Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Careless Words

"I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again anyone who says to a brother or sister 'Raca' is answerable to the court and anyone who says 'You fool' will be in danger of the fire of hell.   Matthew 5:22 NIV.

It's hard to scroll through Face Book posts or to listen to or read the news without experiencing a war of words. Though I write primarily to Christians, these words of Jesus apply to all (FYI-in Jesus' day there weren't any Christians).

Raca is a word of utter contempt. It labels someone as intellectually empty-headed. The Message Bible clarifies the point. "If you call someone an idiot." The Holman Study Bible adds more flavor, "But whoever says 'You Moron' will be subject to Hellfire."

Idiot...moron...Jesus took name calling seriously. The verse in Matthew demands our attention and obedience. Just because our country, for now, affords citizens free speech, Christians cannot abrogate their responsibility to, "speak the truth in love." Ephesians 4:15. Much of what is passed off as truth fails the smell test.

For myself, I prefer to avoid judgment, being hauled before the court and of course, hellfire. Careless words aren't worth it. I doubt Jesus referred to the court systems here on earth; they have no jurisdiction over hell. I can respectfully disagree with someone's viewpoint or action without vilifying them.

"Do not judge or you too will be judged. For the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the  measure you use, it will be measured to you" Matthew 7:1-3

This passage isn't an admonition or an excuse to have no opinion or thoughts. What matters is how those opinions and thoughts are expressed. I'm free to judge what is right and wrong but not to condemn and tear down personally those who think differently than me. It would be better if all of us, myself included, took Jesus' words in Matthew 5:22 at face value. We will face serious consequences for the words we speak.

How about you? Are there words you can afford to eliminate from your vocabulary? How can you express a difference of opinion or belief without demonizing those who oppose your views? How can you speak the truth in love in a way that builds up and doesn't tear down? What can you say that helps others realize their God given potential and purpose as opposed to a scorched earth method of correction? Here's something to think about. Who renders the judgment and where is the court that Jesus talked about?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Parable of the Good Scissors

But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money” 
Matthew 25:18

Once upon a time there was a candy tin re-purposed into a sewing box. Thread, a strawberry shaped pin cushion, needles, pins, a tape measure and some basic notions were my mother's supplies. The sewing box was also the repository of the good scissors.

Heavy, sharp stainless steel blades with glossy black handles, the good scissors were strictly for adults only and important matters. Consequently they spent most of their time hidden away for some future special event.

There was a measure of wisdom in this. Small children and sharp objects often end badly – for the children. Paper dulls scissor blades, a real problem for a seamstress. My mother, however, only sewed under duress. Saving the scissors for sewing projects was akin to drivers in India refusing to use their headlights because they'll eventually burn out and need replacing.

Relegated to the use of dull, rounded tipped kiddie scissors, projects like paper dolls were difficult. The good scissors would have made the task much easier. Childhood crafts were deemed unimportant, and prohibited the good scissors from being used for real purposes.

The Body of Christ, both individually and corporately, have versions of the good scissors. God given gifts to the Body are designated for mature believers. The same way sharp objects and children don't end well, God's gifts in the hands of inexperienced Christians gets messy. Leaving their operation to those more capable (whatever that means) seems prudent. Who is qualified to determine what the age of responsibility is and when one has attained it? If those new in the things of God have no where to practice under the watchful, loving tutelage of more mature believers, how will they ever learn?

Blame doesn't rest solely on the Body as a whole. Individuals have gladly abrogated their responsibility to those considered gifted and called. Like the good scissors safely tucked away for some special occasion, individuals place God's gifts on hold and out of sight. When the need arises, inexperience breeds hesitation – suppose I fail? To do nothing out of the fear of failure is worse than to make an attempt and have less than completely successful results.

Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25. The steward, driven by the fear of losing what was entrusted to him wasn't heralded as a hero on the Master's return. He was sharply rebuked for being unproductive. What little he had was taken from him and given to another. Ouch.

How about you. What has God given you that is receiving the good scissors treatment? How or where can you practice so you'll be ready when the big day comes? To you, what would constitute this special occasion? How would you describe being less than perfect at a task? What does it mean about you as a person? Are you willing to take small steps of faith at the risk you may fail? Your God-given good scissors accomplish nothing if they go unused.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Miracle on the River Kwai

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's live for one's friends”
John 15:13 NIV.

The cost to construct the Burma-Siam railway was astronomical-393 fatalities for each mile of track laid. POW's: enlisted men and officers labored under inhumane conditions. Oppressive heat, tropical diseases, stinging insects, inadequate food, clothing and shelter exposed workers to the harsh elements of the Thai jungle. Many succumbed to the brutal environment. Others, suspected of lagging, were bayoneted or decapitated by sadistic guards.

Like frightened, cornered animals the men adopted an extreme survival mentality. Prisoner on prisoner crime skyrocketed. Men were motivated to live fueled by fear and hate. A shovel changed everything.

A routine inventory of supplies indicated that a shovel was missing. The prisoners were assembled and a guard demanded that the thief confess. Silence. Furious with their perceived insolence, the guard announced, “All die! All die!” Suddenly a man stepped forward, “I did it.”

Determined to set a precedent and send a warning, the guard beat the man to death in from of the other prisoners. Later that day another inventory revealed a simple mathematical error – there was no missing shovel.

One prisoner remembered Jesus' words in John's Gospel. This, coupled with the realization of the man's sacrifice so that the rest would live, sparked a radical change in the camp.

Death was still with us – no doubt about that, but we were slowing being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-intelligence, laziness and pride were anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in the truest sense. These were gifts of God to men...True there was hatred, but there was also love. There was death, but there was also life. God had not left us. He was with us, calling us to live the divine life in fellowship.”
Ernest Gordon, To End All Wars

One man's selfless sacrifice revolutionized the camp's atmosphere. Many sought out answers about how to prepare for death; not funeral arrangements, but matters of eternal significance. Ernest Gordon became the unofficial camp chaplain. A small church was erected and prayer was held nightly. “Faith,” Gordon said, “thrives when there is no hope but God.” God didn't disappoint.

Jungle University sprung up. Prisoners of different backgrounds taught classes. Artist made materials and mounted an exhibition of their work. Musicians crafted instruments and held recitals. Gardeners tended beds of medicinal plants. Prisoner on prisoner crime dropped dramatically. So complete was the transformation in some of the men that upon liberation they extended kindness, and not revenge, toward to their former captors.

The impact of the unnamed man's sacrifice on the camp is a snapshot of the power of Christ's death to transform lives. It changes everything. We can focus on eternal realities in spite of horrific, present-tense circumstances. Neither their status as prisoners nor their captors' attitude toward them changed, but the men were no longer the same. Salvation in Christ offers to all the same opportunity. In the world, but not of it, we rise victorious over the direst of circumstances. Stronger than ever, we're fueled by the greatest power source available-Love.

How has this history behind the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai impacted you? How do you think you would hold up under such horrible conditions? How would your relationship with Christ make a difference? What lessons can you take away from this example of the Gospel in action under the worst of circumstances?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Entirety In Our Hearts

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” Matthew 22:37 (NIV emphasis mine).

Take your family and flee to the mountains, simple enough. EXCEPT, instead of obedience Lot chose negotiation. The result – his wife died and he sired two sons through incestuous relationships with his daughters. The boys grew up and became enemies of Israel.

Go warn Nineveh. Tell the residents to repent and avoid destruction. EXCEPT, instead of obedience, Jonah sailed off in the opposite direction. The result – thrown overboard to quell a violent storm, Jonah arrived at his destination via a three-day voyage with deluxe accommodations in a whale's belly. The city repented and Jonah sulked.

Dwell in Bethel – what could be plainer? EXCEPT Jacob chose Succoth instead and things went downhill quickly. His daughter Dinah was raped and two of his son's extracted their revenge. The Welcome Mat was quickly withdrawn and Jacob finally went to Bethel. Unfortunately, he didn't stay and while traveling, his favorite wife Rachel died in childbirth.

Notable EXCEPTions; the Bible is filled with them. God said, “Do this,” EXCEPT the listener did something entirely different and things end badly. Why is it just so hard to obey?

I relate to those who struggle with following God wholeheartedly. I've negotiated, wandered off target and flat out ran away. In all sincerity and with great intentions on Sunday, I'd pledge my all. By Monday, I had my list of EXCEPTions.

“I'll go anywhere EXCEPT: Haiti, Florida and Texas.”

I said this tongue in cheek but really meant every word. God laughed. I've lived in two of those three locations and have a pair of red cowboy boots...just in case.

Life says there are EXCEPTions to every rule. In God's kingdom rules aren't for bending, skirting or breaking. Do so and there are consequences. This isn't God's judgment, it's the inevitable result of the wages of sin, which is still death. God insists on an undivided heart, nothing less will do.

I still struggle. I like comfort, security (except for roller coasters, zip lines, parachuting and so forth) and things laid out in full before I make a commitment. God likes faith and trust in Him, not loads of fine print. Growing older I face more situations that require I trust and believe that He has the right plan. My options and resources are systematically funneling down to one thing – Him. Why do I find this so unnerving at times?

I don't have entirety in my heart. Nor in my soul or mind for that matter. I've gotten better EXCEPT I've not arrived. God is graciously peeling away the carefully constructed facade of self-reliance and exposing the fallacies that it is built upon. Together we're erecting new foundations.

How about you? What EXCEPTions keep you from being totally His? Why do you hesitate at His direction? What do you consider untouchable, off-limits, and non-negotiable in your life? Tough questions to answer, but they must be addressed to achieve entirety in our hearts, souls and minds.