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 ?