Thursday, December 18, 2008

SOTM 26: Chip Off The Old Block

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[b] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

-Mt. 5:43-48

I'm a chip off the old block. As I grow older I notice more and more how much I'm like my father. We are both fashion-challenged. My dad plays tennis in a long sleeve button down shirt tucked into blue elastic shorts (pulled up way too high) with black socks and white shoes. I was ordered to wear only what was purchased for me when I played in a band for Christian youth conferences. Dad and I are both snobs about our music and beverage choices. Nothing makes for more exciting dinner conversation than a little political banter or a discussion of the Civil War. It drives the rest of our family crazy during the holidays, but we sure have a lot of fun. I don't try to be like my dad. I just am.

Similarly if we are to be like our heavenly Father it won't come simply by trying to be like him. This is good news because otherwise this passage of scripture could lead us into an endless cycle of trying and failing. Jesus tells us to perfect. We must take this passage in its biblical context. We were in fact created to be perfect like our heavenly Father. (Gen. 1) But sin has infected every area of our lives and tarnished the image in which we were created. Colossians teaches us that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God." (1:15) Through uniting ourselves to Christ in relationship we are reconciled to God. We become "new creations" (2 Cor 5:17). Our old image is restored and we become "perfect in Christ." (Col 1:28). We are seen as perfect in the sight of God even while Christ works out that perfection slowly, wonderfully, and often painfully in our lives. (Hebrews 10:14) But as this process grows and we mature we are able to act more and more like our heavenly Father.

If I suffered from some kind of mental illness I might stop acting like my dad. I might start dressing better. I might start liking lite beer. But medical treatment could repair the damage and I could go back to being a chip off the old block. Similarly, our relationship with Christ helps restore us to how we were originally created--to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SOTM 25: Headed Somewhere

38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[a] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

-Mat. 5:38-42

"Joe Versus The Volcano" is one of the greatest movies of all time. Joe (Tom Hanks) works in a basement office with bad lighting selling catalogues for prosthetic testicles. There's a little bit of Joe in all of us-- life seems to be headed nowhere. Everything we do feels like we are spinning our wheels. A spirituality of timeless truths only reinforces the dead-endness of life. Escapist spiritualities--those which provide a means to get out of the vicious circle of nothingness, fail to ring true because they force us to accept the notion that this world is really nothing but a big waste of time. But Jesus offers us a picture of a world that is neither to be reluctantly accepted nor to be escaped from. This is a world that is headed somewhere. It has its hiccups for sure, but God's plan will prevail. In this passage we see that God's plan for his cosmos is one of progression--from the barbaric to the civilized to the heavenly. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is an Old Testament teaching designed for a time when a world of tribal warfare was constantly fueled by escalating demands for revenge. The punishment should match the crime and put an end to it. This lies at the center of civilized justice. But with Jesus we see this to be but a first step toward the true end--a world that operates with peaceful harmony not when we demand equal treatment but when, like Jesus does himself, we treat even our enemies as our superiors. Jesus invites us to enter into this world even while we expectantly wait for him to fully bring it to fruition.

Friday, December 5, 2008

SOTM 24: Murderous Elder

33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

--Matthew 5:33-37

I heard a story about an elder of a church who was having an affair. In order to avoid the scandal and maintain his upstanding religious and moral reputation he murdered his wife. He hoped to do so in a way that would stage his innocence. The Pharisees understood that some oaths were more binding than others. If you swore by the temple this was not binding but if you swore by the gold of the temple it was. But Jesus is teaching us that all things are his. All things reflect his beauty and glory. In other words, acts done in secret are no different than those done in public. He sees it all. If a tree falls in the forest and no one else is around, it makes a sound after all. And in case anyone's confused, it's wrong to murder your wife even if no one finds out.
The story of our murderous elder illustrates well for us the powerful effects of legalism. He rightfully assumed that knowledge of his affair would be a crushing blow to his reputation. Jesus would not challenge this. In the previous passage Jesus highlights the severity of divorce and adultery. But then he goes on to the heart of the matter. Those of you, he says, who have stayed faithful in marriage must not think you're good to go. The issue, even with marriage, is of integrity. Your "yes" should be "yes" and your "no" be "no" with regards to faithfulness and adultery respectively. But your "yes" should be "yes" and your "no" be "no" in all areas of life. To draw a wedge so deeply between the commitment of marital faithfulness and all other commitments encourages a lack of integrity that ultimately undermines marital faithfulness itself.