Our Benevolent God

Photo credit here (along with a great sermon that dives deeper into this text).

S (Scripture): Matthew 9:9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.

11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”

O (Observation): Jesus associates with outsiders here in this text. Faith in God – for the likes of the Pharisees (and many others) – became about how closely one could follow the rules, and less and less about showing love and mercy to one’s neighbor. If you were a faithful follower of God, you would avoid becoming unclean (by eating with the group Jesus was eating with). If you are with the likes of “sinners and tax collectors” you would certainly become unclean. That would be a big no-no.

Jesus, however, flips things around. He says he has come to these outsiders to show them mercy. Jesus quotes the Old Testament book of Hosea, conveying a message of mercy. Jesus seems to be narrowing his focus on showing mercy, rather than just showing how good he can be at keeping the rules. The harder choice seems to be dealing with the people, rather than avoiding them.

And even though Jesus calls them “sick” I don’t think we need to think of them as less than others. Perhaps their “sickness” comes from the fact that they are pushed aside by society. Perhaps being “sick” meant that they were not followers of the same rules / laws as the Jews. In a faithful (yet misguided) attempt to follow God, many Jews pushed sinners and tax collectors away, rather than find a way to share the joys of following a merciful God…for they, surely, have been shown mercy, too.

A (Application): I have crossed several boundary markers these past few years. And each time has felt very much in line with God’s call for me and my family. I have associated with many groups that might be considered “sick” or “outsiders,” though I don’t see them as such.

Muslims, folks from the LGBTQIA community, prisoners, DACA recipients. In each of these communities, I see people. Perfect? No. (But who is?) I see people with whom I share something in common: a need for mercy. I need mercy just like these folks need mercy.

Our God throughout the Old Testament brings mercy to the Israelites time and time again, in order that God’s covenants / promises would be upheld.

We all need equal access to God’s Word…to God’s mercy. When the Church spouts hateful rhetoric, people get the idea that God is hateful…which is very unfortunate and pushes people away. The world needs to see the face of the benevolent God that I have encountered and who has embraced me.

May you encounter this benevolent God today!

P (Prayer): Lord, may you see the faces of all people and inspire all people to receive your love this day. Amen.

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Strong & Benevolent (a guest post)

GUEST POST from my wife, Kelly Jannett!   So proud. She does devotions regularly…first time giving a guest post here : )

Scripture: Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies. 
Observation: Jude tells us that he writes this letter asking the readers, “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). Why? Because there are intruders. 
INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! 
Application: I must confess my naivety to most things political. Sometimes I’m blissfully naive, and other times I come across as a political nincompoop. 

     It is mostly my fault. I simply don’t pay attention. We don’t have cable, so I don’t watch the news; I use social media almost exclusively for the social or entertainment aspects (and to get recipes), so I often overlook posts which appear too politic-y. 

     And then I’m blessed with the curse of indecisiveness. Not only do I have difficulty making up my own mind, but I am easily swayed in my opinion. When I do read those politic-y posts, I’ll read what one friend has to say, and think she’s a genius. Then I’ll read another friend’s opinion and decide he has it all figured out. 

     This leaves me feeling ashamed. And sure, I’m ashamed that I often choose not to vote, not because I am ungrateful to those suffragettes who overcame HUGE obstacles to give me the right to vote, but because I DO NOT KNOW who the best candidate is for the job. Heck, I usually think neither one is a good choice, so I’m trying to pick the lesser of two evils. And then after I vote, and I hear what/who others voted for, I doubt myself even more. 
But I also feel ashamed of my faith. 

     

     A few weeks ago, Michael shared some insight from Brian McLaren in his sermon. And it was one of those times you sit there and think, “Wow, the pastor wrote this sermon for me.” So, here’s a synopsis of what Brian and Michael told me. Some Christians believe that to live out their faith they must be strong, and when they are strong in their convictions, it often leads them to be hostile to those who believe differently than they do. Along this line of thinking, if you are not strong & hostile in your faith, then you must be weak in your convictions and benign in your faith. 
     This is how I felt…my faith is weak & benign, because if my mind is so easily changed, then I can’t have strong convictions, right?
     However, Michael & Brian offered me hope through a third option. The same hope Jude offers in this passage, and the same hope Jesus lived out during his earthly ministry. 
     What if I can have faith, what if you can have faith, what if we can have faith that is strong & benevolent? A “most holy faith; pray[ing] in the Holy Spirit; keep[ing ourselves] in the love of God; look[ing] forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,” & “have[ing] mercy on some who are wavering; save[ing] others by snatching them out of the fire; and have[ing] mercy on still others with fear.”
     Because if I think that there is no way we should allow these refugees into our country because of what happened in Paris, and because one of my friends, whom I’ve always looked to as a spiritual stronghold, has a very compelling personal life experience, which seems to demonstrate that doing the ‘nice’ thing isn’t at all like doing the ‘right’ thing; but then I start to wonder, “Who are the least of these? And how do we do unto them?” It does not mean my convictions are weak and my faith is benign. Instead, it shows my convictions are evolving; my compassion is growing; I’m willing to be more merciful. And I think Michael, Brian, and God are telling me those changes indicate both strength and benevolence. 
Prayer: Merciful Father, allow our convictions to continue to evolve, grow our compassion infinitely, and help us to become more merciful, so that through you, we may live out a faith that is strong & benevolent. Amen

My faith: Strong and Benevolent (a nod to Brian McLaren)

  S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

O (Observation):  Paul reminds the Christian community in Corinth that without love at the center of their thoughts and actions, what they say and what they do will be void of any effect in the world.   Everything is to be said and done in love.    

Even if a disagreement exists between members of the faith community, the tensions is to be managed through love.   For in these days, no one has all of the truth, no one has all of the answers.  For now, we see, as through a mirror indirectly.   We will all soon know the truth. 

Paul approaches the truth boldly, and with humility, so that love wins out.  For without love, we are just a bunch of noisy gongs.  

A (Application):  Brian McLaren sees a false dichotomy in Christianity.  He sees two views of Christians in the world, but he believes there is a third way.  

The two existing views of Christians in the world, he proposes, are these: Strong and Hostile, or Weak and Tolerant.  

Here is a blog post of his explaining the differences (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/stronghostile-weaktolerant-or.html):

First, some of us know how to have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively toward other religions. The stronger our Christian commitment, the stronger our aversion or opposition to other religions…. Alternatively, others of us know how to have a more positive, accepting response to other religions. We never prosyletize. We always show respect for other religions and their adherents. We always minimize differences and maximizes commonalities. But we typically achieve coexistence by weakening our Christian identity… I’m convinced that neither of these responses is good enough for today’s world. (Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? p. 9-10)

His proposal for a third, middle way is convincing to me:  Strong and Benvolent.   One site describes this view of McLaren’s as such:  His middle way is a strong, benevolent identity that does not compromise on its Christian thought but is rooted in compassion and respect for all humanity.  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2012/08/review-of-brian-mclarens-latest-book/)

That is where I engage the world – Strong and Benvolent.  I think this falls into the category of having both a strong will, and a sense of humility.   In this, for me, is love.  I want people to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, but that will be an invitation, not a threat. 

I will not share the details, but TWICE in the last TWO DAYS, this ugly sense of Strong and Hostile reared its ugly head in our church building. I think I reacted with grace, but also a with clear sense that I am called to love my neighbor as myself.  My heartbeat rose dramatically in both cases, especially because these folks were speaking on behalf of those of other religions and speaking about the “weakness” of my faith and that of many in our denomination (if not weakness, then naïveté).

My hope is that the love of God shapes me and molds me to be a witness to Jesus Christ as my Savior, and that my invitation for others to believe in Jesus comes as both an invitation and a challenge.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you call us to be your witnesses to the end of the earth.  Help us to live out that call with grace and humility, showing great love to our neighbors, just as you show great love to us. Amen.  

Strong and Benevolent

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S (Scripture): Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 4:9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man – by what means this man was healed – 4:10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 4:11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”

O (Observation): The man healed by Peter and John goes back to Acts 3:6. Peter and John are basically on trial for committing this act, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they are declaring that the man was healed in Jesus’ name…the one they rejected.

The narrow part here is that they declare that in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name alone – can we be saved.

A (Application): I’m awed and a little confounded today.

I’m awed by the way in which the a Spirit works in and through these disciples. I’m confounded in this one thing: declaring that through Jesus alone comes salvation.

That might seem weird, since I’m a pastor. I totally believe that salvation comes only through Christ. But here is where the tough part is for me: people can use this verse in such a way as to determine who “gets into heaven and who doesn’t.” How we react is key.

Brian McLaren puts this brilliantly. He says that we’ve historically had 2 ways of being Christian: Strong & Hostile or Weak & Inclusive. Strong & Hostile means being strong in belief and hostile to those who do not carry the same exact beliefs. Weak & Inclusive means that one softens one’s belief system for the sake of being inclusive to those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

But Brian McLaren, a leading voice in emergent Christianity, declares a 3rd, middle way: Strong & Benevolent. This third way shows us that we can be both Strong in our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior AND loving and benevolent towards our neighbors. Strong & Benevolent does not compromise on its Christian thought but is rooted in compassion and respect for all humanity.

Simply put: Love God (Strong), Love Neighbor (Benevolent). With this viewpoint in mind, I see Acts 4:12 above as the strongpoint, but with an eye toward being welcoming to those who don’t agree with me…that I can invite others to believe what I do in a caring and yet uncompromising way.

How about you? Where are you in these viewpoints? Do one of these viewpoints help you to understand where you are? How do you treat those with different viewpoints of Christianity or the necessity of Jesus? How have you been treated?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that you are our stronghold and that in you we have life and abundance. Help us to be strong in our belief in you as Lord and Savior, while being benevolent to our neighbors. Amen.

[For more on Brian McLaren’s “third way”, see his book, “Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” This link is for the Kindle edition, currently $8.89.]