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

Friday, March 8, 2013

No Distinction On International Women's Day


 Today is International Women's Day. This is the day that the world has set aside to commemorate the advancements made in women's human rights, and in the spheres of politics, education, employment, and other areas of life.

In light of this day, the question will arise:

How should those of us in God's kingdom treat women?

       The church,and the religion of Christendom, have often subjected women to discrimination based on their gender. Most women are strongly discouraged from leadership roles within the     church, especially any role that would put them in authority over a man. HOW SAD!
So, how should we treat women? What should our response be to this day of celebrating the progress and freedom women have won in the secular world? How should we view this progress in light of the fact that role discrimination against women was and still is championed by those in the church?  
In Paul's letter to the Galatians he says: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is NO MALE AND FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
Wait a second! Because of and in Christ, when things are put back to the way God intended them to be from the start, there is NO DIFFERENCE between male and female!
Again, how should we treat/respond to women in ministry or any other area of life. Paul makes it clear, we are to make NO DISTINCTION between men and women. I rejoice on this day, I celebrate the progress women have made in winning back their God-given equality with men. We in the church should wake up to the truth that those in the rest of the world have realized. We should allow, promote, and encourage women to seek after the kingdom of God, to live in the calling and to follow Christ into WHATEVER POSITION he is leading them into.
God bless you sisters! Peace 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What If Jesus Was Serious?

The other day I had a thought. It was birthed out of my browsing and random readings of the ramblings of fellow bloggers/kingdom of God expounders.

The thought: What if Jesus was serious when he said: Love and pray for your enemies, do not judge others, give to the poor, and don't worry about your life? 

I Tweeted this thought and shortly thereafter, Greg Boyd responded and said: "THAT, my friend, would change EVERYTHING!"

 This thought contains some pretty radical/upside-down/nonsensical statements, yet they are the commands of Jesus to the people of his kingdom. I mean, to most people (and most within Christendom) loving enemies, not judging , and not worrying about your life, are usually not big priorities. We often tend to do the exact opposite and then reach around/over Jesus to pick and choose whatever other part of the Bible we think would support ignoring what he said. We do this in so many areas of our lives, and there is a very long history of those in the church doing this! How can this be,when Jesus, the very one we claim to follow, said that ALL previous Scripture was about HIM! We therefore should view ALL scripture through the lens of Jesus. This is one of the primary reasons that I would identify myself with the Anabaptist tradition. Jesus is the center and lens through which we view not just all of scripture, but all of life!

Here is a short clip from Greg Boyd on this topic:


What are some topics/areas of life where you have seen others jump over Jesus to other parts of scripture to justify their non-Christlike behavior? 

Viva la Revolution !

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Confronted by Peace (Interview @ The Pangea Blog)

As many of you know this last year I've gone through a huge transformation in my life. I have gone from being a Soldier in the US Army, caught up in the idolatry that is nationalism, to a pacifist, committed to the way of Jesus and the ethic of peace. I owe a huge part of this journey to my friend and mentor, Kurt Willems. Earlier this year I reached out to him for advice and counsel as I wrestled with the nonviolent, enemy-love, teachings of Jesus. Over this last year our friendship has grown. He has been there from the beginning and through my process to become a Conscientious Objector. For his role in discipling me I will be forever thankful.
       Over the last month or so we have considered doing a interview/blog post (about my story and our friendship) together on Kurt's blog: The Pangea Blog  The holidays kept getting in the way, he took a trip to Seattle (which I'm still jealous over), I had more Army training, and my wife left for two weeks leaving me in a non-blogging mood. All that said, this week we finally got our heads together and did this interview. So, without further waste of time, below is the link to our collaboration. I hope you will enjoy it!

                                Confronted by Peace: the surprise of nonviolence is leading my friend out of the army


Saturday, January 26, 2013

All the Power In the World

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." (John 13:3-5) 

       So, have you ever imagined what it would be like to have all the power in the world? What would you do with that power? Would you use it to go back in time? How about take control of the whole world? You could end all poverty and suffering, end all evil. You could force everyone to obey your rules, your way of doing things. Either way, you could do a lot of good or a lot of bad. Well, here in scripture we find that one man, Jesus, DID have all that power. Notice it says, “knowing that the Father (God) had given all things into his hands”. Imagine having "all things" put into your hands. So, what does Jesus do with this power? Does he go out and right all the wrongs of the world? Does he impose his will on the rest of humanity? Does he force the world, through laws and the power of the sword to submit to his ethics and reign? No! He lays aside his outer garments, ties a towel around his waist, pours water into a bowl and begins to wash his disciples' feet. HE SERVES THEM! He lowers himself to that of a household slave, and serves humanity. He serves not only his loyal disciples, but also the disciple who he knew was about to betray him to death. 
      FOOLISHNESS! You may say. What a wasted opportunity! How many lives he could have saved with all that power! How many wrongs and injustices of the world he could have made right! To the kingdoms of the world and those within, yes it is foolishness. Yes, it is utter madness! But to those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers, to those in the kingdom of God, this way of doing things should be normal.
       People of the kingdom of God are many times in the scripture called to "walk as Jesus walked", to live and act like Jesus did. This should be our normal mode of operation. We should not be concerned with gaining power and authority over others in order to enforce a "right way of living". We certainly don't have all the power in the world laid into our hands, yet the church has a very long history of trying to attain it. If we truly wish to follow in the footsteps of our master, we should seek to change the world the way he did. He had all the power, yet used none of it. He served, he loved, he died not only for us but for the ones who nailed him on the cross(with some of his last words he prayed for and forgave those who were crucifying him).
       Let us not concern ourselves with the ways of control and power this world seeks. Let us spend more of our time, energy, and money: serving, loving, dying for, and forgiving the world. We can change the world around us and as a whole for the better. But NOT with the ways of this world. We must partner with God and the way of his kingdom, the power-under, self-sacrificial  love that looks like the cross. That's what we should do with all the power in the world.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jesus Hangin With Sinners

In the Gospel of Mark we find this story:

"Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him."

       At first glance, this may look like an ordinary calling of a disciple. In a sense it was, but it was also more than that. Jesus was a well-respected Rabbi (teacher of the Jews). He had a following. You notice, he couldn't even go for a walk on the beach without a "large crowd" following him ! So, Jesus begins to teach the crowd, probably some stuff along the lines of , "love your enemy", "turn the other cheek", "when you throw a party, invite the outcasts and sinners not just your friends". What does Jesus do next ? He invites Levi the tax collector to follow him. So what ? you might say. What's the big deal ? To understand the significance we must understand what a "tax collector" was in those days.
       In Jesus' day there were two groups of people that the local people really hated. The Romans and the Tax Collectors. The Romans were the pagan, conquering, occupying government of the land of Israel at the time. They enforced heavy taxes to fund their military campaign's, slaughtered innocent civilians, and took peoples homes (the normal stuff a tyrannical, government does). Oh, and any notion of "standing up to a tyrannical government" ( the idea that is so prevalent in the good USA), they dealt with that by torturing and executing you on a cross ! So, how did the Romans collect their heavy taxes ? They instated local Jews to do the collecting for them. That's where the second group, (the one Levi belonged to) the Tax Collectors come in. These guys would collect the taxes that the Roman government required, and more often than not, add an additional amount on top of that to make a profit. You could get rich very quick as a tax collector, ripping off your fellow countryman. For this reason, the Jews hated the tax collectors and considered them almost as evil as the Romans. So, in this context we see Jesus inviting a tax collector to join his inner-circle of closest friends. The story continues : 

"While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him."

Ok, so now Jesus is not only inviting a tax collector to "follow him", he goes to his house and eats dinner with other tax collectors and sinners ! A big party of sinners ! As we see below, the religious people of the day were not too happy with Jesus. 

"When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees (the Bible-experts of the day) saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

You see, back in that time (and very much the case today), it was not considered a good way to follow God by hanging out with sinners. The idea was: we who are following God will hang out with ourselves and leave the other people to themselves. It was looked down upon to talk to a sinner, let alone go to his house and party with him and his friends ! So, why did Jesus hang out with sinners and tax collectors ? Jesus answered them below:

"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In other words: You people who think you are well and don't need me because of your supposed good-standing with God, I'm not going to waste my time on you. But the ones who are the outcasts, the looked down on, broken, those who you would turn away from your church because they have a "greater sin" than you, God loves them too, that's who I'm going to invest my time in. 

That's what I want to do. I'm going to spend more time hanging out with the sinners, hanging out with the people who think they are beyond God's reach, the people that "religion" and "Christians" have turned away because they don't look, act, talk, behave, or believe EXACTLY the "right" things spiritually, politically or otherwise. Those are the people Jesus came to, and invited to be his friends and party with him. I don't know about you but I'm going to give it a shot. 


***Scripture quotations from Mark 2:13-17 *** 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Myth Of A Christian Nation: Part 3 (The Kingdom of the Cross)

Last week I started a book review of Greg Boyd's book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church. I read the book earlier this year and it was one of the key influences in my journey From Soldier to Pacifist . If you'd like to catch up on the series you can find Part 1 and Part 2 in my humble (and still very small) book review page here , or by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking on the Book Reviews tab. Anyways, time for Part 3: The Kingdom of the Cross.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 2 - The Kingdom of the Cross:

       In the previous chapter (the kingdom of the sword) Greg spoke about the mode of operation that the kingdoms of the world run by. Greg called it the "power over" kingdom. In this kingdom fear, coercion, manipulation, laws, and power are all used to bring about the desired results. It is not so in the kingdom that Christ came to establish, The Kingdom of the Cross.
       Greg starts the chapter by stating this: " The heart of Jesus' teaching was the "kingdom of God". He spoke about that topic more frequently than any other, and it pervades all his actions as well."(page 29) This kingdom, as Greg explains, operates and advances by using "power under". He explains that this kingdom always looks like Jesus on the cross, dying for the very ones who put him there. Greg puts it this way, " the cross is the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of God, for it defines what the kingdom always looks like. It looks like Christ--self-sacrificial and loving. It looks like grace."(page 33) This is the way of life that we are called to in the kingdom of God. We are called to "walk just as he (Jesus) walked" (1 John 2:6). Greg says that "as we allow Christ's character to be formed in us-as we think and act like Jesus-others come under the loving influence of the kingdom and eventually their own hearts are won over to the King of Kings. The reign of God is thus established in their hearts, and the kingdom of God expands." (page
       Greg continues by explaining that the kingdom not only looks like Calvary, we can also see the kingdom and how it operates by looking at the life of Jesus. Greg says, " the kingdom of God is also displayed throughout Jesus' entire life and ministry, which all had a Calvary quality to it. Jesus embodied the kingdom of God; his very identity was about serving others-at cost to himself." (page 35) In the following pages Greg points us to 3 examples from the life of Jesus that embody the way of the kingdom.
       The first example is Jesus' treatment of and encouragement for us to emulate children. At one point in the gospel's children try to come and see Jesus. In typical kingdom of the world fashion, his disciples turn the children away. Jesus rebuked his disciples and beckoned the children to come to him. Jesus was trying to show that the kingdom of God is not only for those who are viewed as important (as adults were in that culture) but also for the children as well. Greg says, " children illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God because they have not yet been conditioned to believe they need power, money, and social respect to be great."(page 36) In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that we as adults must become "like little children" if we even wish to be in the kingdom. Greg says, " For adults to participate in the kingdom of God, Jesus is saying, we must become deconditioned from kingdom-of-the-world thinking and acting, return to the humility and innocence of little children." (page 37)
       The second example from the life of Jesus is when he washes his disciples' feet. John's gospel tells us that Jesus knew that "the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God" (John 13:3) So, having all the power in the world laid in his hands, what does Jesus proceed to do ? He " got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him" (John 13:4-5) Amazing !!! The one with the most power in the universe becomes a servant ! Greg puts it this way, " THIS is how power is wielded in the kingdom of God. If you have all power in heaven and earth, use it to wash the feet of someone you know will betray you!"(page 37) By doing this Jesus showed that he "would not rule by a sword, but by a towel".
       Finally Greg recounts the story of Jesus healing the ear of an enemy. When the temple guards came to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Jesus responded by rebuking Peter, and telling him to "put your sword back in its place". Jesus reminded Peter that "those who live by the sword will die by the sword"(Matthew 26:52). Then, Jesus turns and heals the servant with the cut off ear. Greg adds, "So, far from using his divine authority to fight back, calling legions of angels and forcefully controlling his enemy's behavior, Jesus used his diving authority to heal the ear of a man who came to arrest him. Though he could have exercised "power over" the servant, he displayed outrageous, unconditional love instead by coming under him, by serving him."(page 38) Greg explains that whenever we trust in and use this "power under" way of life, by serving at cost to ourselves, we are advancing the kingdom of God. Whenever we don't, we are merely participating in the kingdom of the world.
       To end the chapter Greg lists five ways that the kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of the world.

  • A contrast of trusts: " The kingdom of the world trusts the power of the sword, exercising "power over", the kingdom of God trusts the power of the cross, exercising "power under".
  • A contrast of Aims: " The kingdom of the world seeks to control behavior, while the kingdom of God seeks to transform lives from the inside out."
  • A contrast of Scopes: " The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature.....defending and advancing, ones own people-group, nation, ethnicity, state, religion, ideologies, and political agendas. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves."
  • A contrast of Responses: " The kingdom of the world is intrinsically a tit-for-tat kingdom; its motto is "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But kingdom-of-God participants carry the cross, not the sword. We, thus, aren't ever to return evil with evil, violence with violence. We are yet, to manifest the unique kingdom life of Christ."
  • A contrast of Battles: "The kingdom of the world has earthly enemies and, thus, fights earthly battles; the kingdom of God, however, by definition has no earthly enemies, for its disciples are committed to loving "their enemies", thereby treating them as friends, their "neighbors".

       As kingdom people we are called to manifest the way of Christ in all aspects of our lives. Greg explains that even if we win by "kingdom of the world" standards, we will have lost by "kingdom of God" standards if while in the process, we don't look like Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha in order to die for his enemies.

Greg asks this final question: In light of Paul's teaching (that everything we do must be rooted in love, 1Cor 13:1-3) how might our churches be different if we took it seriously ? What would happen if the ultimate criteria we used to assess how "successful" or "unsuccessful" our churches were was the question, are we loving as Jesus loved ?