Stories about hell in the Bible carry a lot of baggage these days. Today I unpack what is at stake in dismissing these stories and what Jesus is trying to tell us about follwing Him
Last week on Facebook I posted this short (true) story…
Rabbi Abraham Heschel (one of greatest Jewish theologians and mystics of the 20th century) had a conversation with his daughter many, many years ago about creation… “When I build, I build with my blocks. When those men built our house, they used bricks and cement. Why did God create the world with words?”
Rabbi Heschel stroked his long white beard, smiled, and responded, “That’s simple: It was to teach us an important lesson: Just as God created our world with words, our words create worlds, too. So we must use our words very carefully, because kind words create a kind world, but mean words create a mean world.
Think about that for a moment. God spoke the universe into creation, demonstrating the power of God and the power of words.
Rabbi (and scholar) Heschel (whom I admire greatly) reminds his daughter (and us) that words matter. Words that begin as ideas have the power to create. No, not like God speaking physical things into existence. Let me explain. Look around you right now. Everything that was made by a human (houses, cars, computers, phones, etc.) began as an idea. That idea was then articulated (spoken) to others. A plan was made and it was created.
Even more esoteric things began as words. For example, The United States of America. We were born out of the idea that “all people are created equally.” We could debate endlessly whether or not we live up to that ideal, but we certainly can agree that those words matter and they are powerful. Our independence and then subsequently our government is based on words. Words have the power to create new realities.
We should be careful with our words because our ideas have the possibility of becoming someone else’s reality. Especially when we label or call someone a name. That may stick on that person like glue for the rest of their lives. Words matter.
The same could be said for the current election cycle we are currently nearing the end of, thank God. Every candidate of every party should understand that their words have power. They may be “just words” to them but they have the possibility of creating new realities in other people. Dangerous words can birth dangerous realities in the future.
With that said, let me remind everyone you that no political party can save you or the country. Only God can do that. That is where I put my trust. God’s words matter more than most to me because it was God who sent his Word (Christ) into the world for our benefit. It is the same Word that died on the cross outside of Jerusalem and uttered in his final breath the most powerful words ever, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). At that moment a new reality was created: Humanity was forgiven and no longer separated from God’s infinite love. Words matter.
In the story of the healing of the 10 lepers we hear about a way to move forward in times of trouble. We can learn a lot from this moment in time that contains timeless truths.
I ran across a handout that Dartmouth College assembled for its employees. The subject of the handout is “workplace bullying.” They use: the following sources to compile this handout: U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA) and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
You might be asking yourself, why would I post something on bullying? As a Christian, how we treat others is more than important; it matters to God. If you are reading this you already know the summary of the entire Old Testament according to Jesus: Love God, love people. (See The Great Commandment found in Matthew 22:34-40.)
Last Sunday, I mentioned another character trait that matters: integrity. (Click on the link to listen to what I said about integrity. It is the first 3 minutes or so: http://benbergren.com/sermon-lost-found-sharing-good-news/ ) As a Christian, the things I say and do point to Jesus… even the bad stuff. More than that, we also have been called to be a voice for those who have been marginalized. (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9). Being aware of what bullying behavior looks like will help all of us be reflective of our own actions and be responsive to anyone who intimidates others.
Here is a portion what Dartmouth College shared with its employees…
When someone snaps at you or ignores you because they are under pressure or in a bad mood, that is not bullying. Bullying involves persistent, abusive, and frightening behavior designed to make the target feel upset, humiliated, and threatened. The following profile fits most bullies:
- Blames others for errors (Deflection)
- Makes unreasonable demands on others
- Criticizes the work ability of others in front of others
- Inconsistent enforcement of arbitrary rules
- Threats of job loss, insults and put downs (abuse of power)
- Downplays or denies accomplishments in others
- Social exclusion of others
- Yells and screams at target (often in front of others)
- Takes credit for another person’s work
- Women are targets of men 69% of the time
- Women are targets of women’s bullying ‘eight to one’ times more often than men are
A Bully Often:
- Seeks to dominate and/or manipulate others
- Enjoys feeling powerful and in control (whether real or not).
- Is both a poor winner (boastful and arrogant) and a poor loser
- Seems to derive satisfaction from other’s fears, discomfort or pain
- Is good at hiding behaviors or doing them where those in authority can’t notice (secretive)
- Is excited by conflicts between others
- Blames others for his/her problems
- Displays uncontrolled anger (rage)
- May have a history of ongoing discipline problems
- Displays a pattern of impulsive and aggressive behaviors
- Displays intolerance
- Lacks empathy towards others
Bethel Lutheran Church and School is definitely a “no bully” zone. I pray that your place of employment, and your home is equally safe.
I pray for all the victims who have been bullied in their life because I can still remember what it feels like to be picked on. If you are currently a victim of a bully, reach out to someone who can help you break this cycle of emotional violence.
We finish up our Lost & Found series today. There is a wonderful story found in 2 Kings 7 about good news. It serves as a parable for us as we contemplate sharing Jesus. (Oh and there is a mini-sermon at the beginning… kind of a two-for-one deal.)
On Wednesday night 40 of us gathered at Bethel and watched the documentary “When God left the Building.” (For those of you who call Bethel home, you can check the video out of the library at church.) The documentary talks about the decline of church attendance across the United States. To help the watcher understand what is happening in churches; the documentary also told the story of the Kodak Film Company.
Kodak went out of business (declared bankruptcy) because they did not adapt to the changing market and technology advancement. They were so consumed with being in the film business they failed to adapt when digital photography became the “new normal.” Instead of being in the “picture business” Kodak over focused on the “film business” that eventually became a niche market. The most ironic part of the story is that a Kodak engineer developed the first digital camera in 1976 but the company did nothing with it.
Kodak failed to see the changes that were happening even though they were quite obvious. They wanted to hold onto what they had (film and film processing) and ignore what was staring them in the face.
The point was made that when we try to hold on to the past and/or institutional stability we will not have the ability to hold on to Jesus. If keeping the church doors open another year is more important than knowing Jesus and being Jesus in the world there will be decline.
As I watched this documentary it became clear that some people didn’t even knew why the Church exists. We are not another service organization or a social club. We have been entrusted with the best news humanity has ever heard and this is it— “There is a God and God loves us unconditionally.” How do I know that to be true? Jesus came to us and showed us the extent of God’s love.
As a church, not only am I glad that we know what we are about (Hospitality, Christ Centered Community, Spiritual Growth, Generosity and Responding to Needs) but why we are doing these things (Love God, Love People, Share Jesus— a condensed version of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission). With that knowledge we should continue to think about ways we can connect with people in the community in a way that shows God’s love and that we say it is the love of God (not just our own).
Jesus told us that “the gates of Hades will not overcome the Church.” He was saying that the Church will continue on until His return. That doesn’t necessarily mean individual churches will. I am strengthened by the words of Jesus because it is a promise and God keeps His promises! Let us continue to be the Church out in the world and imagine new ways of being the Church for the sake of the world!
Jesus told people to check him out by saying “Follow me.” There were no other expectations. Yet as people grew in their faith he challenged them to be different– including us. Listen in and hear how.
Here is a video of where our church took our llamas this summer. If you are curious about why we have llamas, go here- http://bethelcupertino.org/llama/
Did you know that if Facebook was a nation it would be the largest country in the world? Yep, there are about 1.7 billion people on Facebook. Yes, I know not everyone uses Facebook or social media of any kind but there is a reason people continue to invent and use such technologies. Connection. We are made for community.
The earliest story in the Bible God comments on the nature of humanity when God says, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2:18 NLT
You are correct it doesn’t say, “It is not good for humans to be alone, I will create Facebook and Twitter for them to stay connected.” Yet, the popularity of these websites tell us something about our nature. We seek connection with one another. Of course there are introverts who need down time from others but even they need the interaction of others.
We believe we are created in God’s image. There are various aspects to this “Imago Dei” (image of God) least of all our physical appearance. The very being of God is rooted in relationship. God exists in relationship. The Trinity is a God of relationship. Yes, it is a mystery that God is three in one but this also points to the closeness of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then we are reminded by God in the first book of the Bible that we are created in God’s image including the fact that we are made for relationship.
Tools like Facebook are an example of how we are created for relationship. If connection was not important- no one would have invented such a thing.
Long before the internet, Jesus gave us the gift of the Church so that we could be together. Not only does Sunday worship foster our relationship with God but also with one another. God created us for relationship but God also provides a place for connection.
This week I read a story about a pastor traveling with a Brazilian seminary student. Along the way the pastor asked the student if he would like to stop for a cup of coffee. The student said, “I would be honored.” The student thought this would be a time to talk and foster a deeper connection with the pastor. Instead the pastor swung into a Starbucks and went through the drive-thru because he thought this was only about the coffee.
Once they were on their way the student was very quiet and when pressed about his silence he said, “I thought you were asking me to be your friend. I thought we were going to sit together and share life.”
At Bethel, we have a “coffee hour.” It is not about the coffee; it is about fostering stronger relationships with one another.
That is one of our values too. We believe Christ Centered Community is vital for us at Bethel. You are missed when you cannot make it to church on Sunday because we are stronger together than we are apart.
Living in fellowship is sharing life… all of life.
We began a sermon series last week– the first sermon can be found here- http://www.bethelcupertino.org/worship/sermons/sermon20160911.m3u . Today we exlore what it means to be lost and how that is offensive and that the solution is also offensive to many.