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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

This Cat Jesus Is a Bad Mother (shut yo’ mouth!)

Advent Season is here! I know that there a few churches that don’t follow the liturgical calendar, so people who are part of those churches don’t fully get Advent. Advent is simply an old word that means “coming.” Advent Season is the time leading up to Christmas when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Each week we focus on a different Advent theme. This week let’s talk about love.

My problem with love is that the world gets it completely wrong. Love is often seen as sappy. It’s touchy-feely. But what happens when the feelings fade? We can’t base any reality on feelings because they come and go like the tide. You can wake up one morning and not “feel” love towards your spouse (especially if you’ve had a fight the night before). But next week you can feel like the luckiest person alive to have your spouse in your life. I go through periods of liking and not liking my own kids (a lot of it depends on their behavior)! But those feelings are not an appropriate way to determine my behavior.
If feelings were the basis for our behavior, we would only be good when we feel positive things towards others. When the feelings fade then we would bail on the relationship.

That’s garbage.

shaft1Jesus gives us a different understanding of love. It’s not some sappy, touchy-feely emotion. I don’t think that was Jesus’s personality at all. He was a hard-workin’ man. The Greek word in the Bible for Jesus’s occupation is tekton, which is simply translated “builder.” Looking at construction in the Ancient Near East, it’s highly likely that Jesus did a lot of work with stone. He’s not a soft man at all. He’s hard, toughened, with rough hands. He’s the man. He’s like John Shaft – this cat Jesus is a bad mother (shut yo’ mouth!). I’m just talkin’ about Jesus (oh, I can dig it!). When Jesus talks about love it’s a very concrete, real thing that is about sacrifice – not about feelings.

He said:

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love. Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this. My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. (John 15:9-13)

Love isn’t weak and soft – it’s tough as nails and enduring. The greatest expression of love is self-sacrifice. This is heroism at its finest, and we understand that. Our art is FILLED with examples of heroic sacrifice as a symbol of genuine love.

This kind of Love is what Jesus is talking about.

Real love says, “I got your back.”
Real love says, “You’re not fighting alone.”
Real love says, “I will jump on the grenade if it means you survive.”

THIS is how we kick off Advent – with this kind of raw, powerful, action-based discussion of love. Jesus came to give us this kind of love. This is EXACTLY what the Apostle Paul was trying to tell the church in Rome:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

There was nothing we did to deserve God’s love. We didn’t earn it. But God shows the depth of His love by self-sacrifice even when we were broken and unworthy. Jesus was the kind of guy to jump on the grenade for us so that we could carry on in the fight.
But it doesn’t end there. The real question comes to our response. Now that we have received this kind of love, how will we take it to the world around us? As believers called by His name, we need to be examples of love in this world. Regardless of feelings, which are transitory, we need to be people of love – people who are known to be self-sacrificial for the behalf of those around us.

Love is not my feelings. Love is concrete behavior. Love is Spock sacrificing his own life while telling Kirk, “Live long and prosper.” This is how God treated us. Now let’s be those kind of people to the world.

From Bondservant to Bishop

Let me tell you about a great unknown. Not only do we not hear a lot about him from the pulpit, but we don’t know a whole lot about him in the first place. His name is Onesimus.

chains-19176_1920Onesimus is the slave of a wealthy man named Philemon. Almost everyone has heard the name of Philemon, even if you know nothing about him. It’s the title of one of the books in the Bible. But it’s not really a book. We can barely even call it a chapter. It’s a letter, and a very personal letter at that. As we look at Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn a little bit about the story of Onesimus, and a little bit about ourselves as well.

This is Onesimus’ story. This story has to do not so much with theology as it does with the application of Christian truth to life. That is to say, how does our Christian faith play out in reality? It’s one thing to say that you’re a believer in Jesus – it’s another thing to let your beliefs influence how you behave. It’s in this letter that Paul writes to his friend Philemon and shows him how a Christian ought to behave and what it looks like to practically love your neighbor as yourself.

One time Jesus was approached by a scholar of Torah and the scholar asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” All of the law and prophets can be summed up in those two words about love. Love God with everything we are, and love others the way we love ourselves. In this great big world of ours people are always searching for meaning, for purpose. But everyone has a purpose – every church has a purpose.

If there is anything that is supposed to give us meaning, that is supposed to be part of our purpose, our very reason to exist, it’s these words of Jesus – Love God, and love others. This is one of the reasons the church exists. If the church is not doing this, if we are not loving God and loving on people, we are missing part of our God-given purpose!

As Paul is writing to Philemon, he’s telling Philemon part of God’s purpose for all believers – that we love people in a way that goes beyond what the world considers “normal.” Let me break it down for you. Paul is a traveling evangelist. He goes from town to town telling people about the good news of Jesus Christ. He’s had a good bit of success preaching to the Colossians, and he starts up a church in their town. The patron of the church, the man in whose house they meet and one of the chief benefactors of the young church, is Philemon. Paul says that he keeps “hearing about your love and the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (v.5) Paul goes on to say, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective as you fully acknowledge every blessing that is ours in Christ.”

The term “fellowship” or “sharing” was often used for business partnerships or for sharing possessions. Philemon acts as a patron for the church. The sharing of the faith is a reference to the extending of material resources. Paul is talking about the generosity which springs from Philemon’s faith.

Often times when we become Christians we turn our hearts over to God but not our wallets and checkbooks! Even though all of us are not blessed to give support the way that Philemon was, or the way other wealthy Christians are, there is a reminder here that we recognize that we are stewards, not owners, of all God has given us. It is because of his faith that Philemon is able to be generous with the church and with other believers. Are our hearts generous, or are we bound up by material possessions?

But that isn’t Paul’s main concern. His main concern is about a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus has received a bad rap from a lot of people for a long time. He’s been accused of being a thief and a runaway slave. Have you ever been accused of something that you didn’t do but you couldn’t convince anyone that it wasn’t true? How does it make you feel to be unjustly blamed? Christian writers and preachers have accused Onesimus of being this scoundrel, a runaway slave who stole from Philemon before heading out. And while he was on his way he comes across Paul and Paul leads Onesimus to Jesus. Hallelujah, isn’t God good!? But that is just conjecture. We are not told anything about the circumstances that brought Paul and Onesimus together. There are clues, however, in Paul’s letter. These clues point us to see that Onesimus wasn’t a runaway, and he wasn’t a thief. And then Paul’s letter points us to the right way to live as Christians.

8For this reason, although in Christ I have complete freedom to order you to do what is proper, 9I prefer to make my appeal on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an old man and now a prisoner of Christ Jesus, 10appeal to you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.

First of all, Paul shows us that true Christian behavior is not about authority, who is right, or who has the best way to do something. #1: Christian behavior is motivated by love. Have you ever had a conflict with someone over something and you know they should be doing it your way? Even if you have the freedom to order that they do it your way, Paul would say, “make an appeal on the basis of love.” Look at how you act towards people. Is it loving? Look at how you talk to people. Is it loving? Look at how you talk ABOUT people. Is it loving? One of our purposes as Christians is to love people. Are we doing it?

Paul has been spending time with Onesimus, and now Onesimus has become a Christian. Paul led him to faith. That’s what he means when he writes, “Whose father I have become….” Paul is a spiritual parent and considers all of his converts his children in the faith. What a heart of a shepherd! He cares about the people with whom he comes into contact.

11Once he was useless to you, but now he is very useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel. 14Yet I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be something forced, but voluntary.

It seems that Onesimus had been considered useless to his master. Perhaps that’s why Philemon sent Onesimus away ~ he would be better put to use serving Paul than working back home. It’s in this passage that we really see that Onesimus isn’t a scoundrel, but a servant. He has been sent by Philemon to take care of Paul while Paul is in prison. And now it is time for Onesimus to return, but he is returning a new man. Paul is making a play on words here. He writes, “Once he was achrestos, useless, but now he is euchrestos, useful. Now, does anyone else like word plays and puns? I love them. The words Paul is using to call Onesimus useless and useful sound like the words for “without Christ” and “good Christian.” Before, Onesimus was without Christ and useless. Now Paul is sending him back useful and as a good Christian.

Here’s point #2 – it is only in Christ that we find real fulfillment of purpose and become useful. My friends, God has a use and a purpose for every individual here. God has a use and purpose for this church. It is in Christ that we discover that purpose and find real meaning to life. Have you ever wondered about your God-given purpose? Christ told us part of what that purpose is. The greatest commandment is to…Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

15Perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a while, so that you could have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but better than a slave-as a dear brother, especially to me, but even more so to you, both as a person and as a believer. 17So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

Here we see a clear picture that Onesimus isn’t a runaway thief. Paul is using a passive voice, “he was separated from you” and is not saying that Onesimus separated himself, but that he was separated by someone else; that is, he did not run away but was sent away. Onesimus was acting as a direct agent for his master. And it is here we see the biggest theme of the letter ~ the insignificance of hierarchy within the Christian community. This request for a possibly wealthy slave owner to treat his slave as an equal would be not only uncustomary but also humbling. Think about Paul’s relationship to Philemon. Paul is the evangelist who brought the gospel message to Philemon’s city. Paul founded the church in Philemon’s home. Philemon could count Paul as a spiritual father. There was undoubtedly a bond of trust, of respect, of honor. And now Paul is saying, “Welcome Onesimus the same way you would welcome me.”

We’ve already seen how Philemon acts towards other Christians. The love which Philemon had for God was translated into loving actions toward others. Now Paul is asking Philemon to take that love to the next level. Here we see point #3: Love to the point of equality is necessary to the unity of the church. Social distinctions and past grievances should count for nothing. Does someone owe you anything? That shouldn’t affect how you treat him? Has someone wronged you in the past? That shouldn’t affect your Christian behavior. Does someone not show you proper respect? That shouldn’t change your own attitude or behavior. Jesus calls us to be better than that.

18If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. (I will not mention to you that you owe me your very life.) 20Yes, brother, I desire this favor from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ! 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you because I know that you will do even more than I ask.

This is a beautiful example of point #4: Christian love sacrifices self to serve others. When Jesus says that part of our purpose is to love people, he’s not talking about how we feel. He’s talking about how we minister to and how we serve other people. Paul takes Onesimus’ debt upon his own shoulders. That debt is probably why Onesimus was a slave in the first place – he was a debtor working off what he owed. Paul’s language is standard legal language for the ancient world, suggesting that when Paul says he will repay and notes that he is writing by his own hand, he seems to be accepting Onesimus’ debt as his own in a formal way.

The ultimate outcome would be Onesimus’ freedom from debt, therefore his freedom from slavery. It’s easy to say, “I love you.” But can you show it? Do your actions and your behavior confirm what you say? What Paul expects of Philemon actually undermined the dominant values upon which the whole structure of their ancient society was founded. Now, because of their religious convictions, masters were to treat their slaves like brothers or even as honored guests. In expecting a fundamental change in the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus, Paul was actually asking for something far more radical than setting slaves free.

The outcome of Paul’s request is unknown. However, THE CONSTITUTION OF THE HOLY APOSTLES, written around A.D. 340-60, contains a list of all the men who had been ordained as bishops during the apostles’ lifetime. Within the list it says, “Of Colossae, Philemon. Of Borea of Macedonia, Onesimus, once the servant of Philemon.” Onesimus not only had been forgiven and freed but also eventually became a bishop. Christian love can take a man bound in slavery and turn him into a bishop.

love-903178_1920So many people in life ask, “What am I supposed to be doing? What’s my purpose?” Just read the book. Jesus says, “Part of your purpose is this: love people.”

#1 ~ Christian behavior is motivated by love
#2 ~ It is only in Christ that we find real fulfillment of purpose and become useful
#3 ~ Love to the point of equality is necessary to the unity of the church
#4 ~ Christian love sacrifices self to serve others

How do you stack up?

Celebrities and a Theology of Death

cemetaryThis has been a crazy week for me. It’s been a death week.

On Monday I addressed a room of Navy leaders about the role of the Chaplain in Casualty Notification, when a Service Member dies and the Command sends a team to notify the surviving family.

On Tuesday Doris Roberts died.

On Wednesday Chyna died.

On Thursday Prince died.

I always find it a bit odd when the world goes bananas over celebrity death. They’re only celebrities. It’s not as though they are immortal. Of course they’re going to die. And I’m not trying to make light of people’s feelings. There is a genuine sense of loss and grief some people feel when a celebrity passes. I think this is because, while we don’t know celebrities personally, we feel as though we know them because we follow their careers and lives. Many of them impact us through their art, whether it be music, television, film, or any other media. When someone has a profound influence on me, of course I will take his death harder than a total stranger.

Nonetheless, death has been part of the human equation for a long time now. We all deal with it in different ways. Some address it with humor:

  • We die only once, and for such a long time. ~ Moliere
  • I intend to live forever, or die trying. ~ Groucho Marx
  • I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens. ~ Woody Allen

Some address this in all seriousness:

  • Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ Georg Hermes

How, then, ought we to face death? I’ve seen some people use celebrity deaths to berate the lack of faith in the living:

“The death was tragic but is even more tragic if they don’t know Jesus!”

Sure, this may be true, but it usually isn’t the best time and place to be talking about it. It lacks tact and grace. A better route would be to help people develop a theology of death BEFORE an event (as opposed to DURING). The Bible DOES talk quite a bit about death.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

All of humanity is mortal, and no one will escape it. Though we like to watch movies about immortal beings (living through the 80s and 90s meant I was a huge fan of The Highlander franchise), the reality is that death comes to us all. This doesn’t surprise us. What surprises us is when we’re not expecting the death. It’s easier to wrap our minds around the passing of a loved one who has spent time ill under hospice care than it is to comprehend a very sudden and unexpected death of someone regularly in the limelight.

But even though death comes for us all, the Bible points CLEARLY to the idea that death does not have the final say. The entire biblical narrative moves us in the direction of understanding that death is a natural part of our broken world but is defeated by Christ.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. ~ Romans 5:12-15

Paul writes that the final enemy of humanity to be defeated is death. And Death is not the winner. Christ is the winner. Death is not the end of things. It is the beginning of the next thing. This is why the Apostle Paul can declare with complete assurance, “Where, O Death, is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55).

But our theology of death cannot end here. It’s not merely about understanding that it’s going to hit us all and that Jesus has the final say. A real theology of death ought to affect the here and now. Paul writes:

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. ~ Romans 6:8-13

Knowing that Jesus conquered sin and death means we have a call in the here and now daily to put our sinful self to death. He died to sin for us and now we’re called to LIVE life for Him. His death is a clarion call for us to be fully engaged in the godly life now.

None of this is to negate the sorrow and loss people feel. We still work through those emotions. But a proper understanding of death will do us good not only in terms of grief and recovery, but in terms of living this life to the fullest now. And to those who grieve, I’ll leave you with the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero:

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

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If you’d like to do some more study on living and dying well, check out The Art of Dying by Rob Moll.

Christian Community: It Ain’t Suposed to Be Shallow.

We live in an increasingly fragmented and shallow society. I believe people are really desiring a new way of life that is more connected with others.

universe-1044107_1920Genesis has a vivid picture of God creating. There is great chaos in the Cosmos as God is creating merely from the power of His words. Matter is neither created or destroyed, is simply changes form. God is the only one who creates something out of nothing. And every time he creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.”

Everything is good – except for one thing in all of creation that is not good.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that it is NOT good for man to be alone.

God has given humanity all of this incredible stuff in creation, but the one thing that cannot be fulfilled by the created world is human companionship. God designed us to thrive in community. God establishes the very first human community – the family – so that we can survive.

Science shows that our health improves when we are actively plugged in to community life. Sure, there are other variables at play, but all things being equal, the person who is connected in community lives a longer and happier life. But this requires we are intentional about building that community. It means doing more than merely filling a pew with the same person week after week.

It is not enough simply to show up and think that we are building a community. Community is not built here in the service. Community is built on the outside so that we come together AS a community and worship God together. Let’s look at 3 elements of building community:

1. We must connect with Jesus.

There’s a great story about Jesus’s ministry when he encounters a small guy named Zacchaeus.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been a pariah in the Jewish community. Not only did he extort people, but he represented the Roman occupying state. He was an enemy of God’s people, a traitor to Yahweh. Yet Jesus intentionally goes to this outsider, this incredibly flawed individual, and invited him in to community!

2. Authentic community begins when we realize that we are imperfect people invited into community with a perfect Jesus Christ.

In our imperfection we’re still invited to come an sit beside Jesus. Can you imagine that? God doesn’t require us to be perfect BEFORE we’re invited in. If we had to be perfect first we’d NEVER receive an invitation. But he loves us and invites us to be part of his community in spite of our flaws and failures.

Paul writes in Romans 5:

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You didn’t have to be good enough for Jesus to take your place on the cross. You never could have made it. And authentic community begins when we realize that I am flawed yet still invited to be part of God’s community.

kitten-1154693_1920Radio personality Paul Harvey once said: “We’ve strayed from being fishers of men, to being keepers of the aquarium.” Some people act as though the church is supposed to be an aquarium. It’s pretty. You clean it. You watch the pretty fish swim around. It’s perfect, down to the exact pH balance and the diver with the bubbles coming out of his helmet.

People want the church to be perfect and serene. But if you read the Bible the way I do, the church isn’t meant to be an aquarium – it’s a hospital – where broken and wounded people come to find healing. As God works on our lives he cleans us up, sure, but we’re never supposed to forget that our authentic community begins with a recognition that we’re all wounded in need of a hospital.

You don’t have to be perfect – you’re invited as you are.

3. Authentic community continues as we grow and connect with each other

Acts 2 describes the intentionality early Christians had in building community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.

Community doesn’t happen by accident. Community is built as we live life together, as we experience the ups and downs and the joys and the pains together. We don’t want to be a church of strangers simply getting together to do our spiritual thang and then disappear to our individual lives. Showing up once a week will not build community or establish relationships. Authentic community happens before and after church, through the week, after duty hours.

Think about group dynamics and cliques. People often get frustrated about an inability to break into new groups because of cliques within an organization. This is true in the church but it’s also true in the workplace and in neighborhoods. It’s not that cliques are necessarily bad or evil. Cliques develop because people form bonds with others outside of the large group environment. The clique is a fundamental element of community. People bond on the outside and bring those bonds into the larger group. You can’t say, “I’m going to show up at church once a week and then try to insert myself into a clique that meets together 3 times a week.”

What?!? While we want to be open and welcoming to all, we do need to recognize that there are in-group and out-group dynamics at play that allow us to build relationships with others, and building relationships is always a good thing. Just make sure that your relationships don’t cause you to mistreat or alienate others and you’re good to go.

The original Christians met together daily. They ate, they hung out, they celebrated. Their worship services weren’t about strangers getting together – they were about the extended family coming together to worship Jesus. Our social group ruts tend to be the people we can regular contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Connecting with God’s community means being intentional to develop those relationships and bonds.

Connect with Jesus. Recognize we’re all imperfect but called together to be part of the community of faith. Be intentional in developing the connection with others. It’s about deep relationships and forgetting the shallowness that comes with a lot of our modern culture.

You’re welcome in.

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God’s Big Ten: Christian Hoarders

This is it, we’ve come down to the very end of our study through the 10 commandments. This is sort of the summary commandment that wraps up all of the other commandments.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Covet simply means to yearn to possess; to crave. But not simply to desire something. You can be greedy without necessarily coveting. To be greedy is to want more and more and flea-market-851970_1920more. But to covet means to look at what someone else has and to say, “That should be mine! I should have what he has.” It looks a lot like hoarding. No matter what we have it’s never enough.

Coveting means yearning for other people’s stuff. Our society trains us to desire stuff. If someone else has it why don’t we? Yes, we are trained to desire what others have – it’s the beast we call advertising. Many times we don’t even realize how pervasive marketing is in our minds. Here are some famous slogans that have stuck around for quite a time. Can you place them?

  1. Just Do It!
  2. Finger Lickin’ Good
  3. Snap Crackle Pop!
  4. Don’t Leave Home Without It
  5. Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What a Relief it is!

We hear these slogans and our brains automatically start thinking about the products. By the time a child reaches adulthood they say the individual has been inundated by over a billion advertisements. One of the best examples I’ve seen to illustrate coveting comes from a group of fruits and veggies. Welcome to the Stuff-Mart:

 

We are systematically trained to believe that things bring happiness but this is a false belief. Think about when you were a kid – what was that thing you just HAD to have? What was it?

DON’T BE CRAVING THE THINGS YOU SEE OTHER PEOPLE HAVE!

Coveting gets us into trouble. Sometimes it leads to stealing. Someone else has it – we want it – so we take it. Sometimes it leads to debt. We covet what someone else has so we go and get one NOW even if we can’t afford it. It’s been said that delayed gratification is the sign of maturity. The mature person makes a plan and works towards something. Kids want it when? NOW!

Many of today’s purchases are tomorrow’s load to the dump. How can something so classic-car-574869_1920precious become so worthless? It really makes us stop and ask, “What is really valuable to me?” Because you put your money where your heart is. If your heart is in stuff, your bank records will bear it out

MATTHEW 6:19-21 ~  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In the Big 10 we’re not to desire what others have – to keep up with the Joneses. It’s about learning to be content with what we have and where we are. Society says, “If he has it and you don’t, work to get what he’s got.” God says there’s a different way.

So What’s the Antidote? – CONTENTMENT

It’s not the American way. We always want more. We always want better. We always want bigger. Being satisfied where you are with what you have – that’s not the American way! The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

He doesn’t say that he asked God and then contentment came immediately. He says he LEARNED to be content. It makes it seem that it was a process. And many times it can take us a LONG time to learn a lesson. Paul never says how long it took. He never says how many rough and troubled times he had to go through. He simply says it is something he had to learn.

This is a guy who had been beaten, shipwrecked, starved, bitten by snakes…the list goes on and on! Yet he has learned to be content. Why can’t I be content with what I have? Why can’t I be happy for you when you have better? I’m happy with what I’ve got until someone walks in with more/better/etc. How do we learn to be content?

Stop comparing yourself with others. Everyone wants to be happy. We want happiness so much that it’s part of our national history. We’re ENTITLED to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I’m fine with my single serving of ice cream until I see my friend walk in with half a gallon. Why can’t I have what he has? Instead of looking at what God has given me I look at what God has given you and begin to compare. But the Bible tells us that Christ is enough. And if Christ is all we need there is NO need to compare with others.

So here are some practical tips for dealing with how we handle comparison and contentment:

  1. Receive what we have as a gift from God
  2. Examine things before you make a purchase
    • Do I really need this?
    • Will it bring lasting or temporary joy?
    • What else could I do with this money?
  3. Practice de-accumulation – most of us struggle with letting go of things. Try to give away one thing a day.

This is not about being legalistic and living a life without possessions. It’s about saying, “I don’t want to serve STUFF anymore – I want to serve Jesus.”

Can Jesus be enough for you?

 Questions for Reflection

  • What do I covet?
  • Do I accumulate things because I have a problem with greed?
  • Am I willing to live a life pursuing simplicity?

God’s Big Ten: Christian Assassins!

Today we’re looking at the 9th commandment.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Originally this is spoken in a legal setting. Do not lie about so-and-so. In the ancient world there was so such thing as forensic experts. There was no C.S.I. Jerusalem. The testimony of others was critical. Yet, then, just as today, finding multiple witnesses without personal attachment was hard to do. Everyone is personally attached – it’s difficult to remain neutral. That’s one reason I tell young couples not to get their parents involved in marital conflict because parents have a hard time not taking sides with their child. If you need a mediator, parents are usually NOT the best choice.

The same is true in legal matters. Don’t bring in a family member who has bias. Often times you will see family backing up something they KNOW to be wrong simply because they cannot go against family. You need to find an impartial person who is not going to give false testimony. People who give false testimony against others assassinate your character.

minion-ninjaThe character assassin is a crafty ninja. He goes around and he starts telling untruths about others. He pulls out his ninja swords and cuts people down with his lies and deceit. God says, “This isn’t the way I want my community to function!”

A healthy society depends on people being honest. So in the OT they actually had a law that said if someone lies about someone, the punishment that would have been on the accused now falls on the liar. It’s a reverse punishment. (Deut. 19:18-19).

If someone is on trial for his life, a liar caught giving false testimony must pay with his own life. God is very clear that lying about others in order to damage or would someone is NOT okay!

Even Jesus says false testimony defiles a person. One time when the religious leaders were upset with Jesus because his disciples “defiled” themselves by not washing their hands before they ate, Jesus told them, “It’s not the food going in that defiles you. You’re not toilet_flushingdirtied until the stuff comes out of you!”

Yes, even Jesus enjoyed bathroom humor.

But it was a double entendre. What comes out of a person’s heart is what defiles him, things such as evil thoughts, blasphemies, and false witness. (Matthew 15:1-20) Lying about others doesn’t just damage them. The false things we say about others defiles us – makes us unclean.

While we may not find ourselves defending untrue allegations in court, we will find ourselves the victims of personal, false attacks on our character and behavior. This commandment carries beyond legal attitudes and into all of the ways we talk about other people

We can be character assassins without ever going to court. We can participate in gossip, rumors, and slander, and spread falseness without ever seeing the inside of a court. Rumors are a form of social bullying – to bring a person down and to put the gossiper up high.

You might have been the victim of a character assassin who is spreading false junk against you. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in the chain of passing along the rumor. There are really three ways to approach character assassins.

If you’re the one talking – STOP IT!

It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? There’s no need for you to be spreading false garbage against other people, no matter what they may have done to you. It doesn’t matter how they have behaved towards you in the past, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus IS truth, so speaking false junk is directly opposed to Jesus Christ. How can you claim to be a follower of Jesus if you actively participate in spreading falseness?

If you hear something about someone else – STOP IT!

Call time out. You don’t need to be involved. But we love dirty laundry (Don Henley song…), especially when it isn’t ours. Our own dirty laundry we hide, but we revel when we see other people’s. There’s no room for such behavior in God’s kingdom.

Ignorance is no excuse. Do you ignorantly pass on false info? We see so many do this with the internet. Now you have the opportunity to have tens of thousands of people passing on ridiculously bogus info (Lotto math; Obama curtains, etc.). If we looked at our online behavior through an OT lens and we were punished with the same punishment we’re asking for the person we’re speaking against, would we still be so quick to spread the lies?

IF YOU DO NEED TO BE INVOLVED (like this is a life-or-death situation), DON’T PASS ON INFO OR ACT ON INFO BLINDLY – VERIFY, VERIFY, VERIFY. When you spread stories about others, you can’t take it back. Labels stick, and are often impossible to scrub off. Think about what you say.

Words have power.

If you’re being talked about

This is the hard one. You can’t control what comes at you but you can control what you hold on to and how you behave. There are 5 ways we can behave when people bring false accusations against us:

  1. Live in such a way that, if people accuse you, others can see that it’s bogus. (1 Peter 2:12). Sometimes that means going above and beyond – walking a fine line and not taking an easy road. It means our behavior is impeccable.
  2. Go to the source and try to reconcile (Matthew 18). This is dealing with it man-a-mano. Keep it off FB!
  3. Never stop being polite to those who hurt you. Just because someone may have been a jerk to you doesn’t give us permission to be jerks back to them. We are called to treat everyone well, the way we want to be treated, in spite of the injuries done to us.
  4. Tell the truth to anyone who asks (without seeking to tell everyone!) Don’t lie. Don’t cover up. Don’t be vindictive. But calmly and simply be a truth-teller.
  5. Don’t give people more ammo to attack you with – be calm, honest, and discreet. When people spread false things about you, most people want you respond in an angry way. It adds fuel to the fire and justifies them in their own minds. You can’t feed the trolls. Starve the trolls.

These five things don’t leave us feeling satisfied when we’ve been wronged. There’s no justice being done. But Jesus calls us to be a new kind of community – a community that treats each other well and speaking only truth.

We don’t listen to falseness. We don’t spread falseness. We respond appropriately even if attacked. And even though we might want to fill their mouths of our attackers with superglue, that doesn’t seem like a very Christ-like thing to do… 😉

 

Questions for Reflection

  • Have I participated in spreading false things against others?
  • Have I been passive while hearing other people spread false things about others?
  • Have I lived with such integrity that people wouldn’t believe false things?

God’s Big Ten: Christian Thieves

burglar-308858_1280Now let’s talk about thieves. Not just any thieves, but Christian thieves. It’s the next simple guideline in the Ten Commandments – just another single sentence.

You shall not steal.

You would think this should be simple, like the commandment against adultery. You would THINK that this isn’t something that needs to be stated. It seems like a no-brainer that we should not take thinks that don’t belong to us. Even so, here it is. And it’s not just here. The New Testament is just as plain about stealing.

While some of us may admit to stealing things (perhaps a paperclip here or there?), most would probably not admit to being a thief. Like everything else Jesus tries to tell us, it’s not just about behavior but about our heart and motivation that underlie all wrongful behavior. There are several ways to steal, but we need to come up with a working definition of stealing, something like this:

Intentionally depriving someone else of something of value to which he/she is entitled.

So I’m going to assume that, at some point of your life, everyone reading this has taken something that is not rightfully yours to take. I once read somewhere that there are different types of stealing. Let’s look at some different ways we engage in stealing.

~ Removing something that doesn’t belong to you

This could be something as small as a candy bar to something as large as robbing a bank. In the Old Testament, there’s a story of God leading Israel through fight after fight. When they get to one city, God tells them not to take any plunder from the city – NOTHING. They are to leave it all. Yet there was this one guy – Achan – who saw all this stuff sitting there and figured he would snag some of it for himself. He disobeyed God’s direct command and stole the loot and had to pay a steep price for disobeying God.

Sometimes we remove things that don’t rightfully belong to us.

~ Withholding something that should rightfully go to someone else.

For example, if you lie on your time card at work, you are withholding hours from your employer that you are being paid for. That’s stealing. Or if you withhold your kid’s birthday money from grandma because “he’s not mature enough yet,” it’s STILL stealing.

~ Using your words to manipulate others for your own benefit.

I lump cheating or other manipulation. Have you ever been the victim of a con man? I hands-966492_1920have. They can be pretty slick. Sometimes they talk so fact and move so quickly you have no idea what’s going on until they are LONG gone. Long story short, I ended up on a road side in Italy holding a ratty old jacket that somehow I ended up paying $50 for. He used his words to manipulate me. HE STOLE FROM ME!

Using your words to manipulate someone to get what you want is stealing. We can even include slander and gossip, because that steals credibility and character from the people we attach.

Proverbs 26:20 ~ Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.

And then there’s:

Titus 3 ~ Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people

~ Relying on others generosity rather than working for it.

pygmy-sloth-62869_1280This is to be a sloth, a bum – a mooch! Letting others take care of us without doing anything to earn it (basically your average teenager). The Apostle Paul says:

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 ~ But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, 11 to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, 12 so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.

And also:

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 ~ 10 In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” 11 For we hear that there are some among you who walk irresponsibly, not working at all, but interfering with the work of others. 12 Now we command and exhort such people by the Lord Jesus Christ that quietly working, they may eat their own food.

Even the Bible says that it’s not cool to live only off of the kindness of others. It’s a form of theft. Finally, we’ve got:

~ Holding back your time, talent, & treasure from God can amount to spiritual stealing.

We ALL have something we can give to God, the church, the community, and the world. The question is, are we utilizing the gifts God has given us or are we hoarding it for ourselves? Peter writes in his first letter:

Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10 ~)

Its all about intentionally depriving someone of something of value to which they are rightfully entitled. So What? It all comes down to this: How we treat others and How we trust God. If we really sought to treat people well, we would never take away from them. If we actually trusted God we would never have to steal.

If we fully trust God to be the King of our lives and to provide for all our needs, we would never take anything. It’s when we take our eyes off of God and focus on ourselves that we decide to take things that don’t belong to us – we try to take care of ourselves by our own means.

We don’t have to lie on our taxes. We don’t have to rob banks. We don’t have to be slothful and rely on others to take care of us.

The Bible says, “Do not steal.” This covers ALL forms of theft.

And this isn’t who God wants us to be.

Questions for Reflection
– What have you taken that doesn’t belong to you?
– How does your thievery relate to your trust in God to provide?

God’s Big 10: Let’s Talk About Sex

pair-97059_1920Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me….aaaaand that’s enough of quoting that song. Seriously, though, our culture is obsessed with sex. Many people seem to have an attitude that anything goes as long as you are not physically hurting someone else. After all, who are we to tell others how to live?

I don’t think God is too concerned about hurting feelings. He’s not giving us 10 suggestions. That’s more of Dr. Phil’s lane. God’s giving us the commandments that are to be foundational for our lives, and that includes human sexuality. So we get to the 7th commandment:

You shall not commit adultery.

One line!

It’s just one sentence. I wish it were that simple. I wish we could say, “Here’s the word for today. Be on your way.” It SEEMS self-explanatory. We can open the Bible, read the sentence, and say, “Huh! I didn’t know that. Now I’ll go change the way I live!”

But real life doesn’t work that way, does it?

While the Old Testament was about the behavior and monitoring the actions of people (like committing adultery), the New Testament is about the heart BEHIND the behavior. So once again we turn to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.eye-211610_1920 It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Man, Jesus doesn’t pull punches! It’s not just about the bad behavior, but everything that leads UP to the behavior in the first place. He would seem to be pretty serious about this topic. Why is it so important to catch lust early and to refuse to tolerate it? I think there are some reasons

First, affairs don’t just happen to you. It’s not something you fall into, no matter what garbage Hollywood tries to show us. You don’t go walking down the street and then, BAM, you’re in an affair. “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?!?”

No, they start long before that. Where our eyes lead our hearts will follow. And just as we build up a tolerance to substances, we can build up a tolerance to adulterous situations. It’s just a look, a glance. It’s just a little innocent flirtation. It was just a long hug….

Nobody jumps into bed with another married person in one day. If we don’t keep ourselves in check, we start to go down the wrong road. We don’t even have to go looking for it – it seeks us out. It finds us!

If you want to see how our culture has become numb to lust over the years, just look at department store catalogs. Way back in the day, underwear and lingerie sections of the catalog would simply have the picture of the clothing lying on the table. You see it, but it was not appropriate to see it on a person.head-1069140_1280 Now catalogs don’t just show the underwear on people, but the editors try to make them look as tantalizing as possible.

But I’m pretty sure if I put on the boxer briefs the guy in the photo has I won’t suddenly have 6-pack abs. Are they trying to sell me on the underwear or on the image that goes with it?

How prevalent is this problem in our society? It’s so prevalent that Playboy Magazine has made a move to remove nudity from its pages. It’s no longer a nudie mag. Why? Because you can find the same content (and worse) online for free. So Playboy is shifting its publishing priorities to keep up with a sexually bankrupt culture.

The problem of lust doesn’t apply only to men. Women are also susceptible to lustful thoughts. Stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but men seem to be more visually oriented and women seem to be more imaginatively oriented when it comes to lust. For men, lust tends to accompany images (magazines, websites, videos, etc.). For women, lust tends to accompany things like romance novels and stories! Their imaginations can take them to far off lands with Ricardo. Romance stories about teenage vampires or 50 Shades of Grey drive women’s lust.

God’s design for healthy sexuality, in behavior AND thought, is between a man and the woman he is married to. Anything outside of that falls outside of God’s intended design for sexuality. It’s easy to make sure our behavior is right but be twisted inside. That’s why Jesus says our inside needs to match the outside. It’s not just about behavior but the thoughts that no one else can see.

In our culture we like to ask the question, “How far can I go?” But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How holy can I be?” Christian liberty allows us to do a variety of things while our conscience is still clear. But be clear – liberty does not give us permission to engage in lustful behavior, no matter how we try to justify it.

“It’s not porn, it’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.”

Or

“It’s not lust, I’m just reading the novel and fantasizing about someone doing that to me and taking me away from here.”

Any sexuality that moves beyond the husband/wife relationships is not appropriate.

Look at Samson. He was a strong dude physically. He was a weak dude morally. He was like Superman. Superman is impervious to everything EXCEPT kryptonite. Samson is impervious to everything except women. They are his weakness. This isn’t a condemnation on women. This is condemnation on the lust within Samson that brings about his own downfall.

His eyes find the wrong woman. His heart follows.

Broken heart
Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Before you know it, his eyes have led him into a series of jacked up relationships, and his lust ends up bringing about his own death. All because he cannot control his eyes. So how do we protect ourselves?

Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes that I have not looked upon another woman.” It starts in the heart long before it ends up in the bed. Where our eyes wander our hearts follow.

Where are your eyes? Where is your heart?

Stop wondering about how far you can go as a Christian. Are you doing everything you can to protect yourself, your eyes, and your heart?

 

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you desire to be a faithful person – faithful to God and faithful to your partner (or potential future partner)?
  • What are you willing to do to fight lust in your life?

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