The other day I posted a link on my Facebook to a news story about a New Zealand university Christian group who’d come up with an interesting ‘marketing’ tactic this Easter. Throw eggs at Christians!
The catch? You have to let them share the gospel with you.
I posted this through, and a friend commented to ask what coloured eggs had to do with Easter. I replied nothing, but nor did they have anything to do with the story.
But it got me wondering about something. In my past life, I used to be quite contentious about Easter, Christmas and some other minor Christian calendar events.
Why? Because of their history.
For me, at a stage in my life following paganism as a spiritual belief, there was something offensive to me about these Christians making a festival all about their God and their Jesus when that wasn’t what it was all about in the first place. The perspective was one of these Christians barging into countries who didn’t want them and taking over the place, turning the holidays into Christian holidays, and manipulating the people into giving up their own, older religious beliefs for this new one.
A little history lesson: Easter, like Christianity, does potentially have some origins based in the ancient pagan religions. There is some evidence of a Germanic goddess, Eostre (or Ostara) as being a goddess over spring in ancient times, however the first mention of her does state that the festival was already extinct, and there are some scholars today who argue that she may have been invented by Bede (the scholar who first wrote about her).
I’m not saying one way or the other, personally, because to me it doesn’t matter – and I’ll get to that.
What I want to pause and think about, really, is the whole thing about Christianisation of pagan festivals. As I stated above, once upon a time I took this as an offense, as a sort of espionage tactic by the Christians to make it easier to impose their religion on the people of another one.
I think, while it might be possible, it’s certainly less feasible than the other angle.
See, even whilst not walking with God, I still celebrated Easter and Christmas. I went looking for reasons to justify continuing to celebrate them given a lack of belief in Christianity, but I still celebrated them all the same.
Now imagine, say, 1500 years ago, whole villages and towns were coming to Christ. You become Christian in January, and suddenly April rolls around – here’s the Spring festival that you’ve been celebrating your whole life, but suddenly the gods you were worshiping aren’t the same anymore. What do you do?
You party anyway, and you celebrate with God.
If you travel around the world and stop in at Christian meetings throughout the nations, you’ll see differences in the way they worship depending on culture. The advantage of Christianity, and that we celebrate a personal relationship with God, is that there aren’t specific rituals that say you must worship in X manner. The way different cultures worship is an example of the freedom that we have in Christ to worship God and to have our relationship with Him in a manner that fits with us.
So when it comes to Easter, Christmas or anything else, then regardless of their origins, we can celebrate also. It’s not about ‘stealing’ the celebrations from the pagans; I genuinely don’t think that’s what happened. I would suggest that it was simply a cultural adaptation – they had a party last year, the year before, and every year before that too, so why not have a party this year with God?
And as for Easter Eggs?
I was surprised, actually, because this one does actually seem to have stemmed from a Christian tradition. Observation of Lent (I’m not even going there – I’ll eat steak when I like, thank you) had people not eating red meat or dairy, and eggs were included in this. So before refrigerators, they had all these chickens laying eggs, but nothing to do with them.
How rude of the chickens not to observe Lent, I say.
But hey, if you have a whole heap of eggs that you can’t eat, why not do something with them? Paint them up, colour them in and give them to one another. Still better than just throwing them away, right?
So in the tradition of weird little memes that float around the interwebs and Facebook these days, I’ve noticed a new one come along on a few friends’ walls the past week or so.
It’s a picture of Jesus talking to people, and the conversation is listed as going as follows:
Jesus: “Ok, here’s an idea. You love them, like I loved you. Make sure you take care of them and don’t judge them.
Others: “But what if they’re gay or worship other Gods(sic)?”
Jesus: “Did I f***ing stutter?”
Now let me make one thing clear: I’m not interested, right now, in getting into a discussion about the rights, wrongs and otherwises about homosexuality and paganism. What I am interested, is talking about this attitude and more importantly, about emulating the love that Jesus had for people when he was alive.
When Jesus was on Earth, he spent time not with the ‘good’ people, but with the ‘scum of society.’
Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” ~ Mark 2:15-17
I have a question for the people who are posting this image up as an attack on Christians who disagree with their views on same-sex marriage.
How about we replace the middle line there?
Others: “But what if they’re murderers, rapists or abuse children?”
Right: Time for a disclaimer.
I am not making a statement that equates homosexuality and murder, or anything like that. I do not believe that, and this question is not asked with the intention of suggesting that perspective. My intention with that statement, is to point out that Jesus loved everyone – and declared that everyone should be loved.
There are three key commandments that Jesus gave us throughout his life.
Jesus Answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31
Finally, Jesus left Earth with the Great Commission.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. ~ Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus told us to go and make disciples, teaching them to follow all the commandments that he had given. He also told us to love God, and love our neighbor like ourselves – which brings me back to the image I was discussing initially.
Paraphrasing Jesus, the creator of the image has said that we are to love Jesus how he loved us; and that we shouldn’t judge them.
It’s interesting that the first story that comes to mind when I think about all of this, is the Pharisees bringing a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. To tell the story briefly, they bring this woman before him, reminding Jesus that the law says she should be stoned to death for being caught in adultery (the law also said the bloke should be stoned, but apparently he escaped.)
Anyway, Jesus looks at them, and tells them that whoever’s without sin, go ahead, stone her and he bends down and starts writing on the ground. A few minutes later he gets up and they’re all gone. It’s just Jesus and the woman, and he asks her if anyone’s condemned her.
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” ~ John 8:11
Jesus didn’t judge the woman, but he did urge her not to sin. Jesus didn’t judge her, but neither did he tell her to go jump back into bed with whoever she was caught sleeping with. Jesus didn’t judge her, but he did guide her along the right path.
Let’s, then, bring the topic back to the murderers. What did Jesus tell us to do with them?
Even as I write this, it burns inside me. It’s so hard to be publicly saying that we should love these people, because I’m so passionately against their actions, and I am incapable of conceiving how anyone could possibly do those things.
As are – I would assume – most people.
Why? Because we know that it’s wrong. I would think there are very few people (if any, but you never know) reading this article who would disagree with me that any of those actions – along with many others – are wrong.
So here’s my point: A large percentage of the people reading this article, I would suggest, also believe that homosexuality and paganism are wrong.
And to take it even further: Many of those same people would also believe that telling a lie, speeding or dishonoring one’s parents is also wrong.
So if we’re going to love people like Jesus loved us, then what should we do?
To the liar: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
To the drug addict: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
To the homosexual: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
To the pagan: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
To the murderer: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
True love does not just let someone wander off and do their own thing uninhibited.
When my friend goes through a tough time, and tells me that they’ve done something wrong, do I just shrug at them and tell them to do whatever they want? No.
When a parent catches their toddler about to run out into the street, do they just watch, smiling, going, “Oh little Johnny’s become so independent so fast.” No.
Real love, the love that Jesus shared and told us to share doesn’t just let people walk in front of a bus, jump off a cliff without a parachute or do things that are harmful to ourselves and others. Real love is the love that does not judge, but guides to better actions, thoughts and morals.
And as good as sin may feel; or as harmless as it may seem, God guided us against it for a reason. We may not know that reason, and we may not agree with his rules all the time, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t obey them. God’s guidance comes out of an ultimate love for us that we can never understand from our human perspective.
We do, though, need to love one another with that same love – or as best as we can do.
You know, I just did a bit of calculating.
This passage says that Gideon told each of the men to bring one gold earring to him from their plunder and tribute. There ended up being 1700 shekels of gold, which translates, apparently, into about 20kg.
That’s a million dollars plus in gold at today’s price.
And he moulded it into an Ephod.
Here’s the thing, though; the Ephod became an idol.
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family. ~ Judges 8:27
In this chapter we see Gideon go off and pursue the Midianite Kings Zebah and Zalmunna and while he’s doing so, Gideon crosses the Jordan and stops by Sukkoth and then Peniel. At both places he pauses and asks them to provide food for his men, although neither location will. So Gideon swears to return and punish them for it. Which he does – Gideon comes back and tears down the tower of Peniel, killing the men in the town, as well as using briars and thorns to tear the flesh from the elders of Sukkoth.
The thing I notice – and before I go here, just let me clarify that this is how I’m reading it – there’s nothing in the passage here at all about God telling him to do this.
To repeat: This is just how I read this passage, but to me it reads like Gideon didn’t take heed to some of the things God said before.
See back in Judges 7, God said to Gideon that he had too many men, so some had to go home otherwise the Israelites would boast that the battle was won in their own strength.
As I read this passage, the feeling that I get is one of Gideon winning the battle and taking on the victory as his own. His confidence grows higher, and they go off and defeat all of the Midianites, then come back and trash Sukkoth and Peniel also. Especially as I read the rest, the verse above that says the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping the Ephod rather than God.
The victory became their security, their confidence, and the victory became their god. The Ephod wasn’t a symbol of God’s victory, it was one of their victory over the Midianites.
And for that, it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
I feel like this is something that we need to be careful of in our own lives. When God does something, we can look to the victory that is achieved in pride, and begin to worship that rather than God who did it for us. Suddenly the miracle becomes greater than the one who performed it. The creation becomes greater than the creator.
We need to remember the things that God has done in our lives – but not for those things themselves, but for the provision, protection and prosperity that God has given.
Otherwise, those things become a snare to us – and we’ll keep tripping over them. We’ll become trapped by them, and when you’re ensnared by something, it’s hard to move forward – sometimes even impossible.
Don’t become ensnared by worshiping the things God has done. It’s the one who did it who deserves your worship.