Daily thoughts during this worldwide crisis.
What if someone in the future were to pick up a document written to a congregation about how to behave in worship written in May 2020? They were reading it to understand how they should be acting in worship, but they had no historical context to understand the circumstances. Then they tried to explain why those rules were in place. I wonder what those Bible classes and sermons would sound like?
Of course, we do not read Scripture without historical context, but we still use quite a bit of imagination and best guessing to leap across 2000 years, languages, and cultures. It is difficult to hear (nope impossible) as they did (which I wrote about not long ago). What may sound “normal” to us may have been radical to them – and the opposite is true.
It is also true that what sounds harsh or barbaric to us (I am thinking Old Testament here), is often a radical advancement in human rights. I think this is because the God who created us knows that when we stop dehumanizing each other and start treating each other as equals and as representations of the image of God (broken as we are) things will change.
It is just that we are so fantastically stubborn, fearful, and thick as a plank sometimes. What is obvious to us in the West today (slavery for example) took millennia to correct. And we still have work to do.
The other issue we have with how to treat each other is our amazing ability to read only what we want to read and stop when the text turns to us. As a man, I have been taught well the “submission” of women. The verses that follow those submission messages are whispered, occasionally preached about, but often not truly lived in our homes and churches. Things will change when those who preach this start living it in every aspect of their lives. I know we are not doing it as well as we could be – “by their fruit you shall know them.”
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:25). And this, “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered.” (I Peter 3:7)
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord.
Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
“I am so tired of this. The response is ridiculous. I cannot believe I live in a world so full of idiots. Selfish idiots that expect me to protect them.”
“I am fed up with people not listening to experts. Do they not know that they may be hurting other people by ignoring safety precautions?”
The whole world is so messed up. Politicians and the media have everybody scared half to death. Even if one is not fearful for self we are moving in a fog of strangeness. By now, most of us probably know someone who has contracted “the virus” and likely know someone who has lost their life because of it.
In the United States, we have even managed to politically polarize this. I believe it has more to do with the mindset of the role of government between the parties, but never mind that right now.
Everyday we either watch or go out into a quagmire of rules based on fear (whether you believe it legitimate or not is irrelevant). We have moved beyond normal precautions and started doing things like fumigating buildings that have not been occupied for weeks. We have people wearing gloves and not knowing why.
We have caused one serious crisis (which needed to be addressed) to roll into another and another and another. For some. the echoes of this will last the rest of their lives – socially, economically, religiously, and psychologically.
All I want to do is distance myself from the idiocy – well – because I am better than that. I need to prove to everyone that I am either not afraid at all or that I “believe the science.” Who wants to be in such a place as this, and what do we do with it?
A question: How do you think Jesus felt?
What do we do with this?
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
“Brother, so glad you are now a Christian. I think now it is time that you went back to the other side of town and evangelize your own people,” said the elder to a recent convert of a different race.
That is a very condensed paraphrase of the message given to a dear brother of mine. Learned a lot about forgiveness and grace from that man. He did go (literally) to the other side of the tracks and started a church. I had the privilege of working with them for two years while I was in school.
What happened to that man was a lie. It is a lie that is told every Sunday all over the world. I am part of it whether I want to be or not, but it does not mean that I am happy about it. It is hard not to be caught in a lie when everyone else is telling the same one. It also does not mean that I should withdraw and quit.
The lie? Holding on to one’s racial, cultural, social identity to the exclusion of those who are different. Or worse – holding to a set of creeds and practices to exclude those who differ. What Paul is addressing is not being kind to people who are lost or hurting. He is addressing deep hatred between groups of people who hated each other. He is saying in Christ we take off the labels (Christianity without adjectives) that divide, sort, or separate us.
I know a few congregations that have very nearly pulled this off – and it is a beautiful thing to behold. When Paul speaks of complaints, he may well be speaking of a rich person who took advantage of a poor person who are now in the same meeting. Or Jew and Gentile families who have had years of animosity built up, who are now breaking bread together.
This is the power of the cross. It moves into any situation and has the power to undermine power structures and ancient hatreds. It may take a generation or two, but the new nature and thankfulness for what God has done will stop the lie.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth'ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We love secrets. It is a great tease for a movie or television show to advertise “the hidden lives of . . .” We want to know the backstory. When sports returns, and we get to watch the Olympics, I will complain that it is a bunch of biographies interrupted by occasional sports events. We like to know what makes us tick. We enjoy learning what drives people to do what they do. Reality TV is all about that, staged as it is.
What is nearly always true is that whatever we cannot see about people eventually rises to the surface – the holy and the unholy. I have seen scoundrels hide behind a “good life” and spiritual heroes appear from the most unassuming of places.
To be a spiritually whole and healthy human being our hidden lives and our public lives must match. This is the reason the Bible hammers away at focusing on faith rather than external piety. It is so easy to fake religion and there are plenty of people who are willing to be paid for the opportunity to help us fake it.
One of the great joys of being whole (still flawed, but whole in intention and conscience) is knowing that our “hidden” life is secure. It gives us courage to stop reaching and grabbing for stuff we (think) we desire, which leads to all sorts of damaging behavior.
When our life is hidden with Christ the clothing of the new nature will fit comfortably. More on the beauty of that tomorrow.
“For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
“I am a Christian and I don’t cuss, drink, gamble, or hang out with bad company.”
“Come to my church, we have a great worship band and our youth pastor is awesome.”
“I don’t know how you can be a Christian and be for that?!”
“Christians don’t dress like that.”
Ok. Nothing wrong with not cussing or drinking or gambling or avoiding hanging with bad company (when actively engaging in bad activity) as a way to honor God. Just do not hang your halo on it. For those who prefer performance to congregational singing a worship band may be awesome, but it has almost nothing to do with executing a faithful life. One of my favorite jail visits was with a young man who was cursing his friend and the police and his girlfriend who conspired to get him thrown in jail (for good reasons) over the weekend. He was upset because he was going to miss his church gig on Sunday and lose his drinking money. I liked the guy, he just had not figured out which horse to ride.
Political, moral, and social stands are fine for people of faith; necessary even. And how we dress and present ourselves in public are important. What I must do is stop telling everyone how righteous I am, and then pointing to my favorite acts of piety for proof.
If you do not want to cuss, drink, or gamble because you love God – then do not do them. Not everyone grew up like that.
Let me demonstrate how self-righteousness backfires on us when talking to others. I get judged because of other people’s self-righteousness. Let this short dialogue demonstrate.
“Tell me what is going on right now?”
“Man, I’m just all f’d up? Sorry, I know you are a pastor.”
On the one hand, I appreciate the deference and respect that is demonstrated when this happens. On the other hand, there is an assumption that Christians either cannot handle that language or that it will not be received graciously as communication from someone in pain. The self-righteousness has put a barrier in the way of someone being able to tell me what is happening in language they know how to use. It does not take many of those barriers to build a wall high enough and wide enough to stop communication before it begins.
This is the danger of advertising our personal standards of piety. It is almost exactly what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount – most clearly in Chapter 6. Just be a disciple and let grace rather than righteousness take the lead. That is what God did.
Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.