Saturday, October 22, 2011

Outside In or Inside Out?

No, I am not talking about belly buttons.


I think there resides in each of us a desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to make our mark on this world. We see this played out in various ways:
  • Financial or monetary success
  • Power
  • A political agenda
  • A family to carry on successfully
  • To have all the possible toys and the newest gadgets
  • To be a spiritual or upright person
  • To have a meaningful relationship with God or the Creator
  • To have knowledge and possess truth
  • You fill in the blank, what is your highest desire ____________?
The only problem we have is that no matter how much of what we crave, we always want more. There is nothing that can fill that void in our soul. You may have power, money, a family and yet, there is something missing.

In Mark 10 there is an interesting story:

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him. 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'
And Jesus said to him, 
'Why do you call me good? no one is good except God alone. 
You know the commandments:
'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal,
Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'
And he said to him,
'Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.'
And Jesus looking at him, loved him,
'You lack one thing, go sell what you have and give it to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.'
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, 
for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
'How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'" (Mark 10:17-25 - ESV)


In this story, a man who has possessions, wealth and power came to Jesus. He was obviously moved by the teachings and signs of Jesus and wanted to find out what he had to DO to inherit eternal life. I read from this that he is a typical "A" personality - DOING has to be the solution for everything.

This passage has been debated for centuries. The debate has focused on the camel and the needle. You may have heard them:

  • There were gates around Jerusalem and if a camel was loaded with cargo it would be hard to get him through the gate.
  • Oh, the Aramaic word here is similar to twine and so it would be hard to thread a needle with it.
Rather than try and justify some sort of reason that the wealthy are not actually forbidden into the kingdom of God, I would rather explore what Jesus is saying to this young man, and in turn, to us. It starts with the fact that the text says in vs. 21 "And Jesus looking at him, loved him". So, this is not a person Jesus detested, on the other hand, he loved him. This man had fallen into the trap that so many followers of God fall into. When asked about the commandments he had the right answer. However, his real god was what he possessed. Jesus cut to the quick and hit his real need -- You lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Was Jesus saying that possessions are bad? Was he saying that this man did not love God? Hardly. What Jesus saw in this man was a person who felt that if he just did the "right" things he would somehow earn the love of God and thus the kingdom of God.


There are many professed religious people and that may be the problem. Religion focuses on the outside. If you do certain things, hold to certain dogmas, have the right political views and abstain from what is considered immoral - that somehow makes you a spiritual person. There are people who have never missed a Sunday church service who may be among the most evil and immoral people on the planet. Oh, if you spoke with them, they would come off as very pious and upright people. Just ask them, they can tell you they don't smoke, drink or chew or go with those who do. Their religion is from the Outside In. How do these people relate to the disenfranchised of our culture? How do they look upon addicts? How do they view gays and lesbians? Sadly, they cling to their spiritual accomplishments like a boy Scout clings to his merit badges. Do they see a person made in God's image? 


If you even take a cursory look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you see that Jesus spent most of his time with those marginalized by the religious leaders. In fact, the harshest words of Jesus are found in Matthew 25, where talking to the religious leaders says, "On the outside you look like a freshly painted tomb, inside you are nothing more than rotting flesh and bones."


The Christianity that was brought by Jesus was from the Inside Out. The heart is were it resides. And from the heart that has realized that God has shown mercy and grace, even in our wickedness is driven to show grace and mercy to those it encounters. As Paul puts it:


"For by grace you have been saved, through faith. 
And this not of your own doing, it is the gift of God,
not a result of works,
so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:8-10 - ESV)


Christianity starts with gratitude. Gratitude that pervades and drives us to be more than we are. We are god's workmanship and created to reflect the image and love of His Son to those we come in contact with. We are not superior because we discovered some "secret" knowledge. We are not superior because we have a list of things we do or do not do. Our relationship with God is not made up of the things we do, but rather by the thing He has done. Our hearts have been touched and changed, we now see the world as God sees it. We see people struggling, people confused, people grieving, people who are wandering and because we have found someone who loves us just because we are His child - we start to love people for just who they are - children of God. All of this comes from the Inside Out. Ask God to help  have your heart broken by the things that break His heart. Commit yourself to let your heart be ruled by thanksgiving and reach out to people as God wants you to.


Peace
~Al