Tag Archives: License

Cain, Crazy Makers and Loopholes in the Fine Print

source: stephanebetin via Flickr
source: stephanebetin via Flickr

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain;
Jude 1:11a (NIV)

Along my life’s journey I have encountered many people who seem to always be looking for the loophole in the fine print. When I was a kid, I watched other kids who could twist and obfuscate their parents’ words until they had self-justified their blatant disobedience. In school, there were always a few who found some hairline crack in the system that allowed them to cheat and get away with it. As an adult, I’ve observed “good” people who seem to look for any means by which to cheat others, and the system, while justifying their actions.

In the early years, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the small groups of those who chose to follow Jesus met in homes. They would gather together, pray, worship, and share a meal which they called a “love feast,” which culminated in the word picture of communion. Everyone was invited and sat at the table together: men, women, rich, poor, slave, slave owner, Jew, Gentile, Roman, or zealot. In the social construct of the day it was an incredibly radical experience.

Those early believers quickly discovered that when you open up the table to anyone, you’re eventually going to attract crazy makers and those who look for the loophole in the fine print. These crazy makers would get drunk on the communion wine or perhaps stop by on their way to the love feast and sleep with a pagan temple prostitute. “If Jesus grace covers all of our sin,” the loophole finders argued, “then the more we sin, the more grace we receive and who doesn’t want more of Jesus’ grace?” They bragged of what they perceived to be their license to sin in the fine print of Jesus’ teaching. It became a problem.

How fascinating that Jude described these crazy makers as following “the way of Cain.” Cain was the son of Adam and Eve who “left the presence of the Lord” and killed his brother Abel. Jude’s point is that these crazy makers have always existed in this fallen world, and they still exist today. I have observed them in every strata of society and in every culture I’ve encountered. Jesus’ repeated call was to self-denial, humility, generosity, purity, and service above self. By contrast, I find crazy makers following the path of selfishness, arrogance, greed, cheating, and self above all.

Along the way I’ve had very little interpersonal success dealing with crazy makers and loophole finders. They are difficult people to be in relationship with as they suck everyone and everything into their self-centric black-hole. I honestly try to simply avoid dealing with them. If I find myself in a position of organizational authority, I try to protect the organization from them and their chaos. That was the whole intent of Jude’s letter.

A Little Christmas Perspective

Coat of Arms of North Korea
Coat of Arms of North Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 10

Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24 (NLT)

I live in the land of the First Amendment. We have rights and we’re not afraid to use them. We have freedom and we’re happy to exercise it (often to excess). Human rights and freedom are good things. They are blessed things. But, I’ve come to believe over time that our rights and our freedoms tend, on the whole, to breed self-centric thoughts, actions and motivations. I sometimes scratch my receding hair line and wonder where it is ultimately leading us.

This morning over our morning coffee and tea Wendy and I read an editorial from the Wall Street Journal by Melanie Kirkpatrick about believers in North Korea, where religion is banned altogether. There are no freedoms there and the average human has no rights in the eyes of the state. Christians are executed, their families imprisoned and persecuted. “Church” for believers in North Korea could literally be sitting silently in proximity of another believer:

North Korean Christians necessarily worship in secret. Many of the congregations are small family units consisting of just a husband and wife and, when they are old enough to keep a secret, their children. Other times a handful of Christians form a kind of congregation in motion. A worker for Open Doors explains how it works: “A Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough.”

And yet, as history has proven time and time and time again, our faith flourishes in the midst of persecution (and slowly recedes over time with freedom and license):

Yet despite this repression, something is happening that many characterize as nothing short of a miracle: Christianity appears to be growing in North Korea. Open Doors International, which tracks the persecution of Christians world-wide, puts the number of Christians in North Korea at between 200,000 and 400,000.

Today is Christmas Eve day. I’m looking forward to feasting with family, to gifts given and received, and to time with those I love. This afternoon Wendy and I will drive down the street and openly join thousands of others to worship and celebrate our Savior’s birth. Half a world away, our spiritual family members may secretly and fearfully sit on a park bench with one another. They will not make eye contact. They will not speak to one another. There will be no feast, no gifts given, and no open worship. They will simply sit together on opposite sides of a bench and silently join hearts in celebrating our Savior’s birth.

I get the sense that in terms of God’s economy they are spiritually the richer for it. Nevertheless, I will pray for them and think of them as I worship, and feast, and receive, and make merry. They put all that I will experience today and tomorrow in much needed perspective.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Loving Well in the Midst of Differences

What's left of the meat market in Corinth (source: GloBible)
What’s left of the meat market in Corinth (source: GloBible)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 8

And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:12 (NLT)

Keep in mind when reading books like 1 Corinthians that they were originally handwritten letters. In the case of Corinthians, it was a letter from Paul to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul spent 18 months there sharing the Message about Jesus and building up a small but faithful group of believers. Paul moved on to other cities and regions. As with any group of humans, conflicts and differences arose among the new Corinthian believers. Word reached Paul about some of these conflicts and he wrote this letter to his friends to address these differences.

Back in the day when Paul was writing his letter the city of Corinth was largely pagan, and a person could visit any number of pagan temples in the city. They were mostly temples to the various Greek and Roman gods we all studied in English Lit and Western Civ classes. Corinth had two large temples, one to Apollo and one to Aphrodite. As part of the pagan worship rituals, animals would be sacrificed and the meat would be cooked up for a feast with the temple priests and wealthy patrons. Leftovers were taken to the local meat market and sold to the public.

A conflict rose up among the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Should you buy or eat meat that had been part of a pagan sacrifice? Some said it was no big deal and felt free to eat it. Others felt strongly that they were defiling themselves by eating it. While this is not a burning controversy in our American culture today, it doesn’t take me long to come up with a number of similar conflicts we have today about social behaviors and appropriateness.

I’m not a very legalistic person. At least, I’m not any more. I’ve become increasingly less so with age. Having meandered through God’s Message these past 30 years or so, it’s become clear to me that the people who ticked Jesus off the most were the religious legalists.  Note to self: Don’t be one of those guys. Put me in Corinth and I would likely be found hanging out with the pagans and enjoying a nice steak without thinking a thing of it.

But, there is danger inherent in freedom for ourselves and for others. Freedom can easily creep into destructive license. Also, followers of Jesus are called not only to look out for our own needs, but also the needs of others. This includes the needs of our fellow believers, some of whom have a distinctly religious legalist bent. Exercising my freedom can confuse, discourage and trip up another believer. I have a responsibility to be respectful of others and their beliefs, even when “other” refers to fellow believers with whom I disagree about the appropriateness of certain social behaviors. I am not to be led by my “right” to exercise my freedom, but by love for others. This may require me to circumstantially choose to curb my freedom in order to graciously love and respect a fellow believer.

Today, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to navigate human relationships. When do you speak? When do you shut up? When do you prod? When do you pull back? When do you choose in? When do you choose out? It takes wisdom, humility, deference, and a lot of love in order to do it well. God, please give me these in abundant measure.