Tearing down or building up?

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 43; 149, Jeremiah 13:1-11, Romans 6:12-23, John 8:47-59


Upon passing a site undergoing renovation, a quick glance may not reveal whether it is in the stages of demolition or construction. They can look similar for a long time. The church has been undergoing renovation for centuries, and to bystanders (and members) the status may not be quite clear.

What do we think when we hear someone described as “religious?” Even if we consider ourselves religious, we may not automatically assume that person is similar to us. Increasing numbers of Americans—including those who regularly attend Christian churches—identify as “spiritual but not religious” to avoid the stigma of religion. For their book unChristian, David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons surveyed a group of young Americans—Christians included—and 85% or more described Christians as hypocritical and judgmental. 70% described them as insensitive to others. We can be reasonably skeptical about statistics, and some of the authors’ conclusions about how the church should respond are debatable, but are the results surprising? Not really.

As the church, let’s follow Paul’s advice to the Romans and spend less time denouncing the world and each other, and more time building each other up. When people hear “Christian” they should think of people who share with anyone in need, who visit the sick and imprisoned, and who love God with “gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

If Christianity is known mostly for the things Christians won’t do and the people they won’t embrace, whose fault is that? If our main concern is moralizing when we are as prone to sin as anyone, why wouldn’t the world see us as hypocrites? Some people will always be intractably bigoted against the religious, but our reputation is our own responsibility. We can change the perception of the world by choosing to build rather than demolish. This broken world needs people who participate in mending it, not in grinding it into irrecoverable pieces.

Early Christians stumbled and lost track of the Good News when they began judging each other. Maybe we can avoid the same mistakes by asking not who is sinning, but who is hungry, ill, poor, or unloved.

Comfort: If you’re doing what’s right, the world’s judgment doesn’t matter.

Challenge: Be a builder, not a destroyer.

Prayer: God of creation, help me represent my faith well. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever caught yourself being a bad representative of Christianity?

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Spearhead

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, 1 Samuel 31:1-13, Acts 15:12-21, Mark 5:21-43


As 1 Samuel ends, King Saul – wounded by archers and surrounded by enemy soldiers – falls on his sword rather than let his enemy capture and torment him. Notably absent is any mention of Saul’s spear. For much of his story, Saul and his spear seem inseparable. When Israel’s blacksmiths are lost, only Saul and his son Jonathan have spears and swords. He holds it while he sits in his house, where multiple times he hurls it at David. Feeling betrayed by Jonathan, he hurls it at him too. He’s sitting under a tree holding it when he orders the murder of priests in Nob. The last we read of the spear, he’s sleeping next to it when David steals it away in the night, then returns it to prove (yet again) he means no harm.

There’s an old saying: when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Saul’s tool of choice was a spear, so every problem – real or imagined – looked like a target. Ironically, on the day Saul met David, the shepherd boy told Goliath: “the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear” – a lesson he never learned. His preoccupation with David’s imagined treachery, and his insistence on solving the problem by running it through, undid Saul and nearly undid Israel.

We might not run around with spears, but we can become so focused on our own ideas that our view of the world narrows to a fine point good for little but stabbing at perceived enemies. When our dedication to a philosophy, a cause, a goal, or a relationship crosses the line from commitment to zealotry, we lose perspective. Those who don’t agree with us – or simply don’t share our enthusiasm – become targets instead of people. Principles are good; obsessions are dangerous.

Trying to view the world through the lens of a single creed, political party, social movement, or motivation pushes most of the world out of focus. God created the big picture. To love it all, we must get out of our own heads to see it all.


Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s passage from Mark, see Worthy and Go In Peace.

Comfort: You have something to learn from everyone, and they have something to learn from you.

Challenge: Meditate on how you may have pigeon-holed your thinking.

Prayer: Lord, I seek to love all your creation. Help me see it clearly. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think Saul might have done with his spear after David gave it back? Why?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and 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!