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I was asked to write about love. It makes sense. If there were any month to discuss the concept of love, it would be February. And if there were any year to discuss the concept of love, it would be 2017. But this request hit me like a ton of bricks, and in a typical God-fashion, at a time I’ve had the most trouble with the concept. And in a predictable Jonah-fashion, I avoided this message as long as I could.

 

I don’t make this confession lightly. For those who know me, I have a knack of saying what I think quickly, passionately, and without much thought for those who may disagree. I get outraged a lot, and it often overwhelms my senses, floods my ears, and overtakes my mouth. When I get fired up, the whole concept of love eludes me. Like a resounding gong and clanging cymbal, I ring empty. I am anything but patient in these moments. I am proud, angry, unhopeful, and self-seeking. This past year, I have lived in a fired-up state, which makes writing this all the more difficult.

 

But it’s in the difficult we hear God speak and right now, the church desperately needs to hear his voice.

 

Our small community of believers may disagree a lot, but hopefully we can all embrace the unifying belief that God prioritizes love. The Greatest Command (to love God and love others) guides the narrative of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Bible consistently describes God as loving. Verse after verse, book after book, this love is communicated through stories, covenants, relationships, miracles, songs, and prophecies.

 

This love is the heart of the Gospel. God so loved the world and sent his son. His son made this love the focus of his ministry, going so far as to eat with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes, telling stories about Samaritans and prodigal children and sheep. God’s son then chose death and resurrection as the denouement of his earthly demonstration of God’s unfathomable love. All this to say, if anyone knows love, it’s God.

 

It’s interesting to see how God chooses to define this for us. We grew up hearing about the Samaritan neighbor. It was practically the go-to flannelgraph in Sunday school. For me, the story of the  “neighbor”—of loving him or her—was a fairly innocuous teaching. (Probably because I never met many Samaritans in my particular Church of Christ.) It never made that much of an impact. Though Jesus’s ministry revolved around this idea of loving your neighbor, the definition he provided me seemed…open to interpretation. (And while I realize this is lazy theology on my part, it appeared that the word “neighbor” meant no more to me than the word “Methuselah” or “Gilead.” It was an ambiguous command.) It wasn’t until I understood the actual conflict between the Jewish people and the Samaritans that the teaching of loving one’s neighbor started to resonate with me.

 

These were two groups of people divided by racial and ethnic barriers, who had entirely different cultures, whose acts against one another were often hostile and violent. Jews would burn Samaritans’ villages. Samaritans would desecrate Jewish sanctuaries and harass them on their travels. The Samaritans were often oppressed and marginalized, outcasts in their larger community. They were wholly untrusted and reviled among the Jewish people. They were seen as unclean, as sinners. To describe a Samaritan as “good” would be just as nonsensical as describing water as dry. Yet, Jesus endeavors to do just that. In his explanation of what makes a neighbor, he centers the story on a Samaritan who showed mercy to a Jewish man. In doing so, he takes a relationship formerly built on hostility and violence, and transforms it into a call to love.

 

If it were up to me to define my neighbor, I guarantee that I would choose the easiest of them to love. They’d fall in and out of neighbor status based upon their proximity to my life and the least challenge they presented to me. They’d look a lot like me, with maybe one or two differences that I could tolerate. I’d pat myself on the back for being so loving. I’d then go about my day, relatively unmolested and comfortable. I’d tell my family about my good deed, and believe that I acted as God expected. I loved my neighbor.

 

That should sound utterly ridiculous to us, because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know exactly how God defines “neighbor.” It is neither comfortable nor free from harassment. God’s definition of neighbor is radical. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus would say it’s the ones who we are most hostile to, the ones we can’t imagine crossing a road with, the ones who are entirely different than us. I know immediately who this group is for me and I would bet you know who they are for you. The problem is that when I start to understand the definition the way God intends, the innocuous becomes the threatening. It requires some major adjustment and major sacrifice. It requires me to walk with those I previously found hostile, violent, unclean, and sinners. It requires me to step outside myself, and, instead, love my neighbors as I would myself. This means I am no longer concerned for my comfort, my safety, my happiness, unless I’m concerned for my neighbor’s as well.

 

Look at this teaching. It’s revolutionary.

 

And it is greatly lacking in our church.

 

We tend towards a love that does not require this kind of sacrifice. This idea of crossing racial and ethnic lines and of tearing down barriers of culture and politics and religion seems foreign to us because we’ve been in a rut. We’ve traded our calling for comfort. We’ve played it safe. We’ve barricaded our sanctuaries instead of opening them. Our love comes with strings and “only ifs” and sanctions. It has become something we give out sparsely, to people who look like us, think like us, pray like us, read the Bible like us, vote like us, and live like us. We have a hard time identifying our Samaritan because it scares us.

 

“Who is my neighbor?”

 

Is it the Syrian refugee looking for a host family?

 

Is it the undocumented immigrant working down the street?

 

Is it the liberal, pro-choice protestor at city hall?

 

Is it the murderer on death row?

 

Is it the black man protesting police brutality?

 

Is it the transgender woman teaching your daughter’s second grade class?

 

Is it the gay family adopting a baby?

 

Is it the feminist marching in Washington?

 

Is it the gun advocate at the shooting range?

 

Is it the conservative woman homeschooling her children?

 

Is it the Muslim going to the mosque next door?

 

Is it the military member going to war?

 

God is love. He compels us to find our neighbor and figure out how to walk with them down the road, instead of waving them along on the other side. He requires us to love him with all our heart, to give ourselves up for others. God shows us the most excellent way, and it is up to us to take it.

 

That’s my prayer for our church. It’s my prayer for myself.

 

May we bask in the goodness of God’s love.

 

May we find our Samaritan and get to loving them.

 

 

 

 

Kaitlin Shetler currently services as the Director of the ACCESS Ability Program at Lipscomb University. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and has over seven years experience working with at-risk populations, including survivors of domestic abuse, older adults, and the disabled. She lives in Hermitage, TN with her brilliant husband and sweet baby girl and attends Hermitage Church of Christ, a community that has welcomed her with open arms and little-to-no eye rolling. Her passion is working alongside people to better the Church and the world through advocacy, service, and dismantling oppressive systems.

Every year, Abilene Christian University’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry provides an ongoing service by collecting compensation data from ministers in Churches of Christ and publishing the results electronically. The late Dr. Charles Siburt initiated the Ministers’ Salary Survey in 2004 as one of his many efforts to build congregations and their leaders.

We value your input! If you are currently in a paid ministerial position within  the Churches of Christ, please take a few minutes to complete the survey. Thank you in advance for completing the instrument, which should take under 15 minutes. Please feel free to pass on the survey link to any other person fitting the above description. Our secure link protects your privacy by avoiding the need for your email address or any other identifying information.  The deadline to complete the survey is Tuesday, March 7. This will allow us to publish our findings on our webpage by May 1.

Thank you for all consideration given to taking the survey.

Blessings,

Dr. Carson E. Reed
Vice President, Church Relations
Executive Director, Siburt Institute for Church Ministry
O. L. and Irene Frazer Chair for Church Enrichment
Abilene Christian University

When I was a baby, my Mom sang this song to me, which I now sing to my son….

“Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

I had a gorgeous dream this week. We were holding hands walking into a new land. Children were all around, from all places in the world, singing and smiling. It was a painfully beautiful dream, full of colors and joy which abound…the kind you don’t want to wake up from because the perfection is so tantalizing.

Fast forward to today; my son is eight years old today. I delivered doughnuts early in the morning to his classroom at his request; the birthday boy had asked for chocolate doughnuts with sprinkles for twenty-one kids.

My heart was filled to the brim seeing him interacting with his new friends, a glorious mix of races and religions. My favorite part was when his best friends rallied around him, and he asked to have their picture made. One little boy yelled out, “Peace!”

I quickly realized that my dream was happening in real time! Here were kids of all backgrounds loving each other….

I don’t want to ever lose sight that there is, at times, heaven on earth.

 

 

Rooting Yourself in Belovedness

 

I struggle with perfectionism; not so much that life needs to be perfect, but moreso that I need to be. I’m not really sure when or where it all began, but somehow someway I developed the mindset that my worth was directly connected to my ability to be “good enough”.

However, ‘enough’ is a dangerous standard to strive for because it’s unattainable. The reality is that there is always room for growth (and that’s not a bad thing). But when you begin to equate your value based on your performance, an unhealthy cycle begins. You are constantly striving, always desiring the approval of others, and when you fall short you feel like a complete failure. I’ve lived in this charade for a lot of my life and it’s exhausting. I’ve learned time and time again that in my effort to portray my life is perfect, I am confronted with my inescapable and undeniable brokenness.

Have you ever seen a cat chase after a laser light? It’s hilarious. No matter how many times you wave the little red light around the ground, the cat can’t seem to understand that it can’t actually catch the light. Yet it still tries, over and over and over again; that’s why it’s so funny. What isn’t so humorous is the reality that many of us play the same game. We spend our lives chasing the illusion of perfection only to realize that it’s something that can’t be caught. So why do we continue to chase it?

If my worth is not contingent on my performance, how then do I find my value? As always, we must look to Jesus.

If you think about it, Jesus never really met society’s standards of being ‘enough.’ (Let’s be honest, He still doesn’t). People were so fixated on who the Messiah was supposed to be that they didn’t even recognize Him when He was in their presence.

  • The crowds were often so hungry for a miracle or a sign that they missed His teachings entirely
    • Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20)
  • The religious leaders often discredited Jesus and His teachings because He didn’t seem worthy of being the anointed one of Israel.
    • Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,  “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! (Mark 2:6-7)
  • His family considered Him crazy
    • When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)
  • His disciples often struggled to fully live out their faith in Him because they were crippled by their own fear
    • “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

If Jesus Himself didn’t meet the standards of being enough, then why do we try so hard to? And if we don’t find our worth in people, then where we place our value?

It’s simple (but so hard): in the Lord.

I am convinced that it was through Jesus’ close intimacy with the Father that He was able to walk in full faith and full confidence into the person God created Him to be. In Matthew 3, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v. 16-17). Before Jesus began His public ministry, before He chose His disciples, before He went into the wilderness to face temptation, God spoke His words of Jesus’ ‘enoughness’ over Him. And I believe it was this declaration that Jesus rooted Himself in so that He could fully live out His faith without worrying about being enough for others. He was enough for God, and He knew that is all that matters.

Jesus’ ability to love others fully was embedded and birthed from the truth that He was fully loved by God. If you’re constantly seeking to make people love you, you will never truly love them well; there are selfish motives involved. To love someone well is to love them with the love of Jesus and you can only do that if you claim the love of Jesus over yourself.

The best thing you can do for yourself, the best thing you can do for your family, the best thing you can do for your faith, your ministry, your life, is to deeply root yourself in the unconditional love of Jesus.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? Do you know that your ‘enoughness’ is based entirely upon who He is? It’s unconditional love. It is strong, it is deep, and it is all consuming if you allow it to be. Despite the broken narrative you’ve believed, you don’t have to earn it. You can soak in it. You can rest in it. You can believe in it. You can walk in it. It is because of His bold, audacious, unwavering love for you that you don’t have to strive for His love or the love of others. You can boldly claim it and proclaim it. And that’s where the adventure begins.   

 

“That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

-Henri Nouwen, Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry

 

Check out Christina’s Spoken Word here:

 

 

Christiana Muir is a follower of Jesus in Nashville, TN. She graduated from Lipscomb University with a degree in Theology in Ministry and is currently church planting among refugees in her city.

While some have perhaps read The Shack as an actual account, the title page identifies the piece as a “novel.” This is a fictional story. But…it is nevertheless true. The movie, too, is fictional…but true.

Read The Shack, watch the movie, and walk with me into the world of spiritual recovery, a journey into my shack and your shack (Meeting God at the Shack, my new book). That is what The Shack is about.

The book, as well as the movie, is a modern parable. Like a parable, the events described are fictional though possible (that is, it is not science fiction). And, like a parable, it becomes a world into which we step to hear something true about God, life, and the soul. 

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15), for example, is a fictional but true story. As fiction the story has no correspondence in fact, that is, it is not a story about a specific, actual family. No one walked up to Jesus after the parable to ask the name of the son, which family he came from and into which “far country” he went. Whether it is actual history or not is irrelevant. It is a fictional tale. But the story is nevertheless true. The Prodigal Son says something true about God and his relationship with his children.

A parabolic story draws the listener or reader into the world of the parable so that we can see something from a particular angle. A parable is not comprehensive theology, but a story-shaped way of saying a particular thing. As a piece of art rather than didactic prose, it allows a person to hear that point in an emotional as well as intellectual way. It gives us imagery, metaphor, and pictures to envision the truth rather than merely describing it in prose. Rather than analyzing propositions, we become part of a parable’s narrative. We are free to experience our own life again as we are guided by the storyteller.

Parables, as the parables of Jesus often do, sucker-punch us so that we begin to see something we had not previously seen about ourselves, God or the world. They speak to us emotionally in ways that pure prose does not usually do, much like music, art and poetry are expressive in ways that transcend discursive or academic descriptions. This enables the right side (the artsy side) of our brains to connect with what the left side (the analytical side) of our brain thinks about. We can feel these truths rather than simply think about them. As a result those truths can connect with our guts (our core beliefs about ourselves) in ways that our intellect cannot reach. The truths, then, can settle into our hearts as well as our minds.

The Shack is, I think, a piece of serious theological reflection in parabolic form. It is not a systematic theology. It does not cover every possible topic nor reflect on God from every potential angle. That is not its intent. That would be too much to expect from a parable. The “Prodigal Son,” for example, is not a comprehensive teaching about God.

Rather, the focus of The Shack is rather narrow. Fundamentally, given my own experience and hearing Young talk about his intent, I read the book as answering this question:

How do wounded people journey through their hurt to truly believe in their gut that God really loves them despite the condition of their “shack”?

The parable is about how we feel about ourselves in our own “shacks.” Do we really believe—deep in our guts, not just in our heads—that God is “especially fond” of us? How can God love us when our “shacks” are a mess? The parable addresses these feelings, self-images and woundedness.

The theology of The Shack engages us at this level. It encourages us to embrace the loving relationship into which God invites us. Consequently, it does not answer every question, address every aspect of God’s nature or reflect on every topic of Christian theology. Instead, it zeros in on the fundamental way in which wounded souls erect barriers that muzzle the divine invitation to loving relationship.

So, I invite you to reflect on these themes—to process them within your own journey, out of your own woundedness, and in relationship with your own God. I invite you to walk with me through my own spiritual journey of recovery and perhaps illuminate your own walk with God.

May God hear our prayers for healing, meet us in our shacks, and love us so profoundly and deeply that our wounds become scars rather than festering sores.

In the really gripping stories, the bad guys have some secret weapon that seems to be overwhelmingly superior in strength to anything the good guys can muster, and with a bit of cunning, the enemy will surely thwart the good guys with their diabolical weapon.  In these enthralling stories, the bad guys always have some powerful tool at their disposal that disables and immobilizes even the strongest hero. And while we know the good guys will win somehow, we never know how until nearly the end of the story.
How many times in your life have you had a well-intentioned conversation shut down with a simple, “Jesus said ‘Thou shalt not Judge”?  It seems like “who are you to judge me” or “you christian people are so judgmental” is like Kryptonite for modern believers.
In our culture, if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with the direction of any conversation, simply cry out, “Don’t judge me” and like a blue-statically-fizzling-forcefield, you will be protected from a distasteful dialogue, you are instantly shielded from anything incriminating and you can go along your merry way.  “Don’t judge” is your get-out-of-jail-free card, and oh, here’s your free $200 as you pass Go.
It seems like we are in quite a quandary.  They have us up against the wall.  Our hands seem tied.  Their ace in the hole has, it seems, successfully stifled us.  Who are we to judge?  What gives us the right to point out the faults in others?  Maybe they are right, and we should just mind our own business.
After all, didn’t Jesus clearly say, “Don’t Judge” and didn’t He say something about getting the log out of your own eye before you go fumbling around, swatting at a speck of dust in someone else’s eye?  Of course He did.  And isn’t it ironic that people will point to one prohibition from Jesus, that being don’t judge, to justify a lifestyle that elsewhere, had they bothered to read, Jesus would clearly denounce?  Yes it is.
My goal isn’t to let anyone off the hook here; judgmental people have issues they need to deal with, and the people being “corrected” for messing up their lives have serious issues to fix too.  Perhaps the missing piece for most people is the vulnerability factor.  Whenever we go down the road of pointing out the faults in others, we invite in some critiquing of ourselves as well.  Which after all, is not only fair, it should also be welcomed, as Proverbs 27:17 points out, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Let’s see if we can reconcile this conundrum about do we judge or do we keep our lips sealed, and let’s see if we can remain inline with the heart of Jesus along the way.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually said in Matthew 7:1-6,
“Judge not, that you be not judged.   For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Number one, there are ways to address people who are screwing up their lives without being critical or harsh or hateful.  And frankly, if someone is on the train-tracks and a train is about to run them over, we have an obligation to warn them about the direction they are headed.  So, yes, just like the saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” if we care about someone, sometimes we do have to interject ourselves.  Remember, James writes, ” My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Also, Jesus’ famous statement “don’t judge” comes within the context where He warns about pigs and dogs, and pearls such things, in other words He requires we make judgement calls about situations and people, without sentencing them eternally.  There is a difference between judging someone and making a judgement call.  Judging someone entails we know their status with God, and we are assigning them their eternal status in heaven or hell.  Making a judgment call, on the other hand, is pointing out an observation on an objective fact without playing God.   See the difference?
The “don’t judge me” phrase being tossed around these days forgets, we do have the obligation to discern good from evil, safe from harmful, right from wrong, and this is in the context that we need to do a little self-checking along the way.  Jesus never forbids or prohibits us from stating the obvious, He simply says make sure your own lifestyle reflects someone with credibility.  Be someone worth listening to.  Don’t miss it, Jesus said once your log is out of the way, you’ll see clearly enough to help remove that irritating speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye.
Brother’s eye.  Brother’s eye?  Does this mean this passage is built on the relationships between believers, and those outside the church aren’t even at stake here?  Wouldn’t that be judgmental too, though?  Paul wrote in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”  Yet, if someone is outside of Christ, don’t they deserve to hear about His saving grace?  From Jude 1:22-23, it looks like yes, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”  Perhaps christians should be held to higher standards, but everyone deserves a shot at life.
One thing is clear here, our standards which we have for others will be held up for us to uphold.  If we expect perfection from others, Jesus may just expect that out of us.  Also, it seems like it’s human nature to point out other people’s mistakes while ignoring our own, this may be one of our greatest character flaws.  But also notice, this whole paragraph requires we recognize the significance of sins, i.e., lesser & greater wrongs summed up as sawdust & logs.  And, we need to be cautious with whom we distribute holiness to and with whom we share our jewels with.  Events could turn bad quickly, and we could be endangered instantaneously if we are unable to make a judgement call.
So, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t be a christian who lives like a hypocrite and call out the sins in others, and, you also can’t live like a reprobate pagan and quote Jesus only on the “don’t you judge me” verse.  If you want to help others live holier lives, set the example.  If you want to use Jesus’ phrase about not judging others, you need to accept the rest of His teachings as well, which call us to submit to Him and live lives of holiness.
The reality of it is, there are consequences from our actions and attitudes.  When we live in sinful lifestyles and when we are judgmental, we suffer and other people suffer.  I could be wrong, but I think Jesus teaches in this passage that being judgmental might just forfeit our own salvation.  I doubt I’m wrong about this, but I’m fairly certain that Jesus teaches several times in the Gospels sin is bad because sin separates us from the Father.
Everyone seems to think Jesus will condone whatever course of action they see fit, at the time.  Would Jesus condemn a critical person’s judging of another?  Yes, absolutely.  Would Jesus let the one being judged off of the hook because they got “judged” by some bible-thumper?  Hardly.
Maybe, if we showed more respect, lived lives that displayed unconditional love, and freely offered forgiveness, maybe people would ask us for advice or help more often?  And, maybe if we didn’t make stupid choices, people wouldn’t feel obligated to point out our mistakes.  Ouch.
Consistency, that’s usually what’s missing whenever we take the words of Jesus out of context and seek license to live however we want or treat others however we want.  Seek for better consistency, and maybe you’ll gain the credibility you desire.  I’m pretty sure consistency is the way we disarm the evil one’s secret weapon.  Now, do we cut the blue wire or the red wire…?

After the double murder that shattered my life and the life of my family, I slowly began to heal. I had a lot of help when I chose to see it. God. Family. Friends. A new wife who is my partner in every way imaginable… I don’t remember it, but Becki tells me years ago when we were so young and dating that I talked an awful lot about being a writer. I do remember two paid stints as a weekly newspaper columnist. I remember liking the idea of writing. In the aftermath of my horror, I did begin to write once more–I blogged. Those early days were full of anger and resentment. Raging against the machine, as it were. Eventually, I settled in on the idea of writing a book. I am still writing. As of today, I see one more chapter and then a conclusion/epilogue to write before the massive job of editing begins. Who knows whether it will ever be edited well enough to get a publisher to look at it. Even so, writing has been good for me, my ministry, my preaching… If nothing ever comes of it than that, well, it won’t be the answer to my dream, but I’ll be grateful none-the-less.

What follows is an unedited excerpt from what I am calling The Weakness of God. I hope you’ll get to read in its entirety one day. I pray it will be a blessing. LEFjr.

When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also  should do just as I have done for you.  “I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I’m not speaking about all of you; I know those I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats My bread has raised his heel against Me.

 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I assure you: Whoever receives anyone I send receives Me, and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

When Jesus had said this, He was troubled in His spirit and testified, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me!”

 The disciples started looking at one another—uncertain which one He was speaking about. One of His disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out who it was He was talking about. So he leaned back against Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus replied, “He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.”

When He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, “What you’re doing, do quickly.” (John 13:12–27 HCSB)

As I write this, I am fifty-four years old and less than five months away from my fifty-fifth birthday. I am not ancient and if you listen to the new gurus of our culture, I am still fully ensconced in middle age. On the days when I believed the hype and muscles are sore and legs are stiff, that is small consolation.

The truth is, I am no longer a youngster, but I am not quite yet approaching ancient-of-days status. On the other hand, I am a bit long in the tooth to so easily giggle at the inappropriate.

Have you ever wanted to laugh at a funeral?

Have you ever had to work hard to suppress a snort in the middle of a church service?

Preachers are the worst at this from my experience.  We are trained, educated, and equipped to be solemn when and where we need to be.

But there are certain verses in certain translations that have been known to provoke a struggle in repressing the inappropriate laughter of our inner twelve-year old. Even worse, occasionally someone will read something wrong—out loud in the church—and it will be all a guy can do to hold the laughter in.

I will not share any pre-adolescent examples here save for one that is mostly personal with me—and highly indicative of an excessive silliness factor. If this example isn’t good enough for you ask your own preacher, or better yet, read your Bible–you’ll find something to make you grin.

Save one.  I did promise you one, so here goes nothing.

True confession:  I cannot read, either privately or publicly, the name Judas Iscariot without fighting the inner mental giggle of a third grader.  Every time I see his name I want to call him Judas-is-a-carrot.

Beyond silly I am sure, but you get what you pay for whether reading it in this book or the sermon I developed to try out this material.

 Judas Iscariot.

There are loads of scholarly opinions on the meaning of Iscariot.  While interesting, they are not what I want to consider.

In American History, there have been numerous traitors who have plotted, divided, or otherwise acted in their own self-interests while betraying their country. They are each infamous to some degree, but none so much as Benedict Arnold.

In some respects, Benedict was a pitiful character.  A capable and worthy commander, he accomplished many good things in the quest for American sovereignty.  But disappointment, bitterness, and disillusionment ultimately led to an act of betrayal that has become synonymous with his name.

However, Benedict has nothing on the man Christendom rightly considers the most infamous traitor of all, Judas Iscariot.  And since I can’t restrain myself, let’s just call him Judas.

Judas.  That’s a name often stirring disgust, disrespect, anger, and most any other negative emotion found in our English vocabulary. There’s not much worse than betrayal and Judas says it all.

I have a grandson named Jude, but you don’t hear of many babies being named Judas.

The name Judas, like Hitler, Stalin, or even Osama, evokes little that could be considered pleasant. Some things can be redeemed but I am not sure Judas or his name ever will be.

Betrayal isn’t something we take lightly. American music is full of somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs. Even our lingo and slang is full of ways to describe what betrayal is like.

Stabbed in the back.
Sold down the river.
Taken for a ride.
Double-crossed.
Spit in my face.
Pulled the wool over my eyes

And in the immortal words of William Shakespeare as he had Julius Caesar speak them, Et tu Brute?

Even you, Brutus, even you.

How could you? Those are words we have said to others or maybe had said to us.

How could you?

Nobody likes being thrown under the bus.
Nobody likes being the scapegoat.
Nobody likes the blame being laid at your feet.
And nobody, I mean nobody ever enjoys being betrayed especially by someone we love and trust.

Ask the guy who unknowingly invested his life savings in a Ponzi scheme.

Ask the woman who said yes and moved across the country away from family and friends only to be contemptuously discarded and kicked to the curb for a newer model.

Ask the employees who began to build a company only to learn it was based on deliberately fraudulent information. Have you ever heard the phrase cooked the books?

And since we have already involved a nine year-old, ask the poor kid whose best friend made fun of him on the playground in front of the whole class.

How could you?
Why would you?
Why did you?

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

 Then He came and found them sleeping. “Simon, are you sleeping?” He asked Peter. “Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 Once again He went away and prayed, saying the same thing. And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to Him. Then He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. Look, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go! See—My betrayer is near.”

While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. With him was a mob, with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had given them a signal. “The One I kiss,” he said, “He’s the One; arrest Him and take Him away under guard.” So when he came, he went right up to Him and said, “Rabbi!”—and kissed Him. Then they took hold of Him and arrested Him. (Mark 14:32–46 HCSB)

All these centuries later, nothing about Judas’ reputation has been rehabilitated.  There is no commission to overthrow the guilty verdict.  There is no organization intent on seeing him in a fairer light. I would like to be remembered, but not like this.

Not like this.

Judas will go down in history as the worst betrayer of all time. That he did it with the intimacy of a kiss only adds to a higher level of disgust.

If you are like me, you probably can’t even say something as simple as poor old Judas.

Unfortunately, long before this ugly affair, there were problems in his character—and those problems created even more problems, leading to his ultimate betrayal.

John 12 tells the story of Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha, anointing Jesus’ feet with a pint of pure nard, “an expensive perfume.” (John 12:3 NIV2011) Continuing the story, we then learn of Judas’ strident objection and the true reason behind it.

“Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. (John 12:5–6 HCSB)

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, a ministry Judas was fully immersed in, Jesus taught His disciples many wonderfully important, life-affirming things. Maybe you’ll remember these two from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21 HCSB)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV11)

Do you see where Judas’ heart was?

Do you see the internal/ external conflict he was living with?

I have been a Judas neophyte most of my preaching life. I cannot ever remember preaching a sermon on Judas. I can’t remember ever doing much thinking about him at all. Most of my theology where Judas was concerned could be summed up and communicated quite clearly in six short words or two short phrases: “Judas bad. Don’t be like Judas.”

Suffice it to say I was quite surprised to learn there are other theories or possibilities for why Judas did what he did. I would have assumed that Judas’ betrayal was primarily motivated by greed, especially given what we learned of him in John 12.

However, some believe Judas’ actions were intended to force Jesus to confront the power of Rome. Others believe that Judas betrayed out of disillusionment, out of his own sense of being betrayed by Jesus’ proclamations of impending death.

So, which was it?

Was it greed?
Was it confrontation?
Was it disillusionment?

Yes, it was. Yes, I have no problem saying yes to any of those statements, yes to them individually, or yes to them as one combined answer.

Yes. And it ought to scare us to death.

If the answer is greed, I don’t know anybody who hasn’t struggled with materialism. I don’t know anybody who isn’t tempted to allow the things of this world to become our treasure, to be what we serve.

As far as confrontation is concerned, many of us have bargained with God trying to get Him to work within our own agenda.

And disillusionment? Who hasn’t been disappointed by God? Who hasn’t been tempted to take matters into our hands when God doesn’t do what we expect or want?

Nobody wants to be compared to Judas, but there it is. And like Judas, every single one of us is susceptible to betraying God.

John 13:27 tells us after Judas ate the bread Satan entered him…

In the College Press NIV Commentary on the Gospel of John, the authors make a heart-wrenching statement: “Ironically for Judas the bread of the Last Supper was not ‘Christ’s body broken for him,’ but his commitment to self-serving allegiance and evil actions.”

In Judas’ desire for whatever was not of God, he became the tool of Satan.

In my faith tradition, we partake of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is a hallowed, holy moment of reflection, communion, and remembrance. I just wonder how many times we eat of the bread and drink of the cup and then turn right around and betray our Lord.

Suddenly, I don’t feel quite so superior to Judas.

In your struggles for the legal tender, in your wanting God to do a certain thing, in your disappointment when God doesn’t do what you think God should have done, guard your heart.

Don’t become a tool for Satan.

The reality of Judas isn’t very far from any of us!

There are a couple of churchy axioms that I struggled to practice with consistency.

It’s said that Christians are to “hate the sin and love the sinner.” I have to admit that I’ve never found the power to do that with any consistency. I would image if one did they could turn raw hate into creative hate. And that would be good. But the evil I hate wants to stick to the person the way skin sticks to the body. Every now and then I can tear the sin from the sinner’s skin but not on a regular basis.

The life Jesus calls us to live always cuts against the grain. Separating the sin from the sinner doesn’t come easy. And neither does loving another person with unconditional love.

I’m sitting at my keyboard trying to remember if I have ever heard the words ‘unconditional’ and ‘love’ used together in the same sentence outside of a church community. I can’t answer that with any surety because I have a deeply rooted christian belief that is three decades strong. I write and read often. The terms are certainly not unfamiliar to me but I wonder about the hundred’s of thousands outside the christian faith. Do they know anything about the ultimate expression of love without condition?

The phrase ‘unconditional love’ reflects on the voluntary sacrifice of God’s Son. I understand. But the idea that the love I practice could be called unconditional is a little perplexing for me. The notion that ‘I can do this’ dissipates in my day-in-day-out practices toward others. I try with the best of intentions but end up projecting my expectations on others, only showing them favor and love when they satisfy my needs and follow my own requests. I don’t mean to act or behave in this way, but in that moment it’s very stealthy. It might be the result of my early years of living without Jesus. Habits can be terribly stubborn. No, I’m not all I need to be but thanks be to God I’m not all I use to be either.

Unconditional love is totally uncommon. But uncommon doesn’t mean impossible; it just means uncommon. Through the years I’ve seen a handful of people who practice unconditional love. These are the ones who quietly serve others right where they are. They don’t wait for tomorrow to make a difference; they are making a difference today.

I wish I could end this short piece with the declaration that I consistently separate the sin from the sinner and practiced a selfless, unconditional love. But I have a way to go. Yet I refuse to throw in the towel because my head knows that those who show this ‘other-worldly-love’ are released from the consumed self. And those who receive this love are soon released from the limitations others have placed on them.

If there was ever a chapter in the Bible about seeing things clearly it is Mark 8. The chapter starts with feeding the 4000 which is followed up by a misunderstanding by Jesus’ disciples about his statement warning them against “the yeast of the Pharisees.” In that section, Jesus warns them about having eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. That is followed up by Jesus’ double healing of the man born blind which is followed up by Peter’s confession of Jesus as messiah. The entire chapter is about seeing things clearly.

Not only is Mark 8 about seeing things clearly but about the discrepancy between Jesus’ vision and their vision. Jesus’ statement about the yeast of the Pharisees is double entendre…it is a statement that has two levels of meaning. The person with deep spiritual insight (eyes to see) would understand Jesus. The disciples aren’t there yet. The same with declaring Jesus as Messiah. They see that is true but don’t see it as clearly as Jesus, which we find out a few verses later because once Jesus tells them exactly what that means (that he will suffer and die) Peter rebukes him.

Jesus saw everything with intense spiritual clarity and he was training his disciples to be able to do so as well. If you want to see clearly by developing eyes that see what is really real, then you have to follow Jesus for a while. Watch what he does. Listen to what he says. Most importantly, look for something in particular. Look for those moments when Jesus sees an entire situation so much differently than everyone else around him.

Let’s look at two instances where that is the case and notice the difference between Jesus’ eyes and everyone else.

Zacchaeus:
The first example is found in Luke 19:1-10 and it is the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Notice the differences between Jesus’ perception and the perception of the crowd.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

The first thing you notice about the onlookers (19:7) is that they grumble about this. Listen to how they understand what just happened – He (Jesus) has gone to be a guest of a “sinner”. They depersonalize Zacchaeus. He is an object to them. They all know his name. They all live in his town. They have all had their taxes collected by either him or his minions for some time. It is Jesus who is new in town and it is Jesus who calls him by name. Jesus personalizes him. Where others see fault and find judgment Jesus sees a son of Abraham named Zacchaeus and finds grace.

May we be the people who stand against the muttering of the crowd. May we recognize the vulnerability of those who are objectified by the world around us and show the kind of grace that someone in such a situation truly needs.

The woman in John 8:
We see something remarkably similar in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery,

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” – John 8:1-11

What do the scribes and Pharisees say about her? She was caught (notice not “they” but “she”)…in the very act (which reminds us they know who the man is and could have easily caught him too if justice and law following was the motivation)…the law says stone her but what do you say?

You know, it is always easier to stone an object than a person.

Jesus doesn’t see an object. He sees a woman. My guess is he knows her name. What is more, the stereotypical image of the woman being thrown at Jesus’ feet doesn’t match the description in John 8. She stands before Jesus and it is Jesus who bends down to the ground…twice. What is truly amazing is that Jesus doesn’t even objectify her accusers. He humanizes them as well – let the one who has no sin throw the first stone. Jesus doesn’t even point his finger at them but says to them exactly what they need to hear in order to make this woman come to life before their very eyes as a real person who is dearly loved.

You know, Jesus loves the grumblers too.

Like with Zacchaeus…Jesus saw a vulnerable person and Jesus knew exactly what to do in a moment like that and if we want eyes like Jesus we will learn to do this too – he extended grace. He extended grace without condoning her actions.

Last, notice how unselfish Jesus was. It could be quite tempting to think of how to leverage these people to make yourself look good. Jesus never made himself look good at the expense of others but a lot of us struggle with that temptation. It boils down to an eyesight problem – that we aren’t seeing people with the right kind of eyes when we do that. Some of us are addicts when it comes to figuring out how to use situations and even people to our advantage. Jesus didn’t see a need to do that because Jesus saw people as too important to do such a thing to them and with them. When you see people as people you don’t do things like that.

Oh, to see as Jesus saw…to develop eyes that discern both discretion and grace…justice and mercy…the value of a human life and the power of forgiveness…that is what we strive for. Let us have the eyes to see as Jesus saw and to learn exactly how it is developed within us by spending more time with the Lord.

It really is that easy or at least that simple. No one ever said loving every person in the world was going to be easy. We have been over “who is my neighbor” more times than one might care to count. We have been over the greatest commandments: loving God and loving neighbor (who happens, again, to include everyone). We have been over loving your neighbor. We have even been over, although slightly less often than the rest, loving ourselves (which the second greatest commandment has sneakily embedded in it’s verbiage).

We know these things. We believe these things.

Do we live these things?

We cannot both choose love and choose to be hateful. We cannot both choose love and threaten people. We cannot both choose love and marginalize people…shut people up…or put people down, no. Love demands more of us than that or else it lacks the two key elements – that love truly be loving and that love truly be unconditional.

Love unconditional. That should be the filter through which we pass our words, our facebook posts, our tweets and even…and this is the hardest one…our thoughts about other people.

We need to ask ourselves a few questions:

Does this course of action make me more loving or less?

Do I have my “guilty pleasure” group that I rationalize ways to think and behave unloving toward?

What conditions have I placed upon my willingness to feel and express love for another person?

Is the love I project to others true, deep and from the heart or is it a faux love based on what is expected of me or even just obligation?

We have a long way to go and I am convinced that the only way ahead will include love.

This doesn’t mean we will all agree. This doesn’t mean we will all approve of everything everyone is doing (I don’t even approve of all the things I do all the time!) but none of those things have ever been a criteria for unconditional love for the very reason they are conditions.

So let us disagree lovingly and dialog lovingly. Let us Facebook lovingly and drive lovingly. Let us examine the scriptures together…even those we disagree on…lovingly. Oh it is a tough road but it is the right road. I hope to see you walking it with me. And when you see me step off that path, feel free to lovingly correct me!

Welcome to February at Wineskins!