Following immediately

Look at these two different verses, one from the Christian scriptures, and the one it echoes from the Hebrew scriptures.

Luke 9:56-62 (TLV)

56 Then they moved on to another village. 57 As they were traveling on the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 But Yeshua said to him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 He said to another, “Follow Me.” But that one said, “First let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Yeshua said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Then another also said, “I will follow You, Master, but first let me say goodbye to those in my home.” 62 But Yeshua said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looked back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

While all of this passage is interesting, this post is concerned with verses 61-62.

Now look at the parallel –

 

1 Kings 19:19-21 (HCSB)

19 Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.” “Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?” 21 So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.

 

In the Hebrew scriptures (1 Kings 19:19-21) the prophet-to-be Elisha is allowed to go back and finish up his business.  Yet in the Christian scriptures (Luke 9:56-62), the unnamed follower-to-be is denied this.

Is it because he wasn’t chosen?  In the case of Elisha, God told Elijah that he was to be selected as his follower, moreover, as his successor.  He is not just a follower, but is going to be an equal to Elijah in status and power.

Yet the follower of Yeshua (The Hebrew name of Jesus) was not chosen.  He chose to follow, instead of being chosen.  There is a difference, and it is important.  He was at risk of turning away, of being distracted from his healthy choice, if he went to his family – his old way of living.  He had to follow immediately or he would be in danger of being distracted from the path that leads to life.

This feels like an echo of the Parable of the Sower.  Here is the Condensed Gospel version of Jesus’ explanation of it –

The parable of the sower explained

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.

Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.

But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15

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Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
directly,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.

A choice to return

It is tiresome to hear someone point out negative things all the time. Like a coworker I had who was always talking about the bad things – patrons, news stories. Like the friends who have to share only bad news on Facebook – their own, the world’s. It is hard to stay centered and focused and calm when this happens.

But we are told to love our enemies. That is the test. It is easy to love people when they are good. Jesus tells us that even unbelievers do that. But the rubber meets the road when people and situations are difficult. That is when we must rise above our human nature.

The only way to do that is to ask Jesus into the situation, to take up his yoke. It is when things are hard that we are given an opportunity to grow, to get stronger, to get better. It is when things are difficult that we have a reminder an opportunity to recommit to our path. It is then we can choose again to follow Jesus, and not the world.

To celebrate Halloween or not?

Several years ago I had to make a choice between following God and celebrating Halloween. I had an opportunity to go to Cursillo, but it was the same weekend as the annual Halloween party.  I chose Cursillo, and it made a huge difference in my life.  While I have been to subsequent parties, I really am wondering about it this year.

I am part of a social group that really likes Halloween. And when I say really like it, I mean that they decorate their homes for Halloween every day of the year. They eat sleep and breathe Halloween.

Don’t get me wrong – I like October and the crisp fall air the same as anyone else. I love free candy and I love the idea of costumes. But every year I have to start thinking to myself is this really the best way to show that I am a Christ follower?

Some of the people in the group are starting to discover the darker side of their hobby. They’re constantly getting sick and having to go to the emergency room. The husband is constantly being attacked by wasps. He could lose his life because of these little tiny things because he is so allergic. I think the same thing is true of his love for Halloween. Something that he sees as small and innocuous is leading towards death. The wife is now having nightmares and believes there is a poltergeist in their home.

The devil can’t bite you if you’re not playing with his tail.

The Bible tells us that every day we have a choice between life and death. We are asked to choose life, but it is a choice.

In the Hebrew scriptures God tells Israel repeatedly to make themselves holy because he is holy. They must purge the iniquity for among them. They must separate themselves out in order to remain a distinct and distinguished people. They are not to take up the habits or worship the idols or follow the traditions of the communities that they stay in. Then Jesus comes along and associates with the outcasts. Jesus does not advocate that we spend our lives separate from everyone else.  Jesus identifies with those who are lost or broken, those who are unable to connect. Jesus touches lepers and heals them. He heals people by including them.

So as Christians can we go to Halloween parties or not? Will it be an opportunity to minister to people who are lost?  Or will we “catch” their sickness?

The apostle Paul says that there is no harm to us in eating food sacrificed to idols.  But he does point out that it might cause harm to new believers.  They might get the wrong impression from our actions.

The party this year was called “Doc Satan’s Halloween Hoedown”.  That alone made me think twice.  Is that something I should associate myself with? Jesus can return at any time.  I like to think of this as a very serious version of “Musical Chairs”.  When the music stops – what are you doing?

I have gone to their Halloween parties in the past, and I thought of that group as my friends, but then I realized that they don’t invite me to their dinner parties on their trips.  They never comment or even “like” my Facebook posts.

I kind of feel like I’m getting sober, and seeing who my friends really are. I’m also feeling like it is time to stand up for what I believe in.

I thought about the bare minimum idea of how to celebrate Halloween – that giving candy out is symbolic of appeasing the evil spirits. And yet, to even do that is to say they have power, when the only Power that exists is God.

I appreciate Dia de los Muertos and All Saint’s day. I like what they stand for – of remembering loved ones who have died.  These celebrations are about remembering a life, rather than celebrating death.  They are more like a family reunion.

I decided not to go to the party, and when I saw the pictures of the male host dressed as Baphomet, I knew I had made the right decision.  It isn’t a fun little costume party when you dress up as a demon.

IMG_1130

This decoration was at the party.  Is this healthy to associate with?

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This Scripture is important – “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” When you know better, do better.

Christian correction

A lot of Christians feel that it is our religious duty to correct other people. Some of us think that we are supposed to tell other people that they are sinners.

This verse is often used to justify this:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.” Matthew 18:15-17

Notice that this only refers to fellow Church members. Notice also that the first part is that the member is rebuked privately. This is never a public censoring, to be aired outside of the Church. Also, it most certainly is not meant for unbelievers.

Some of us will also refer to Matthew 5:23-24. I have included the preceding verses to put it in context.
21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:21-24

We are not to insult or attack anyone. We are to reconcile – to balance the accounts. We are to make peace.

The trouble with the usual manner of “correction” by calling someone a sinner is that it isn’t Christ-like. Jesus never called anybody a sinner. Jesus spoke a lot about religious hypocrisy, in fact. He spoke often against religious people who thought they had it all figured out. So what we are doing when we condemn people is not only not correct in the eyes of Jesus, it isn’t building up the kingdom. It is tearing it down. It is pushing people away from wanting to follow Jesus.

Note these words of Jesus, right after the most famous verse in the Gospels –
“For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17

Jesus didn’t come to condemn anybody, so neither should we. We represent Christ here on Earth. We serve as his ambassadors. Your face may be the only face of Christ that people see, so make it a good one.

We have certain moral obligations as followers of Jesus, certainly. We are set apart and are commanded to not follow the ways of the world. There is no reason to water down the rules that we are commanded to follow – that is not what I’m saying. But we need to change what we are focusing on when we interact with people who do not yet believe.

Non-believers aren’t obligated to follow our rules, because they aren’t part of the Body of Christ. It is as if we are getting angry with people for breaking contracts they never signed.

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

Our first goal must be to have the person hear the words of Jesus. Give them a copy of the Gospel. Share verses with them. Pray for them. Because once they have the Lord in their hearts, they will change their ways.

“…whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16b-18

Don’t focus on other people’s sin at all. Focus on the Spirit. Encourage people. Be a good example.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 HCSB

I’ve heard a story about African Christians who would move to a different village to be missionaries. Instead of preaching to them with their words, they did so with their lives. They lived among them and showed the light of God through everything they did. The other villagers would come up to them and ask them what was the secret for their happiness. Only then would they share the message of Jesus with them in words. All along, they had been sharing it with them by their example.

You know a tree by its fruit. We can see when people are producing good results – fruit of the Spirit.

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

Our call is to imitate Christ, who waited for people to ask him to be healed. People had to admit their illness to themselves first, and then to him. He didn’t heal people who weren’t called to him first.

The Hebrew word that is translated in English as “sin” does not have nearly the same weight as it does in English. It is from an archery term, and means “missing the mark”. You aim your intentions, act, and your actions fall short of the goal. It isn’t a moral failing. From observing the result of your action, you learn to aim higher so that you can achieve the goal.

To get better, aim higher. This should always be our goal – to set our sights on Heaven at all times.

“6 So he answered me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

May God bless us and strengthen us, and help us to be good shepherds – to feed his sheep with the spiritual food of his Word made flesh, Jesus. I ask this in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

(all Bible translations are HCSB)

The altar call

I find it interesting that in Rick Bragg’s autobiography “All Over But the Shoutin’”, he said that as a boy in church he waited and wanted for the feeling to come over him that he should go up to the altar to be blessed, to accept Jesus into his heart and his life. And he sat and sat and sat in that pew, and no special feeling came over him. He felt that it must be like being possessed, that he would be lifted up out of his seat and find himself walking up to the front of the church to be received into the arms of Jesus. He wanted that feeling, and it never came. So he never got up.

It isn’t a magical thing.
It isn’t a passive thing.

It is a human, on his or her own, of their free will, choosing to hand their lives over to Jesus, to follow along with him in God’s ways.

It isn’t something that happens to you.
It is something you do.

That turning becomes returning – daily, weekly, monthly. Every day we recommit, we choose.

He eventually left, feeling left out, feeling so low. He never understood that just wanting to go up was the call. God needs us to come to God on our own. It has to be conscious. God chooses us, but we have to choose God too.

Don’t worship the door.

“Jesus once said ‘I am the door’ – and he was correct. A door is something to go through. The church, however, has remained at the threshold of the door, worshiping it, afraid to enter.” – former Episcopal priest Peter Calhoun in his book “Soul on Fire”

“We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.” – Richard Rohr

“A rich young man approached Jesus, and kneeling down before him, said ‘Good Teacher, what do I have to do to attain eternal life?’ Jesus asked him “Why do you call me good? There’s only One who is good, and that is God. If you want to have eternal life, then keep the Commandments. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie about anyone, honor your parents, and love your neighbor as yourself.” — Matthew 19:16-17, Mark 10:17-19, Luke 18:18-20 (from The Condensed Gospel rendition, in “The Rich Young Man”)

Jesus never wanted us to worship him. Jesus wants us to follow him to God. Only God is above us.

Remember all the times that Jesus walked away from the crowds who were trying to make him king? He didn’t want it. Even today, the Jews use the fact that he wasn’t an earthly king to prove that he was not the Messiah. They also say that it is idolatry to worship Jesus as God.

Jesus would agree.

Remember the commandment to “have no other Gods before Me”? That includes Jesus. He constantly pointed people back towards God. He didn’t want to be worshipped. He wanted people to follow him to God.

Christianity has made an idol out of Jesus, rather than seeing him as a teacher and a guide.