Friday, November 28, 2014

Undercover Christianity, or Let's Be Strangers in a Strange Land

I was looking through an edition of "US Magazine" at work today. Not my usual gig, but I was bored and the magazine was on the counter, so I picked it up and perused.

As I was idly scanning through the pages, I came across an small piece on Justin Beiber.  The title, naturally, caught my eye.

Being the wild Belieber that I am

Knowing next to nothing about Justin Bieber, other than some of his escapades I've heard about in the news, I read the short paragraph.  It mentions that Justin has been spending time with some pastor friends, wanting to "redevote himself to his faith" before recording his next album.  

I'm all for that, if that's what Justin desires.  A deeper faith is good for anyone, and I wish Justin the very best. Really.  This post is not about Justin Bieber, though.  Its about something deeper. 

A different source claims that Justin was not having a come-to-Jesus moment while cloistered with his pastoral friends, but that Justin has been a Christian for a long time, which I'm glad to hear, but also really isn't the point of this blog post. 

What mattered to me is what the source was quoted as saying:


"He has always been a loyal Christian, despite outward appearances."

I'm not talking about, or judging, Justin Bieber.  God alone is the judge of the human heart.  I wish Justin well, and hope he continues to have great success at whatever he chooses to do. 

What I'm concerned about is the sentiment conveyed by the "other source". There seems to be an assumption that one can be a "loyal" Christian without ever showing it.  The assumption seems to be that one can be "loyal" without being...... well....... loyal.   

Before I go further and we start hollering about how the "world" doesn't understand the Christian faith, let me also turn the spotlight back on the Christian world in which I live, because I think the church has deeply bought into this view as well. 

My churchgoing friends, have you ever heard the phrase "I'm not perfect, just forgiven!"?

Sure you have. Lots of times. We've all seen the bumper sticker on countless cars and countless memes.

Here's the deal though - Its the exact same same thing that the "other source" said above, just rephrased and repackaged for the church.  

Which brings me to my question: How can someone claim to be loyal to the King of Kings, and trust Him to save your eternal soul, but never really follow or adhere to any of his teachings or commands? 

Brian Zhand, a pastor and author who's books I enjoy, writes in his book "A Farewell to Mars":

"It’s not enough to believe in Jesus; we also have to believe in the Jesus way!"

Believing in Jesus is good.  Its a start.  Its the start! Its the beginning of salvation, and the beginning of our life in the Kingdom of God.  Its the acceptance of our Kingdom citizenship and adoption into the family of the King. Its stepping from death into life, and from darkness into light.

But like a citizen of any nation or kingdom, one needs not only to be "born" or "adopted" into the kingdom (as Jesus put it, being "born again"), but we also have to live and grow, and learn how to be good citizens of our nation or kingdom.

Being "born again" into the Kingdom of God is not an end to itself.  It is the very beginning of everything. We cannot simply stop at "born-again". We have to begin to learn and live "the Jesus way" of life.

But when we say "I'm not perfect, just forgiven", we're tipping our hands to the fact that we don't actually think its very important to live the "Jesus way".  In other words, what we're really saying is:

"I don't need to do what Jesus said about living in this life. I'm saved for the afterlife, so I'm good.  And don't judge me on my behavior, because it really doesn't matter. I've got my ticket to heaven, that's enough."

To quote Brian Zhand again,

"Jesus is not a heavenly conductor handing out tickets to heaven. Jesus is the carpenter who repairs, renovates, and restores God’s good world.”

Being "saved" is not first and foremost about a "ticket to heaven" or, as we've all probably heard, a "get out of hell free card". 

Being saved is about removing the veil that blinds us to the already existent truth of what God has done through Jesus  - the "Good News" that we are told to go and proclaim:

God Almighty, who manifested Himself on earth in very real flesh and bone in a man called Jesus, gave Himself as a ransom to purchase our freedom from slavery to sin and self-destruction. Through the resurrection He destroyed the chains that bind us to death, and showed humanity the path to full, real, and eternal life. He once and for all rebuked the accuser who lies to us and tells us we are not good enough or worthy enough or loved enough by the King of Kings, the very King of Kings who personally demonstrated that yes, He indeed thinks us very worthy of His love, and showed exactly how worthy by dying a death on a cross.
The banquet table of the King is laden with food, the doors to His hall are wide open, and the King calls everyone to come and have a seat at the table, share in His generosity, and eat! 

This is Good News! Much more than just "be saved and go to heaven". Jesus didn't just come to save us, he came to lead us out of this "world" into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus calls us to come and work beside Him, to make His Kingdom a reality!

Brian Zhand again:

"Salvation is a restoration project, not an evacuation project! Or as Thomas Merton put it, “Eschatology is not an invitation to escape into a private heaven: it is a call to transfigure the evil and stricken world.”

When Jesus says "follow me" He's not talking about following Him to heaven, but following Him in this life. How could I expect my King to ask me to do anything else?

So, I put it to you - how can one be a "loyal Christian" with little outward appearance? I submit, one cannot.

Being a "loyal American" is much more than just being "born in the USA".  Its upholding and obeying the laws, adhering to the principals, and supporting the ideals that provide the foundation for the American culture and nation.  You cannot be "loyal" and act in opposition to the fundamental core values that hold the nation together.  You can discuss what those core values are, how they apply, and what direction the nation should take, but you cannot act in opposition to the core beliefs and values that you supposedly support and still be considered "loyal".

The same goes for any citizen of any nation, and especially for a citizen in the Kingdom of God. One cannot continue to act and behave in ways contradictory to the core values of the Kingdom and still be called "loyal".  Sure, you can call yourself a citizen, but to be "loyal" one must be faithful to the core values that form the foundation of the Kingdom.

I just don't think very many Christians trust Jesus' ideas about how to live this life.  Zhand again:

“..... while we believe in Jesus as Savior of the private soul, we remain largely unconvinced about his ideas for saving the world.” 

I don't believe most Christians really think Jesus can save this world.  We trust him to take us to heaven, but not so much to guide us here.  His way is tough, after all.  Jesus promises all sorts of "persecution" and no promise of "ease".

One more Zhand quote to make my point.

“The appropriate response to this gospel proclamation is to rethink everything in the light of the risen and ascended Christ and live accordingly. We rethink our lives (which is what it means to repent) not so we can escape a doomed planet, but in order to participate in God’s design to redeem the human person and renovate human society in Christ. Salvation is a restoration project, not an evacuation project!”

My friends, the call to follow Jesus is not a call to simply walk down an aisle or say a "sinner's prayer" to accept Jesus into your heart. Sometimes that's a good place to start, but I would go so far as to say there are a great number of people who have been born-again by the Spirit and now live as productive citizens in the Kingdom of God, following Jesus with all their strength, who have never walked down the aisle or prayed a traditional "sinner's prayer".

I would also go so far as to say there are many who have walked down the aisle, made a "confession of faith", and prayed the "sinner's prayer", and have had almost nothing to do with following Jesus since.

Repentance and surrender are so much more complex than that. We rethink our entire lives in order to participate in God's design.  When we do that, we begin to become "loyal Christians", who's lives glow outwardly with the inward light of God's love.  We become salt and light.  We become ambassadors of the Kingdom.  We become soldiers in the Army of God, fighting the battles God's way, the Jesus way.

So I challenge you, dear reader. Don't be a Christian that someone has to defend by saying, "He has always been a loyal Christian, despite outward appearances."  

Instead, allow yourself to rethink your relationship with Jesus, and what it means to "follow" Him. Allow yourself to learn new things, and be intentional about learning and changing your habits, not to gain favor with God, but because that's how restoration and the rescue of the world and its people begin. The Apostle Paul put it this way: 

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

Jesus wants us to learn His way, to follow his steps, and to be all about bringing His Kingdom to fruition in this world! Right here, right now, Jesus wants us to take his teachings and put them to work, to live them out!

Jesus put it this way:

"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:23-27)

When American's travel around the world, they are almost always recognized by how they talk and behave.  When foreigners come to our country, its often easy to tell because they seem out of place, and unfamiliar with our customs.

That is how it should be with citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We should seem like foreigners, behaving like citizens of a foreign land, observing the culture and laws of our homeland.

There are no undercover Christians in the Kingdom.  Let your light shine. Trust Jesus' ideas to save this world, and be a part of the work!

(Author's note: this is not about casting guilt over not being a "good enough"
Christian.  Its about examining our hearts to see where our loyalty really lies.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Follow Your Heart? It Always Shows the Flavor of Your Fruit Wherever It Goes

When Jesus said

"Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be" (Matt 6:21, Luke 12:34)

I don't think He was giving instructions on where to put your treasure in order for your heart to follow.

I think it was more of a warning, or a diagnostic , to help us examine our hearts.

I think he was saying "Take a look and see where your treasure goes, and you will find out where your heart truly is."

We humans have an astounding ability to lie to ourselves, and tend to justify our actions in order to avoid guilt or responsibility. I think Jesus' statement about treasure was not meant as instructions, but rather a diagnostic tool intended not to let us off the hook, to keep us from too easily justifying things.

I don't think he was saying "put your treasure here" as instructions on where to spend our money and by so doing get our heart to change.  I think he was saying, "in order to find our where your heart is, be honest and look at where your treasure goes"

After all, an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward a cure.

Jesus said just prior, in Matt 6:20, "store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal." Since its not possible to store cash money in heaven, Jesus must have been talking about something other than specifically where we should spend our cash.

He was talking about figuring out what's important.

I think Jesus was saying "examine your hearts, look at where your treasure is, and be honest with yourself about what you actually value and what you really think is important".

As we learn to value the things of heaven, and learn the things that are valued in the Kingdom of God (the things, after all, which God values), those things start to become the important things of life. As our hearts change (by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives), as we become new creations in the Kingdom of God, as God begins to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, I think we'll find that we will begin to store our treasure where it matters.

We begin to spend our treasure in ways that reflect our hearts.

Jesus summed it up in Matt 6:33, where he says "seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."

Its not a matter of getting our heart to follow our money.  That never works. Our money always follows our heart. Our heart always wins.

To "seek the Kingdom of God above all else", is to learn to see the world through Jesus' eyes, and through the lens of Jesus sacrifice on the cross, and to learn to see the things that God places value on.  Its learning to set our hearts on the things of God, the things of the Kingdom, the things that God values.

When we do that, when we re-orient our hearts by learning to seek the good of God's Kingdom, I think we'll discover that we begin storing up our treasure in the things that God values. We'll spend our money on things that reflect where our heart is oriented.

Of course, what God values, what God loves, is us. People.

Jesus' death will set all creation to right, and will achieve reconciliation for all that is in the earth (Col 1:19-20), but it is people that share a relationship with the Father.

We are what the Father treasures.  We are His treasure.  That's why He put everything He had into saving us.  God paid his own life, in Jesus, for us.  We are His treasure, and because of that, He is our true treasure.

When we get our worth and value from what God thinks of us, and how much He loves us, we won't get our worth and value from how much money we make, how much stuff we have, or what other people think about us and our worth to them. We will learn to hold onto our money and our "stuff" much more loosely.

When we begin to look at the world that way, learning to love others the way God loves us, what we do with our money will begin to look very different.  The things we prioritize to spend on will change. Hopefully, the things of the Kingdom (whatever they are and however you identify them in your life) will become your priority.

Look at where you store your treasure, where you direct your finances and energy, and you will see where your heart is.  Take an honest look. If you don't like what you see, if you don't like where your treasure is going, then do something about it.

If we learn what is valuable to God, learn to love and value the things that God loves, I think we will see our treasure begin to follow our hearts to somewhere more meaningful and useful in the Kingdom, and our real treasure will be stored in heaven, with eternal security given to us by the guarantee of Jesus' triumph over the grave.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God".

That's the key to everything.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Finding the Perfect Path No Matter Which Path You Take

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

A while back, a friend asked in a Facebook post, 

“How does someone, while making sound decisions, at the same time be walking by faith? (Proverbs 3:5-6) Sometimes living by faith seems to contradict common sense, or does it?” 

It is, of course, a good question.  How does one consult God when making a decision or choosing a “path”?  How do we know we've made the right choice, or are being led by our faith?

I answered the question as best I could, and this post is a slight expansion on that answer.  I post in hopes in will help someone who, like most of us, asks this question in their own lives from time to time.

To start with, God grants us wisdom, and expects us to use it.  Proverbs 2:6 says, 

“For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

But, in trying to see which path to take, we sometimes have a hard time deciding if we are “following God” or making a “worldly choice”.  We get tied up in “finding and following God’s will” for our lives (which I've heard preached about so many times) as if it were a target we have to hit. 

I've seen too many Christians get so paralyzed while waiting to somehow divine God’s perfect will, trying to divine the exact right path, and waiting for some sign from God, that they become afraid they will miss God’s “perfect will” and screw things up. 

We look for signs and wonders to guide us, instead of using the mind God gave us, and the wisdom granted us through the Holy Spirit.  

I think too many Christians think that God has one perfect will for each of our lives, and if we miss it, our life will be less than what God intended.  I think this is a tragic way of reading the Bible, and a trap of the devil.  One of the most abused verses where Christians tend to follow this train of thought is Romans 12:2, which says, 
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Many Christians read verses like this, and fret over exactly what “God’s will” for them is, because after all, the verse says we will learn what “God’s will” is……. so we better figure it out.  We become afraid we will miss God's "perfect will" for us, and get caught in the trap of trying to divine the mind of God. 

Should I go on a mission trip?

Should I marry?

Should I buy a car or wait for God to give me one?

Should I go into ministry?

Should I take this or job?

The list goes on and on and on. 

The reality is, God has told us over and over in the Bible exactly what his will for us is.  The Bible doesn't tell us the details of exactly what we should do every day of our life, but how we should live every day of our life as a follower of Jesus.  

The Bible does not tell us what our vocation should be, or where we should live, or who we should marry, or what we should buy. Instead, the Bible tells helps us to figure out how to follow Jesus no matter what our job, where we live, whether or not we marry, or what we have. 

God's perfect will for each of us is to live life by faith in His Son, loving and serving others as we go, teaching people about Jesus.  We should not get caught up worrying about if we’re missing some perfect vocation or direction or calling God has for us. 

(Hint: The only perfect calling is to follow Jesus as perfectly as we can in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. {Matt 5:48})

God's undeniable will is that we love one another, and show His love to the world (1 John 4:12). Everything else, absolutely everything, is learning to live our lives doing that! God will often open doors that take us all over the world, or guide us into certain ministries or jobs or to a certain person to make a difference in their life, but ALL of that is simply an expansion on the main will of God: Love one another, and show His love to the world, in hopes that the lost will seek God because of His love seen in His children. As we learn to do that, I think the rest will follow.

Are you thinking about buying a car? Fine. Think on it. Pray about it. Talk to people, and do your research. Then make the wisest decision you can, and use whatever choice you make to help express God's love in your life. If you choose to buy a car, use the car to help others, to provide transportation to those in need, or get you to a job so that you earn money to provide for your family and help others out of the generosity of what God provides. Or use the money you save by not buying a car and waiting on God to provide (if that seems wisest) to help the needy, or gift a family that needs help. Or save and pay cash for a car so that the money saved on interest can be used in other areas of life. 

Should you save money in a bank or your mattress? What seems to be a wise choice? Banks are not evil, mattresses are not evil. Which choice will allow you to be the best steward of the money God has given you? God gives us wisdom, and He expects us to use it. Seek wise counsel, make a decision, and move forward. (I think the mattress was addressed by the servant that buried his money in the field, though. The Master didn't seem too impressed by that move. Matt 25:24-27)

Should you marry or stay single? The Bible is full of advice on both matters. Pray, seek wise counsel, ask God for wisdom (which He grants through the Holy Spirit), and make the wisest choice you can. Then live your life with all the grace, mercy, and peace you can while following Jesus to the best of your ability.

You get the point.
(Notice, it’s the wisest choice YOU can make.  Who knows if it’s “perfect”?  It’s not possible to know, so don’t try to figure it out. We don’t have the mind of God, but we do the best we can and trust God to help us live as a faithful child of the King.)

That’s pretty much the way it is with everything in life.  God gave us a mind, and will help us with wisdom.  Our part is to do our honest best with what we’re given.  Be assured, we will make mistakes, but God will always be faithful to help us and make our path the best path it can be, if we trust God (Romans 8:28). 

There is no one particular way to live a life of faith. Most of us reading this find ourselves in the USA, and as such, we need to live a life of love in this culture. Everything can be used as a tool for the Kingdom, and everything can be used as a tool against the Kingdom. It’s the hands of the one using the tool that makes the difference. 

Have hands of love, seek God's will to love one another, to serve others sacrificially, and I believe the rest will tend to fall into place. 

After all, to love one another and to seek and save the lost is the very center of God's will. Everything else is defined by that.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts From Mendocino on Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy, and our Everlasting Souls.

(Editor’s note: I began working on this post while vacationing at Antioch Ranch the 2nd week of October, 2014.  

I was editing it during down time at work the morning of October 24th, 2014, when I fielded a radio call for “shots fired” and an “officer down” at the Motel 6 on Arden way in Sacramento.  That incident continued into what became one of the most intense day’s I’ve worked during my career at the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department. 

The massive law enforcement response culminated with a manhunt and ultimate capture of the individuals that shot (at this date allegedly) and killed one Sacramento County deputy, shot two Placer County deputies killing one and injuring the other, shot and gravely injured a civilian during an attempted carjacking, and carjacked two other cars by force.

The irony, or perhaps coincidence, that a great deal of this post deals with the concept of “forgiveness” is not lost on me.  

It’s into this headspace that I go back and read, contemplate, and edit the post I was preparing.  After all, if I believe anything about God, then that belief has to work not only during good times, but during bad times, too.  To that end, read with me……)


One of the things I wanted to accomplish while vacationing at Antioch Ranch this year, was to take time to think about my faith, and try to quantify and make some sense of what it is I believe about Jesus, God, redemption, the Cross, sin and all that those things entail.

No small task, to be sure. I’ve failed utterly to “define” things, so far, but I’ve done well in pondering some of the things I’ve wanted to ponder.

Sometimes, I’m pretty sure, I ponder too much.

But, to the point, I have been pondering many things about theology, which I think is important, because, as A.W. Tozer (a man whose writings I am familiar with only insofar as I’ve read several other authors that reference his work) wrote,

The thoughts we think about God are the most important things about us.  

There are other things Tozer said with which I don’t so much agree, but I think this is a good saying.

You see, the things we think about God - whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Atheist, Pantheist, Pagan, Satanist, Decline to State, Any Combination of All Of the Above, None Of the Above, or Really Don’t Care – these thoughts define us and form our lives, whether we think they do or not.

They just do.

If god exists (admittedly, an unprovable “if”, and even that thought is formative in and of itself), then some sort of relationship is implied and inferred, be it distant, or close, or even non-existent. The thoughts that this god might be happy with us, disappointed in us, loving toward us, uncaring about us, or even that god might not exist at all – all of these thoughts influence how we relate to god in return.

Whatever WE think about how God relates to US influences how WE relate about OTHER PEOPLE.

Muslims think of God as being a certain way, and their system of religion and way of life reflects that belief.

Jews think of God as being a certain way, and their system of religion and way of life reflects that belief.

Hindus think of God (or the gods) as being a certain way, and their system of religion and way of life reflects that belief.

Buddhist think of God (or the non-existence of a specific god, or the reincarnation of one’s spirit) as being a certain way (or not being), and their system of religion and way of life reflects that belief.

Atheists think that God doesn’t exist, and their system of religion (yes, “not believing in god” is a belief in and of itself) and their way of life reflects that belief.

All of us -  Pantheists, Pagans, Decline to State, None of the Above, and all various combinations possible -  all of us have some ideas and inklings on “what God is like (or not like)”, whether or not it’s a well-developed notion, or whether or not we’ve ever actively thought about it.

When the answer to the question “what do you think about God?” is a shrug of the shoulders and a non-committal….. “Meh,”…. even that is a notion on God. The disinterest in God is in fact a notion about God – God is deemed not worthy of reflection. Even that noncommittal notion about God affects our life and how we relate to others. Our lives will reflect that through how we live.  

So, with that in mind, I have been pondering and evaluating my own thoughts on God, faith, salvation, redemption, and the Cross, and have been actively seeking what others think on the matter.  Turns out there is NO shortage of opinions.
So, to that end, I took a little light reading along to help me.  I didn’t get through all of it yet, but what I have gotten through has been helpful….

"Unconditional? The Call Of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness” by Brian Zahnd.

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace” by Brian Zahnd.

…..and I was (so fortuitously) given to read by our hosts, Pat and Jerry Westfall,

“Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense” by N.T. Wright.

I started out with “Unconditional” because I have been drawn lately to ponder the phenomenon of forgiveness, and what the Bible has to say about.  More specifically, what Jesus says on the matter.

Some notable quotes from what I've read that are helping me to formulate my thoughts lately:

“It should be obvious from an honest reading of the Gospels that Jesus expected his disciples to master the lessons he taught and actually live a life centered on love and forgiveness.” 

“Do we see the practice of forgiveness as synonymous with being a Christian? When grappling with the question of forgiveness, we eventually have to grapple with the question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It’s all too easy to reduce being a Christian to a conferred status – the result of having “accepted Jesus as your personal Savior”. But that kind of minimalist approach is a gross distortion of what the earliest followers of Jesus understood being a Christian to mean. The original Christians didn't merely (or even primarily) see themselves as those who had received a “get out of hell free” card from Jesus, but as followers, students, learners, and disciples of the one whom they called Master and Teacher. Jesus was the master, they were the disciples.”

Zahnd touches on the concept that the way of the world, recycled revenge and a tit-for-tat mentality as the way to achieve justice, is what Jesus came to put to an end.  The endless wars in the Middle East, for example, are a perfect image of the endless seeking for justice through the tit-for-tat cycle of recycled violence, trying to gain an advantage through force and power. So is American politics – an endless cycle of tit-for-tat posturing and positioning.  

All of us have learned to live life after this fashion. 

From the playground to the work place, to our homes and our streets, the endless cycle of tit-for-tat vengeance and the use of force or violence (be it actually assaulting someone, or a snide insult meant to cut without leaving a mark) as a means to achieve “justice” (which is always defined as in our favor) is endless.

Look at Ferguson, MO. Without passing judgment on any one side, it works like this: one tribe of people feels an injustice has been done, and the crowd demands, essentially, “an eye for an eye” justice – a scapegoat, upon which they can expend their need for vengeance.  This, of course, spurs those of whom this justice is demanded – the “them”, those on the “other” side, those on the side of the scapegoat - to prepare for battle and defend their view of justice, and their tribe. The tribe originally offended then up the ante of rhetoric and violence, which initiates an even stronger response in return.  Left to its own, this cycle will never end.  It will continue to escalate until more people die in an effort to achieve “justice “for one tribe or the other.  Someone, some side in the conflict, must absorb the pain and extend grace and forgive, ending the endless cycle, or it will never end.

Which tribe extends grace and, absorbs the pain and offers forgiveness? 

According to Jesus, your tribe. You extend the forgiveness.

Forgiveness is often (in fact almost always) painful, but it is necessary for peace in the world,  and is essential to the Kingdom of God.  Most importantly, though, this is what Jesus did for the world – his forgiveness is free to us (grace), but was very costly to him (mercy). 

In Matthew 18, we read the parable of the man who owed his master an obscenely large amount of money.  Being unable to pay, he begged his master for mercy, who granted it and forgave the debt. Upon leaving, the man whose obscenely large debt was forgiven found a man who owed him a small amount of money, and brutally demanded it be paid.  Unable to pay, the forgiven servant had the debtor arrested and thrown in prison. The Master, hearing about this, had the servant brought before him and said to him, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”  To which Jesus tied it all up by saying “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

“….let’s understand the cross of Christ correctly.  The cross of Christ is less the payment of a debt than it is the absorption of injustice. In the parable (Matt 18:21-35), the Master is not repaid; he simply absorbs the loss. It is only in absorbing the pain of his loss that he is able to offer pardon to the debtor.  Indeed, the forgiveness of great wrongs is never cheap but is always painful, because someone must bear the loss.’  

This concept is just as valid for the world stage as it is in our homes, our schools, our cities, our workplaces, and yes, even our churches and our families. . 

“Through adopting the call of Jesus to employ radical forgiveness, we find a way out of the cycle of recycled revenge.  We find a way out of a futile life that is nothing more than a battle from beginning to end.

“This is the Jesus way. And we need to see that the Jesus way is far more than “how to go to heaven when you die”. When Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life, he wasn't just saying he was the way to salvation in a postmortem afterlife; rather, he was claiming that his way of living is the true way that leads to life! The Jesus way is always the way of forgiveness. Seventy times seven! This is the way that ends the endless battle, that breaks the cycle of recycled revenge, and that refuses to follow death and all his friends.  This is the way that gives the future a hope.” 

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons we are so deeply tempted to reduce the salvation found in Jesus Christ to a largely private and primarily postmortem event is that, whereas we believe in Jesus as our “personal savior”, we are still not convinced of his ideas. At times we remain as cynical as Pilate. Sure, we believe that Jesus can save us for the next life, but in this life it is not the cross that saves, but the sword. Or so we think. But the sword of vengeance (and that’s what we always claim the sword for – the vengeance of justice) is the perfect symbol of a world stuck in the bitter cycle of revenge.”

Now, in reading Brian Zhand, I've been enjoying his holistic view of Christianity as so much more than just personal salvation and piety so I can go to heaven when I die.  His view, a view often lost in the West, but still alive and vital in much of Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, etc.) is the idea that God is not only offering people salvation, but is engaged in a great rescue mission to not only redeem people, but to enlist redeemed people in God’s rescue and restoration project for the entire world. 

A theme I've found very prevalent in N.T. Wright’s “Simply Christian”.
Indeed, I’m certain that Zhand is a fan, and has read quite a bit, of N.T. Wright.
In “Simply Christian”, Wright begins with the longings and desires of mankind in general, things that we all share a taste or desire for: a desire for justice, an innate spirituality, the need for relationship, and a deep longing for the beauty in life.  All of these he calls “echoes of a Voice” that all humans seems to hear.
Wright then expounds on why he finds Christianity as the most satisfying explanation for these desires, and indeed, the most satisfying answer to how to achieve these desires. 

“Finally, Christianity isn't about giving the world fresh teaching about God himself – though, clearly, if the Christian claim is true, we do indeed learn a great deal about who God is by looking at Jesus. The “need” which the Christian faith answers is not so much that we are ignorant and need better information, but that we are lost and need someone to come and find us, stuck in the quicksand waiting to be rescued, dying and in need of new life.

“So what is Christianity about, then?

“Christianity is about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, the saving, (and) the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it.  With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all.  A great door has been swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we've been kept chained up.  We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves……. We are all invited – summoned actually- to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy is as such but to work to bring it to birth on earth as in heaven.  In Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along. “

Wright’s writing is so rich that it difficult to summarize it, but the paragraphs above, I think, hit the highlights. 

Which brings me to some things I’ve been pondering about God.  After all, what I think about God is the most important thing about me, right?

I think God is so much more loving and forgiving and graceful and merciful than I've ever thought before.  Everything I read in the Bible lately, I read through new eyes, and the lens of the Cross, where Jesus said “It is finished,” and “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

I believe the atoning work, the reconciling of creation to God, through Jesus at the cross, was completely, utterly, and fully accomplished for all of creation and everything in creation at that moment.  I think the purpose of all human life is to learn to see, to join in with, to live in, and to celebrate this great work that been done for us, and to worship and follow our risen and rightful King of Kings, Jesus.

I see the “Great Commission” not as a dictate to go and save souls from hell by garnering a confession of faith, but an invitation to join Jesus on a journey He has laid out for us;

To teach people the new reality of what God has done for us and all creation, reconciling us and beginning the process of healing and restoral, through Jesus!

To tell people of the new and existent Kingdom of which Jesus is King has arrived and is in place now!

To help people see that they have been set free from death by Jesus at the cross! 

To help people see the new reality that exists because of what Jesus did at the cross!

To baptize people into this new life, and help them to see the true nature of the life that Jesus brings!

So, here’s a few of my own thoughts, of the top of my head, and in no particular order.  I encourage you, as you read them, to place yourself in the first person with me, and read them from your own point of view.  Take the good, throw out the bad.

1. God’s only disposition toward me is, has always been and eternally shall           ever be, love.

2. God has never been angry with me, and never will be.  See point 1.

3. God grieves with me when I am sad, and is joyful with me when I am               happy. 

4. God always wants what is best for me, and, like a good parent, will allow me to learn my lessons when needed.

5. God does not control everything in my life.   This is not so say God is not sovereign, but that God has granted me free will, and because God is love, God has taken on the risk of his beloved not always returning the love God freely gives.  God has given mankind a staggering amount of freedom, and we often use it to create chaos and pain instead of beauty and joy.

6. I can grieve God, and God actually experiences sadness by some of the things I do. I can please God, and God actually experiences gladness by some of the things I do.  See point 5.

7. Because of point 1, point 4, and point 5, God put into plan a way to redeem those whom God loves (which I believe is, of course, everyone who has ever lived), which involved God becoming incarnate on earth as Jesus, and as Jesus taking upon himself all the injustice and “sin” in the world, in order to rescue mankind (all of us, everyone who has ever lived) from the futility of death, and usher into this present world the beginning of the renewal which will culminate with Jesus’ return to reign in a very real, physical sense, over a world of which he is already “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords”. 

8. Salvation is available and is effective to all people, from all times, by and through the grace of God alone, as demonstrated by the incredible love and forgiveness offered by Jesus on the cross to those who knew no better.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.  Not, “Father forgive them when they come to their senses and ask for forgiveness” or when they accept that they are sinners, believe in Jesus, and confess Jesus as Lord…. no, Jesus asked God to forgive them in the midst of their evil plans to kill….well….. to kill God.

9. The “Great Commission” is not Jesus command to go and make converts to Christianity.  The evangelical urge to get people converted, and to wring out a ‘confession of faith” makes people into projects – things to get saved – instead of people to love, get to know, and have relationships with. 

It is through relationship that people get “saved”.

Jesus commanded his disciples to go and teach people about him, about his offer of life, to be baptized into and as a reflection of faith, and to obey his commands – not because obedience is a way to be saved, but because obedience to Jesus’ commands will begin to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, to which we have been so gracefully invited and asked to participate in!

It is because of the graciousness of the invitation that we see how much the giver of the invitation loves us, and in return we learn to love the giver of the invitation.

10. The grace of salvation is already extended to all – what needs to be done is to lift the veil of spiritual blindness and allow people to see the truth of the already existent salvation and rescue affected by Jesus on the cross.  When I see the truth that already exists – that Jesus death, burial, and resurrection validates and proves the supposition that Jesus has defeated death, that Jesus is the author of Life, and that God offers this life to all, even me – it is with a simple ease and assurance that I can confess Jesus is Lord, and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead.

It is not confession that brings salvation – the realization of salvation brings the confession!

11. The “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must actually be “good news”, or it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I am told that the vast majority of people that have ever lived will be condemned to hell by God to suffer for eternity for their rebellion and sin (when the vast majority of them “know not what they do”), this is not “good news” to me, or anyone with a shred of compassion, especially in light of point 8.

Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who don’t know what they are doing. Because Jesus shouldered the “sins of the world”, those who “know not what they do “would be just about every human being who has ever lived.

I think the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is more like this:
Jesus Christ is Lord, demonstrated by his love for us through his death on the cross, and his coronation as King at his resurrection. 

The Kingdom of God is here, now, existing in real time and space right here on earth, and Jesus is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, who has saved us, redeemed us, rescued us and has renewed us by his own authority and his own might, which is the might of God’s love. 

God has unilaterally made peace with his creation, through King Jesus and his death and resurrection, and it is because of this great act of compassion, grace, and mercy that we owe all allegiance and loyalty to him, because this King of all Kings has invited us to be a part of his family, and join his work in making all things right again. 

12. Jesus has his own politics.  I heard this recently in a sermon, and have read it a few more times elsewhere, and it makes sense.  He is not American, British, German, Russian, or any other nationality or ethnicity found on earth.

Jesus does not endorse any government project or way of life other than his own. 

Jesus told Pilate his Kingdom is not of this world, or else they would be fighting for him.  At that moment, he was correct. 

But, upon his resurrection, everything changed. 

The resurrection was the coronation of King Jesus, and the inauguration of a new way of life, the Kingdom of God, that King Jesus leads.  The Kingdom of God is not akin to, is not beholden to, nor can it be subverted to justify, any kingdom, empire, or nation on earth

The way Jesus’ followers “fight” for him, in his Kingdom that is here, now, and to which we pledge our true allegiance, is to lay down their lives just as the King did, radically loving and forgiving as the King did,  and to work in every way to bring restoration, healing, and to show to the world the love, healing, and salvation that the King offers to all. 

The politics of Jesus can be found mainly in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  Jesus’ way is radical, revolutionary, and in direct opposition to the way the world is organized.  This is the kernel of the Kingdom of God, and, when looking to point 9, The Great Commission, these are the things Jesus asked his disciples to teach to the nations of the earth. 

I think 12 points is a good place to pause.  Mind you, these are my ponderings, my thoughts, and what I’ve learned from reading and digesting the thoughts of many others.  They motivate me to love God with all my heart, and love my neighbor as myself.  If they help you, I’m glad.  If they don’t, I encourage you to find a way to think about God that does.

Here is a truth: There is no one way to think about God. 

God is not really definable, but Jesus is the best, most perfect revelation we have of God.  All we can do is extrapolate the best we can from what we see, read, and experience. If we do that to the best of our ability, listening to the Holy Spirit and our conscience, with an honest heart and open mind, I think that pleases God (see point 6).

“God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We haven’t always known this, but now we do.”  Brian Zahnd

Grace and Peace


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It"...... Sort Of.

"God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" 

I'm sure you've heard that before. I've heard it since I was very small, and from some very well meaning, sincere Christians. This phrase is usually tossed about when we read difficult passages in the Bible, and have trouble discerning the context and meaning of those passages. Instead of struggling for discernment, we sometimes toss up our hands and say "that's what the words on the page say, so that must be exactly what it means. God said, I believe it, that settles it"!

But I disagree that we have to simply accept everything the way it is written in scripture just because the author wrote it a certain way.  I believe scripture is true and correct in what it teaches, but that our understanding is sometimes limited.  I'll never deny the words in scripture - the words on the page - , but in practice we "deny" the obvious meaning of what is plainly stated in scripture all the time, because what is plainly stated is not always what is plainly meant.

I do not subscribe to "God said it, I believe it, that settles it".

For me, an example of those difficult passages are when the Bible talks about God's hatred, or wrath, or jealousy.  For my own thinking, with all that I know about God and His love, I have difficulty believing that the authors intended for God's "hatred" to be interpreted as the same thing as my "hatred". I've struggled with this concept long and hard and have come to the conclusion that, although the Bible authors do say what they say, our understanding sometimes falls short if "that settles it" is all the investigation we do.

"God loved Jacob, but hated Esau" (Mal 1:2-3, Rom 9:1) does not mean what it plainly says. We know God didn't hate Esau, based on the continued blessings God gave Esau throughout his life. We don't teach that God "hated" Esau, even though the Bible plainly says so. This is an example of extreme hyperbole common to ancient writing to emphasize a point - God chose Jacob instead of Esau to be the continuation of the promise to Abraham. Choosing one over the other to fulfill God's particular role doesn't mean God loved one more than the other. Scripture does say "hated", but based on the Biblical context of Jacob and Esau's story, the verse doesn't mean what it "plainly" says. 

When Jesus says unless His followers "hate father and mother.... yes even their own life - such person cannot be my disciple" (:Luke 14:26),  He wasn't telling us to actually "hate" our parents.  That would violate the commandment to honor our parents.  Ephesians 5 says no one really hates their body but cares for it, which Paul implies is evidence of love for one's life. Paul is writing in a different context, but that is what the Bible says. If we take the "that settles it" approach, then we wind up asking, who is right, Paul or Jesus? We know, though, from context, that Paul affirms Jesus' teachings in every way.  Still, Jesus plainly says hate your parents and your life.  Again, its hyperbole to make a point. Jesus does not mean for us to actually hate our parents or our life, but to love Him and commit to Him far more than to our parents or even our own desires for our life, and be willing to lose both, should it come to that, for the greater call of following Jesus. ( I have had teachers who stressed that Jesus did exactly mean that we need to hate our parents, to turn our backs on them and follow only Jesus. Twisted, to be sure, but more common than you may think.)

Many Christians, when asked about how they reconcile this idea of God's love with God's hatred, will quote the phrase "hate the sin, but love the sinner" (which is found nowhere in the Bible). Most people will say that God really doesn't hate anyone, but that He hates the sin that besets us and separates us from God. But not all agree. There are some who think like Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill, who preached a well received sermon about how God actually hates some of us personally. There are those who believe that God, at times, truly hates some people. Literally. And they point to scripture for their reasoning.

Where I would say that God does not actually hate anyone personally, others point to the passages of scripture that say God does indeed hate people, sometimes.  Ps 11:5, and Ps 5:5 both say that God hates people who do evil. In Hosea 9, God says because of Israel's evil and wickedness, He actually began to hate the Israelites. God goes even further to say, because of their wickedness, he will "love them no more".  

Now, although the Bible clearly says that God at one point hated Israel, do we teach that God really hated Israel, and withdrew his love for them? Of course not. We know, based on Jesus own words in John 3:16-17 for example, and the love displayed by Jesus' death on the cross, that God never actually hated or withdrew his love from Israel, or anyone for that matter. God is not condemning the world, or Israel, but saving it. So, although the scripture clearly says one thing, it must mean something else, when taken in context. Something else is meant by "hated" and "loved them no more". Its hyperbole. God is making his point about how deeply Israel's wickedness grieved Him.

The Bible says that Jehovah is a jealous God, but God's jealousy is demonstrably not our "green monster of envy", which is motivated by resentment, or a fear of rivalry or unfaithfulness. God is the only God there is, so He's not threatened or insecure. His jealousy is infinite love always vigilantly guarding and maintaining and nurturing a relationship with the object of His love - us. His discipline may appear as wrath, anger, or hatred, but its never what we humans understand as wrath, anger, or hatred. 

God's love is always expressed in His way that is so much higher than ours (love in its purest and best form), that we have difficulty seeing it as such. God's jealousy in wanting what is best for humanity and all of creation is what motivated Jesus to go to the cross. God did what only God could do, and gave everything possible to give, to redeem us. That's love's true jealousy.

As a human father's love in disciplining his little child may appear to the little child as his big, powerful, angry father's wrath - so it is with God and us.

God's eternal, unchanging disposition towards us, his cherished image bearers, His little children, is, was, and always shall be, love.

For me, I cannot say that "because the Bible says wrath, or jealousy, or hatred, so it must mean (what a reasonable human may understand as) wrath or jealousy or hatred". Scripture is so much more nuanced than that. Wrath, anger, judgement.... all are loaded human terms that, when viewed through the lens of Jesus suffering for his beloved people to redeem us and free us from bondage, can take very different meanings.

Anger, wrath, judgement, jealousy - all are very difficult to define, and hard to understand when attributed to God. We struggle with them, and do our best.

But love..... love is God's theme throughout the Bible.  The Bible goes to great lengths to tell us about God and love. God's love is well defined, from Adam to Abraham to David to the cross.

St. Paul describes love this way:

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (1 Cor 13 NLT)

This, to me, is a perfect description of the God that I love.  God is love, and this is Paul's description of love; therefore I think this is one of Paul's descriptions of God.

Since God is love, I'd paraphrase the passage in 1 Cor. 13 this way:

"God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. God does not demand His own way.  God is not irritable, and He keeps no record of being wronged.  God does not rejoice with injustice, but He rejoices whenever the truth wins out. God never gives up, God never loses faith, God is always hopeful, and God endures through every circumstance." 

This God - the God that loves - this God I can trust.

No matter what "wrath" means, or what "hate" or "judgement" means -  a God who loves like this is a God I can love, because I can trust His love. This is the God who gave Himself for me, for you, and all of creation, at Calvary. This is the God I can join Paul in declaring:

"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us!

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Instead of chasing after the meaning of "hate" and "wrath",  I think we are better for chasing after the meaning of  "love".

When we wonder about God and his attributes, and the lens through which we should read and think about God, Pastor Brian Zanhd puts it this way, and I think this makes sense: 

God looks like Jesus. 
God has always looked like Jesus. 
There has never been a time when God did not look like Jesus. 
We didn't always know this, but now we do. 

(That's my opinion anyway.)

Grace and Peace

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sarah Palin, Guns, and Water-boarding (How's That for a Hot-Button Title?)

My thoughts on the Sarah Palin video making its rounds on social media, and many different responses to it.

These are my thoughts, the way I’m processing these things right now.  Take it for what’s it worth, which may be very, very little.  And it’s kind of rambling.

The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God, the perfect example of the nature and character of God.  Jesus tells his followers that if they've seen Jesus, they've seen the Father.

Jesus often taught with a supposition of “you have heard it said…… but I say to you” in order to help correct the often incorrect and corrupted understanding they had of God, The Law, and life in general.  He preached that “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, and “The Kingdom of God is near”, preparing his followers for a new, clarified way of life enlightened by Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice on the cross.  He said we were to be perfect, as His father is perfect, as Jesus exemplified and exampled for us, since to see Jesus is to see the Father.

I am all for Americans asserting our rights as Americans. We live in a nation of laws, instituted in the hopes of establishing peace, order, and security. Paul alludes to this in Romans 13. But note that Paul is speaking to followers of Jesus as subject to the earthly king, not as those wielding the power of the earthly king.

Jesus said his Kingdom is not of this world – if it were his followers would fight. Christians, follower of Jesus, are indeed “soldiers” in the Kingdom of God, but as soldiers in the Kingdom of God, we are not to get too tied up in “civilian” affairs of the world.  We do fight, but as Paul noted, our fight is not against flesh and blood (meaning any other human being), but against the spiritual powers of darkness that rule this world.

Followers of Jesus are indeed intended to fight, but not against people! Our fight is FOR the hearts and souls of people, even our enemies! Our only mission is to go into the world and make disciples, teaching people to follow the way of Jesus, and baptizing them into the life and power of Christ, by exemplifying the life and power of Jesus Christ in our own lives, in every way possible.  

The US is a great nation as nations of the world go, and we are afforded more freedoms here than in just about any other nation, and we should participate in civic life to the best that our conscience will allow us, but it pales in comparison the home of our true citizenship, the Kingdom of God, that spans the entire world and is ruled by the example of Jesus and the love of God.

The US, no matter how good a nation it is, is still a nation of earth, ruled by the prince of this world, just the same as any other nation on earth (Matt 4:8-9).  We must not forget that.

Guns, the military, and even law enforcement (a field that I’ve worked in for 24 years so I understand the application of force and how it’s used) are tools of the civil government to attempt to keep peace in a fallen world.  Even as I work as a Christian with the tools of law enforcement to bring help to the needy, and justice to those who do wrong, I understand it still depends on fear and the power to inflict pain and exact punishment as the means to keep order and bring help.  But guns, the military, and the police are NOT a part of the coming Kingdom of God that Jesus ushers in. They are a part of the fallen world being redeemed and reconciled, someday to see our swords beaten into plowshares. I long for the day when I don’t need to answer 911 to help with an emergency

Water-boarding, as effective a technique as it may or may not be for interrogation, is a tool in the arsenal of the civic government of the US, not a tool of a follower of Jesus to spread the Good News of God to the world.  To hear a supposed hero of the Christian Right use the beauty of baptism in conjunction with the terror of torture is horrifying to me.  I am horrified at the cheers from Christians who have become more comfortable with being the persecutors than the persecuted, trusting the power of torture to protect us from those that Jesus commanded us to not only pray for but to do good to.  Paul begged us not to think of flesh and blood as our enemies at all.

The US military, as powerful as it is, is a tool in the arsenal of the world ruled by Satan, not a tool used by the soldiers in the Kingdom of God in our fight to seek and to save the lost.  Even the police, charged as they are to keep peace and order, use tools of authority given them by the government that rules by force and fear.

We entrust these tools to people of hopefully sound morals and hope they use good judgment to bring about justice, and often Christians wisely use these tools to bring about earthly justice to those who do wrong under the law.  But they are capitulations to the world, not the way of The Kingdom.  Christians use these tools to bring “shalom”, justice with reconciliation and redemption, not simply punishment.

Redemption and reconciliation of the wrongdoer to God, not only justice for the wronged, should always be the goal.

Force and fear are NOT tools of the Kingdom of God.  They are tools of this fallen world. If they are ever used by God, they are a capitulation to the state of the world, condescending to a way we fallen people understand, not examples of the true beauty of God and the world He is renewing and reconciling to Himself.  To use violence and force in defending ourselves is not our calling as we live in the liberty secured for us by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  He told Peter to put down the sword, and all of the disciples but John gave their lives to be true to the liberty bought for them by Christ.

I am dismayed by how quickly many American Christians rush past Jesus' teachings on love, and trusting God to secure our true liberty.  We instead favor trusting in our guns and the government of the US to ensure our earthly liberty.

To possess a gun is a right afforded to a lawful citizen of the US, but trust in that gun to secure our safety it is not a hallmark of a soldier in the Kingdom of God.

I am convinced that too many Christians in America, to put a twist on the old maxim, are too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.

Remember Jesus reveals God to us.  I submit that any image or character trait you may think is attributable to God the Father -  be it wrath, anger, jealousy, compassion, love, whatever - if it is contrary or conflicting with the face of the Father revealed to us by Jesus, then it is an incorrect vision of the Father.  Jesus reveals the Father to us. God looks just like Jesus.

His Church should have more in common with Him than it does our civic neighbors in the world. I fear the civic religion of American has it backward, and it shows.

Feel free to discuss this with me, or ignore it as misguided ramblings.  As always, find what motivates you to be a better, closer follow of Jesus and follow Him.

This is some of the thinking that motivates me.

I’m not alone.

If  you’d like to know more about this point of view,

See The Myth of a Christian Nation, by Gregory Boyd.

See Beauty Will Save the World, by Brian Zahnd.

See A Scandalous Freedom by Steve Brown.

See The Myth of a Christian Religion by Gregory Boyd.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Some Thoughts on Love and a World Vision Vision

(This post is modified from a response given in a Facebook post.  Seems I write more passionately during a conversation than just musing.) 

World Vision US stirred up a surprising amount of controversy by announcing they would allow monogamous, married gays to serve and hold jobs at World Vision US. They were very clear that the decision was not a position statement.

"This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support. We're not caving to (an) employee group lobbying us. This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church.  This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S. based on this single issue, and nothing more."
I would truly hate it if a disagreement among Jesus' followers - on how to best follow and serve Jesus -  were to deprive those children served by World Vision of food and medicine just because we Jesus followers disagree on theology.

I think Jesus would hate that. 

I think the root of the matter comes down to a difference in vision of how the church fulfills the Kingdom mission, and Christ's commands. Maybe even a disagreement on exactly what the mission is.  

The article clearly states the World Vision position that they are NOT a church. 

They are an operational arm of the GLOBAL CHURCH in general, which encompass countless denominations and doctrinal variants. They do not impose theology on their employees, nor enforce any doctrines. They exist to serve. 

I think we should be careful about setting limitations on those that truly want to serve. One of Jesus' best missionary witnesses was the Samaritan woman living with her boyfriend, after already having been married and divorced several times. Jesus didn't pronounce any judgment on her situation when he spoke directly to her, he only acknowledged it as true. My hope is that Jesus' love for her, his caring interest in her situation and acceptance of her as a person, motivated her to a change, but there was no decree or command of Jesus for her to change her ways to follow or worship him or serve him. Jesus bids us come as we are if we are willing, and follow him, and let him change us as we walk. NOT for us to demand people change in order to be allowed to walk with us in peace or do good works. 

That’s the very definition of grace. Being loved exactly as you are – warts, wrinkles, faults, sins and lifestyle.  While we were yet enemies of God, God made peace with every person on earth. 

Let thank sink in a moment.  

God. Made. Peace. With. Everyone. Unilaterally. Him first. 

It’s been argued that some in the church who are accepting or supporting of homosexual inclusion “take grace too lightly”.  I don't even know what that means, but I will say this in response:

I think far too many Christians do not understand or teach or live out just how wide and large and loving and beautiful the Grace of God in Jesus Christ is. 

We insist on setting limits on grace, saying it can't apply here, or it can’t apply to that person if they live this way. When we begin to place our limits on the Grace of God in Jesus Christ, when we say to anyone that "you can't be a Christian because......",  we short change the gospel and people know it.

We preach “God loves and accepts you just as you are", and that God's grace is for everyone……but not if you are openly homosexual. 

 “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Not even homosexuality, or my fear of homosexuality. 

If I am a closet porn addict, we say God’s grace applies to me. I am a sinner, but saved by grace.  But if I am a closet homosexual, we say to that I - me personally in my living skin - am an abomination to God and need to change in order to be acceptable to God. 

We use verses like 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 to justify telling people they are wicked, and must be expelled until those homosexual feelings are under control and expelled from their lives. 

There’s no other sin we do this with.
"There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family."
We preach forgiveness and reconciliation and we work side by side with sinners struggling with every one of those sins listed in Proverbs 6. We don't ostracize a single one. We embrace and work to reconcile.

Why homosexuality? 

There is no other person, lifestyle, or sin that we so actively call people out on, and call them an abomination to God, other than a gay man or woman. 

Do you see how damaging this is? 

We force people underground, and make them lie to us in order to be a part of the Family of God, if by any miracle the Holy Spirit is still holding on to their hearts enough that they want to be with a people who thinks they are some sort of abomination.

We say “I love the sinner, I just hate the sin”. 

But how can I love someone that I think is detestable and an abomination before God? How can I separate the sin from the sinner, when indeed I use the sin to DEFINE the sinner? The answer is I can’t, which leads me to think we need to rethink this love they neighbor thing that Jesus talked about it.  

I just don’t think we've been doing it very well.

I think our job is not to judge, but to love. Confrontation at times is loving, absolutely, but only insofar as it corrects, restores, and edifies. It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict men of sin, not mine to point out another's sin. 

That's kinda the whole “log in my eye, dust spec in the other guy’s eye” thing. 

Jesus says be real careful with that.

I'm not arguing with any one in particular, but with a spirit that I see abounds in the church. I argue for what I believe is a fundamental change the Church - the big capital C church - needs to make. 

I am convinced to the bottom of my soul that we must re-examine just what Jesus meant by love your neighbor, and how wide and deep and long and colorful and beautiful his grace is. I think the world "out there", the great harvest, is hungry to be loved, not to be told how sinful they are. They are hungry to be a part of something meaningful, and much deeper than a "don't sin" club. They are hungry to know that God created them, yes THEM (after all, every Christian was a “them” at one time), in his image and loves them with a deep, compelling love because they are HIS IMAGE! God unsurpassably loves! That’s why we love, because God loves us, and we love what He loves. 

A Christian life about sin management is no life at all. God has managed our sin for us in Christ. We need to seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God, , and show God to the world. Right living is "love God" and "love your neighbor". Love all, and the truth that is Jesus will convict men of their sin, and the Holy Spirit will change their hearts. 

Our job is to love, love, love and love just the same way God did. Indiscriminately, and sacrificially to the point of giving all.  

I submit this in the hopes of enjoining unity around the cross of Jesus, not uniformity in thought and doctrine. 

Jesus never asked for uniformity. He prayed for unity in love. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

I Don't Like Pursuing Christ. Really. I Mean It.

As I was driving to work today, I heard a sermon on the radio begin with the phrase “pursuing Christ”. 

I have to admit, I've kind of come to dislike that phrase.  

I heard the call to ‘pursue Christ” in a worship service at a large church I visited some months back and it didn't sit well then, either. I've heard it many times over the years in many places, and it still doesn't sit well with me today.

I don’t recall Jesus ever telling his disciples to “pursue” him.  He did say to follow him, yes, and learn from him.  He asked us to obey him, and I guess you could say maybe even seek him, but those are different things. 

“Pursuit” has the connotation of chasing after something elusive, something that one does not yet have but must “pursue” in order to attain or capture.  I know that’s not the only dictionary definition possible, but I dare say – “pursuit” brings about certain images and visions in our culture.

Police pursuing a criminal.

A man pursuing a woman’s affections.

A researcher in pursuit of a solution to a problem.

A child in pursuit of an education.

A family in pursuit of the American Dream.

The US Declaration of Independence enshrines the "pursuit of happiness" as a basic human right.
What’s the common denominator in these everyday examples? The object being pursued had not yet been captured or attained.  The object of the pursuit is still elusive and evades the reach of the pursuer.  Indeed, one can argue, once the object of the pursuit has been attained, the pursuit of the object ceases.  The pursuit is over. The object has been attained.

Which brings me back to my point about “pursuing Christ”.

What exactly is it that the Bible asks us to pursue? 

Is it Christ?

I submit it is not.  Mainly because I don’t think we don’t have to pursue Christ in order to attain him.

Let me explain.

I did a Bible word search through several different translations of the Bible.  In each, the Old Testament is replete with descriptions of pursuit.  In nearly every single instance, though, the reference was to an army pursing another army, or of some enemy pursuing another enemy.  David laments his pursuers and begs God for help all throughout the Psalms.  There are many references to the pursuit of evil (ie. Proverbs 11:19) and the occasional encouragement to pursue good (ie. Psalm 34:14).  

In every instance the pursuit mentioned in the Bible had the connotation of a pursuer and an elusive object of that pursuit.

Sometimes someone was being chased, and someone was running from the pursuer. Someone was trying to elude the pursuer.

Sometimes it was a warning to be careful about what you pursue, or you just might catch it (as in pursuing evil)!

Sometimes it was an encouragement to chase something that is worthy of being caught (such as goodness and mercy)!

But in each of these instances, the object being pursued had not yet been taken captive! It was not yet fully possessed, so the pursuit continued. 

I submit, it is not that way with Christ.  Not with Christ Himself. Not with the Person of Christ that gave Himself for us so that we can live. Not with the Almighty God that loves us so dearly.

To be sure, there are the “Things of God” that we are encouraged to pursue.

Psalms 119:32, “I will pursue your commands, for you expand my                        understanding.”

Proverbs 21:21, “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.”

1 Timothy 6:11, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. “

2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

Matthew 6:33, “Seek (pursue) the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.’

An oft used passage which is used to depicts Paul's pursuit of Christ is Philippians 3:10-14, but it's really not Christ he's talking about pursuing.  He's got Christ! He wants to know him better!
"I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."
But I think we unnecessarily and sometimes damagingly confuse the issue for many people when we teach that we need to “pursue Christ”.

I think sometimes Christians can get caught up in this idea that Jesus and God are “out there” and we are the ones who need to chase after God and draw close.

After all, doesn't James 4:8 say: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you”? We take this verse and some others like it to say that somehow our penitence and humility brings God closer to us, or garners some favor with God which pleases him more, which can’t be further from the truth. 

God is with us, always. 

In Romans 8, Paul makes a defining statement:
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. “

Put a big “period” on that statement, and wrap it up in a bow.

Kinda says it all.

Back in James 4, James is addressing practical issues of quarreling and arguing in the church, and encouraging Christians to be humble and resist temptation. He’s encouraging them to incline their minds and hearts towards God and not the world. By doing this Christians will “come close to God” in their hearts and minds, and will see that God is always close by. He’s teaching good everyday practices to keep our hearts aligned with God’s heart, to not stray from the lit path.

God never moves, we simply open our eyes and minds to the fact that He is already near.

I think by teaching and saying we “pursue Christ”, we short-circuit the basic reality of Christ. 

Jesus is “Emmanuel”, or “God with us”.

God With Us.

Not “God Out There”, or “God In Hiding”, or “God Unrevealed” or "God Needing to be Chased After".

God With Us.

This is so important for Christians to understand.  Christ is not someone to be pursued. 

Indeed we can’t pursue him!

He pursues us!

Christ has pursued us, captured us, purchased us, and died for us.  His pursuit was so complete and effective that he is IN us and we are IN him.

Romans 8:9-11, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

2 Corinthians 2:7-19, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 3:26-29,So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Ephesians 3:16-18, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”

Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind”

And perhaps my personal favorite,

Colossian 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

So you see, the “pursuit of Christ” becomes a bit moot when we realize that Christ is already in us, giving us life.  This is an important, fundamental understanding that I think Christians need to grasp.  Christ is not something we pursue, for indeed he pursued us and bought us with his own blood.

If we pursue something, we should pursue Christ-likeness – a lifestyle reflecting and honoring Christ.

If we pursue something, we should pursue the servant-like qualities that Jesus showed on the cross, when he died for the love of people that did not love him.

If we pursue something, it is not God or Christ – not the persons themselves, because they are always with us – but instead we pursue an understanding of the Holy One and his great love for each of us, which encourages us to live gratefully, joyfully, and obediently to the commands Jesus spoke of when he said, “If you love me, obey my commands”. 

Christ is always and forever with us. 

I think Paul summed it up well in Romans 12:1-2.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Let God change the way you think. Pursue holy living, assured that Christ is with you

Grace and Peace to us all.