its terror.  Only then will it serve its proper place as a deterrent for people in their personal faith and serve its rightful role as a motivation to witness the gospel to others.

Escalate Our View Of The Battle With Sin (Going From Diplomatic Negotiations To Scorched Earth Warfare)…There used to be a view of international relations known as the Mad Dog theory.  This is where it would be determined that someone or some country was too dangerous, irrational, and erratic to have any kind of diplomatic relations with them.  The only viable option available was to do to the threat what you would do to a mad dog.  Kill it.  I’m not a Secretary of State or a Foreign Affairs expert; however I do know what the Bible says about sin.  In the words of an old southern gospel song, “sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.”  Many professing Christians try to be in diplomatic negotiations with sin, trying to ride the line between giving in totally to it but yet not being too harsh against it because they want some “benefits” from it every now and again.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-30 that if our right eye or our right hand causes us to sin, then we ought to cut off those body parts if that’s what it takes to keep us from going to Hell!  Sin is deadly dangerous and we must escalate our view of the battle it entails.  We should not engage in diplomatic relations but rather enforce, through the power of the Holy Spirit, a policy of scorched earth warfare!

Escalate Our View Of Repentance (Going From Mere Words To Mighty Actions)…Many people say they’re sorry but they don’t show they’re sorry.  One of the more famous (perhaps better said “infamous”) prosperity preachers recently said that he and others of his ilk probably took the message of prosperity a little too far and that they had lived in ways that were probably a little over the top.  Reading some of the interview he gave made me think he was close to saying he was sorry.  However, as a well-versed critic wrote in response, if the “minister” were truly repentant, he would follow in the example of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10) and make an effort to give back some funds to the people he had defrauded (it should be noted that it is mostly poor people who give to these prosperity wolves, just like its mostly poor people who play the lottery and such things).  In short, genuine repentance involves more than just saying you’re sorry, it involves showing you’re sorry.  That’s not a works based salvation message, that’s simply saying that the root of genuine salvation (which comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) will lead to genuine good fruit in a person’s life.  No fruit clearly indicates there’s no root!  In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus teaches that we should leave presenting our offering in order to make peace with our brother, we should be willing to lose our appendages to avoid adultery, our marriage vows should mean something more than words, our promises ought to be taken seriously and followed through on, and we may have to give up our shirt and coat to enemies that we are called to love.  In other words, escalating our view of repentance, indeed our entire view of Christian spirituality, involves going from mere words to mighty actions!