Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Myth of A Christian Nation: Part 2 ( The Kingdom of the Sword)

       So, earlier this week I started a book review series on Greg Boyd's amazing book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church. I've read it before (and am re-reading it for the purpose of this series) and I am very much in support of its message ! I highly recommend it to anyone, and especially to Christians in America. Enough said. If you want to check out the first post (Part 1) on the book you can find it here. To quickly follow new posts in this book review series check out my very short book review page located here. So, now that we are done with the prolegomena ( a preliminary discussion), we can get on to my humble review of Chapter 1, The Kingdom of the Sword.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 1 - The Kingdom of the Sword:

       " The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. " (Luke 22:25-26)

       Jesus says that the kingdoms of this world "lord it over" others. They use authority and power to influence their domain through laws, enforcement, and fear. Greg says it best: " Wherever a person or group exercises power over others--or tries to--THERE is a version of the kingdom of the world. While it comes in many forms, the kingdom of the world is in essence a "power over" kingdom. In some versions--such as America--subjects have a say in who their rulers will be, while in others they have none.....there have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise "power over" people." (page 18)
       The kingdom of this world has and will always be like this. That's how our fallen world works. People take control, make the rules and regulations they feel are right, enforce these rules on their citizens, and sometimes try and enforce them on others around the globe. Greg points out that this ability to enforce rules and keep evil in check is the primary purpose of these kingdoms. He argues that based on Romans Chapter 13, God uses the kingdoms of this world, in their fallen and sinful state, to keep evil and wrongdoing in check. It is our job as citizens of whatever kingdom of the world we find ourselves living in to live in conformity to its laws, insofar as it does not conflict with our calling as citizens of the kingdom of God.   I believe John Howard Yoder sums it up best in the following statement on God's relationship with the kingdoms of the world: " It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and then God made government through a new creative intervention; there has been hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. Its exercise has involved domination, disrespect for human dignity, and real or potential violence ever since sin has existed. Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does....the librarian does not create nor approve of the book she or he catalogs and shelves. Likewise God does not take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious "powers that be" or for their shape or identity; they already are."  
       Greg goes on to explain the relationship that Satan has with the kingdom of the world. In the gospel of Luke it says that when the Devil tempted Jesus, he showed him "all the kingdoms of the world" and then he said: " To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you will then worship me, it will be yours." (Luke 4:5-7) Jesus, of course, does not go on to worship the Devil to acquire these kingdoms. But, as Greg points out, Jesus does not dispute the devil's claim to own them. Later in Jesus' ministry he refers to Satan as the "ruler of this world". ( John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) In 1 John 5:19 we find this statement: " the whole world lies under the power of the evil one". Greg further explains that this term "ruler" which Jesus attributed to Satan, is a political term used to denote the highest ruling authority in a given region. Jesus is basically saying that Satan is the CEO of all earthly governments ! Greg's point is that while every action of a government may not be in itself "evil", we as Christians must never forget that "even the best political ideology lies under the influence of a "power over" cosmic ruler who is working at cross-purposes to God" ( page 22).
       Further on in the chapter Greg talks about the "tit-for-tat" way of the kingdoms of the world. He explains it like this: " If you hit me, my natural (fallen) instinct is to hit you back--not turn the other cheek ! Tit-for-tat, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth--this is what makes the bloody kingdom of the world go around." (page 24) Greg continues the discussion by relating the example of the current conflict in the middle-east and some of the reasoning behind what is going on. He speaks about how sometimes, our us-vs-them mentality is a result of historical conditioning against the other.  Greg says this: " Much of the profound animosity Islamic terrorists feel towards "satanic" America is fueled by a cultural memory of what Christians did to Muslims during the Crusades. Believing that America is a Christian nation, they direct their collective, historically acquired hatred toward it. Now, you might be tempted to respond by saying, 'Well, they did a lot of bad stuff to Christians throughout history as well'--and you'd be right. But this is exactly the sort of thinking that fuels the endless tit-for-tat kingdom of the world." (page 25)
       I hope you are getting the point. To sum it up then we can boil it down to four short points.

#1 The kingdom of the world rules by a "power over" method, using laws, regulations, and the fear of the sword or punishment to accomplish its goals.  

#2 While God did not create the kingdoms of the world he uses them in their fallen state, he orders and sorts them much like a librarian sorts the book in a library. He does not have to approve of them and their ways but wisely uses them for the best possible good.

#3 All of the kingdoms of the world are under the control of the Devil/Satan. While not every act of a government is in itself evil, we as Christians must be mindful that even the best government still lies under the influence of Satan who is working at cross-purposes to God.

#4 The kingdom of the world plays by a "tit-for-tat", eye for an eye, us-vs-them, rule set. It more often than not sets us and our ways of life and thinking against that of those from an opposite way of life.

Greg finishes the chapter by giving us a taste of what is to come in Chapter 2. He mentions that the kingdom of God operates completely different than the kingdom of the world. He says: " The kingdom of Jesus was, and is, a radically different kind of kingdom indeed, and it is this kingdom that all who follow Jesus are called to manifest in every area of their lives." (page 28) 

I hope that this review has been in at least a small way beneficial to your time. I hope you will go and pick up a copy of this great book and see what it has to say for yourself. We'll end with a question.

Jesus was the only person who ever truly and fully had "power over," yet he chose not to exercise it. Do you feel that this is a model for us to follow or a choice unique to Jesus' mission? Explain your answer.  


Friday, December 28, 2012

How To See God Today

       People often ask if God exists. They want to know if he is real. They tend to say things like: I can't see God, how do I know he's there ? Where is God in the world today ? What is God like? Well, I think there are two places people can look to see God.

       First, in the Gospel of John we find this: "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known."(John 1:18)
The Bible says that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus, has made God known. What he did, said, taught, and commanded was in itself the very essence of God. So, look at Jesus. Study and imitate him. In doing so, you will "see God".
       Second, we can also see God in the flesh today ! In his first epistle, John says this about seeing God: "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." ( 1 John 4:12) So if we love one another God lives in us ? Really ? And if God lives in us, that means people get to see God ! They get to see what he is like and how he acts. But wait, what was the catch. It says, "if we love one another". Interesting. So when we love one another, that's when God lives in and through us. It seems like the key to seeing God is love. What is love? What does it look like ?
       Let's take a look at one more verse: "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)
There's a couple things we can draw from this text. First, it says that love looks like Christ laying down his life for us on the cross. When we lay down our lives, our desires, passions, goals, for the sake of others, it looks like Christ. That is love. Love is always sacrificial. It always looks like Jesus on the cross, dying for the very ones who put him there. To the degree that someone lays down their life for others, it is love, and we are seeing God in action. To the degree that we see someone taking the life from others, their time, money, happiness, sense of worth, or their very breathe, we see what happens without God. A life lived without love, is a life without God.
       The question then is this: When people ask us how to see God, do we tell them, watch us and see ? Do we tell them to look at our lives (that should be filled with God's love) ? Can we point them to the love our church shows to those in our community ? Can we point them to the love we have for one another? I hope so, because God wants to be seen. He isn't hiding. It's up to us. Picture Jesus on the cross, dying and praying for the ones who put him there. He loved them. Go, and do the same. Live and love as Christ loves you and gave himself for you.

Shalom and Happy New Year !

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Myth of A Christian Nation, Part 1 (Introduction)

       Earlier this year I went through a major paradigm shift. My story was documented in my previous post From Soldier to Pacifist, earlier this year. In that post I cited two major influences in my journey. The first was a teaching podcast series by Bruxy Cavey entitled Inglorious Pastor's. I was introduced to Bruxy's teaching and ministry by my now good friend, mentor, and Brethren in Christ pastor, Kurt Willems. Kurt's friendship, patience, wisdom, and guidance has been such a tremendous blessing and I can't thank him enough. *bro hug* .......  .......  ....... Excuse me, sorry...ahem..
       Where was I ? Oh yes, the second influence that Kurt pointed me to was the book: The Myth of A Christian Nation, How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church, by Gregory A. Boyd. 


I love this book ! I could rant and rave about it forever but I don't think any of you would enjoy that very much. So, I'm going to attempt a book review. I hope to give you a glimpse inside this great book and to perk your interest in what I believe is a very important and relevant topic for us today. Well enough of me, let's get to the book and what Pastor Gregory Boyd has to say.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Introduction Chapter:

So, I'll let Greg speak for himself as to the central thesis of the book :

" I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world.......many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues. " (page 11) 

Ouch !!! Those words sound very harsh. But are they true ? What kind of "nationalistic and political idolatry" is he talking about ? Again, I'll let Mr. Boyd speak for himself:

" Many believe there is little ambiguity in how true Christian faith translates into politics. Since God is against abortion, Christians should vote for the pro-life candidate......since God is against homosexuality, Christians should vote for the candidate who supports the marriage amendment act-and a Bible-believing pastor should proclaim this....since God is for personal freedom, Christians should vote for the candidate who will fulfill " America's mission" to bring freedom to the world." (page 10)

Greg goes on to say that there is a myth which gives this strong connection between Christianity and politics in America such a strong emotion. He calls it, The Myth of a Christian Nation.
" This foundational American myth is, in fact, untrue, America is not now and never was a Christian nation, God is not necessarily on America's side, and the kingdom of God we are called to advance is not about "taking America back for God." (page 13)

      Again, very strong words from a very confident man. This myth of America as a Christian nation has hindered the cause of Christ. It has led many around the world to associate America with Christ, so that "they hear the good news of Jesus only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitative news, anti gay news, or Republican news". (page 14) I couldn't agree more !

Well that's it. Since you have the review of the introduction you can stop here. No need to read the follow-up posts about the rest of the book. Um, no ! Totally 100% kidding. In the days to come I plan to share with you my thoughts about each chapter in this great book. I hope you will stay with me on this journey. I also hope you will not just take my word but get the book and see what Pastor Boyd has to say for yourself. We'll end with a question.

Do you know anyone who has been put off by Christianity because of American Christians' tendency to link their faith with their politics ? What messages do you hear repeated ?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Be Where You Are & Do Not Worry

"Wherever you are, be there."-- Greg Boyd

       I'm a dreamer. Most people that know me will testify to this. My family, friends, coworkers, Church, pretty much everyone knows it. Especially my wife. She has often told me that when I'm home, more often than not, I'm really not home. I'm NOT where I physically am, I'm THERE. By "there" I mean somewhere else mentally or emotionally.  Sometimes that THERE is in the book I read earlier that day. Sometimes THERE is in a sermon series, or in a theological or philosophical topic. Sometimes THERE is thinking or planning about the future, whether it's a job, location, vacation, hope or dream. The point is, my THERE is often NOT where I presently am.
       Now I'm not saying that we should not ever think, dream and hope about the future. But when it becomes something that consumes us, our time , energy and thoughts, when it takes us away from "wherever you are" RIGHT NOW and to another place, it can very easily turn to worry. And that leads to my second point.
       Jesus said : "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:34)
       So, "tomorrow will worry about its own things". Why then do we think, plan, and worry about the things of tomorrow? I believe it is ultimately our little way of trying to control things. If somehow we can plan it out right, plan for the worst and try and make everything into the best possible outcome, we can be our own little gods. We can make our future life into our idol. Jesus says to not do that. He wants us to worry about today and what God is leading, calling and wishing for today.When we spend our time living in the future or not being where we presently are, we close the door to God's spirit that wants to work in the now. If I'm worrying about the bills next week, the moving plans, that job interview etc. I may very well miss the person in the supermarket, a coworker , or a friend who needs me to channel the love of Jesus to them. Worrying about the future and making our own plans ultimately puts us at odds with the Kingdom, for the kingdom way is the way of sacrifice, putting others first,  and seeking God's will "on earth as it is in heaven".
       Let us follow the simple advice from Greg: Wherever you are, be there.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

WHICH JESUS? Are you following the right one ?

I recently started reading the book Love Wins by Rob Bell. This book has stirred up a lot of controversy. Mainstream preacher John Piper said, “farewell Rob Bell” in response to the book and its message. (I’m not sure if he even cared to understand what the message really was).  I am a little over half-way done with the book and I highly recommend it! I agree with most of the content (so far) but that’s not really what matters. What DOES matter is that Rob Bell is asking the right questions. He challenges the traditional and widely excepted views of heaven, hell, God’s judgment, wrath and love, who’s “in” and who’s “out”, and the lens through which we view the whole Bible, topics which have turned many off from the message of Christ throughout the centuries. He challenges the reader to take an honest, unbiased look at what the Bible (not church tradition) really teaches about these tough and controversial issues. So anyways, if you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss is about.

       You are probably wondering what any of this has to do with the topic of this post. While reading the book I came across a short passage that got me to thinking. And THAT is the real topic of this post. Here’s the quote from Love Wins:

 ”When People use the word “Jesus,” then, it’s important for us to ask who they’re talking about.

Are they referring to a token of tribal membership, a tamed, domesticated Jesus who waves the flag and promotes whatever values they have decided their nation needs to return to?

Are they referring to the supposed source of the imperial impulse of their group, which wants to conquer other groups “in the name of Jesus”?

Are they referring to the logo or slogan of their political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power?

Or are they referring to the very life source of the universe who has walked among us and continues to sustain everything with his love and power and grace and energy?

Jesus is both near and intimate and personal, and big and wide and transcendent.”

       Thus the question: which Jesus?

Which Jesus are you following? How about your church? Also, which Jesus are you portraying to others, preaching and teaching about? I think these are important questions to ask.

       Is it the Jesus who: “promotes whatever values you have decided your nation needs to return to” (paraphrase from Rob’s quote) , supports justified war and violence as a means to the end, the worldly justice system , believes that “America is the hope of the world”, speaks against the gay and lesbian community above and beyond the much more mentioned sins of lust and pride greed and self-righteousness, sees nothing wrong with our western-materialistic-selfish culture, and separates ourselves from those who are not “in” the holy group of Christianity ?

       Or, is it the Jesus who: instead of saving the world through legislation, came to earth in a manger and served, died and loved those who opposed Him along the way. How about the Jesus who taught us to “love our enemies, do good to those that hurt you, turn the other cheek, and to NOT RESIST EVIL , the Jesus who ushered in the restorative-justice, peacemaking, grace and love centered kingdom, the Jesus who taught that He ALONE was the hope of the world, THE way, THE truth, and THE life. How about the Jesus who instead of kicking the sinners out, accepted, ate and drank with, loved, befriended, served and forgave. What about the Jesus who said, “do not worry about tomorrow” and “give to those who ask” and “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “go, sell all you have and give it to the poor” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.  

       So, the question I ask you is this: which Jesus? Why is it so important that we get Jesus right? The author of the book of Hebrews says this:

       In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

So, Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. Nothing and no one before or after will ever show what and who God is better than Jesus. The buck stops with Jesus. How we view God: his character, purpose, will, everything about him is summed up in the person of Jesus. You see, if we get Jesus wrong, we get everything wrong! I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the topic of God, what he wants, expects, thinks, and commands of me, I want to get that one right. I don’t want to just take someone else’s word. I don’t want to just blindly accept the traditions of those who have come before me. I’m going to look at and study Jesus. What Jesus said and did, how he reacted to others, how he loved, what he commanded, what he expects, that’s what is important.


I’ll end with yet another question. Which Jesus are you following and what is your primary resource for learning about Him?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blessed Are The Persecuted: How to know you are on the right track.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."- Jesus (Matthew 5:10)

Persecuted, can be defined as: Being subjected to hostility or ill-treatment.

Righteousness, can be defined as: Adhering to moral principles. 

In the above verse Jesus is basically saying: Blessed are those who because of adherence to (my) moral principles, are subjected to hostility and/or ill-treatment. In the world we live in we are constantly expected to "fit in". By following Jesus and his moral principles, however, we will often find ourselves NOT fitting in with those around us. This often leads to persecution. Whether physical or verbal, persecution can and will come to those who are different. 
     What are some of the ways in which we may look or act different than others? In the previous verses of Matthew 5, Jesus lists 7 other traits or mindsets, followed by a natural blessing for each. Let's look at a couple:

               Blessed are the meek (Quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on)
               Blessed are the merciful ( those who give mercy)
               Blessed are the peacemakers (those who seek peace through sharing God's love)

     Are either of these 3 attributes normally praised in our society today? How about in the church? Do we as the body of Christ seek to be meek, merciful, peacemaking people? To the extent that we do, we will look different. We will look different than the rest of the world. We will look different than alot of the Western, nationalistic,moral guardian, control-seeking church we find ourselves in today. But that's ok. If by following Jesus, we look, act and believe different than the world (and oftentimes church) around us, and as a result are treated with distance and hostility, we can be confident we are on the right track.  
      Jesus said in John 15:20, "Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."

     So, there are two responses others will have when confronted by our Jesus-like lifestyle. They will either persecute us (because they persecuted Jesus as well), or they will accept and obey Jesus' teaching. Let us not be afraid of looking, acting, and believing differently than others, because of our commitment to following Jesus. We can be confident that when we find ourselves in the midst of persecution, (however and by whoever it is manifested towards us) we are on the right track.

     My challenge to you is to examine your life. Are there areas where you are holding back from following Jesus for fear of persecution? Pray that God will give you the desire to follow him without fear of persecution. Pray that through His Spirit you will have the strength to be the different, counter-cultural, anti-religion-pro-relationship, disciple that he calls you to be.
     Are you currently being persecuted (singled out, picked on, joked about, ignored, abused) because of your different lifestyle and beliefs? Amen ! You are on the right track. You are blessed, and "yours is the kingdom of heaven" !

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Disciple or Hypocrite

     So, before we dig into the teachings of Jesus, I feel we should make sure our heart and desire is in the right place. We should ask ourselves, do I really want to follow Jesus? In this article I want to take a look at the kind of person Jesus wants us to be ( a disciple), and the kind of person he calls us not to be (a hypocrite).
     First off, let's define some terms.

Disciple can be defined as : "One who submits themselves to the discipline or training of another". In this case specifically, one who submits to the training or teaching of Jesus. That is what I mean when I talk about being a disciple of Jesus. Other synonyms of disciple are : follower, adherent, pupil, learner, apprentice.

Hypocrite can be defined as: " A person who indulges in the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform." To put it simply, claiming to believe or do one thing, but then not doing it.

Here's an example of the difference between the two:

Jesus said: “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’
29 “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.

30 “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.

31-32 “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” (Matthew 21:28-32, The Message)
     Let me rephrase Jesus' question: Which son behaved as a disciple, and which like a hypocrite?
Jesus calls us to not just mentally, verbally, or physically claim to be "glad to" do what he asks (like the second son). He calls us to action, to obey what he asks and commands of us (like the first son). If we say to Jesus, "Sure, glad to" follow you, we must make sure we put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Anything else is hypocrisy.
     The question then becomes, do you want to follow Jesus? Do you want to follow what Jesus teaches and commands us to do even if it may come at personal cost to you? I pray we can get to that point together. Maybe some of us aren't there yet. Maybe we look at our lives and see places where we are being a hypocrite and not a disciple. If so, that's ok. At least be willing to admit to yourself and to Jesus (hint, he already knows) whether you are following him or not.
     If you find yourself in that place of realizing there are areas where you are not truly following what Jesus asks of us, would you pray this prayer?

     Here it is:  Jesus, help me want to want to follow you. Help me turn from being a hypocrite and submit myself to your discipline and teaching,wherever it may lead. Amen.

If you want to be a disciple, if you are ready to follow the teachings and way of life taught by Jesus, take the next step. Open your Bible to Matthew,Chapter 5 (or any Red Letter, words of Jesus), and do what Jesus says. It's that simple. That's what it means to be a disciple.

Blog Reboot, The Rejected Path

“The one who listens to you, listens to me. The one who rejects you, rejects me. And rejecting me is the same as rejecting God, who sent me.”- Jesus of Nazareth

I've had a desire to change the direction of my blog in recent weeks so I decided to start over with a fresh look and name. My old blog, The Grey Things ,was a place for general discussion on grey theological issues that have often seemed to divide Christians. If it was profitable to others or not I can't be sure. What I am sure of is that in recent months it turned into more of a place for my rantings or personal updates about my life and spiritual journey. I now have a clearer vision as to what I want my blog to be about . Thus, I felt it needed an official change of direction.
     To start: What's with the name?
The new title, 'The Rejected Path', encompasses the 3 areas I want my blog to focus on.

#1 My personal rejection of the path of this world. My rejection of the violent, nationalistic, empire-worshiping, idol making, legalistic, self-serving, "us vs them", ways of this world . This will serve as my soapbox to share what is going on personally and spiritually in my life. I hope to share my experiences on the path of being a Jesus follower. To start, check out my previous post about my conversion From Soldier to Pacifist .

#2 The rejection of Jesus Christ by the majority of the world, throughout history, and during our Post-Christendom age that we now live in.

#3 Probably the most important aspect of this 'Rejected Path': The ignorant and sometimes willful, ignoring or rejection of Jesus' ethical and moral teachings by the "Christian" church for the last 1,600-1,700 years. I'm not talking about the Jesus who came to the world to die on a cross to save lost sinners from hell (not many people have missed that one). I'm talking about the Jesus who said :

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18 and 20)

What were these commandments ? I don't know about you but we don't often hear about the "red letters" (most modern bible translations highlight the words of Jesus in red) and what they say about how we should live. So that's what I plan to do. I want to talk about the Jesus who offered not only salvation of our souls from some kind of eternal damnation, but commanded a new way of life, a new ethic for how to live in His kingdom. Brian McLaren, captured what I'm getting at when he said:

"In Protestant denominations it's very hard to find people who take Jesus' teachings and the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus' example of nonviolence, seriously" .

So, welcome to The Rejected Path. I hope to get some more topical posts up soon. I pray that together, we can take an honest look at our lives, the teachings of Jesus, and try to grow closer to the way of life he offered 2,000 years ago that has been so often overlooked, explained away, or rejected. Whether you are Christian or not, Protestant or Catholic, Democrat or Republican, Gay or Straight, Pro-life or Pro-choice , it doesn't matter. We can all answer the call of Jesus, "Come, follow me". In following Him, we can find the place to work out our differences, to grow closer together, united by the call of the rejected Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.     .


Friday, October 19, 2012

From Soldier to Pacifist

I have been a soldier in the U.S. Army for a little over 2 years. I have been a soldier-at-heart, for the past 7 years. When I was 13, I saw that Marines commercial where the guy climbs up the mountain and becomes a Marine:

This was the first time that I had ever given much thought to the military at all. I was a research-oriented kid, so I started studying the Marines, called and talked to the recruiters, looked up their history, read books and so on. A couple of years before this experience was the sad day of 9/11. This tragedy, coupled with my new found interest in the military, was a driving force pushing me towards service to my country.
       Over the next several years (between ages 13-17), I spent alot of time researching the various branches, their subdivisions, and various job possibilities within the service. I chose to enlist in the Army because at the time it gave me the most options as to what I could do in the service. I enlisted as an 11B Infantryman because I wanted to be the guy taking the fight to the enemy. I am not saying that other branches or jobs don't do their part to fight our wars, only that Infantryman appealed to me the most for what I wanted out of the service (get as close as possible to, fight and kill the enemy). My main motives for joining the military were: a desire to protect and defend my country and family, to protect others around the world who could not do so themselves, by extension of my actions help promote my countries objectives around the world. A key Bible verse for me when I enlisted was, John 15:13 . I felt that by laying down my life for my fellow soldiers, or if need be other innnocent people around the world, that I would be showing the most possible love for them.
       Fast-forward a little bit. In the summer of 2010, I left for basic training in FT. Benning, GA. After basic training I was shipped to Ft. Bliss/El Paso , TX. I have been here in El Paso for the last 2 years. The last two years have been filled with all kinds of military training, weeks in the field and at the rifle ranges preparing for deployment, a month in Death Valley, California this summer, and my wedding about a year ago. Like any job it's had ups and downs, good times, bad times, fun and not so fun times. I'm not complaining though, for a young, energitic, passionate patriot, it has been a blast. This past summer, however, something changed.
       Over block leave this summer (2012), I was confronted with the theology of non-violence that is taught in the New Testament. I understand that many may not agree with me that this is what the Bible teaches, but that's not the point of this article. I would be more than willing to comment on and talk to anyone openly about my beliefs and where I get them etc...feel free to comment on this post or shoot me an email, and I'll respond as soon as possible. Back to the story..... I was introduced to several books on the subject. Here's one that heavily infuenced me : Myth of A Christian Nation, by Gregory Boyd . A sermon series that immensly helped in my conversion (from soldier to pacifist) can be found here: Inglorious Pastors, taught by Pastor Bruxy Cavey (The Meeting House) .
       I've listed these resources as a starting point for the theology of nonviolence. This topic is very complex and could take many hours to fully explain and hash through. If you are interested in the deeper theology of my beliefs I encourage you to check them out.
       The key reason I have become a pacifist, or believer in non-violence...,whatever technical term we want to call it, is this. I was confronted with the words of Jesus. Words such as these:

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36) If Jesus would not allow his disciples to protect and defend Him, who was the most innocent person that ever walked the earth, I cannot justify defending others by using violence. If my King won't let me fight for Him, who can I fight for?

 "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."(Matthew 5:38-48) These verses were key in my conversion ( from soldier to pacifist). I already know how to love my friends and family and country. Jesus, however, says it is not good enough to just "love those who love you", but that we must also love those who don't love us. If my wife, child, brother, sister, father, mother, best friend, etc were to commit evil against me, I would NEVER respond with violence. If I am to treat my enemy the same as those close to me, I cannot do violence to him either.

Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) Peter had just lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter and then healed the wounded man ! Again, if ever there were a justified time for self protection, or the protection of another, this was it !

The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus' words by saying this:
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21) I believe that even when we are wronged and feel that evil has been done to us, we must "leave room for God's wrath". In this passage Paul helps us to respond in love to those who wrong us by pointing out that everyone is accountable to God and eventually He will judge. It is our job to respond with acts of love, not hate.
       I was confronted not with a random man's teaching, a random pastor's beliefs, or what a book had to say, but by these words above. Certainly men and pastors and books can have good things to say, but they are not what convinced me. It was the words of Jesus, the words of the Bible that convinced me. Others, such as sermons and books helped, yes, but only to the extent that they pointed back to and made prominent the plain, simple, easy to understand teaching of Jesus. I came to a point where my own internal justification for my actions, my job, service to my country etc....mattered for nothing if it didn't fit within the teachings of my Lord, Jesus Christ. I had rallied around the belief in Just War, which I came to realize is just simply not taught in the Bible. I found the exact opposite. I found the call of Jesus, to join Him in the Kingdom of God, where the morals and ideals of this world are not good enough. I found that I am more than willing to die for a cause, but that Jesus was calling me to never kill for a cause. Here's a quick clip that captures what I'm getting at:

I found that as part of the Kingdom of God, fellow Christians would be off-limits for me to ever kill. I also realized that Jesus was calling me to not only love those that I wanted to love (i.e. friends, family, citizens of my own country), but to love my enemy as well. Here is another quick video clip that sums up this mentality:

I hope I haven't bored you with videos, if I have, sorry haha !
       As a result of this new-found conviction, I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to follow what I believe are the clear teachings of Jesus, but I was also a Soldier. What could I do? !Thank God that the United States realized back before WWI, that sometimes, soldiers can have a change of conscience. They created the Conscientious Objector status. It's a rather old tradition. Many countries other than our own have recognized the Conscientious Objector througout history. Some have been allowed to avoid the draft or get out of the military as a result, others were killed or imprisoned because they refused to serve their country through violence. After much prayer and seeking advice from family and friends, on September 12th, 2012 (a little over 1 month ago) I applied for a Conscientious Objector Discharge from the Army. As a result, the Army placed me on Rear Detachment in my unit, so that I will not have to deploy while the process is taking place. The process of becoming a Conscientious Objector (CO) takes several months. I have had to write an essay stating my beliefs and their source. I have been interviewed by several officers in my Chain of Command. Eventually, my case will make it up to Washington DC , where the CO Review Board at the Pentagon will decide if I can be released early from service because of my new beliefs. If all goes well ( which it has so far), I could be out of the Army by summer of 2013.
       I know I've probably raised alot of questions. Feel free to comment below or send me a personal email @ 
I do not mean to offend anyone by sharing my beliefs. I am doing what I feel called to do by the teaching of Jesus. I'm not saying that others in the military, law enforcement or government are not Christians, only that I believe they are wrong in their interpretation of Jesus' teachings about violence. This is not a salvation issue but a discipleship issue. I must follow my Master wherever He leads. If others feel they can follow Jesus and his teachings and be in the military at the same time, I respect them for it. I don't want to knock or judge anyone ! My hope is that we can unite together around the important things, and help each other to follow our Lord better each day.
If all this post has done is start new conversations, get you thinking about this topic again or for the first time, then I'm satisfied. It also serves to inform about my journey, from Soldier to Pacifist. I pray that my story and experience will encourage others in their walk with Jesus. I pray that together, we can take seriously the “red letters” and start living the way the bride of the crucified Christ should.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

No Greater Love & Your Enemies

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies ...... Matthew 5:43

Both of these verses are very often quoted individually. I'd like to suggest that a deeper meaning could possibly be found by merging them together. Jesus said in the first verse that the greatest possible way to show love would be by laying down your life, dying for a friend. In the second verse Jesus says that we must not only love our neighbor/friend, but our enemy as well. So, if we are to love our enemy, what does that look like? What is the best possible way to love our enemies ? I think it is pretty clear. If Jesus says that our love is shown by dying for our friends/neighbors, and we are also required to love our enemies, would it not follow that the best way to love our enemy would also be by dying for him ? When we follow this line of thought, how then could it be logical to kill our enemy ? If we are called to love our enemy to the point of dying for him, what rationale could there EVER be to kill him. Jesus was willing to die on the cross not only for you and me, but for the very people who murdered him, His enemies. Later in the new testament, Paul tells us to be "imitators of Christ". As Christ layed his life down for His enemies, so should we. Again, if we are called to love our enemies to the point of death, how then could we ever justify killing them ?  

Just some food for thought, would love to hear your thoughts. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just War Theory: Biblical or Man-made?

     Just war theory (or Bellum iustum) has been defined as a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin. It has been studied for centuries by theologians and politicians alike. It has specifically been the dominant theory or justification for Christians throughout history to support, initiate, and participate in war.
     Before Emperor Constantine instituted Christianity as the "national religion" of the Roman Empire in roughly 313 A.D., the majority of Christians' held a  nonviolent stance. Many early church fathers interpreted the teachings of Jesus as advocating nonviolence. Several church fathers may be cited such as: Saint Maximilian, St. Martin of Tours, Athanasius, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, and another with the famous quote " Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier."--Tertullian. After Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Empire, virtually requiring citizens to become a Christian or face execution, war and violence become much more accepted as a practice by Christians. How was this justified and how do Christians justify war today? Predominately the Just War Theory. This theory was supported by church fathers such as, Saints Augustine and Aquinas. The theory normally lists 7 principles or criteria for determining whether or not a war is just or not. If the war meets these criteria, it is pronounced "just" and permissible to initiate or be participated in by Christians.
     The seven criteria generally go as follows:

 Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
Competent authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (e.g. Hitler's Regime) or deceptive military actions (e.g. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion. The importance of this condition is key. Plainly, we cannot have a genuine process of judging a just war within a system that represses the process of genuine justice. A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice".
Right intention
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
There are several variations in the definitions or criteria but this is generally accepted as the 7 criteria.
I'm not going to insert my opinion on this matter in this post. Rather I want to throw this out there and see what opinions I get. My challenge is this: If this is the generally accepted justification for Christians to participate in war, should we not be able to find Biblical validation for it? Should we not be able to find verses in the Bible supporting these 7 criteria? If so, then we may pronounce such a theory as biblical. If not, should we base our life, spiritual beliefs, and actions off of a man-made theory?
If all this rambling has done is get your wheels turning, start a conversation, help you to question or strengthen your beliefs and values than I have done what I set out to do.
I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.