Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reckless Behavior

To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.
                                                                   Matthew 13:12

When what I listen to is something other than God's word taught by Jesus, whether it is the culture's message or the message of false prophets (such as those who say diseases or natural disasters are God's way of punishing sin), these messages do not spring forth from the unfailing love of God. A few verses later in Matthew, Jesus quotes Isaiah, saying: "For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes--so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them."

When I don't act out of love, my heart becomes hardened and understanding of Jesus' teachings fades away, drowned out by the voices of hate and selfishness that are so much easier to hear and obey. It is much more appealing to hear messages from society and from false prophets that elevate us while condemning others, that make us feel it's okay to hold onto our wealth instead of redistributing it to those who desparately need it, that focus our attention on celebrities and consumerisim instead of the massive exploitation others endure so that our consurmerism addiction can be satisfied.

This week, it seems I have been surrounded by those whose messages contradict the teachings of Jesus. I have spent much time looking inward to see where I am living by the messages of my culture instead of the message of Jesus. The more I read Jesus' teachings, the more I realize that his message of unwavering, infinite, unconditional love is countercultural, a threat to the values and structures of power we craft to make our lives comfortable. Thus, it is easier to say I won't give to the person I see begging because he might be a con artist than to take a chance and give him something. I justify myself by saying I am being a "good steward" even though Jesus said to give to those who ask (Matthew 5:42). In justifying my behavior, I fail to trust God to provide sufficient resourses to me so that I might be able to give more abundantly. God is obviously reckless in his generosity, because I see how recklessly generous he has been to me. Could it be that he expects me to be that recklessly generous to others? Could it be that I am really supposed to live a life that exudes the love of Christ, the reckless, lay-it-all-on-the-line love that Jesus modeled instead of the measured, safe, take-care-of-myself life that our society advocates?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Right Agenda

"Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath!"
                                                                           Matthew 12:12

It seems rather obvious to me that it is a good thing to do good things on the Sabbath, but Jesus had plenty of run-ins with the Pharisees because he healed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were consumed with paying attention to the law, but Jesus was more inclined to pay attention to people. I know I am often guilty of being more focused on agendas and structure than observing the needs of people around me. In this way, I am more like the Pharisees than I would like to admit.

Structure and order are good until they become the goal of my life. When I fail to attend to the needs of others because doing so is not part of my day's agenda, I have made my agenda my god. In the parable of the good samaritan, this is likely what the priest did when he passed by without helping the man who was robbed and beaten by bandits. He probably had people expecting him at a certain time and to take the time to help the injured man would cause him to be late. The expectations of others and my own desire to meet those can take precedence over God's plans for me if I am overly focused on my agenda.

I must ask myself--is my concern for meeting the expectations of others driven by my love for them or is it driven by my own desire for approval? Is my motivation to glorfy God or to be praised by people? Catherine of Siena observed that all evil is rooted in self-love, so it's useful for me to examine my motives in meeting the expectations of others.

I need to consider if my service to others is motivated by my love for them or by love for myself. If I seek recognition and approval for what I do, even if my feelings are hurt when I am not thanked, then my service is not a response to my love for God and for others, but is only a way to feed my ego. If this is the case, my service does not honor God. Others may be helped, but the cause of Christ is not furthered when lack of appreciation bothers me. If I am motivated out of the overflowing love I have for God, it won't matter if anyone even knows what service I've rendered. My only desire will be that Christ is glorified and others feel God's love through me. It doesn't even matter that the recipient of my service is ungrateful if I am acting out of love for that person.

I hope I can remember that when my feelings are hurt because my actions have not been appreciated my motives for service are not what they should be. I want to be one who can serve motivated only by my love for Christ and others. That's an agenda worth having!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blessing By The Animals

Next Saturday, our church is having its first ever Blessing of the Animals. I will be out of town and regret that I will miss it, but it has me thinking about animals and what they mean to us and to God. I like that God, our Creator, spent so much time crafting each type of animal and giving each one its own unique characteristics and personality. Genesis 1 tells us that God created the animals and observed that this endeavor was good.

Jesus tells us how much God cares for animals in Matthew 10:20 when he says God knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground. Jesus uses the animals as an example to us in the Sermon on the Mount, observing that the birds trust God to feed them (something we seem to be unable to do even though we like to think we are smarter than birds).

God rebukes Jonah for his lack of compassion for both the people and the animals of Ninevah, when he tells Jonah: “But Ninevah has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” God’s compassion to the people and animals of Ninevah is the result of the people and animals fasting and wearing garments of mourning.

Psalm 84:3 says that the sparrow and swallow both have a home near God’s altar. I am glad to know that God enjoys the birds as much as I do, and I look forward to joining them one day near his altar! And while so many Psalms command us to praise God, the last verse of the last Psalm, Psalm 150, says “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” While we have to be told time and time again to praise God, everything else that breathes only has to be told once!

Animals do seem to praise their Creator much more freely than we do. As I write this, I am listening to mockingbirds, cardinals, chickadees, Canada geese, a barking dog, and a chipmunk. On such a beautiful fall day, they are singing their praises to God while I sit silent. It’s interesting that while we have been given stewardship over the animals, they are our example of how to praise God!

I am grateful for their example of how to praise God, for their example of living authentically as God created them with no guile or agendas, and for the unconditional love we receive from those animals that live within our homes as pets. For us to bless the animals is only to return to them and to God a small portion of the abundant blessings they give to us. Every day we are blessed by the animals in ways we may not even yet realize. How fitting that we acknowledge their blessings to us by blessing them!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Good Message, Bad Motivation

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in Heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.     
                                 Matthew 5:44-45

Jesus makes it clear that I am to treat all people, even those who count themselves as my enemies, the same—loving them and praying for them. Because Jesus put this instruction in terms of God’s evenhandedness with all of us makes it clear that I also am not to make any distinction among people; the just and the unjust are to be loved by me as they are by God.

So what Jesus is really saying to me is that I am not to have enemies. I can’t control what others think about me, or if they view me as an enemy, but I can control how I feel about others and how I treat them, and according to Jesus, I am to treat all people with love.

There’s a sign in front of a church I drive by almost daily that says: “Love your enemies. It will mess with their heads.” The idea of loving your enemies is good, but the implied motivation behind it is wrong. If I really love my enemies, then they aren’t my enemies and I won’t have any desire to mess with their heads. To want to do that shows vindictiveness that is incompatible with love.

There is no compatibility between Jesus’ way of love and the way society encourages me to look out for myself and not allow another to get the better of me. I simply cannot put my agenda first, but must always act out of love for Jesus and love for others. Anything that encourages me otherwise (even if the message is in front of a church) should be avoided at all costs.