If we claim to be following in Jesus’ footsteps, then why do we spend so much time with other Christians and so little with non-believers?

According to people in 4 different congregations I’ve served, the biggest obstacle to their evangelistic efforts is not fear of sharing the good news, or persecution, or laws.  It is a lack of non-Christian relationships.  For 22 years people have been telling me that their friends and family members, those with whom they would be able to have a deep conversation, are all fellow believers.  We cheer churches that are tight knit and friendly, those with strong fellowship ministries, those where Christians can come and live life with other Christians.  We worry when a youth group isn’t strong because our kids will have too many non-Christian friends and too few believing ones.

Yet the Pharisees’ primary complain about Jesus was that He spent so much time with “tax collectors and sinners”, non-believers.  And His response to them and to us is, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Yes, Jesus focused on His 12 disciples, but His ministry was bringing them into contact with non-believers so they could share the good news about all He had done and promised.

What would happen if we decided to spend the majority of our intimate time with non-believers?  What if our parties, our weekends, our holidays were spent with non-believing friends rather than fellow church-goers?  How might that change our church?  our lives?  the Kingdom of God?

Mark’s gospel is a good one for our busy American lifestyles.  Mark is mostly interested in Jesus’ actions and so moves faster than the other three Gospels.  With words like “immediately” and shortened tellings of our most well known stories, Mark is the gospel for the busy schedule.  And we’ve already seen that in chapter 1.  In the first chapter, we’ve seen John baptizing, and Jesus baptized, tempted, preaching, calling disciples, driving out demons and healing.  In fact, in one chapter, Jesus has done enough ministry that He needs to take a break.

Why do we feel guilty about taking a break from ministry?  Why does an hour taken in the middle of our day to rest and reconnect with God feel like “wasted time”?  Jesus recognized when He was getting tired and took the time to sit with His Dad and recharge.  And when the disciples came to Him with a scolding,”Everyone is looking for you!”, Jesus didn’t respond with guilt, or excuse, but with the vision He received from His Father.

If we truly want to know God’s will and have the strength to follow it, we need to take the time to “be still and know” our God.  Whether this is early in the morning, at night before bed, or sometime in the mid-day, time with God is mandatory for His children.  We cannot follow a God we don’t take time to know.  We cannot accomplish God’s will if we are too tired to act.

When is your time with God?  Are you clear about God’s specific will for you?  Are you rested enough to accomplish it?

The festival calendar of the Old Testament Jews is listed here and it is impressive…

Weekly Sabbath – do no work in order to honor God.

Festival of Unleavened Bread, beginning with the Passover – remember your redemption from Egypt

Festival of Firstfruits – all you have is given by God, so honor Him by giving Him the first portion of your grain harvest

Festival of Weeks – celebrate the wheat harvest and remember the day God gave the law on Mt. Sinai

Festival of Trumpets – thank God for the harvest just completed

Day of Atonement – the celebration of repentance and forgiveness of sins

Festival of Tabernacles – remember your redemption from Egypt and the desert wanderings when you lived in tents

Seven major festivals to be celebrated throughout each year.  This averages out to one festival every other month, and then the Sabbath every week.  And these festivals were no small matter.   Three times every year, all native-born Jewish men were to travel to Jerusalem to the Temple for the festival.  Not all did, but all were expected to.  With travel as difficult and dangerous as it was in the first days of the Jewish people, this was no small command.  And every festival celebrated and commemorated God.

What would our Major Festival Calendar look like today?

Sunday worship – a day each week to gather for an hour or two and praise God

Festival of Advent – 24 days of decorating and preparation, remembering Jesus’ birth

Christmas – a day of celebration with special foods and decorations, commemorating the birth of the Messiah

Ash Wednesday – a day of repentance for our sins

Lent – a 40 day season of repentance and fasting, remembering Jesus 40-day fast in the wilderness

Good Friday – 2 days before Resurrection Day, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion

Resurrection Day (Easter) – a day to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection

Pentecost – a day to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit

Is God pleased with our current festival calendar?  Are there others we should celebrate?  Should we take them more seriously?  Are they fulfilling their purpose of celebration and remembering?

Matthew ends his gospel with what has commonly been called The Great Commission.  Matthew has continually shown Jesus to be the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, until the resurrection.  Here everything changes and with that change nature resounds.  As the Marys sit at the tomb the earth is shaken, lightning struck in the form of an angel, and terror froze the guards.  And with that cataclysm, the world was changed.

In the Old Testament, faith revolved around the temple with a centripetal force.  The belief was that everything moved in toward the center of the faith, the Temple, like a giant whirlpool.  People had to come from far away to Jerusalem to experience God.  But with the Resurrection, the tides of the world reversed.  No longer did the Temple draw people toward the center like a whirlpool.  Now the New Temple, Jesus Himself, sent people out from the center with a centrifugal force unmatched in all of history.  Rather than pulling people in to meet with God, Jesus now sent people out, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, so people could interact with God “out there”.   No longer were the walls of the temple and the culture built to keep people at a holy distance from God, but now those walls crumbled as God went out to build a holy intimacy with everyone.

And so this Great Commission begins with the word, “Go.”  “Go into all the world and make disciples, followers, of all nations.”  Don’t kick out the scribes and Pharisees and teach new things in their place in the Temple courts, but instead Go and share the good news of grace found in Jesus Christ.  Go, and baptize them into a new relationship with God and with His people.  Go and teach them what I taught you, not as a set of rules but as a means to get to know this God who created you.  Go with God, even to the end of the age.

Almost all of the struggles in churches and even denominations today revolve around this question:  Which commands in scripture are we to follow and which are we not to follow?  As a “people of the book”, this may seem a strange question.  Of course, we are to follow all of the bible’s commands.  They come from God and He never changes, so His Word must never change as well.  But while God never changes, and His word never changes either, we do.  And the world does.

Because of this, some commands are typically agreed to be culturally or time bound.  Few think, for instance, that wearing fabric made of two different materials is sinful, or trimming your beard.  In fact, while some claim to be “biblical literalists who follow the whole of scripture”, every one of us draws a line through the scriptures, dividing the timeless truths from the ones we no longer need to follow.  Are arguments come when we disagree where that line falls.

And where that line falls is not clear, or we probably wouldn’t be arguing about it.  We can’t divide by chapter* nor by book.  So how do we decide?  Are we going against God’s will when we reap all of our fields instead of leaving the edges for the poor (19:9)?  Or when we pay our workers monthly instead of daily (19:13)?  Or when we steal or lie (19:11)?  How many and which of yesterday’s laws about sexual relations are applicable today?

Decisions like this require wisdom, and wisdom comes from God.  So before we begin deciding which verses we’ll hold ourselves to, we need to know the whole of scripture (so read your bible all the way through at some point) and we need to approach it with prayer for wisdom.  Then we let God inform us, guide us, and teach us.

 

*remember that all chapter and verse markings came hundreds of years after the bible was written, created as a helpful study guide by humans, and therefore not divinely given.

Almost all of the struggles in churches and even denominations today revolve around this question:  Which commands in scripture are we to follow and which are we not to follow?  As a “people of the book”, this may seem a strange question.  Of course, we are to follow all of the bible’s commands.  They come from God and He never changes, so His Word must never change as well.  But while God never changes, and His word never changes either, we do.  And the world does.

Because of this, some commands are typically agreed to be culturally or time bound.  Few think, for instance, that wearing fabric made of two different materials is sinful, or trimming your beard.  In fact, while some claim to be “biblical literalists who follow the whole of scripture”, every one of us draws a line through the scriptures, dividing the timeless truths from the ones we no longer need to follow.  Are arguments come when we disagree where that line falls.

And where that line falls is not clear, or we probably wouldn’t be arguing about it.  We can’t divide by chapter* nor by book.  So how do we decide?  Are we going against God’s will when we reap all of our fields instead of leaving the edges for the poor (19:9)?  Or when we pay our workers monthly instead of daily (19:13)?  Or when we steal or lie (19:11)?  How many and which of yesterday’s laws about sexual relations are applicable today?

Decisions like this require wisdom, and wisdom comes from God.  So before we begin deciding which verses we’ll hold ourselves to, we need to know the whole of scripture (so read your bible all the way through at some point) and we need to approach it with prayer for wisdom.  Then we let God inform us, guide us, and teach us.

 

*remember that all chapter and verse markings came hundreds of years after the bible was written, created as a helpful study guide by humans, and therefore not divinely given.

Today we read one of the first of the “clobber verses” in the discussion around homosexuality and the bible.  These clobber verses have been used to attack and bloody the LGBTQ community throughout history.  God did not give us His Word to be used as a club against others and must be deeply disappointed in those who do.

This section on “unlawful sexual relations” is an interesting one for a number of reasons.  It begins with a summary – don’t have sex with a close relation.  Speaking only to the men in it’s patriarchal society, the point seems to be holiness, separation from the society around them in terms of sexual behavior.  It goes on to list the people one must avoid sexually, including moms, daughters, aunts, granddaughters, and others.  Then a similar theme comes, sexual relations during a woman’s period.  Since blood was unclean, this makes sense.

Suddenly, it forbids child sacrifice.  This seems almost a non-sequiter.  But then a forbidding of homosexual activity and bestiality finish off the section.  One final statement of the purpose of these prohibitions – to remain separate from the nations around you – ends the chapter.

None of these prohibitions have been either allowed or ignored since this was written.  We still forbid close sexual relations, child sacrifice, and bestiality.  So the “Old Testament is irrelevant” argument doesn’t apply here, though it may elsewhere.  Yet we seem to have ignored the most important part of this whole chapter: holiness.  We really don’t put much import at all on being noticeably different from the nations around us.  In fact, many tout the value of being like the people at our work, school, or neighborhood in terms of evangelism.

Is it ok for us to proclaim the importance of holding to these individual laws while virtually ignoring the whole point of those laws?  Is it appropriate for us to blend in to the society around us, or should we still be attempting to be noticeably different or separate – in a word, holy – from the people around us?  Is it more important to be accepted by our schoolmates or workmates, or to stand out as a Christian?