Monday, September 24, 2012

Old tea in a new wine skin

Hey Church, it’s me again.  I had another thought for us.
I just read the account of Jesus hanging out and eating with a bunch of tax collectors and notorious sinners in Mark’s book about his time with Jesus.  It starts in the 2nd chapter around verse 13.  It’s an interesting little story about how the religious leaders weren’t all that impressed about Jesus choice of regular dinner guests, in fact, they weren’t just unimpressed, I think they were totally confused.  Jesus goes on to tell them that he came for sinners not good people like them, which seems a little harsh and I’m sure put the bee in their bonnet, so to speak.  I bet they were having a really hard time figuring out why all these people who wanted nothing to do with them and their rules and religion were flocking to this new rabbi on the block and his bizarre modus operandi of hanging out with the wrong crowd and offering them unconditional positive regard, even love and forgiveness.
Anyway, at the end Jesus says something I’ve always found a little weird, because my wine comes in a bottle, not a skin.  It’s one of those cultural/technological differences that cause us to lose some understanding once in a while.  He says, “no one puts new wine in an old wine skin, the wine would swell and burst the skin.  The wine would be lost and the skin ruined.  New wine must go in new skin.”
I think what Jesus meant was he was bringing in a new system that was going to be very different from the old, that would open up the kingdom of heaven to a previously unreachable sector of society and that it was going to take some time (about 3 more years) before everyone would see what he meant.  The wine had to ferment, some things had to happen at the right time under the right conditions and the wine had to expand some more before it was ready.  It wouldn't fit in the old packaging once it was ready - aka the Law - but would be better and sweeter than the old stuff.   That all makes sense to me in a theological sort of way.

Here’s what doesn't make sense; after a couple thousand years, we have tried our best to mix the old wine and the new wine back together and expect that it will taste good.  Slowly over time, we have introduced new traditions and rituals with old traditions and rituals that look very little like what Jesus said and did. We've managed to turn the wine back into grape juice.  We've sanitized everything to the point that the wine tastes more like bleach than wine to most people.  We’ve tried to sell people the idea that Jesus came and did everything it takes to give us a free gift of salvation by grace, but here are all the rituals, religious things and rules you need to follow anyway.  Now I know that some of this wine metaphor is lost on you because “Christians shouldn't drink wine” but try to stick with me. 

Let’s try tea, maybe that’ll go down easier.  Any respectable tea drinking parishioner would never invite someone over for tea and reuse the bags from last Sunday’s service.  You’d never put Red Rose and Earl Grey in a pot together, that would just taste like dirty water.   You’d never give someone green tea and expect them to believe it is orange pekoe and you’d never make tea in the coffee machine.  You probably wouldn’t give someone one of the double shot mocha latte’s from Starbucks and try to convince them it’s just Tetley.  “Here’s your cup of black tea, that doesn’t really have what it takes to make you well so I put in some spinach peanut butter protein shake to give you a little extra boost and keep you going.”  OK maybe that’s too far.  But if you were to offer someone tea, they'd expect to receive tea.  If you did any of the above, people would question if you knew what tea was, they might even wonder if you were a christian.  

Somehow over the years we’ve managed to put back into the mix most of the things Jesus came to say were not necessary, not helpful and not tasty, trying to pass it off as the gospel.  If we keep mixing new wine and old wine, the new wine will not do what it’s supposed to do.  The old wine will stop the reactions that cause the new wine to expand and grow. 

We have to look at our wine skins again and see what we’re putting in there.  Are they the things that Jesus said we should do like care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the broken, the lost, the sick, the most desperate, most notorious, most sinful members of our community, or are we pandering to the respectable “law” keepers.  Are we doing the things that Paul told the churches he wrote to; living by the Spirit not the law, following Jesus gospel not the twisted false gospels of men, living lives fully submitted to the law of love rather than the law of sin.

New wine in a new wine skin can’t keep looking like mixed wine, watered down with grape juice in tea cups.  New wine in an old skin will be ruined and wasted, mixed wine anywhere will taste like crap to whoever we try to serve it to, even the winos and tax collectors, will spit it out.

Paul says this in Colossians 2:6-23

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,
and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”?  Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.
These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Don't let anyone serve you a cup of week old tea at the end of some pointless ceremony.  And if you're going to drink wine, look for the real thing.  After all, Jesus saved the best wine for the first miracle at the end of the wedding feast, I think he wants you to have the best wine and know the real gospel.

Be Blessed. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Be Nice to Science

Hey Church, let's stop picking on science.  I don't think Jesus likes it.  In fact, I think he's OK with science trying to search for all the answers.  After all that's how you made it to Jesus if you've really found Him, you just took a different route.  Guess what's going to happening.  If God is who we say he is, i.e.; eternal, perfect, creator..., I don't think we have to worry about science "proving us wrong".  I mean that's not possible, right?  God is God, scientists are people, they're not going to stumble upon some theory or evidence that disproves the existence of God, they're going to stumble into God.  I realize that sometimes it sometimes seems scary when we look at it from a human perspective and we allow our own fears and doubts to outweigh the truth of who God is, but God's not going to lose this discussion.  Maybe if we stop trying to argue and actually demonstrate the things that we say God is, like loving, patient, kind, forgiving, yada yada yada; we can stop being enemies and get to the same destination with all our neutrons in the same multi-verse, after all, he formed us all out of the same pile of dust.

So church, now that I've taken the pressure off you a little bit, and you've decided to be nice to science - because they have actually done most of the useful, practical discovering that's made your life fairly enjoyable (thank you science) - let's talk about what we are and are not really supposed to be doing.

Let's start with the "are not's" since that seems to have been our specialty over the years.

1) we're not really supposed to be trying to prove them wrong to begin with.  Think about any situation other than God where you are really convinced that you are right.  For instance, you are trying to set up your new washer and dryer.  You've done a whole bunch of work running plumbing, running wires, building a shelf to hold all the soapy things and smelly things and stain removery things that you have no idea what to do with.  You get everything turned on, plugged in, no leaks, no tripped breakers, but you're clothes aren't clean when you're done, the dryer works but the cloths have some burn marks on them.  "what the flip" you say (if you're a christian and you think the other f word that you really want to say might dam you to hell if you say it out loud so you say "flip" but mean F...).  You're buddy comes over and says in a condescendingly arrogant and puzzled sort of way, "Joe, what are you doing there buddy?  Moving the kitchen down to the basement are you?"  And you're like, "no, what are you talking about? This is the new laundry room." And he's like, "well I'm not expert or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's your new dishwasher and wall oven".  Ouch, I was really sure I was right.  Now I have a few options; accept the truth that has been revealed to me, flat out deny that my fairy intelligent friends has some good reasons for believe this washer is not for clothes but dishes, or I can continue to put Tide where the Cascade should go, and try to figure how long I can broil my underwear before they get extra crispy all the while becoming bitter and angry.  Advantage 1, you don't have to worry about being proven wrong, advantage 2, God can make himself very obvious without you having to prove he's not a dishwasher.  Romans 1:19-20, "They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."  So science says the laws of the physical world will eventually explain everything.  Fortunately we know that means they will point them to Jesus so no need to rub it in or argue anymore, just tell 'em about Jesus and wash up when supper is done.

2) we're are really not supposed to be telling people what they are and are not allowed to do.  Technically, that's the Holy Spirit's job.  And he's much better and more believable than us, because he's perfect.  So it's not coming from a flawed, slightly (or overtly) hypocritical person like myself who thinks they know all the right things to do and then ends up inevitably screwing them up.  Not to mention, if they don't really know God or believe in him, there's no reason for them to be bound to some set of rules that may or may not exist (in reality most of them don't exist.) What we're really supposed to do is tell people about Jesus.  He said it like this, (according to his closest personal friend John in chapter 15&16)  "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more... When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.  The Holy Spirit is the one who let's people know what they are "allowed" to do.  We can point them Jesus as the example.  He did it perfectly - the rest of us, slightly off.  

OK, that's enough "nots" for you for one day.  How about some do's that might help science come around from the dark side (that is a reference to black holes and dark matter, not evil, I am not calling science evil)

1) OK, there's only one. This should be easy.  The don'ts are always harder and you'll probably be telling someone what they shouldn't be doing before long, (just like I did to you a couple minutes ago).  But if we boil it all down, if we look at the microscopic level or we look at the outer edges of human understanding and knowledge we're going to find one answer.  Love.  Everything about Jesus is wrapped up in love - Love that is beyond our human comprehension.  Even this one thing we have to do is not of us, it comes from God.  So the one thing we're supposed to do, the one command Jesus gave us before he went home was to "love others the way he loved us."  Guess what?  This love didn't come from his humanity, it came from God's divine nature, through the Holy Spirit.  So the one thing we're given to do, we don't even actually have to do, He has to do it through us.  Over and over the bible tells us love is the most important thing, love is the the one thing that will last, love covers everything, it fulfills all the laws (even the laws physics I presume).  So that's our thing to do; be a channel for God to love people through us.  We're not told to do religious things, we're not told to do theology, we're not told to be good.  We're commanded to love each other the way he loved us. 

We claim to have the truth about and access to the single greatest display of love in all of history; that an all loving creator sent his one and only son to pay for a penalty that we could never pay by giving his life for us.  One person gave away the most precious gift of life in exchange for our lives.  And we want to argue about who has the best theory to explain it all, the best proof that one side is right and one side is wrong, that one way is better than another.  All the while we are just a rusty gate squeaking in a wind storm if we don't have love (1 Cor 13:1).  Here's the tragic part, if science got to it's explanation of all things and it pointed them to God but they'd never experienced His love anywhere along the way, science still wouldn't believe, it would think the theory must be a mistake because the answer to the equation would be the mathematical equivalent to love. 

So my prayer for science and the church is Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, "When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  (3:14-20)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So, I went to Africa the other day...

My wife and I and 3 youth from my church joined a group of people from all over the U.S. for the Journey 117 trip.  We met at a state park in Washington D.C. to do a couple days of orientation and training before heading of to Addis Ababa for two weeks which I'm sure has changed everyone's life.  Funny how getting out of you're little North American bubble for a few days can turn your whole perspective upside down.  Truthfully, I knew it would do that.  I have enough friends who have gone off to a foreign land to have their hearts totally stolen by the people they went to serve.  Truthfully, too, I knew I wasn't really going to cause some great change in Ethiopia (I hope everyone knows that when they go on a trip like this).  In fact I knew the trip was more about what I was going to do when I got back then what we did there.  Even if God does call us to Africa at some point, in the mean time there's plenty to do in Cape Breton to keep us busy.

So here's a couple huge things I took away from the trip.

1)Faith: a lot of us think that faith is just what we believe, and that it's dependent on us.  Faith really is the ability that God gives us to believe, it's not us at all.  In Ethiopia I think I saw what this looks like in action.  We met so many people who seemed to have immeasurable faith, that actually believed that God was going to do what he said he would do - either in scripture or in the things He'd spoken into their hearts.  At first I was taken back a little bit by some of the project leaders we met as they began to talk about what their projects would do.  For instance, one organization called Hope for the Hopeless takes in street kids to the inner city drop-in center, rehabilitates them from a couple years of living on the streets then has an orphanage in the country side where they eventually live, getting an education and loved by some pretty incredible people.  Their plan is to start a children's ministry which will lead to a church of 500+ people in 3 years, a boarding school that will educate 50+ children from the town of Saluta who would otherwise not get any education and send all their children to college or university.  They have very little resources and their facilities are not the Ritz.  So far they've sent more than 60 kids to higher education. since they started in the mid 1990s.  They have literally rescued and changed the lives of hundreds of street kids with little to nothing to work with except depending on God.  When Fekadu talks about the church, the boarding school, the rescue center, growing to get more kids of the street, there is no doubt in his voice, he's saying it as if that's just the way it is.  And I believe him.  As he told more stories of ways he'd seen God provide throughout his life, it's not hard to understand why his faith is so strong.  God has continually added more and more to him, not because of what Fekadu has done himself but because he's had to depend completely on God.  Therein lies our lack of faith a lot of times.  We don't have to depend on God for many of the basic things that they do at Hope for the Hopeless.  We have resources, we have help, we have security.  Faith is added when we need faith.  I want to try depending more on God and less on my own feeble attempts to make things happen.

2)Hope: many of the projects we visited had "Hope" in their name.  Hope for the Hopeless, Embracing Hope, Great Hope Ministries. In places where, in my mind, hope should be absent, hope abounded.  Different than the North American idea hope though.  My dad hopes he'll win the lottery although there's very little chance he will.  He thinks it will make his life better, and it may in some ways, but I'm sure it won't fix all the problems.  That's the kind of hope we generally have.  If this almost impossible thing happens it just might improve things.  It's a really unsure hope.  But that's not what real hope is.  The Hope I saw was more like a guarantee that something better is in store.  First it was Hope in Jesus.  Not like "oh it would be great if I got to go to heaven some day, but I'm not really sure that's what happens" which is what lots of people think hope in Jesus is unfortunately.  People their had experienced the promises Jesus made; they'd experienced his unconditional love so they knew that the rest of the promises had to be true.  Many of these people still lived in the slums, they didn't come to Jesus and get a great job, a fancy house and sweet ride.  They got the assurance from God they were important to Him, even if their immediate circumstances didn't confirm that.  The truth that they were important enough for God to send his only son was enough to ensure them they were important.  Then, the fact that some other human thought they were important enough to give up some of their life to help, however they could, provided a second level of assurance.  As if this isn't some distant, disconnected God that I'll get to be with some day, but he's actually demonstrating his love through the people who claim to follow him and also experienced this same hope.  I want to give up more of my life for other, because I'm sure that God thinks I was important enough to send Jesus for, I just haven't been very good at showing that to others.  I want the rest of you to know how important God thinks you are.

3) Love: The day we left, Satu, a lady from our church who's family adopted a girl from Ethiopia a few years ago, asked me how I was feeling about the trip.  I said excited and scared.  I hadn't really been anywhere before this that was really different.  I grew up in a very small town and wasn't sure how I would handle the culture shock.  Her response was perfectly to the point and right on target.  She said, what are you afraid of, they're just people not aliens.  They have needs just like the rest of us, they just want to be loved.  So simple and so profound, to me at least.  Guess what I discovered; beautiful people with beautiful hearts that had been so impacted by the love of Jesus that they were exuding love to some of the most vulnerable and helpless people on the planet.  And in turn, those people were pouring that love back out to others, and especially to us.  As we visited different orphanages and widows projects we saw this over and over.  The single most transforming thing in these people's lives was love.  Who knew?  So how then do we show that to people here?  If our most basic need is to know that God loves us and wants a relationship with us through Jesus (which is what it means to be a Christian when you boil it down), then why are so many people around me not getting that message?  The 'church' isn't loving people all that well is the only answer I can come up with, I by the the church I mean me and the other people who call themselves Christians who make up the church.  What I saw was the people who were looking after orphans and widows and lepers and HIV  victims were willing to give up their own life in order that someone else could have a chance at life.  I don't mean "give up" as in death (although I think some of them would) but give up comfort, give up status, give up time, give up money, give up meals, etc.  All the things that I often want to cling to.  In return for this, we saw people who had little or no worth in the worlds eyes, regain a hope and a dignity that comes from being loved by someone.  They had the hope that comes from knowing Jesus loves them and the dignity of knowing another person has gone out of their way to notice them and care about them.  We should do that more.  Jesus left with some pretty clear instructions about this, it's all over the book of John.  In John 13:34 He says, "Love one and other the way I have loved you."  It doesn't get much more clear than that.  I know we've come up with a big list of do's and don'ts but this is really the most important one.  In fact, a lot of those do's and don'ts you won't really find Jesus endorsing at all, they're just things that people thought sort of sounded good.  But loving others is definitely on the top of whatever list you want to come up with.  In fact it's so important that Paul tried to tell the church that it was the only thing that would be important at the end.  After his amazing description of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13 (which is really a description of who Jesus is) he ends by saying this, once all the imperfect things have disappeared "these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

I'm glad Jesus showed me some stuff about what Faith, Hope and Love are, I Hope he'll let me show that to someone else, in Ethiopia or Sydney Mines, or wherever else I happen to be.
Be Blessed