Friday, July 31, 2015

Treating people badly

People treat people like garbage. All the time. It's sort of normal. Mean people are normal, but I find overly nice people to be a little "off." Something about the "super-nice" seems disingenuous. I absolutely love the word disingenuous; it's fun to say, but also, its meaning is incredible. It isn't simply being fake, but it's being fake by pretending to know less about something than you really know. So, in my opinion, people who are ridiculously nice are just pretending not to know: it's a dog eat dog world.'s a genius strategy. You don't know I'm baring my teeth, because you think I'm just smiling at you.

We live in the world Micah described, the one in which you can trust no one:

Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
 - Micah 7:5-6

People are out for "number one." Society has decided that there are winners and there are losers. Leaders of the pack, and sheep. Devourers and those who shall be devoured. And everyone wants to end up on top. The question is: how do you treat people in your battle to the top? 

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
- Matthew 7:12

Ah the good ole "Golden Rule." This scripture is so cliche and over-used (by Christians and non-Christians alike) that it almost means nothing to me. But this past week I was studying the Sermon on the Mount, and came to this passage and thought: "but...why does it say 'therefore?'"

Therefore is a tricky little word. It means that there was something written before this, that is the reason for this. Because of something else, I should treat people the same way I want to be treated. 
Now...I never, even for a second, imagine that what I write is a new or original thought. It's not. SOMEONE has definitely thought this before. BUT, I've personally never heard this particular scripture brought in this way, so bear with me. 

The scriptures immediately preceding Matthew 7:12 seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with this statement: 

 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! - Matthew 7:7-11

I think because this scripture seems wholly unrelated some commentaries have concluded that the "therefore" refers to the entire sermon previous (2 whole chapters that came down to this). That is a lot of ground to cover, and it might be true. I think the reason for the Golden Rule is Matthew 7:7-11. 

Here is how I came to this conclusion. 

1. Why do I treat people badly? 

Jesus tells me to treat people the way I want to be treated. This implies that previously people were getting treated like dirt. Why? Well there are finite resources on this planet. And I have to get them. If you get them, and I don't? Jealous. If we're both in a position to get them? Fight it out; to the victor goes the spoils. If I got some of them, but yours are bigger and better? Anger, disappointment, and again...jealousy. This results in bad treatment. 
2. But I have to fight for the resources...there's no other way to live. Right? 

James says the reasons for fights isn't the resources. It's because we didn't ask for the resources: 

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 
 - James 4:1-2

James acknowledges the problem. You want things! But you don't have them. So you act up. But the reason why you have isn't because this other person is better than you. And it isn't because the other person was in your way. You don't have do not ask. 

 And there is Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, saying: ASK! Ask. And I'll give it. But sometimes we're afraid of God. "I'll ask for a blessing, and I'll get a curse." This is the equivalent, of asking for bread and getting a stone. We have gotten in the habit of thinking that God gives us the useless thing (the stone) that we didn't want at all, when we need life-saving bread. Or we think that God will harm us (the snake), for asking for something more than bread (the fish). So we stay silent.
And we try to get the bread and the fish for ourselves. Even if we have to snatch it out of someone's hand. Heck, I'll take the bread out of your mouth! Yank!

But God says: you don't have to do that. 

IF we believed that God was the infinite resource, we wouldn't fight other people for finite resources. IF we believed that God was on our side, we wouldn't manipulate people into our corner. 
IF we believed...we'd be free to treat people the way we want to be treated. 

We wouldn't worry about losing out. We wouldn't worry about how that person took the "last" of something. We wouldn't have to quarrel, fight, or have envy. We could genuinely be nice and in everything treat people like the kings and queens we believe ourselves to be. 

If you go online, there will be tons of blogs and articles with "practical ways" you can live out the Golden Rule. But I really think there are just two: 


And Believe. 


Friday, July 24, 2015

If You do the Crime...You do the Time

I've been on hiatus since returning from Amsterdam. Post-vacation depression plus the quarter-end close (accounting lingo) means I just haven't the heart or the time for the blog. But last weekend, I went to a church conference. Sort of like a revival. I was asked to say a few words on Sunday morning, so I decided I would turn it into a blog.

The conference had a theme: Christ the Mercy Minister - Micah 7:18

I found this out weeks in advance so I had time to prepare. I opened up my Holy Bible app on my phone and tapped it to Micah 7:18 and it said:

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. (NASB)

And I was like: I got nothing. 

So I read all of Micah. I still had nothing. At least nothing that was worthwhile. God is merciful. This is known. Why is this a big deal, Micah? Why are you so shocked, Micah? 

And it was kind of like Micah (or God...or my subconscious) said back to me: Why aren't you?


Last month, there was a horrible shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We all heard about it. Everyone was shaken. It was terrible. But then the families spoke publicly, declaring that they forgave the shooter. And honestly...I was shocked. It was simply too soon. And though mercy and forgiveness is stereotypically expected of Christians, in our humanity we often fail here and wouldn't fault those families for holding a grudge. We wouldn't think it strange if they hated the shooter, or if they cultivated a seed of bitterness that grew into a hatred for him. Is it Christ-like? No. Is it human? Yes. When this case has its day in court, many will call for the death penalty. Many will want this person to pay. Is that mercy? No. Is it justice? By most legal and civil codes...yes!


It's a beautiful word. The idea of justice creates some sense of balance, fairness, and rightness in this chaotic, topsy-turvy world we live in. Justice is good...but justice is merely expected.

But God doesn't do "mere" things. This is why Micah is so shocked and astonished, because Micah had a mere expectation of justice. The entire book of Micah up to this point describes how wretched and BAD the people are:

The godly person has perished from the land, and there is no upright person among men. All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; each of them hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well...Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. 
- Michah 7:2-6 (excerpts)

Everyone is BAD. Real bad. Trust no one. "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife." And I love Micah, because he's not just sitting in judgment of bad people, but even he (as the prophet of God) counts himself worthy of only justice: 

I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him... Micah 7:9

He will bear the indignation of the Lord. He says I've done wrong and I'll pay for it. But then, in the same breath he starts talking about God bringing him out of darkness and into the light. He starts talking about God shepherding the people. He starts talking about forgiveness and deliverance for the same people who he just declared were expert evildoers. 

Which is why Micah is so flabbergasted: Who is a God like You? 

What kind of God lets the criminal go free? 

When I was studying for my message I had that exact thought: What kind of God lets the criminal go free? And then this verse popped into my mind: 

...he [Pilate] went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.  But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber. - John 18:38-40

Barabbas was a robber!

A criminal. And he was exchanged for Jesus. The people thought they orchestrated Barabbas' release. But God had already ordained that Jesus would take his place! Both naturally and supernaturally. Both literally and figuratively. The crime for which (by justice) Barabbas was about to pay, he side-stepped on account of mercy. 

He deserved justice...but he got mercy. 

Likewise, on the cross, Jesus is positioned next to another criminal. And as that criminal hangs there, dying...Jesus frees him too!  (Luke 23:39-43)

It is only fitting that the first recipients of Gods grace and mercy, through the death of Jesus on the cross, are hardened criminals. These people aren't wrongly accused. They did these bad things! We DO bad things!  And we often think: you do the crime, you do the time. But no! This helps us face our own criminality against a holy and righteous God and have a praise because we get to go free! 

And why does God do this? Why does He release the criminals? It's not that we're "getting over." It's because God delights in unchanging love. Unchanging. God is not sometimesy. He doesn't throw me over when I commit a crime. He releases me. Over and over again. Because His love trumps justice. His love trumps balance. His love trumps your sense of "rightness." 

Love wins. Mercy wins. 

...and you should be shocked.