For those of you who struggle with my ways, I do totally understand and I’m sorry. I know it can be difficult to understand someone who says he shares God’s word but looks so different.
This new Church will have the joy and community of the first Church in Acts 2 and will add people daily who are attracted by Christian love and not repelled by Christian politics.
During Easter Week I had this thought – it wasn’t “sinners” who caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross, it was religious people.
Why would religious leaders want Jesus to be killed? They believed it was their duty for God to do so. Just as many people today are involved in activities that cause great harm to culture because they believe God wants them to.
In the Bible, the religious group known as the Pharisees had assumed the role of protectors of their religion and their country in a rapidly changing world. If they could enforce their religion on the people and hold off the destruction of their country, they believed a strongman/messiah (perhaps one of the zealots like Barrabbas) would come and overturn the government and fulfill their dreams of Israel once again being the most powerful nation in the world.
Because of their fear of any disruption of their plan, the leaders of the religion began to plot the death of Jesus – he was getting too popular and was going to steal their power.
“…If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place (temple) and our nation” (Luke 11:47-48.) This was their discussion. The plight of the people under their religious leadership wasn’t a concern, but the political power of the religion itself was primary. Therefore, a little moral pragmatism might be in order to keep things in line. Even a murder or two.
“…You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (Luke 11:49-50.)
This statement was made by the High Priest, Caiphas. Yes, the highest ranking official in this holy religion believed the death of a human being to be a necessary sacrifice in their quest. After all, what were the needs of people in comparison to God’s overall plan for the world?
Today, we can also choose to get so deep in our own belief systems that we can miss God’s actual plan. This generally involves our interpretation of what is “good” behavior and what is not – and our attempts to place that interpretation upon others for a good purpose. Christians often become so fixated on enforcing the rules of God, we miss the amazing grace that God has for others.
What’s interesting is that everything the Pharisees talked about in Luke 11 came true. The people did follow Jesus, he was the one man sacrificed for people, the temple was destroyed (not one stone was left on top of another) and the country of Israel was ultimately disassembled. Yet, their unmalleable religious political mindset of the Pharisees caused them to completely miss that this was all part of God’s.
The story of the Pharisees is not a unique one in history. Over and over humanity has claimed political strategies to be the process of advancing God’s plan on earth. In fact, wars have always been fought between two people groups each convinced they are fighting for a righteous outcome. Bob Dylan sang a haunting song about this in 1963 in the midst of the Vietnam war called God on Our Side (you can listen to that here https://youtu.be/BfHLYIms97A.)
Could it be today that many American Christians are similarly fixated on regulating behavior to preserve “our place and our country” that we’re missing God’s actual plan?
The men who crucified Jesus the good, religious people. They were the teachers, the neighbors in the clean neighborhoods, the little league coaches and girl scout directors. They were those that just wanted everyone to act “right.”
Jesus spent his time pushing away from those people. He hung out with “those people” and chastised the religious for not doing the same. They hated him for it. Today, were he here with us in the flesh, Jesus would sit with “those people” again – the unmarried pregnant woman, the queer community, the liberals, the anti-war/anti-gun/pro-choice crowd. Those deeply immersed in the religious politics of American Christendom would hate him for it.
No, It wasn’t bad behavior that put Jesus on the cross, it was “good” people. It wasn’t sin that demanded Jesus be crucified, it was religion. It was the hatred of one who demanded we love those we don’t want to love.
Could it be our unmalleable religious belief system has caused us to miss God’s heart today, too. Would we love it if Jesus told us to love our enemies?
Let’s open our eyes to the Hope of God in this Easter. That God’s purpose for the story of Jesus isn’t to condemn the world but to reconcile it. That God isn’t after just those who behave a certain way, but for Goodness and welfare to be available to “all flesh” – that means everyone, including you and me.
I bless you and your household – Be Well!
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18a ESV
Fear…what an amazing, debilitating, powerful emotion. It’s often said that the first sin was disobedience to God. However, I think we can actually trace the root of the first sin back to fear. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 3:6a NIV. Eve was afraid that God was keeping something delicious, pleasurable, and knowledge producing from her.
Here are some examples where fear plays a starring antagonist role.
Trumpism is based in fear:
Unfortunately, perfect LOGIC does not drive out fear, neither do guilt trips. In their fear, the GOP has embraced a demagogue with authoritarian desires, just as the Germans did. Time will tell how long this will take to have truly disastrous results or how bad they will be, but history shows us that authoritarian demagogues rarely improve the nations that embrace them. This leaves us with two options: war or love. Either a war will be required to oust Trumpism, or we must use the weapon of love to drive out the fear in those who support him.
What does this love look like? How do we love those who claim to represent the God of love and yet according to 1 John 4:20 are actually liars? How do we help people change their fear of the “other” (refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc.) into love for these fellow humans? How do we help “In GOD We Trust” be more than a motto?
I don’t feel that I have any amazing answers to these questions. However, what is clear is that using guilt trips, protests, impeachments, pictures of children in cages, and pictures of lines at the border is only increasing the fear in Trumpers and increasing their embrace of their “Strongman”. It’s time for a different strategy. We must rise above the noise and instead show what loving the people that Trumpers are afraid of looks like. We must begin to tell the stories of “the one” arriving at the border, “the one” LGBTQ person we know, “the one” human…. For there is, I pray, buried somewhere deep inside each Trumper, a spark of the love of God waiting to be awakened to cast our their fear.
On a regular basis I hear people talking about all the wonderful benefits of youth sports: teamwork, winning/loosing gracefully, setting goals, and so on. As my kids get older, it got me thinking about the couple times I played competitive youth sports and whether I thought it was worthwhile. I was a smart, shy kid who was not particularly good at sports. None the less, I played a season of soccer and a season of basketball.
When I look back on these seasons, a couple lessons come to mind:
See, I was never a starter, unless the game wasn’t important. I generally played in the middle, assuming the score wasn’t critical. I only played at the end if the game was already decided, for better or worse. If it was important, I was off the court. If I was on the court, got the ball, and the game was even remotely important, the expectation was that I would pass the ball to one of the good kids to make the shot. I made very few shots during games in basketball and the only one I remember was the one that missed horribly.
This all got me thinking about my career in business. More often than not, when there was an important situation, I’d “pass to the star”. It took many shapes and colors:
All the while, I’d be trying to convince myself and others that I WAS the star and deserved to be given the shot to make. In sports, I knew I was NOT the star, but in business I thought I should/could be, but didn’t have the confidence to become it. Also, there wasn’t room in my worldview for equals. I had learned in sports that there are a few stars, the mediocre, and the bottom, and being a “team player” means that the bottom and middle pass to the stars.
As I’ve begun running my own business, I still find myself dealing with this phenomenon. Except now I have no idea who to pass to. I still struggle with being willing to take the winning shot. I want to pass the shot to the star, but there’s no one else to pass to, so I shakily take the shot myself. As I’ve made more winning shots, I’ve built up more confidence, and I’m gradually changing this mindset, but it’s hard work. It’s also hard work to not only think of myself as “a star”, but to not mentally feel like that must mean someone else ISN’T. Maybe we can all be stars and we can pass round the circle?
What are your thoughts? Were you a successful youth athlete? Did you get a star mentality? Have you broken out of it? Was it difficult? Were you more like me and did you get a “not star” mentality? How did theythat work for you? For everyone, looking back as an adult, assuming your sports career ended in college or before, do you think the time and money you and your family devoted to sports was worth it? Do you think the lessons you learned were mostly valuable? Have you been able to apply them to you career, or like me have you had to unlearn them?
The term “Pro-life” has been taken over by the anti-abortion movement. However, as I look out at our nation, there are many lives being destroyed. There are the pre-born, yes. However, there are also the 100 people killed by gun deaths…DAILY. There are the young children being forcibly separated from their parents by ICE, and when I say young, we’re talking a few MONTHS old. No, they may not be dead, but the psychological impact will be lasting. How about the poor…the people with no access to a decent education, safe housing, etc. What about the millions who are still without access to basic healthcare in our country. Let’s talk about water…how about the lives in Flint, MI, that still don’t have safe drinking water…5 YEARS LATER. How about the lives of our children who are going to have to fight with global warming, mountains of debt, etc. because we were UNWILLING to fix these things. Doctors are already warning that global warming is causing a health problem to people with respiratory problems, not to mention the thousands of people killed, injured, and displaced by the ever worsening storms, floods, and rising sea level each year.
The Religious Right says “I’m pro-life”. Great, we’re all pro life. No one is pro-death. The question is who’s life do you choose to focus on and advocate for. The Bible tells us to care for the widow, orphan, stranger, foreigner, poor, and neighbor. No where does it say to care for the pre-born. I’m sure the pre-born are on God’s heart as well. Yes, I believe abortion is a great evil. However, since we can only focus on so many things at once, I believe it’s completely reasonable Biblically to focus on the situations explicitly called out in the Bible. Furthermore, unfortunately, the GOP is ONLY interested in the lives killed by abortion. The GOP is ACTIVELY campaigning on the premise of harming other lives, and actively legislating to harm other lives. Therefore, I find it unBiblical to further the cause of the GOP for the sake of the unborn at the expense of the many other lives that the Bible EXPRESSLY says to defend, protect, and assist.
I’ve heard numerous people of a certain generation say that clearly our gun death problem isn’t a result of gun proliferation because there were more guns in more places when they were kids and people didn’t go around killing each other. Let’s start with stating the obvious, this is true. Another obvious fact, our culture has changed such that people will pick up a gun and go storm a mall.
Why has our culture changed? That’s more complicated. Maybe it’s the disregard for human life in the form of abortion, assisted suicide, violent video games, etc. Maybe it’s the disregard for human life in the form of the evangelical right anointing, electing, and supporting a president who routinely degrades and demeans the life of “other” humans. Maybe it’s the religious right’s support of the death penalty. How about the religious right’s support of waterboarding (what any rational human being would consider torture) under Bush. Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t know our neighbors anymore, maybe that’s because we all have AC and are crazy busy so we don’t sit on our front porches. Maybe it’s rampant fatherlessness. Maybe it’s that most people don’t care about the rampant fatherlessness enough to do anything about it. The point is, culture change is incredibly complicated. Probably all these things have played a part, and left, right, or center…in a very real sense, we’re probably all to blame. Regardless of all the causes, at this point our country is not safe with tons and tons of guns in the hands of tons and tons of people, some of whom think it’s cool to go kill people.
Now, what do we do about it? We could try to turn back time, but they haven’t built that machine yet. Culture takes an extremely long time to change and generally requires concerted, relatively unified effort. If you look around our country right now, one thing we don’t have in abundance is unity.
So, what’s is our only available option if we actually WANT to DECREASE the carnage and not just talk about it. We MUST implement common sense gun control. Let’s do it all: voluntary gun buy backs, universal background checks at all points of purchase, no gun sales for people with severe psychological problems or on the No Fly list, stopping sales of guns that are designed for max carnage, mandatory buy back or disablement of guns that are designed for max carnage, mandatory buy back of guns owned by people no longer eligible to purchase, mandatory gun safety classes and refreshers for anyone who wants to buy or own a gun.
If we do this will it eliminate all deaths at the hands of crazy people or even all gun deaths…NO…OBVIOUSLY. However, what it should do is make it harder for people to carry out a mass shooting, and make these events easier to intercept. It should mean that fewer people die in these events because the shooter is working with lower capacity guns. If we begin to reduce the carnage and simultaneously work to change the culture, maybe someday we can get back to the “good old days” when kids carried a hunting rifle in the back of their truck when they went to school, and it was only there for…you guessed it…hunting!
I’ve been a believer in Jesus Christ for 24 years, and in that time, I’ve noticed two types of Christians. Both of these people I’m about to describe are saved, they’re following Jesus earnestly, they’re seeking to please him, God manifests His power in their life. However, the way their life looks and feels is radically different. God in His grace, allows us to choose which way to live and then blesses us as His children in our choice. However, I believe he’s always calling us to the Promised Land.
The desert Christian: When the people of Israel left Egypt, they wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. During this time, the hand of God was with them, moment by moment in crazy, amazing, supernatural ways. The guidance of God was with them, moment by moment. They followed a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day. When the pillar would move, they would move, when it stopped, they stopped. When they were hungry, God began to give them manna, and it came every day. When they were thirsty they’d complain, and God would bring water from rocks. Their clothes and sandals never wore out. Imagine this life, you know exactly where to go because God leads you each and every moment, all you have to do is follow the cloud. You don’t have to bother making new clothes or sandals because God is taking care of that. You can forget the plow sheer, threshing board, and wine press. God’s got that covered too. Oh ya, and leave the well digging equipment behind, no need for that either. In so many ways, this sounds like the perfect Christian life. I get to spend my time enjoying God and he takes care of all the essentials. What could possibly be better?
Yet God wanted something better for His people then, and he wants something better for them today: The Promised Land. When the people finally chose to enter the Promised Land, immediately the manna stopped. This is also when the Bible mentions that while they were wandering, their clothes and sandals didn’t wear out. Guess what’s happening now, I bet they’re starting to wear out. There’s no more talk of water from rocks. How about the pillar of cloud/fire…you guessed it, that’s gone too. What is all this replaced with…Joshua leading them into battle after battle! The people march into the Promised Land and God tells them, GO TO WAR! Sometimes he gives them very specific miraculous instructions, like with Jericho. Other times he just tells them to attack and maybe provides some strategy. Take for instance, Ai. Set an ambush in the back and the main army in the front, lure the people out of the town, have the ambush set it on fire, and then kill everyone. That’s hard work and dangerous business. Running from soldiers is a good way to get shot or stabbed in the back, literally. Hand to hand combat usually results in people dead…on both sides.
How God is dealing with His people has changed. Instead of the pillar leading the way, Joshua is leading the way in the military wisdom God has given him. God gives him guidance here and there, but mostly tells him to be strong and courageous. He’s already led the wars in the desert, he is skilled and experienced. However, God pours down a shower of blessing and favor ON TOP of Joshua’s skill. In one battle, God hurls hail stones and it says that more enemy fighters were killed by the hailstorms than by the soldiers. In another battle, Joshua asks God and he makes the sun and moon stand still for a day so he can finish off his enemies. Now that the mana is gone, they eat the produce of Canaan. They have to harvest food, till fields, slaughter sheep, press grapes, and thresh barley. Suddenly clothes need to be made and/or plundered from their enemies. Guess it’s time for everyone to get a spinning wheel again. That water that used to just appear when they were thirsty, it still comes from rock, but to get it, you have to dig down dozens of feet through the rock and make a town well. Some were already there from their enemies, but many probably had to be dug. Even when it came time to build a temple, years later in Solomon’s day, God didn’t give him a pattern like he did for the tabernacle, Solomon and his men designed it according to their wisdom and God blessed it.
When we look at this way, the Promised Land actually sounds like the land of a lot of hard, scary, dangerous WORK! We have to actually think for ourselves….use our skills, gifts, talents, and abilities. What if we do something wrong? We have to clean it up and try again. God still blesses, God still gives favor, and sometimes God even gives specific guidance. It’s not like the desert though where each step was literally, physically led and commanded by God. However, God never intended for the Israelites to stay in the desert and he doesn’t intend that for us either. God intends us to enjoy the incredible, amazing bounty of the Promised Land. He wants us to work with him to co-create vineyards with massive grapes, and fields with 100-fold harvests. He wants us to work with him to design and build homes and temples made of gold and cedar. God wants to be in communion with us, but I don’t see Biblically, outside of the desert, that God wants us to have to ask him before making each and every move. He wants to walk with us, design with us, create with us. When we walk in his ways, he promises to bless us. However, we have to be willing to cross over from the desert where God’s hand is evident and always felt, to the Promised Land where we work hard, God blesses our labors, and the opportunities and results are only limited by our imagination.
The Church has had limited success in helping prodigals return. Perhaps if we follow the example Christ gave us in the story of the Prodigal Son, we would have better results.