The vast majority of us use Facebook on a daily basis. Some of us use it on an hourly basis. And even more seem to be hooked up to the steady drop of the Facebook IV. If I were to ask what is the purpose of Facebook, why does it exist, how would you respond? Connection would be your likely answer. Connection to your friends, to your family and yo the outside world. Sports, news, weather, there is so much that just Facebook alone can deliver. Facebook allows you to see what your friends and family are doing even though they may be miles away. It allows you to watch your nieces and nephews grow up through picture and video uploads. More than ever before, we can remain connected to those we love through our computers, tablets and smartphones.
Why do we strive to be connected? Why has a simple idea like Facebook taken off so dramatically that billions of users across the globe find themselves returning there day after day, hour after hour?
Because we were built, at our core, to have relationships. We were not built to live on this earth alone. We were meant to commune. To love and be loved. Woven into the very foundation of our lives exists a desire to share our experiences at a level known only to man. We are driven, good or bad, by this desire. In fact, we often mistake another person's approval for a relationship and therefore strive to impress those around us by what we say, do and live. We long for relationships. This is why God instituted marriage. He knew that the intimacy that can only come between a married couple is unmatched in any other relationship. This is why children have parents. To model a loving and accepting relationship that shows them no matter what they are loved.
When a man breaks the law in our country and is convicted, he is sent to prison. However, when that man also breaks the law within the prison, he is then often sent to solitary. Being in prison is bad enough. However, if even worse punishment is required, we remove human contact as the ultimate punishment. Because we were built to be with others. Men describe solitary as the worst forum of punishment. Many men have even gone insane from too much time alone. We need interaction from other humans.
God made Adam, yet observed quickly that it was not good that he was alone, and so he made a mate for him, Eve. God understood this need for man to be in a community with others. He understood that need, because understood man. He built man that way, in his image, and God too desires a relationship.
God desires a relationship with us. With you, and with me.
God did not simply put humans on this earth to watch them play, fight, grow and then die. He did not make man and woman just for his amusement, although our antics must amuse him at times to be sure. He did not make man so that he could have slaves to do his every bidding, or to surround himself with 'yes-men'.
No, God desired man to commune with him, the creator.
However, after sin entered God's perfect world, it soon became evident that man would require rules and guidelines. Left to our own devices, our sinful natures would often get the better of us and we would find ourselves in situations that are not pleasing to our creator. We would find ourselves doing things that hurt our relationships. Both the relationships we had with those around us, as well as the relationship we had with God himself.
So rules were to be implemented.
In any situation where multiple humans are involved and you will find a rule book. Sports? Yep. Work? You bet. Home? Most definitely. On the road? For sure.
Rules are a part of life. Rules are required because most of is won't have the decency to think about anyone else but ourselves. Our sinful natures cause is to first look inward before we look outward. When put together with others also looking down at their own desires, there will be collisions, there will be conflict. So God realized, as man realizes in every culture and in every time period, that rules are a requirement if man is to have successful relationships with others.
Did you hear that? Rules are for relationships.
Many look at Christianity and say that there are just too many rules. Many Christians within our own circles think that there are too many rules.
Why do we think that way? Why are we focused on those rules and why are they so important? How many of us who were raised in the church had to memorize the ten commandments as a child?
Many church circles devote so much of their energy on expressing what we all should or should not be doing. We focus on how this person did this and that person did that and how wrong they were! We see someone come into the church with obvious, sinful baggage and we look down our noses. We tell them, clean up! Maybe not with our words, but all too often with our looks and our actions. We say that by grace we are saved, yet we evidence our belief that the grace extended to us is not quite enough. We show the world that by grace and by us following the rules we are saved.
Yet, that is not the message of the Bible. This is not the Jesus I see when I read the gospels. I do not see a Jesus standing and proclaiming a rule book. I do not see him barking out orders about how to live or how not to live, in order to receive the kingdom of God. I do not see a man stressing over anyone's sinful state as being a barrier to the life he offered.
I do, however, see him extending grace. I see him offering love and acceptance. I see him living life fully. I see him eating with sinners. I see him touching the sick. I see him feeding the hungry. I see him... building relationships.
Of course, Jesus was asked about his rule book. Yes, the rule book he put in place with Moses. The rule book that he gave, yet wasn't really focusing on during his time with the people. Jesus was asked, by a well meaning man who was very much like us, focused on the rules, which of the ten commandments was the most important. Of all the commandments, how on wreath could Jesus narrow it down to just one? There are so many important ones or there. They all are extremely important. So, was this a trick question? Narrowing down a single commandment add being the of the highest importance?
So how did Jesus respond?
Love God with all your heart.
Really? What about killing, stealing, committing adultery? Aren't those important rules? Is Jesus saying they don't matter? Are they not also important?
Important, yes. Most important, no.
Love your God. But Jesus doesn't end there. He goes on to say that of equal importance is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus didn't sweep any of the other commandments under the rug. He didn't negate the other commandments. But he did simplify what it takes to be sinless. With those two simple commands, the problems of the world disappear. The fighting, the wars, the killing and the stealing. Every other commandment ever given is unnecessary if we just abide by those two. Every other rule book is abolished. With those two, simple commands we are set free from the bondage of regulations. We can live life fully.
I want to be first in line, so my heart desires that I push my way front. But, wait, I love God and want to please him so I can't do that. Oh, and I also love my neighbor more than I love myself so I can't do that. In fact, with those two things in mind, I am happy to let others first.
Did you catch that? I'm happy. I'm happy because I put others first. I put the relationship in front of myself.
Why was Jesus so popular? Why did he have such large crowds that followed him everywhere? Jesus focused on relationships, not rules. Jesus focused on acceptance, not condemnation. He cared for those he touched. He loved those he interacted with, and he put them first. We love to feel special, we love to feel important. As such, we will gravitate towards this in our lives that make us feel this way. Jesus made people feel special because he cared, honestly cared, for each of them.
I realize that I'm treading some liberal waters here. I understand that I'm potentially blurring the line between acceptance of a sinner and acceptance of the sin itself. That is not my intention. Jesus never once accepted sin in anyone's life. But he chose grace and love first. However, he wouldn't shy away from any teachable moment where he could make someone realize the error of their ways. He maybe wouldn't come out and say "you're wrong". Instead, he would demonstrate what it meant to move upward towards God. The woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned? Go and sin no more. The rich man wanting to know what he needed to do in order to be saved? Sell all of of your possessions. The Pharisees trying to scam people in the temple? Rage at their injustice. Jesus knew how to get right to the point.
Consider the adulterous woman. She was about to be stoned for her sins, yet Jesus pointed out that they all were guilty. No one was righteous. And, instead of rebuking the woman, he was gentle and simply told her to move forward on a new, better path than the one she was currently on. Go and sin no more.
Consider the rich man. Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter, knowing that his failing was his love of his riches and his possessions. This man walked away, knowing what he had to do but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Again, Jesus doesn't rebuke the man. He doesn't ridicule him for his selfish desires. He simply states what needs to be done. Sell everything you own and follow me.
Finally, consider his treatment of the Pharisees. He wasn't gentle, he was harsh. He wasn't timid, he was in their faces. He knew their hearts. He knew that they were about oppression. They oppressed the people with legalism. They oppressed the people by discouraging their relationship with God. The Pharisees did the exact opposite of what God's intention was for man. Instead of culturing a people of relationships, they demanded legalistic practices as a way of them earning their way into the kingdom. They made God out to be a demanding, fearful tyrant rather than a loving, caring father. So Jesus hit them hard to show them, and those around them, the error of their ways. You brood of vipers!
God wants a relationship with you. He doesn't care who you are or where you've been. He's not looking behind you at your sordid past. He's holding out his hand and looking forward. He's saying, come and sin no more. He's saying put aside everything you consider important and follow me. Drop whatever it is that is hindering your walk and grab his hand.
Accept the offer that is on front of you. There are no conditions to be met. There is no small type to read. There are no added clauses to contemplate.
It's open. It's free. It's why you are here.