Tag Archives: Rule

The Source Makes All the Difference

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the old saying goes.

That is not in the Bible, by the way. Scholars say it originated as a proverb in ancient Hebrew and Babylonian texts. It was first quoted in modern times by Charles Wesley in a sermon in 1778.

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? What human traditions grow up around spiritual themes that actually take focus away from the Spirit to whom I’m supposed to be connected?

The Dutch protestant culture from which I spring has always been fastidious, clean, and hard-working. We memorialize it every year during Tulip Time as we first scrub the streets before the parade can begin. Eventually, however, the social and religious pressure to keep up clean and orderly outside appearances with all we are and all we own takes precedence over a Life-filled inner Spirit. The result is what Jesus described of the religious people of His time:

“Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Along my life journey I’ve been taught many ways to godliness; Spiritual disciplines, rule following, and following the trending spiritual fad hawked by Christian marketers (looking to make a buck) and the spiritual gurus they put on pedestals for us to idolize. I found myself struggling for so long. On the outside I appeared the poster chid of spiritual health as I dutifully kept up with all the outside rules, disciplines, and exercises. Inside my life was dark and out of control.

In today’s chapter Paul writes to his young spiritual protégé about the mystery [“Mystery is not something we can’t understand, but something we endlessly understand.” – R. Rohr] from which true godliness springs, and it has nothing to do with tidying up a la Marie Kondo. Paul goes on to quote what was an ancient poem or hymn about Jesus. True godliness is sourced in the person and work of Jesus. That’s it.

Paul has just finished giving Timothy multiple lists of qualifications for those who will lead the local gathering of Jesus’ followers. He then ends by reminding Timothy that all of these qualifications are not sourced in religious rule keeping and the keeping up of appearances, but in the endless pursuit and discovery of deep Spirit connection and Life-giving relationship with the resurrected Christ. Paul never wrote “I want you to know how to be good religious rule followers,” but he did write “I want you to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection.”

The source from which I seek godliness makes all the difference.

My Personal Game of Thrones

English: The ivory throne of Tsar Ivan IV The ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. 1 John 5:21 (NLT)

A throne seats one. Study virtually any monoarchy in human history and you’ll find wars have been fought, schemes hatched, deals made, and assassinations carried out to determine who will sit on that throne.

In my heart is a throne.

Who (or what) sits on that throne and rules my life? Who (or what) schemes to occupy it? What do I need to do about it?

Chapter-a-Day Judges 19

He lifted her onto his donkey and set out for home. When he got home he took a knife and dismembered his concubine—cut her into twelve pieces. He sent her, piece by piece, throughout the country of Israel. And he ordered the men he sent out, "Say to every man in Israel: 'Has such a thing as this ever happened from the time the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until now? Think about it! Talk it over. Do something!'" Judges 19:29-30 (MSG)

When a five men broke into the Democratic National Committee offices of the Watergate complex in 1972, it was a small story. Like a small stone that triggers an avalanche, the "small" story ended up with the resignation of a president and the changing of history. There are events that, ultimately, become part of changing the course of history.

It's easy to read this horrific story in Judges 19 and wonder what could possibly be relevant about such a brutal event. My initial reaction as I read the tragic details was to wonder how such things could happen or be tolerated. I have to be honest, however. Genocide, misogyny, gang rapes, and brutal killings are still a part of this world, though I turn a blind eye to such things when they don't collide with personal experience. Nevertheless, what's the point of such a bloody event?

Any one who sojourns through scripture for any measure of time begins to perceive the big picture themes that connect these diverse writing. There is a grand story being told and this news story is like a new clipping about the Watergate break in. The nation of Israel started as one wandering nomad who started a family who grew into a nation as slave laborers in Egypt. Moses leads them out of slavery, delivers God's law, and takes them to the promised land of Canaan. Joshua leads the conquest of the land. They are settled, spread out in their tribes. But, thing aren't good. With no king or central government, things are continually falling into anarchy and chaos.

The book of Judges is a chapter in God's grand story that moves us from Israel's settling of Canaan without any real system of human government to the establishment of a monarchy that would give us King David, through whom God would ultimately send us His Son. The chaotic events described in Judges are like stones that create an avalanche of public opinion. Soon, Israel would be clamoring for a king. The story of this concubine's rape and her husband's bloody message to the tribes surely raised that clamor to a fever pitch. Something needs to be done. This event would be part of a chain of events that would lead Israel to cry out for a king to rule them and bring law, justice and order to the land.

Today, I'm thanking God that I live in a time and place where the rule of law prevents such events from being commonplace. I'm also mindful of the terrible consequences when we are not subject to authority.