Thursday, May 28, 2009
Today I got a call from a former youth group student. I was somewhat excited to hear from her. It is always nice to hear from former students. Their calls and notes make me feel like I have made an impact in their lives. And that I matter to them. It is fun to see how they have grown up and matured and become adults.
This call, after less than a minute, was less than inspiring. In fact, as I continued with the call I quickly started to feel violated. And to feel my trust was betrayed. Why? Because the reason my student called was.....to sell me CUTCO knives. She requested a meeting with me. I postponed a commitment. But what am I supposed to do? My roles are confused. As a pastor I don't feel comfortable saying that I don't want to see my student. I love her. But as a human being, I hate having to meet with someone who wants to sell me something I don't need. And, I hate feeling obligated because I used to be her youth pastor. If she wasn't a former student, I would have quickly turned her down. Because she is a former student, I feel conflicted in how to proceed. What do you think
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Intentional Ministry in a Not-so-Mega Church is the latest release by Dennis Bickers, an American Baptist Area Minister in Indiana with a passion for small churches and small town ministry.
Bickers' recent release attempts to sythesize a lot of the "missional church" conversation with ministry in small churches. A bivocational pastor for 20 years, he has a passion for the rural church, and that also shows on every page of the book.
Bickers'book is not for everyone. I think even he would make this point. The author is trying to write a book to struggling, Bible-based conservative churches and their leaders. He urges these churches to look beyond their desire to simply survive, and to look for ways to focus more of their energy toward meaningful ministry in their communities. He takes the missional church scholarship, much of which is written for a suburban middle-sized church, and breaks it down into bite-sized pieces that can make sense for the common person sitting in a pew every Sunday. The kind of person that knows that there is something wrong with the way his church is doing things, but does not know quite how to help turn the church family that he loves so much around.
Filled with straight-shooting talk, and a lot of common sense, this book should be read by anyone who is a leader in conservative, small town church. For those familiar with the missional or emerging church conversation, it will be a helpful reminder of some basic principles. For those unfamiliar with the crux of missional church talk, this will be a helpful guide for the journey.
Monday, May 25, 2009
On the way home from dropping off the car to the mechanic, we saw a greyhound bus headed to Dallas. Since Jennifer and I are headed to Plano on the first weekend of June, it made us think about our future and past travel.
I asked Jennifer if she had ever travelled on Greyhound. I admitted that I have travelled on Greyhound several times. Jennifer asked if we should go to Plano on a Greyhound. "No way!" I shouted.
I then went on to recount my experiences on Greyhound buses. My early experiences travelling on Greyhound buses were going from one part of Oregon to another. At one point, we decided we were going to visit friends in another part of the state, and we did not believe our car to be roadworthy for the trip. My mother packed us up into a Greyhound bus and we travelled from Ashland, OR to Bend, OR. It was a fun trip, a new adventure, and I enjoyed it.
Since then, my experiences riding Greyhound were less than stellar. In the middle of my sophomore year, I travelled from Minneapolis to Kansas City in January. I jumped on the bus at the Mall of America. I chose to sit in between nuns and an Amish father and son. I thought I had the best chance of not being intimidated or bothered that way. I was wrong. Within 20 minutes the Amish kid was trying to steal stuff out of my backpack while I was sleeping. I eventually move toward the back of the bus. For most of the rest of the trip I hang out with a guy who is going to drive dynamite trucks out of Joplin, and a girl leaving an ex and heading home across the country. We got along well, but it was not long before I observed a connection between the two of them. By the time I got to Kansas City, they were trading stories about sexual exploits and gazing at each other intently. I had to put on my headphones.
Another time I rode on a Greyhound bus lines I had to get a ride from where my car broke down in South Dakota to my flight from Kansas City to Alaska. When I was on this trip in the middle of August, the air conditioning went out near Sioux City, IA. When the air went out, it was over 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. The bus had standing room only for a brief time, and I was in shorts on a vinyl seat. I was seated next to a portly gentleman with wool pants and a dress shirt. I kept sticking to the seat, and scratching next to his itchy pants. It was miserable.
On that trip, I also had a layover in the Omaha Greyhound station. The Omaha station was quite possibly the creepiest place I have ever been. At least the creepiest transportation station. There was one guy, who kept trying to talk to me and everyone else about things that had a "makin bacon" t-shirt with little piggies in about every sexual position. Then there were all these guys walking around rather obviously trolling for children and women, chatting up targets right and left. I just wanted out of there.
I got a ride out of the Kansas City station, which is quite nice, and flew home.
Greyhound buslines are an excellent option for affordable transportation, but only if you cannot afford anything else.
Have any of you had cross-country bus trips? Any unique stories from those trips?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Scott likes going walking around on the Clark Ranch north of town, off of Nepasta Hills road, and also off of several little trails made off of the main road. He likes to go out with his camera from the 1930s, a backpack, a pull cart for golfing with a bucket on the bottom that he collects rocks in. He has several different professionally made and handmade instruments for calling animals. The people that own the land where he walks have given him permission to be there, and he comes out quite often.
We started on the walk, and I spotted a deer off to the left checking us out. He watched us a little bit and headed over the next hill. He showed me the rocks he looks for, and tried to find tracks. The cattle had been through there too recently though, and had destroyed any hope of discernable tracks of anything else.
We walked along the dry creek beds, that fill up with water once in while. It made me think of what I head about "wadis" in the holy land, and the Bible stories that happened around them.
Scott said, "To me, this is like my happy hunting ground". Which was interesting, because that phrase to me always spoke about life after death. For Scott, this dry and dusty place is heaven on earth. His sanctuary.
It made me think a lot about something I have been thinking about writing for a long time, the relationship between land, topography, and spirituality. Read the Bible, especially the gospels and the Old Testament, and you will see land and spiritual development intimately related. In the garden of Eden, orginal sin is in someway tied to people's misuse of the land. The people's promise from God is tied with the piece of land God had promised. Jesus' teaching, especially as I have studied in the gospel of Matthew, is often told through parables, and most of these parables are somehow related to people's relationship to the land. Especially farming.
As I think about the land and spiritual development a number of questions come up. Are there some places more spiritual than others? Or is every place full of the presence of God and we need to take time to notice how God can speak to us there? How does where we live effect our spiritual development, or does it have no bearing whatsoever? How does the nature of the land you live in effect development of spritual communities? How we care for and socialize with one another?
And if this relationship between land and spirit is Biblical (I believe it is), then how does this all change in an urban environment? Or is it the same? If it is not the same, what is unique about urban spiritual development in relation to a life lived more intimately connected to the land? I find this set of questions interesting because Paul, in many senses, takes a Scriptures and a Judeo/Christian faith that has been grounded in a more rural and earthy mindset, and through his missionary efforts contextualizes it to an urban life, and an urban/Roman way of thinking. By the time you get to the end of Revelation the images of heaven become less pastoral (lion laying down with the lamb), and become more urban (New Jerusalem/Holy City).
What do you think? I have my thoughts, and could go on for a long time, but I want to hear your thinking on the matter. How do you think a persons life upon and relationship to the land is tied together? Are there places where you find it easier to experience God than others?
Monday, May 11, 2009
On Saturday we cleaned up the house a little bit and I worked on stuff for Sunday morning. On Sunday we did church in the morning. Then, after church, we went to eat Chinese in my new favorite Chinese restaurant in Rocky Ford. Sunday night we drove in and watched the Star Trek movie in Pueblo. It was an entertaining movie, but left me a little disappointed on some fronts.
on my to-do list this week:
Denominational Meeting on Missions
Make progress on getting the cross hung up--delegate responsibility
Weed the back yard
Getting cards and gifts in the mail
book i’m in the midst of:
Surprised by Hope by NT Wright
Intentional Ministry in a Not So Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community by Dennis Bickers
Why Men Not Hate Going to Church by David Monroe
music that seemed to catch my attention this past week:
Acoustic Cafe by Phil Keaggy. This is a an album by a Christian artist, who also happens to be one of the best guitarists of the 20th century, doing covers from everything from the Beattles to a Cindy Lauper tune. Fun, smart good stuff.
good news of last week:
credit rating continued to get better. I am on track to getting Jennifer and I where I want us to be a year from now.
Got through all of the goofy stuff from last week.
bad news of last week:
We can't buy a house and rent it and get the Obama home buying stimulus. Darn it.
Attendance at church was a little disappointing on Sunday.
how i’m feeling about this week:
I am dreading it. I feel like a need a week of doing nothing, and I am probably not going to get a day off. Darn it. May is so crazy for me. I don't know why.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
THE DEVOTIONS OF JESUS
1 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.[b]
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.[c]
14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
I learned a quick lesson when I started my freshman year in college. I had taken a trip from a town in Alaska to a suburban Chicago college campus to play football. I had gotten there about a day early. Packed my stuff into my room after flying all night. Slept briefly. And then tried to spend some time trying to get to know some of my teammates.
It was an intimidating couple of days. First, I had come from a town less diverse than Fowler, into a team that was approximately 50 percent black and 50 percent white. I was baby-faced and had just turned 18 while on my flight, and I was obviously out of my element. I did not know what to expect, except for I was getting to play on a defense coached by a member of the Chicago Bears championship team. I saw this as a great opportunity.
It took a couple of days to figure out that every freshman coming in had these stories to tell. These stories about how they were all-conference this and all-state that. Until we got on the field I was pretty intimidated. Once I got on the field I learned a different lesson.
The lesson I learned was those that had the skill and talent to play tended to keep their mouths shut and let their ability speak for them, and those that did not have the skill tended to tout their athletic pedigree to compensate. As I became an upper-classmen in college we would have these freshman strutting onto campus acting like we should all be honored to just know them. We veterans would just shake our heads and say, "Looks like another one of those high-school all-stars" and roll our eyes. We knew the type. All talk—no action.
You know the type from the many life experiences you have had. The guy in sales that talks about how much he has sold until he complains to you that his salary is being reduced because he is not meeting his benchmarks. The guy who talks about how many women want to spend the night with him, and you know there is not a woman in town that would be seen on at dinner in the local restaurant with him, much less parked in front of his house all night. The mother that talks about how smart and well-behaved her child is, but for some reason he can't pass a class and he keeps getting suspended for disrespecting the teachers. Or the soldier that brags about how tough he is and how many fights he has been in, until he gets in a really stressful situation in a conflict and he is the first to cower, or cry or freak out.
Suprisingly, the act of talking big and delivering less is not limited to sports and our social lives. It also creeps on into our church lives. At least it does in the circles pastors run in. While athletes exaggerate about how fast or how strong they are, pastors tend to exaggerate attendance records to impress others.
Every time a new youth pastor would come into town when I was in Montana, they would tout their attendance numbers. You see we would gather for prayer, and in a litany of thankfulness they would give us all the raw statistics of their seemingly successful ministries. They would talk about the dozens of decisions for Christ that were made under their ministry. They would talk about how they had over 100 kids at their youth group for both high school and middle school. The rest of us, humbled by our new friends' expertise, would pray for blessings for our youth group. We would soon hear that our friend that liked to tell about how good a youth pastor he was had lost his job or quit a little over a year in his ministry.
Whether we are athletes or playboys, salesmen or soldiers, pastors or men and women that attend church every Sunday and have "good Christian friends", we tend at one time or another to either encounter people who play for the crowd, or we even play for the crowd ourselves. In the passage we just read, Jesus tells us to live our lives for an audience of one. As followers of Jesus, Jesus commands us to live our lives for the glory of the Father. To strive to please Him, and to not live to please the crowd that may or may not gather around us.
For about half of the sixth chapter of Matthew Jesus makes this point, this importance of living our lives for an audience of one. Jesus does this by saying the same phrase over and over again. He says, "Do not be like the hypocrites" when you do certain things like pray, or give, or fast. The hypocrites he says do things to be noticed by men. Instead, Jesus tells us "go to a secret place" or something similar, so that our acts will not be noticed by others. He says that those that choose to make their spiritual lives a spectacle for the whole world are getting their reward through the attention they get from people. Holy people, Jesus says, do things quietly, and what they have done in secret, God rewards in front of all.
I have told you this before, but I think it important to remind you what a hypocrite is—literally. A hypocrite was an actor. It was specifically an actor that played a number of different parts in a play for a crowd. Many of the dramas of that time had actors wearing different masks in front of their face for their performance. When they had one mask on, they were one character. When they had another mask on they were another character.
When we talk about a hypocrite today, we talk about this malicious person who is deliberately duplicitous. Not so in the time of Jesus. A hypocrite is simply someone who plays a role for people, or for a number of people. They play the roles people want them to play.
Neverthless, Jesus tells us not to be like the hypocrites. Do not play a role. Do not make your spiritual life something that is to be evaluated by others. Do not make your prayers good theatre. Do not live your life like you are on a stage for the crowd to boo or to applaud. God doesn't want our spiritual lives to be like the theater. He wants us to live for an audience of one What I would like to do, then, briefly, is to take the rest of the sermon to discuss why it is important that we live our life for an audience of one.
- Doing things to be seen and honored by others is destructive to community
The minute that we live our lives to impress those around us, we begin to destroy the church community that God gave us. Why is this? It is because as soon as we make the spiritual life something for public consumption, we make our spiritual lives something we measure against everyone else. We compare ourselves against everyone else. And once we start comparing ourselves to everyone else and what they do in church, it is almost guaranteed that we will have things like jealousy, malice, self-centeredness, arguments, and divisions enter our congregations.
Perhaps to get the picture of this we have to return to the word-picture the Bible passage gives us. The theater. Now I suspect Tim runs a pretty tight ship with the students in the theatre department. So this kind of thing does not happen there. But the theatre crowds I have often been around when I was younger were full of competition. There were always one or two parts in any one production that everyone wanted. And certain people would get those parts, often over and over again. And everyone else would be angry and jealous. Pretty soon everyone would talk about how they deserved the role that this other person got, that this other person did not really deserve the attention and appreciation they received from others. Then gossip about the people in the lead roles would start up. Pretty soon, everyone would be comparing their abilities to the star of the show. And they would either feel woefully inadequate, or they would be like the "high school all star" athletes we talked about earlier and overestimate their abilities.
Our relationship with God is a relationship. It is not something that where we try and be as good a prayer as someone else, or as good a giver as another person. We each have our own spiritual journey that is something that is unique to us. And that is part of a personal relationship between us and Jesus. As soon as we start making it a show for everyone to evaluate and compare themselves to, we start grading ourselves and everyone else on a curve. And those that rate better than us, we either put on a pedestal or we look to criticize. And those we rate as less than we either make into a project or we undervalue or underestimate what God can do through them. And we find that instead of being in a community we are in a spiritual beauty contest. God forbid.
- When our spiritual life isn't a show, we can come to God just as we are.
Perhaps there is no bigger damper on people's prayer life and more dangerous temptation in our spiritual lives than the temptation to be less than honest with God.
When we pray for the crowd, we pray for what we think other people would like us to pray for. We try and look and sound like we know what we are doing. We try and have the right words at the right time. Like the person fasting, we try to have the right look on our face so we look spiritual. Sometimes we can make our playing for the crowd sound more spiritual by playing a role as we put what give in the offering plate so everyone can see what we are giving—and we say that we need to be a "role model".
When it comes to prayer God does not want us to be a role model for others. He instead wants us to come to him just as we are, and let him deal with us for just who we are. God does not want you to have the right words when you pray. God instead wants you to come before him and be just who you are. Maybe you feel like you should pray, but you don't have the words. Say, "God I know I should pray, but I don't have the words. I don't know what to pray about." It won't be long before you will just start talking to God the way you would with a friend, or you will be blessed just sitting in the silence with God. You don't have to come to God with a resume. You do not have to impress God with how much or how little you give, or how much you endure when you give up something for him. Just come before God just as you are, and let him grow you into who he wants you to be.
Pray about how much to give to Him. Then give it. You don't have to say So and So gives this much, and I only give half. You do what God wants you to do, and you trust Him with the gifts you give. Then you seek how you might be able to give again. But if you compare yourselves to others, you will either be underwhelmed or overimpressed by what you give. No, instead, give as an act of love to God. Give as an act of faith. And see how God blesses. And be encouraged to give more, because you see God at work through you instead of being impressed with yourself and what you have done.
This is good news! God does want perfect people. Our spiritual lives are not like an amway plan, climbing the ladder to success. No. God simply wants us to spend time with him. He wants us to know that he accepts us for just who we are, in spite of what we have done, or how we have failed, or how we can't figure out what words to say. He wants us to know that we are his treasured child. And that he doesn't look at us when we pray and compare us to others. He is just overjoyed to be with us, to help us, to hear us. So just come to him and pray. He wants us to be our authentic selves. He wants to show us he can love us completely even when it feels like we are completely unlovely.
- A loving relationship is a personal relationship, not just a public relationship. This is true with both people and with God.
I want you to imagine with me for a moment. I want you to imagine that you were either married to someone or dating someone. And you had this relationship with them. And when you were in public, and when you were within earshot of others, your spouse said all sorts of nice things about you. They told you how much they appreciated your work around the house. They talked about how beautiful you were. They talked about how smart you were. They shared their dreams and aspirations with you in front of others. Always when you were out at dinner, at church, in a crowd, your spouse was like this.
But when you got home, everything started to change. Your spouse never talked to you or acknowleged you. None of those sweet moments between you and the one you love. None of the talking about the most basic things. No talking about the kids, or how the day at work went, or what you thought about what was on TV, or how you felt about something that happened the day before. None of those whispers in your ear. They only touched you in public. They only kissed you in public. When they got home, they refused to look at you, acknowledge you, communicate with you. And this is how your whole marriage went. This is how your whole relationship was.
My guess is that you would be unhappy with a marriage like this. You would even feel uncomfortable dating a person like this if you are not married yet. Nobody wants a relationship where everything is a show and nothing is personal, honest, or authentic.
Yet, I would imagine that there are a few of you that are in danger of living your spiritual lives like this. You show up to church. You may even be involved a little bit in some other way with church activities. But you struggle to have a personal relationship with Jesus, where you can have the day to day honest, authentic living with your Lord day to day.Jesus does not want us to be religious. He wants a personal relationship with us. He wants to know us and he wants us to know him. He wants us to come to Him just as we are, and accept Him as our Lord and savior. And then he wants to walk with us, and help us to grow and to learn how to truly live. To live with Him. To share our life with Him for eternity.
So won't you today, just let go, and let God love you and accept you just as you are, so he can help you grow into the friend, and man or woman he created you to be. I hope so.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Monday, May 04, 2009
The Commands of Jesus
Last week we looked at the Blessings of Jesus, commonly known as the Beatitudes. We saw how the first thing God asks of us after he calls us into receive his blessing. And we saw how his blessing provides the strength and the courage to follow God as we go forward and serve him.
Now Jesus comes to the second part of his sermon. And, if you are like me, it can be challenging as well.
I have thought long and hard about how we should discuss what Jesus is saying here. I think what I want to do is to give you a little background and point out a few important things about reading this in context. Then I want to talk through a number of ways of looking at this passage, concluding with the way that I think makes the most sense.
This passage is about how the Old Testament Law relates to New Testament living. In case you have not noticed, in these passages Jesus is retelling the Ten Commandments, and expanding on them and what it means to follow them. He begins by saying he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He ends by saying be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. He says that people's morals need to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes, who were the morality police for their entire nation. Jesus covers adultery, murder, and bearing false witness right off the bat. Then he talks about a couple of other quotes that were popular from the Old Testament law as well.
With each of these commands Jesus does something that our popular culture does not expect Him to do. The world around us would say that the Jesus came and the bar was lowered a little bit on what is asked of us. But if you listen to this passage, it appears that Jesus is raising the bar a little bit. Instead of asking less from us than the Law asks of us, he seems to ask more.
Jesus starts each section in his teaching with "You have heard it said" and then follows that up with "But I tell you". And through the "I tell you" he turns the whole world on its head.
The first thing that I notice is that it seems that Jesus took all the old rules, and just added more rules on top of them. And this really frustrated me when I first read this passage, and for many years afterward. You see for me following the Ten Commandments is something that does not always seem easy. For me, it takes real effort to not lie, especially when I know that my life would be a little easier if I was a lot less honest. For a while I thought the "thou shalt not commit adultery" was easy. Then I started this new job just out of school as a single guy with this new office administrator who I was very attracted to and who was very unhappy in her marriage. Suddenly, as her behavior and words seemed to be more and more flirtacious the "thou shalt not covet your neighbors wife" seemed like more of a challenge. And I remember this time in high school when I was wrestling and I had this guy in a headlock and I put his arm over his mouth so he could not breathe. And I could feel him his body heaving from the inability to breathe underneath me. I squeezed tighter. It scared me how much I liked to hurt someone like that. If not for the grace of God, there are points in my life where I could have been capable of murdering someone is a fit of anger.
So the Ten Commandments seem challenging enough. Then Jesus says his "but I tell you" stuff, and it is easy to think that Jesus added even harder rules to follow. Let me take one example from this. I used to think I was doing well not to commit adultery, now he says don't even look at someone lustfully. Its seems at first glance that Jesus has a nearly impossible rule to an already challenging but manageable one.
I thought an eye for an eye was fair. Now it seems Jesus is asking us to be nice to those who are not so nice to us. How does that work? I was raised never to start a fist fight, but if someone started something I was supposed to finish it. Now Jesus wants me to turn the other cheek? I still wonder if I am capable of that. Now I have another rule to follow. Great. I have a hard enough time with the old rules.
I could be wrong, but I think this is the sentiment we have deep down when we honestly read this. Or we try to find ways to work around the standard that Jesus says.
In the times of Jesus and before, the rabbis devised this way to make sure that people didn't break the commandments. What they did was make rules about the rules to make sure that people did not ever break the commandments. They called it building a fence around the Torah. They were supposed to keep the Sabbath by not working on the Sabbath day. The rabbis did not want their people to break this rule, so then they started to develop other rules about the Sabbath. You couldn't lift something over so many pounds, because that might be work. You could not walk too far, or you would be working by walking. Certain kinds of food prep was legal on the Sabbath, other kinds were not. Pretty soon you had rules about rules about rules about the Sabbath given by the rabbis, when what God said was "don't work on the Sabbath".
You do the same things with your children. Your goal is that you children don't end up parents before they graduate from high school. So you set up rules around your house. No dating until you are sixteen. No kids of the opposite sex at the house when you are not there. No boyfriends coming over to the house and going in your daughter's room and shutting the door so they can have more "privacy". You better drive your date home and be back at the house by a certain time or you are grounded. If you have parented teenagers, you may have all sorts of rules like this, and more. Why? Because you don't want to end up a grandparent before your child is raised, or because you want your kids to wait until they are married to have sex. This is what the rabbis did with all the Old Testament. Make up more rules so they won't break the big rules.
And it is easy to think that Jesus is doing this. Making more rules to make sure we don't break the big rules. In fact, Jesus is doing the opposite. He is trying to tell that by making everything about following the rules, we miss the purpose behind the rules. We follow the letter of the law, but miss its Spirit when we get legalistic. Jesus wants changed hearts, not newer and better rules.
You see, whenever we get legalistic, what we tend to do is find a way around the rules. For instance, there have been times when I tried to fast from food, but not from liquid. About twelve hours into the fast, I try to figure out what I can put in my mouth that is not food, but will still be filling. So I start wondering, Is ice cream food? I decide it is. But then I ask myself, isn't a milkshake a liquid and not a food. Ok. So I will fast but that means I can have a few yummy peanut butter and chocolate milkshakes instead of eating. Its ok because it is a liquid. Or I decide to give up fast food for Lent, but then I wonder—does Subway count as fast food? What about take-out Chinese? Surely those are not fast foods. See how it works. Pretty soon I start living by rules. My focus gets on the rules. My focus is not on filling my life with a renewed focus on prayer. It is not about building my relationship with God, even though that was the whole point of the fast. The focus becomes the rules and regulations, and not the relationship that the Law was supposed to lead me to.
The people at Jesus' time were focusing on the rules instead of the relationships with God and one another. And by doing so they were missing the whole point of the Law in the first place. So Jesus tries to get us back to the heart of what the Law and Prophets were teaching us.
So, this is not about adding another rule on top of the rules God has already given us. Most of us eventually come to the point where we recognize this.
Some other people take this knowledge and say that what this is really saying is that Jesus is trying to prove that the Law, at its heart is really impossible to follow. Thus, the whole point of the "I tell yous" is to show us we are all lawbreakers and completely unable to do what is right. Because even when we can follow the commandments, our hearts continue to be evil.
After all, who has never said a hurtful word in anger? Who has never lusted after someone else? Who is able to keep all their promises? Who is able to never seek revenge against someone who has hurt you? Who of us eagerly runs out to be even more vulnerable to an enemy and has betrayed our trust? Maybe this is all about us realizing that we cannot keep the law. That we cannot be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
I believe that this is also a misinterpretation of this passage. It is a concept that is clearly stated in other parts of the Scripture, so it is good Christian theology. This, however, is not the truth that Jesus is trying to communicate to us on the Sermon on the Mount.
The truth is that Jesus does ask us to go further than the Law, but not in the ways we would expect. God want us to love him, he does not want to just be an obligation.
As I hinted about earlier, Jesus wants us to move from rules to relationship.
He wants us to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls with all our strength, and with all our might. Our temptation is to treat Him as an obligation.Think about this the way you would other relationships. You don't want people to love you out of obligation, and just attempt to meet their obligations in relationship with you. You want those you love and who say they love you to love you in a way that goes beyond some legalistic obligation.
Suppose at some point you go to that parent that raised you. And you had a conflicted relationship with them for a lot of your life. And you felt you need to have a conversation with them about how they feel about you. And their answer was, I did everything I was obligated to do for you as a parent. I fed you. I clothed you. I kept you safe. You ask your parent if they loved you. And their answer was—I guess so, as much as I am supposed to. I would guess you would not like that answer that much. Nobody wants the kind of love that only cares for you out of obligation or because they are supposed to.
I love my wife. I want to grow old with her. I want to be one of those retired couple's that are still holding hands in church when I am 70 years old. But what I don't want is to be her obligation. There would be no worse marriage in my mind that a marriage where Jenny said we were staying married because she wanted to do the right thing, and she was obligated to stay married to me.
Do you like being a obligation of someone? Or do you like to be treasured for who you are and what you have done with or for someone? I suspect you want to be treasured. So does God. God doesn't want to be our obligation. He wants us to be passionate about his call on our lives. He wants us to have this commitment of love and honor that we chose, not endure.
Also, God wants us to be completely committed, not just doing the minimum to get by. When we live with an obligation to follow the rules, we usually try to do the minimum that the rules require. God doesn't want our minimum. He wants all of us. Our temptation when we live by the rules is to do just enough to get by, instead of seeing how radical and whole hearted commitment to faith we can make. When I was a youth pastor we would often have these abstinence talks with them about waiting until marriage to have sex. And these were frank and open discussions. One question that kids would always quickly bring up is the "how far is too far?" question. They would ask how physically intimate they could be without sinning. When I was single, I often struggled with the same question myself. Then I had a preacher tell me that was the wrong question. A better question would be, "How pure can I be before I am married, not how self-indulgent can I be before I cross the line and sin?" The same is true with giving. What if instead of asking, what is the minimum I can give to God, we asked how can I find I way to give more to God and his work? Or what if instead of looking at church service as obligation you tried to find ways to give as much of your time and skills to the church as you possibly can? What if you approached your faith as a "get-to" and a "want to" instead of a "have to"? That is the kind of thinking Jesus is aiming you toward.
I tend to be person that thinks a lot in terms of obligation and duty. Since I have been young, I have believed that I need to be as self-sufficient as possible. There were a few times in my early 20s where I needed financial help from my mother. And then I wanted to pay her back. She didn't like that. Well, there came this point where we heard this Tanya Tucker on the radio called "I Won't Take Less Than Your Love". And she told me I needed to listen to it and stop feeling obligated to pay her back whatever I owed, and just do what the song says. On my wedding day, it is the song I danced with her to. The song expresses the point of what Jesus is getting at with this passage.
I will read these lyrics as I close, and I want you to ponder them in silence as the deacons and I gather at the Lord's table. The song goes like this.
"How much do I owe you?" said the husband to his wife,
"For standing beside me through the hard years of my life.
"Shall I bring you diamonds, shall I buy you furs?
"Say the word and it's yours.
And his wife said: "I won't take less than your love, sweet love.
"No, I won't take less than your love.
"All the riches of the world could never be enough,
"And I won't take less than your love."
"How much do I owe you?" to the mother said the son.
"For all that you have taught me in the days that I was young.
"Shall I bring expensive blankets to cast upon your bed?
"And a pillow for to rest your weary head."
And the mother said: "I won't take less than your love, sweet love.
"No, I won't take less than your love.
"All the comforts of the world could never be enough,
"And I won't take less than your love."
"How much do I owe you?" said the man to his Lord.
"For giving me this day and every day that's gone before.
"Shall I build a temple, shall I make a sacrifice?
"Tell me Lord and I will pay the price."
And the Lord said: "I won't take less than your love, sweet love.
"No, I won't take less than your love.
"All the treasures of the world could never be enough,
"And I won't take less than your love."
"I won't take less than your love, sweet love.
"No, I won't take less than your love.
"All the treasures of the world could never be enough,
"And I won't take less than your love."
"No, I won't take less than your love."
Friday, May 01, 2009
*Swine Flu--This whole swine flu epidemic is so overrated. Last Wednesday and Sunday I have had to look at frightened senior citizens stirred up by the news about swine flu that I think they might even cry. So far in America there has been one death because of the swine flu. There are about 20 people each day that die from the regular flu. We don't need to shut down and disinfect schools. We don't need to avoid travel. We have become so uncourageous as a nation, even in the face of a new strain of the flu, that it sickens me.
*Joe Biden--Really should focus on advising the President instead of trying to do PR work for him. Avoid all subways, planes, and any other places. What the heck? Does Vice President Biden need a day off already.
*Obama's First 100 Day--How many prime-time news conferences is President Obama going to have? Thank goodness this one was on Wednesday, and I was at church.
*Torture Debate--I think the President has handled the issue very well. He has at one point correctly challenged the Bush approach to torture and imprisonment. Yet, he is not planning on calling the former administration criminal, or prosecuting them for their actions. He has correctly condemned inproper behavior, while not letting the loony left destroy the executive branch of government.
*Republican Leadership--The current conservative leadership is awful. Michael Steele has been a humiliating figure for the Republican party. Congressional leadership of conservatives has been irrational and angry. Democrats have lost a lot of elections in the last 30 years by being whiney and contrarians without a message. Now the Republicans are in danger of doing the same.
Sen. Arlen Specter--I think this is very interesting. Because it proves what I felt as a Republican in the last several years. More and more, the Republican party is becoming anti-intellectual. It is also making people be very conservative in order to lead the rest of the party, or encouraging them to leave. A sure recipe for a bigger defeat if they don't get their act together.
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