28 March 2012

A Pet Peeve

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people quote the Bible out of context. I know I should let it go but it's one of those things that can really change the way a person sees themselves, their neighbor, their enemy, and God. Context is a huge deal! And some of the worst culprits are those "daily verse" emails or books. I'm sure you've seen those. A "gift book" that has a single verse of the Bible for each day of the year. Maybe it's just me but I go to that verse and then read the whole chapter to see what the writer is trying to get across.

Well, today, one of the worst verses popped up on my screen, a verse I see it all the time - 1Corinthians 2.9: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him" (NLT). People respond to this verse by saying things like, "Yes!" or "Amen!" or "God is so good!" The idea, that is, the interpretation of this verse, is something like, God has something so great in store for us that we can't even fathom it. But, and please hear my heart on this, that's not what Paul meant. At all.

First of all, Paul was quoting from Isaiah 64 (verse 4, specifically). This is crucial because that chapter is about the coming of God, the brokenness of people, and the cry for mercy. What Paul does is actually answer Isaiah 64 in 1Corinthians 2. First Corinthians 2 doesn't stop with verse 9. The whole paragraph is:

2Corinthians 2.6-12; NLT: Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
   and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
   for those who love him.”

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

Notice Paul’s point is that God has revealed what was once hidden! He says God’s “plan...was previously hidden...But it was to us that God revealed these things by [the] Spirit” (emphasis added). In other words, the things that “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, and no mind has imagined” has been revealed! And what has been revealed? It was that through Grace all humanity would be restored because of the work of Christ! Paul wrote about this in Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus. Over and over again, he stated that the promises for the nation of Israel were actually for all humanity and creation.

Romans 16.25ff; NLT: Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

Ephesians 1.9-10; NLT: God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

Ephesians 3.3-6; NLT: As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

Colossians 1.25-27; NLT: God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

Titus 2.11-14; NLT: For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

So, next time you get 1Corinthians 2.9 in your email, remember, God has revealed what was once hidden. It is there, in that revealing - that revelation - where we find the Good News.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

18 March 2012

Weekly Reflection - 18 March 2012

John 3.14-21; CEB: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won't perish but will have eternal life. God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him isn't judged; whoever doesn't believe in him is already judged, because they don't believe in the name of God’s only Son.

"This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the light and don't come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God."

Ah! John 3.16. One of the most famous passages in all the Bible. People learn this verse when they are wee sprites in Sunday School. I would say this and the King James Version of the Lord's Prayer are probably the most well known Bible passages in the world.

Of course, no one remembers the other verses around this one! They just remember John 3.16. There are some other important things in this passages, some that help to accent the beloved verse 16. One of the ones the pops for me is "God didn't send [the Child] into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through [the Child]." What's interesting about this verse is that people often forget it. Some people hold that God is going to destroy this world. That God has already written it off and now is just waiting until the "appointed time" to wipe it out. Rubbish! The passage explicitly tells us that God loves the world! So much so that God became a person to show us the life of God ("eternal life") and the True human life (that's one of the reasons I like the Common English Bible, it uses "Human One" instead of "Son of Man."). And here's a little secret: They're the same!

"Now hold on a minute," someone will say. "There's an awful lot of God's judgment in this passage as well. It's not all pots of gold and rainbows." (Hey, it's St Patrick's Day when I'm writing this.) True. There is judgment. And lets look at this head on.

For some people, judgment is exciting. It get's their juices flowing. Knowing that the "other" is going to get what's coming to them, gives a lot of pleasure to some people. In their minds, forgiveness and love are cop-outs. In their minds, there's no justice in forgiveness and love. And to them, that's what these verses represent. They read this passage as God forever punishing people. They see these judgment verses as "eternal judgment." But I'm not so sure.

The word here is based on krino and means to "pick out (choose) by separating." It's a word used a lot in court scenes. The judge listens to the case and then makes a decision. Or one is looking at two plants and, after examining each one, makes a decision as to which one to purchase. It doesn’t mean “eternal damnation.” Therefore, I think it's more in line with the public ministry of Christ. That is, during his ministry, some people believed and some people didn't. We could possibly extrapolate this further into the audience to whom John was writing. The first followers of Jesus were under heavy persecution by the Jews. And John was pretty specific as to what he thought of those people who didn't believe in Jesus and persecuted the followers of "The Way." And, possibly, we could extend this out to our own day. Some people believe and follow Jesus now, while other don’t. That’s all the “judgment” verses mean.

However, just because someone doesn't believe now doesn't mean that they won't eventually believe. In fact, I think that is exactly what the Bible teaches. For example, let's just take this passage to mean that Jesus was only referring to the Jewish people of his day. Some of them believed during this time but the majority didn't. Are they without hope? Not according to St Paul. In Romans 11, Paul wrote:

Romans 11.25-32; CEB: I don't want you to be unaware of this secret, brothers and sisters. That way you won't think too highly of yourselves. A part of Israel has become resistant until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. In this way, all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The deliverer will come from Zion. He will remove ungodly behavior from Jacob. This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.

According to the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but according to God's choice, they are loved for the sake of their ancestors. God's gifts and calling can't be taken back. Once you were disobedient to God, but now you have mercy because they were disobedient. In the same way, they have also been disobedient because of the mercy that you received, so now they can receive mercy too. God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them.

The judgment that Jesus mentioned to Nicodemus should be seen as a temporal judgment. That is, they didn't believe so they weren't followers of Jesus. And the reason they didn't believe is because they didn't want to change their hearts and lives. They wanted to continue live a way that was contrary to the Way that Jesus lived. But, there is hope in that one day, they will be brought to believe. They will put away their selfish ways and follow the Way of God.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

12 March 2012

Weekly Reflection - 11 March 2012

John 2.13-22; CEB: It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me. 
Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?” 
Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Jesus and the money changers. When I talk about Jesus being non-violent, inevitably this passage comes up. Someone will say, "But what about the money changers?" as if it's proof that Christ was a violent person. Of course, I don't see this passage that way. I see what Jesus did was disrupt the business for a few moments. (Besides, the passage never states that Jesus actually struck anyone.)

However, that's missing the point. There are a couple of things that stand out to me in this passage. First, the obvious reference to Jesus replacing the Temple. His just being there was to show people that they didn't need a temple! That he was God's new temple. In other words, all that the Temple provided can now be found in Jesus. Think of the impact of that statement. This was spoken to a culture whose entire existence circled around the Temple and what it stood for. It was at the Temple that their life as a nation was unified. It was at the Temple that God's presence was certain to dwell. It was at the Temple that God's forgiveness was given. All of that, and so much more, was now to be found in Jesus. The Temple, then, was only a temporary solution. It was never intended to be the ultimate reality for any one, even the Jewish people.

Jesus said as much when he spoke with the woman at the well. Just a few chapters later, we read:
John 4.19-24; CEB: The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.” 
Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
But, what have we done? We have continued to proclaim that God can only be found in our place of worship. We bicker and fight over which religion is "right" and "proper" and "orthodox."  What ways of worship and where to worship and how to worship and on which days to worship have been a big focus of much of our debates. But Jesus said that the time had come - when he walked the earth - that those types of differences would not matter. What would matter would be "worshiping God in spirit and truth." The Synod of Whitby didn't need to happen! The "Great Schism" didn't need to divide our churches. The different ways of following Christ can and should co-exist. The church is supposed to flourish with a multitude of expressions (Ephesians 3.10; Romans 14).

The second point I want to bring out is the idea of "business." Jesus said that the people of his day had made God's house a place of business. Can we say we've done the same thing? How many times do we here references to church and business. How many times do we hear something like, "We need to run this church like a business." Why haven't we learned this lesson? Why have we slipped back into the way things were then? We have modeled our churches after the very model that made Jesus burst with anger! The only account we have of him "losing his cool" was over making God's house a business and somehow we think it's okay to do that now? Why? What changed?

As anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, I believe that we have made following Jesus into something it was never intended to be. Somewhere along the way, we have made following Jesus a religion and not a way of living. People used to meet in each other's homes (Acts 5.42; 16.40; Romans 16.5). If we continued that today, we wouldn't have to worry about salaries or budgets or extra bills or what not. Think about that for a minute. No building funds. No borrowing money from the bank. No need to purchase extra space or land. If we took a collection it would go to people in need within our local community. Or, better yet, instead of taking a collection, we could encourage people to give to local charities or shelters. With smaller, home based fellowships, we could actually learn how to minister to others by learning how to minister to each other. When the home based fellowship got too large, it would break off and continue in someone else's home.

There are a couple of great resources for this type of community. The Teaching of the Twelve by Tony Jones shows how a small group of people in Missouri are living out the way of Jesus described by the Didache, an ancient Christian document that predates some of the letters of the New Testament.

Another book is The Church Comes Home by Robert & Julie Banks. The Church Comes Home is like a guide book for those wanting some helpful tips on how to "do" a home church.

I think there is real need for this type of community. With so many people in our communities today who don't want anything to do with "organized religion," the opportunity is tremendous for just these types of fellowships. There are people who attend traditional churches who are missing the intimate connections that can only be found in small group settings. We are at a place where we can re-image, again, following Jesus as a way of living in small, inclusive, intentional, home fellowships. Where people are encouraged to live out their lives on whatever path they find themselves on. 

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

04 March 2012

Weekly Reflection - 04 March 2012

Mark 8.31-38; NLT: Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.

Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said.“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

"You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s." There it is again - two different ways of seeing. What did Jesus mean by it? It seems to me that Peter's reprimand may have been about Jesus should be saving his life by not going to Jerusalem, about Jesus not putting himself in harm's way. There also may have been some talk about him fighting for Jesus tooth and nail. Perhaps Peter even talked about this as a the starting point of a revolt - of bringing the fight to those who opposed Jesus. Kind of a preemptive strike helping to usher in God's Kingdom (a kingdom that would look a lot like the Roman kingdom but with the "right" people in key positions). The others may have been in agreement (thus Jesus looking at the rest of the disciples. I can picture them nodding their heads in approval and saying similar things). And, then, maybe Jesus' statement was not really directed at Peter, but toward anyone with the same way of seeing.

So what would be God's thoughts? Jesus tells us in the following verses. The summary of which, at least for me, could be a life of selflessness and serving others to the detriment of one's own life for the sake of someone else's life. But the context is a little sharper still. It's not like Jesus is saying that heroes would "save their lives." No. It seem that anyone who give up her life for the Good News will actually be saving her life. And what is the Good News? As we saw in Mark 1, it's the message that God's promised Reign has begun and we should be about helping put things right, not in the distant future, but right now. It's that type of talk and action that puts one in dangerous situations.

If one is to be a follower of the Way of Jesus, then one must be about speaking truth to power, whether that power is political or religious. And not only with our talking and ways of thinking, but also (and probably more so) in our actions. Are we living lives that are promoting the Realm of God? Are our current actions pointing to a future time when all people, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, are equal? Are our current purchasing habits pointing to a time when all people will be paid equally and honestly for their labor? Where their working conditions are affirming and not demeaning? Are we currently living simple lives where our consuming and disposing point to the understanding that taking care of the earth is the responsibility of everyone? These are things that can help now. By acting in these ways, we can help point others to the truth of God's Realm and the future consummation of God's dream, not just for people, but for the entire cosmos.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC