Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shema


There are a few passages out of the Old Testament that are grouped together and called the "Sh'ma." In Judaism, it was recited as a morning prayer, as the evening prayer, for holidays, and a whole host of other reasons. Recently, I've been starting to memorize it, slowly but surely. There's one line in it, from Deut. 11:15 that says: "...you will eat and be satisfied." There's just something that strikes me about those words everytime I read them. It's not "you will eat and be full." It's not "you will have an over-abundance of everything." It's "satisfied."

I think as Christians in America, it has become all too easy to confuse the message of God and how He wants us to live out our lives with the American Dream. It's become all to familiar to associate the two together, when they are diametrically opposed. One is about a life of comfort and ease while the other is about living for a cause above ourselves and using our lives to see God's magnificent Kingdom be realized in our lives and the lives of those around us.

I'm not saying "stuff" is neccissarily bad. I just think we need to get away from the Joel Osteen satanic lie of "God wants to make you rich and live your best life now!" Our best life is the afterlife, when we're with God, and He wants us to use our time on this earth to show and tell others about Him. To be satisfied with what He's given us and do all we can for His Kingdom

Here is the Shema, in it's entirety (the italicized portion is part of the Shema, but not a part of the actual Hebrew Scriptures):

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Blessed be the name of His glorious Kingdrom for ever and ever. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.' "
Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What's wrong with the church?


Came across this quote earlier today from Phillip Yancey and thought it was tood good and too thought provoking to NOT share.

"The more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons.

"In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich oung ruler walked awa shaking hishead, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness.

"I [Yancey] remarked to the class how strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus on Earth. What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus' day? Why don't sinners like being around us?"

Good thought and good question. Why don't sinners like to be around the Christian church?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Follow the Leader


Last week while I was working as a noon duty (a less offensive term than "yard duty"), for two days in a row I had a group of boys following me around. At times, there were as many as a dozen of them walking in my footsteps. I asked them why they were following me around, and they told me that it was because of my beard.

Whether or not this was the real reason, I really don't know. (It is plausible, considering I grow more hair in one day than they do in a month) But it got me thinking about 1st Corinthians 11:1, where Paul tells the church in Corinth "Follow my example as I follow Christ."

It got me thinking about who we really follow. We live in a time where conformity is commonplace and people are either too afraid to step out of line for fear of the consequences or are rebels for the sake of being rebels; following out of fear or following because they dont't want to conform.

What about the third option? Following Jesus out of love and adoration; following Him because He's the only thing that makes sense out of this corrupt, stained world.

We all follow something. We might follow the ideal of beauty, money or popularity. We might follow a politician, friend or mentor. But the bottom comes down to which leader are we following with everything we've got? Jesus, or something else?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Red in the face


I’m a little red in the face. Not from any sort of embarrassment, but from a good old fashioned sunburn. While the peeling skin and extra redness is a bit of an annoyance, I did enjoy getting it. This last Sunday, I was able to be a part of a car wash to help raise money for Mission Solano. In the process, we washed over 90 cars (sun fried my brain and I lost the exact count, but I think the exact number was 93) and raised around $560. It was awesome.

But my favorite part was at the end of the day. We had extra water and a food gift certificate that I was able to bring over to a homeless couple across the street. I mean, what kind of ministry would we be doing if we didn’t stop and talk with the people we were raising funds for?

I stayed for a few minutes talking with Barbra and her husband Mel. What I liked most about them was their trust in God. I mean, most people in that sort of situation turn to God because they have nowhere else to go, and as some of them quote scripture, sing a worship song in a phenomenal voice and recount how they set their cell mate in prison on fire all in the same alcohol filled breath (preceding story taken from one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met—in the Tenderloin, of course), you wonder about their relationship with God.

Not this couple. Instead, I was in wonder at their trust. To my eye, all they had in their possession was a bike each, a little bit of food, and a pair of old, tattered clothes. Yet there was legitimate and genuine love and trust of God there. Why is it so hard for us to do the same?

I think it’s because we have our houses, our cars, our nice HD TVs that go so well with our Blu-ray players and collection of movies; we take nice, plush vacations; we have all of our toys and the luxuries of life that make us so comfortable.

But Jesus, in John 14 calls the Holy Spirit the “Comforter.” How can we expect to rely on the Holy Spirit when we artificially fill ourselves with stuff to take His place? How can we expect the Comforter to comfort us when we’re already so comfortable?

Monday, April 12, 2010

What to do?

I was driving the other day and I saw this guy sitting next to a stop sign where shopping center traffic empties onto a busy street. About twenty minutes before I had given the only cash/change that I had on me and two pop-tarts that were sitting in my vehicle to another homeless guy who’d approached me asking for money or food. I really wished that I had had something for the second guy. Then I looked at his sign. He asked for anything—“even a smile helps” his sign read.

As I was driving away from there, I began to really think how much we marginalize, shove off to the side and isolate ourselves from those less fortunate then we are. I think we feel guilty that we have so much and do relatively so little for them. Whether it’s the homeless individual in a parking lot or ethnic cleansings, it’s become all to frequent that we say “Wow, that’s terrible,” and then continue on doing whatever it was we were doing before.

Because of the frequency and the overexposure of tragic and horrific events, we’ve become numb to the figures and forget that behind each figure there is a face. Yeah, occasionally something will come along like January’s Haitian earthquake that killed, according to the Haitian government, 230,000 people and that will elicit enough of an emotional response for us to get off our butts and do something—even if it’s only to get out our wallet out of that back pocket and give a little money. Yet throughout it all, we forget that there are more children who die from starvation each week than people who died in Haiti.

While I think money is a necessary element to solve these atrocities, I don’t think just throwing money at the problem is the best way to go about it. It starts with action. Jesus knew this best (duh…He is Jesus after all). In Matthew 25:35 He said “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” He didn’t say “When I was hungry you gave some money to the United Way, and when I needed clothes you donated to Goodwill.” I mean, when it came to our salvation, Jesus didn’t do some distant charity, He went at it no holds barred and sacrificed Himself so that we can have a relationship with GOD.

I think that same principle needs to be applied to all the evils in the world today. If we quit marginalizing people and remember that there are actual faces to the statistics and actually do something ourselves, then that’ll make a huge difference. It starts with each of us pouring out the love of God and taking an active role in changing this world to look more and more like God’s Kingdom. Even if it only begins with a smile.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Christianity. The religion named after Jesus Christ that professes to follow His teachings. If Christians really do follow the teachings of Christ, why has the Christian Church been responsible for so much injustice over the centuries? If Christianity really represents Jesus, then where did the Crusades come from? The Inquisition? The deaths associated with the Salem Witch Trials? How come there’s been exploitation of natives by Christian missionaries? What about rampant Anti-Semitism throughout the history of Christian Europe that culminated last century? Or what about a closer and more personal look—why are there so many self-righteous, bigoted dangerous fanatics from a religion that claims something radically different?
These facts bother so many people, both Christian and non-Christian, and this issue of blatant hypocrisy is something that needs to be addressed. While all these questions are grouped together and interrelated, I think all of this breaks down into one of two answers—one related to the Church as a whole, and the other related to individual Christians.
First, let’s take a look at the Church as a whole and the violence and atrocities committed in the name of the Christian God. Is it just Christians, or do all religions give rise to hatred and oppression? The despotic regime of 20th Century Japan grew primarily out of the influences of Buddhism and Shintoism. Hindu nationalists, in the name of their religion, have carried out bloody attacks on both Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Islam is the soil in which much of today’s terrorism comes from, and Israeli forces have been equally brutal and violent in their responses. Looking at all this, wouldn’t it make sense to claim that religion is the source of so much of the evil and oppression around us today?
I don’t think so. Millions died in the communist Russian, Chinese and Cambodian regimes, regimes that denounced the existence of any theistic deity. The forbearer of the secular state was the French Revolution, which rejected God and any sort of religion in favor of human reason, yet how many were killed? Madame Roland, before she beheaded on trumped up charges said “Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.”
When God is taken out of the equation, a society will choose some other idea by which to judge others by in order to assert their own superiority. Isn’t that what the Marxist did in its loyalty to the state or the Nazi did to race and blood?
Violence done in the name of God is an important issue that needs to be addressed. There is no rationalizing it or excusing it. But it is equally necessary to realize that in the last few centuries, violence and oppression has been caused just as often by religious reasons as it has been by secular ones. Societies bereft of religion can be just as oppressive as religious ones are. The conclusion from this is that there is some innate, deep-seated impulse for violence that is part of the human condition that will take on whatever form it can.
That makes a perfect transition into the personal issue of many Christians; why so many are so self-righteous, smug, and lead less ethical lives than many non-Christians do. Why is that?
James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift comes from God. He wrote it into our genetic code. Wisdom, justice, goodness—God gave them to all of humanity and He does not discriminate because of race, gender, religion or any other affiliation. Christians do not monopolize the market on them. It’s a part of who God created us to be.
So shouldn’t Christians have a better grasp on these gifts and put them into practice more often and more effectively? Yes. Why don’t they? Because we’re sinners. Jesus said that He wasn’t here for the healthy; He was here for the sick. He didn’t come for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32). Because of this, it should come to us as no surprise that Christians can be hurtful and petty just like everyone else because the Church is a hospital. It’s rare that people go to a hospital unless they’re sick. Many people don’t come to truly know God and experience Him for who He truly is until some calamity in their life makes them seek out the hospital. The Church, if it’s doing its job effectively, will be full of hurt, broken, messed up sinners.
What about the intolerant, self-righteous fanatics? If that’s the extreme of loving Jesus, why would I want to be like that? Well, you shouldn’t. I know I don’t. I think the problem with “fanatics” isn’t that they’re too in love and too devoted to God, but that they aren’t devoted enough! Think about it, the humility, sensitivity, forgiveness and love that Jesus talks about are absent in their lives. These overbearing insensitive jerks (I have a lot more names running through my mind for them that aren’t as nice) aren’t fanatically loving, forgiving or humble. They aren’t Christian enough
When someone’s truly devoted to Jesus Christ, there still will be problems in their life because, let’s face it, we’re sinners. But if we’re truly devoted to our Creator, then these issues will dwindle down until they’re barely recognizable as anything other than a small incontinence. I believe this is what we all should strive for.