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Posted by JasonRowinski on September 8, 2017

I FOUGHT THE LAW

I AM THE LAW

Some of you may remember Sly Stallone’s version of Judge Dredd, where he plays a character in a dystopian future.  In that world, “Judges” attempt to control crime by embodying “judge, jury, and executioner.”  Hence the memorable line from the movie in response to a criminal: “I am the law.”  This absolutist approach to the law works for Judge Dredd – until he is framed by an evil Judge. The tables are turned and Judge Dredd becomes the target of the law he sought to uphold. The absolutist approach works … until it doesn’t.

 

SCOPE OF THE LAW

Laws are important and necessary for a number of reasons. Yet, as Judge Dredd shows, an absolutist approach to law works until it doesn’t. It’s very easy to abuse the law. For people of faith, it’s easy to confuse the law as being synonymous with God.  

In the Old Testament, there are actually two types of law are (1) casuistic, or case, law, which contains a conditional statement and a type of punishment for violation. Case law is situational and changes with context. Case law answers questions like “What is the punishment for someone punches your camel?” OR “What kind of work can I do or not do on the Sabbath?” (2) apodictic law is a regulation or foundation for human life in the form of the Divine Command that reveals God’s character and purposes. The Ten Commandments … and Jesus’ succinct summary “Love God & love neighbor” are examples. It’s BIBLICALLY FAITHFUL (and important) to know the difference between these two types of law.

 

ILLEGAL & IMMORAL

In society, most of the laws that we talk about are case laws. People decided what laws apply to what situations. Many of these laws change over time. They aren’t absolute. That can be a good thing! For example, we used to have laws that considered African-Americans 3/5th of a person. Women weren’t able to vote. Elementary aged children used to work in dangerous factories. These laws were IMMORAL even though they were perfectly LEGAL. Some laws are immoral, like the old Jim Crow laws of the South. Sometimes things that are illegal are actually morally good (like hiding Jews from Nazis).  Legal does not necessarily mean moral. Illegal does not necessarily mean immoral. 

 

LEGALISM

Sometimes people in society and people of faith default to “but it’s the law” as their position. This approach is called legalism. Legalism begins with a respect for order, law, and justice, but ends up making “law” the highest good. Jesus addressed this problem in the New Testament. He regularly broke Jewish case law, instead choosing to fulfill the True Law (love). The law of love (God & neighbor) is why Jesus broke the law and why he told his followers “Your righteousness needs to EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees.” In biblical faith – people are always, always, always more important than case laws. 

 

GREATER

Loving God & loving your neighbor as yourself IS the greatest good. We must be careful to not make human case-law the highest good. It is sometimes a delicate (and complicated) dance to be people of faith in ANY society, where laws sometimes contradict the faith or even run counter to simple human dignity. What we CANNOT DO is default to a position of legalism as the greatest good. Defaulting to “it’s the law” is contrary to the way Jesus lived. That position is a cop-out, an abdication of our ability and purpose as human beings or people of faith. That attitude is foreign to the Law of Love, which is by nature concerned and compassionate. People always matter MOST if you’re following Jesus. Our righteousness and justice must exceed legalism.

 

REFLECTION

Do you afford “case law”  too high a place in your life or understanding of society?  Is your approach to life more legalistic than loving? Are you following Jesus (or at least the law of love) in your attitude and approach to our world?

Posted by JasonRowinski on August 31, 2017

UNFORGIVABLE

I used to worry about committing the unforgivable sin. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a passage in the Bible that says God will forgive everything except the unforgivable sin — but it doesn’t tell us what that “sin” is (SPOILER: There isn’t “one” — but that’s for another post). The apparent ambiguity has lead to wild speculation. Heck, as a young teenager I thought some illicit hand-holding during church or dropping an F-bomb when I stubbed my toe might lead me down the path to the unforgivable sin!

This fear stuck with me throughout high school and into college. Upon committing a willful transgression against a known law of God, I’d feel deeply convicted.  I’d pray & ask for forgiveness.  Sometimes, I’d commit the same sin again — then I’d repent. This cycle repeated itself. I began to worry that I simply presumed upon God’s grace and eventually, I’d pray to ask for forgiveness and Jesus would look at me, shake his head disapprovingly and say “Seriously? Again? No more forgiveness for you.”   The belief underlying this fear was the idea that somehow, someway – I was unforgivable.

Unforgivable is a heavy word. I suspect we can all relate to feeling unforgivable.

Why do we feel unforgivable? Most of us are conscious of our own sins and faults. We know every evil thought, every unethical action, every imperfect attitude, every broken relationship.  And if our own conscience is not enough, we’re often reminded by others that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, etc., so much so that we believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves and that we are unworthy of forgiveness.

The idea of being unforgivable comes naturally. It’s the way things go around here. We’re used to being judged. We’re used judging others. We judge ourselves.

Our inability to forgive ourselves is rooted in shame. You may not believe in God or be a Christian. My guess is that like many people, you’ve struggled with forgiving yourself or with your shame. We all do from time to time — some more so than others. Sometimes it’s too much of a burden to bear so we project our lack of forgiveness or shame on to others in different ways. Maybe you need to forgive yourself, someone else, or even receive God’s forgiveness today.

The Christian faith proclaims that God’s forgiveness is always available for anyone who asks. You are forgiven! Accepted! Loved! It’s a message for many (including Christians) that seems too good to be true. Believing ourselves to be unforgivable is just much easier to accept.

How would you know if you struggle with the inability to forgive yourself or shame? Ask yourself some questions: Are you are often negative and seem to attract negativity into your life? Are you always searching for something but never satisfied? What kinds of things do you say to yourself with your internal monologue? Do find yourself deeply critical or harshly judgmental of others? Can you easily forgive others their “sins” great and small or do you hold grudges and keep score? 

Posted by JasonRowinski on August 24, 2017

CONTAGIOUS LOVE: A Jesus Focused Church & Life (part 4)

Jesus Movement

The late 1960s and early 1970s wasn’t just a societal revolution in America, it also brought us the Jesus Movement – which itself was a restorationist movement. The objective of Christian restorationism is a return to the life of the early Church. Though it’s sometimes problematic or erroneous in belief and practice, the heart motivation of restorationism is reformation. Restorationism arose during that time because people believed the Church had become legalistic or veered off course from “the Jesus Way.”

 

They Will Know 

The Jesus Movement was known for its simple and heartfelt devotional music. One such song, “They will know we are Christians by our love” was written by a then-Catholic Priest as a simple expression of prayer and truth. It still resonates today with people who were born decades after the Jesus movement. Here are the lyrics:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

 

By Our Love

The song is a direct reference to John 13.34-35, where Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”  Love is the defining virtue of the Christian disciple. This should come as no surprise to us because God’s motivation for sending Jesus to the world was love (John 3.16). First John 4.8 reinforces the primacy of love in the Christian life: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  The Bible means AGAPE love (a sacrificial, serving, committed love that seeks the best ‘shalom’ for the other).

 

Contagious Love

Clearly, Jesus intended his disciples to be known by their love. Not our rhetoric. Not our denominations. Not our marketing. Not our politics. Not our finger-pointing. Not our power. Not our church attendance. Not our anger. BY OUR LOVE. Our discipleship is most clearly seen in the way Christians love each other.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a really loving family, but there is something very compelling and inviting about the way they love one another. It makes you want to be a recipient of that kind of love. It makes you want to have that kind of love in your own life. It’s contagious, spreading quickly and easily. It’s inspirational, offering new possibilities for life.  Jesus COMMANDS this to be the defining virtue of his followers. It’s proof that the God Who Is LOVE lives in us.

 

Reflection

Would the world around us, people who aren’t Christian, say that Christians are defined by their love? Why or Why not? What things do Christians make more important than love? What keeps you from loving other Christians and non-Christians? Would people say the quality of your love is contagious and compelling?

Posted by JasonRowinski on August 18, 2017

SACRIFICIAL SERVANTHOOD: A Jesus Focused Church & Life (part 3)

POPE FRANCIS

Most people really aren’t interested normally in the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, except when its time to watch for the white smoke of a papal election. Yet Pope Francis seems to defy this disinterest. What is it about Pope Francis that draws people to him? His theology isn’t much different from his predecessors – but something about him is different. The picture attached to this post is Pope Francis washing the feet of Muslim refugees. There are stories about his preference to take the bus rather than the papal limo, his choice to live in the guesthouses rather than the papal apartments. He dresses as plainly as one can for a Pope. He doesn’t just give off that “Medieval Emperor” vibe.

 

SCENE

In JOHN 13.1-35 we observe a stunning scene. Jesus, the rabbi and leader of this group of men, rises from the dinner table and washes the feet of the disciples. In the ancient world, foot-washing was reserved exclusively for the lowest servant or slave. He turns the event into an object lesson on power and leadership. The most important person in the room takes the position of the lowest person, showing humbly what leadership and power are about in God’s Kingdom.

 

SACRIFICIAL SERVANTHOOD

There’s a methodology to Jesus’ madness. This isn’t meant to be some nice scene that a few actors play out every Maundy Thursday. NO! Jesus fully intends to convey a truth about our character and the use of power. Christians are to define leadership through the lens of service, not through positional power or coercive force.  We might protest — as Peter did — that this is beneath us or that we’ll lose our rights.  Yet Christians are called to give up not only our rights but lay down our lives as living sacrifices.

 

FIRST TO SERVE

A lot of Christians today seem to be more interested power and influence than they are sacrificial servanthood.  This attitude shows up in our approach to politics and interpersonal relationships. When we assert our rights and power over people we not only break relationships, we harm our Christian witness in the world.  Much recent research shows that while non-Christians admire Jesus, they essentially think Christians are judgmental jerks who don’t care about them. Pope Francis’ witness is powerful because people see him acting more like Jesus.

 

REFLECTION

What does it mean to be the first to serve in your family, work, or church? Who are the hardest people for you to serve? Why? Why are Christians often averse of sacrifice? 

Posted by JasonRowinski on August 14, 2017

Radical Hospitality: A Jesus Focused Church & Life (part 2)

TABLE 

When I think of  “radical hospitality” I begin with my Grandma Rosemary’s table — the enduring image and formative context of my childhood. The table I’m thinking of was located in the basement of her house because that’s the only space that was big enough to seat our entire Italian Roman Catholic family plus any guests that we might bring to Sunday lunch after church. There was always room at the table and enough food (pasta, meatballs, and garlic bread) to host more people. Grandma Rosemary not only anticipated guests, she planned  for them and  expected  us to bring them.

Everyone was welcome at her table.

        A radical biblical hospitality demands even more than this. The Old Testament speaks of the way God’s people should treat “strangers and aliens” in the land — putting livelihood and life on the line on their behalf. The New Testament expands on this through Jesus Christ and the early Church. I believe the depth of radical hospitality is best seen at the Last Supper during the Eucharistic moment (John 13.1-35).

 

SCENE

Jesus invites his disciples to the table and forever institutes one of the two (or seven) sacraments of his Church. At this table sit his 12 disciples who’d been with him for 3 years of ministry. Judas, the betrayer, is there. Peter, the denier, is there. 9/10 of the others would abandon Jesus as he died on the cross. KNOWING THIS, Jesus still invites them ALL to his table. He gives grace.He loved his enemy. He includes and is vulnerable with them. He forgives them.  

This is radical hospitality.

 

MISSION

We live in a divided, tribalistic, broken world. Where many seek exclusion we must choose to embrace. If we are to be like Jesus Christ, the radical hospitality we see in him must be foundational in us – in our words AND in our actions. Our weekly communion must lead to real community. There must always be room at the table with more than enough food (the bread and the wine) for anyone and everyone.

We must always be inviting people to share life with us — as people of grace, not condemnation. 

 

REFLECTION

How radical is my/our Christian hospitality? Who are you too afraid of or repulsed by to invite into your life? Who do you want to dis-invite from your life? Why?