What Are The Basics?

The Scripture readings for today are Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 5: 1 – 11, and John 4: 5 – 42.

Last week I wrote about getting “Back to the Fundamentals”, of seeking and understanding the basic precepts of Christianity so that one could grow in spirit and stature. I pointed out that, in order to do this, we needed to have a basic understanding of what is in the Bible and what it means beyond a simple reading of the text.

As this week progressed, I kept hearing a commercial about a product that will remove all the toxins from your body and recharge it with ions embedded in the material. Everything in this commercial cries out “pseudoscience” or “fake!”

Yet, this is one of many commercials, or if you will, infomercials that populate the media today that promise you health and well-being but are nothing more than scams and fraud. Of course, the people who are pushing these materials are very careful in what they say so that they can avoid any sort of legal liability. But they must be having some success because how else would they be able to keep running the commercials?

If the public would only stop and think about what is being said, these types of commercials would quickly disappear. The same can be said about our political process. We as a society have become enamored with the “sound-bite”. We want to know about political candidates in short and quickly palatable pieces; we are not interested in long statements about what they will do and how they will get it accomplished. We quickly fall for the glitz and the glamour of a candidate without analyzing what they are saying. We allow campaigns to use attack ads without questioning the validity or the accuracy of the information in the ads.

I think that the major problem in today’s society is that we have forgotten how to think. Faced with our inability to think and thus analyze and evaluate, we are quite willing to let others do it for us. We will allow others to rewrite history to justify their views and, even though we all have taken history in high school, we accept the revisions because we aren’t thinking and analyzing. We are quite willing to let others tell us what the problems of the world are and how they will solve them. But their solutions often require that we give away our rights and we don’t recognize the changes.

Society’s inability to think transforms religion, whether it is Christianity or some other religion, into something entirely different. Speaking for Christianity, society tries to fit the message of the Gospel into something that will fit into the world around us. It was not meant to do so. It was meant to provide an alternative way of seeing things and an alternative way of living in this world.

The challenge for the individual today is to see the world in a different view. Christ’s message cannot be seen through the filter of today’s society; it was never meant to be seen that way. During this season of Lent, we are reminded that we are the ones who must repent, who must change the way we see the world and everyone around us. Only when we reject society’s claims about life can we truly understand Christ’s message.

There is no doubt that life in this world is grim. It is a life of bondage to the dominant culture. Our responses are dictated by this culture. It is a life of limited vision where society and culture dictate what we are to see and dictate what it is important to see. It is a life where our abilities, our identity, and our self-esteem are dictated by how well we compare and measure to others around us. If we do not conform to this view of the world, then we are considered to have problems.

For many in today’s society, God is a lawgiver and a judge. He is seen as the enforcer and the judge. God becomes the one we must satisfy. Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians today who hold onto this view and do so with a stridency that borders on obsession and fanaticism. It is a view that leads to the basic tenets of what has become known as fundamentalism. It is a view that divides the world into those who believe and those who do not believe. And, in turn, it leads many people to reject Christianity and to defiantly claim that there is no God.

It is a view that places limits on what you can and cannot do. One cannot, it appears, be both a scientist and a believer. I posted a comment about the recent Florida Board of Education’s decision concerning how evolution would be taught on a liberal politically oriented website (see “The Processes of Science” for my thoughts, not the actual comment). My thoughts in the comment were dismissed by one person as mere ramblings; others questioned the validity of what I said were the processes of science. It was almost as if the moment I professed my belief in Christ, my ability as a scientist was diminished.

By the same token, the words “Christian” and “liberal” have become opposites in meaning. Christians are automatically considered conservative and fundamentalist in nature and liberals are automatically considered secular in nature. It never occurs to most people that one can be a liberal and a Christian. Or that the original message of Christ was a liberal message. Somewhere in the course of history and the changes in society, that meaning got lost.

The true meaning of Christianity cannot be taught. You can teach the history of Christianity and you can teach the history of the church. In fact, you have to do so. But, you have to be careful that when you teach, you do so in a manner that allows questions. Without the ability to ask questions, you have no basis on which to experience Christ.

The woman at the well in Samaria is shocked when Jesus asked her for a drink of water. She was amazed that He, a Jew, would even speak to her, a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans, despite a common history, simply did not speak to each other and most Jews found ways to go around Samaria when they had to travel.

One of the ways in which Jews and Samaritans disagreed was where the proper place to worship God was. The Jews felt that you had to be at the Temple in Jerusalem; the Samaritans felt that you should be at the mountain. Of course, Jesus points out that neither of these will matter in the end. Both the Jews and the Samaritans had been taught about worship but they confused where to worship with why you worship.

It is this type of thinking that was, I believe, why the people had lost contact with God. They had gotten caught up with the procedures and lost sight of the reason. If they had thought about what they were saying and doing, they may have changed their ways earlier. The signs were there but they missed them.

Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water and in return offered her the gift of the living water. The woman’s initial response was in terms of the present, not in terms what Christ is about.

We do the same. We think, too often in terms of the present and what we need now, not in terms of what our lives are to be. Some see God as the Ultimate Provider and when He does not provide what we want when we want it, we reject Him.

When the people of Israel were in the wilderness, God provided for them. Manna was given every day and each person received what was needed and nothing more. Those who took more than needed found that the extra manna quickly rotted and was useless. And on the day before the Sabbath, when they were not to gather food, those who were lazy and only gathered the manna for the one day found that there was nothing to eat on the Sabbath. In today’s Old Testament reading, the people are grumbling about the lack of water.

They have quickly forgotten about how the manna was there when it was needed and are demanding of God that He give them the water when they want it, not when they need it. God cannot be and is not the instantaneous provider who responds to our demands; He will respond to our prayers and our concerns. In today’s Old Testament reading, God leads the people to the source of water but it is named in such a way to remind the people of their questioning and the way in which they tested the Lord.

And this is complicated by those who preach a kingdom of the present, where wealth and good health are there for the asking and the message of hope has been replaced with a message of self-help and self-centeredness.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on what John wrote in last week’s Gospel. God sent His Son to save us, not condemn us. Christ’s death on the cross was so that we could have a future, so that we could have hope. Paul pointed out that we are sinners yet God loved and loves us.

We are a seeking people. We seek to find answers in this world. To find the answers, we have to start with the basics. So what are they?

First, and foremost, God loves us. The message of this love has been lost because we have tried to make it part of this world, instead of making this world a part of the message. There will be those who dismiss the message as babble or something worse; they seek in this world what they cannot find. But they cannot find it because they do not know how to look for it.

Like the people in the desert demanding food and water from God, they demand signs from God that are not there. And when the signs do not appear, they reject God and say that He does not exist. When the time comes for support and comfort in times of need and stress, they have no place to turn.

Others expect God to appear as a judge and a lawmaker who will punish those who disobey and fail to meet the requirements of the law. Bound by their own interpretations of the law, these people cannot turn.

But others will be like the Samaritan woman. They will have heard the words and they will believe. Their lives will change and the people around them will wonder why and then they will seek.

The challenge for the church today is to be there for those who seek and for those whose questions cannot be answered by the world around them. The church must also repent, must also return to what it was and what it is supposed to be.

What are the basics? As God loved us, so must we love others, even if that is not what we want to do. During this season of Lent, we are challenged to remember this and change our lives so that others will come to know this as well

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