Saturday, June 15, 2013

“Go and do the same.”

I was raised to be prejudiced.

My parents, poor rural Southerners of the Depression Era, were NOT filled with hate. That’s not usually what prejudice is about. These good Christian folk were simply dismissive of large groups of people – thinking them incapable of basic human competency and decency. And my parents thought I should share their sensibilities.

When the Hippies of the 60s came along, my parents lumped them into the same human debris field into which they had tossed Blacks, Mexicans, and other ethnic minorities. My dad, in particular, despised long hair. He’d spew and spit, everything except curse, when a long-haired, maggot-infested, commy-type Hippie would come on the TV screen.

I can’t imagine the heart attack my dad would have had if he’d seen that Hippie fairy Elton John
induct the reprobate Leon Russell (who hasn’t had a haircut since the Johnson administration) in to the despicable Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Too bad, Dad would have missed something astonishing.

Before we get to that, let’s listen to this Word from our obviously crew cut and freshly showered Sponsor:

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

What we miss in this story is the prejudice and racism that is dripping all over this story. Jews were prejudiced – often to the core. They despised Samaritans. Almost worse than a “different” ethnic group, Samaritans were half-breeds. Half Jew, doubly contemptible. So Jesus gouged at the Jews, suggesting that if even a half-breed embraced the dignity of his fellow man, why did the “children of Abraham” not understand it?

Before our Holier-Than-Thou finger clicks off the TV, let’s catch this incredibly humble comment from Leon. (You need to watch the whole thing to understand what Elton John had done for Leon Russell, but key in on 7:06 to 7:50)

If you can’t devote the time to the video, here’s what Leon says:

“About a year ago, Elton [John] came and found me in the ditch at the side of the highway of life. He took me up to the high stages with big audiences and treated me like a king. And the only thing I can say is ‘Bless your heart’. Also I want to say thank you very much. I appreciate it very much… and [leaning into the mic] Hallelujah.”

That Sodom & Gomorrah-loving, godless homosexual, Hippie Elton John looked with compassion on the man “in the ditch at the side of the highway of life” and he did something about it! I don’t know anything about either man’s salvation, but I promise you this much, Jesus is patting His Dad on the shoulder saying, “That’s what I was talking about!”

“Go and do the same.”

I have spoken previously about being generous. I hope you’ll consider how you can bless others. But I also want my readers to carefully consider how to step over prejudice, or any other form of reluctance, and do something that radically changes someone’s life.

Your home church, or, if you don’t attend one regularly, any church near you, has a laundry list of people who are on the brink or over the edge. They know who needs rent paid while they go to detox. They know who’s about to lose their home or apartment and spiral into long-term holiness. They know people who are borderline suicidal for lack of friendship and compassion. They know who’s home is unfit for human occupation due to some easily remedied problems.

It is easy, and occasionally correct, to assume that people are “in the ditch” by their own fault. So what? Did Jesus tell His parable to stress personal safety? Is the moral of the story ‘don’t travel alone’ or ‘always carry American Express’? “They had it coming” is the laziest form of prejudice. You just can’t be lazy, you can’t be prejudiced and do the great work Jesus calls us to.

“Go and do the same.”

And just maybe someday someone will look at you and tearfully, humbly say, “Hallelujah”.

Clark H Smith

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The “Big Salad” Problem

Fair Warning: This may be kind of a Theology 301 level article. I thank you for your effort to understand what I’m saying.

If any one episode of Seinfeld can be funnier than another, I think “The Big Salad” episode deserves that honor. Spend 41 seconds of your life to refresh your memory:

We have previously talked about the problem with “law keeping” here and here. I recommend you read those posts if you have not already. In short, law keeping or legalism is the effort to try to be righteous in the eyes of God by not breaking laws. The problem is obvious, if you break even one law, you’re a “law breaker” and in need of serious legal help! (See Romans 3:23 and 6:23.) That’s the theological stuff, now, let’s get practical.

Seinfeld’s “The Big Salad” scene reveals a very real and quite serious social problem – not law keeping, but score keeping. Costanza pays for a friend’s salad but winds up not getting credit for the purchase. He’s ticked off that someone else got the thanks and he did not. His gesture of good will has gone un-noticed and un-thanked.

It dawned on me that people who adhere to a religion (or even a Christian denomination) that stresses law keeping often become social score keepers, saying or thinking things like “he never returned my favor”, or “it’s the least that she should do [given all that I have done]”. And how could they help themselves? If we are to be like God and if you perceive God as a score keeper, then should not all of us be score keepers?

Sponsor, speak to us from your Perfect Word:

“… I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

[Love] does not take into account a wrong suffered (1 Corinthians 13:5)

God is LOVE, yes? If Love does not keep score, why do we?

Judaism, Islam, Hinduism… three of the world’s greatest religion all stress law keeping or adherence to measures of obedience. Even Christianity has shadows of this. One great Christian group believes that they are saved by God’s grace, but that they must “prove themselves worthy of His grace” and after death purge themselves of misdeeds before entering heaven. Another group with which I am very knowledgeable looks at James 2:26 (faith without works is dead) and say that they are “always trying, never sure” if they have enough works to demonstrate their faith.

In each of these world religions and Christian denominations, I have observed a very high degree of score keeping among followers. They all have “The Big Salad” problem – they believe their score is being kept, so they should keep score on others. I tell you, it is so wrong one could weep for the folly and foolishness of it all.

So what is my solution? Am I a no-holds-barred, “we’re all forgiven so sin all you want” kind of guy? The Apostle Paul deals with this brilliantly in Romans 6. But actually, I like what Paul says in Romans 1:5 and 16:26 where he speaks about the obedience of faith. We obey because it is the consequence, the logical outcome, of our faith.

Put it this way… I just did a sermon on The Wedding Plot – the single theme that ties all the stories, events, and characters of the Bible together, from beginning to end. In short, God loves us and wants intimacy with us. He compares the relationship He wants with us to the loving relationship of a married couple. And that informs me, greatly, about how I should relate to God.

Followers of Jesus don’t “keep the law” because we’re afraid of disappointing Him or getting on His bad side. I look at the law the way I do the things that please my wife. From making the bed to putting flowers on her night stand, I know what I can do to demonstrate that I care about her. I don’t do those things out of an attempt to rack up enough points, I do them simply as a gift of love. I also know the things that hurt or offend her. I don’t avoid them so she won’t be mad, I avoid them because I love and respect her I don’t want to be the cause of her wounding. You understand that, don’t you?

“The obedience of faith.” Chew on that one. Why do you do what you do? And how do you judge what other do and don’t do? Are you a score keeper? Maybe you need a fresh perspective on life. I hope this helps.

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Deep Dish Grace

I’m a well-known fan of barbeque, but I’ll admit an deep inner weakness for pizza. I was late to the pizza party, not really having a legitimate sample until I was 13. And with the closest pizza joint 30 miles away, pizza was not a staple of my teenage diet as it is for most kids today. But my waistline indicates I’ve made up for that deprivation in the years since.

In college, I had the good fortune of having a roommate who worked at the on-campus lounge where handmade pizzas were a specialty. Jeff not only made the pies, he ran the register as well… so, most of my doughy discs of cheesy, meaty goodness were on the house. Thanks UNT!

When Jeff got the job, he told me to drop by and he’d make a pizza just like I wanted. We discussed ingredients and portions and I was not disappointed when he slid me that first pie – a gift, of course. Delish. And being a college kid on a paper thin budget, I made a point to get over to Jeff’s kitchen often. But something strange was happening.

I’m a meat-eatin’ kind of guy. Pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, bacon bacon… I want all
of it and lot’s of it. And I had clearly discussed this with Jeff. But each subsequent time I ordered “the usual” from Jeff, there would be less meat and more cheese. Not one to chastise a friend for how he made my free meal, I suffered through and gobbled my pizza as best I could. But it just kept getting worse!

I’ll never forget “the pizza that broke the camel’s back”. Jeff brought me a pizza that looked like Greenland in February. It was ice-capped with mozzarella and so thick, I’m not sure there was any meat at all beneath the deep drifts of casein snow. I took it back to Jeff and as politely as I possibly could, I begged for him to explain why he was killing me with this lousy cheese.

Jeff smiled benignly and said, “Ah, I knew you liked a lot of something, I couldn’t remember if it was meat or cheese, but since you never said anything, I just kept loading on more cheese and holding back on the meat.”

Remember how this works, this is where get a Word from Our Sponsor:
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
One of the most under-used privileges Followers of Jesus enjoy is access – confident access – to the “throne of grace”. Remember, “grace” is God’s loving desire to give to us. (In fact, in the Greek language of the Bible, “grace” and “gift” are the same word!) Any time we want, we can enter the throne room, look at our Loving Father, and tell Him what we believe we need.

As Followers mature, and this is a sure sign of maturity, we learn to ask for less and less material stuff, but instead ask for the gifts God truly wants us to have. Personally, I like to ask God for Wisdom. When I’m in a situation that has mushroomed outside of my noggin’s ability to understand it, I beg God for Wisdom. He often serves it with a side of Patience and a tall, cold glass of Forgiveness, but whatever I’m asking for, I know in advance that my Heavenly Father is looking forward to me asking. That’s where the confidence comes in.

And best of all, God is not at all like my college roommate. God never forgets. He knows precisely how much of each ingredient I want. FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, He knows how much of each ingredient I NEED! Sometimes God gives me a big ol’ pie of something I don’t even recognize… and I dig in knowing that “His ways are not my ways” and there’s every good chance He knew what I needed before I ever stepped into His presence.


How about you? What are you hungry for today?

Clark H Smith