Tag Archives: Evil

Entering a World of Pain

Entering a World of Pain (CaD Gen 3) Wayfarer

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman…”

Genesis 3:15 (NIV)

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak to a chapel service at the local Christian high school. I was asked specifically to talk about pornography as I had been very open about my own story of being exposed to it at a young age and the addictive struggles it grew into. I thought it went well. One of the teachers commented afterwards that it would forever be remembered as the first time the word “masturbation” was uttered in a chapel service. Come to think of it, I’ve never been invited back.

One of the things I talked about in that message was the basic spiritual implications of pornography that are rooted in today’s chapter and what theologians call “the fall.” Adam and Eve are good, innocent, and streaking around the Garden of Eden naked without a thought or care. Then the evil one enters and we get the first glimpse of what has become his well-worn playbook:

First, get them to question what God has said:
“Did God really say…?”

Second, deny, minimize and diminish the consequences:
“You will not certainly die”

Third, make God out to be the bad guy and killjoy:
“For God knows that when you eat of it…”

Fourth, make the false promise of power, independence, and freedom:
“…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

Eve is then enticed by the unholy trinity of temptation:

The lust of the flesh:
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food…”

The lust of the eyes:
“…and pleasing to the eye…”

The pride of life:
“…and desirable for gaining wisdom…”

(Note: cross-reference 1 John 2:15, and btw: the three temptations the evil one used on Jesus were the exact same flesh, eyes, pride tactic. Again, it’s a well-worn playbook.)

The consequence of the disobedience was immediate and organic. Shame replaced innocence. Relationship was broken. Then God arrives and pronounces to Adam and Eve that they are entering a world of pain and, eventually, death. For the man, it means the pain of labor to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of never-ending obstacles. For the woman, it means pain in childbirth and a constant struggle against subjugation and misogyny. For the evil one, God announces that there will be a unique enmity and hatred between him and women, and the prophetic pronouncement that one day it will be a woman’s offspring who will “crush your head.”

Which brings me back to that chapel service several years ago. Rather than approaching the subject of pornography from the usual surface level and shaming arguments of purity culture, I opted to approach it from the depths of the overarching spiritual conflict of good and evil, God and anti-God, that began in today’s chapter.

As I have progressed in my spiritual journey and have been surrounded by women (see yesterday’s post), the more acutely I have observed this unique enmity God pronounces between the evil one and the woman. The evil one, once the most beautiful of God’s angels, hates – dare I say, envies – the woman for her unique beauty “in the image of God.” The evil one, hating the life that God creates, hates the woman for being the one through whom human life perpetuates. And so, the evil one embraces his hatred of the woman and says to himself:

“Let me take the woman in all of her beauty, strength, complexity, and purpose and reduce her to a simple two-dimensional object of optical and sexual lust. I might even convince her that doing so will give her power, even freedom.

“Let me take the act which produces and perpetuates God’s gift of life and transform it into empty, yet addictive, pleasure for profit which produces shame, grows ever more violent, painful, and degrading, and actually diminishes the perpetuation of life while subverting God’s natural order.

“Let me, once again, offer the woman the opportunity to be like God. This time I will give her the power freedom to pronounce that the life inside her is not really a life at all. In her desire for pleasure, power, independence, and freedom, God’s unique and beautiful ‘vessel of life’ shall become my agent of death.”

A few weeks ago on my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, I asked my guest, Dr. Bob Laurent, what some of the meta themes he’s observed in his life journey as he approaches his mid 70s. He commented that we shouldn’t be surprised by the world descending into confusion and chaos because that’s exactly what the Great Story says will happen. The “prince of this world,” the evil one, is still at work to turn, twist, and transform:

God’s love into hatred.
God’s joy into depression.
God’s peace into conflict.
God’s patience into demand that everything to be fast and immediate.
God’s kindness into meanness and antagonism
God’s goodness into evil.
God’s gentleness into raw, destructive power.
God’s faithfulness into rejection.
God’s self-control into insatiable lust for every appetite.
God’s order into chaos.
God’s oneness into division.
God’s Life into death.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds me that while things rapidly change on the surface of things, at the spiritual root of all things, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Well-Worn Playbook

The Well-Worn Playbook (CaD 2 Pe 2) Wayfarer

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

The Great Story is, at its heart, a story of good and evil. The evil one tempts Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s demand by questioning God’s goodness and promising them that they will be “like God” if they just have a taste of that forbidden fruit.

The punishment is their expulsion from the Garden and fellowship with God to live and die in the world, where the “Prince of this World,” as Jesus referenced the Evil One, has dominion over the kingdoms of this world. Before starting his mission, Jesus and the Prince of this World met, and Jesus faced the same basic temptations used against Adam and Eve (the Evil One’s playbook is really pretty basic). He offered to give Jesus all the “kingdoms of this world” if he would merely bow and worship. Jesus passed on the offer. The night before He was crucified, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this World” stood condemned. His sacrificial death and resurrection was righting a wrong on a grand scale.

The final chapters of the Great Story tell of the climactic confrontation of God and evil. It’s an end, and then a new beginning, which is yet another recurring theme in the Great Story.

Along my life journey, I’ve tried to be mindful of this foundational conflict as I interpret all that see and experience along the way. God is Love, and that Love is the source of life and goodness. Evil is an oppositional force. It opposes all that God is, and does, and desires. God is love, and so evil sows hatred. God is for life, thus evil gloats in death. God is about goodness and order, and so evil rejoices in destruction and chaos.

In today’s chapter, Peter is writing to the first century followers of Christ about the oppositional forces that were already at work to disrupt the powerful impact that their faith, expressed through Christ’s love in action was having in the world. Individuals with selfish and evil motives were leading Jesus’ followers astray. Interestingly enough, one of the tactics Peter mentions is their promise of freedom. He states that these false teachers were telling people that they are free to indulge any and all of their appetites (both the Greeks and Romans were famous for indulging all their appetites in creative and unrestrained ways). Peter warned them to be wary of this deceit.

Jesus is often quoted: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Rarely do I hear the previous sentence quoted with it: “You are truly my disciples if you do what I tell you. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

See the oppositional forces at work? Evil tells me “indulge your appetites and you’ll experience freedom,” though what I end up experiencing is self-focused indulgence which leads me into slavery to my own appetites and all the destructive consequences that go with it (personally, relationally, physically, spiritually, and mentally). In contrast, simple obedience to Jesus’ law of love, which gets expressed in part by the spiritual fruit of self-control keeps me free of those destructive consequences so that all the other fruit of love (goodness, kindness, etc.) has room to pour out of me into others.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but recall a Tweet I saw yesterday from a celebrity and former Disney star:

Again, the playbook is pretty basic. “Indulge your appetites and you will experience freedom.” As the Sage of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s really nothing new under the sun.” And yet, I’ve never found anything really free or good traveling down any alley of indulgence. Pleasure? Certainly. But that’s fleeting and then requires another fix to feel it again, then a bigger fix, and then yet another even bigger fix. I like the way Bob Dylan described it: “A bad motorcyle with the devil in the seat, going ninety-miles an hour down a dead-end street.”

And so, I press on in this earthly journey one more day, choosing the path that Jesus prescribed to freedom. As for me, I have yet to be disappointed on this path, nor has it ever led me down a dead-end street.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faith in Justice

Faith in Justice (CaD Na 1) Wayfarer

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
    but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
    he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)

The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.

Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.

The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.

Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.

The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.

In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.

In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.

One Song, Two Levels

One Song, Two Levels (CaD Ps 138) Wayfarer

May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.

Psalm 138:4 (NIV)

Tomorrow night I have the honor of giving the Good Friday message among my local gathering of Jesus followers. Good Friday is the annual remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death just two days before the Resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday.

One of the themes that I’m addressing in my re-telling of the events of that day is the conflict that is happening on two different levels. There’s the human conflict happening between Jesus and the power-brokers of earthly power in Rome, Judea, and Jerusalem. There’s also the conflict that is happening on the Spiritual level between the Son of God, and the Prince of this World. I believe one doesn’t fully understand Good Friday without an understanding of the conflict happening on both levels.

That’s one of the fascinating things I find about the Great Story. It weaves the stories, and holds the tension between both levels: Earth and Spirit. Perhaps that’s why, as I sit in the quiet of my office this morning, and mull over today’s chapter, I find it also resonating with me on those same two different levels.

Yesterday we got to the end of a section in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that focused on Jerusalem (Psalms 120-137). There were all of the songs of “ascent” along with songs of dedication to Jerusalem, like yesterday’s chapter. Today we kick-off a section of eight songs in which the liner notes attribute the songs to King David.

The lyrics of today’s chapter begin with David proclaiming praise to God. You might remember from earlier posts in these posts in Psalms that Hebrew songs often put the central theme of the song smack-dab in the middle. In today’s lyric, David’s theme is “May all the kings of earth praise you.”

On a purely earthly level, this theme fits in with the thread of the earthly story within the Great Story. God promised Abraham that “all peoples” would be blessed through his descendants. The law of Moses spoke clearly about loving and being deferential to other peoples living among them. Jesus exemplified this in His inclusive teaching and behavior towards women, Samaritans, and Romans. He then gave His followers the mission of spreading His teaching to all people. In the final chapters of the Great Story John is given a vision of Heaven’s throne room in which the multitudes include people of “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So, on one level, David’s lyric prophetically points to Jesus’ teaching and God fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The Great Story began with Abraham, expanded to his tribal descendants of whom Jesus was one, and then burst out to all peoples.

On the level of Spirit, the Great Story makes clear that the enemy of God remains the “Prince of this World.” The “Kingdoms of this world” remain in his clutches. Power, wealth, and pride still fuel the institutions of earthly power: politics, commerce, and religion. When Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth,” He was not talking about a grand, earthly power grab as His followers had been taught would happen and expected. That’s how the “Kingdoms of this World” operate. I’ve come to observe that whenever I see human institutions leveraging power to control others, it’s definitely not the Kingdom of Heaven.

Along my journey, I’ve come to observe that the paradigm of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus taught is about love and the spiritual transformation of individuals, who in turn love and transform their circles of influence, which in turn has the possibility to transform human systems. It’s not top-down systemic power but bottom-up organic transformation of Spirit.

The prophetic visions of John also point to an end of the Great Story when “the Kings of this earth” (not the earthly level individuals who might be transformed by the love of Jesus, but the spiritual level power-brokers representing the institutions of worldly power) will eventually face a final conflict and ultimate resolution.

So in the quiet this morning I find myself holding the tension of the two levels. I’m praying for Dave, my city councilman, whom I l know and love. I’m praying for my state’s Governor, whom is well-known and loved by members of my family. I’m praying for my friends who are heads of industry and business. I’m praying for my friends who lead their own local gatherings of fellow-Jesus followers. These are all in my direct circles of influence. I also find myself praying for matters and individuals on the national and global stage that are far out of my control, yet still part of the Great Story which I believe will ultimately play out as foretold, but probably not as I expect.

And so, I enter another day trying to bring love and hope to my circles of influence and those things I do control, while having faith in God’s plan and purposes on levels I don’t control.

Unraveling

Unraveling (CaD Ps 64) Wayfarer

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

Stepping up and into the spotlight of leadership always makes one an easy target. In virtually every position of leadership I’ve ever held, I’ve heard the sharp words of detractors. Typically, they come in the form of second-hand whispers or passive-aggressive remarks. The higher the position of leadership, the worse it gets. The positions of leadership I’ve held along my life journey are incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things. I may have faced challenges leading a small-town Iowa community theatre and a rural gathering of Jesus followers, but I can’t imagine how bad it gets leading a nation.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 64, is a lament of King David as he feels the sharp threats of conspiracy and the plots of his political enemies. One lesson every good leader knows is that you can’t control the thoughts, words, or actions of others. Trying to chase down and confront every critic or perceived antagonist is a recipe for disaster on several levels. David appears to have understood this well. The lyrics of this song stand as a testament to the fact that when it came to the twisted plots and the conspiratorial attacks of his enemies, David went to God.

Knowing that he had no control over his critics or their schemes, David gave them over to the only one he could count on in the situation.

Lying beneath the surface of the lyrics, David hid a creative, poetic image. Most of it survives the translation into English, but it’s seen with clarity in Hebrew, David’s native language. David uses specific words to metaphorically describe those twisted plots of his enemy:

evildoers (vs. 2)
tongues (vs. 3)
shoot (vs. 4)
suddenly (vs. 4)

In the second half of the song, as his lyrics describe God defending him and unraveling those twisted plots, he uses the same words in reverse order:

suddenly (vs. 7)
shoot (vs. 7)
tongues (vs. 8)
works of God (vs. 9)

The same words used in reverse order are a hidden metaphor. David is entrusting God to unravel the conspiracy, untwist the plots, and protect David from those enemies he can’t control.

In the quiet this morning I find myself, in a small way, identifying with David’s plight. I’ve learned in this life journey that all I can do is to keep pressing on, asking for God’s guidance, seeking God’s purposes for me, and knocking on the door of every opportunity I have to grow in love, grace, and mercy. There will be obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks. Those are all part of the journey. I will never be able to completely avoid, nor control them.

So every time those obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks have my heart and mind twisted up in anxious knots, I have Psalm 64 to remind me what David did. He gave them over to God like Wendy handing me a necklace that’s hopelessly knotted up.

“Here, unravel this.”

The Perplexing Mystery

The Perplexing Mystery (CaD Ps 10) Wayfarer

The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:16-18 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about evil anymore. It gets used as a weapon-word fired at the political “other” in the empty, name-calling wars on social media. It is referenced in conversations about acts so heinous that everyone agrees that they reached a depth of depravity so dark as to be inhuman. I observed, however, that even people of faith are dismissive of the notion that evil is set up in active conflict against good in the spiritual realm of this world.

Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9

The evil one was able to offer Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their splendor because this Level 3 world is where evil holds dominion until the final chapters of the Great Story. At every level of the socio-economic ladder from the grade school playground to Wall Street and Washington D.C. are those who will exploit anyone to advance their personal power base and portfolio of wealth. Unlike Jesus, they have knelt before the evil one and taken him up on his offer. These are the ones David writes about in the lyrics of today’s psalm.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s psalm is connected to yesterday’s. Like We Will Rock You and We are the Champions by Queen, or Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezing and City of the Angels the two songs are were meant to go together. One of the common conventions of Hebrew songs and poems that is lost in translation to English is the fact that each line begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order just as if you wrote a poem and each line began with A, B, C, D, and etc., Psalm 10 picks up with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet where Psalm 9 left off. In addition, there is no header or title to Psalm 10 like there has been for every other psalm we’ve read since Psalm 1. Psalms 9 and 10 go together.

With that in mind, King David is writing both psalms from his position as King of Israel. The thing I find most fascinating is that he is writing from a position of power. He’s at the top of the food chain. He holds more power in the kingdom than anyone else, and he is lamenting the wicked highway robbers who oppress the poor in the rural villages of his own country. He’s complaining about the wealthy brokers of power in his own kingdom who “prosper all the time” and establish their legacy for their descendants.

Why doesn’t he do something about it?

Along my journey I’ve observed that there is only so much that one can do in a world where evil has dominion. Not that I shouldn’t do everything that I can to act in the circles of influence in which I operate. I should. Nevertheless, I have witnessed good people, followers of Jesus, who have ascended the ladder of earthly power and influence only to find that there is only so much that they can do.

That’s the point I believe King David is getting to in his songs that read like a leader’s lament. His position of ultimate power in his kingdom cannot stop the wickedness of every rural bully bent on taking advantage of poor villagers. Even as King he is surrounded by the wealthy and powerful who have their own personal kingdoms built to oppose him.

It’s interesting that towards the end of today’s psalm David appeals to God as “King forever and ever.” At the end of his personal, earthly power that has fallen short of bringing justice to everyone, David appeals to God as the only higher authority who can step in and do something about it.

Welcome to one of the most perplexing spiritual mysteries of the Great Story. Jesus comes to earth and refuses to operate in worldly systems of the evil one’s dominion where injustice and wickedness reign and oppress the poor and the weak.

Why didn’t he do something about it?

Instead of confronting evil on earthly terms, Jesus goes instead to the rural, the poor, and the simple. He reaches out to individuals, encourages the personal transformation of individuals from self-centered evil to a life of self-sacrificing service to others. He triumphs not over earthly kingdoms but over Death. He wages war not against flesh-and-blood but against principalities, powers, and forces of spiritual darkness behind flesh-and-blood power. It leads me to consider that ultimately, the Great Story is not about this Earth. It’s not about this world. It’s not just about this 20,000 to 40,000 days I will spend journeying through this lifetime. It’s about something greater, something deeper, something more eternal.

In the quiet this morning I find myself identifying with David’s lament. At the end of the song, David expresses his trust that God sees the acts of evil and hears the cries of the oppressed. He entrusts the King of all with ultimately making things right. I have to do the best I can as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom on this earth in the circles of influence I’ve been given. Beyond that, I can only make an appeal to the King forever, and trust He will see this Great Story to its conclusion, joyfully ever-after.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5)

[WW] Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5) Wayfarer

With this episode, we’re going to continue our journey through the major sections of the Great Story. We pick it up at the end of Moses’ story and overview the continuation of the overall narrative through the “Historical Books” of the Old Testament.

This episode if brought to us by the letter “C”:

  • Conquest
  • Cycle of broken humanity
  • Crying for a king
  • Civil War
    • Chaos of power (in the Northern Kingdom)
    • Continuation of David’s line (in the Southern Kingdom)
  • Conquered
  • Captivity
  • Constructing the past

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 4)

With this episode, we’re going to begin wandering through the major sections of the Great Story. Up first is the beginning of the Story in the ancient, mysterious narrative of the first five books known by many names such as “The Books of Moses,” “The Law,” “The Torah,” and “The Pentateuch.” In these ancient texts, we’re going to identify the problem and the prophetic plan through a person who becomes a people.

Wayfarer Podcast Episode 10: A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 4)

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Let Good Rule

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Luke 6:9 (NIV)

Religion loves rules.

When I was a young man I, for a short time, found myself living among a conservative, legalistic, religious Christians. I stop short of calling them Jesus’ followers because I eventually came to realize that they were the spiritual descendants of the religious leaders who, for two chapters now, have been keeping their critical, judgemental, condemning eyes on Jesus. Their motivation is to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they can dismiss Him, judge Him, and condemn Him. In doing so, they can feel righteous about ignoring Jesus’ teaching and proud of leading others to do the same.

Religion loves rules.

In Jesus’ day, there was no better example of religious rule-keeping than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established at the very beginning, right after creation:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

This was a long time before God gave the Top Ten through Moses (Sabbath made it to #4 on the Top Ten commandments list).

Sabbath simply means a prescribed time of rest. It’s a day-off, a time-out, a quiet time, and it’s all about R&R, recharging, and being refreshed. Sabbath began as a spiritual principle God exemplified for all of humanity. After six days of work, everyone could use a little break from the daily grind, even God. It’s good for your body, mind, and spirit.

The problem with humanity, of course, is that we struggle with principles. They are so, well, gray…

“What does ‘rest’ mean exactly? I need that defined. And ‘work’ too. Is feeding my cat work? What about taking out the trash with my baby’s stinky diaper? And, speaking of stinky, what about having to watch the stinkin’ Packers game with my in-laws (that always feels like a lot of work)?”

“We’re supposed to labor for six days and rest on the seventh? What if I work weekends?”

“By ‘work,’ are we talking gainful employment here? What if I’m currently unemployed?”

“You tell me how in the world I’m supposed to rest from being a mother. There is no rest from these rug rats and their incessant demands!”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to observe that humanity is given to rule-making in almost every area of life. Government institutions become bureaucracies with libraries dedicated to tracking all of the laws, codes, rules, and regulations. In fact, according to LegalZoom, if you’re driving through certain rural parts of Pennsylvania you are legally required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare to mark your position. In North Dakota, it’s unlawful to buy beer and pretzels at the same time. Women in Florida are forbidden by law to fall asleep under a hair-dryer.

Another example is how the notion of taxing citizens to pay for Government services has resulted in the 74,608 page U.S. Tax Code.

When it comes to religion, we humans do the same things. Well-intentioned religious institutions start with a spiritual principle about getting some much-needed rest and end up with an endless list of rules which, eventually, require a lot of work to keep straight and follow. This is where things stood in the days when Jesus was teaching in today’s chapter. Breaking the “sabbath” rules was something that Jesus and His followers were accused of doing repeatedly.

In today’s chapter, the Sabbath police were following Jesus around just waiting for Him to break one of the rules. That’s the other thing about religious and social rule-keeping, it typically ends up with some kind of group who police the masses. Of course, Jesus knew they were there.

Jesus asks, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” The answer, of course, goes back to the principle of rest that was the heart of Sabbath in the beginning. The tome of sabbath rules, sub-rules, and clarifications had both perverted the principle intent (keeping the Sabbath became work) and allowed the perpetuation of evil (people refused to help out a neighbor in an emergency in order not to be caught by the Sabbath police).

So, Jesus healed a man’s paralyzed hand in front of the crowd on the Sabbath.

Let good rule!

The religious rule-keepers immediately went into judge, jury, and executioner mode.

There’s something grossly wrong with this picture, and that was what Jesus was trying to get people to see and understand for themselves.

My time among the legalistic Christians didn’t last very long. All of the silly rules about clothes, hair, shoes, music, and fraternization were more than I could take. I did, however, make a number of worthwhile observations and I learned a lot of very valuable lessons. I came to understand that legalism keeps people imprisoned to rules, codes, and regulations while keeping them from developing the spiritual maturity and self-discipline necessary to develop Godly wisdom.

This morning I find myself reminded that doing a good thing for someone else should never be against the rules.

Is “Living Sacrifice” an Oxymoron?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 (NIV)

To Paul’s readers, the term “living sacrifice” would have seemed an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice was a common part of religion at the time. This was not only true of Judaism, but most all of the Roman cults and religions practiced some sort of animal sacrifice. So whether the followers of Jesus in Rome who were reading Paul’s words had come from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, they would have scratched their heads.

Living sacrifice?” I can hear one say. “But, doesn’t the very notion of ‘sacrifice’ mean that something dies?”

Quite right,” I imagine Paul replying if he were there in person. “You do.”

Excuse me?” the Roman believer asks quizzically.

You are the sacrifice,” Paul says, looking the believer in the eye and offering a warm smile. “In fact dying to yourself is really the heart of your worship. Not the occasional sacrifice of an animal like all these other religions you see around us. Anyone can do that and it costs very little in the long run. Cheap and easy, really. Our Lord Jesus was quite direct in telling us that in order to be His follower we have to take up our own cross. We would have to sacrifice ourselves for others, for Him. Just as He did for us. That’s at the very heart of true worship, and being a true follower.

But how does that work, exactly?” the believer asks. “How exactly do I go about making myself a ‘living sacrifice?‘”

Ah,” Paul says, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.”

The entirety of today’s chapter answers that question. What does it mean to truly worship by offering myself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?” Ironically, going to church, singing, throwing a buck in the plate, and all the things we normally associate with “worship” are not even mentioned.

Here’s a bulleted and paraphrased list of what Paul goes on to mention in the rest of today’s chapter:

  • Don’t follow the “It’s all about me” behavior and thought patterns of this world.
  • Transform your thinking; Renew your mind with Jesus’ teaching.
  • Don’t think too much of yourself; Maintain an on-going sober self-assessment.
  • Use your gifts and abilities to serve others.
  • Hate evil.
  • Cling to what is good.
  • Devote yourself to loving others.
  • Attach such worth to others that you naturally serve them first.
  • Be zealous in serving others, and keep feeding the zeal.
  • Be joyful in hope for all God can and will do.
  • Be patient when you’re afflicted, there’s a point to the pain.
  • Faithfully maintain an on-going conversation with God.
  • Share what you have with anyone in need.
  • Practice hospitality. Seriously, practice. You need to get better at it.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Do something nice for them and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • If you know someone who got a win, sincerely celebrate with them (don’t envy their success or good fortune).
  • If you know someone who is grieving, be present in their pain.
  • Live in harmony with others; You might not be on the same note, but you can at least blend your differences so as not to be dissonant to everyone around you.
  • Don’t be proud; Every day you encounter people in lower, more humble circumstances than you. Be willing to meet them at their level, even if it means stooping below your comfortable social status.
  • Don’t be conceited. Consider the reality that you just might not that important in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it.
  • Evil that is done to you does not justify revenge. Let it go.
  • Do the right thing for everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • You can’t control others, but you can control yourself, so practice that self-control to live peacefully with everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • Let me repeat, give up your right to revenge. Vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it hurt someone else.
  • If your enemy is hungry, give her some food.
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him some water.
  • Responding to evil with your own evil tactics only escalates the situation and then everybody loses. Respond with goodness. You’ll sleep better.

In order to practice this list on a daily basis,” Paul says to his friend, “it will require some sacrifices on your part: your ego, your time, your pride, your resources, your wants, your comfort, and even your rights. That is how we worship God by being a living sacrifice.”