Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sticky Community

I am part of an amazing community of people who are following Jesus and introducing other people to Him.  There are so many things that are great about these friends of mine, so many things we have in common.  So much love shared between us.  So much hope in Jesus for what He's done already for us and what he's going to do in us and through us.  He's got us on this crazy adventure together and I love it.  But guess what, it's not perfect.  Guess what else, that's ok.  
I think sometimes I (and everyone else who is trying to function in some kind of community, so everyone except hermits) have a bit of expectation - or dream at least - that somewhere along the way, we're going to get it right and suddenly all the pieces will fall into place and everything will be peachy.  Well, sometimes I'm a little slow, but I just realized, that's not happening until Jesus comes back.  And that is so good.  That means we have to learn to depend on Jesus to be the glue that sticks our band of mutant x-men and women together.  Jesus' own community couldn't hold it together without him, how could we ever do without Him.  
In  chapter 9 of Mark's account of Jesus life, Jesus takes a couple of the boys up the mountain and they get to see Jesus in all his glory - and Moses and Elijah as a little bonus - I can't wait to see that.  When they come down the hill, Jesus find the rest of the boys falling apart at the seams.  Some guy who's son is being harassed by a demon is there looking for help, and the disciples can't seem to do a thing about it.
First, as per normal human behavior, everyone is arguing.  Everyone has to get their two cents in.  Just picture it; the big wig scribes are pointing out all the theology and law and tradition you can shake a stick at.  Probably blaming the kid for wanting to be possessed by a demon, probably shaming the father for not raising him right, probably condemning and ridiculing the disciples (who were just teenager themselves) for not knowing what to do or how to do it.  Now if you know any teenagers who have ever had a little authority or power, it's gone straight to their head (sorry teenagers, but it's true, I was just like you).  They're probably acting tough and being smart asses trying to show those ol' scribes they're totally out of touch with society and what's going on.  Meanwhile this dad just wants some help for his kid.  He's desperate.  The community is deteriorating very quickly.  There's going to be one of those serious public disturbances that happens after the home team loses the Stanley Cup in game 7 unless Jesus shows up and does his thing.
Jesus does what he always does.  First he shows us he's human.  This isn't the robot zombie Jesus that you've seen in the movies who always has a blank smile on his face.  Jesus was a man, he had real emotion; he laughed, he cried, he gut frustrated, he got hurt, he showed compassion, he showed mercy.  And here He's disappointed and frustrated with the people around him.  So their's your permission to be disappointed and frustrated with the people around you when they let you down or don't agree with you.  We're all imperfect get over it.  Our community will never be perfect.  But Jesus get's past it - quickly!
But that's sort of a side point.  What he does next is teach us that community only works when we take care of the people around us who are in need.  Jesus doesn't waste time trying to solve the debate what is happening around him because it's probably based in religion and theology and law and pride and self-righteousness.  He goes to find out what is troubling this little boy and his father.  He goes straight to the person in need.  Jesus could have easily settled whatever argument was taking place.  Any time the religious leaders challenged him and he took the time to respond to them, he totally stumped them with his understanding of scripture.  But who cares.  People don't often get set free when they get proved wrong, they usually get angry and jaded.  What does change people is when they see and experience the love and mercy of the Kingdom of Heaven.  So Jesus poured it out for everyone to see.
The father begs Jesus to help him, if he can.  Then he says I believe a little but help my unbelief.  Jesus immediately responds and shows him mercy.  He doesn't say, go study your bible so you know the right answer.  He doesn't say go get cleaned up first for all the stupid choices you made in life.  Jesus doesn't give him a list of tasks to do in order to make amends for his sin.  Nope.  Just helps him.
Later the disciples - confused as usual - are like, "Jesus, what's up, why couldn't we do anything for this kid?"  And he teaches them a very valuable lesson about how this kingdom works and how their kingdom community has to work.  He says this problem can only be fixed by prayer; that is by being connected and dependent on God to do it.  Maybe the disciple were trying to show everyone their stuff, maybe they were more interested in proving the old dudes wrong.  Whatever the case, they weren't dependent on God and their little community went to shambles.  They weren't dependent on God so the power of the kingdom was not manifested among them.
I love my kingdom community.  I love that people's hearts are set on Jesus.  We're seeing God do incredible things with people and we know it's all him.  I know if we keep ourselves after Jesus - even when the scribes come to tell us we've got some things wrong, even with the religious leaders come to say there's a few things we have to do first or we're not legit, even when we get confused and aren't sure which way to turn - I know we'll encourage each other to turn back to him.  We are a rag tag bunch of accidental and reluctant leaders at times, but we want to see the mercy and grace of the kingdom radically change people's lives.  I know we'll disagree with each other about how we should do things, I know we'll probably have arguments about who should have taken responsibility for this or that, I know we'll say things wrong and things we don't mean.  Still humans.  But we've all experienced his incredible Grace and that is what will build our community and make it indestructible.  Jesus is sticky and we'll stick together by His grace, mercy and power so everyone around us has a chance to experience his Faith Hope and Love...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jesus' Crumbs Will Fill You Up

(Mark 7:8…) Jesus’ ongoing beef with the Pharisee seems mostly to be based on the Pharisees impression that life was based on Sacrifice.  Most of their traditions centered on external displays of their devotion and sacrifice to God.  They had a fine way of twisting the law in order to serve their own purposes that only ever put more boundaries and bondage on people.  In their defense, the Pharisee movement was started because they saw so much destruction and brokenness in their society.   As is the case with the legalistic religious movements of our own day, their misguided drive to add rules on top of rules came from the idea that if you can’t beat the power of sin, at least we have to try to control it to minimize the disaster it cause in people’s lives.  So, over time, things that were good and practical, like washing your hands before you eat, became a religious activity which displayed your devotion to God.  Similarly, declaring the money you should use to help your needy parents “Corban” (a gift to God) showed your devotion to God. (Mark 7:12).  But as these traditions got more and more twisted and lost their true meaning they effectively put people into bondage instead of showing people that they needed God to rescue them and their sacrifice would never cut it.  Jesus says, God told you to honor and care for your parents, and you’ve chosen sacrifice over mercy.  You’ve chosen religion over people.  People are always more important to Jesus.  The Kingdom of Heaven is about Mercy
(Mark 7:14) Jesus then starts to preach the kingdom of heaven again to the people, who I’m sure, were watching very closely to see what the Pharisees would do in this situation.  They’d been upstaged and contradicted again by this Rabbi who was turning their world upside down with teachings and displays of power and mercy of the Kingdom of heaven.  Jesus takes one of their most basic tradition, rules about food, and basically throws it out the window to get to the root of the problem.  The Pharisees teaching were all external and based on external things.  What people could and couldn’t eat was a very easy thing to control in order give and appearance of holiness.  Jesus says, that is ridiculous and calls into question their teachings.  “Nothing that goes into your body makes you unclean, what makes you unclean goes well beyond anything physical; it’s a heart issue.”  When Jesus makes all inclusive statements like “nothing that…”, he actually means nothing. It’s a freedom statement.  In this case Jesus was debunking all the concepts they had about ceremonial food having any effect on your spiritual condition.  Freedom, the Kingdom of heaven is about Freedom.
It’s not always enough for Jesus to declare freedom; in this case he has to define it.  People truly believed that their standing with God was based on this external physical act.  The tradition was so ingrained in their culture everyone was scratching their heads, even the disciples.  This statement that might seem so simple to you and I, would have been culture shattering.  The ideas of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ were so strong that their entire society functioned around it.  What you ate determined if you were clean or unclean.  Your health determined if you were clean or unclean.  Your clothing determined if you were clean or unclean.  How you did business determined if you were clean or unclean.  And Jesus pulls the rug out from under the whole system and says, “Eat whatever you want, it doesn’t matter a lick.  What matters is you’re all broken from the start.  You’ve got a heart disease that has nothing to do with your diet; it goes much deeper.  And all the junk that comes out of your life is a symptom of that bigger disease, the symptoms do not cause the condition.  (Mark 7:20-23)  Then Jesus leaves.  He leaves them without the answer or the cure to the sin problem.  Perhaps he was frustrated, he certainly was with the disciples (Mark 7:18).  Maybe he just knew they had to digest the freedom he’d just served them before they could hear the rest of the treatment plan for fixing the clean-unclean dilemma.
Whatever the case, Jesus moves on and displays the freedom and power he was revealing to Pharisees, disciples and crowds.  He went to someone’s house and tried to hide out for a bit, tired and needing a rest from all the Kingdom of Heaven mania that been going on I suppose.  But the Kingdom of heaven is hard to hide when there are people in great need around.  A Gentile woman shows up.  Now she is free from all the Pharisees religious baggage, God’s law wasn’t for her people.  So she seems to have no trouble breaking the cultural and religious norms in order to get to only one she knows can help her.  She falls at Jesus feet and begs him to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon.  So even though she wasn’t wrapped up in the religiousness of the Jews, she knew the kingdom of Darkness was real; her daughter was bound to it.
Jesus response seems strange to us, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  But the woman recognized the cultural nuance.  She new enough to know that the Jews were considered God’s chosen people, God’s children.  She would have heard that Jesus was bringing a message of freedom and life to the Jews who were bound in religious tradition.  She wasn’t interested in that, she was just looking for crumbs.  Her response to Jesus, “even the dogs under the table get to eat the children’s crumbs.”  Like the woman who just reached out to touch the fringe of Jesus robe and gets healed, she was desperate for a touch of God to set her daughter free, just a crumb would be enough. 
And Jesus does it.  “Good answer”, he says, “you’re daughter is free.”  She got up and went home to find her daughter restored.  Jesus didn’t ask here any questions about her religious performance, her family lineage, her acts of devotion towards God, her pour choices, her sacrifices.  He saw her need, her desperation, to see the kingdom of heavy bring mercy and freedom to her daughter. She got to see it; the Kingdom of heaven’s freedom and mercy in full display, with no religious pomp and circumstance anywhere in sight.

Jesus opened the door to us in this miracle.  To this point his message had been to the Jews, but he opened the Freedom and Mercy up to the rest of us through this act.  The door is wide open to us, if we knock he’ll open it.  If we through ourselves at his feet and see that he’s the only one who can rescue us from the heart condition we’re all born with, he will rescue us.  It was promised and guaranteed when he went to the cross to die and take our punishment for sin that got up three days later, alive and well to beat it’s great power over us; death.  So now experiencing the freedom and mercy is wide open to us, it’s the reality of following Jesus.  

No special diets, no special ceremonies, no special religion required.