I was recently privy to a conversation online where someone had taken a passage of scripture of the Quran and used that one piece of scripture to paint a picture of what the entirety of Islam looks like. Now I realize at this point I may have lost some of you, but I beg you to stay with me because I think this discussion leads somewhere important. The problem I had with the conversation had nothing to do with Islam really at all, but the danger of taking something out of context. Take for instance some of our scriptures. If you took Psalm 137:9 out of context it could really be detrimental to our message.* How can you communicate a story of grace with a verse like that being taken out of context? But we do it all the time. We love to judge people by small representations of their groups and then it is much easier to avoid them. I mean can you imagine what would happen if the entire world judged the church by the likes of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church? I shudder at the thought. And yet, we demonize all sorts of groups of people just because of the actions of a few, or their words/stories taken out of context.
It kind of reminds me of a story in scripture where even Jesus’ encounter with another leaves us wondering. In Mark 7:26-29 we find the following encounter. “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” Jesus initially came with a message for the Jews and even seemed apprehensive at getting involved with a Greek/Gentile woman. But all the same as her imploring took on a note of a plea for compassion, we see Jesus attitude towards her change and he relents and brings healing to this woman’s house. Now I realize that some of this is up for interpretation and debate, but doesn’t it seem like Jesus perception of this non-Israelite was changed by the above encounter? And if God allows change to occur in his human interactions then how much more should we?
What I guess I am saying is this…We should never alienate or distance someone until we know their whole story. You never know how someone may have been judged or mistreated all because of an off-chance word or misaligned ideology. We are all God’s children and Christ has died for all. So shouldn’t we be willing to extend arms of grace and fellowship to all? And maybe that is as simple as hearing the whole story…
* Psalm 137:8-9 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. This verse is of course alluding to the judgment of Babylon for all they had done to Israel, but still tough to read.
Sitting and watching people in an amusement park can be very enlightening. For instance I now know exactly which tattoos to avoid. I have deduced which footwear is perhaps the most comfortable to wear around an amusement park (maybe this is more from personal experience). But I have also noticed a few things that have disturbed me a bit; a shirt with a request for hot girls on a boy no older than 10, a dad singing along to the lyrics of “We Are Young” to his five year old daughter and young girls more scantily clad than should be decent in any setting to say a few. What has happened? Did we stop having standards? Or is it something worse…did we stop paying attention?
I know you may say, ‘How can not paying attention be worse than not having standards?’ That’s just it….one involves a conscious decision and the other does not. As humans we have been given the gift and the ability to reason, to discern and when we don’t exercise that we become no better than lower animals and that becomes scary. And I think that is what has happened. We don’t think about the things we expos ourselves too. We don’t think about how the way we let our children dress could define their behavior and how others define them. So where does it end?
1 Peter 5:8-9 reads, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I don’t want to give the devil too much credit (he already gets way too much in a lot of our churches) but you can’t help but see all of the evils of society that do easily prey upon us. Even if they are of our own creation, if we don’t pay attention and work through our lives with sober mind and judgment we find ourselves being subject to those very things we consider base and are called to avoid. So wake up! Think! And then maybe you will find yourself in a better place the the intrigue of a pastor sitting on a bench at Cedar Point.
It comes around about every two years. And you would think I would see it coming. But all of a sudden I am blindsided by it. Sometimes it sneaks into conversations. Other times I am blasted by it over the airwaves. Lately it seems like Facebook has become the ultimate venue. I’m talking about a little thing called “political banter”. And I wish I could say that most of this banter was nice spirited and even tempered…but the internet is no place to lie. The truth is that the country in which we lived is thrown into a maelstrom of political rhetoric and all to often battle lines are drawn in the sand and people are demonized before we even think about the body count on the other side of the issues. And the scariest part about all of this…the church doesn’t seem to look any better than the world of mainstream media. I see cheap shots and insults levied against political candidates and people who are taking stances by those called Christians without any consideration of the fact the person at whom said comments are hurled at is indeed one of God’s children; created to live into His image.
In regards to a solution, I guess we should start by looking at the life of the early church and their struggle with differences in their midst. Paul writes to the Ephesian church, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16) This specific text was written to Jews and Gentiles who were struggling through unification issues, but don’t we seem to create the same divisions in the church over stuff that in all honesty won’t carry a lot of weight into eternity. I am pretty sure there isn’t a sorting line in heaven for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. In fact…I hate to say it, but I am pretty sure the title American won’t exist there either.
So why do we let these conversations divide us? Why are we allowing hostility to creep into our midst? What if we, as the body of Christ, were discussing these “political” issues in a proactive way without relying on the “polls” to make the difference? I for one in my short life have come to the realization that placing hope in kings, kingdoms and governments will always fall short. Maybe we could come to the realization that spewing political word vomit on Facebook and the like really does make the Church look divided. And maybe then we could become creative instead as we seek to confront the evils of this world as One Body united through the blood of Christ with the mission to bring peace and make disciples of all nations. Now that sounds like a pretty good political campaign .
I have been pretty heartbroken lately. And it’s not what you may think. All of my relationships couldn’t be better. My family is well and I myself have great health. But I still have been a little heartbroken. You see, I belong to this group of people called the church. And we have this amazing calling. We are called to go into all the world and make disciples. We are called to baptize these same people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are even called to show these people what is looks like to follow after Christ. And what is more amazing is that this calling goes back even further. Several thousand years ago God spoke to this old man in the middle of Mesopotamia and said to him that he was going to be a great nation. All peoples on earth would be blessed through him. And this is where the heartbreak begins…
Genesis 12:2-3 says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This is an incredible promise given to our Father Abraham so long ago. And we, as children of the promise through the new covenant of Christ blood must realize that this promise is ours as well. God is going to perform this amazing action on our behalf and all we are called to do is be obedient. The problem (and thus the heartbreak) is that sometimes we usurp God’s position in the promise. God doesn’t say, “I am going to make you a blessing so you can decide who to bless and who to curse.” No….emphatically no! God says that He will take care of the blessing and the cursing. He will take care of the stamp of approval or the label of judgment. It is His action to take.
So why do we as the people of God so often find ourselves in the judgment seat for blessing or cursing? It is so easy for us as Christians to label this person as righteous and this other person as unrighteous. It is so easy for us to exclude from fellowship this person who behaves this way and allow in someone else whose behavior matches ours. I am reminded of a quote from the concierge in “That Thing You Do” (a great movie by the way) when he looks at a valet out of place and exclaims, “That’s not yo job”. Church wake up! All people of the earth are to be blessed through us….all this other stuff, that’s not yo job! Let’s trust God with the blessing and the cursing. Let’s get to loving on people and making disciples. Let’s get to living out our lives as Christ lived out His. Maybe then my heart might be a little less broken.
It’s funny that goodness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. I immediately think of the story of the rich young ruler who approaches Jesus, ”Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’ And then Jesus proceeds to ratlle off some commandments. Of course the rich young man has kept all of these and is morally above reproach. And then the punch, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ Ouch! Someone who has been able to control his path, manage his wealth, manage his morality and have a relatively stable life is called to abandon everything that he has accomplished and engineered under his own power and follow God unabashedly…that doesn’t sound so good.
Often times we think, that since goodness is one of the fruits of the Spirit that we are measured on the morality that we exude and therefore we start to judge ourselves (and sometimes other) with a sliding rule of commands instead of being in a love relationship with Jesus. The word used for goodness in Paul’s list in Galatians speaks of ‘uprightness of heart and life’. I think it could be that maybe goodness speaks more of the motivation of our character versus the character itself. I ran across a great Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote recently that puts this into perspective, ‘Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will’. All to often, especially in Holiness and Evangelical circles, we tend to find ourselves so bent on identifying/avoiding sin and moral failures that we forget that we are not put on this earth to be moral blueprints for society. We are here to be disciples of Christ, not moral hall monitors.
The rub comes when this becomes our faith versus Jesus. Moralism is something we have control over and is set out in a clear defined path. I can read the Bible and put everything into a black and white category and be absolutely above reproach. Or I can follow the Jesus of scripture, embark on a path of uncertainty trusting only God and never again be ‘safe’. Trusting in God’s goodness can only come about by experiencing him in an every day walk. And our resulting “goodness” is a heart trait born out of wildly following a God who is at best unpredictable and awesome. The journey of Christ is not about morality…it is so much more than that.
And just to leave you with something fun about God’s goodness…this is one of my favorite excerpts from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver…’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”
Those of you who know me well, know that I love music. But it is kind of sad lately. For about the last two months I have been listening to one or two albums at most. Since purchasing the Avett Brother’s I and Love and You and Live Volume 3, I really haven’t listened to much else. The reason I intro with this is because of one of the lyrics that caught me off guard the other day. The chorus to the song Ten Thousand Words is as follows: “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different, We love to talk on things we don’t know about.” The underlying truth in that line is what gets me…especially as someone who earns his living primarily talking.
I think this is something where we need to safeguard ourselves. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I don’t like to often think of myself as a fool, although I think I have been called worse, but I am not sure that I always speak from a completely informed platform. I try to pride myself on being culturally relevant and savvy; I study scripture and commentaries for Biblical insight; and I am a social scientist regarding the lives of my students and the environment in which they live…but there are still limitations to what I am able to collect. I am not able to walk in the shoes of everyone I minister too and therefore have to be careful when trying to speak truth into their lives.
What’s sad is when people have no consideration for the others’ beliefs or convictions. We attempt to speak truth/judgment upon without fully knowing their story. I believe as Christians that we have a message which is of dire importance that we must share with people, but if we don’t know our message well, if we don’t know our audience, if we have no consideration for who they are and where they come from…then we might as well be gushing folly.
I know I fall into the category of being like most people who don’t know what they are talking about…but I want to know.
It has been said that everyone loves a villain. And you know its true. All of a sudden someone enters the stage onto whom we can project all of our darkness. We can loathe them and we are completely justified. They are a villain and there demise is the ultimate justification played out before us. The problem is that all to often in life we believe that villains in the form of people around us and we are all to eager to cast all of our darkness onto them in order to separate ourselves from their wickedness in order to justify our righteousness. But villains are characters and they are fictitious. How do I know this?
The apostle Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 4:12) So if our struggle is not against flesh and blood then there are really no villains. Yes there are people who have given into the darkness and perform evil acts, but our fight is not with them, but rather with the systems of violence, sin and death that have captured their hearts.
Then why do we alienate, villainize and condemn those who commit sin. Because sometimes it is easier to cast the villain than it is to participate in their redemption. And sometimes if we find someone who is in a darker place than us, then we are able to paint ourselves in greater light. Maybe instead we need to be reminded that we were all at one time or another enemies of the cross and take on the mission of reclaiming those who are lost…rather than casting them as the villain.
* This blog sparked this line of thought…a great read: http://donmilleris.com/2011/02/22/how-a-consumer-thinks/
I apologize if it seems as if I haven’t stepped down from my soap box in a while, but sometimes you can’t help it. And after all, the premise of this blog is based on “the rants” of a young pastor.
But intro aside, there is something I have noticed in the church all my life that really irks me. Why is it that we think we are given the excuse to be mean simply because we have morality? It is almost that we think that there are varying degrees of sin and as long as my hands are cleaner than yours then I don’t have to treat you with common decency. Or if I can’t immediately spot the chinks in your armor, I can use my morally superior microscope to inspect your life until I find something I can lord over you. Do we really think it is all about a virtue score card that ultimately decides our fate and the fate of others? I certainly hope not. Not to say that virtue isn’t something to aspire too, but it is most definitely not a weapon to be wielded.
Let’s take the example of Jesus just for a moment (I know it sounds crazy). Who did Jesus snub because of their lower moral status? Think really hard…NO ONE! Jesus seemed to surround himself with ragamuffins, with the morally bankrupt. And if anyone ever had the right to draw a dividing line in the sand of morality it was Jesus. And yet the line did not exist. This is the scandal of Grace.
And what’s more, our righteousness is like filthy rags (do some research on this if you want to know the full revulsion of this remark) and yet we sometimes wear it like a badge of honor. So my plea is to drop the badge…throw down your arms…Stop being mean! Instead, may we learn to love like Jesus loved. By this, and only by this will people know that we are His disciples.