Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mark 7:1-5, 20-23 (NRSV): What Truly Matters?

Mark 7:1-5, 20-23 (NRSV): What Truly Matters?


So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”  He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
… And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come ... All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”


I have a confession to make: I am a former legalist, a former doctrinal specialist, a former Pharisee. Once I first truly came to Christ, and I am not talking about at the baptismal font but when I first said “yes” to His prompting of love, I envisioned a life of discipleship as a vast area of learning about and sticking to doctrine. If it was doctrinally in Scripture and tradition, I wanted to know about it and enmesh it in my life. As you can imagine, I quickly hit a life-sized, spiritual wall.  In my zeal to know more about Jesus and His church, I was failing to nurture our relationship, a relationship that is built on His grace, mercy, and love. I was the Pharisee in this Scripture asking myself, and indirectly others, “Why do [you] not live according to the tradition of the elders…?”


Through life experience, grace, and prayer, God reveals that human tradition is without meaning if it is void of His love and mercy.  Jesus exemplifies this throughout the Gospels, and it is ingrained in all of His teachings. How could I have missed it?


This weekend, my son asked if we could go to his favorite restaurant for lunch. Although we were at the end of our summer budget, we agreed and had a delicious meal together.  During our meal, however, there was a raucous, inappropriate conversation taking place at an adjacent table.  The group, comprised of adults, was loud and their content and language were not conducive to family dining.  “From within,” I became enraged and began internally railing against these patrons, casting burning looks of implied judgment toward my wife: We were thinking the same thing.


I had an epiphany.  In the midst of my “evil intentions,” God was calling me to not hate but to pray for these people. Admittedly, I did not want to, but it felt necessary. When we got into the van and later returned home, my son and I had a conversation about how difficult it can be to love others unconditionally.


It is so easy and satisfying to judge others and think through the lens of condemnation, but Christ demands that we slough off our evil intentions and stick to what truly matters, mercifully loving others even in the face of offense and irritation. Thankfully, I am still Christ’s work in progress and desperately dependent on His grace.


May you all be blessed and encouraged in the love and peace of Christ.  

Stan

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT): Loving Others as Ourselves

Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT): Loving Others as Ourselves


Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

I like what C.S. Lewis has to say about loving our neighbor as ourselves, as difficult as this can be.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis says the following:

“...We must try to feel about [others] as we feel about ourselves - to wish that [he or she] were not bad, to hope that [he or she] may, in this world or another, be cured in fact, to wish [his or her] good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving [others]: wishing [their] good, not feeling fond of [them] nor saying [they are] nice when [they are] not.

“I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything loveable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have, then, to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves. Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves.”

Lewis has a unique way of explaining how both God loves us and how we must, in turn, love others.  This is a tall order, especially when the object is a person we find difficult to tolerate, but it is what Christ demands: “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ Can we do this of our own volition? No. But the Holy Spirit in us, renewing us each moment, can.

May you all be blessed and encouraged in the love and peace of Christ.  

Stan