Archive for June, 2016

John 10:1-5

June 30, 2016

One of the most important things I was reminded of during seminary is that I am not a smart man.  More important than this, though, is being taught that the danger lies not in not being smart, but in imagining myself to be smart when I’m really not.  And the most dangerous application of this imagined smartness comes in the interpretation and application of Scripture.

So for our weekly, in-depth Bible studies that I’ve been doing over the past three years or more, I don’t rely on my own brilliance very often or very long.  I utilize multiple commentaries to provide a cross-section of thought on the passages we study.  Right now we’re working our way through the Gospel of John.  I’ve utilized to some degree the following resources:

Between all of them, I’m generally able to sift through what makes sense to me, but at least I’m not making stuff up whole-cloth.  That makes me more comfortable since I’m not doing my exegesis from the Greek but from English translations, and at least this way I can hopefully be made aware of curiosities in the Greek that might affect how a given word or passage is read or applied.

But on the other hand, I don’t like being afraid to interpret the text myself.  If I assume that there can be nothing more said about a given passage, that every issue of interpretation and explanation has already been thought about by somebody, that seems strange.  At the very least, I know I can’t possibly read every single commentary on any given passage, so I’m limiting my education to a very small sliver of 2000 years of Biblical scholarship.  It might be argued that I’m just as stupid as I was before sitting down with the commentaries, as they only represent a small fraction of interpretative opinion.

So in working with the opening of John 10, I struggled this week.

I side with scholars who view the first half of John 10 as continuing right on from John 9.  Remembering that the chapter divisions and even verse divisions are arbitrary aids created many, many, many years later (Archbishop Steven Langton’s division of Scripture into chapters is the approach we utilize today, and dates from the 13th century.  Robert Estienne’s division of chapters into verses was introduced in the 15th century and is the version most commonly used today).  In other words, chapter and verse divisions are not original to the manuscripts, and while they are helpful for organizing Scripture, they can also introduce confusion in the form of artificial separators.  I think that’s the case with the break between John 9 and John 10.  The chapter division helps organize, but it also makes us think that there is a separation between the two sections of discourse when there isn’t necessarily.  So I think Jesus just keeps right on teaching and preaching to the same people in John 10 that He was at the end of John 9 – likely a man who has been given sight by Jesus, a crowd of curious people, and some Jewish leadership in the form of scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus has just said some challenging things to the Pharisees at the end of Chapter 9.  They object to being called spiritually blind, and Jesus alleges that if they really are as astute as they claim to be, if they truly can see and aren’t blind, then they’re in even a worse state for rejecting what they claim they can see clearly – namely himself as the Messiah.

Which sets the stage for John 10:1-5.  Jesus is offering a test to the Pharisees to test their sight.  Can they understand what He is talking about in his parable?  Verse 6 renders the verdict – no, they can’t.  They’re blind.  So, as He did with the blind man, Jesus spends the following 11 verses or so trying to give them sight, with mixed results.

But the expectation is that anyone with spiritual sight/vision should be able to make sense of the parable.  It wouldn’t be a very good test if it would have been impossible for the Pharisees to interpret it.  It wouldn’t have proved anything except that Jesus was lousy at parables, which most people are inclined to say isn’t true!

The real challenge comes because in verse 9, Jesus explains his parable, and his role in it.  So the commentators I read all go to verse 9 and say Jesus is the gate/door to the sheep pen.  But as near as I can tell, for the purpose of his parable/mashal, it wouldn’t make sense for his hearers to identify him as the door/gate.  It would make more sense to be appealing to a third-party door/gateway that the legitimate shepherd uses while false shepherds – thieves and robbers – avoid.  They prefer alternate means of gaining access to the sheep.  So what is that door/gateway?  Jesus will claim to be that gate/door in v.9, and He truly is.  But in vs.1-5 He seems to imply that it is something separate as well, something that the scribes and Pharisees ought to be using, but aren’t.

We can assume that Jesus is alluding to himself as the proper shepherd in vs. 1-5, contrasting himself with his opponents who are thieves and robbers.  The sheep pen is something that separates the sheep from the outside world, providing a level of comfort, protection, and identity, and is accessible by a door/gate.  Entry by that door/gate is a form of propriety – the door/gate and the associated keeper ensure that not just anyone can come in and gain access to the sheep.  If the Pharisees could see, they would know to go in by this gate.  But their blindness causes them to choose alternate, inappropriate ways, so that people don’t recognize their voice and follow them naturally, as they are starting to follow Jesus.

To my way of thinking, the problem the Pharisees have with Jesus is his refusal to play by their rules.  The complicated system of traditions and rituals and rules by which God’s people are protected from breaking any of the Ten Commandments and violating their covenant again.  Hundreds and hundreds of rules pertaining to how you prepare to eat a meal, what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath, and lots of other things.  Jesus ignores some of these, and instead is constantly directing the Pharisees back to the Word of God.

So the gate/door to the sheep pen is the Word of God, the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians know as the Old Testament.  The one who has this as their means of living and speaking and acting enters through that doorway and should be recognized by the sheep as someone they can trust and follow.  On the contrary, the scribes and Pharisees try to climb over the wall.  Instead of relying only on Scripture, they rely on their traditions and rules.

Why do the people listen to Jesus?  Because He comes to them through Scripture, not through Pharasaical rules and regulations.  Because He comes to actually care for them, feeding them (Chapter 5), teaching them, and healing them (Chapters 7, 9).  The Pharisees make life more difficult for the sheep, and are more concerned with their rules and regulations than with celebrating when an invalid is healed and can walk, or when a man born blind is given his sight.   They are blind to the Scriptures which depict a loving God who seeks relationship with his people, rather than a harsh overlord who desires rote memorization and mindless obedience.

Now, when Jesus identifies himself as the gateway/door in v.9, He’s telling the truth.  He is the Word made flesh.  He doesn’t simply obey Scripture, He is Scripture, the living embodiment, the Word of God, the Logos in human flesh.  He will then discard his original picture language centering on his identity as the gate to sketch a new illustration, where He is the Good Shepherd, which allows him to flesh out additional aspects of his person and ministry both in relationship to God the Father’s people (sheep) and God the Father.

I like my interpretation, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right.  It’s just a good reminder that as valuable as the words of those before us are in helping us understand God’s Word, we still need to be able to examine it ourselves as well.  It should be a constant process and interaction between the Word and those who study it, both present and past.

 

 

 

 

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Wet Bar Wednesdays – Apricots

June 29, 2016

Our neighbor has an apricot tree planted next to our shared fence.  Each summer there are multiple branches that hang over into our yard, and we glean them and have to figure out what to do with them.  While apricots are fine, they aren’t my favorite fruit to eat plain.  I much prefer them in other things, so why not cocktails?

This past Sunday at happy hour I blended up some frozen apricots (our freezer is packed with them now!) along with some of our fresh mint that is growing like crazy  in anticipation of some experimentation.  Since some of the apricots were not ripe yet, the pureed result was a lot tarter than I expected.  Simple syrup would be fine to offset that, but we had some white grape juice on hand so I used that instead.  It offset the tartness while still allowing the basic apricoty-flavor to remain intact.

I made two different concoctions.  The young folks preferred basically an apricot and white rum concoction, while I opted for apricot and whiskey.

Mix two parts apricot puree to one part of your liquor of choice.  Sweeten as necessary.  I tried adding some club soda to the rum concoction but this seemed mostly unnecessary.  The result in both cases is a nice fruity drink with a bit of kick from the liquor.  Using fresh fruit in a cocktail is usually a great idea, and just requires some experimenting in terms of which liquor to use.  I could have added some limoncello to the whiskey mixture, or I could have added Chambord or some other fruit cordial to the rum mixture and it would have added more flavor elements to the drink.  But I think sometimes simple is best – and easiest.

Have any fruit cocktail concoctions you’d like to share?  Please do, so we can all enjoy!

Choosing a Future

June 28, 2016

As a parent, I spend a fair amount of time wondering what my kids are going to be like as they grow older.  Who will they marry?  What sort of vocations will they be drawn towards?  How will their personalities and abilities manifest themselves over the course of their lifetimes?  How can we as parents best encourage and equip them best for that future?

And how can we guide them to take into account the changing cultural landscape of our country?  How can we guide them so that they can live their lives consistent to their religious beliefs even in their vocations?  Increasingly, this is a question that every parent ought to be asking themselves and talking about with their kids.

Take for example, the job of pharmacist.  Seems like a straightforward enough job.  Fill prescriptions.  But what if you believe that abortion is wrong?  Should you be made to fill an abortifacient prescription?  Doctors traditionally have not been required to carry out certain procedures that contradicted their moral code – such as assisting a patient to commit suicide.  Likewise, pharmacists have long been protected from fulfilling prescriptions that violate their conscience.  The entire industry, in fact, revolves around the reality that not every pharmacy can stock or dispense every conceivable drug, and therefore they refer customers back and forth to each other for a variety of reasons.

But now, in the state of Washington, a pharmacist is no longer allowed to refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious or moral reasons.  If a customer walks into a pharmacy and asks to fill a prescription for the morning after pill, that pharmacist must fill the prescription.  At least, they must fill it unless there are other, non-religious, non-moral reasons for referring the customer to any number of other nearby pharmacies.  They can refer customers elsewhere for other reasons, just not for religious or moral ones.

Seems like a rather calculated directive aimed at quashing religious/moral objections.  Seems like something the US Supreme Court would be interested in hearing, since it directly affects First Amendment rights.  Except the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the appeal on this issue.  Much to the disappointment of some of the members of the court, such as Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts.   Their dissent is very informative and worth 15 minutes of your time to read.

Increasingly, the question next generations of Christians will need to ask themselves is what sort of vocation can I fulfill that allows me to follow my religious convictions, that won’t require me to violate my conscience just to earn a living?  Traditional exemptions and exceptions are under attack and are likely to continue to be eliminated, and that needs to be taken into account in considering education decisions as well as job-hunting and career decisions.  Congregations might want to consider special workshops for parents and teens to discuss these sorts of things.  I would think it would be an appropriate topic for youth groups as well.

Is your congregation or ministry staff addressing these issues with your youth and parents?

Meanwhile, in Kentucky…

June 27, 2016

…an ark is born.

While I’m not sold completely on the young earth issue, I do believe the Noah account is literal and historical, and it would be fascinating to see a replication of that boat!

Reading Ramblings – July 3, 2016

June 26, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016 – The 6th Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:14; Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Matthew 5:27-30

Context: **We continue in our alternate lectionary selections for most of the remainder of the 2016 liturgical calendar. Readings are selected to help preach through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.**

God’s plan for sexual intimacy involves one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship. While Scripture describes certain other arrangements (polygamy, such as Abraham with Sarah and Haggar; extra-marital affairs such as David & Bathsheba), it endorses only this one, starting with the creation account and continuing throughout the rest of Scripture. Other situations – additional spouses, extra-marital sexual relations – ultimately end up being sources of problems. And while lifelong monogamy may have difficulties as broken, sinful people, it remains even in our sinful and fallen condition the best possible situation for sexual intimacy.

Exodus 20:14 – Sexuality is a gift from God designed for the safety of a lifelong marriage relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual behavior under any other context is dangerous to both parties, dangerous to their families and society at large. It creates risks and fears which diminish the shared joy of the act, and multiply the possibilities of complications that directly affect the larger society (disease, unwanted pregnancy, jealousy, marginalization of women and children, etc.) Jewish scholars disagree as to whether this commandment is limited to actual adultery – sex with another person’s spouse – or encompasses any sexual behavior with anyone you are not married to. Within the larger context of Scripture, and throughout Christian interpretation, the latter is heavily favored.

Psalm 51 – This psalm is attributed to David in repentance after adultery with Bathsheba. Much has and should be written about this moving psalm! It is a deeply personal prayer of repentance. It does not petition for help against any adversary – the only enemy in this psalm is the sin and guilt of the author/speaker. In the depths of guilt we give voice to our firm hope of salvation, forgiveness. In the stain of sin we call on the God who can indeed wash us whiter than snow. We call upon the God who alone is capable of creating a clean and new heart within us, replacing our sinful and broken and scarred heart with the heart of his Son. It is a psalm of hope and confidence in the midst of otherwise crippling guilt.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – Paul has already addressed inappropriate sexuality in Chapter 5, but returns to that topic here. How is our freedom in Christ to be exercised? Are we truly free, or are there limitations? Paul is apparently quoting from some communication from the Corinthian Christians which forms the basis for this letter from Paul. “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” are likely quotes from this earlier communique, which Paul addresses and refutes here.

From the beginning, the wild generosity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led some to argue that they are now free to do whatever they like. They take the freedom of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ to mean an elimination of the Law of God and the justification for self-indulgence. Since it is not possible to out-sin the forgiveness we have been given in Christ, we should go ahead and enjoy our grace to the fullest! Paul argues here – as elsewhere in his letters – that such an attitude is a complete misunderstanding of what we receive in Jesus Christ, and who we are being made into day-by-day by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

Certainly, all things can be forgiven in Christ, but those things contrary to the will of God are not helpful in our sanctification. Certainly we can enjoy the pleasures of life, but we need to be aware of the power of those pleasures to enslave us to sin. We are not enslaved to the Law in fear, but rather we seek to conform ourselves to the Law as the best illustration of the people we are made in Christ, and will one day fully be. Yes, our bodies are intended for physical pleasure, but only within the context that God has defined. We have been made part of the body of Christ, and we are to consider ourselves and our actions within that context. So it is that we are to flee from sinfulness as we discover it and encounter it. Particularly in the realm of sexual sin, the impact of that sin is primarily directed inward to ourselves, is actually a part of ourselves. We might speak in anger and the words leave us. Sexual sin remains firmly attached to our physical selves, impacting not just our bodies but our minds and hearts and spirits.

We are to consider ourselves as what we are – slaves to Christ. Bought with a price – his blood. We are not free to dictate the terms of our lives arbitrarily. As slaves, we are obedient to the Word of God made flesh, the Word of God incarnate, who is consistent with the Word of God in Holy Scripture and through which we have been saved! If Scripture forbids it, our Lord Jesus forbids it. If our Lord and Savior is opposed to it, we can trust that it is something dangerous and harmful to ourselves and others.

Matthew 5:27-30 – Having destroyed the first refuge of those seeking to prove their worth through the Law – at least I haven’t murdered anyone! – Jesus now destroys the next most likely refuge (at least in his day, if not in ours!) – at least I haven’t had sex with anyone other than my spouse! Those inclined to see themselves as obedient to this commandment will be similarly shocked to learn that it is not just the actions of the body that constitute disobedience, but the waywardness of our minds.

In a culture where pornography runs rampant, this commandment is broken at younger and younger ages, resulting in profound physical and psychological problems. Yet there is no cultural recognition of this reality despite scientific studies. In an age where sexuality is a right and privilege to be enjoyed so long as those participating are consenting, this command is jarring, discordant with the cultural demands for sexual liberty and indulgence. How can it be that a 3500-year old moral code can be relevant to such a ‘modern’ and ‘enlightened’ and ‘secularized’ culture?

It remains relevant because it is how we were created. It works because, contrary to insistence to the contrary, there are particular contexts and situations in which things work better than in others. We might stamp our feet and demand that this should not be so, but across human culture and geography and history, we are shown that it remains true. Love has a proper context. It is not perfect because we are not perfect. We chafe against it because we are sinful, not because it is unreasonable. And the unreasonability is in the idea itself, not simply the act. As with the previous commandment against murder and all of the commandments, sin exists not just in the action of our bodies but in the mind and hear and with the first imagining of the act. This is the sin, whether or not the imaginings are ever acted upon or not. Sin is not what we do, sin is who we are.

SB1146 Update

June 23, 2016

A bill in the California legislature that would severely challenge or limit Christian institutions of higher education made another step towards law when it was approved by the Higher Education Committee of the Assembly on an 8-2 vote with three abstaining votes.  The votes were strictly party-line votes, and two of the three abstained voters were Republicans.

This bill seeks to eliminate religious exemptions to non-discrimination legislation specific to gender and sexuality for religious institutions for any program that is not specifically a religious program or preparing students for a religious vocation.  This means that an institution of higher education is not free to integrate religious beliefs throughout the academic experience for all students.  It would create a bizarre environment where one section of the student body is governed by policies that don’t apply to the other section.  Furthermore, it completely undermines the notion that religious belief and practice should be integrated into one’s life as a whole, regardless of vocation.

State funding for low-income students would be eliminated for these non-religious programs at these institutions, effectively limiting low-income student options for where to attend university, even if a religious university is consistent with their personal beliefs.

What is the point of public funding?  To encourage education for any and all citizens, or to encourage specific types of education and particular ideologies for any and all students?  The bill expresses concern that potential or existing students might not know the religious beliefs of a school they are applying to or enrolled in, leading to them investing time and money in a school that will at some point expel them for their personal beliefs and leave them no financial recourse.

I don’t have a problem with the portion of the bill that requires schools to be fully forthcoming about the fact that they are exempt as religious schools from non-discrimination legislation, meaning that they can require students to sign statements of belief and/or practice and expel those who refuse or who violate those agreements.  I don’t think there are too many students who get surprised by a private religious school’s expectations on behavior or belief, but fine – let’s make sure of that to the best of our ability.

And while my concern is for Christian schools (are there any publicly funded universities in our state that are affiliated with and uphold the doctrinal beliefs of another religion?  Any Muslim universities?  Hindu?  Hmmmm.) this bill would affect any religious school.

Should tax-payers be funding private Christian education that encourages a particular set of beliefs and practices?  The error is in assuming that legislation such as SB1146 is setting us free from linking tax-payer dollars to specific belief systems.  This legislation is simply penalizing one set of beliefs in favor of another.  While there are some tax-payers who are undoubtedly happy about this, there are others – like myself – who are not.  What is the best solution?  Is the best solution to require tax dollars to be allocated to any student who wishes to attend any institution?  Or is it better to marginalize the preferences of some tax-payers in favor of the preferences of other tax-payers?

I prefer the former option.  I think it intrudes less on personal liberty and freedom of religion than the proposed legislation.  But I’m pretty positive that this legislation will pass, and that legislation similar to it will crop up in your state eventually.  Be prepared and informed.

 

 

 

Wet Bar Wednesday – Red Seed

June 22, 2016

The latest issue of Sunset magazine arrived, gushing all things summer, including cocktail recipes.  They included one for a drink made with muddled (crushed) blackberries.  Our blackberry plant is in shock from a recent heat wave, but we did get some raspberries in our farmer’s market box, so I modified the Black Seed recipe to the Red Seed recipe.

This makes one drink, so, of course double it at the very least, as you shouldn’t be drinking alone!

  • 3/4 cup fresh raspberries, washed
  • 1/2 oz Campari (they use amaro, an Italian herbal liquor, but Campari works)
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (or to taste) (you could use honey or agave as well if you prefer)
  • 1 1/2 oz whiskey
  • lemon slice for garnish

Muddle the raspberries if necessary.  Ours were so ripe that I just threw them into the shaker with the other ingredients and shook vigorously. Either way, mix all of the ingredients together and pour over ice.

As the name implies, this has a lot of raspberry seeds in it, which I personally am not a huge fan of.  Adjust the sweetening to taste (or reduce the amount of lemon juice).  It’s a bright, light drink that definitely goes with summer.  Enjoy!

 

You Don’t Say?

June 21, 2016

The link to the actual report is broken, but this summary is hilarious – particularly in the conclusions he draws.

The study apparently studies the transmission link of certain ideologies between father and son (yet finds no such link between fathers and daughters).  The person summarizing the report dutifully notes that the results of the study should clearly cause people who hold these certain ideologies to question their reliability, since the reliability of their parents is hardly certain.

He conveniently ignores the reality that the same rates of transmission are likely there for people of opposite ideological positions.  He also ignores the fact that the reliability of a particular parent is not indicative of the relative helpfulness or propriety of a certain ideology.  You can have a parent who is terrible at math who still manages to convey a sound mathematical principle.

The author then helpfully extrapolates further to apply the study’s rationale to religious beliefs.  Again, if your religious beliefs are influenced strongly by your parents, you can’t trust those beliefs and certainly can’t argue for their validity against a belief system promulgated by someone else’s parents.  Once again, the reliability of the parents does not in and of itself invalidate the truthfulness of their religious beliefs.  One evaluates religious beliefs not on the caliber of the parent who instructed us in them, but in the actual content of the belief.  How does it match reality?  Do I have any means of validating the truth-claims set forth by that belief system?

Furthermore, the logic of the author of the summary could be extended further to teachers, professors, and other influential persons in a child’s life.  How is it that what is transmitted through these sources is necessarily more reliable or accurate than what is learned from parents?  Some interesting presumed bias!  The assumption seems to be that there would be alternate, better sources of influence on children besides the parents, sources that would not be prone to bias of any sort.

 

Meanwhile, in Crete…

June 20, 2016

…Christian unity, sorta.

For the first time in 1200 years, there is a gathering of various Orthodox Christian leaders.  It isn’t a complete gathering, as the 100-million member Russian Orthodox Church is not attending.

I’m frequently asked why there is so much divisiveness among Christians if we’re supposed to be unified in Christ.  The answer is that we are united in Christ but we’re still sinful.  We struggle with sin and the after-effects of sin.  We struggle with our brokenness, pride, and any number of other things.  We separate because of our interpretations of Scripture.  Most of the time those interpretations aren’t issues of salvation, but they represent genuine, faithful, intellectual disagreements that prevent us from worshiping together.

There are lots of ways that Christians can and should continue working together, but that doesn’t always happen.  Painful pasts, sensitivities to insults and other slights can take on larger-than-life importance.  But this meeting is at least a start.  Maybe it will lead to additional meetings sooner rather than later.  As Christians we should always be openly in dialogue and relationship with Christians of other denominations and stripes, always searching for unity, always looking for ways that emphasize our unity in Christ rather than our sinful separation.

It isn’t easy work, but it’s faithful.

Reading Ramblings – June 26, 2016

June 19, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2016

Texts: Exodus 20:13; Psalm 10; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 5:21-24

Context: **We continue in our alternate lectionary selections for most of the remainder of 2016. Readings have been selected to help in a preaching series on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. **

Many rabbis consider the fourth (their fifth) commandment on parents a transitional one, bridging the topics of how do we love God and how do we love our neighbor. The command against murder places us firmly in the realm of our love for and care of our neighbor. First and foremost, we must value our neighbor’s life, and recognize the limitations of our personal agency in what we do with another person’s life, regardless of our motivation or their culpability.

Exodus 20:13 – There are no stipulations about who can and cannot be killed. It is a blanket, generalized command. The Hebrew word is most associated with the concept of murder, and occurs 47 times in the Old Testament, overwhelmingly associated with malicious and/or premeditated killing. The best English translation of this commandment is not Do not kill, but rather Do not murder.

Psalm 10 – This psalm contains an extensive description of the actions and thoughts of the evil person, even including murder. The psalm seeks to address the issue of why God allows such evil, why doesn’t God come immediately to the aid of those in need, those at the mercy of evil people with evil plans? The psalm does not give an answer, other than to assert firmly that God is not absent nor ignorant about what happens here and how we treat one another. While He may not always intervene directly on behalf of those persecuted, they are right to entrust themselves fully to his care, which extends beyond the realm of this world and life. Yet God is capable and at times willing to directly intervene, so it is appropriate to ask not simply that He remember the afflicted, but that He actively strip the evil of their power (v.15), and bring justice until evil is no more. God’s ultimate intention and promise is that evil will one day be completely defeated and purged from creation (v.18). In the meantime, God remains God, solely reigning over all of his creation, and the existence or proliferation of evil in no means argues against this reality. God is the one to whom we cry out in our times of persecution and affliction, because God is the only one capable of hearing us and delivering us completely from the power of evil once and for all.

Romans 12:9-21 – A great general description of how the Chrisitian should approach life, particularly in light of the horrible news and divisiveness that bombard us 24/7. We take action, in choosing love over fear, hope over despair. This is not simplistic, Pollyanna-ish positive thinking, but a decision grounded firmly in our hope of our Lord’s victory over death and his promised return. We have a reason to continue to hope and love rather than giving in to despair and hatred. It is not, in this case, a personal choice but rather the inevitable result of our faith and belief. We cannot control the world and are not told to. But we are told to be very specific in how we react to the world, even to those who do evil to us and those we love. Evil is overcome not by outshouting it, not by outhating it, not by using evil against itself, but rather through love, and more specifically, by the love of Christ. He offered himself wholly to evil, so that He might destroy it from within. It is not I who overcome evil, but Christ who has overcome evil, and whose victory will one day be made evident to everyone. In the meantime, I wait for that day purposefully and intentionally by choosing his love over the world’s hatred and evil.

Matthew 5:21-24 – Murder – and every other sin – takes place first within us, before it is ever acted upon. Indeed, merely refraining from acting out on a sin does not make us guiltless. The fact that – however briefly – we contemplated and entertained or actively imagined the sin in our minds and hearts is where the sin is committed. The physical act is, from God’s perspective, irrelevant. It is hugely important to us, and therefore we punish the act rather than the inner sin, and we punish relative to the severity of the outward crime. But for God, any deviation from his good and perfect will is a sin of monumental proportions. Any rejection of God’s will and way is treason and must be punished as such.

So we are not free to say that sin is something we do. Rather, sin is something we are. As such, every commandment needs to be viewed this way, and from this perspective, we can’t take pride in keeping any of the commandments perfectly, and if we feel smug or justified because we haven’t murdered or sworn using God’s name or violated the Sabbath, our smugness is dashed by recognizing that at some point, to some degree, the thought crossed our mind. We were tired enough or angry enough or frustrated enough to consider breaking the commandment even though we know it would be wrong to do so.

This is NOT to say that keeping the commandments externally is pointless. Hardly the case! I wish that the entire world made serious efforts to keep the commandments perfectly! What a better world this would be if everyone took (and gave) a day of rest, if everyone refrained from violence against another person, if everyone honored their neighbor’s name and property. It would remain an imperfect and sinful world, but what a vastly improved world it would be!

So the commandments point out and convict the sin in my heart and my mind, not just my hand. They show me the way to live and convict me of refusing to do so. They call me to try harder while showing me that I will never perfectly accomplish this. They point me always and ultimately not to some internal righteousness, but to my complete need for a Savior, someone to rescue me from my sinfulness, whether the world thinks me sinful or not. I know in my heart and mind that I am. Just as with external discipline, I can strive to discipline my internal life as well, but it will never be perfect, and my need for a Savior will always remain the defining facet of my existence.