Church is simple. But it isn’t.

I spent many years thinking “IT” was simple. Unlike science, the arts, medicine, romance and love.  “IT” was computers.  That’s all.  Simple.  And even though I never understood computers – I knew what “IT” was.

And then I found I didn’t.

IT is not “computers”. IT is lots of things others than computers. Networks, programming, data management, servers, patch panels, coding, testing, AND helpdesks.  “IT” is as diverse as science and medicine and romance and love.

Which makes it simpler and more complicated – both at the same time.

“When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” ” Luke 11:29-32

I used to be guilty of that same “thinking” with Church: Church is simple.  God is simple.  Love is simple.  So Church – which is all of that is also simple:

“See, something greater than Jonah is here!”

So simple, that – God in the Old Testament, and God Soft Hands Jesus in the New Testament – both say it – time after time after time after …

And then I found it wasn’t.

The first time around Church never hurt me. The first time around (at fourteen years of age) I decided I was “acting” at being a Good Christian – and I walked away from Church (and developed a knowing disdain in the decades which followed).  What I never really understood (or if I did, never cared enough to really “get”) – was that “Church” is people.  Church is ONLY people.  Just  as “IT” or “science” or “the arts” or “medicine” is all about “people”.

Church is simple. But it isn’t.  Church is people.  But it isn’t.  Church is love.  But it isn’t.  Church is all are welcome.  But all are not.

“See, something greater than Jonah is here!”

Church is relationship.  And our relationship with God is just the tip of the iceberg.  The one with “people” is the rest.  And people need (even though unconditional love doesn’t). People do need (and love does not).  People need to feel safe.  People need to be heard.  People need to know they matter.  People NEED to matter.  And to God we do. To God we can do no wrong.  Not a wrong that means He cuts us off.  That He rejects us for.  That He never speaks to us again because of.  That He gives up on us for.  But people do that to people.

The bible is stuffed full of people giving up on God and each other. And how God never gives up on anyone.  Ever.

“Make disciples of all nations.”

Is that why “this bit” is often quoted but rarely delivered? Because we give up on each other so quickly … because we “spend our love” as we spend our money … on special things and special people?  And “People of Church” do the same – spend on the people who see things (and God) just as I do – the ones who will also “spend theirs” with me?  And if “they” don’t … ?  We BOTH choose to walk away. People letting people down.

The “second time around” Church has taught me this.

That, if “making disciples” was always top of the list – we would never give up on each other. And we would find ourselves (surprise, surprise) doing that “other bit” … the “Through this they will know you are my disciples” bit.  The “unconditional love in reality” bit.

Because if unconditional love “works” for me and God – but ONLY with you so long as you agree with me … Then we will screw each other and God every time.

Which brings me to the “unspoken prayer” I have been taught the second time around …

“We pray you bring light and wonder to the lost and lonely, dear Father. We ask that you heal the hurting, dear God.  We fall at Your feet in wonder and awe.  We worship You.  We love You as you Love us.  And we pray for the fallen.  We pray for the un-churched.  We bring our petition to you and ask this for others.  But for myself … just a mere trifle … a small detail you can so easily grant.  Release me from the burden of making disciples in my own church.  It takes so much time.  And I have so many more urgent things to do for You (otherwise You know  I wouldn’t even ask at all).  You know me, dear Father – I am Yours!  So thank you dear Father – in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

What is that other “bit” we all say … ?

Be careful what you wish for …

 

>> and a PostScript – a PS:

You might want to pop across to Just Me Being Curious and  – “My naked God Soft Hands Jesus” – also written today.  These (three) posts seem to be as one: this post, one by Don Merritt, and now “My naked GSHJ”.  Over to you …  

🙂 

 

Back to Basics, Part 3

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” (Matthew 13:11-12, The Message)

hand.reaching.out

This series is deeply personal for me.

After I wrote Sunday Afternoon I needed to be lifted out of the hopelessness I felt after the horrible week of killing and chaos. Who better to lift me than Jesus?

I desperately needed to get back to the basics of our Savior’s sweet and redeeming words – back to why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

The Gospels and Christ’s words are my shelter, my safe place, my refuge when I am confused, when I lose hope, when the world and the enemy become too much for me. This is the whole basis for this series: Back to Basics. The Gospels ground me solidly in the heart and Spirit of Jesus. It’s where I feel most at home.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” So Matthew got up and followed him. And as Jesus sat at the table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were eating with Jesus and his disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the pious, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

There was a lengthy discussion in the comments section of Back to Basics, Part 2 about how we as Christians call people to repentance. Sinners, outcasts, outsiders, even believers who wander from righteousness. I also had the same kind of discussion on another blog about how we treat our Christian brothers and sisters who have fallen into temptation.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

I don’t perceive this statement of Jesus as abandonment. Matthew places this statement right after the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). Look back at the way Jesus treated pagans, prostitutes and tax collectors. He ate with them, he offered them grace and compassion, he loved them until they were able to feel his heart, able to feel safe enough to be totally vulnerable, able to willingly surrender to him and repent. He didn’t give up on them or ostracize the outcasts; just the opposite. He met them where they were and invited them into his arms where they saw his heart. (Luke 5:29-32, 7:37-39, 15:1, and 19:7)

Eyes to see and ears to hear come from ready hearts – hearts that have been tucked in safely on a bed of unconditional love and grace, of relationship, of knowing the history and hurts of that heart.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. It says, “Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you.”

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. This phrase to all who hear it says, “I don’t want to know your history or pain. I already presume to know you globally through what I have condemned as your sin. Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you. Until you change, you are not worthy of my time or God’s time.”

Focusing on sin does not preach the Good News. It does not make disciples. Focusing on sin negates our own state of being when our Father adopted us through Christ. It negates everything Jesus lived and died for. It negates Christ’s resurrection.

When we focus on sin, we immediately place expectations on those we accuse. We establish a hierarchical relationship to them, we elevate their sin to a place of prominence instead of focusing on the Good News – God’s Grace (Romans 2:1-4, 3:24). And we forget that sin is a lifetime struggle.

Our job is to worry about our own sin, to whittle down our own logs, to look at the person in the mirror and begin there to make a change.

We have been left with two missions (commissions):

Reconciliation: Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Make disciples: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So how do we successfully accomplish these missions?

Continued tomorrow in Back to Basics, Part 4.

A Different Perspective

It all comes down to love.

©BartekAmbrozik
©BartekAmbrozik

When I read, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23),” I hear something quite different than most folks. (Are you surprised? I do walk to the beat of a different drummer.) Most folks hear Jesus saying, “Yes, following me will be a huge burden; it will involve suffering. It will involve giving up many things. It may involve walking away from friends and family. It definitely includes telling people about me. Only the fittest will survive this journey. So pick up that cross and follow me!”

I am certain from this point of view comes the fear of displeasing God, of losing his love, of losing salvation. From this point of view comes the fear of not being fit, not fitting in, not performing up to snuff, not gaining entrance to heaven. We were not meant to fear; we were meant to abide in God’s love so we do not fear. The apostle John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Why else would Jesus say, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)

©The Passion of the Christ
©The Passion of the Christ

The cross was a horrific image to first century listeners. Today, it would be analogous to an electric chair or a hanging noose. If we are to follow the words and actions of Jesus, we must remember he did not carry his cross alone. Simon of Cyrene helped him on that long walk to Golgotha. (Matthew 27:32) And just as Jesus cast his burden onto Simon and permitted him to assist, Jesus tells us to cast our burdens onto him, and exchange them for his singular burden.

“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30 emphasis mine)

Based on his words and actions, when I read those words, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me,” I hear Jesus saying, “Look, it doesn’t matter what your personal prejudices or agendas are; that’s your cross to bear. My commands (the ones I gave to all people in all places for all times) are paramount; they are fundamental, and central to my Gospel. If you want that cross to keep weighing you down, fine. But if you want to follow me, I tell you here and now, my burden is far lighter. My burden is love. Love God and your neighbors. Love each other as I have loved you.

Yes, make disciples; that is, make people feel safe and loved. Tell people the truth of the Good News, that they are invited into the family of God right now, just as they are. Then help them in their journey to accept the Father’s unconditional love and grace. Are you courageous enough to do this, to take up my burden and walk with me?”

When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he expected us to follow his commands. But which commands? Some of his commands were for a specific time and place (like telling the rich young ruler to give up his possessions), but others, based on Hebrew grammar, were universal:

Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

“I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. (John 13:34)

“Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

“Teach these new disciples to obey all these commands (Yep, these four – five including this one!) I have given you.” (Matthew 29:20)

So, based on these commands, are you ready to follow him?

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children when we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And the victory that has overcome the world is our faith. (1 John 5:1-4 emphasis mine)

(Thank you to Don Merritt and Little Monk for the clarity of instruction on the grammar of the commandments of Jesus.)