Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The weaker brother

Over and over again I've heard the argument of the "weaker brother" from 1 Corinthians 8. Honestly, most of the time it has been in the context of drinking. It takes some kind of form like, "I never drink because a weaker brother (read 'recovering alcoholic or alcoholic-in-waiting') may see me and think it is okay for them to drink too."

BTW, calling (out loud or in your head) someone who is fighting through recovery 'weaker' is foolish and disrespectful. You probably couldn't lift their shoes, nevertheless walk 12 steps in them.

Where does the weaker brother argument fall in terms of relational discipleship? If we take Jesus' command to make disciples seriously, shouldn't we be strengthening these brothers instead of sheltering them? It is our job to walk with them, engage them, help them move toward being a mature disciple who makes disciples. This doesn't mean that there are never times to protect them, but it should only be for a season, not a lifetime.

Todays Idols

"An idol (in this case a statue or representation of another god) is nothing at all in the world and there is no god but one." Paul makes a pretty solid, simple case for that. But that doesn't really fix the problem.

While some groups work diligently to keep it alive, the creation of little household statues for personal worship has certainly diminished over the centuries. The heart of the problem has is still alive and kicking, however.

An idol was something that was set up in place of God. It was something that took away from the worship of YHWH and placed it somewhere else. In ancient times this was normally another god - whether a powerful bull or a fertile goddess or a golden calf. These gods took all shapes and sizes and they all promised things to their worshippers - success, power, riches, happiness, fertility.

When Jesus came, he took the law of Moses and applied it to the heart. He took things that had been considered matters of the outside life and made them part of people's inner life. Idols have gone the same way. Power doesn't need a little Baal to represent it anymore - we can worship naked power just by our constant pursuit of it. Fertility doesn't need an Asherah pole to place outside our house - TV constantly brings its presence inside.

Idols of today are the same as they were before - anything that takes our worship away from YHWH. It might not impact our dinner plate like the Corinthians Paul wrote to, but it impacts our bank accounts and our calendars and our hearts just as much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knowing v. Being Known

Think back to High School. I know, its painful, but give it a try.
Now, think about those people that you knew, but didn't really know - you know?
At least for me, there were people whose names I knew, but as far as I know they didn't even know who I was. Maybe you were way cooler than me at that age, but for me it there was a huge group of people whose names I knew who I'm pretty sure had no idea who I was. (Okay, these were mostly students in the grades ahead of me. And okay, they were mostly girls. It comes with the age.)

There is a huge difference between knowing someone's name and someone knowing yours. There's something about someone saying your name from memory that lets you know that you matter (at least a little bit) in their world.

The same thing is true with God. We can know all about Him, we can know his name and his likes and dislikes and the names of his friends, but does He know us? We can read all about him and think that we know what he's all about, we can think we have a firm understanding of theology, but if we think we have God figured out, it is a pretty good indicator that we have no idea.

"The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." - 1 Cor 8:2-3

We're not talking about a God who is concerned with knowledge.
He's a God who cannot even be known. (But that doesn't stop us from trying.)
We're talking about a God who is concerned with Love.
He's a God who will know our name if we love Him. (And that means loving others.)

Monday, September 28, 2009


Who or what is first in your life? No, for real. When you get up in the morning, what is the first thing you think of? Is it yourself? Is it your family or spouse? Is it work, is it play, is it breakfast?

Our culture has clearly given their answer and it is: "me."
We look at ourselves first, second and third, then if we happen to take a fourth glance, we might look at others. This has created huge problems in our society. One of these problems is divorce. It sucks for everyone involved (except for maybe attorneys).

What are "irreconcilable differences" anyway? Is that just a nicer way to say, "inability to compromise" which is just a nicer way to say, "we're too stuck on ourselves to care about each other anymore"?

Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate sign of commitment, of sacrifice, of love. And in some cases it is. This love isn't easy, it isn't cheap, it doesn't happen every day. There are beautiful examples of it all around us if we choose to look. But, it seems to be less and less common; or maybe it is just drowned out by so many poor examples.

Paul spends all of 1 Corinthians 7 talking about marriage - actually talking people out of marriage. His reasoning? Marriage gets in the way of our relationship with God. He clearly makes the case that God should be first in our lives and having a marriage relationship gets dangerously close to being in the way of that. He says that marriage is a concession for those who cannot get by without it.

What a contrast to today! We focus more and more on ourselves, we live together but don't get married because of our focus on self. We get married, but then want out because of our focus on self. All the while our focus should be on God.

Recently I overheard a snippet of a conversation between a man celebrating his 18th wedding anniversary and a newlywed man. The newlywed asked, "What advice would you give to a newlywed so we have a happy marriage?" The veteran's response: "Take your wife to church."
The newlywed left dejected. He was looking for a secret to finding his happiness with his wife. He should have been looking for God's happiness along with his wife.

That's Paul's message too. A marriage isn't the source of unselfish love. It isn't the place where love is found or worked out or discovered. A marriage is the place where love is applied - love only comes from God. Without that source, we'll constantly revery to making ourselves first.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everything is permissible for me

Not everything is beneficial.
I will not be mastered by anything.

How much do I value myself? How valuable am I? What am I worth?
Am I worth protecting? Am I worth being treated with care and with caution?

When Paul talks about sex, these are the questions he makes me ask. How valuable am I? Am I just something that can be carelessly used or am I worth more?

Sex is a powerful thing. It brings people together and tears them apart. It defines how we look at the world and how we look at ourselves. How we value ourselves should influence how we value sex. Is it something worth protecting? Is it worth being treated with care and with caution?

Do we as Christians get all up in arms regarding sex because we are afraid of it or because we are embarrassed by it or because we value it and want to protect it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A changed Perspective

Who am I looking out for? Who do I want to be perceived as?
What do I want people to think when they see me? What do I wish upon myself?

Paul writes, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers."

Would I rather be on the receiving end of an offense than the giving end?
Would I rather be cheated than be a cheat?

Of course I would rather there be no offense or no cheating, but if it happens am I willing to accept it upon myself before I would pass it off to others? Would I rather suffer the consequences or have someone else suffer? What if people knew about it? Would my pride get in the way of my heart?

Am I completely defeated already? Are you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The duplicity of knowing better

Paul writes to the Corinthians that in the past he has told them not to associate with sexually immoral people - but that does not mean the people of the world who sin. If they tried to do that they would have to leave this world.

This is exactly what some Christians try to do. No, not leave the world. They try to stay far away from anyone who they see as a sinner. They hide away, only associating with church people, only listening to church music, only reading church books, watching church movies, attending only church events. Given Paul's rhetorical style, I'm willing to wager he would say they should go the whole way and lock themselves in the church.

Paul writes to help his readers in their understanding, "But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."

If you are trying to follow Paul's advice on proper associations, the church may be the most dangerous place to hang out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Commentary in Sarcasm

"We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world."

I had to read this a couple times before I realized Paul's sarcasm. He's not really bashing himself and the other Apostles, he's describing things from a worldly point of view.

By the common standard of the day, Paul was a fool.
(Look at the life he left behind!)
By the estimation of the common man, Paul was weak.
(He needs the crutch of religion!)
By those who bestow honor now, he wasn't worthy.
(Unless they were into honoring troublemakers.)

In reality, these were Paul's highest qualifications and the Corinthians didn't see that. They were judging things the way they always had. They were looking at things as though they didn't know Jesus. They were unchanged.

How do we judge today? Would Paul sarcastically throw our views and values in our face in a similar manner?

What is wisdom? What is strength? What is honor?

Who is hungry & thirsty, who is in rags, who is treated poorly, who is homeless?
Is that us or is that who we neglect & ignore?

Who exchanges curses for blessings, who endures persecution, who answers kindly to slander?
Are these things we do or things we hear about?

Who is the scum of the earth, who is the refuse of the world?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Relative Conscience

Last night we watched the premiere of "Community" in it, the main character says, "I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough I can make anything right or wrong. So, either I'm god or truth is relative. In either case, booyah."

Another character replies, "Interesting, its just the average person has a much harder time saying 'booyah' to moral relativism."

(You can watch it here at about the 8:40 mark.)

While the scene was simply meant to be clever banter to push the plot forward and give us a small glimpse into the personalities of the characters, it really touches on much more.
We live in a world where millions of people decide right or wrong only by what they can defend or reason or rationalize. If they can explain why what they did was right for them, it was right. If their actions weren't as bad as an alternative, it was right. If they can do it without their conscience getting in the way, it was right. If they can do it and then smooth things over with their conscience, it was right. All of these things focus only on the individual, not those around them or anyone else. What's right for me is right. Is this right?

The other character's response is simply wrong. We live in a world where the average person never considers the implications of moral relativism enough to consider even whether or not it deserves a "booyah". People don't consider what kind of moral system supports their actions or what type of system they should conform their actions to. Instead, they simply act on what feels right for them (see above).

The truth is, our conscience is a flimsy guide, one that can be bent and twisted by our wants and desires. Over time, we can train our conscience to ignore grave evils. We don't even have to do so the training. Our consciences are constantly being trained by the things we see around us, the people we interact with and the experiences we go through. It is our consciences that are relative, not morality.

"My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent." - 1 Cor 4:4

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Love God and Love People. That is what we are called to do.
Sin rails against both of these. The classical definition of sin says that it is the violation of a moral or religious command. If we're trying to love God, it becomes obvious how violating what He's all about would be problematic.

Sin and people is a little bit murkier, muddier and more painful. There are times when we sin against someone - we gossip, we offend, we abuse. These are painful, but for the most part clean-cut and obvious. Both parties know something wrong happened. One person must repent and one must forgive. Hard but simple.

There are other times when sin tears people apart tangentially. Sin isn't just a wrong. It is a stain and a scar that tears deep into the fabric of our being. It doesn't just harm those we've sinned against, it harms us. We find ourselves guilty. Obviously, painfully guilty. We know that we've messed up someone's life and that just sucks. Even if we go through the divine process of finding forgiveness with God and then the painful process of repentance and seeking forgiveness of those we've wronged we're still left with the lingering, debilitating problem of shame.

Shame tells us not that we've done evil, but that we are evil. Not that we have messed up, but that we are messed up. Not that we've done wrong, but that in some way we ourselves are wrong. We don't measure up, we're not perfect, we're not worthy, we're not good enough,

We can fight these feelings, we can work through them and deal with them, but some part of our psyche makes them nearly impossible to eradicate. When we meet new people, when we are in tough situations, when we are stressed and worried those shame statements come creeping in - they speak up and tell us to run, to hide, to retreat, to embellish, to deflect, to lie. There's no way they will accept you. (Not if they knew.) There's no way they'll understand. (Don't bother trying.) You're not good enough. (Not anymore.) I can't tell them the truth. (That's not what they want to hear.)

These thoughts and feelings push people away from us. They cause us to create masks, false identities that we hide behind as we try to get by. They keep us from letting people truly get close, they keep us isolated and alone - vulnerable and weak. We rely on false intimacy and fake relationships to get through the day while the whole time we are scared that someone will find out and everything will come crashing down around us.

That's not a life, it's a collision course with disaster.

Unfortunately the church not only allows it to happen, we foster it. We put up false fronts and pretend to have it all together. We hide our own warts and imperfections, bury our past sins and smooth over our faults. When someone does have the courage to admit a mistake or more likely when someone's mask falls off we rush to "fix" them, to correct the problem to make everything status quo once again - always teetering on the brink wondering which gust of truth will send things crashing down.

What if we all just admitted we've crashed already? What if we were the place where past failure was a badge of honor, a purple heart that shows where we've come from? What if sinners were more welcome in our midst than Pharisees? What if we loved people the way Jesus did? What if we loved like we've been commanded?

That would be loving God by loving People.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Knowing v.

Knowledge is power.
Knowing is half the battle.
Knowledge alone is nothing.

Francis Bacon said the first and the second one is the famous ending of so many GI Joe public service announcements. The last one has been said before, but not nearly as much as the former two.

What good is just knowing? It doesn't make things different. It doesn't improve things. It doesn't fix things. It doesn't matter. Acquiring knowledge is easy. It is fun. Understanding a situation makes it seem like we can handle it, like we can deal with it - it puts us at ease. It changes nothing. It placates. It dulls. Knowledge is the opiate of the masses.

So, what then makes a difference?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Clean Slate

"God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things
- and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before him."

Lord, help me to be foolish - to forget the wisdom I think I've gathered. I don't want to understand or comprehend things my mind can grasp. I need to rely only on your understanding, only on your wisdom, only on your truth.

Lord, help me to be weak, to relinquish any strength I've acquired through my efforts. My strength is insufficient, it only prevents me from relying wholly on your strength. Take away my own ability to stand, to fight, to run and leave me only with the strength to love as you love.

Lord, make me lowly and despised; set me apart from the things of this world, from what is valued and praised, from the things people expect and appreciate, from what is proper and predicated. Remove me from the good graces of society and take me into your grace.

Lord, end me. Make me not. Take away my life and replace it with yours. Give me a clean slate, a new foundation to build from, to love from to fall on. Change me.

Distinct Fools

What does it mean to be salty? How do you describe something that's salty? It's not hot, it's not spicy, it's not sweet or sour or bitter or bland. Something that is salty is just that salty. There's no other description that really fits. Salty is salty. It is different, unique, it is identifiably different. You never confuse salty with spicy like you may confuse rosemary and oregano. Salt is salt. You can blend it with other seasonings, you can mix it with garlic or vinegar, but it is what it is - it stands out.

So, what is Christianity's problem with this concept? Why aren't we salty? We have we forsaken this commandment? Why don't we stand out? Why do we try to blend in and be like everything else?

By definition we are unique. By definition we don't fit it. By definition we are what we are. Our central hero is an anti-hero, crucified, beaten, humiliated - a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but our source of power. Yet we try to fit in (or don't try to stand out.)

We must embrace our unique position. We must be willing to stand out. We must love those the world won't love. We must stand where the world sits. We must act where the world does not and refrain where the world acts. Our saltiness cannot be an activity or a job or a way of life, it must be our identity. It's time for some life change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge - because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you." 1 Cor 1:4-6

When we talk about life change we can think about loss. We think about erasure and deletion, that everything must go and something new must completely replace it. Here, Paul talks about life-change in a different way. He says that Jesus doesn't erase or delete who we are, He enriches who we really are - what we know and what we say. There are some things that fall away, but the core of who we are, who we were created to be, remains and is strengthened, bolstered and fortified. We become more than we were and more of what we can be. Our sins are washed away, but they were never what we truly are.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Different Perspective

I can't help but listen. I'm really trying not to. But, one of the boys they're talking about is name George and it is impossible to ignore.

It seems to be a single dad and the manager of a nanny service. They are discussing the situation Dad is having with his nanny (Anne). She wants more money or less hours so she can get another job. That's not a big deal. $50,000 nannies with 401(k)s and benefits is a different world than the one I know, but still not a big deal.

What is a big deal is the role this nanny plays in Patrick and George's lives. She's the one who knows what homework is due, she's the one who plays tennis with them. She's the one they want to go to the lake for the weekend with. She's the one they have a relationship with. She's the one to whom they offer incentives so she won't leave until Pat and George leave for college.
Dad (and the nanny whisperer) know that it is important to have consistency for their kids (plus, "You have to go through the work of finding a new one. You know this is my third?"), but it is not important enough for them to provide it themselves.

I don't know these people and I am sure that I am making gross assumptions, but where is the love here? What will these kids think about having a paid-for role parent? What is truly important for these kids - providing them with everything they want in life and a house big enough to hold it all or providing them with what they need?