Monday, September 27, 2010

How many commands do you need to follow? Pick one as long as it is love.

Bible scholars have for generations counted the commands in the Bible. Most people would say that the Old Testament has somewhere over 600 commands to follow. Of course, most children's Sunday School classes have focused on the 10 Biggies, the 10 Commandments. There was even a classic movie made of that with wonderful 1960's style special effects.

I think people over think this issue. Jesus said that there are just 2 commandments that summarize everything God asks people to do. They are, love God and love others.

In the Old Testament God made this clear as the summary of the giving of the 10 commandments. He said:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Deuteronomy 6:4-6
And in the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that all commandments boil down to just these two.
“ ‘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. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
In reality to love God and love others is the same commandment. If you love God, you will love other people. So, in reality God only requires one thing of you. That is to love.

This should be very freeing. We are to love. We don't have to be theologians to love. We just need to love. We don't have to understand the political climate to love. We just need to be loving to all people. We don't need to have a perfect ecclesiology or eschatology to love. We just need to care for the needs of the people around us and focus on the goodness of God.

What extra things are you doing in your life that may interfere with your raw ability to love? What extra expectation are you putting on others that inhibit their ability to love you back, or may lead you to be less loving of them? 

I've heard it said that you should hate the sin but love the sinner. I wonder if we shouldn't just love the sinner and love God and let God focus more on the conviction of the sinner. Sure loving God will demand a separation from sin, but perhaps the best focus for my life is how much I can love God rather than labeling the actions of others as sinful. I often misinterpret actions anyhow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A warning for parents (part 2)

[Note: This the the second of a two part blog based on warnings that I have discovered over the last couple years of studying parenting and spiritual issues. In this time I have read two books by Christian Smith, a sociologist who studies spirituality in youth culture. He has identified that one type of faith predominates among American youth. He called it moralistic therapeutic deism. He doesn't consider this type of faith to be healthy. I would agree. Please read yesterday's post if you have not yet.]

As I said in yesterday's post, when I ask parents what their top goals for their children are I usually get these three priorities:
  • That they would follow God.
  • That they would do good and avoid evil. (Obedience.)
  • That they would be safe and happy.
While the first is a godly and biblical goal for parents, the other two are a distraction on the way to developing children who honestly follow God. We have already established that obedience is the wrong goal for parents so today I'll look at the goal of safe, happy children.

This is actually a very easy goal to knock down but it would do a disservice to try to knock it down with isolated verses. There are many examples for why safe living is not God's intention in scripture. Just look at the way that God treats his children: Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New. Let us look at some more macro examples.

Remember the story of the 12 spies. They were sent into the promised land and asked to bring information about the inhabitants back to Moses and the Israelites. Two responded to God's call to take the land. The other 10 chose to fear scary things and instructed the Israelites to avoid the promise. Because the people chose the safe way out, God punished the people for 40 years.

In Judges, the statement "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" is repeated several times. It is easy to assume that the people of Judges had no leader and no clear agreement about the standard so each one chose to make himself or herself happy. This pursuit of happiness led to all sorts of troubles for the nation.

The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus turning the tables on happiness. Jesus was not about teaching people the quick way to happiness, rather about putting others needs ahead for one's own. The best example for this principle are the beatitudes. In this teaching (as translated in modern English) Jesus says "happy are those..." But a careful reading makes it clear it is not about the one who wants to be happy to chase his own happiness. Rather it is about putting his immediate needs behind the needs of others.

Over and over again, the case can be made that God wants our happiness and even our safety to fall behind the needs of others and to be reliant on trust for him. If we teach our children to live safe and happy lives, we are short sheeting them. In this way, many Christian parents are no better than their non-Christian neighbors. Our children can easily become an idol for parents. This, in turn, teaches children to make their own state of mind their idol.

I love what C.S. Lewis says about God. Perhaps you remember this dialog in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When one child asked if Aslan (a form of God) is safe, Mr. Beaver replied, "Safe?...He isn't safe. But he's good."

Teach your children to live in the unsafe territory which is goodness, pursuing God with all their hearts. It won't be comfortable for you or for them, but it will be right.

If you'd like to read more about this topic, I'd suggest Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A warning for parents (part 1)

[Note: This the the first of a two part blog based on warnings that I have discovered over the last couple year of studying parenting and spiritual issues. In this time I have read two books by Christian Smith, a sociologist who studies spirituality in youth culture. He has identified that one type of faith predominates among American youth. He called it moralistic therapeutic deism. He doesn't consider this type of faith to be healthy. I agree with his analysis.]

If I ask just about any parent in my church what their top goals for their children are I'm likely to get these three priorities:
  • That they would follow God.
  • That they would do good and avoid evil. (Obedience.)
  • That they would be safe and happy.
In reality, I honestly think that deep down inside those are the answers I might give also, but 2 out of 3 of those responses are misguided. In truth, most of us really place the two weaker values ahead of the more biblical.

If you are a Christian parent, there is an absolute command to help your children to follow God. Deuteronomy 6 is the Lord's command to parents (the older generations) to give guidance to children (the younger generation) as the Lord says: 
"Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. (NLT)
It might be real easy to say that this passage gives parents two responsibilities: to guide children into love of the Lord and to guide children into obedience. But, that is not really accurate.  There is only one responsibility for parents here. That is to love the Lord. Obedience is something that flows from our love for God. Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey my commands" (John 14:15). You will notice in this statement that obeying God's commands is not a command, but are result of our love.

Have you ever notice that most Christians are more like the older prodigal son? We usually look at that story from the eyes of the one who ran off after taking his inheritance. But we think, like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, that because we have created bounds, that God owes us something. Parents, just teaching your children rules and boundaries isn't enough for proper spiritual development. That parenting style can lead to an entitlement complex where children grow up thinking that because they followed the rules, God owes them.

Unfortunately, when Christian parents focus on obedience, they don't create people who love God. They create obedient children. In fact, that obedience is often not to God at all, but rather to the parents. In my experience, these children often walk away from spiritual things we they are no longer under their parents' authority. Even if they continue in obedience, they can do this without a deep, honest love for God.

Instead of focusing on teaching your children obedience, make a priority of teaching them to love God and to love others.  As evident in the Deuteronomy passage, conversations on obedience will be important along the way  as they learn to live out their love for God and their love for others, but obedience isn't the starting point. The major mistake I notice when obedience is the starting point is that parents make their own law the measure of good. That might include non-biblical rules like those that guide the way they dress, the importance of attending church functions and sitting certain ways in those functions, and choosing a parent-approved life path. Be careful not to create a false law in your children's life. It is better to create a honest love.

I would recommend that parents read Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel and The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. These books will help parents to focus on putting love for God ahead of obedience to you.

[Tomorrow I'll post on the thereputic mistake that parents make.]

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I love boobies and book burnings

A few weeks ago as my family sat in Chicago Midway Airport waiting to board our flight home from our wonderful time in the Midwest, I noticed a boy about middle-school age sitting with an escort. He had up and down both arms a good number of those rubber band style bracelets. Every single one of the bands had printed in bold letters, "I love boobies."

I've seen this phrase before on bumper stickers, but this time it really shocked me. I asked my teenage daughter if she notices. Her response, "Dad, almost every boy in school wears those."

Doing remarkable things is a good way to get your message out. People notice you or your organization when you make bold and shocking statements. I have a friend who calls it the man bites dog factor. The I Love Boobies bands are apparently a breast cancer awareness campaign. In my opinion it is a misguided campaign as instead of getting people to look at the need for a cure for a disease that claims many beloved mothers, sisters, daughters and friends, the campaign turns boys to giggling and trivializing the female. It highlights the breast as a sex toy and a joke.

Today I am so happy that Pastor Terry Jones has rescinded his church's plan for burning the Koran. I'm not sure why exactly he and his church thought it was a good idea to plan and make public a Koran burning. I can guess that they are very happy about the fact that fewer than 10 days ago, googling "Pastor Terry Jones" would have returned some pretty plain websites and most certainly no news. I can imagine that the church is happy that this has been a tool for furthering their message, which I would venture they think is the Gospel of Christ. They have become remarkable in the most direct sense of the word. People are remarking about Terry Jones' church.

The problem with building notoriety for planning Koran burnings is the same problem as the I Love Boobies campaign. You get a message out, but it is the wrong message. It is a negative twist on what you are actually trying to say.

If Terry Jones wants to share the message of Christ, he is going to have a lot of repair work to do to demonstrate that Christ is about love. He came to die for those who read and obey the Koran. He gave up his life for those kinds of people. The problem with I Love Boobies bands is that some wearers don't really care much for healing sick breasts, they are just looking for the next pair of healthy boobies.

What are some less obvious ways that Christians send a wrong message about Jesus when they are trying to make the Gospel more remarkable?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Does discernment have to lead to condemnation?

Skye Jethani has an interesting article on Out of Ur. In Judge Not he discusses two different uses of the word judge in the Bible: to discern and to condemn. When Jesus says, "judge not or you will be judged," he certainly did not mean we should not use discernment. We are constantly told to be discerning in the Scriptures. The problem is, when we discern that something is evil or wrong, we often move straight to the judgment of condemnation. Does condemnation have to follow the discernment? What is an appropriate Christian response to discerning something is less than perfect?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Labor Day: Cheers to being average!

Today we celebrate the American worker. So if you haven't lost your job in the last year. Cheers! If you aren't self employed. Cheers! If you don't have the ability to look into the future and discover through an entrepreneurial mind great ways to develop something new without being on shift work or doing the 9 to 5. Cheers! If you don't take leadership to a new level. Cheers!

Of course, Labor Day is the celebration of the vastly important average Joe. The common laborer is very important to our society. With out those people, nothing would get done. I love and respect and even hold up with a lot of esteem the average people of this world.

Still doesn't it seem ironic that we have a day to celebrate being average? Doesn't it seem narcissistic to have a day when people (laborers in this case) get together to celebrate themselves? 

Just wondering. I'm going to celebrate by spending the day with people who don't fit the definision of laborer. I didn't plan it that way it just happened. I don't know that we will ever once mention the average worker or labor unions in the course of our celebration. How about you?