Monday, 21 January 2008

Christianity 101

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
(Matthew 22:36-40)

Loving God and loving others is the most important thing in the Bible. We’ve already said it earlier, but it needs to be restated: love and relationships is the bottom line. It’s more important than anything else that we could ever do. Every Law and every commandment and everything ever uttered by any Old Testament prophet is summed up in “love and relationships.” If we haven’t got that, then it seems to me that Jesus is saying that we’ve missed the boat.

How well have we obeyed Matthew 22:36-40? First, do we really love God above everything else in the world? Do we love Him with “all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind”? Let’s be honest with ourselves, keeping in mind that we may be able to fool one another, but we certainly can’t fool God. Is there anything that stands in the way of my loving God even more than I do? My job? My house? My bank account? My family? My entertainment choices? Supposed God was to clearly and audibly put us to the test and ask us to give up one or more important things in our life in order to “prove” our genuine love for Him? Suppose God called us to the test as He did Abraham and the sacrifice of his son Isaac? Could we do it? Would we do it? Isn’t that what Matthew 22: 37 really means? I think so.

Are our lives so intertwined with God that others clearly see it? In the biography, “Rees Howells: Intercessor,” biographer Norman Grubb says that people would often speak of Mr. Rees Howells as “a modern John the Baptist.” He writes further, “An evidence of the effect he had on the district was seen later when a man who did not know his name simply asked the ticket collector at the station where ‘the man with the Holy Ghost’ lived and was directed to Mr. Howells!” As an aside, it’s interesting that even Rees Howells was called out of the institutional church for over five years!

Do we so love God and are we so filled with the Holy Spirit that strangers, not knowing our names, might be directed our way simply because others KNOW that the Holy Spirit lives in us, not because of some institutional church affiliation, and because others KNOW that this stranger could mean no one else other than us? If a stranger asked my boss if the “man with the Holy Spirit” was at work, would my boss know that it was me that the stranger was referring to? There’s a loaded question! I know that I’m not anywhere near there yet, but in the words of Paul, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). May God help me to get there one day too.

Then, what about the second command? Do we really “love our neighbor as ourselves”? I’m sure there isn’t a Christian church around that doesn’t claim to love one another. Some have even made that a part of their slogan, as if to say that they have somehow cornered the market on loving people. But how well do they really do that? If we really “loved” one another in the truest sense, one would think that the non-Christian world would be breaking our doors down to get in to where all this “love” was happening. But the last time I looked, they were not. When we look at the description of the early church in Acts, we see something completely foreign to most of our modern churches.

Sadly, I’m sure we’ve all seen cases where strangers came into our institutional church buildings, listened to a Christian message of loving one another, and then left again without anyone even acknowledging them. These kinds of things are not just few and far between; they happen all the time! In the same way, how many times haven’t I seen a street person who smells bad and maybe even reeks of booze come strolling in to our “sanctuaries,” only to have everyone avoid him like the plague? Again, it happens all the time! I’ve even seen such persons (on more than one occasion) escorted out during a church service. Shame on us!

Further that, what is the definition of “sanctuary” anyway? Well, one definition is a “sacred place” or the “part of the church around the altar.” Personally, I prefer to believe that the “sanctuary” is really in the heart of the believer. But there is another definition as well, which is “a refuge or protection.” Do strangers really find refuge and protection in our midst? If not, then why not? Is that not what “loving our neighbor as ourselves” is all about? Who is our neighbor, you might ask? Jesus was asked the same question. In reply He shared the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

We all know that story, don’t we? Allow me to paraphrase it. It’s the story where the member of the Hells Angels bike club was on his way to a big bike rally when suddenly a deer ran out in front of him and he dumped his bike swerving to avoid the animal. He lay there bleeding and was almost dead. Soon Pastor _____ from First Denominational Church of Christ drove by and when he saw the biker, he sped up and hurried on past. A little while later Professor _____ from Joe Christian Bible College also came by, and he too slowed down for a look and, seeing the Hells Angels colors of the biker’s back, also sped up and hurried by. Finally, two little old ladies from Cult Kingdom Community Hall drove by and, seeing the almost dead biker, stopped to give him First Aid. As the one little old lady tended to the biker’s wounds, the other little old lady drove off to get help leaving the first one alone with the big biker. Later at the hospital, since the biker had no insurance, the little old ladies from Cult Kingdom Community Hall took up a collection for the biker’s health care expenses. Then, as if that were not enough, they left their VISA numbers with the hospital and told them to charge any additional costs that may come up onto their credit cards. Jesus then asked, who was the neighbor to the Hells Angel biker? The Christian pastor? The Bible college professor? Or the two little old ladies who weren’t even Christians, but rather cult members?

I obviously took liberties in paraphrasing Jesus’ parable, but the point is, I believe, well made. Who is really our brother? To the Jews of Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were little more than the scum of the earth. Most Christians today likely wouldn’t give the Hells Angels the time of day any more than the Jews would have done for the Samaritans. If that is true, and I believe that it is, then what are we to do with Jesus’ command to “love our neighbor?” How far are we willing to go to show “genuine” Christian love to those outside of our faith communities, not to mention those outside of our comfort zones? It is easy to love those who think like we do, who look and dress like we do, and who believe like we do. Unfortunately, there is nothing uniquely Christian about that. Consider another passage of Scripture in which Jesus deals with our need to love even our enemies.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 32-36).
There’s the goal. On a good day I might be 2% there, but I’m not content to just sit passively by in that 2%. I want to walk much more in that direction, if for no other reason, then because that is what my Lord calls me to do. How about you?

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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