Friday, March 01, 2013

Oh, For the Love of God! No... Seriously, For the Love of God.

There's a teachable moment occurring at my church this week.  I pray that we can use it wisely.

Last Monday, someone broke a window to get into our church worship center - the main sanctuary area - and stole a high-hat and cymbal from the drum kit on the main stage.  

Now, everyone knows that a theft or burglary leaves the victims feeling violated, and rightfully so.  The crime is a violation.  It's a violation of our trust, of our security, and our personal (or corporate) property.  Something has been taken, by force, and deep down in our gut we know we've been wronged in a real, tangible way.  
Naturally we want justice.  We want the perpetrator caught. Not only do we want the perpetrator caught, we usually want them punished.  We want them taught a lesson - in a big way. Our sensibilities scream out, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth!"  We feel that justice needs to occur.  A wrong needs to be made right. This is our natural leaning, our natural inclination.  It's something that just feels right.

We want them to feel what we felt when we were violated.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, though, I'm convinced this ought not be.

To start with, why are we feeling violated?

Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."
We get upset when someone steals our treasure, but the things that are stolen should not be our treasures. We feel violated because our hearts are invested in the things that are stolen. 


But consider what Jesus says about "things" just a few minutes later:
Matthew 6:24-33  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
"And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."
(What shall we eat, what shall we wear, how shall we play music on Sunday? You feel me?)

He will give us Everything we need.
Including drum kits for churches, if the Good Lord sees fit.
Or not.
Either way, the drum kit, indeed the church building and all the property it sits on, is not our treasure.

Neither is our safety, our security, our rights, our privileges, or our needs.

Our treasure is the eternal life God has for us, hidden with Christ in heaven. That treasure can never be stolen!
Colossians 3:1-4  "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life (your real treasure) is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory."
But this past week, during conversations about the burglary, I heard good meaning people say things like......
  • Let me have some time alone with those guys, I'll teach 'em to steal!
  • How dare they break into a church! I hope God strikes them down!
  • I wish I'd have been here when they broke in.  I'd have stopped the theft and taught them a real lesson!
  • We should have a watchman outside at night with a gun, to make sure people don't break in any more.
  • Those kids need a good beat-down, and I know just the person to give it to them. 
  • Shoot first, ask questions later......
...... and more. 

My heart breaks at this, and I am sad, friends.  

People claiming to be citizens in the Kingdom of God, who claim to be disciples of Jesus, followers of the Christ who lovingly went to Calvary and gave his life for each and every person on Earth, including the drum kit thieves  should - no, must -  look at things very differently.  We must think about things differently, and live differently. 

The Kingdom of God is not foremost about believing the right things, but about living a transformed life
Matthew 5:38-41: 38You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles."\
"You have heard".... "But I say".

Take a moment and think about that.  Really think about it in the context of, say, a high-hat and cymbals being stolen from a church drum-kit.  Or a car being broken into.  Or a house being burglarized.
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 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. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Again, "you have heard"....."but I say".

Take a moment and really think about what Jesus is saying here, in the context of our feelings about a church break in, where things were stolen.

What are some of the suggestions/commands Jesus gives us when confronted with things like this?

  • If someone slaps you, willingly turn the other cheek, so that they might see the love of Jesus in you. 
  • If someone takes your coat, willingly give them your shirt, too, so that they might see the love of Jesus in you.  
  • If you are forced to walk one mile, willingly walk another mile, so that they might see the love of Jesus in you. 
  • If someone takes your drum-kit high-hat, willingly beat them down and get it back, and make them hurt for taking our stuff so they'll never do it again, so that they might see the love of Jesus in you.  
Oh, wait..... that last one doesn't quite fit, does it?  Hmmmm.....  gonna have to re-think that.

  • If someone takes your drum-kit high-hat, willingly give them your snare drum too, so that they might see the love of Jesus in you. 
Well.....why not?

Why would Jesus ask his followers to respond in such a counter-cultural manner? 

Because our love, our distinct Christ-like love displayed by the way we live, in unity with Christ and with God, is the way the world knows Jesus is sent from God.  
John 17:20-21 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message (that's us). I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
If we don't love our neighbor, we are not displaying any unity with God through Christ.
If we don't love our enemies, and bless them as Jesus does, then we are not displaying any oneness with God through Christ.

But our unity, our Christ-like love displayed not just by our actions but by our hearts and minds, is the very conduit by which Jesus says "the world will believe (the Father) sent me". 

Our testimony, our choices, our frame of mind, and our love....... its that important to the Kingdom.

Jesus set a very high bar for us to aspire to.  But he promised it can be done, which also means he expects us to accomplish it.

In Matthew 19:26, Jesus was speaking of how hard it would be for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven (remember, we're talking about our treasure, here), when he said,
"Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
But we can also apply that to the question: How do I love my enemy? How do I find it in my heart to love someone I don't like?

Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.

This is the sort of thing that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:13, where he says, 
"For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."
Everything is possible.
I can do everything.
With God.

The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is a kingdom of selfless love.  It's a kingdom of service and of sacrifice for a pointed purpose: to point every person we meet toward Jesus Christ.

Its a kingdom where every thing we do, and every thought we think - be it at home, at work, at church, driving, eating, watching TV, jogging, reading, playing volleyball or baseball or football, paying our taxes, raising our children, going to the dentist, feeding the dog (you get the idea) - needs to begin to mirror the heart and soul of God revealed to us through Jesus, who willingly died on the cross for you, and for me, and for every person who has ever lived.

The is the heart of missions, and the heart of evangelism. If we live this way, we can't help but do both, without even knowing it.

When we love our enemies, bless them (which is hoping good things for them), Jesus says then will we be "true children of your Father in heaven".

Jesus asks us to enter into the unity, the joy, and the love he shares with the Father.  We share the love with each other and the world so that the world will know Jesus was sent from the Father to save the world.

And just so we're clear, I don't think Jesus was talking about doing good, but still harboring hatred in your heart.  I don't think Jesus meant for us to just make happy faces while we're angry in our hearts.  Its not about making nice with people I'm unhappy with, just to keep the peace.  It's not about looking good for the sake of the Kingdom.

Its about actually being good - with a pure heart and true motives -  like our Father in heaven, for the sake of the Kingdom.

Its about actually loving each other, and our enemies, just like our Father in Heaven, for the sake of His Kingdom, and the sake of each person that God loves.

Which is everyone. Everywhere. 

Paul says in Romans 12:9, 14-15,
"Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
"Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep."
Don't just pretend - really love - enemies and friends.
Be happy with those who are happy - enemies and friends.
Weep with those who weep - enemies and friends.
Then you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.

Jesus says,
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.

Its a high bar, and a tall order.  But Jesus says if we love him, we will obey his commands.
Out of love.
Everything we do, let's do out of love.