All or Nothing

woman observing a triptich
Photo credit: <a href="">Teesha Dunn</a>

Malachi 1:10-14

“I wish that someone would go lock the temple door, so you’d stop making empty sacrifices on my altar. You’re turning me off,” God says. “I don’t want your grain.”

“In spite of you, I’ll do just fine everywhere you look. Everyone else, even the heathen, will offer better offerings than you. They recognize greatness when they see it,” God says.

“But when you say, ‘God’s table is unworthy, and God’s food is rotten,’ you insult me. You say, ‘Boring!’ and make a stink about having to worship,” God says.

“You offer me your leftovers, your cast-offs, stuff you’ve stolen and isn’t even yours. You bring this and expect me to be happy about it?” God says.

 “Damn you, you cheater! You’ve got a perfectly good lamb to give, but you give an emaciated one. I’m a great king!” God says. “Even the heathen know better!”

Who do you think you’re fooling?

Something is worth it, or it’s not. Either you’re committed to the God project, or you’re not. It does no good to pretend, either way. God’s not fooled. And you yourself know whether you’re really committed or not. It’s only a matter of time before it’s obvious to everyone.

Religion, especially, is a very thin veneer. People have extremely sensitive hypocrisy meters. Say one thing on Sunday and do another on Monday and your real value to the movement is toast.

Malachi’s word to the religious folks of his day – and ours – is that it’s time to fish or cut bait. Offer the best you have, or don’t bother.

[Bonus: Malachi’s word applies to much more than religion. Is your company’s motto a logo with nothing behind it? Is your big talk about “family” belied by a marriage falling apart? Do your friendships go more than skin deep? You’re the only one who can really say, of course, but don’t think the rest of us can’t see through you. On the flip-side of the coin, though, when your life rings true, we’ll all know that, too.]

Be Who You Are

8 faces
Image Credit: <a href="">Shannon Kringen</a>

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Even though I tell the story of Jesus, I don’t get kickbacks. For me, telling the story is an obligation. I’m totally screwed if I don’t tell it. If doing this were my own idea, I might give myself a prize for it – but it’s not my idea. It’s my commission. If there’s any reward in it being a commission, it’s that I can pass it along for free without having to claim that I have rights that impose on anyone else.

Even though I’m free from anybody’s say-so, I make myself a slave to everyone to get more people to join up. To Jewish folk, I act like a Jew so I can get Jews to join up. I act as if I were required to follow the law so people who follow the law will join up. I act like I’m out of bounds so wild people will join up. (I’m not really out of bounds. I’m still within what’s acceptable to Jesus.) I act weak so weak people will join up. I have become everything anybody wants me to be in order to rescue, by any means possible, anyone within reach. Everything I do is to get the story of Jesus out and to be part of that story myself.

All things to all people may seem like a great way to win people over. But even Paul implies that there is only so far he’s willing to go. He’s not going to go “beyond what’s acceptable to Jesus.”

Putting the best slant on this, being open to others, being willing to engage with them, understand them on their own terms is a laudable thing. Willingness to engage in genuine interaction, showing respect for who someone is, even when you disagree, is a powerful thing for anyone to aspire to.

To engage in genuine interaction, though, requires being genuine about who you really are yourself. Becoming a chameleon, a doppelganger, in order to get in with someone only leads to eventual discovery of the fraud and loss of relationship. Think of how many marriages end because, “I thought I could change him/her, but it just didn’t work out.” Think about the last time you bought something because the ads said it was one thing, and it turned out to be “not quite what I’d hoped for.” Think about the church that paints a warm reception for first-time visitors at the front door, but nobody seems to care after the service is over, or after you’ve joined up.

To “be all things to all people” in the best sense means taking down the masks and showing the world who you really are, not saying whatever you think people want to hear. Face it, there are some people who don’t want to be around you. In truth, not everybody loved Raymond, either. Paul had good intentions with his “be like whoever’s in the room” evangelism, but his churches, and especially Corinth, were a mess with people who thought they were signing up for one thing and wound up a part of something else.

Be open to all people. But be who you are.

2 Keys to Individual and Organizational Revival

Tuned Out1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Here’s something I don’t approve of one bit. When you get together you don’t share. When you go to church, I hear, some of you won’t even talk to others of you. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear it. You seem to be more concerned with posturing than being authentic. So you’re really only pretending to be a church. Each of you does your own thing without any consideration for anyone else. Take care of your own business at home, and stop insulting God and humiliating everyone else at church. What am I supposed to say about that kind of behavior? That it’s good? Hell no, it’s not good.

The Corinthian church was an utterly dysfunctional institution. Chances are, if you’ve been involved in a dysfunctional church you can identify first hand things in common. But human as churches are, you can find the same patterns in just about any dysfunctional institution.

The bottom line is that no institution can accomplish what it is supposed to (doesn’t matter what the stated purpose is or if it’s a church, a Rotary club, a teachers’ union, a fortune 500 company, or even a nation) so long as the people in it are more concerned with their own personal agenda than they are with the greater good the institution is supposed to achieve.

But Paul’s suggestion, implicit in his scolding, is that the way forward depends on individuals (and not necessarily the formal leaders, either) taking responsibility for

  1. being authentic – which means at least in part, being up front with yourself and others about who you really are and what you’re real interest in the greater good is, and
  2. being aware of the needs of people other than themselves – whether they are on your side in the institution’s politics or not.

It’s not too big a leap to imagine that authentic and aware institutions and organizations, the ones that are really making a positive impact on the world around them, are made up of authentic and aware individuals.

And it’s also not too hard to guess that being a part of an authentic, aware, and meaningful community is only really possible to the degree that one is aware of one’s own authenticity in relation to others. It’s self-selecting. And it starts with you.

So, the way forward: know thyself and give a damn about someone nearby.

Authenticity Matters

Matthew 4:12-17

When Jesus heard about John’s arrest, he set off for Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he set up a home in Capernaum. It was a sea-side home on the border of Zebulun and Naphtali. Long ago, Isaiah had said,

In Zebulun and Naphtali, regions by the sea
Across the River Jordan, and in Galilee
People who lived in darkness have now seen the light,
and light has come to those dying in the shadows.

And this was Jesus’ message: Choose life! Your greatest hope is within reach.

We often think of Jesus as homeless. But at least in this passage, Jesus sets up his home by the sea.

The quotation from Isaiah is about how Jesus aligns his life and his message with his calling. It’s about congruence, and authenticity and how Jesus sets his life in alignment with his self understanding and mission. It’s nothing to do with Isaiah’s magical predictive powers. Isaiah’s life and message were about bringing light, life and hope to people who lived in darkness, death and apathy. So was Jesus. It’s that simple.

Jesus’ message is about doing for ourselves exactly what he is doing: choosing to live by setting your life in alignment with your self-understanding and mission. It’s about being authentic, having congruence in what you say you are about and what you do. Give your light to the world, your gifts, your art, your life. If you choose to leave your apathy behind, what was once impossible suddenly isn’t.