30 November 2014

When Structures Kill

I can't find the word "organic" anywhere in the Bible. My Hebrew is non-existent and my Greek nearly so but I haven't ever run across it in a concordance, an inter-linear, or any translation or interpretation (I doubt the word existed during the time of King James).

But the original Church of Jesus was totally organic- it was Jesus and people and food and miracles and joy and stuff like that. It was constantly in motion, constantly growing, constantly new. The main non-organic part was Holy Spirit, who just takes organic into new realms.

In too many cases, the modern version of the Church (or rather, many churches) thinks in terms of structures- land, physical plant, hierarchy, covering, accountability, and so on. In and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with any of these. But taken to extremes they are extremely destructive. Couple these with lots of rules and regulations (as inevitably happens when structures take over) and you ten toward becoming a cult. Blech.

If the structures don't facilitate the organic Church- the community, the family- then I have no use for them. If the bricks, rules, or any other structure tries to define / solely contain / otherwise run the organic relationships, I'm out.

When structures start trumping the organic Church, they are probably driven by one or more of these culprits:

  1. Control - someone feels the need
  2. Fear - "If we don't..." "If we let..." "What if?" "Do you know what happened?" "Do you know what could happen?"
  3. Misunderstanding the Bible
  4. Taking verses out of context
There may well be others but I have seen these time and again. I've seen a lot of good people hurt badly by all of these. The antidotes?
  1. Love.
  2. Grace.
  3. Honor.
  4. Freedom.
  5. Joy
  6. Peace
All that stuff. Every. Last. Time. And we know the real source of the antidote- a relationship with God: with Daddy, with Jesus, with Holy Spirit.

I honestly don't care if you have joined a "local church" although there's a lot to be said for that if you can find a healthy one (or are healthy enough to help grow one). Community and family look different to different people. If your community and family are strictly online, that's better than nothing! (There was a time that other than my wife, my main community of faith was online.) But some days you need a hug, Or coffee or tea. Or whatever. Or they do. So look around you. There's someone. Embrace your brother and sister regardless of where they worship or what label (if any) they wear. Remember the second commandment- just like the first- "love your neighbor as yourself". Laugh with those who rejoice and weep with those who mourn. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Take care of the outcast. Eat and drink together. Sing, dance, play games, talk, pray, sit quietly, go for walks, heal the sick, set the captive free.

That's what Jesus did. That's what the disciples did. Why do we think we have a better plan? Do you really think Jesus would have been more effective with modern business methods? Do you really think he didn't see these coming? He did. He might have wept.

28 November 2014

The Other Ten Commandments

When asked which was the greatest commandment- presumably of the ten God gave Moses- Jesus blew some minds.

Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Mt 22/37-40, NIV)

Inevitably when I bring this up, someone adamantly reminds me that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, and that we must not forget about the other commandments. Since very, very few of these people observe the Jewish dietary laws I'll assume they mainly mean the Ten Commandments. So how do they apply?

In general, I would say that Jesus' two commandments do not abolish the ten; they fulfill them. It's not that we should ignore the ten, it's more that if we truly follow (or fall into) the two, the ten are no longer a big deal. Let's break that down.

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
    If I love God with all that is in me, what other gods would I love, much less more than God?
  2. You shall not make idols.
    An idol is something to worship. If I love completely, idols fall by the wayside, or get obliterated.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    Why would I speak lies about my beloved, or curse him?
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    I will certainly set aside time for the one I love most!
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
    If we truly love someone we will honor them.
  6. You shall not murder.
    How can I murder someone I love? And we are to love all.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
    Why would I cheat on someone I love? If I'm seriously tempted to cheat (temptation itself comes to all, even as it did to Jesus; I'm talking about seriously considering it) then I'm not really loving my wife enough and it's time to get my love on.
  8. You shall not steal.
    As with the others, how can I steal from someone I love? That would show a serious problem.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    I can't lie about the character or actions of someone I care deeply about.
  10. You shall not covet.
    If I love my neighbor (Jesus made it clear in another parable that's everyone) I'm not going to want to take their stuff. I'm going to be happy for them.
Is it sounding like a broken record by the end? It probably should. It's the same principle.

Jesus made it clear while talking to a crowd on the side of a mountain that we don't really even understand the point of the commandments. For instance, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Mt 5/28, NIV) It's about the heart as much as the actions. This doesn't mean the actions don't matter; it means the heart matters as well. But if I love that woman as God does, if I see her as God does, then I'm going to hate the very idea of lusting after her, and kick lust to the curb. That frees me up to express love; I can look her in the eyes, hug her, laugh with her, weep with her, let her talk about anything she needs to, and generally be in a safe relationship. My wife, knowing my heart, doesn't have to worry. And she, having that same love, is free in her relationships with others as well, and I have nothing to fear. Jealousy has no foothold.

(Someone will inevitably bring up safety here. If we're close to God, he'll let us know when to be careful with someone. If we're in community, we all have each others' backs. But too often when we talk about safety, it's fear driven. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." (I Jn 4/18) That whole love thing again...)

If you need guidelines for what love looks like (or more generally doesn't look like), spend some time pondering the ten commandments. But since Love is a person, spend more time pondering, getting to know, being loved by, and loving God. Everything else grows out of that.

30 October 2014

What About the Most of These?

We should all be familiar with Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25/30-46). It is there we find two passages about how we treat the powerless and downtrodden.
  1. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (v, 40)
  2. "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (v. 45)
Jesus of course was referring to a common tendency to treat the rich, the powerful, the admired, the famous, the respected people well and to look down upon the less fortunate.

But what about the people on the other end of the spectrum? How are we to treat them? Some people flip it around, showing compassion- even admiration- for those with little while heaping disdain (if not hatred) on those judged to be well off.

The reality is that God made us all in his image. Rich and poor, male and female, every ethnicity, every walk of life, whatever the difference, we are made in his image. We should show no more, and no less, honor and love for the rich than the poor, the poor than the rich. Until we truly see all men and women as equal, we are not living up to who we are- to who we were created to be, to who Christ died for us to be.

Love God with every fiber of your being.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Every last one of them.

26 August 2014

The Greatest Commandment, Bible Thumper Version

"Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?"

Jesus replied, "To be able to always quote a verse to prove your point; this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is just like the first, to react without really understanding what you are reacting to. All the law and prophets and your pathetic chances of salvation hang on these two commandments. Don't screw up." Mt 22/36-40, BTV (Bible Thumper's Version)


Clearly all the other versions are mistranslated. Probably dropped a jot or tittle, which we all know is the unforgivable sin; the Holy Spirit hates that.

15 March 2014

How I met God and, Later, Bethel

I met God and later Bethel in similar ways, almost against my will. If that sounds strange, please bear with me.

Suppose you hear about this amazing family, the Joneses. You keep your eyes and ears open, hoping to meet them. Eventually you realize you have friends in common. Over time you notice the things they tell you about the Joneses are not so good. Joe Jones feels up young women, Mary Jones is a cougar on the prowl, the kids vary from just weird to downright mean. You lose interest in the Jones family; you've already had way too many people like that in your life (one is way too many, right?)

A year or so later you realize your friends Smiths are the Jones' cousins, and Jim and Bertie Weems are Joe's God-parents, and they paint a different picture. You realize the neighbors had their own issues, which caused them to project things onto the Joneses. Maybe they aren't so bad, even if they aren't what you originally hoped (you are, after all, still feeling cautious. Once burned twice shy!) After a while, though, you realize the Joneses still sound a bit sketchy. Joe might be stealing office supplies. Mary is always hanging out with the teenagers next door, even though there's no rumors of anything really bad. The kids seem awfully doped, like maybe they're on dope.

Somehow you end up at a party with the Jones. And they're just really nice people. When they hug you it feels good-- and totally safe. Right off the bat, Joe seems to get who you are. Mary talks about the things that matter to you. Their kids and yours teach each other new games you want to join in. A week later when they hear you all have the flu, they come to your house with chicken soup and crackers. They do your laundry. Mary cleans the toilet while Jim does the huge pile of dishes. A month later one of your kids mentions your sister and her kids having to move to a womens' shelter and the Joneses send clothes, books, toys, and a check. You realize the Smiths and Weems, though closer than those first neighbors, also didn't quite get who the Joneses really are. Their own problems distorted their view.

Who are the Joneses? Good people. The best. Instant family. They love you, they care for you, they're there for you.

And that's pretty much how I met God. And later Bethel.

Don't judge a book by the books around it. Don't judge God (or other people) by the people who claim to know them. Get to know them yourself. You won't be sorry.