Archive for December, 2010

Confronting Sin

December 30, 2010

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  Matthew 18:15-17.

This is a tough subject to talk about, partly because so many think that the authority given to us as believers gives us the right to beat the sin out of everyone.  There are those who believe it’s their responsibility to confront sin, which means they go on a crusade to cleanse the world of it by any means possible.  Jesus’ method above, however, tells us we are to only confront the family of God when they’ve done wrong.  Private sins are privately confronted, unless the wrong doer remains unrepentant.  The importance of this method cannot be overstated in my opinion.  Without following this guideline we tend to give people ammunition for misunderstanding the gospel and/or claiming they were never informed.

The first step seems almost too elementary, since it focuses on a one-on-one private conversation.  Yet all of us have experienced a time or two when someone spread the news around our community of friends and acquaintances about the wrong we’d done them without ever talking to us about it first.  Jesus discouraged gossip or slander by making it a mandate of godliness to confront the problems between believers head on.  Just the two people involved need know, and no one else is privy to the issue.  Using a non-confrontational method might sound better but it is really a passive-aggressive way to deal with the issue rather than a means of solving it.  Or, it acts as a way to put the wrong doer in their place without having to go through the pain of confrontation (a form of vengeance).

Let’s stop here and reflect for a few sentences on what this means about forgiveness.  Many in the church teach—or at least practice—non-confrontational forgiveness in order to show grace and mercy.  Jesus, on the other hand, taught we shouldn’t let a sin against us fester or be ignored.  Psychologically we know unresolved problems tend to either make a wimps out us or plant bitterness in our souls.  Sin is real, it’s harmful if swallowed and not very good for relationships.  Unfortunately, many of us have a poor view of God in this matter and show our lack of understanding as to the nature of God’s view of sin by doing nothing.

Notice Jesus didn’t tell us to sue, ostracize or defame the other person involved.  Instead we are to go talk to them about the situation and do our best to resolve it between just those whom it affects.  No one is asked to punish the wrong doer, give them hell or pay them tit for tat.  Neither does He recommend we break the door down with both gospel guns blazing away.  The method of confrontation here is about love, community and keeping a relationship whole, not peace at any cost.  I have used the other method in the past, talking to other people instead of the one I’m upset with directly, and the misunderstandings grew many times larger than the issue itself quite often.

Have you ever played the telephone game where one person whispers some sentence into the ear of the person next to them and it goes around the circle until it reaches the original source?  I’ve laughed over the end result so many times, but it also shows me how easily communication can be twisted into something entirely different by a simple misread truth.  I tell someone who’s already in a bad mood about my frustration with that other person over there, they take my frustration and add to it their dark slant, then it grows a little.  When that next person retells it to someone else, the situation sounds more serious than it really is, and that person dramatizes it to someone else.  At the end of the conversation, what the original truth looked like won’t resemble what the modified version has come to be.

The reason for such careful confrontation seems to be the need for reminding everyone, first, that sin is not to be excused.  Second, all sin and fall short of the glory of God, therefore no one has moral superiority over anyone else.  If a man has ever sinned in his life, he’s a sinner saved and restored to holiness by grace.  In other words, our past continues to be a part of our history no matter what we become in Christ, and that means none of us can boast of righteousness before God or man.  Yes the sin is cast into the depths of the sea, and God removes the sins from us as far as the east from the west (infinitely), but the historical fact of the condition which required such a rescue never changes.  What does change is our future.

Third, Jesus declared the following not only as a point of bestowed authority but, I believe, as a warning:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two ro three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew includes a seemingly random teaching hard on the heels of confronting sin and immediately before the parable on forgiveness.  Considering the context these two verses say something vital to us about our attitude while confronting sin.  The parable right before our key passage is about God’s heart when one of His sheep are lost.  If God’s heart is longing toward reconciliation, what should we do?  The answer seems obvious to me.  So, then, what is our attitude supposed to be towards the pagan and the tax collector?

Well, to answer that, we need to know what Jesus’ attitude towards them was…and that is?

The Pharisees and rulers of the synagogue accused Him of being “a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’.” The Pharisees and those who get excited about the look of religion will never be satisfied with those who make friends with sinners because the world’s view is “guilty by association.”  However, if our light is shining at all brightly, it can only shine by the power of the Light of Men (Jesus), otherwise there would be no light.  In other words, while we might befriend “tax collectors and ‘sinners'” we don’t conform to them or become bound by the futility of their thinking, which by Jesus’ definition is darkness.

The world writes off those who don’t conform to them—or kills them.  God, on the other hand, is eager, longing for us like a Father waiting on a wayward child, and not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9.  If this is the Father’s heart for all of humanity, what should ours be?  Again, the answer is obvious.

“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Hmmm…Jesus follows this statement with a teaching on confronting sin.  He tells a parable about lost sheep and the shepherd’s anxious search for it, then teaches about confronting sin between brothers.  The two ideas are tied together, for sin is in its essence denial of God as our Sovereign and confronting it is a means of healing the rift developed by it.  On the other hand, we cannot extend forgiveness to one who refuses to even acknowledge they’ve sinned.  At this point, however, Jesus instructs us to “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” which means we can associate with them in a limited way but our viewpoint changes about who they are—unrepentant sinners.

Do you see the contrast?

An unrepentant sinner is one who is outside of wholeness, who has broken relationship with the person he or she sinned against and the body of Christ.  If we are all a part of His body, to cut one part is to wound the whole.  I once smashed my finger with a hammer tacker (a roofing stapler that acts like a hammer), believe me, my whole body ached for that finger, it was so painful I couldn’t do anything but try to breathe.  I think this is what Jesus wants us to know about sin in the church.  Even private sins affect the body of Christ in the spirit realm.  It affects the effectiveness of the body as a whole if one person cannot deal openly with their struggles, which is one of the many reasons Jesus told us to bring it into the light.  An unrepentant sinner denies Christ as the definer of what is good or evil, right or wrong, righteousness or sin.

A repentant sinner has restored the relationship with God and man, or restated another way, become reconciled to them.  It doesn’t mean the person is any less guilty of the sin, rather it points to a willingness on their part to give God the final authority over their lives.  When we admit an action or attitude is “sin” from a Judeo/Christian POV, we acknowledge that our God is right.  In other words, He is the one who defines what is right or wrong, righteous or sin; all other definitions are thrown out to be submitted to this one ideal.  A repentant sinner has confessed that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.  This attitude of humble admission works as a catalyst for healing whatever wounds sin caused between members of the body.

The point Matthew is trying to bring out then must be to adjust our motivation for confronting sin in the church.  God wants us to love the person so much that we will do the dirty work of lancing the boil of sin with one another.  It’s for the purpose of wholeness not image; the attitude of reconciliation not religious piety; the restoration of joy in the family of God not a sense of social standing.  The motivation is love, the purpose is love, the end result is love.

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Verse of the Day

December 29, 2010

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9

Crudish, Rudish, Prudish, Or…Part 2

December 22, 2010

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you an be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you by empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be partners with them.  Ephesians 5:3-7.

So what does it mean, then, to be crude or rude in God’s eyes?  Have you ever wondered why God and His servants condemn harsh language, coarse joking, sexual immorality, etc?  What is sexual immorality all about?  Why are certain words out of line with the character of Christ?

I have a picture in my mind of people who use one another without considering the consequences.  For instance, course joking can point to how men speak of a woman’s body, or simply the attitude with which we approach the subject of other people in general.  Women joke about men being controlled by sex or only being there for the money.  This kind of joking is out of character for God’s people not because it isn’t sarcasm in many instances (and I dare say I see nothing wrong with it at times) but for the simple reason it’s careless of another person’s life, love, gifts, possessions or beauty.  Yet if a couple jokingly say these things to one another knowing they mean the opposite, I can’t see how God would consider that coarse or out of place—merely a coping mechanism for the age of sin.

I have a good friend who constantly teases her husband, whom she simply adores, that if he ever stops supplying her with shoe money, she’s outta’ there.  That’s a joke she can get away with since the rest of her life has pointed to nothing but faithfulness to her husband and commitment to their marriage.

In Ephesians 4 Paul tackles this problem in more detail.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because  of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  17-19.

Paul warns us against that lifestyle which steps out of a godly community where we care about each other, meet each other’s needs and generally do our best to build one another up.  In other words, if our jokes about someone’s life, body or possessions are not destructive, they can’t be taken as obscene or coarse.  If they point to an attitude of carelessness or heartless use, then it is.  At the same time, we cannot live our lives comparing what we don’t do by what the world does.  That’s a recipe for legalism and human solutions over God’s instructions.  The truth of God’s word should be our only guide as to what is holiness and what isn’t.  The Gentiles (nations other than those who belong to God) live a futile lifestyle because they have no hope for eternity.  They get their pleasure and happiness now since they don’t know or may not even believe there’s anything more.

Now we’ve hit on one of my all time biggest struggles.  Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I don’t have some form of Asperger’s syndrome or not, since I don’t always know what is appropriate to say or not say in public.  Sometimes my gut warns me to be cautious and I take the hint, but many times I just don’t know where the line is drawn.  Navigating the tricky waters of propriety in both the culture and subcultures we live in is hard enough, but then we also have to figure out what God means by propriety too, and that, my friends, is a lot harder than any of the others.

In South Africa I spoke in churches for a time.  During that sojourn I learned cultural practices have as much to do with “right and wrong” as do Scriptural mandates.  I was always taught that if you don’t know what to do with your hands, you put them in your pocket.  In fact, the rule was so strict when I was a youngster, my dad would flip me with a big meaty finger on the back of the head if he saw my hands out of their pockets while we were in a public place.  Fast forward to South Africa and the opposite was true.  My bud, Andre’ experienced the other spectrum where his mom sewed his pockets shut so she could see what his hands were doing.

In another instance, I preached a sermon where I called Satan a booger.  I had no idea that the alternative *bugger* (sorry to those who come from European backgrounds) was a cuss word—a pretty harsh one at that.  The church I said that in wouldn’t let me preach for six months and I couldn’t figure out why.  One day I asked the pastor and he told me of my faux pax.  Puzzled, I asked him what swear word I had used.  When he said “bugger” I laughed and asked,  “You mean booger?”  He looked at me as if I were nuts, then sheepishly asked,  “Does that mean something different in America?”  I told him it was a thing from your nose and he began to laugh too.  He explained the whole situation to the elders and they invited me to preach again within the next few weeks.  Needless to say, I watched my language more carefully, I still messed up due to the difference in culture though.

The same could be said for language, cultural habits and a host of other issues world over.  In certain countries, only prostitutes wear blouses or shirts because a moral woman leaves her breasts exposed.  In other countries, women aren’t allowed to show any part of themselves.

What gives?

In a sinful world where lust, covetousness, theft, adultery, insensitivity, sensual indulgence and impurity reign, mankind is searching for a way to limit the excesses of sin without eliminating it altogether.  In other words, we want sin (either in total or a selective amount of autonomy from God) without the consequences (disasters or death) it brings about.  The famed quest for the fountain of youth could have been so-o-o-o-o-o much easier had  Ponce de Leon just realized the blood of Jesus is the only fountain by which eternal life can be had.  Humanity is in search of a way to have their cake and eat it too.  They ache for God to answer their prayers according to their own desires for their lives—wait a minute!  That’s the definition of lust!  Lust is an overwhelming desire for something we want, which means we probably don’t have it, or do and crave more of it, and will do anything to get it, even if we can only get it in our imagination.  Lust is the sister to covetousness, for it is a desire either misdirected or out of hand.

God set the boundaries of the earth, which are gravity, atmosphere, land, sea and mountains.  Now take that concept of setting the boundaries of what makes this planet and our universe extraordinarily beautiful to us and apply it to our lives.  He created pleasure within certain contexts.  The world’s pursuit of happiness, pleasure and whatever other rewards there on this planet get out of hand because humans are self-centered in their quests for such things.  Pleasure is not wrong nor is happiness, but how we go about getting there is.

For long while now I’ve wondered whether or not we should ever even joke about some of the stuff that goes against godliness. We need to be careful, however, how far we go with our strictness.  For instance, a doctor might operate on a uterus and chuckle during the procedure about a mechanical detail, such as,  “Well, at least her tummy will be flatter.”  That might sound insensitive to someone outside the medical field but I’ve been around this stuff enough to know that you either find ways to laugh or you lose it in some negative way.  Odd as it might sound, the doctor is using the absurd to deal with his discomfort or sadness over the woman losing her uterus.  I doubt in his heart he’s happy she’s losing it—especially if he’s spent a long time trying to solve the situation without surgery.

We need to understand context, folks.  We need sometimes let certain things be just what they are.

In Genesis we know that Adam and Eve were naked, and they felt no shame.  Why?  Shame has to do with sin; where there is no sin, there can be no shame.

A man recently told me he felt it was improper for a woman to touch him while she prayed for him.  His reasoning focused on the sexual nature of the relationship between men and women completely, as if her very touch was sexual rather than just an innocent desire to help someone in prayer.  In his view she should have known better since she’s such a sexy woman, but this is the very problem we’re trying to eradicate from the church.  The view of women and men as sexual beings is not misplaced nor is being cautious with our interactions, but viewing affectionate contact between us as only sexual is wrong.

My thought processes, being what they are, went like this in a mind-only reply to this assertion,  “So the only reason a woman can show affection to a man is for sex?  The only interpretation a man can have of a woman’s touch is sex?  What about a mother and son, then?  Doesn’t that put a strain on their relationship once the boy becomes a man?”

The godly logic is missing here because the man who made the objection has objectified women in his own mind for the purpose of sex.  The problem is his not the woman’s.  However, if he confesses the problem to God as being in himself, he has an obligation to the woman to tell her that he has a sin problem.  In other words, the problem is his not hers to deal with and he’s the one sinning not her.  Yet, if once she knows about his struggle with lust she continues to take every opportunity to touch him, she becomes party to his weakness and sin.  Just because a woman is good looking doesn’t make her a temptress, right?  I mean, come on!  That’s just ludicrous!  God made her as she is and our perception of her sets us up for appreciation or objectification.  The man in question might need some heavy counseling, true, but he’s under an obligation to make sure people know he struggles with this so he can maintain godly boundaries.

On the other hand, a man who doesn’t see sex in every woman’s touch, conversation or contact may receive their blessing, affection, laying on of hands in public places and be innocent of sin.  The man who can’t do this because of his lust issues has no foundation to stand on if he objects to this public display just because he has a problem with it.  Yet the women and men in his church must respect and honor him in a way which allows him a place of safety until he grows out of his inclination.  For make no mistake, God wants him to be innocent of evil and filled with the good, which means all his affections are godly.

God’s goal for us is to be naked with one another and feel no shame.  How can this be possible?  It probably won’t happen this side of glorification, but we can see it at times as we grow from glory to glory in our communities of faith.  Instead of preaching abstinence we must preach self-control; instead of preaching monastic values, we must preach godly ones.  This is a preference, not a reality, unfortunately.  In some cases, we must cut off the offending arm or leg to keep from being destroyed by sin’s disease.  Our goal is to be set apart for God’s use.  This means whatever God has created is holy, right and good.  God created sex, therefore it is holy, right and good within the context for which He made it.  Anyone who steps outside this context in word, thought or action dishonors God’s creation, which means we might have to teach complete abstinence in order for them to remain godly.  Yet, to require everyone to be bound by one person’s limitations is legalism, folks.

Again, just because an alcoholic cannot drink wine or beer, doesn’t mean others can’t indulge in this freedom as well.  Especially if they don’t have the addiction or lack of self-control with such things.  At the same time, it would be inconsiderate, and I think a sin against the body of Christ, if we indulged in a freedom where a weaker brother or sister might be tempted to fall.  Love does no harm to its neighbor.

Whew!  I think we all have a long way to go.

The Crudish, The Rudish, The Prudish or…?

December 15, 2010

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even the hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  Ephesians 5:1-4.

What does the Bible mean by sexual immorality?  What is the difference between greed and good money sense?  What does God mean (through Paul in this passage) by “impurity”?  Is it immoral to tease a married couple about their sex life (in a general way, of course) when the subject comes up?  And what is proper for the children to understand about sex?

What does God consider to be obscene versus just healthy humor about stuff?  I mean, think about it, is it obscene to joke about worshiping the porcelain-god when we’re sick with the flu?  What about joking about bathroom stuff with toddlers?  If we get real about it, poop is pretty obscene because it stinks pretty bad.  So is it obscene when your toddler son takes a bath and can’t get rid of his erection?  My boy began to cry when that happened and every parent  just about who has boys has had to deal with the issue at one time or another—and if they didn’t deal but ignored it, they lost a great opportunity to educate.

We city folk have some really bad hangups about sex in general because we’re so separated from nature.  A farm boy or girl knows about sex quite early on, since every animal their parents own will do the deed in front of God and everybody with about as much self-consciousness as a kid eating ice cream.  Victorian attitudes made the “talk” something of a trial for the parents in cities because they were so cut off from the natural order of things.  When we segregate our lives into artificial compartments in order to manage them better, we usually end up thinking this is the way of God.  Unfortunately, nature debunks that notion quite firmly.  Of course, there’s the argument that we are “higher on the evolutionary chain” so should not be driven by our animal lusts, but this just proves my point even more:  We have these strong urges and when they are seen as base or primitive, we tend to frown upon them

When I was  about 10, I lived in a logging camp approximately 90 miles from Ketchikan.  There was this big black lab who attacked my brother and I every time our dog came in heat.  Man!  Was that annoying, frightening and embarrassing.  I mean the dog would jump up, hit us on the back to knock us over then proceed to do his thing.  My dad saw it happen once and nearly laughed his guts out before he came out to drag the animal off, not because he wanted the dog to be so aggressive but for the simple fact he was a farm boy, quite used to these mishaps of nature.  Anyone who’s been around horses knows that it’s not wise to ride a stallion when it’s mating season—people have been seriously injured or killed (seriously killed) by these creatures’ sex drive.

I guess my point is that we city dwellers have a stilted view of sex in general, and, since the sexual revolution occurred (or is it still occurring?), the world view in the West has been even more confusing.  Just like the author of confusion planned it.

I’m not here to clear all this confusion up because I can’t.  Not that I don’t want to do so nor that I don’t have the desire to make loads of money from the books, seminars and TV appearances, but simply due to the fact I don’t know anyone who has developed a healthy enough perspective on sin in general to know what sex should be.  Oh, there are tons and tons of books out there with answers, methods and hints, but truthfully they don’t really add up to godliness as the Bible espouses it.

For one thing, look at the above verse and what’s the very first phrase?

Be imitators of God…

Why?

…therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

What does it mean to imitate God?  Okay, the answer to that question is pretty academic, huh.  So what does it mean to imitate God?

Be like Him.

Okay, what does that mean?

I can hear some of you getting flustered now…

What is God like in His relationship to humanity and sin?

Well, for one thing, He can’t sin, since He can’t deny Himself.  (See James 1:13-15)

What causes us to sin?  …But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Ouch!  So if God cannot sin or be tempted by evil because He cannot deny Himself (the essence of sin), then to imitate God would mean to be the same way.

I don’t know anyone like that on earth—at least, I’ve never had the privilege of meeting anyone like this.  Most (dare I say “all”?) of us are in the process of growing to be like Jesus.  Paul put it like this  …for all have sinned fall short of the glory of God… Good news or bad news?  Well, it puts everyone on common ground for one thing.  No one is superior to another in this issue of sin.  To fall short of the glory of God isn’t a small thing, since part of  it means He cannot even be tempted to sin, so to be like Him we shouldn’t either.

Yet if we stopped at the command to imitate God, we might miss the point, for Paul goes on to say we are to live a life of love.  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  In other words, a man doesn’t lust after a woman because it’s wrong according to the Law, but because it violates her being.  Even if she never knows about his thoughts, he violates her body in his mind for he takes without asking (no matter how willing she is in his fantasy), uses her for his pleasure and has no commitment to her as a godly relationship requires.

If we men, as followers of Christ and lovers of God, truly loved humans as Christ does, we would never even think to have sex with someone other than a woman who chose to be our other half.  The Law only deals with the action of adultery and the thoughts of covetousness (a thought sin) but it doesn’t command it from the higher standard of the cross.  Since Jesus died for the people we lust after, we should not have any overwhelming desires for anyone.  WE do not own them, they were bought with a price born of blood and should be treated like we would treat our neighbor’s lawn mower or kids—with respect and care.

I doubt this enters into anyone’s mind when they sin against their brother or sister, however.  I know it doesn’t mine very often.  Yet this is the goal for us if we are to be like Jesus.

What is obscenity, then?  Is it merely someone joking about sex or defecation?  I don’t think so.  For one thing, if joking about sex is wrong, then joking about everything is wrong and therefore obscene.  I have a hard time accepting that conclusion because humans have a sense of humor and it’s been pretty well documented that those who laugh the most are the healthiest among us.  To me this says, God created this attribute of man, therefore it is good.  It can be misused, however, and the way it is comes in the form of treating God’s creation like it doesn’t matter except for our pleasure.  In other words, that woman or man over there is only good if they can meet our needs.

If we honor God for what He has made, we don’t make fun of it we have fun with it.  In other words it isn’t about derogatory comments or demeaning attitudes, but the joy of what He created.  In context everything is wonderful and fulfilling; outside of God’s context everything has a tinge of dissatisfaction to it.

The same could be said of greed.  This is a tough subject because people tend to draw the line at different points.  Basically I think greed points to covetousness and hording.  Those who want more may not steal it but become obsessed by the the security or freedom of money to the point that all other goals pale by comparison.  This is why Paul called sexual immorality and greed idolatry.  Craving something that isn’t ours whether it is sex, money, stuff, people, power, or a host of other things is making a god out them since the desire for them dominates our attention.

We sin against God and our fellow human beings when we do not love them enough to want them to own themselves, their goods and their relationships.

The Nature of Heaven

December 11, 2010

Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said, to His mother,  “Dear woman, here is your son,”  and to the disciple,  “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27.

Do you want to know what the kingdom of heaven is like?  Do you want to see the nature of God in action?  Do you long to know where you stand as far as value in the eyes of God?  Do you crave to know what eternity will be like?  Would you like to know why Jesus is worth imitating and dedicating one’s life to His cause?

Here is the answer.

On the cross in agony from a lacerated back, a crown of thorns crammed on His head, a face swollen from beatings with both fists and sticks, and from nails tearing the tendons, bones and muscles from their places, Jesus has the presence of mind to care about someone other than Himself.  He has a heart so full of love and compassion that He took steps to care about His momma.

And we put Him there.

Yet He loves us despite the agony we caused Him.  He loves us and takes care of us despite the agony we cause His Spirit now.

Love will never bow to hate, resentment, scorn, bitterness, anger, rage or brutality.  It will always care, always protect, always heal, always build up, always…

The Clothes Off His Back

December 10, 2010

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes, dividing them among them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.  This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,”  they said to one another.  “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”  John 19:23, 24.

It’s an odd thing to see prophecy fulfilled in such a way.  I know David (who wrote it) spoke about himself and his own circumstances, but to see the soldiers actually take someone’s clothes as booty seems weird, and probably because we don’t have the same understanding of clothing as they did.  To have more than one set of clothes mean you had some wealth—even if it was just a little bit.  In a world where clothes are home made or tailored a seamless garment would be a prize.  Which begs the question:  Was Jesus as poor as everyone says He was?  May be not.  Just because His parent started out poor doesn’t mean they ended up so.

Still, a seamless garment speaks to me about quality.  My sense of humor (never far below the surface) nearly screams at me to mention that Jesus bought great underwear, which means we should too.  John does mention it for a reason, though not the cheap joke I had in mind, and it is this:  They took from Him everything of any value and left Him naked, bruised, bleeding, suffocating and dying a humiliating death, yet all they could think of was the quality of the underwear so as not to tear it.  John’s gospel has subtlety to it, so I wouldn’t put this past him.  Though Jesus was innocent of all the charges, save one, He certainly didn’t deserve a death like this, nor treatment of such callousness.

Without going all weirdly religious, this speaks to me loudly about why we need  a Savior more than almost anything else.  The crucified Him out of envy, beat Him unmercifully, though not to punish Him for anything He had done but to appease politics, then they mocked His claim to kingship, after which they nailed Him to a tree and gambled for His clothing.  Human nature stands out as doing what is convenient for the moment without seriously considering the long range consequences.

If anyone in that crowd had been confronted with the judgment threat before they went ahead with their plans, do you think they would have moved forward with them?

My answer is a resounding “Yes!”

The reason I’m so confident is that I see everyone do things they know they will pay for later, but the price in the short run seems worth.  The pastor who has an affair surely knows God well enough to understand the consequences of the judgment, but the pleasure of the moment.  That person embezzling money certainly knows what will happen if they get caught, but they continue.  I could go on and on about even the simplest of things we know—like eating too much or one drink too many before bedtime.

No, we are definitely not wise about our spiritual welfare.  We constantly gamble with our eternity as Christians.  I don’t know that all of us play the game of “Cheap Grace” condemned by Bonhoeffer, but I know we dance pretty near it.

Once the world took everything Jesus had of any value they mocked Him as a loser, metaphorically kicked Him while He was down, and generally showed the heart of darkness.  Those who loved Him had no earthly power to rescue Him since He had forbidden them to even try (remember Peter’s attempt with the sword?).

The nature of a person is shown for what it is when they are confronted by helplessness; when they have power over another human being.

And Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners for no other reason than human nature couldn’t stand up to itself.

A Petty Rebellion

December 1, 2010

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.  It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.  The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate,  “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered,  “What I have written, I have written.”  John 19:19-22.

It might seem like a moot point to rebel about, but Pilate probably felt he had lost the war and decided to be tweak the noses of the Jews by winning a small skirmish through the sign.  He couldn’t win the battle over Jesus living or dying but he could show his own conviction they were doing so unjustly—and to their own king no less.  At this point I believe he was pretty well convinced of Jesus’ identity, though why he continued to move forward with the death sentence is, as I’ve said, something of a mystery or a subject for speculation.

Still, Pilate was willing to burn it into the minds of the Jews they might be able to bring enough pressure to bear to push through an unjust death, but they couldn’t stop the truth from getting out. Another thing that should be mentioned is:  How big was that sign?  He had it written in 3 languages, so for it to be visible from the road it had to be larger than just a 5×8 placard.  On the other hand, most people in that era (and for nearly 1900+ years following) didn’t read, meaning the ones who saw it were educated and the dig at the Jews went unnoticed by the general public.  Many Jews were taught to read, though, in the synagogues and schools for the purpose of helping the men bar mitzvah.  As usual, the ability to read depended on one’s station in life and the wealth acquired from either inheritance or business.

Coming, as he did, from a pagan POV Pilate’s outsider status left him a little control over the matter in one way, though with less understanding of what was at stake.  Knowing the general form of something from the outside doesn’t always give us a good sense what its purpose is until we go inside.  Pilate could see from the outside of the Jewish community what they stood for through contact and observation, but it’s doubtful his understanding got anywhere near a real grasp of who God is or the purpose of Jesus.

And this brings up an issue close to my heart.  Too often we judge those outside the community of believers (and new converts as well) by a standard we grew into through teaching and osmosis.  I find it frustrating in the extreme when established believers hold the world to a standard of Scripture it cannot comprehend much less know about.  Those outside the faith have no point of reference except our example, and if that is tainted with bad judgment or condemnation, what can they know about Jesus except what we show them?  Plus, the gospels and all other Scripture cannot be understood by the light of human reasoning alone, for Jesus said the truth is only revealed when we submit to the Holy Spirit.  In other words, we won’t grasp the purpose of the Word unless we are taught the meaning by the Holy Spirit.  Still, we don’t practice what we preach in a lot of ways.

For example:  We preach the Golden Rule yet practice the exact opposite.  Jesus commanded us to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” yet we don’t take this into consideration when we push for public laws nor do we think past our own wants as Christians.  In an attempt to create a Christian utopia many have pushed for laws that rule the conscience of other religions or ethics not reflected in Christ’s teachings.  In other words, we require of those who don’t believe in Jesus or acknowledge Him as Lord to adhere to His teachings as though they do anyway through legislation.  This method tells the world we don’t care about them or the rights God gave them starting at the two trees in the Garden, just so long as they don’t practice their views where we can see them.  Jesus never commanded us to conquer the world by either military might or legislative power, rather we were to go into the world and make disciples.  A disciple is one who is educated in the disciplines of the teaching, therefore to make someone a “disciple” they would have to be willingly submissive to the disciplines of the faith.

If the rule of do to others as you would have them do to you upholds forcing those who oppose us to capitulate, then I don’t understand it very well.  If the Gay community passed laws forbidding Christians calling them “sinners,” what would the Christian community do?  O, wait, Canada already has such laws and there are ministers in prison right now who spoke out against homosexuality.  Right.  If we preach freedom of religion, practice of lifestyle and thought, we have to allow for those who disagree with our ethics.  Sure we might do our best to contain the abortion rate by putting contingencies into the law which forbid the medical community from performing them willy nilly and demand counseling for those who are considering it but it won’t stop abortion.  In the end, no one can’t stop either a belief system or moral “deviance” (meaning a practice which goes against the cultural majority) through legislation because eventually that legislation will overwhelm us.

If we limit the freedom of another, eventually they might grow strong enough to return the favor in kind.  And it is slowly, inexorably, steadily going against the Christian mores and will eventually make those who differ from the mainstream of society criminals for doing so.  In my grasp of the situation this comes as a direct result of not standing firm for the freedom of religion.  Most people want freedom to be what they want to be and usually resent anyone outside that said ethic.  I don’t mind being on the outside of the popular mores of the day because I see no reason to conform to anyone’s preferences besides the ones I choose to believe.  That said, I can’t understand how religions in general within the American constitution can ever think true freedom is only for some and not for others.  What adults do in the privacy of their own community is none of my business nor do I desire for them to interfere in mine.  But if I interfere in theirs in an attempt to rule them by my own ethic, will they not have the same right to try by force to rule me?

There are, of course, some rules which just have the ring of truth to them, like children should not be required or forced into slave labor or sexual situations.  But, see, the average person agrees with this ethic.  There might be pockets of dissent but in America they are the minority, so using those on the fringe as a means of legislation is foolish.  A law that states,  “No person shall be forced into sexual contact against their will.  Neither shall one be required to labor for another against their will unless they have been deemed criminal and must make restitution to society, a business or an individual they have wronged.”  Oddly enough these two concepts are reflected in most religions including our own, as well as the constitution of the USA.  So those general rules cover enough territory to make it illegal for a child to be molested, a woman to be raped or anyone to be forced to work without pay.

All this to say, Pilate judged the Jews from his cynical perspective and may even hated them for their Aryan tendencies.  Yet, his own nation held some of those same views about themselves—they considered themselves favored by the gods and anyone who was not Roman was treated with either contempt or condescension.  The Jews judged Pilate as heathen, therefore outside the mercies, blessings and favor of God.  Which, if you consider the popular teaching of the day, didn’t make much sense because Pilate was powerful, rich and successful at the time.  Yet incongruities are a part of being human as we know—as much as anyone with a brain will complain about them (the incongruities).

Pilate realized he couldn’t save Jesus, though I think he really wanted to, so he did what was left for him to do…put his mind on paper.  He stood up to the objections of the Jews in way that said,  “You get to kill Him; I get to speak what I believe.”