A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God's good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.
I think there's a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don't give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that's where we're placing our worth and identity we'll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we've worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”
Augustine reminds us it's not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God's estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.
What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I'm funny or smart or successful or good. I've had to deal with all the ways I've hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I've had to figure out what I'm worth now that I'm not that anymore. More, I've had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it's hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I've discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.
What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.
Rob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
I know I know…you’re probably humming the song…but this isn’t about that! Today’s reflection comes from John 1, and while I preached through the Gospel of John last year; I did not cover this very interesting text sandwiched between the witness of John the Baptist and the Wedding at Cana. Here is the text:
John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”
My initial thoughts here centered on how a story starts as a “poking-fun-at-rival-towns” in the area and then ends with the heavens open and this Jesus being the stairway to heaven! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Well, I think it is Jesus just being Jesus…
You have to love the faith of Philip in the story…after Jesus’ invite to be a disciple, Philip is trusting and acting in faith. But then there is the more skeptical Nathanael, and hew really makes the story interesting. I mean, we have read the introduction to John in which Jesus is introduced as the very WORD of God, the LIGHT of the world, and that Jesus has come to create a new people who will be given the power, through the Holy Spirit, to live the abundant life of God. Apparently Nathanael doesn’t read…just kidding…but he is caught up in where this guy is from…Nazareth.
You see, important people are supposed to come from important places. Leaders come from Jerusalem, not Nazareth. Linebackers are developed at Penn State, not Rutgers (yikes). And good quarterbacks play at big high schools, not the little ones. Politicians need to be from metropolitan centers, not podunk rusty has-been towns. The promised one coming from Nazareth…that is surprising. But Philip just invites…Come and see…
So Nathanael does go and see this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus. Jesus immediately offers some encouraging words to Nathanael. In contrast to Nathanael’s response about Jesus, Jesus calls Nathanael a man of integrity and a genuine son of Israel. I laughed at Nathanael’s response…how do you know about me? (I was thinking of him smirking and saying, “Yep…you got that right buddy! But prove it!”)
Then this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him…not from a distance, not just now, but under a tree…not just any tree but the fig tree. Jesus claims that before Philip found Nathanael, he knew where Nathanael was…under the fig tree. While Nathanael’s presence under a tree probably meant that he was learning from a rabbi or other teacher, the fact that Jesus has supernatural knowledge takes center stage in the story. In fact, this revelation leads to Nathanael’s proclamation, “You are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
Yet Jesus is somewhat stunned at the proclamation given that he really didn’t do all that much. What comes next is of utmost importance because Jesus recaptures the image of Jacob’s ladder and places himself as the mediator between heaven and earth. Therefore, we can assert that just as Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became a symbol of the special relationship the people of Israel would enjoy as God’s chosen people; now Jesus is a new Jacob, establishing a new people who will share access to God through Jesus.
I must admit that as I read this, I wonder what all my eyes will behold because of Jesus. When he tells Nathanael that he hadn’t seen anything yet…I can only imagine Jesus needs to say that to me as well. I sometimes get stuck in the smaller revelations of God that I forget the larger picture…renewing all things, true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sure, Jesus saw me first…before I was found and brought to him. But he wants me to see so much more…and Jesus wants you to see so much more. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus in glory!
Today’s reading has me thinking about 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 in which Paul expresses concern about what the Corinthians have come to believe and practice. It seems that the gift of grace that God provided has been used to perpetuate a notion of liberty that was not intended in the gift. What I mean to say is that Paul is concerned that ideas about the body, sexual relationships, and our relationship with Christ must be addressed among the Christians at Corinth.
They seem to love maxims, short sayings to live by, or proverbial statements. Paul references a few in our passage:
“I am allowed to do anything!” or “Everything is permissible for me!”
“Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food!”
These slogans or maxims were referenced by Paul, we assume, because the people knew them and lived by them. Yet, Paul qualifies these sayings because, as you probably already know, a proverb or maxim is helpful in certain contexts and situations, but are not entirely universally true. And so Paul qualifies “I am allowed to do anything,” with “but not everything is good for you,” and “I must not become a slave to anything.” Paul goes on to qualify the maxim, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” with a more chilling response, “someday God will do away with both of them.”
Yet, this moves Paul to what seems to be the real point. Apparently some of Corinthians christians live by a maxim that says, “Our bodies are made to have sex, and so having sex is what our bodies must do!” And there were many opportunities for sexual activities in that city. If you would like to understand more about the city of Corinth and sexual practices, there has been much study done about that. But for this moment, Paul is not concerned with the cultural practices surrounding the Christian church, but Paul asserts the reality that they have entered into a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is not haphazard nor is it flippant…it is a covenant relationship that looks a lot like marriage (see Hosea 1-3; Ezekiel 16). Here is the entire passage from the New Living Translation:
12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
I like this contemporary reflection on the passage: “In our individualistic society and culture, Paul’s claim that ‘you are not your own’ will seem decidedly alien. Are we not in charge of our own lives? Can we not do as we see fit? Our own self-control is a fiction that we struggle to maintain. For Paul and indeed for everyone in his time, nobody was without a master, a lord to whom they were in some measure responsible…Some modern people, giving lip service to equality, find a horizontal image preferable; but in reality modern culture is stratified—and that not just economically—much more severely than we sometimes may want to acknowledge.” (J.P. Sampley, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X, 866-67)
I think modern Christians must wrestle with the same notion that our ancient brothers and sisters did…We are not as independent and strong as we think we are, and perhaps sex and sexual experiences have us torn between faithfulness to Jesus and thinking that we are just participating in what our bodies were made to do. Paul’s words still ring true, “Glory God in your body!” Freedom is not without a lord (aka “is not free”), but the Lord offers freedom in that you, me, the self, our bodies, can be rescued from shame to the splendor and magnificence of that which God created! For Christians: your body is a temple, a sacred space where God lives.
This is the time of year we hear much about “good news” and “glad tidings.” We sing about comfort and joy, and we think about hope and peace and joy again! And I want to give my affirmation that these words, and the ideas they stand for, are at that the heart of the Christmas season. I also want to ask a series of questions, like:
Listen to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion--
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
If we listen carefully to the words of the prophet, we know that Jesus himself reads from this very passage as he begins his ministry in Luke 4. I also hear some of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 and ideas echoed in the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1. Let’s reflect on a few more verses of Isaiah 61:
8 For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
So, let’s reflect and briefly answer the questions above:
Who was the target of the good news proclaimed by the prophets and Gospel writers?
The good news is for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, and the mourning -- good news that includes "the day of vengeance of our God." Why is that mentioned? None of these folks would get much good news in the ancient social order unless that order was destroyed and replaced with a new Kingdom. When that order was destroyed, rebuilding God's "ancient ruins" could begin (vs. 4). In the meantime, the prophet rejoices, clothed in the hope this good news brings (vs. 8-11).
Who would have seen this news as not-so-good-news?
It seems fair to notice that those who were considered oppressors, captors, and those loving the life of the world would see the good news as not so good news. When the prophet claims that God “hates robbery and wrong,” I hear more than those who are labeled as thieves, but those whose greed moves them to take more than they need and those whose power allows them to exploit others for their own benefit. If the Lord comforts those who mourn, then we might flip the statement to suggest that God also evokes mourning for those who are comfortable.
Who might have categorized this news as “fake news?”
Well, this isn’t hard to speculate because in the Gospel stories the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees seem to think Jesus is fake and the stories regarding his power and ministry are also false. I think it is safe to say that those who have the most to lose in accepting any “news” are the quickest to label it and try to prove it “fake.” Herod sure doesn’t like the notion that there is another leader and King in town. So much so that he kills John the Baptist, the one who proclaim’s Christ’s coming.
Do I really think that the good news is actually good news?
I think this is the real question…because to answer it I have to admit that I am quite comfortable in my life. I have to admit that my bank account is ok and that I have everything I need—plus some. My belly is full and my wants are vast. Can I truly follow a King who is the leader of the oppressed and depressed, the anxious and the addict? Can I trust in a God who loves justice so much that it confronts my life and calls me to question the ways of my culture, government, and my own mind and will? Do I want to live as an example of the contemporary “American Dream,” or do I want to be an oak of righteousness that brings glory to God? Is there a scenario where I can even try to accomplish both or are these two lifestyles diametrically opposed to one another?
O Lord, help me join the prophet who proclaimed…”I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” Our life in the Spirit of God makes the good news actually good news!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.