Tag Archives: Human Nature

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.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Idealism to Cynicism to Hope

This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.
Ezekiel 45:8 (NIV)

When I was young, one of my boyhood dreams was to go into politics. With idealistic notions and the strains of Schoolhouse Rock going through my head, I thought that it would be great to serve my country by running for office.

Then I grew up. And, my idealistic notions gave way a more sober understanding of what politics is really like in our day and age. You have to have money to run and pay for all those political advertisements, so your hand is always out and you’re likely going to be required to make deals with donors and special interests so your war chest is full. You can’t get anything done without political alliances with the inside power brokers who have been incumbents for decades and hold all the senior positions. So, you have to make back room deals and support bills you don’t agree with so that you can get your pet project through. Then there’s pork barrel spending, negative ads, and a number of other “realities” that make me happy to put away one particular boyhood dream.

The people of Israel went through a similar wake-up call in Ezekiel’s day. About 500 years before, the people of Israel with their idealistic notions wanted a change in government. They wanted a King to rule over them; A strong centralized monarchy like all of their neighbors had. God, through the prophet Samuel, warned them that they were being naive and said:

[This King you desire] will take the best of your fields and vineyardsand olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.

But, they finally got their wish. Now, 500 years later, Ezekiel is giving a prophetic word of eschatological hope that someday the princes of the land will stop oppressing the people by continuing to do exactly what Samuel had predicted.

Today, I am reminded that on this side of eternity there is no perfect form of government, because there are no perfect human beings. Our fallen nature, despite the highest of ideals and best of intentions, is given to corruption, greed, and pride. Monarchy, Parliamentary, Democratic, and Socialist governments all suffer from the same human corruption. As it was in Ezekiel’s day, so it remains these 2600 years later.

A rather sobering and cynical thought to start the work week, but I am reminded that the underlying message Ezekiel is communicating is one of hope that someday things will be restored, reclaimed, and redeemed. And, this morning I take that to heart and join with all others who continue to hope for that Day.

Great Stories; My Story

The Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” 2 Samuel 17:5 (NIV)

It is said that one of the aspects of great stories are their timelessness. When I was in college studying theatre there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the complete works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes I spent more time studying plays that were hundreds and thousands of years old than contemporary works.

As I read ancient stories like the story of David we’re wading through now, I can’t help but hear echoes of other timeless stories and make connections between them. Power plays for the throne, human failures, and the intrigue of family rivalries are the stuff of which classic stories are made. Today as I was reading the chapter, I thought of The Godfather films and the saga of the Corleone family, which is a timeless classic in its own right. As they led their mafia family, Vito and Michael Corleone always tried to have a guy, loyal to the family, on the inside of a rival family or faction. Luca Brasi dies while trying to convince the Tataglias that he wants to betray Don Corleone. Michael sends his brother Fredo to Las Vegas which not only serves to get Fredo out of his sight but also plants his own brother inside of an operation he doesn’t trust.

A few days ago we read that the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside of Absalom’s inner circle. It proved to be a cunning move. Absalom took the bait hook, line and sinker. In today’s chapter, David’s scheme comes to fruition and Hushai sets the hook which will be the undoing of Absalom. Absalom was a cunning young man and had planned his moves against his brothers and father well. In the end, however, he underestimated all the wisdom and experience his father had gathered while running for his life in enemy territory for many years. In addition, Absalom’s self-seeking motivation was about revenge, anger, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own failings, but his heart was still humble before God.

In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone’s son confronts his father about the “bad memories” he has of his family and childhood. “Every family has bad memories,” Michael replies. And, so they do. Another appeal of great stories are the connections we make to our own lives and experiences. We are all part of the human experience. Even in my own family there are true tales of tragedy and intrigue. Times change, but people are people and our common human flaws source similar tales in our own lives and families. We each play our part in the story. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of word, relationships, and deeds.

How will I choose to influence my story, and the story of my family, today?

 

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 19

Don’t move your neighbor’s boundary markers…. Deuteronomy 19:14a (MSG)

Last night my wife and I received a pleasant visit from our two little friends, Nathan and Aaron, from down the street. The young brothers, ages five and two, stopped by with their parents and first thing they wanted to do is play a little basketball with our adjustable Goalsetter basketball hoop that I lowered down to six feet in height.

I have two basketballs which I pulled out of the garage. I gave one to the older brother and then pulled out the second for the younger brother. Immediately upon seeing his younger brother receive the second basketball, the elder brother dropped the ball in his hand. “I don’t want this one,” he said as he lunged to grab the ball out of his younger brother’s hand. At the sound of the blood curdling scream which began warming up in his brother’s throat, the elder brother dropped the second basketball on the ground, picked up the first and ran out of the garage. Let the games begin.

For the next half hour I watched with fascination as the two brothers jockeyed for position in every way imaginable. This is my ball; that one’s yours! Get out of my way; it’s my turn! I was standing here first. No, Tom, you just lifted him to dunk the ball; I get to do it now.

Dear God, bless their parents. A lot.

The truth is that the nature of conflict really hasn’t changed in the thousands of years which have passed since Moses handed down the laws to his people. Our culture and technology may look very different, but people are people. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still find ourselves embroiled in interpersonal conflicts, neighborly disputers, familial conflicts and international conflicts because of boundary disputes.

Conflict always arises when boundaries are not clearly defined, when boundaries are encroached upon, and when boundaries are violated. It’s not just the well documented boundary lines between parcels of land which create dispute, but the invisible personal boundaries which are set between every person the world around them. These are the boundaries which define: What is mine? What is yours? What is ours? When boundaries are not clearly defined or clearly communicated then the seeds of conflict are planted. When boundaries are breached and the incident is not clearly addressed and negotiated, conflict bursts forth in anger and dispute. When boundaries are routinely violated, the continuous conflict bears the fruit of deep bitterness which will eventually choke the life out of a relationship.

Today, I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and my responsibility to define and communicate them clearly for others. I’m considering the conflicts in my own life and how boundaries, ill-defined or poorly communicated, may be at the root of the dispute.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 10

The flag of the camp of Judah led the way, rank after rank under the command of Nahshon son of Amminadab. Numbers 10:14 (MSG)

Tower of Power sings one of the best funk songs I’ve ever heard, and one of my all time favorites. The lyric of the chorus goes:

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It may be a different age, but I’m on the same page.”

I’m humming those lyrics this morning as I read today’s chapter. It continually strikes me how these ancient stories remind me that, in some ways, things haven’t changed that much. I picture all of the people gathered together under their flag. The trumpets blow and tribes march out.

What were we doing yesterday on the 4th of July? Gathered under our flag listening to the trumpets and marching out in parade.

Change is constant, and yet some things never change. Life is spent developing the discernment required to accept the things we cannot change, find contentment within the never ending changes we cannot control, and seek courage in changing the things we can.

And, it doesn’t matter what I been through…. I’ll still be diggin’ on James Brown.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 5

“When you are guilty, immediately confess the sin that you’ve committed and bring as your penalty to God for the sin you have committed a female lamb or goat from the flock for an Absolution-Offering.” Leviticus 5:5 (MSG)

A guilty conscience is a killer. It robs you of sleep. It ties your gut into knots. It gnaws at your thoughts. A person may be able to keep a lid on a guilty conscience for a time, but it will eat away at your soul until the guilt starts oozing out of your life in unexpected, often unhealthy ways.

When those burdened by addictions walk through the Twelve Steps, they are really walking through a systematic process of confession and atonement. The Twelve Steps are rooted in the understanding that our addictions are unhealthy ways we’ve habitually and ritualistically tried to medicate and cope with deeper guilt and pain. Through introspection, admission and making amends, we deal with the deeper issues which led us to our addictive behaviors.

The cool thing about the ancient law of Leviticus is that it presents and attempts to deal with core spiritual, relational, and personal issues with which we continue as human beings to struggle today. The prescription may look very different on this side of history, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the empty tomb, but the issues with which we silly humans grapple at the root of it are the same ones they were wrestling with 3500 years ago.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and evilerin

Chapter-a-Day Judges 18

He who lives by the sword.  The Danites went on their way. Micah saw that he didn't stand a chance against their arms. He turned back and went home. Judges 18:26 (MSG)

I've worked, attended and served in many different churches over the years. In every church I've attended I've found "power players" in the midst of the fellowship. They might be wealthy businessmen, community leaders,families of tremendous local influence, or just strong personalities. I can recount many instances in which I've watched power players assert their influence to get their way without regard to the impact it has on others or the fellowship. I mention the church, but I've seen it in business and government, as well. It's an interesting phenomenon to observe. It reminds me of the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

In today's chapter, I see the unadulterated influence of power in the lives of individuals and communities. The Danites were a large and intimidating force in that region. They leveraged their power to make Micah "an offer he can't refuse." They used their power to steal and massacre because they could, and it put them and their families in a more secure human position.

We like to think that we live in more civilized times, and it can be argued that we do. Nevertheless, my journey through these ancient historical events continuously remind me of the forces of human nature that don't change. The Danites were power players in their day the same way there are power players in families, churches, corporations, governments and communities today. We may cloak it differently, but it's still there.

Today, I'm thinking about the areas of my life and influence in which I'm a power player. Do I use the power and influence at my disposal to secure my own position at the cost of others, or am I following the example of Jesus who "had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion." (Philippians 2:5-8)

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and claude bezzina