Saturday, September 7, 2013

Improving Our "Crap-meter"

In the Army I had to deal with a lot of crap. I'm not complaining. It was simply part of the job. You may wonder how soldiers are able to put up with all the tough parts of the job. They are subject to a life of crap on a day to day basis. Things like: irregular sleep patterns, lack of sleep, bad tasting/little food, blisters, fatigue, working in austere environments, cold and hot weather extremes, getting dirty, getting shot at, getting blown up, etc... the list goes on and on. How do they do it? How do they prepare for all of this crap? It all starts with training. The very first part of a soldiers training begins in Basic Training or " Boot camp". In Basic Training they have a phrase called the "Crap-meter". This refers to the amount of crap you are able to handle before you reach the breaking point. To improve this "crap-meter", during training a soldier is bombarded with controlled chaos at the hands of his Drill Sergeants. The more crap one has to deal with, the bigger your meter gets and in time, you will naturally be able to deal with more "crap" without reaching the breaking point.

What does all this have to do with following Jesus? Well, in civilian life we all have a "crap-meter" as well. We have a meter for day-to-day life situations. We also have a meter for how we relate to others. How much "crap" can we take from someone before we reach that breaking point relationally? By relational crap, I mean anything someone else does to you directly or indirectly, that warrants some level of forgiveness by you. How can we as followers of Jesus improve our crap/forgiveness meter? I believe that just like a soldier, it involves training. For starters we must become aware of how much we have already been forgiven of by God. By God's grace we have been offered complete and total forgiveness of every sin we have committed or ever will commit. The scriptures say that our sins have been cast "as far as the east is from the west", they tell us that God "remembers our sins no more". This is really good news! Over and over again Jesus tells those who follow him that we must forgive others as God has forgiven us. If we let the truth of our forgiveness get down deep within us, our crap/forgiveness meter for others will begin to improve. When we understand just how much crap God puts up with in us, we should find our "crap-meter" in relation to others getting bigger and bigger. So lets work on it. Spend time every day reflecting on the fact that you have been forgiven. And when you mess up again, you are already forgiven for that too. Then, go and do the same to others. Love and forgive others as God does for you. When we do that, in a small way His kingdom breaks into this world just a little bit more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Good Immigrant: A Modern Retelling of the Samaritan Parable

There once was a man driving home from work on a rural road somewhere in the USA. While on a stretch of road that was several miles from the nearest house, a stray dog ran in front of his car. Swerving to miss the animal, he lost control of the vehicle and drove into the ditch. The man, slightly injured and bewildered, managed to climb out of the car and with a sense of disorientation tried to figure out what to do. (For the sake of the story, our traveler's cell phone was lost or broken in the crash)
By chance a pastor of a local church came driving by on his way to mid-week bible study. Because he was running late for the evenings service, when he saw the crash victim, he continued driving and said a quick prayer for the man to himself. A short time later, a Protestant, evangelical, bible-believing, right-wing, Republican city council member came driving by on his way to a city meeting. Being late for his meeting, he slowed down enough to hand a business card to the injured man for a local tow-truck service, and continued on his way.

 Some time later an immigrant worker of unknown nationality (who some would label as 'illegal'), came along the road after completing a days work at a local farm. Upon seeing the crash victim, the immigrant took pity on him and stopped. He began to perform what little first aid he knew, bandaging the mans wounds with what he had. Using his cell phone, he called the towing service listed on the card that was previously given by the city official. When the truck arrived, the immigrant helped them retrieve the vehicle from the ditch. After paying the truck driver, the immigrant gave what was left of his measly pay check to the injured man, along with his cell phone for the man to use if needed.

Which of these three do you think acted as a neighbor to the man who was in need?

Go and do likewise.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Love Is Everything

      Over the past year because of certain beliefs I now hold (and speaking negatively about commonly held Christian beliefs and worldly institutions), I have at times been labeled as "anti-fill in the blank". Anti-American, anti-military, anti-war, anti-conservative, anti-tradition, anti-Republican, anti-organized religion, etc. However, I want to make it clear that I am not ANTI or AGAINST anyone, rather I am FOR love...and love makes me FOR everyone.

"And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (Col 3:14)

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." (1 John 3:16) 

"This is my command, that you love one another." (John 15:12)

     Above all desirable attributes or traits, mindsets or dispositions, we are called to put on love. I'm not talking about the good-feeling, warm and fuzzy, smoochy-smoochy, sexual love. As we can see above, the Scripture defines love as Jesus laying down his life for us, his enemies, and the ones nailing him on the cross. We are called to this kind of love. Jesus taught us to "love our enemies"  and to "do good to those that hurt you". He said that all of God's law could be summed up by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If I must be willing to lay down my life for enemies, then I can't kill them. If I love everyone, then supporting one government over another, one race, tribe, or people group over another is not possible. If I love everyone then I cannot support war and the death of others. If I take Jesus at his word--that following God is as simple as loving God and others--then religion (a system of rules, regulations, and rituals for getting right with God) is another thing I cannot support. Love is the one all-encompassing command. Get it right and everything else will fall into place. Get it wrong and nothing else you do matters. 

 "For in Christ Jesus…the only thing that counts is
faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Pledge of Allegiance, 2 Reasons Why Christians Should Not Say It

The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. Originally the Pledge was composed of these words: 
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." 
 Interestingly you don't find the controversial phrase "under God",or even "of the United States of America". Both of these phrases were later additions to the Pledge, leading to the final version that we all know today:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

So, enough about history. I'd like to propose that there are two primary reasons (if not more), why Christians/followers of Christ should NOT say the pledge. Before we get into those reasons I'd like to start with defining some of the key words in the pledge so we are all on the same page as to its meaning.

Pledge: To offer or guarantee by a solemn binding promise, similar to an oath.

Allegiance: [1] the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign. [2] loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.

Flag A usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol.(In this case, a symbol for the Republic of the United States of America)

From these definitions we can understand a couple of things. Making a pledge is basically the same thing as an oath. And, giving your allegiance to something or someone is basically committing your loyalty to that entity. Also, the flag stands for something more than itself. It stands for the country/government it belongs to. In short, to pledge your allegiance to the flag means that you are making an oath of loyalty to the country, the United States of America. 

Now for the two reasons why I think Christians should NOT be making an oath of allegiance to the United States or any other earthly government. 

#1 Jesus directly and without any qualifiers condemns making an oath to anything for any reason. 

 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)

The people in Jesus' day had a practice of making oaths for almost anything. The practice of making oaths was to guarantee before men and God that the person making the oath would fulfill his obligation or carry out a promise. It was looked on as a criminal offense to break your oath. Thus, the Jews had been commanded to "fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made". Jesus, however, changes things. Notice that he does not say, " Do not swear an oath and then break it." No, he says: "Do not swear an oath AT ALL"!!! He says that as people who follow God, less words, more often than not, is better than more. Simply say 'Yes' or 'No', and do not swear an oath AT ALL

#2 Jesus also teaches that men cannot serve two masters at the same time. 

When teaching about worldly treasures, Jesus says we should be more concerned with the things of heaven and God's kingdom than those of this world. 

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24)
We can't give our loyalty to two masters and be pleasing to both. Whether the choice is between God and money, God and man, God and a government or nation, the choice is always the same, one or the other. It seems that Jesus is saying 'you can't have your cake and eat it too'. In light of this it just doesn't seem possible to me to give my loyalty to God, and then try and give it to a government at the same time. Jesus also said " My kingdom is not of this world". Jesus has a kingdom, and just like an earthly kingdom , I can't be loyal to two kingdoms at once. It would be impossible to be loyal to the USA and Iran at the same time! It's the same with being part of the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to be loyal to his kingdom, and if we have given our loyalty to God's kingdom, how then can we try and give it to America or any other worldly kingdom? 
To sum up: Pledging allegiance to the flag equates to making an oath of loyalty to an earthly kingdom. Both acts are condemned by Jesus. I'm ready to stop pledging loyalty to the United States or any other kingdom other than the kingdom of heaven. How about you? 

May the peace of Christ be with you today, and in a small way his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Viva la Revolution! 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Following Jesus, Yet Not A Christian

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." Gandhi

I, like Gandhi, do not like a good deal of those in the Christian religion. 'Wait a minute!', you might say, 'YOU are a Christian too, aren't you Matt?'. It all depends on your definition of what a Christian is. If by Christian you mean, one who is like Jesus, well then thanks, I'm humbled that when you look at/think of me, it reminds you of Jesus. However, I don't consider myself as having arrived at the destination of being "like Jesus". Don't get me wrong, I want to be "like Jesus". I take his teachings seriously, try to follow his instructions and example, and may very well be like him in some regard. I don't want to be that presumptuous to say that I am like Christ. Like I said, if others chose to refer to me as being Christlike, that is well and good, that seems to be the way the term "Christian" was first used anyway ( see Acts 11:26). So, how would I describe myself and my spirituality? Simply as a "follower of Christ". That's what Jesus called people to do, to follow him. He called people to follow his example, his teachings, and way of life.

So, isn't being a "Christian" and a "follower of Jesus" the same thing? I think it can be. If by following Jesus others call you "Christlike", then yes they can be one and the same. However, it is also possible(as is often the case) to claim to be a Christian or to be a part of the religion of Christianity without actually following Jesus. Many people claim to be Christians (Go to church, say and do Christian things, give money to the church etc), they want the salvation that Jesus offers, blessings from God, a spiritual country club to be a part of, but they are not following Jesus.

On this topic Gandhi said:

                 "The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole......If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, 'Oh, yes, I am a Christian.' But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount"

This is the #1 reason why I don't want to call myself a Christian. For so long, the message of Jesus, his teachings and commands for how to live life in the kingdom of God, have been diminished, downplayed, and negated by the Christian community at large.

Some examples:

Jesus told us to, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, yet Christians have in the past (as in the Crusades, Inquisitions, Witch Hunts, Conquering new lands etc), and still today go to war and kill not only their enemies but countless innocents as well.

Jesus constantly spoke of the dangers of relying on money and possessions of this world. He said that a rich man entering the kingdom of God would be like a camel going through the eye of a needle. He said not to worry about tomorrow, but trust and rely on God to provide for your food, shelter, and clothing. Yet, Christians don't look much different than anyone else when it comes to how they spend and save their money, the importance they place on having enough wealth to retire on, and the time they spend worrying about food, shelter and clothing.

Jesus said that we can't serve two masters. He claimed that He alone was the one we should give our allegiance to, no other king, country or ideal. Yet, Christians have raised our nation, Constitution, political party, and guns, to near idols. They have trusted in and promoted laws over and against the teachings of Jesus.

And finally, probably the largest difference between the Christian religion and the teachings of Jesus,  the issue of judging. Jesus said, do not judge for by the standard you use to judge will be how you are judged. He said that those without sin can cast the stone of judgement. What have we seen in the Christian religion ? Christians picking out their favorite sins that they see in others, like homosexuality, abortion, or how to dress, and downplaying or ignoring others that Jesus says are more important like, how we treat our neighbors and enemies, greed, pride, self-righteousness, and ignoring the needy of the world.

I'm not judging Christians. I'm not trying to say who is going to heaven and who is not. All I'm saying is that when I look at the vast majority of the history of Christianity(including today), most of the time, people are not following Jesus. They certainly don't look very much like him, which is what they are claiming to be when taking the name of a Christian. So in short, I'm not particularly fond of calling myself a Christian for two reasons. First, I am not presumptuous enough to claim to be "like Christ". Second, the word "Christian", historically and currently has been associated with many views, ideas, and beliefs that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

So where does that leave me? With Gandhi...... If I follow the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, then yes... I am a Christian. Also, sadly I must say: I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.   

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston and the Least of These...Responding to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

This last week, the city of Boston bore more than its fare share of the fallen nature of this world we live in. I was at work when I heard the news......


We all stopped what we were doing and one by one, made our way to the TV in the lobby and bore witness to the horrible event that had just happened. At first, no one knew how many were hurt, did anyone die? As the afternoon progressed we learned of the near 140 injured and the 3 who lost their lives. More questions....

                        WHO DID THIS? WHY? 

By Friday, the investigative authorities had their suspicions. Two brothers. Both from southern Russia. The oldest (26 years old) was killed in a shoot-out with police. The younger brother (19 years old), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was arrested Friday night after a day on the run, being shot and severely wounded, and pulled from a hiding spot in a boat in a backyard.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has not gone to trial yet. He has not been found guilty. If found guilty, he could face the death sentence. But, we haven't got that far in the story yet, and quite honestly, for doesn't matter.

What does matter for those of us who follow Jesus, is how to relate to this man. Here and now, guilty or not, how does Jesus tell us to relate to the least of these in our world? What are we to do with the sick (those shot by the police, bleeding and near death in a hospital)? What are we to do with the imprisoned (those under armed guard, who will be interrogated without normal rights of an American citizen)?

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us a story of the final judgement. He separates those who will enter his kingdom from those who will not. And then, gives these words as reason for who will enter:

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

The righteous then ask Jesus when they ever saw him hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked , sick , or in prison. And he replied: 

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

I don't know about you, but  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sure seems like one of "the least of these" to me. He is sick, and he is in prison. He may be innocent, but he may be guilty. Jesus doesn't distinguish between the two. He simply says, VISIT ME and COME TO ME. For those of us who follow Jesus, we are to treat Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as if he is Jesus himself. I may not be able to personally travel to Boston to aid this man. What I CAN do, what we ALL can do, is pray for him. Lift this man up to the Father, thanking him for the forgiveness that has been provided in Jesus. Instead of condemn this man in our thoughts and speech, we can bless and protect him (a fellow image bearer of our King) with our words. In whatever small way we can , we can visit and come to him in this dark hour of his and our lives.

Friday, March 15, 2013

For the American part of me.....I Am Sorry (My Confession)

A couple of weeks ago Red Letter Christian's shared a post by brother Joel Mckerrow. The post, "For the Christian part of me...I am sorry", was amazing! It is one part of a four-part artistic video series in which Joel confesses to the world for the historical, current, and stereotypical Christian, male, white, and rich parts of him. I very highly recommend checking them out. It is a very inspiring and honest evaluation of the place that the religion of Christendom has led us to today.

Today I would like to stand with Joel. I want to confess not only for the four areas that he did, but more specifically for the heritage that has influenced me the most.....

                                          the American part of me.

To start I want to say that I believe America has and still does many good things for its citizens, and others around the world. I am not confessing and saying sorry for those parts, but wish to distance myself from the negative aspects of my nation's heritage and current actions. I know I won't be able to mention all of them, but would like to point out the things I wish to renounce in my American heritage.

Let's begin with, well....the beginning of America. For mainly political reasons (spiritual reasons were used as well) the British colonies in America decided to revolt against England, leading to the bloody Revolutionary War. Instead of following in the way of Jesus (paying taxes, honoring the king, obeying the ruling authorities), our nation's founding fathers decided to forcefully and violently free themselves from ties with England. For this, I am sorry.

Looking forward to the newly formed nation, we find another very often overlooked and downplayed aspect of our heritage: the greed-filled stealing of the Native Americans land, resources, and way of life. Instead of "living at peace with all men", our young nation (very often touting OT violent nation of Israel conquering passages) stole from, deported, and murdered MILLIONS of our lands original inhabitants. To the ORIGINAL Americans I would like to say... I am sorry.

For the sake of time I will limit this already limited confession to a final topic. Let us fast-forward 200 years to the present. This final point is the closest to my heart and has impacted my life the most as I am currently living through it. I want to confess for our current "war on terrorism". I am fully aware that what happened on 9/11 was a terrible, grievous act. Words cannot describe how evil, wrong, and the amount of pain was caused by the acts of a few men on that day. The acts of those few men claimed the lives of almost 3,000 innocent humans. Men, women, and children had their lives cut short. Many thousands more will forever live without those loved ones. For this, my country(including myself) was very angry. Thoughts of vengeance filled our thoughts and minds. However, instead of responding in the way Jesus calls us to, (by loving our enemies, doing good to those that harm us..etc) America launched what has now become the second longest war in our history. We have sought vengeance and justice against our enemies instead of giving love and mercy. Now, I understand that America, as a kingdom of this world, would respond in worldly fashion. However, as so many other times in our history, those of us who follow Jesus should have been living out his call to NOT RESIST evil, to turn the other cheek, to love and serve rather than seek vengeance and domination. Today, CNN posted an article on the hundreds of innocent civilians our nation has slain over these last 12 years (more specifically those killed in our allied nation of Pakistan ,whom we are NOT at war with). Oh how far we have come from the message and call of Jesus. How sad that we let this cycle of vengeance begin in the first place, let alone overlook the thousands of innocent civilians we have wiped out in our destructive path. To my fellow human beings around the world who have fallen under the sword of this place I call home, to the thousands of grieving family members of the innocents slain, to those in whose countries we now occupy....I would like to humbly, in the name of peace and my lord Jesus, who's example I wish to follow, say one last time.... I am sorry.

For the American part of me......    I AM SORRY