Black Light

I used to have a recurring nightmare. I’d enter a dark room where I sensed a malevolent 6e3b4bf860a2bf56c7e062a7d3325637--black-lights-bulbspresence. Instinctively, I’d flip the switch on the wall, but the light wouldn’t respond. Fear would grip my heart as I vainly repeated my attempts to shed light on whoever or whatever approached me in the darkness. It’s been quite some time since I’ve had that dream, but it still haunts me whenever I read Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 6:22-23.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Can you imagine walking into a dark room and flipping the switch only to discover that the bulb emitted darkness? That image might be hard to visualize (no pun intended), but we need to grasp the reality behind Jesus’ metaphor because it illustrates a living nightmare from which many will never awaken.

To understand the reality behind Jesus’ figurative language here, we need to look at the broader context. In both this passage and the parallel one in Luke 11:33-36, this warning comes embedded between a rebuke of Pharisaic hypocrisy and exhortation to disciples regarding their treatment of money. The Pharisees knew the Torah, but rather than shedding light on them, it further darkened their hearts. Rather than see Christ in their scriptures, they used them as rationale to reject Christ. How terrifying!

Two people can encounter the same light, but one will be illumined and the other darkened. What accounts for this difference? Someone might say that the Pharisees were blinded by hypocrisy, but I disagree. I would say, rather, that hypocrisy is blindness the cause of which lies in something more apparent.

In both the Luke and Matthew passages, the word translated “healthy” referring to our eyes literally means, “generous” in the original language. The word translated, “unhealthy” means, “stingy.” Could it be that generous people come at divine revelation without the same bias that stingy people do? Could it be that stingy religious people come to interpret scripture in ways that alleviate their obligation to the poor?

In the very next verse of Matthew 6, Jesus says this:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Stingy people want to keep what they have and they also want what God gives. So, they tell themselves that they can have both in spite of the teaching of the book they claim to revere. This self deception colors all future revelation in dark hues of greed so that when a penniless itinerant rabbi calls them out, they have no trouble putting him to death on a cross. Or at least putting him on a distant crucifix hung in their lavish dwellings.

Justice, mercy, and compassion comprise the soul of religion. Without those, religion devolves into self-referential ritual and incantation offered to appease the whim of a deity just as self-interested as his worshipers. Prohibition and prescription become the essence of a soulless shell. Those who violate the crucial minutia must pay for the religious leaders’ justifications.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day embodied wicked religion. The passage directly following Luke’s telling of the illustration of eye health goes like this:

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:37-41)

While the Pharisees have gone down in infamy, they hardly hold a monopoly.

Why do the people who seem most up in arms about prayer in the schools or the imposition of “biblical values” on society seem to almost always advocate against programs designed to alleviate the suffering of the poor?

Amazing grace is truly a sweet sound, but it strikes a sour note in the mouth of the stingy. Without generosity, “grace” clangs and bongs in the ears of a lost world. Greedy religious people deceive themselves most of all and, so, ever deepening darkness falls over their eyes. For, nobody can truly believe themselves a saved wretch, lost now found, and remain a lover of money. Those who count grace God’s indescribable gift no longer regard material things with a covetous eye.

They were blind,

but now they see.

Lay Up for Yourselves!

dollar4thepoorThe apostle Paul said that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  Perhaps you consider that statement to be naive.  I once saw a 20/20 special where John Stossel convincingly made the case that greed drives innovation and, of all things, generosity.  So, what’s your attitude toward money?  I’d like to share a couple of vignettes from the last two days on this topic.  Feel free to comment on them.

First, I know a guy who started coming to services a while back.  When he arrived here he had lost nearly everything including his family.  After coming to faith in Christ and finding some redemption in his way of life, the breach began to be healed.  Once his immediate relational pain began to subside, we saw him less until he completely dropped out of contact.

Then, about a month ago he called out of the blue saying he wanted to get right with God and by the way he also wanted a loan of $100.  I’m not a big fan of being used so I came down on him pretty hard for abusing our relationship this way.  He assured me that he was genuine and would pay me back that coming Friday.  Seeing a great opportunity to provide him some accountability, I took him up on his promise and loaned him the money.  He’s avoided me since then.

I hit him up for the money day before yesterday.  Here is the transcript of our conversation via text:

Me – “When do you want to get me the $100?”

Him – “Can u wait 1 more week  ive got everything tied up in this house  its a fixer uper  its in rough shape”

Me – “I don’t need the money.  The point is your word.  That’s what I’m concerned about.  What does God want YOU to do?”

Him – “K he wants me 2 get a home 4 my family i hope im srry she has a week 2 get out so im rushing”

Me – “How convenient!  Character is the most valuable thing a person can have.  So, you are very poor, my friend.  Keep the money.”

Him – “No i will get it 2 u”

Me – “Not about the money.  You can’t make up what you’ve lost.  You’ve broken your word and my trust.”

Him – no response

I showed this to my wife.  She asked, “Why are you being so hard on this poor guy?”  Yes, I was harsh.  Sometimes we need to be.  My friend, and I do love him dearly, has a problem.  It’s going to continue to erode his life.  I hate this aspect of his character for that reason.  I want him to see it and be free of it.  That won’t happen unless I am very direct with him.  $100 would not have kept him out of his house.  He has the money but that $100 is more important in his perception than his character or our relationship.  Very sad.

Now to vignette 2: Yesterday, my younger kids and I were having an adventure at the creek/drainage ditch by our house.  As my 7-year-old daughter and I were hanging out by the “waterfall,” I saw a tattered dollar bill lying on the ground.  I picked it up and offered it to her.  She thought for a minute and then said, “No…that’s okay.  Just put it in the ‘poor box’ at church.”

Of the two, which do you think the richer?

A Little Peace

Why do Christian leaders tell people that they should tithe?  I don’t have the definitive answer but I do believe that I know something true about tithing.  Tithing is not for the generous but for the stingy.  Generous people need only hear of the need and they will meet it.  They do not need a minimum compulsory amount.  Church leaders feel the need to teach on tithing because they are leading a group of selfish people.  Take the selfishness one step further and tell the “givers” that God will return even more to them if they do tithe.

There was a time for tithing.  God assumed selfishness in the unredeemed people of Israel and made provision for it.  For those who have been implanted with the love of God, tithing has become obsolete.  The saddest aspect of tithing teaching is when we presume selfishness from the redeemed,  they begin to be selfish.

Here’s what Paul said about a general legalistic approach, which would include tithing.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.   Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers  of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.   We know that the law is good  if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,   the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious… (1 Timothy 1:5-9a)

My Two Masters Part Two

photo credit: imdb.com

Daniel LaRusso’s first three days of “karate training” are filled with menial chores around Miyagi’s oasis in the junkyard.  Each chore must be carried out according specific instructions, “Wax on, right hand; wax off, left hand.  Make big da circles.  Breathe in the nose, out through the mouth.”  The next day, “Paint the fence.”  The one after, “Sand the floor.”  Each time, the method is specific.  Posture, style, breathing- they all matter.  The master’s unorthodox style confuses Daniel but he has agreed to do whatever he is told without question.  That agreement comes to an end when by the afternoon of the third day, Miyagi checks on Daniel on his way to go fishing.  Daniel unleashes a string of expletives in Miyagi’s direction and impugns his master’s motives.  Miyagi interrupts Daniel with the stern command, “Daniel san, show me ‘sand the floor’.”  The master begins to throw a series of punches and kicks at Daniel who watches himself block each one.  Daniel stands stunned as Miyagi bows.  Through unquestioning obedience to his master, Daniel has unknowingly received his imprint.

The figure I discovered in the pages of Matthew’s gospel compelled me to emulation.  I fantasized about wearing a white robe and teaching under a tree somewhere.  But that’s not what the Master told me to do.  He put the sponge of forgiveness in my hand.  The next day he gave me the brush of mercy.  On day three I found myself stooping to sand off the sun-scorched outer layer of my greedy heart.

After training this way for years, I made the startling discovery that I had actually begun to care about other people like I care about myself.  How did he do it?  It could not have come through standing over people preaching to them even though that is the activity I saw my Lord engaging in.  I, selfish and immature as I am, had to take the route of unquestioning obedience.

Here are the Master’s words about his method of training:

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.- Luke 6:39-42; 46-48 NIV

The question for Daniel and for all of us is not what am I accomplishing here but who am I becoming.  When we receive the imprint of our Master, we will be ready for whatever gets thrown at us.

Stop Going to Worship

Why do Christians “go to church?”  Many people would respond, “to worship God.”  I don’t want to nix that notion entirely because I believe that we worship wherever we are, but I can’t find anything in the New Testament which suggests that our corporate meetings are or ought to be any more worshipful than the rest of our lives. 

So, why did the first century Christians meet?

1 Cor. 14:26 says, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

They met together so that the whole group could be built up.  At their gatherings the body of Christ was conditioned to accomplish the task it had been given.  Think of church like a football team which spends time together in the gym and scrimmaging to improve its chances of winning the game.

Sadly, when we view our meetings as “going to worship” we confuse training with the game.  Our collective time, money, and attention flow to bigger gyms and more exciting workouts.  Sooner or later, we start high-fiving after a rigorous scrimmage and feel little tension to actually play the game.

Training is important but it only makes sense when we actually leave the gym and hit the field.  God has called us to make disciples and to express his love.  That’s the game.  When we play the game, we’ll know our need for the training.  No one will have to convince us to value our meetings.  We won’t need to be enticed through high quality performances or programs.  We won’t nit pick the details.

So, are there times and occasions when we especially worship?  As a matter of fact, there are:

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16