A Deep Betrayal

Just the other day I was eavesdropping (I’m really good at that) and heard the story of a young man who found himself in a rather desperate situation. A close relative of his had suffered an injury and her medical care was beyond his means. So he went to the man he worked for to ask for some more money; he was making minimum wage and he needed just a little bit more. He knew his boss was a good Christian man, one who had gotten him saved and going to church. So he explained the whole situation to him and expected his boss to do the Christian thing. His boss refused and ordered him out of his sight. His faith was shattered – in God, in Christians, and in everything he had come believe in. I could hear the sting of that betrayal in his voice as he shared his story.

The thing is – I couldn’t disagree with him or his sentiments. Just being a Christian doesn’t make a person a shining example of morality or a selfless charitable soul. When I think of all the verses of Scripture, I think Jesus’ warning that it would be better for someone to be drowned with a millstone around their neck than to cause someone to stumble in their faith applies here most of all; Christians need to be aware that the more they profess the name of Christ the higher the standard they are to be held up to at all times. I do not doubt that one day that man might be asked why he didn’t help the poor man and he will have to explain himself to that higher authority he professes to believe in. I wish I knew what to tell the betrayed man; but I couldn’t invalidate his experience by telling him that he was mistaken. He wasn’t. A representative of Jesus Christ who acted in Jesus’ name refused to give when he was asked, refused to help the ill, refused to help the poor, and destroyed the faith of a brother in the process. Where I live, I see such folks all the time; praise  God this, thanks be to God for that … and whenever they fail, they take others down with them. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus meant of us as believers; he often asked for people to live quiet, humble lives whose actions backed up our words; filled with good deeds. He would have wanted us to be true to each other even when the cost is great.

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A Strange Thing Happened On the Way Home

It was just before midnight and after a busy shift at work. I was tired and more than ready to go home. After passing by the Christmas lights display in town, I realized that the car behind me was acting erratically. I continued to drive the speed limit, following the laws. The car behind me opted to illegally pass me on the bridge (without a passing zone). Just on the other side of the bridge, it slowed down in front of me, signaled to turn right, but didn’t. It pulled into the gas station up ahead on the left, so I was glad to turn right thinking that it wouldn’t be my problem. I then heard it’s tires squealing as it turned around – out of the gas station and onto the road I had just turned onto. It began flashing it’s lights furiously. Again, the car sped up, passed me illegally, slowed down to a stop, forcing me to slow down and drive around him as he was hanging out of his window yelling something. Up ahead, I turned left – he followed, and again, flashed his lights, he sped up, passed me illegally (there aren’t any passing zones on this particular street), slowed down to a stop, and forced me to go around slowly. I began to wonder: “Is this guy trying to cause a collision?” “Is he on something?” It wasn’t long before he did it again – once or twice more (same street, still no passing zones). Once he got wise to the fact that I’d just go around – he angled his car in such a way that nobody could go around in the other lane. By this time, I could feel how afraid I was – my pulse was racing and my breathing had quickened. A maniac in a car had followed me out into the middle of nowhere section of the countryside, miles and miles away from anyone, anywhere. I could see him getting out of his car and walking my way and all I could think was that this was like something out of a movie that didn’t have a happy ending. My passenger helped me keep my cool, “Throw on the brights.” He suggested, knowing that it would daze the guy. My passenger used the distraction to great effect, throwing open the door and surprising the crazy driver – confronting him. The crazy driver claimed that our tire was about to fall off. Something about him seemed off – it’s a thing that you know it when you see it, but you can’t really describe why; a gut instinct, perhaps. It wasn’t a believable story – after all, our car was driving normally, there wasn’t any wobble or any indication of tire trouble. Not only that, my passenger is a car guy and wouldn’t let an unsafe car on the road. Whenever there’s the slightest indication of trouble, he has me take one of the other vehicles and checks it out. The crazy driver gets back into his car and drives forward on down the road. When he’s out of sight, my passenger checks our tires and sees that they’re perfectly normal. A few minutes later, a SUV pulls up behind us – it’s a co-worker who lives in the same area I do. We told her what was up and let her know that we were just fine. My passenger opts to take over driving, I didn’t object – I had had enough for one night. So we headed down the road, and my co-worker followed along behind. Up ahead, the crazy guy was stopped on the road. He let us pass and we went up ahead. When we lost sight of my co-worker’s lights, we turned around and went back. She had parked a safe distance away from the crazy driver right where it turns off to another road. We parked alongside her and asked her what was going on. She said that he had flagged her down with some story about being broken down and he had asked her to help him push his car off to the side of the road. She declined and said that she would pull off the road up ahead and call the police to come and give him some help. Given his erratic behavior, we opted to stay with her. At some point, the crazy driver turned off his lights, he coaxed his supposedly broken-down car back to life and started to turn around. And that point, we agreed with my co-worker that it was the opportune moment to drive away in the other direction. The rest of the drive was understandably tense – but we finally made it home safe and sound. Perhaps the scariest thing about what happened are the unknowns: “Is this guy trying to be a good Samaritan or does he have a nefarious plan?” “Is he on meth or something that makes him a dangerous person?” “If we really did have a bad tire, how would have continually forcing me to avoid hitting him have helped the tire?” “Wouldn’t it have just made things worse?” “Did he think I was alone and therefore an easy target?” “Why the different story with my co-worker?” Perhaps we’ll never know all the reasons, but if anything, my story shows that making all the right decisions can make the biggest difference in whether or not everything has a moderately happy ending. So this holiday season, beware of really bad good Samaritans who supposedly break down after following you into the middle of nowhere and happen to pose a significant danger. Being safe is more important than putting yourself in danger to do what might seem like a good deed.

It’s No Joke

One of the things I’ve been looking for is a really good camera. It has to be just right or it won’t get very much use. I’ve probably seen dozens of them – reviews, zoom tests, ratings … and most of the time I worry about whether or not they’ll work out. One day, I came across a promotion for a brand new camera – one that was designed for left-handers. It sounded too good to be true! And then I looked at the date the promotion was published … April 1st, a few years ago.

Being a left-handed person, finding tools and equipment that work for me and not against me isn’t always easy. I had to have gone through over a dozen can-openers until I found the perfect one. Good scissors are worth their weight in gold. To me, it shouldn’t be a joke that an expensive piece of equipment was made just for left-handed people. Could you imagine it the other way round? If the whole world was designed for left-handed people and as a right-handed person, you were “backwards.” When you go to write on a desk, the arm-rest is on the other side. When you go to take a picture, your stronger hand is just holding the empty side of the camera and your weaker hand has to be the one to steady the shot, operate the controls, and hit the button at the right time. Oh sure, you could operate it upside down, but that’s just as awkward. One day, you come across and right-handed camera … only to discover that it’s a joke and doesn’t work.

Some things just shouldn’t be a joke or made fun of. Like certain rights or beliefs. Can you imagine what it would have been to live in a segregated world and the April Fools Day Prank someone opted to play on you was to convince you that segregation was over? That you could sit at the front counter and anywhere on the bus? Only to be made a fool of and made fun of for believing that segregation ought not be the norm? That’s what I was thinking when I read one of the blogs mentioning that on April 1st many complementarian pastors had voted to permit women to teach and preach. But it was just a joke. After a laugh, nothing really changes for anyone.

One of the pranks I saw made a subversive point – something that we laugh at today is really no laughing matter, many men, women, and children are without basic access to necessities, food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, access to medicine, and so they die too young – far too many of them live shorter lives because they don’t have what we have. We often take what we have for granted.

I still don’t know why somebody thought it would be a good joke to announce a left-handed camera. There is a world of left-handed photographers out there who would probably appreciate a camera designed to work for them and not against them. It’s not as if a market for the product doesn’t exist – it does. But the joke is on us that somebody would think about us. I wonder if that’s how many people feel when people make a joke of what they believe to be true.

Am I needed?

Remember always that people want to feel needed. They want to help out and be a part of what you are doing. When you satisfy this desire in people, you receive their admiration, loyalty, respect and cooperation.
Other people can be a powerful source of ideas, of motivation, of business contacts – if you encourage their participation. Most people are only too willing to help. Most people are genuinely flattered when you ask for their opinion or their expertise.
On the other hand, you must not take advantage of people. Asking someone for their help out of laziness on your part will not win you any points. People are willing to help you only if they see you are putting forth your own best effort. No one will want to help you if you don’t help yourself. However, if you’re striving toward excellence every day, people will jump all over themselves to be a part of what you are doing.
And always show sincere appreciation. People will want to help you only if they feel you are truly grateful.
It’s very, very difficult to accomplish anything alone. And it is quite unnecessary as well. There are plenty of people willing to help you if you will only ask.
– From: http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/leadership_reflections/making_people_feel_needed

In most of my churches, the services are simple, show up, start with the first item on the list, end with the last item on the list and then you’re free to go. There’s really not a lot of ways that you be helpful because somebody else already has. Somebody else decided what music to use. Somebody else put together the PowerPoint presentation. Somebody else already set up the tables and chairs. Somebody else prepared the coffee and brought in the donuts. There really isn’t a lot to do but to show up, listen, and leave.

But every now then there’s an opportunity, a teacher or facilitator is needed to help guide a class. You’re finally needed – to turn on the DVD player, to read a few paragraphs of the study materials, and to moderate any discussion from the participants. Sometimes that kind of being needed seems more like being needed as a ‘warm body’ to fulfill a specific list of tasks – something anyone can do. Your own ideas and contributions, and by extension, you specifically aren’t needed.

People need to be needed, but people also need the freedom to serve freely, drawing off of their own ideas and contributions and expertise in order to find satisfaction. That’s something that a lot of churches are missing. You see, there are a lot of people out there who are disqualified from serving to fulfill the church’s particular needs. Kitchens and nurseries are their domain, but that’s their limit. What chaos would break in the church if just anyone could do just anything! Why, women might even become preachers in droves! What could be worse than that?

When I look around my church, I see that some of the millennials are teachers, choir members, and sound & computer technicians, and are always on the look-out for something to do. But my church is unusually well-represented with six of us. I think that the rest of us often can’t find anything to do. Either we’re not allowed or somebody else doesn’t need help. We don’t feel needed. Then when Christian leaders say things like “… as dross is being removed from silver, the church is being refined …” millennials get the message that they’re ‘dross’ and there’s no place for the impurity they represent in perfectly pure churches that don’t need them.

Ten years ago, the movie Robots had this slogan: “See a need, fill a need.” There’s a whole generation (or two or three) who are happy to do that – but the church doesn’t need them, so they volunteer everywhere else. Perhaps it’s a good thing, there’s no limits on who can do what in the real world, they need all hands on deck.

Jesus’ Interpretation of the Law

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount spend a fair amount of time interpreting the Ten Commandments and other matters of the Law in the light of not what people ought not do, but what they had ought to have done. He didn’t quote them exactly. He didn’t take them literally in the plain sense reading of the Law. Rather, he shows his mastery of the law by pointing out that the letter of the law is one thing and the spirit of the law is another.

OT “You shall not murder.”
NT “Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement; Anyone who holds a brother or sister in contempt is answerable for it. Anyone who says “You fool!” will be in danger of going to Hell.”

OT “You shall not commit adultery.”
NT “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”

OT “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.”
NT “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

OT “Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.”
NT “Do not swear an oath at all; all you need to say is simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

OT “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
NT “Do not resist an evil person. Give to the one who asks you, do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

OT “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
NT “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Jesus was answering the moral failures that the OT Law didn’t keep in check. A good example are Jesus’ words on divorce. We might read it today and think “Jesus was really conservative about that, but if she says that divorce = adultery, then we had better preach against it.” But when you look at his interactions with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery, he never failed to show them grace when everyone else was showing them cruelty. It is a lack of cultural context that continues to confuse us to this day.

About the time that Jesus’ ministry was taking place, it was already an established teaching from the Pharisees that a man divorcing his wife was compulsory after ten years of childlessness. It was also not uncommon for marriages to take place so that husbands could collect the dowry only to divorce his wife at some point and keep the dowry. Men could divorce women for whatever reason or no reason at all. Women were never permitted to divorce men. Because a certificate was proof that a marriage had ended, any husband who failed to give his ex-wife a certificate could put her out of the house but prevent her from marrying anyone else.

If Jesus’ ministry was taking place here and now, he would answer our moral failing based off of our law and reinterpret them for us to show us how we ought to live. Being a Christian is not about keeping the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount to the letter, but living it’s principles by fulfilling the spirit of the law – by being people who make the most of every opportunity to be good to the people we meet. Just as Jesus healed, cured, blessed, visited, and crossed barriers to reach people – so should we.

Jesus summed up all of the Law and the Prophets in just two commandments: “Love God with all your heart all your soul and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
We have to get both right. There are no exceptions. Our neighbors aren’t just fellow Christians that belong in our denomination that agree with us on all matters of theology. Think about the Good Samaritan: the qualifier ‘good’ shows how different this samaritan was from the rest. It was well understood that they were rivals and enemies of the Jewish nation. Each clinging to their own version of the Torah, their own temple, their own mountain, and their own understanding of God. So deep was this mistrust, that Jews oftened added days to their journey to travel around Samaria rather than travel through it. They had good reason, Josephus mentions that even in the New Testament era it was not uncommon for tensions to flare up and confrontations to break out between Jews and Samaritans. Perhaps a modern parallel might be ‘The Parable of the Good Palestinian’. We are supposed to love our rivals and enemies as if they were just like us. Like the Good Samaritan, it requires compassion. It sets us apart and makes us good people not for following the rules, but for knowing when to bend them to help the helpless and heal the hurting.

The biggest moral failing of all is not in keeping the letter of the law, but failing to keep it’s spirit, being loving to everyone without exception, and only then will we be able to love God as we should. If we cannot love each other, then odds are we would also have a problem loving God.