Reading Paul Again…For the First Time

This will be a odd blog post.  It’s just passages of scripture.

I recently returned from Greece and Turkey with a group of 50 of my new closest friends from Chapelwood.  We followed in the footsteps of Paul and I wanted to read all of Paul’s letters again several times – to see if I noticed anything new in light of the trip.

I have to admit the divisions of the world (and the church) do color my readings.  What I discovered reading Paul again was a friend and co-laborer.  Paul is a mentor.   He is doing exactly what I am doing…fighting every day to share the Gospel and keep the followers of Jesus together so they can effectively change the world.  In every letter, Paul is trying to manage the divisions in his churches.  Paul is strict with those who are dividing the church.  But if you read all of them together, you see the larger themes: he encourages them to love, be kind, forgive, bear with weaker members.  Paul is trying to keep the church together so they can be a visible testimony to the power of Christ in the world.

I found it transforming.  I hope you will as well.  And if you feel going to Greece will help you in your readings, let me know! 😉

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites…

– Romans 16:17-18

Now, I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose…Has Christ been divided?

– 1 Corinthians 1:10, 13a

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So, we are ambassadors for Christ…

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

– Galatians 5;13-15

I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

– Ephesians 4:1-6

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

– Philippians 2:1-5

Put to death, therefore, whatever in your is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you once followed when you were living that life.  But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

– Colossians 3:5-11

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

– 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so they they may be ashamed.  Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.  Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene…have nothing to to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, and apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness,  God may perhaps grant that they will depend and come to know the truth…

– 2 Timothy 2:14-17a, 23-25

Remind them to be subject to the rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, desipicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit…I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.  But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:1-11

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it.

– Philemon 17-19

Good News to Bad Christians

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

 –1 Corinthians 1:10-17

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

 –1 Corinthians 1:1-5

It seems that our country is divided over everything.  I mean, we can’t even have a little fun when IHOP changes its name to IHOb just to draw attention to itself.  We all want to claim the moral high ground based on the values that are important to us.  For some, obeying law and respecting authority is the highest value.  For others, justice and mercy are the highest values.  And then there are many others who find themselves on a spectrum between multiple other values that include the two I listed already.  We don’t think the same way.  But we must acknowledge that we are influenced by powerful values and the leaders who embody those values.

I find it fascinating how the Apostle Paul dealt with a church that struggled with many divisions.  The church in Corinth was his most diverse community and most divided church.  There were many social, political, and economic divisions within the church alone (Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell points to 15 divisions Paul addresses in his letters).  How did the people of Corinth deal with their problems?  They separated into “factions” based on partisan issues (partisan means strong supporter of a party, cause, or person).  Each of these factions claimed their own ‘leaders’ – they co-opted Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and even Jesus!  Christians were slandering and quarrelling.  Paul addressed this by sending good news to bad Christians in 1 Corinthians.  Paul starts his letter by writing, “let there be no divisions among you, but be united in the same mind and the same purpose…it has been reported there are quarrels among you…some say “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ””.

I love how Paul does this.  He starts with himself as the lowest “claimed faction” leader and moves up to Christ.  After all, if your are in a faction that claims Cephas (Peter) or Christ you have way more authority than Paul or Apollos!  But Paul calls this for what it is: if you think you have the moral high ground just because you claim Christ and turn him into a leader of your faction, you are sadly mistaken.  You think that makes you right?  Christ can not be divided.  Christ is “faction-less”.

If we want to follow Christ, we must follow Christ.  You can’t follow another faction leader or even their ideals.  You can’t divide Christ and claim him for your faction.  You can’t slander the leaders of other factions.  You can’t slander or quarrel with members of a different faction.  If you are followers of Christ, you must love one another in the midst of your differences and you must stop tearing each other down.  This is Paul’s central lesson in 1 Corinthians.  “You have divisions…okay; but what are those divisions rooted in?  Your faction’s belief system?  That is not what I taught you.”  Christ is not a faction and he is our primary leader.  Christ gets the highest allegiance over every other leader.  No one gets more loyalty than Christ…not Paul, not Apollos, not Cephas, and not any other earthly leader.  Only Christ…and we don’t get to divide Christ’s teachings into what we like and the what we don’t like.  We must follow his teachings and embody his actions.  We must remind ourselves of the greatest commandment he gave us and lay the rest down at his feet.

  • First reflection: How much of our quarrel, slander, emotional frustration, division, etc. is rooted in one of our factions?  Can we acknowledge that we are part of a faction that influences us more than Jesus’ teachings? (nationalism, political party, ideology, denominational, etc.). These are questions we can only answer for ourselves if we hope to be transformed by Christ.  It starts with me.

The second thought has to do with HOW we deal with our divisions.  Have you noticed how frustrating it becomes engaging in discussions trying to outdo one another with facts, resources, words, definitions, history, and laws?  You say something, I counter with another fact, you counter back, I counter back…it escalates and escalates and all we are left with is bitterness and frustration.  We try to out enlighten one another…as if some report or study or quote will convert the person we disagree with.  We post a new article from our favorite faction-news-outlet and…BOOM!  (Mic drop…walk off stage).  It doesn’t work that way.  Why?  Because as long as we have loyalty to a faction, whatever that faction is, we will remain loyal.  Our worldview will not be changed by any human argument against it as long as our allegiance is locked in.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”  His quote evolved into, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  Use all the articles and news reports you want from your faction outlets.  Those who disagree with you will discount them before they even read them.  There will be no boom.  There will be no mic drop.  Just more frustration and anger.

This is what Paul addresses to the Corinthians.  He doesn’t use “words” to argue divisions or try to solve the problem.  Words won’t work.  Paul knows the same words that created the problems can’t solve the problems.  Paul wrote, “when I came to you, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom…I decided to know nothing but Christ and him crucified…my speech and proclamation were not in plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”  Paul realized he had to shine a light on the demonstration of the Spirit, not words.  He reminds them that he didn’t proclaim Christ with words but with the power of God.  Corinthians were brilliant, cosmopolitan people…words alone would not convert them.  Paul did not depend upon the wisdom of the “rulers of the age” (whether philosophical or political), instead he pointed to the things taught to by the Spirit…spiritual things modeled in loving action…things embodied by the life and teachings of Christ, revealed by the power of God.

  • Second reflection:  In what ways do we depend on words, teachings, eloquent rebuttals, news stories, research data, etc. to try to convince other factions they are wrong?  Are we willing to admit that we look for information and listen to the voices of our own “factions”?  Can we see the fallacy of depending on the wisdom of the rulers of the world to try to change other peoples views?  How do Paul’s words challenge those of us struggling with divisions in our own country and our churches?  What would it look like to discuss our differences in a new ways that could reveal the power of God and build unity?

Let me close with some honest admission paraphrasing Paul.  Here is a trustworthy saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  When I am a bad Christian, my struggle is being a part of the Christ faction.  I have to constantly test my loyalties to make sure I haven’t made Christ the co-opted, claimed leader of my own faction.  All Christians, good and bad, should wrestle with this.  Paul wrote these words to me…but I thought I’d share them with you:

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God…so let no one boast of human leaders…all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”  

— 1 Corinthians 3:18-23

Are FaceBook Friends Really Friends?

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

– Luke 10:1

Robin Dunbar was a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University.  In 1990, he came up with what we know today as “Dunbar’s Number”.  His theory was that humans are only capable of managing a certain number of relationships well.  (He defines ‘well’ as staying in contact at least once per year and knowing how those friends are relating to one another.)  His magic number?  150.

There is interesting history to how he came to this number and you can find that story on wikipedia.  What I find fascinating is that Dunbar’s work was done before the arrival of social media, particularly FaceBook.

I hate to admit it, but I have 1,848 friends on FaceBook.  Granted that may seem like a lot to some people, but a lot of my friends have way more than I do!  I know every one of my friends.  I have a relationship with them now or I did in the past. It is pretty amazing that we can keep up with each other this way.  The problem is FaceBook doesn’t show me all the posts of all my friends.  They have some fancy algorithms that filter all the posts and it shows me what it thinks I want to see.  (Let’s not go there in this post.)image.png

Now, here is the rub.  Robin Dunbar revisted his theory in 2011 in light of social media.  You can find it written up online.  It was a massive study.  Of the 3,375 FaceBook users between 18-65 years in the U.K., he found they had an average of 150 friends of which 4.1 were dependable and 13.6 expressed sympathy during emotional crises.  Astonishingly, the numbers aligned with his previous finding from the early 1990s.  He did find that younger users and users who were “online savvy” actually had a greater number of “friends”, but the number of real “touches”, what he defines as “dependable friends”, and “crisis responses” still showed that the 150 number may be pretty accurate.  (There was also an amazing story of Tanja Hollander who decided to visit every one of her 626 FaceBook in their homes to answer the question, “Are You Really My Friend?”  Her TED talk is really awakening.)

All this leads me to the final thought in Dunbar’s study and the passage from Luke 10.  Dunbar does admit that social media connects us in ways that “help keep friendships from decaying over time” – which is a very good thing.  But he also stuck to his original findings and said, “face-to-face interactions are necessary to prevent real friendships from sliding into a category he defines as ‘acquaintances'” – people we know, but never touch.

When Jesus sent out his followers ahead of him, I love that he sent them out in pairs.  Groups of two people who could build personal connections with the people they would meet.  They didn’t send all seventy together, but split them into pairs.  When it is all said and done, discipleship is about relationships.  Love is about relationships.  Transforming lives and embodying grace is about touching lives around you in personal ways.

The next time you are “stalking” on FaceBook to see what your “friends” are doing, why don’t you send them a message and let them know you are thinking about them.  Say a prayer for them and let them know they matter to you.  That is the only way they truly remain our “friends
“.

Unity

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  – Messiah Jesus, John 17:17-23

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My daughter Maddie’s picture under The Cloud Gate Sculpture in Chicago – surrounded by people from across the globe.

Unity.  What does it even mean? The dictionary says, “the quality or state of not being multiple; a condition of harmony; the quality or state of being made one.” But for United Methodist Christians the word is laden with different meanings.  As the United Methodist Church struggles with actual unity, the word ‘unity’ has been co-opted.  Some refer to it as a ‘totem’, a ‘code word for mushy moderates’, ‘an idol’, ‘selling out full justice’, and ‘a holy-sounding argument for those who want to avoid the issue altogether’.

I have a different perspective on unity.  It is rooted in my understanding of scripture and the experience in the context I serve.  Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas is unique.  It is actually a collection of diverse worship communities (churches) who live out their faith as ONE church.  The Sanctuary, Mercy Street, Contemplative, Upper Room, The Branch, Fair Haven, and Holy Family are each very different.  Most people who spend a weekend with us and visit our differing services realize this is not their parent’s church.  Different lead pastors, different contexts, and really diverse people.

Our worship community pastors, the lead pastors of each community, are a tight-knit group.  We really love each other, we spend a lot of time together, and we are very different:  Male, female, white, black, hispanic, asian, young, old, married, and single.  We come from different parts of the country and we’ve been educated in different schools.  We have all been formed by different experiences.  There is very little ‘uniformity’.  But there is a deep unity.

Last week, we met to discuss how we want the Holy Spirit to help us lead Chapelwood through the next few years as the UMC struggles with the issues before us.  We started with our own stories.  We shared our personal beliefs on the issues surrounding scripture, the life of Christ, marriage, sexuality, gender, and many other issues.  We’ve had these conversations before, but we were very intentional this time to press each other to go as deep as possible with our struggles, beliefs, and dreams for our church.  When we finished, a few things were clear to me:

  • We do not all see the issues the same way and we do not all long for the same outcomes…
  • We are currently wrestling with many of the issues…
  • We love the people we serve and we grieve knowing there are people on all sides of these issues in our communities – some who may find staying in the UMC difficult…

And, with all the differences we shared, we left our time together with more commitment and love toward each other than when we started.  The power of the Holy Spirit actually pulled us together – not apart – as we shared our different stories and our different dreams for the church.  I left more focused on Christ.  Jesus was glorified in our sharing.

And this is just one reason why I wholeheartedly disagree with people who say unity is some type of totem, excuse to avoid conflict, or excuse to exclude others.  Unity is not the end…the glory of Christ is the end…unity is the means by which we get there.  Unity is very challenging.  People who claim unity is an excuse to avoid conflict have never actually contended for honest unity in a diverse community.  It is far easier to draw bold lines in the sand, state what you believe, and then stand far removed on one side of the issue.

I do not fear schism and separation in our denomination.  Why?  Because it’s easy.  It is intellectually and spiritually lazy.  And it relieves the tension of the day (until the next issue arises).  Schism is definitely messy, but it’s not horrifying.

You want to know what I fear?  Unity.  I fear, revere, dread, cherish, dismay, exalt, and esteem unity.  Why?  Because unity means I have to give and take, live and die, learn and be taught.  It requires deep humility, love, and grace – things I don’t always do well with.  I am blessed to live in a community that seeks to live into the prayer Jesus prayed.  And my prayer is that ‘we also may be sanctified in truth…that we may all be one…so that the world may believe that God sent Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.’

Love and Hate

Luke 2:25-35

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study by Professor Semir Zeki of University College London. Zeki studied the brains of people who profess deep hatred towards a person and deep love and here is what he discovered.  When people looked at the images of those they hated, it involved specific areas in the sub-cortex of the brain. One area they already knew was connected to contempt and disgust. But they found these same areas of the brain were involved in deep feelings of love. Zeki proposes that this may be connected to the preparation of aggression that may come when you feel someone you love is threatened.  While love and hate are found to be at work in the same area of the brain, there is one interesting difference. Zeki and his research team found that the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reasoning become deactivated during love, whereas very little of the area is deactivated in hate.

Zeki concludes with this hypothesis…love seems to be less critical and less judgmental toward those loved. Hate is more judgmental, more critical, and more calculating…seeking ways to injure, harm, or exact revenge. The other interesting find? Hate could be objectively quantified in the studies. Love could not. There was no way to objectively quantify love.

Zeki could have saved a lot of time if he had just read the New Testament…

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the coming of the fullness of love to the world. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… Christmas is the time we celebrate when love came down from heaven. And this is a season of love. There is something warm and cozy about Christmas. Families gather, meals are shared, we reach out to those who are not with us by phone and Christmas cards.

But as we explore the great paradoxes of Christmas, this week we focus on the second Sunday of Advent’s theme…love. We know that the world Jesus came into was not only a world of love. Just as in Jesus day, we are surrounded by the paradox of a world where God is pouring out His love into a world filled with hate.

The Magi search for the child to pay him homage as a power-hungry king tries desparately to keep power by slaughtering innocent young children.  The angels announce the birth of the Savior to a poor band of shepherds.  Joseph and Mary receive news of the miraculous birth, but their experience is not exactly glorious.  Our world is not different. We see the paradoxes all around us.  Love comes in the midst of a world of hate.  People killing innocent people and calling it faithfulness. People mistrusting those around them and those in authority. We need love more than ever in a world filled with hate.

In today’s passage, we see Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple as was the custom. Simeon was a righteous and faithful man and very old. God told him he would not die until he laid eyes on the Savior of the world. As Jesus is brought into the temple, Simeon is drawn in and when he lays his eyes on the child, he rejoices! He says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  Simeon sees the light of salvation for all people, including the Gentiles. Love has come down.

IF we ended there, that would be enough. But the Bible points us to another paradox…Simeon continues…“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

We see this bitter prophecy played out in the life of Jesus as he confronts the lives and motives of so many.  He called us to examine our inner thoughts as well.  In John 3:19 Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Jesus was and is the One who reveals our inner thoughts and calls us to choose light and love over darkness and hate.  We are confronted with this Sign everyday.

The good news is that love has come into the world. But that love will call for a decision from the world. A decision to love in the light…or hate in the darkness.

The Big Three: Money, Sex, and Power

I Corinthians 9:24-27
24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified

Most of us are overwhelmingly focused on the tasks we have to accomplish each and every day. Last week on Tuesday morning with a bunch of guys at breakfast, I was sharing with them an app I have on my iPad where I keep all my notebooks. The first one I go to every do is the To Do book. I create my To Do list. If I don’t, I will forget something (in addition to the many things I forget to put on my list.) But you see, part of the problem with our out of control lives is this To Do list. We are more focused in our lives on what we have TO DO, then who we are working TO BE. A friend of mine recently asked me if I have ever made a TO BE list instead of a TO DO list. He told me, if you let the TO BE list guide you, you will find your life transformed.  Why is it we spend more time focusing on what we need to do instead of focusing on who we are? Thomas Merton once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is so true.

Three human needs have the capacity to destroy any one of us if we don’t spend time in examining our lives: money, sex, and power. It is no wonder early monastic communities established three vows for those called to religious leadership: poverty, chastity (celibacy), and obedience. These vows were severe protective measures to guard against the fatal compulsion of these three needs. While the early monastics approached these three human needs with vows of denial, that is not the only way to bring them under control.  During the Reformation in the 16th century, the leaders of the church stressed a more positive response to deal with the Big Three: faithful stewardship, covenantal love, and self-giving service as healthy responses to these three temptations. Rather than deny the needs, they sought to control, direct, and redeem them. This new understanding in Christian faith saw money, sex, and power not as evil in and of themselves, what matters is how they are used in our lives. This is why self-examination is so important in managing our out of control lives. Instead of just going, we need to figure out what makes us go.  Over time the church’s view toward money, sex, and power shifted as the role of each in society was changing.

The modern era has sought to make peace with money, sex, and power. It seems that many of us believe we are immune to the dangers of each one. But the truth is, they still have the power to destroy families and lives if they remain unchecked.
I’ve shared stories before of how the BIG THREE can destroy lives. We’ve seen it in our own families. Most of the time, I have found that what leads us to fall to their power is that we never really spent time examining what makes us tick. We never spent time on our TO BE list.

Paul talks here about bringing his body under control and how important it is. We must know that money, sex, and power have the ability to cloud our judgment, corrode our values, and capture our will leading us to behave in ways that are irresponsible.

Where does the search for begin? You and I need to look for individuals who have demonstrated the inner capacity to deal creatively with money, sex, and power in their lives. In Christian tradition, we have called these people spiritual guides, mentors, abbas, or ammas (fathers or mothers).  They come alongside us, with our permission, and become “ruthlessly compassionate truthtellers”.  We can’t overcome the power of the Big Three alone.  We need someone to help us – to guide us.  Will you find someone to come alongside you?  To help you TO BE the person God created you to be?

Rule Number 6

Exodus 18:13-26
13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ 15Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God.16When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ 17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’
24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.25Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.26And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.

Luke 10:25-37
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, in their book The Art of Possibility, tell the story of two prime ministers who were sitting in one’s office discussing affairs of state. Suddenly an aide burst in, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The host prime minister quietly said, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number Six.” Peter was instantly restored to complete calm, apologized for the interruption, and left the room. The prime ministers resumed their discussion. Several minutes later, another aide rushed in, shouting and stamping. Again the host prime minister quietly said, “Marie, please remember Rule Number Six.” Marie calmed down immediately, apologized, and left the room.  The visiting prime minister said “I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Tell me, what is this Rule Number Six?” The host prime minister said, “It’s really very simple. Rule Number Six is ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, the visiting prime minister inquired, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
The host replied, “There aren’t any.”

One of the biggest problems we face day to day in our “uncontrollable” lives is that we take ourselves way too seriously. You have no idea how this affects your ability to be free, enjoy life, and live fully for God as God intended, which draws others to a living and loving faith in Christ.  The truth is, life is uncontrollable. But the height of pride and vainglory is to think that we can control it. And because we think this way, we are often frustrated and disappointed. This is tied to our expectations, but it is more than that. This is about how we view ourselves in the midst of the life we live. Most things in life we can’t control, rather than let the uncontrollable disturb us; we need to remember Rule Number 6 and how we can learn to view life, and ourselves, differently.

I do a lot of weddings here. And if you are involved in weddings often, one thing you can count on – something will go wrong. It could be a big thing or a small thing. It may be something you see or something you never see. There are just too many details over months and months for something not to go wrong. Whether the pants don’t show up in the best man’s tux, or the candle just won’t light, or a groomsman falls out, or maybe just after the bride declares her love to the groom and kisses him, the soloist sings “I’d rather have Jesus.” Something is going to happen!
I remember the father of one wedding recently who was so serious and so nervous about his one line. When I ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” his reply had to be perfect. All night at the rehearsal he kept looking at me, “Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do.” I kept telling him, it’s okay. Next day, I ask the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” and he replies emphatically, “My mother and I do.” He was terribly upset as people began to laugh, but his daughter, with a huge smile on her face said to him, “That’s perfect. We will never forget that!”

A few years ago, I was doing a wedding on a golf course in Columbus, Georgia. It was a beautiful setting on a walking bridge across a beautiful shallow stream next to the green. Everything was perfect. I handed the groom a beautiful diamond wedding ring which he took in his hand…took her hand in his…and as I asked him to place it on her finger and repeat after me…he dropped it, bouncing off the walking bridge into the ankle high, flowing stream. He began to freak out, the bride laughed, and two bridesmaids and a few guest took off their shoes and proceeded to make their way into the stream.

The reason Rule Number 6 is so important is because when things like this happens, it is not a tragedy! It is not a disaster!! It is a disclosure of our humanity! When we have a right understanding of who we are in Christ, we practice not taking ourselves so seriously – Rule Number 6. It is one of the best ways to remind us of our humanity – our need to rely on a power greater than ourselves.

Today, in both our passages of scripture, we see Rule Number 6 at work.

First, Moses is leading God’s people in a very inefficient way. He is dealing with everything and it is killing him, but he feels he must do it! After all, he’s Moses and he is God’s chosen leader! It takes a reality check from his father in law to say, “Look at what you are doing! This is not good!” Moses listened to his father in law, but the temptation and reveals a great lesson – we can’t do it all and we are not the center of the universe. Even Moses needed help and he understood it.

In the second passage today, a lawyer is trying to justify himself by asking Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. As Jesus answers, he apparently doesn’t remember Rule Number 6, because he feels the need to justify himself. Jesus tells a story that digs deep into issues of identity and worth by making the neighbor, the one who helps the man in the ditch, a Samaritan – one of the most reviled groups of the people the Jews had in their day.

There are two selves doing battle in us all the time. Paul talked about this when he wrote, “what I want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do.” We see it today in the scripture about Moses as he struggles to lead God’s people and is able to receive help from his father in law. And we see it in the interchange between the lawyer and Jesus in Luke 10 as he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  If you want to understand Rule Number 6 and how to use it, you have to understand the Calculating Self and the Centering Self.

THE CALCULATING SELF
This Calculating Self is the part of ourselves concerned with our own survival in a world of scarcity. This is the part of ourselves that not only thinks we are the center of the world, but causes us to act like we are the center of the world. The Calculating Self is always measuring, always evaluating how we are perceived and is always calling out, “Take note of me.”  The Calculating Self is a part of who we are, but the power of SIN has really distorted how it works in us. The Calculating Self develops when we are children – we are the center of the world, demanding, measuring our worth on what we accomplish and what others think of us. As we grow up, some of us are able to harness the Calculating Self and we gain some sense of control over it, we mature – but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, no matter how confident or self-aware we are as adults, underneath the surface we see ourselves as marginal, at risk for losing everything.  The Calculating Self without proper control is always trying to climb higher, get more control, displace others, and find a way in. The Calculating Self must be brought under control through the work of God’s spirit, love and humility and one of the best ways to do this is to learn to “not take ourselves so seriously”. As we peel away layers of opinion, entitlement, pride, and inflated views of ourselves, others instantly feel the connection. As we have the grace to practice Rule Number 6, then the other part of ourselves begins to work through, the Centering Self. And this is where we need to grow.

THE CENTERING SELF
Inscribed on five of the six pillars in the Holocaust Memorial at Quincy Market in Boston are stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps. The sixth pillar presents a tale of a different sort, about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Guerda Weissman Kline, in Auschwitz. Guerda remembers that Ilse, who was about six years old at the time, found one morning a single raspberry somewhere in the camp. Ilse carried it all day long in a protected place in her pocket, and in the evening, her eyes shining with happiness, she presented it to her friend Guerda on a leaf. “Imagine a world,” writes Guerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”

Such is the nature of the Centering Self, the part of ourselves that embraces God’s image in us and lives centered on Christ’s principles of love and humility. Since the calculating self is designed to look out for Number One, it rears its head when we find ourselves at an impasse, whenever we are threatened – whether in politics or personal relationships or in the business world.  We are able to gain control of the Calculating Self through prayer, humility, love and self-discipline which allows the Centering Self to take over. When this happens, we find that childish demands and entitlements are not important for us anymore. Something changes in us. We die to self and live to Christ. We love more. We are less concerned with how others view us. We grow confident in our Christian identity, rather than a constructed identity based on what we do, what we know, or what we earn.

Today’s lesson is this: Practice Rule Number 6 – Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously
Keep alive and well your ability to laugh. Laugh with – never at – others. Laugh loudest at yourself. Poke holes in pomposity. Keep smiling – people will wonder what you’re up to!