Technical Difficulties


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window): 
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Genesis 42:29-38, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Mark 4:21-34

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial.

Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian church because its members were twisting his message. They believed they were permitted to sin with abandon because Christ had paid the price to free them from the law, and Corinth was the place to sin big – think New Orleans during Mardi Gras, minus the restraint. Paul had painted himself into a bit of a theological corner; he couldn’t reprimand the people for breaking the law, but would be remiss to let them off on that technicality. So when the Corinthians claimed “all things are lawful” Paul countered with “not all things are beneficial.” If the driving force in our choices is not Christ, we are lost.

We face the same moral perils if we think of salvation in purely personal terms. Right belief does not excuse wrong behavior, even when that behavior is within the law. Throughout history, many legal but immoral things have been practiced by Christians: spousal abuse, genocide, child exploitation, Jim Crow, reparative therapy, etc. We may try to excuse terrible legalities by claiming they were a product of ignorance and era, but Christ’s teachings are timeless. For example, while neither Paul nor Jesus condemned slavery, both spoke against mistreating slaves, who were equally beloved children of God.

And there’s the key: salvation is not just about me, but about Christ’s love for everyone. I may be within my legal rights to exploit a vulnerable person or community. I may call it good business and pat myself on the back for my savvy. I may even sleep soundly in the blanket of my salvation … but have I served Christ as he has commanded me to? Have I willingly sacrificed my own wealth and comfort to serve those who have less than I do – even those I despise? Have I let civil law excuse vice and suppress virtue?

Christ did not have kind words for people who built their faith around legal technicalities. Let’s concentrate on what we can give, and not what we can get away with.

Comfort: Christ has freed us from the law so we can better love.

Challenge: The golden rule is “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” The platinum rule is “Do unto others as they’d have you do unto them.” Let’s follow the priceless rule: “Do unto others as Christ would have you do unto them.”

Prayers: God of grace, thank you for the priceless gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Make me strong enough to live beyond the law, and to love as you have asked me. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever gotten away with something on a technicality? How did it feel?

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Test Everything


Today’s readings (click below to open in a new window/tab):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Genesis 16:1-14, Hebrews 9:15-28, John 5:19-29

Some days the biggest stumbling block to faith is scripture itself. Amid its inspiration, today’s passage from Genesis contains some truly horrifying ideas. God promised Abram he would father a nation, but he and his wife Sarai did not immediately conceive a child. An impatient Sarai suggested Abram impregnate her servant Hagar. Under the law, Sarai could have claimed legal possession of the child. The law also claimed that if Hagar started acting “uppity” after conceiving, her mistress could punish her – so naturally that’s exactly what happened. When Hagar ran away, God advised her to return with the promise her child would also beget a nation.

Forced surrogacy. Abuse. Slavery seemingly endorsed by God. Is it any wonder many people find it so easy to reject the Bible wholesale?

Many Biblical literalists and devout atheists approach the Bible in the same way: either it’s all factual or it’s all useless. They simply come to opposite conclusions. Moderate and progressive Christians can find themselves caught up in defending why they bother with the Bible at all, if they don’t find scripture inerrant. Convoluted excuses and justifications for stories like this one (and worse) erode faith rather than strengthen it.

The Bible is not all there is to God. And specific translations or interpretations (and in the modern age that’s all most of us who don’t read Hebrew and Greek have got) even less so. Treating it like it is might be the most acceptable form of idolatry going today. God can withstand our questions and criticisms of Bronze Age culture. Just because Jesus didn’t explicitly condemn slavery doesn’t mean we should approve it. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 advises: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” God has given us the ability to discern what is moral and what is immoral, though in some cases like slavery it takes us far longer than it should to make the right call. Acceptable practices become unacceptable, and “abominable” practices such as short hair on women grow inoffensive.

The fact that people have been able to use the Bible to both justify and condemn slavery tells us the truth it contains needs more consideration than the popular “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Trust that truth is Godly, wherever it is found.

Comfort: God and truth withstand all scrutiny.

Challenge: Meditate on what previously acceptable practices have been morally rejected in your lifetime, and vice versa.

Prayer: God, help me to approach all things, including scripture, with your guidance. Amen.

Discussion: How would you describe your relationship with the Bible?

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The Gospel Unleashed


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Zephaniah 2:1-15, Revelation 16:1-11, Luke 13:10-17

A woman, who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit, came to Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Of course he healed her, and of course – as with all his Sabbath healings – the leaders of the synagogue were angry with him. They also scolded the woman for not coming on one of the six other days of the week when such activity was permissible. Jesus replied:

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?

His opponents were shamed, and the crowd rejoiced.

Jesus nailed the hypocrisy. Enforcing laws against things you find sinful is easy when you aren’t affected by them. None of the synagogue leaders suffered a similar affliction, so it didn’t impact them a bit if she had to wait, but they would unlawfully untie a knot for a thirsty beast.

Still today many Christians demand civic laws against sins which don’t impact them. Unsurprisingly, they are less supportive of legislation enforcing Christ’s instructions like inviting the poor into our homes, giving away our second coats to those who have none, and doing good to those who wrong us. We want the government to prohibit gay marriage and abortion (though not all Christians agree on these issues) because we are a “Christian nation” … but when it comes to our money, the government has no business dictating the conscience of individuals. Now excuse me while I untie my ox.

If we need laws to behave, we are not faithful – we are fearful. When we prioritize rules over relationships, we have forgotten that at the end of each legalistic leash is a human being. If our witness for Christ is unpersuasive, the problem lies not in our government, or in our corrupted society, but in us. Let us live as Christ instructed, and the Gospel really will seem like good news.

Comfort: Faith exists regardless of circumstance.

Challenge: When watching or reading the news, be aware of people promoting a civic Christianity at the expense of Christ.

Prayer: Lord of the Gospel, perfect my witness to Christ until it shines like a beacon on a hill. Amen.

Discussion: What is a healthy level of overlap between our faith lives and civic lives?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!