Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cussin' & Swearin'

Cussing and swearing are not the same thing.

Cussing is the use of profanity—you know, saying BAD WORDS.

Swearing is pledging an oath of truth, like when you swear to tell the truth in court, as in swearing to testify to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God “under oath.” Public officials are sworn into office with the same oath, "under God."

By wrongly equating cussing and swearing, we misinterpret the commandment against using the Lord's name in vain. (Ex 20:7) It has nothing to do with using God's name when you use profanity. It has everything to do with lying while swearing to God that you're telling the truth.

The Lord’s third commandment is against perjury, not profanity.

It’s worth noting as well that Jesus said to avoid going around swearing to tell the truth altogether. He said:

"Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matt 5:36-37)

I’m not saying that profanity is OK. It’s definitely inappropriate in most settings. The use of profanity by children, for example, should not be tolerated in my opinion, especially in public places, if not in the home, though I leave the cussing-at-home issue in the hands of parents where it belongs. “Street language” or “gutter talk” as it is called from the mouths of minors shows a lack of maturity and respect. We typically ban young people from making certain gastrointestinal-related reverberations, don’t we? To me profanity is no different. It’s childish, rude, avoidable, and intolerable.

Just between us adults, however: Is Jesus tape recording all conversation for any slip up, keeping score so as to condemn us for the slightest vocabulary infraction? Come on! What happened to freedom in Christ? Are we free from legalistic nitpicking over every little shoot, darn, and crud or not?

I hate to burst your bubble, but the Apostle Paul cussed once. Sad but true. I regret to inform you that he used the s-word. Well, he did it in Greek, but it’s the s-word nonetheless:

“More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things--indeed, I regard them as dung!10 --that I may gain Christ,” Philippians 3:8 (emphasis mine)

The word translated here as “dung” means, well, you know what it means. It’s an s-word. And it’s an s-word in biblical Greek too: skubalon. So next time you hit your thumb with a hammer, say “Skubalon!” It’s New Testament approved! (If you don’t enjoy my sense of humor, don’t read what I write—just a suggestion.)

I believe that when it comes to s-words and the like, the law of love does a better job of helping us distinguish between words that help and words that hurt than any goody-two-shoes list of bad words George Carlin or any of us could come up with. People—adults—hung up on dos and don’ts haven’t realized their liberty in Christ from worry about these things.

Do words themselves have some kind of power over us or our eternal destinies that we should cower in paranoia about everything we say? Some seem to think so. My question for them is this. Is any power possessed by those words greater than the power of Jesus?

I don’t believe that cuss words in and of themselves have the power to condemn anyone. No matter they have four letters. No matter what letter they begin with. No matter the number of vowels, consonants, or syllables. But I do most definitely believe that we condemn ourselves when we use words—profane or not—to hurt or offend people.

I vote for thinking less about vocabulary and more about strengthening relationships. And I vote for words that build up, not tear down.

"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. (1 Cor 10:23)

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1 Thess 5:11)

And that’s all I have to say about that, dagnabit!


Friday, April 10, 2009

The Meaning of the Cross: Moronic and Offensive

The Moronic and Offensive Cross

The cross of Christ is moronic and offensive, wrote the Apostle Paul:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block [skandalon -  in the Greek---the root of our English words scandalous; it also means offensive] to Jews

and foolishness [morian -  in the Greek---the root of our English word moronic] to Gentiles,

but to those who are called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (bolds and italics mine) (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) (New Revised Standard Version)

So Paul claimed to preach a message that is both scandalous/offensive and moronic/foolish. What was that message? You just read it above: Christ crucified. Does that strike you as strange? Christians comfortably speak of Christ crucified all the time. What is offensive or moronic about saying Christ crucified? Consider the following.

Christ is the word that replaced the term Messiah in the Greek-speaking world where Paul took the gospel. So we are talking about Messiah (God’s anointed) being crucified. Now take note of Deuteronomy ..21:23.. (and Galatians ..10:13..). We discussed this verse at the beginning of this chapter. It says that God curses/damns anyone hung on a tree---and therefore anyone crucified. Have you put it together now?

Christ crucified is a Greek way of saying Messiah damned!

Now it sounds offensive, does it not? Now it sounds moronic too. How could an intelligent, prudent man like Paul preach Messiah damned? It is stupid and disgusting, is it not? How can God’s anointed one be damned by God? It does not make a lick of sense.

But Paul made no apology. He was not ashamed of the gospel. (Romans 1:16) He believed it was true precisely because it was too outrageous not to be. He, like so many after him, believed it because no one but God could come up with something so spectacularly ridiculous!

Messiah damned. Offensive? Yes, in the extreme. Moronic? Yes, absolutely. But as Paul wrote,

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness (moronic-ness) of our proclamation (Messiah damned), to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

And he wrote,

“For God’s foolishness (moronic-ness) is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness (Christ crucified or Messiah damned) is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

In the current climate of political correctness and hypersensitivity, it is as if we are surrounded by “the offended.” Christians today are not immune to this “don’t offend” trend. We have joined the ranks of the hyper-vigilant. Not to offend is casually seen as a Christian duty.

Yet how do we reconcile our political correctness with Jesus? Jesus offended people. His teachings and behaviors offended people. And the Bible comes right out and says so. His own kin and hometown folks took offense at him. (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:3) The Pharisees took offense at him. (Matthew 15:12) His own disciples took offense at him. (John 6:60-66)

Moreover, Paul said the gospel is offensive! Specifically, he wrote that the gospel message of “Christ crucified” was a stumbling block to Jews, meaning an offense to religious sensibilities. (1 Corinthians 1:23) In other words, the message itself is offensive by human reasoning. Paul referred to Isaiah in Romans 9:33:

"See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (New Revised Standard Version)

“A rock that will make them fall” can be translated “a rock of offense.” The Greek word for “offense” is the same in all the preceding paragraphs. Again, skandalon--- ska,ndalon in the Greek---means stumbling block; it is the root of our English word scandalous; and it means offensive.

While the message is admittedly scandalous/offensive to some, particularly to the religiously hyper-vigilant, Jesus made it clear that one need not experience it as so. Jesus said, “blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Matthew 11:6) And Paul clearly wrote that to those being called by God, the message of Christ crucified (Messiah damned) is not moronic or offensive, but is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24)

“For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

This is what Jesus is all about, according to Paul. And that is not preached and taught very much today. How so? When the subject of Jesus comes up, arguably the most common response is to start talking about “doing right” and “straightening up” and “trying harder” and “getting back to church” and “stopping drinking.”

People feel shame and guilt at the mention of Jesus’ name rather than forgiveness and freedom!

They should feel understood and liberated and empowered. They should feel wonder, awe, and delight. Instead, when Jesus is mentioned, they too often start talking about “getting right with The Man before I die so he won’t punish me.” Hopefully this book will change some minds. That is what “repent” literally means, “to change one’s mind” (meta,noia , meta-noia, change-mind).

It is too strange and wonderful to be true. The Judean authorities’ master plan to erase Jesus was to get him hung on a tree and thus damned by God. (Deuteronomy 21:23) And the message that his first believers embraced was exactly that---Christ crucified, Messiah damned by God! Who but God could have planned something so brilliantly absurd?

A God-damned Messiah saves the world. Offensive. Moronic. Provocative. Perfect.

The Father carried the world’s condemnation through his Son’s cross, and thus died to sin and death and condemnation on behalf of all humanity. He became our curse. (Galatians 3:13) That is how he saved the world. He did it because he loves the world---the whole beautiful, terrible, holy, cancerous, hilarious, reptilian, awful, and wonderful ball of wax. (John 3:16-17)

Leave it to God to die so well.

[Adapted from Jesus Unplugged, Copyright 2005, Faithwalk Publishing]

For more on Roman crucifixion see Was Jesus Crucified in the Manner Shown in Paintings and Movies?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Salted with Fire

Why, after the amputation or Gehenna sayings, does Jesus speak suddenly of salt? Again it’s about Life and peace over against death and torment. If you have no salt, no fire, no peace, then you have no Life. Apparently there is a fire that consumes Life (fire in the dump of Gehenna), but there is also a fire that infuses Life (fire of the Holy Spirit). There is a fire that deadens and there is a fire of the Spirit that enlivens. This is the salt of which Jesus, again in figures, now speaks. What did he mean?

Though you are made to be the salt of the earth, you can become tasteless. To become a slave of your hand is to lose your salt. To become a slave of your foot is to lose your salt. To become a slave of your eye is to lose your salt. If the addiction of your hand or foot or eye robs you of the peaceful, passionate, salty, Life-filled, rich and abundant relational reality that Jesus called the kingdom of heaven, amputation is immeasurably better than that.

Salt equals Life.

Jesus is talking about spiritual death by blandness. Bland equals spiritual death and a hellish existence. Again, the symbol “=” means equals.

Spiritual slavery = blandness = hellishness = death
Spiritual freedom = saltiness = heavenliness = Life

How do you spell hell? Jesus spells it B-L-A-N-D. He wants to know, What’s your salt worth?

Mark 8:36-37 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life (psuche)? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life (psuche)?

The Greek word for life also means soul, and is often translated as such.

Mark 8:36-37 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul (psuche)? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul (psuche)?

Salt is Life. It means everything. The opposite of salt and Life is blandness and death. Blandness doesn’t seem like such a bad thing on the surface. But without salt, if you’re bland, you’re worm food!

Salt in you—spirit and fire, passion and love, freedom and soul—is the zest and savor and vigor and verve of Life. It’s the flavor and zeal and gusto of Life. Salt is vibrancy and vitality and intensity. Salt sharpens and heightens and enhances. It intensifies and accents and enriches. It brightens and enlivens and excites. It arouses and stimulates and sparks.

I caught a televised worship service from a downtown protestant church recently. The robed pastor from his lofty pulpit deposited his three dry imperatives. You must have peace. You must have hope. You must have joy. When the camera showed the congregants, they resembled a forest of stumps. A child was drawing on a bulletin. A teenager mindlessly twirled her hair. Zoned-out parents made mental to-do lists. A grandfather took a nap. Even when the preacher spoke of joy, it was clear that joy had left the building and gone to lunch. Where’s the salt? Where’s the zest? Where’s the gusto? Where’s the spice of Life?

Please don’t think that peppier music and a hip pastor necessarily fix anything. You could have jumping up and down and rolling in the aisles. You could have waiving hands and loud weeping. Outward appearances aren’t salt. And simulation salt seasons nothing. I have nothing against the salt substitute manufacturers. I’m sure that the good folks on a salt-restricted diet appreciate one of the various salt substitutes. But the cook in my life says that salt substitutes are sad substitutes for the real thing.

Real salt is what is needed. Real salt is what every person wants. And like the tiny mustard seed that becomes a tree-sized bush, and like a mere pinch of yeast that makes a whole fifty pounds of flour rise, a dash of salt makes all the difference in the world to your palate. Without it a meal is mere nutrition. Without salt a meal is just chewing and swallowing.

Only in four verses in the Bible does Jesus speak of salt. But these four little verses, like salt itself, make all the difference.

NET Matthew 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.

NET Mark 9:49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

NET Mark 9:50 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

NET Luke 14:34 "Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored?

From these four verses I glean four meanings:

1. People, including you, are the salt of the earth. That’s the way God made you. You were born the opposite of bland. You are the spice of Life. You season the world. You are the salt in God’s recipe.
2. But you can lose your God-given saltiness. Un-salty salt isn’t salt. Un-salty salt can’t fix bland. Bland is useless. Bland is trash. Bland belongs in Gehenna. Un-salty people may be living, but they aren’t alive.
3. Having salt in yourself is inseparable from being at peace in your relationships. Life and peace walk hand in hand. It’s God’s covenant promise and gift.
4. Everyone will be salted with fire because the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. (Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:28)

I could write here about being a spirit-filled person. I could list spiritual gifts, as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 12, and I could define them: wisdom, knowledge, faith, etc. I could list the fruits of the spirit, as Paul did in Galatians 5:22-23, and I could define them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But I’d rather salt this paragraph with a picture everybody recognizes, even if you aren’t a cook. Let’s go into the kitchen and ask the cook about salt.

I have a friend who is a great cook; she should have her own show on the Food Channel. I asked her about salt. She said that salt brightens. It enhances what‘s already there. Salt brings out the natural goodness. In pickling, she said, salt draws out the juices leaving a concentration of flavors. It’s the base of any seasoning mix. You don’t even make cake without salt, she said, or it will be bland.

Folks, salt is the only cure for blandness. Salt is no mere additive. It is the spice of Life. Salt is Jesus’ poetic word for Life’s richness and zest. Life is what he came to give.

John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

John 10:28 28 "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish . . .”

So Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth. He says everyone is salted with fire. He says have salt in yourself, and be at peace. Is he talking about literal salt? Again, no. He’s contrasting being spiritually alive and being spiritually dead. Salt-ness is Life. Blandness is death. Salt is his gift of Life to the world, for he claims the he is the way, the truth, and the Life.

There is no such thing as a bland Christian. That’s an oxymoron. Blandness is spiritual death. Spiritual death is self-obsession, self-importance, self-exaltation, self-righteousness, and self-imposition on others. Spiritual death is blind, unaware, oblivious, and insensitive. Blandness (spiritual death) is everywhere. But salt (Life) makes all the difference. And all it takes is a pinch.

Paul wrote only once about salt. He advises to have salt in your conversations.

NRS Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

What could he mean but that gracious words are seasoned with salt, with Life and peace? No phony, artificial, bland religious jargon. But wonderful words of Life. Oh that our churches were filled with salty speech as Paul advised.

On the other hand, let’s keep it real. Were I you, I’d be on the lookout for the Bland Patrol from hell. They’re in our churches. Bland Christians (there’s really no such thing) attack people who have salt (because the bland are always blind). They hate the Life and liberty that is in you. The Patrol will be suspicious of you if you won’t wear their pseudo-holiness straightjacket, a repressed and rigid beige code of conduct born of a restrictive dull, flat, and tasteless religiosity.

The Bland Patrol is watching you. And their officers are probably the most religious people you know. I don’t know of a greater irony and tragedy than the predominant protestant, Christian voice in our culture, modern evangelicalism, is a child of Phariseeism. Too many of them are blind, bland religionist suspicious of anyone with light and liberty. They oppose Jesus and do it in Jesus’ name. The majority of the Pharisees did the same thing to Jesus and his followers. They opposed them in the name of God believing they were doing God’s will.

ESV John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.

Jesus said that the Pharisees were mwroi. kai. tufloi, , which means “moronic and blind.” They see themselves as God’s gift to the world, but they are his enemies and don’t know it. With ironic humor and biting sarcasm Jesus said of the religious Bland Patrol of his day:

NRS Matthew 15:14 “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit."

And Jesus hit them right between their blind eyes:

John 9:39-41 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment (krisis) so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

The Bland Patrol always presumes to see what is Godly and what is not, who is Godly and who is not. People enjoying Life and liberty are not Godly to their eyes. The institutionalized, zippered Bible, humorless, falsely humble, attendance pin wearing, hall monitoring religionists are Godly to their own eyes. The Pharisees asked him, You’re not calling us blind are you, Jesus? And Jesus replied, Yes, because you think you can see.

Jesus’ perspective on spiritual seeing is that the beginning of sight is the recognition of blindness. The problem with the Pharisaic Bland Patrol is that because they can’t see their darkness, they assume they are the light. This is not just sad. It’s dangerous. It leads to crucifixions of innocent people. The result is an arrogant, boastful airline in which every single pilot is blind and ready for takeoff.

Where are the Pharisees today? They’re where they always are in every generation. They are the officers and the ordained in religious institutions—churches and seminaries included.

Don’t worry about them, however, advises Jesus. They’re destined for the ditch. Focus instead on the log in your own eye. See clearly what’s dragging you into Gehenna. It’s better to be drowned or to endure amputation, said Jesus, than to be bland, to be without salt—the abundant and inexpensive spice of Life in the fire of the Spirit.

It’s about fire either way. Choose the altar of Christ or Gehenna. It’s the fire of destruction or the fire of the Spirit. It’s a salty peace or a bland hell. So far as I know, the only ingredient that fixes blandness is salt.

For more on Jesus' parables see my blogs The Absurd Parable of the Unforgiving SlaveThe God Who GamblesParable of the Vine and BranchesThe Crooked ManagerThe Friend at MidnightHeaven Is Like a Crazy FarmerHe Speaks Of . . .Salted With FireTalking Sheep and GoatsIs Your Eye Evil?Two Prodigals and Their Strange FatherThe Lazarus Parable Is Not About the Afterlife,and Jesus Used Parables Like a Sieve.