Monday, February 28, 2011, 09:15 AMFeb. 28th, 2011
Posted by Kermit
Posted by Kermit
Jesus replied, “the most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your hear, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other command is greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31
We live in a reductionist culture right now. We want things ‘boiled down’ to the basics, we want things simplified and made easy. We want minimum requirements, and minimalist laws, and small governments. We want things reduced to their base level so we can understand them, or more likely, more easily fulfill them. We then ought to love this passage.
Here Jesus responds to yet another tricky question from the Jewish Religious Leaders, and does so in a manner that should play well in our current cultural context – he has reduced “the law”, down to two basic commands. I’m not talking about reducing the 10 great commands down to two; for that would not be such a feat. I’m talking about the whole of the Jewish Torah – the whole OT law ‘system’, the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and parts of Exodus for good measure – the whole OT law ‘system’, has been made easily understandable!
These two laws hold the essence of the law, the spirit of the law, the hope of the law. These two simple commands contain the substance of what it means to belong to God, and be a follower of Jesus. These two commands can be even more simplified, if need be, to 4 words! Love God – Love People. Sure sounds simple – so why do we make it so hard, and why do we have such a hard time making it happen? We might get lost in discussing loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, but I think the greater merit might be found in focusing on those 4 words – love God – love people.
Our love for God should always be first. We dare not think of others, we certainly must not think of ourselves until we first consider our love for God. For so many of us who have grown old in the faith, or the church, this seems so natural and simplistic, that I’m afraid we often miss the depth of its meaning. For those new to the faith, they understand the vitality and vibrancy that comes with new found forgiveness, and newly forming faith. They have a passionate love experience with God, that too many of us “saints” might profit from discovering again. Our love for God must always be fresh, new, vital, passionate. It dare not grow familiar, or simple, or expected.
Our love for neighbor is more public, more outward; more enacted than inwardly expressed and felt. We might be able to hide or mask how we feel about God, but we cannot hide how we love people. It must take on a very public expression. The golden rule comes into play – treating people the way we want to be treated; but more than that; the base principles of servant-hood must define how we treat others. Jesus set the example and those who say they love Him, must love people in the same way that He did: that is what this second command really means. We must reach out to people that have been rejected by the rest of society. We must love children, widows, orphans, prisoners. Sinners must not disgust us, but make us love more deeply. Broken lives and broken people must not repulse us, but compel us to reach out, walk beside, and love unconditionally. Messed up lives, and repeat offenders must not put us off, but draw us in. Jesus made it clear by the way He lived that He understood and modeled how important it was to get away and maintain His relationship with His Father – and we must do the same. But he also made it abundantly clear how we ought to love people, not just God’s people, not just people in the church, not just “Christian” people – but ALL people. Do these, and you might discover that you are not far from the Kingdom of God! (Mark 12:34)
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 09:31 AMFeb. 23rd, 2011
Posted by Kermit
Posted by Kermit
“Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us – is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them. Mark 12: 13-17
I love this interplay, especially how skilled the Pharisees are at ‘setting up’ Jesus by reminding him how much they know and admire about his amazing abilities! What a sham. If they’d have spent half as much time actually trying to live according to the statement they make about Jesus, instead of just creating this smokescreen – they’d be far better off. Probably a lesson there for me today. If I worried less about saying and believing the right things – and more time actually living the right way – I’d be much further down the road!
Obviously the point of the passage is the tricky attempt to trap Jesus in some dilemma he can’t manage or get out of. It fails, but provides Jesus an opportunity to teach them (and us) a very valuable lesson. In this scenario Jesus advocates paying taxes to Caesar, but giving what belongs to God…to God! I believe in paying taxes – I don’t necessarily like it - but I like living in this country where the police protect me, the firemen will put out my house fire, the street department keeps my streets clean (well, they make an attempt anyway), and I enjoy the freedom and perks that come from being a citizen of this great country. I don’t always agree with how all my tax dollars are spent, and I vote for people who reflect the values I treasure, and hope they do the best they can with their limited human minds, hearts and the gifts that God has given them. That being said, this is the lesser lesson from this passage.
I love giving to God – what belongs to God…and it all belongs to God…I belong to God! All that I am, and all that I have are gifts from God. I am a tenant hired hand on this earth. I might think I own some stuff, but I’ll leave it to another the second I breathe my last breath on this side of eternity. I love giving to God and to God’s people. There is such joy in being able to give generously, and joyously. I know it was harder to give in the early more expensive, child rearing days – but we did it anyway. And that has provided a pathway for us to follow, when now we have more disposable income; and an increased capacity to give.
So, my wife and I pay our taxes, but we tithe all our income to God before we pay our taxes, and we give beyond our tithe to causes and people we know and love. I advocate the same for all. It’s easier than trying to trick the Savior with some fanciful justification about how or why you can’t! My 2 cents!
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 09:52 AMFeb. 22nd 2011
Posted by Kermit
Posted by Kermit
The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left – his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. Mark 12:5-8
This is the end of a parable Jesus told about a man planting a vineyard, leasing it to some farmers, and then sending his representatives to gather the owners share of the harvest. The tenant farmers repeatedly kill the representatives, and keep the owners share for themselves. Finally, in a last ditch effort the owner sends his son, thinking that the tenants will respect him. Instead the farmers kill him also.
The point of the parable is quite obvious. The owner is God who lovingly and in great detail creates this beautiful earth, making provision for its inhabitants to have income, resources, and protection. The farmers are the humans the owner placed in the creation. More specifically I suppose these farmers are the Jewish nation, especially the religious leaders, the Pharisees. The servants sent to collect the owners share are the prophets and priests and kings and leaders God has repeated used to call the humans (Jews and us) back to accountability. The Jews continually rejected these clarions, and the owners “covenant”. Finally, God sends his son whom he loves dearly, and they also kill him.
I’m struck today with the end of verse 7: Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves! What audacity and pride to think that somehow being hired hands emboldens them to take over God’s creation. These Jewish leaders were so full of themselves, and so empty of God, that they believed their screwed up law keeping religion could somehow manage all of God’s creation!
I fear that we must not see this parable only for the Jews! I fear there are some Christians even today who get a little experience or exposure to the good things of God, and instantly begin telling God how things ought to run. I shudder at the pride and audacity I see in too many Christians who think God’s warnings are only for someone else. I have come to despise the self-righteousness that assumes their way is the only way, that their interpretation is the only right one, that their church or brand of religion is the only one God is blessing. I loathe the Christian who thinks they’ve got it all figured out, and makes a play to assume the estate for themselves! I cringe at what these foolhardy souls have done with Jesus!
Lord, help me to hear your voice in the ancient word today. Help me to care for my little part of the vineyard, recognizing my tenant status with all I think I own. Give me grace to share generously with you, your rightful share of all my resources. Help me welcome and hospitably receive your Son, wherever I encounter Him today. Help me never succumb to the temptation that somehow I can manage this estate better than you. I’m your hired hand – period!
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Monday, February 21, 2011, 10:30 AMFeb. 21st, 2011
Posted by Kermit
Posted by Kermit
“I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me! ” Mark 11:29-30
Following all the ruckus by the fig tree, and chasing the money changers out of the temple; some religious leaders corner and question Jesus about authority. They want to know by what or whose authority he does all these things. They demand to know who gave him the right to act like this – upsetting their barren little “spiritual” enterprise. In a fashion that is remarkably consistent with Jesus – he answers their question with one of his own. It is amazing to notice how often he does this throughout scripture; but especially in the throes of conflict or stressful ‘discussions’.
His question to theirs is the verse above. Obviously, this is a debate about authority, and he cuts to the chase, seeing through their intent, and makes his question force them to make a judgment or decision about something they don’t want to address: John’s authority. What Jesus is doing is really forcing them to answer their own question. They probably know that his authority comes from God, but don’t want to acknowledge or admit it – so they refuse to answer his question, and he therefore, and as a matter of principle, refuses to answer theirs. Interesting interplay, and not without merit.
We all might do well to learn the art, (and it really is a learnable art), of asking good questions. So many stressful situations can be diffused by asking artful, intriguing, disarming questions. I wish I could do this better – and I’m getting better. So many times my emotions race to the front of my mind and heart, and I respond to attacks, or criticism, or challenges, or even sometimes innocent questions; with defensive statements or “back-at-you” attacks. I’m learning from the appreciative inquiry methodology of Jesus, to step back, assess what is really going on…and try to ask good questions. Doesn’t sound very spiritual – but it can be very helpful!
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Thursday, February 17, 2011, 11:07 AMFeb. 17th, 2011
Posted by Kermit
Posted by Kermit
Later this afternoon I’m hosting and speaking to a group of BSC students under the tutelage of my good friend Larry Jahnke. The subject of our discussions will center on Unity – specifically unity in the body of Christ. So, naturally I’ve been thinking about this subject: Can Christians and Christian Churches be unified? My answer: I certainly hope so, for that was the command of Jesus in the 17th Chapter of John. I know there is too much territorialism among churches, pastors, and church folks. I know there is too much tension between different religions. I know there is too much that divides us and not enough that unifies us!
My thinking has morphed to considering what does it take to be unified? It takes a willingness to want to be unified, probably first and foremost. It takes some shared vision or purpose or goal. It takes some unifying, agreed upon foundation upon which to base our relationship. It is to that foundation my mind has wandered today. Some years ago a group of Religious leaders from across the theological and denominational perspectives gathered to consider what are the non-negotiable elements of the Christian faith, and might those provide the foundation upon which we can agree, and then begin the process of unification. They published a book which contained the 5, but of course, I can’t find it or remember the 5, so I thought I’d take a stab at listing what I personally believe might be the non-negotiable elements upon which all Christians – no matter their denominational variety – might agree.
1- All human beings are created and loved by God, and therefore have worth.
2- All human beings sin, and therefore have need of a savior.
3- God exists in three separate but unified parts: Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit.
4- By His death and Resurrection, Jesus is the Savior and Lord.
5- The Bible is God’s Word and has authority for our lives.
You will recognize that this is a cursory attempt at this effort, but it’s my 2 cents today. What would your list contain? How might these foundational principles, agreed upon, help to unify those who bear the name “Christian?” This is what I’m thinking about today.
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