Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#metoo — WWJD?

Imagine the original audience for the Sermon on the Mount. Now, picture a furrow-browed, intense young man (sorta like the rich young ruler) debating with Jesus...

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
~ Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 5:27-29)

Gouging out an eye? To avoid lusting? Dang, Jesus, isn’t that just a little — you know — extreme?

And Jesus, I’m not trying to tell You how to do Your job — I mean, You being God ’n’ all — but couldn’t You throw in something a little more reasonable?

I have a few suggestions:
  1. How about blame the woman for how she’s dressed?
  2. Or maybe throw in a few words to the effect of: ‘Boys will be boys’.
  3. Just say something — anything, really — that deflects the responsibility from us guys and put the blame ’n’ shame on someone else.
What’s that, Jesus? Yeah, I remember the story of Job — he’s one of our heroes in the Old Testament! What’s Job got to do with anything?

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.”
~ Job (Job 31:1)

Is that all Job said, Jesus? Really? Nothing about how women are dressed, or…

Look, Jesus, I really don’t think You understand… yeah, You bet I’m getting angry! What else do You expect, when You keep throwing all the responsibility back on us guys?

Who? The ‘apostle Paul’? Never heard of him — wait, what do You mean by ‘spoiler alert’? What’s this Paul guy going to say?
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures...
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.”

~ Paul the Apostle, on behalf of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:19-25)
Okay, Jesus, I’ve tried to be patient, but You clearly have an anti-male bias. I’d prefer to get a second opinion, if You don’t mind...

Ask Lucifer? Great idea — where can I find him?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Deeper Than Skin

“Beauty is only skin-deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
~ Dorothy Parker

We’ve all heard variations on this theme — juxtaposed with the hand-wringing earnestness of advertisers bent on squeezing more profit from our insecurities — that who we are matters more than our surface appearance.

We want to be (and be around) people who have character, substance, a spark of life, that goes beyond the surface.

Including in our spiritual lives.

We’ve all met people who look like they've got it all together, but upon closer examination (which, being translated, means, “getting to know them”), have turned out to be ‘surface-only’ Christians. They’ve got their public persona finely-crafted, but have paid scant attention to their spiritual depth.

Our first thought is usually along the lines of: “Wow, that’s disappointing.”
Our second — and immediate — thought should be: “Lord, am I any different?”
How do we get “deeper than skin” in our spiritual journey?

In the book of Ephesians, we find the apostle Paul really excited about what he’s heard about the Christ-followers in Ephesus:
“Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you.” (Eph. 1:15-16)
Paul had experienced no shortage of hardships in his ministry (cf. his resumé of pain in 2 Cor. 11:24-27), yet here we find him raving about how thankful he is about their “strong faith” as well as their “love for God’s people”. These were not ‘surface’ followers of Jesus — the Ephesians were the real deal.
And what Christ-follower wouldn’t want to have a reputation for a strong faith in Jesus, as well as a sincere love for others?
But wait…

Paul is thrilled about their faith and love, and yet he immediately goes on to say that he’s “constantly” praying for them to go deeper still.

Paul’s epistles to various groups often make mention that he is praying for them. But this is one of those unique moments where Paul tells them (and us) the specific details of his prayer.

And I lean in a little closer — what, exactly, does ‘going deeper’ than a strong faith and a sincere love look like?

Paul enumerates several things:
  1. spiritual wisdom insight, in order to know God better (Eph. 1:16-17)
    • (There’s more to know about God? Even if you’ve already got a ‘strong faith’? Apparently, yes.)
  2. that their hearts would be better able to understand the confident hope that God gives (Eph. 1:18)
    • (Do you have any friends who, despite their faith, walk around feeling condemned? Pray like Paul did: that they become able to live in confident hope.)
  3. to know God’s power at work in us (Eph. 1:19-21)
    • (The Holy Spirit is not some sort of Divine Administrator, just logging and tallying the number of people who become Christ-followers. Paul reminds us that the same power God used in raising Christ from the dead is available to us.)
Paul returns to his prayer emphasis a few chapters later, as well (Ephesians 3:14-21), once again letting us in on the specifics of his prayer. Keep in mind, Paul is speaking to a group of people who have already been identified as having a strong faith in Jesus and a sincere love for others.

Paul prays for them (and us):
  1. to be ‘empowered’ with strength from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16)
  2. that Christ will live in us by faith (Eph. 3:17)
  3. and now that we have been ‘rooted’ in love:
    • have power to know the depth, the height, the width and the length of God’s love
    • to experience Christ’s love even though it’s too immense to fully understand
    • so that we are full of God. (Eph. 3:17-21)
Incredible: Paul’s prayer on behalf of people who already know God’s love... is that they would know — an experiential ‘knowing’ — His love even more. And that we are not ‘full’ (complete) in spiritual growth until we grasp the greatness of His love.

Hello, life-long pursuit.

A pursuit that will result, I suspect, in us becoming ‘deeper than skin’.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Troll Bridge

“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.

“Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)

Bitterness is a nasty disease.

Some might compare it to cancer, because it has a tendency to eat away at your innards — it’s common knowledge that stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, and various digestive ailments can be exacerbated by chronic bitterness and its corrosive derivative: anger.
Bitterness is far worse than cancer, in my opinion. Cancer merely eats away at our bodies before claiming our lives. Bitterness eats away our souls long before any physical symptoms take their toll. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, it also poisons everyone around us. If ‘misery loves company’ sounds like a good way to do community, then bitterness is your ticket.
And make no mistake: bitterness is a community disease. The writer of Hebrews says it ‘corrupts’ others; another translation renders the same word as ‘defiles’. Both words are evocative depictions of the toxicity of bitterness — an individual who withdraws into their own bitterness withers on their own, but in a community, the rot spreads and takes root.

Sometimes, in my imaginative little mind, I picture bitterness as a troll hiding under a bridge in our faith journey. Salivating with malicious anticipation, the Troll of Bitterness latches on to our souls like a bear trap. And once its got a good grip on our hearts, minds and emotions, it’s murder to get rid of.

“Wow, I bet God never thought of that.”
Said no-one ever.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness is tough to beat, if you just focus on “I’m trying my Olympic best to stop being bitter.” Trying to negate a negative usually just ends up giving you a double negative — now you’re bitter and also frustrated by your inability to get a handle on the bitterness.

Choosing kindness, and softening your heart towards others is an effective antidote. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies, and to pray for people who treat us like garbage (Luke 6:27-28). Couple that with forgiving as Christ has forgiven us, and the previously iron-clad grip the Troll of Bitterness held begins to turn to jelly.

And instead of corrupting and defiling the community of faith, we begin to look (and act) more like the Body of Christ.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sowing & Reaping & Karma

photo credit: Wikicommons
“What goes around, comes around.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“Karma’s going to catch up to you.”

Long before it became popular to joke about ‘karma’, the apostle Paul introduced us to the idea of “reaping what we sow”.
“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT)
It’s worth pointing out, right from the outset, that there is a subtle but very important difference between ‘karma’ and ‘reaping what you sow’. In popular usage (versus how studied Buddhists would understand it), ‘karma’ comes across as if it’s an outside force operating to balance a scale of justice somewhere. For example, some people will shake their heads and mutter something to the effect of: “karma will get you”, as if karma was a vengeful entity looking to slap people down if they don’t play nice. But it’s okay if they get slapped down, because they ‘deserved it’.
(Ironically, those who mutter ‘karma’ would take gleeful delight in seeing others get slapped down, which is troubling, to say the least.)
‘Reaping what you sow’ is not the same thing. God (as opposed to karma) isn’t a vengeful entity looking for reasons to slap people down and say, “See? You deserved that.” (And if any Christians gloated about them ‘getting what they deserved’, that should be troubling, too.)

What makes “reaping what you sow” more sobering than karma, is that the ‘sin nature’ that people are sowing to is their own. It’s not an outside force, exerting its nefarious will on the unsuspecting. Read the verse again — “those who sow to please their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature”. It’s not retributive justice from outside or above — it’s more akin to the law of cause-and-effect.

For example, if you are consistently dishonest in your dealings with others, don’t be shocked when nobody trusts you anymore. If you treat people like garbage, don’t be surprised to wake up one day and find that you have no friends.

The other option is noticeably different — if we ‘sow to the Spirit [of God]’, we reap a harvest of good from the Spirit. In other words, contrary to the negative example of sowing to our own sin nature, we can choose instead to ‘sow’ — or ‘live to please the Spirit’ — and reap a harvest of life from the Spirit.

The profound difference between the two is simply this:
  1. Live to please yourself, and you will reap decay and death (because our sin nature corrupts everything).
  2. Live to please the Holy Spirit, and you will reap life (because God is holy and incorruptible).
Therefore (Paul concludes), don’t get tired of doing the right thing (living to please the Spirit). There will be a harvest of everlasting life if we don’t give up (and retreat to the old ways of pleasing ourselves).

Dipping back into the previous chapter, we find this gem of wisdom in regard to ‘sowing and reaping’:
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT)