Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Good citizenship must of course be defined along New Testament terms.
Martin Luther King was often called "unpatriotic". The truth is, and which can now be seen in retrospect, he was one of the best citizens this country has ever seen. He contributed more than most to making this country a better country. He did this by placing Christ first, seeking God's ideals of justice and equality, and challenging the country using biblical principles [non-violent resistance while loving your enemy and desiring their ultimate good].
i don't believe that "patriotism" [love of country] is a healthy way to love, because it is too narrowly defined. Patriotism is narrow by nature, preferring one over the other, based simply upon one's location and too often not for some higher purpose. If all that binds us together is our location, then we are loosely bound indeed. This would be as dangerous as binding ourselves together based on ethnicity has proven to be.
i believe our love must go beyond patriotism. Let us love the community we find ourselves in. Not for the sake of finding ourselves there, but for the sake of making it all God desires it to be. Instead of being a lover of one's country, we ought to be a lover of our community, or as Jesus describes it: neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Whoever we happen to find ourselves in community with. Today, we find ourselves in community with the whole world. Any place in the world can be reached in about a day or less.
A Christian is called to be a good citizen, based on Christ's Way, wherever he or she finds him or herself. We are to seek to make our communities better, whatever community we are in, though never at the expense of another's community, because all communities are ultimately God's community, just as all human beings are made in the image of God.
Therefore, we seek to love our community, and our community seeks to make other communities better. So if i find myself living in Iraq, i seek to make that community better. If i find myself in Iran, i seek to make that community better. Whatever community i am in, i seek to make it better through love and community service, and there is no allegiance greater than this.
"Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven"
Some of the most important rules for the citizen of the Kingdom of God:
1. Love your enemies
2. Bless those who curse you
3. Do good to those who hate you
4. Pray for those who persecute you
5. Love your neighbor as yourself
6. If you have two coats, give one to your neighbor who has none
7. Love God with all Your Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength
"They call me a dreamer...but i'm not the only one"
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Don't get the book if you haven't finished watching the first five seasons, since it has spoilers and it really only makes sense if you can follow along with its illustrations based on the episodes. The first thing i liked about the book was that it helped remind me of the story line from season one throughout. Secondly, it pointed out all sorts of things that i overlooked, namely the imagery used to depict the mixed nature of good and evil within all of us. Third, it helped reveal some major themes that i had overlooked. Finally, it intentionally used the lessons and illustrations of the show to challenge me with the underlining message of the Gospel.
It seems that nearly any show would have object lessons that could be used to illustrate Christian implications, as well as any other, and it seems fair to me that Chris would use popular culture to reconnect us with the Gospel. i actually prefer to listen to secular music because of what i can learn from basic human experience, especially when i can in turn interpret through a Christ-centered worldview. Since Christian music attempts to do this in such a straightforward way, i often feel it lacks in displaying the basic human condition...if that makes sense. In the same way i think Abrams "LOST" does an excellent job of showing the basic human condition, and Seay had done a good job of interpreting it through a Christian worldview.
Ultimately the book was a quick read, yet thought provoking and enjoyable for anyone who enjoyed following the series.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
For those who do not have Christ, i hope they do have something. For some, it is our country. Once a man said to me, "I'd have a hard time not killing someone who desecrated my [American] flag." This man found something outside himself, bigger than himself, worth living for.
As Christians i believe we are called more to be citizens of the world (to coin Rev. Martin Luther Kings term) than citizens of any particular nation. This term "citizens of the world" will be very disturbing for some Christians. Please, do not let the words get in the way of the meaning. i am not saying to embrace "worldliness". i am saying to embrace the idea that the Gospel has no boundaries, or borders. Jesus says that we are bound closer to those who share our faith in him than we are to our own parents ("Who is my mother, brothers, sisters?") Therefore, your Iranian sister is closer to you than your local Senator.
In this way Christ was a citizen of the world.
Christ had a national heritage and ethnicity. He was Jewish and a would be citizen of Israel, if there was such a thing at the time. His fellow Israelites were often upset with him because of his service to non-Israelites [Gentiles]. Jesus' citizenship was not with any particular nation. Rather he was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and this kingdom knows no national boundaries. It is made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
In this way, if you are a Christ follower, you are called to be "a citizen of the world".
1. How will this effect our national allegiance?
2. How will this effect our support for wars against other countries?
3. Is it "anti-Christian" to think this way? If not, then why does it make American Christians angry?
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
i often write posts which question our allegiance to our country. Yet i have no hatred toward this country or any country. The reason i do this is to help separate Christianity from Patriotism. In the mind of many Evangelicals, the two have become nearly synonymous. For some, being a good Christian means being a good Republican, though they would never state it in these terms. But Jesus said, where your treasure is, your heart is also. The heart of many Christians can be found in their national and political identities.
i believe nationalism is one of the greatest enemies of our faith in America today. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves shouting "Caesar is Lord" rather than "Jesus is Lord". i hope to do all i can to reveal the unhealthy merger we've found ourselves in, and to help us to view ourselves as "citizens of heaven".
Being citizens of heaven means we are closer to being "citizens of the world" than citizens of any one particular country. More about that in the next post.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
It is interesting how we’ve hijacked biblical terms and ideas, retaining the terms while altering the ideas. In this way we can shout for the triumph of Liberty, Freedom, and Justice, and claim God as our divinity who supports all these things, while actually meaning something entirely different.
The Liberty and Freedom that are ours in Christ is a liberty and freedom from sin (self-seeking and in some instances self-directing). It is not liberty and freedom from all things, to free us to do whatever we want. It is not the “free” markets or “liberal” ideals, such as “liberty” over one’s own body, even if it means to terminate a life. When freedom and liberty have no bounds, we will find ourselves bound by other laws, such as the law of selfishness and greed. God’s liberty and freedom do not lead to self-serving. Jesus said, “He who wants to be greatest among you must become a servant to all.”
When a law is passed that says it is illegal to kill another, it does not infringe upon my liberty. That is, it does not infringe upon the liberty that Christ has secured for me. It in no way hinders me from seeking Christ’s way. If I am taxed so that others may have health insurance, my freedom and liberty have not been denied to me. That is, not the freedom and liberty which Christ has obtained for me. Isn’t it him who said, “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”
And when we fight in the name of “Justice”, are we fighting to secure God’s Justice? I believe God loves Justice, but we all have different interpretations of what that means. God’s Justice has secured Grace for every living person, especially the sinner. Yet this is not the kind of Justice we seek. When we speak of Justice, we do not seek Grace for the sinner.
Freedom, Liberty, and Justice are great ideals. Only we should not confuse ourselves by thinking we are holding to God’s ideals just because we’ve managed to hijack his terminology.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.
-Pope Benedict XVI "Jesus of Nazareth"
Now here is someone that should know a little something about the nature of faith and politics. It seems the great demise of the Church has always been to pollute it with political allegiances and goals. It began with Rome, and keeps repeating itself throughout history. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Reformers, and in America today...Evangelicals.
We believe we can make the world a better place by wielding political power, but in the end it always corrupts and controls us.
It's like the One Ring in Tolkien's novel. We witness how it masters others, but for some reason we believe if we wield it, we would overcome its power and use it for good. That's exactly what it wants us to think.
Monday, December 14, 2009
"To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed is woman less brute than man. If by strength, is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."
Julia Ward Howe wrote the ever famous song "Battle Hymn of the Republic". It is one of the "patriotic" songs in the hymnal (which is all sorts of wrong, but that's another issue). She wrote it with the mindset that God is on "our" nations side, and it is a prayer that God enable us to conquer our foes.
After seeing the young men returning from war empty, hateful, maimed, or dead, she had a spiritual revelation about the evils of war and how contrary it was to the ways of Christ. In an effort to turn our country away from war as a solution, she advocated a special day of the year to call women to turn the hearts of their husbands, sons, and ultimately the nation, toward more advantageous means of peaceful resolution. We call this annual holiday "Mother's Day".
One of the more patriotic fellows in our congregation, who doesn't much admire my stance on non-violence or patriotism, insisted that we sing this song on one of our patriotic holidays in remembrance of those who have served in the military. i couldn't help but smile at the irony as we sang.
i also couldn't help but admire this woman who was spiritual enough to not only admit her faulty thinking, but to actively turn others toward a more Christ-like direction. i have no doubt that she regrets ever penning this song, or that many continue to sing it, not realizing how her story ended. Yet her repentance and sensitivity upon seeing the truth speaks to the more pliable nature of women's spirituality, which allows them to truly be more easily led and redirected by God's Spirit. Truly, a sensitivity that comes more naturally to women than it does men.
This is of course a sweeping generality, and i know there are always exceptions.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The video is one hour long and can be downloaded here. i've created a dvd which i would be glad to make available to anyone free of charge.
Friday, December 11, 2009
"Who can climb to heaven and become immortal?
Only the members of the divine assembly live forever.
The days of humans are numbered;
Human deeds are like a breath of wind.
Here you stand afraid of death. What about your mighty arm? I will stand in front of you.
Encourage me, saying: 'Fear nothing!'
If i die, I will at least have made a name for myself."
Humans are mortal, and the only way we really know how to become immortal is for our name to be remembered. We do that in some sense by passing on our name from one generation to the next. Or by somehow making our mark in history in such a way that our name will be remembered. Achilles was conned into fighting a war that would certainly end in his death. The temptation was that it would immortalize him by making a name for himself which would endure throughout history. He found this preferable to life itself. He found it to be in some sense a greater life. An immortal life.
We still seek our immortality through various means, though most often not so heroic or amazing. The most common way is through our posterity.
Recently, a woman in her later years of life, has come to me requesting that we put name plates on various items in the church that were donated some years ago by people she knows. Another man, i do not know, showed up at the church a few months back and said he and his mother use to come to the church some years ago. His mother had donated the communion table and he wondered why her name wasn't on it. Then he said, "Well, it does say 'Do this in remembrance of me', I guess i know who that stands for then" (he was referring to his mother). It was too outrageously funny to be irritated by it. i have some empathy, because i know the motive is the desire for immortality, and one of the main ways we humans attempt immortality is by ensuring we are remembered.
i was recently shocked to learn that in Germany there are no permanent graves. People rent spots for a number of years, like 15, and can renew them once or twice. Eventually the bones are removed and disposed of and that grave site is rented to someone else. Why was i so shocked? Because i realized that the grave marker is another one of our attempts at securing a sense of immortality. Some years ago, in New Hampshire, i stumbled upon an old graveyard. As i read the names on the gravestones, each person seemed to come alive again from a brief moment. Their lives were remembered hundreds of years later. i knew nothing of their lives, but it was enough to remember they lived. i carried their spirit (memory) forward to the present. They achieved their continued immortality.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
After this he returns to the animals, but upon seeing him they now flee. The wise woman then introduces Enkidu to humanity, making Enkidu some clothing from her own. They both walk clothed to the great city. Enkidu becomes civilized.
Adam & Eve also live among the wild, apparently not finding it strange to communicate with wild animals (talking to snakes). After eating of the "fruit" their eyes are opened. They realize they are naked and attempt to make clothes for themselves. When God arrives, he makes them more adequate clothing.
If both of the stories are considered to have a similar connection with the clothes, then it seems clothes are an introduction into civilization. When humanity is clothed, it becomes distinct from the animals.
Except that in the Genesis account, it appears that humanity has actually become less civilized. They become less human. Apparently, the clothes don't make the man. And so we also have to ask ourselves, what constitutes "civilized".
If a man is dressed in a three piece suite, should we assume him "civilized"? What if he's attached a flag lapel to his suit-coat?
What if he's not wearing the lapel? Would that make him "uncivilized" or just "unpatriotic", and is there a difference? :-)
Ahh... just some thoughts inspired by the ancients.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Friday, December 04, 2009
This "Pray for Obama" Bumper Sticker Problem
Friday December 4, 2009I have been paying some attention to the bumper sticker, sound-byte that says "Pray for Obama" with a Bible verse attached: Psalm 109:8.
109:1 O God whom I praise, do not ignore me!
109:2 For they say cruel and deceptive things to me;
they lie to me.
109:3 They surround me and say hateful things;
they attack me for no reason.
109:4 They repay my love with accusations,
but I continue to pray.
109:5 They repay me evil for good,
and hate for love.
109:6 Appoint an evil man to testify against him!
May an accuser stand at his right side!
109:7 When he is judged, he will be found guilty!
Then his prayer will be regarded as sinful.
109:8 May his days be few!
May another take his job!
109:9 May his children be fatherless,
and his wife a widow!
109:10 May his children roam around begging,
asking for handouts as they leave their ruined home!
109:11 May the creditor seize all he owns!
May strangers loot his property!
109:12 May no one show him kindness!
May no one have compassion on his fatherless children!
109:13 May his descendants be cut off!
May the memory of them be wiped out by the time the next generation arrives!
109:14 May his ancestors' sins be remembered by the Lord!
May his mother's sin not be forgotten!
109:15 May the Lord be constantly aware of them,
and cut off the memory of his children from the earth!
109:16 For he never bothered to show kindness;
he harassed the oppressed and needy,
and killed the disheartened.
109:17 He loved to curse others, so those curses have come upon him.
He had no desire to bless anyone, so he has experienced no blessings.
109:18 He made cursing a way of life,
so curses poured into his stomach like water
and seeped into his bones like oil.
109:19 May a curse attach itself to him, like a garment one puts on,
or a belt one wears continually!
109:20 May the Lord repay my accusers in this way,
those who say evil things about me!
109:21 O sovereign Lord,
intervene on my behalf for the sake of your reputation!
Because your loyal love is good, deliver me!
109:22 For I am oppressed and needy,
and my heart beats violently within me.
109:23 I am fading away like a shadow at the end of the day;
I am shaken off like a locust.
109:24 I am so starved my knees shake;
I have turned into skin and bones.
109:25 I am disdained by them.
When they see me, they shake their heads.
109:26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Because you are faithful to me, deliver me!
109:27 Then they will realize this is your work,
and that you, Lord, have accomplished it.
109:28 They curse, but you will bless.
When they attack, they will be humiliated,
but your servant will rejoice.
109:29 My accusers will be covered with shame,
and draped in humiliation as if it were a robe.
109:30 I will thank the Lord profusely,
in the middle of a crowd I will praise him,
109:31 because he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to deliver him from those who threaten his life.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
--Nora Gallagher The Sacred Meal
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
-Marcus Tullius Cicero
We ask the wrong question when we say, "What will happen after death?" When we speak about the future, we speak of time, but when we die, we leave time behind.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
There is the simple answer: Those who don't believe and accept Jesus as their Savior. Yet i don't think it is as simple as this. Things get a bit complicated when Jesus provides an illustration of judgment day in which many "believers" come fully expecting to enter into heaven (the kingdom of God) and get rejected. They say, "But Lord, didn't we prophesy, perform miracles and cast out demons in your name?" They seem utterly shocked, and we should be utterly shocked, since most of us only wish we had such powerful witnesses as these in our lives. Yet Jesus says to them, "Depart from me, for i never knew you".
Matthew 25 offers a vivid picture of judgment day concerning the criteria which helps Jesus to separate true followers from rebels. Again we see a surprised group of people who wonder why they aren't being permitted into the Kingdom. Jesus tells them that they failed to love him. He says that when he was in prison, they didn't visit. When he was naked, they didn't provide clothes for him. When he was hungry, they gave him no food to eat. When he was thirsty, they gave him no water to drink. When he was sick, they did not care for him. They reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you in such a state as what you've described." He says, "I tell you the truth, in as much as you did not do for the least of these, you did not do it unto me".
The conclusion is that those who fail to embrace the values of the Kingdom will not inherit the Kingdom. Recently i heard a quote and critique concerning emerging Christians. It said, "You might be an emerging Christian if you fully expect to see Gandhi in heaven, but would be absolutely flawed to find Jerry Falwell there.
i don't consider myself to be "emergent", but i think this statement captures something profound.
Monday, November 16, 2009
You see, hell as punishment serves no purpose, unless it stands only as a reminder for the redeemed of the consequences of rebellion. i think the Cross of Christ adequately serves this purpose, and therefore, hell as a reminder to the redeemed doesn't seem necessary.
Punishment that desires to rehabilitate is called "discipline". God disciplines those he loves. Hell is never depicted as a place to learn discipline. We discipline our children in order to bring about a desirable change in behavior, so they can be valuable members of society. Hell is never depicted as a place for rehabilitation. There is another theology which would capture that concept and it is called "purgatory". Purgatory is a theology of punishment (after death) toward redemption. Protestantism offers no such hope.
Jesus teaches us a theology of redemption and rehabilitation. What purpose does eternal physical torment serve? Does God take pleasure in physically tormenting human beings. i don't tend to think so. According the the Scriptures, he loves humanity and desires the very best for us.
But doesn't the Bible depict hell as a place where people burn in fire? Yes, yet it is always used in a metaphorical context. Why do we assume Jesus is speaking figuratively when he says, "If your right eye causes you to sin then pluck it out" and "It is better for you to enter eternal life maimed..." yet when it comes to the fire of hell that the eye is to be tossed into we are sure that it is literal? Revelation is a book jam packed with figurative metaphors, non-literal images that point to real concepts, and we understand that the "Beast" is a person but the "Lake of Fire" that the "Beast" is thrown into is a literal "Lake of Fire". Gehenna was a real place that was used figuratively.
i believe hell is real, i just don't know what hell really is, or is it really "nothing" (the cessation of existence). Hell as a place of eternal physical torture and punishment with no objective seems to be outside the purposes and nature of God. Hell as separation, in order to preserve God's good society, is understandable.
What is the nature of that separation? i think Jesus only tells us that it is highly undesirable compared with the possibility of being a part of God's ideal society, also known as the "Kingdom of God".
Stay tuned in for the next post: Hell: "Who goes there?"
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Communion is one of those practices that never left the Protestant church completely. Though it also has not been held in high regard by many Protestant sects either. Our congregation holds a communion service every two months. i've been trying to recapture the meaning and significance of this sacred rite.
Nora Gallagher pens a narrative which helps us recapture the meaning and significance of communion as it relates to community. She is an excellent writer and story teller, so the book captures your interest as you flow through its pages. She talks about various aspects of communion, including the time before communion "waiting", during "receiving" and after "afterward". She describes communion as both magic and ordinary. She touches on the history of communion as a sacred meal, the changes it underwent after Constantine, and then what it can be presently, comparing it to sharing a table in a local soup kitchen.
The narrative is certainly organic. It helped me to connect with communion on a personal and communal level. i came to it hoping to find more of the ancient significance in the historical context (which sounds rather dry now), and while it touched on those areas, it was much more personal than that. i will be adding this book to our church library as well as using some of the concepts in their as an exhortation during our next communion service. i'm looking forward to reading more books in the series.
Below is some amphibious wisdom from Kermit the Frog:
Show respect to Everyone
It doesn't matter who a person is, what he/she looks like, or what that person does for a living. What matters is that he/she is another person and therefore deserves your respect. I think it's awful when someone is disrespectful just because he thinks the other person doesn't deserve to be treated decently. I can't tell you how many times I've been overlooked just because I'm 18 inches tall. No one likes to be looked down on, which is why I always bring a stack of phone books to stand on wherever I go. It's also why I go out of my way to show respect to each and every person I meet. And what's the best way to show respect? Well, Miss Piggy believes that giving money and jewels is the best way. But I believe that just being polite is enough. Saying "thank you" and "it's an honor to meet you" goes a long way towards making people feel respected.
by Kermit The Frog "Before You Leap: A Frog's-eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons"
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
i am rather sold on the idea that the most basic meaning of hell is "separation". Separation from God and all he's created. What this separation looks like i believe is open to debate. What is the purpose of the separation? i believe it is what you do with someone who is a threat to the security of a system, in this case, God's Kingdom. For instance, you separate some people from society by imprisoning them, which keeps them from negatively impacting society. i believe the purpose of hell (separation) is the same thing. It separates people from God's ultimate society in order to preserve the good of that society from those who refuse to live according to the values of His society. Why is it right? Well it is only right if he is indeed the creator and ruler of that society.
i understand the purpose of hell as separation (to preserve society), but i have a difficult time understanding hell as punishment. The next post will explain why.
The imagery of hell as a place of fire can be explained this way: Gehenna, translated "hell" was a literal place. A fire pit where people burned their trash. It was constantly burning because trash was constantly being added. Sometimes the bodies of executed criminals would be thrown into Gehenna in order to rob the criminal of a respectable burial or cremation. The imagery was adopted as a picture of how God would deal with those who rebelled against him.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
i still haven't grasped the answer to this. i believe that Christ has saved us in a variety of ways. To look at salvation as a matter of going to heaven rather than hell seems overly simplistic to me. i think it is so much more than that. In some sense, i understand salvation. What i don't understand is atonement. How is Christ dying on the Cross efficacious for the salvation of humanity?
i've heard many theories, which explain what Christ's death does, but not "how it does it. It's not really a matter of answering the question "what", because there are many answers. There is the penal substitution theory, the Christus Victor theory, and the ransom theory, etc. i know the answers, but i don't understand the reasoning (how) or what makes these answers efficacious for salvation.
Gandhi seems to be in touch with the redemptive value of the cross when he teaches Satyagraha. Satyagraha, he explains, is the doctrine of patience (self-suffering) that came to mean vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one's self. i just started reading his book on the matter and so i don't know if he'll actually explain how this works or if i'll be left with the answer i have now, which is simply that it does work.
i have faith that it does work, but i am really desiring to better understand the reason it works. Yet even as i say this i am reminded of David who said, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me."
Today's message is from Matthew 15:1-20 and it looks at Tradition. Tradition can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how we use it. Are there traditions you need to let go of? Are there traditions you need to embrace or even create that will be life shaping? Also, rationale is presented for Old Covenant clean/unclean Laws. The significance of Jesus declaring "It is not what goes into you that makes you unclean" will be further explored next week in connection with the rest of Matthew 15.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
We have watched as the postmodern world has torn down the controlling stories by which modernity, including Christian modernity, ordered its world. All we are left with is the great postmodern virtual smorgasbord where you can pick and choose what you want.
How are you to address this world with the gospel of Jesus? You cannot just hurl true doctrine at it. you will either crush people or drive them away. That is actually not a bad thing, because mission and evangelism were never actually meant to be a matter of throwing doctrine at people's heads. They work in a far more holistic way: by praxis, symbol and story as well as "straightforward" exposition of "truth." I am reminded of St. Francis' instructions to his followers as he sent them out: preach the gospel by all means possible, he said, and if it's really necessary you could even use words."
We must therefore get used to a mission that includes living the true Christian praxis. Christian praxis consists in the love of God in Christ being poured out in and through us. If this is truly happening, it is not damaged by the postmodern critique, the hermeneutic of suspicion.
NT Wright: The Challenge of Jesus
Monday, November 02, 2009
Sunday, November 01, 2009
And yes, i know this picture is silly
Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Morality is certainly an issue in Christianity. For some, it is the prime issue. It is the decision to either live a moral life or to live an immoral life. So the question becomes one of defining what is moral behavior. This is why in recent history there was an emphasis on what Christians do not do. Christians do not:
1. Smoke cigarettes
2. Drink alcohol
3. Do drugs
5. Give praise to people (applaud)
6. Go to the movies
7. Listen to secular music
8. Get Divorced
Above are the less obvious sins and debated between denominations. Below are the more obvious and generally accepted by Christianity at large:
2. Commit adultery
6. Worship other gods
7. Practice homosexuality
8. Practice or support abortion
No doubt all of these have their place. Yet is this truly the emphasis behind Jesus’ morality? While I agree that many of the above practices should either not be practiced or at the very least should be given careful consideration as to appropriateness and healthy boundaries, I do not believe they represent the core of Jesus’ morality emphasis.
All of the above would be practices that the religious leaders of Jesus’ time would likely agree are to be avoided and perhaps rooted out. Yet Jesus seems to have found the above to be lacking and even off target.
While Jesus’ emphasis on righteousness and purity does not overlook the above, it goes beyond outward practices to the state of one’s heart and intent.
The cardinal sins for Jesus involve harboring resentment and bitterness, unforgiveness, condemning judgment, debasing, self-exaltation, inequality, lacking compassion, injustice, elitism, inaction on behalf of another, insincerity, callousness, and generally a failure to love. These are the traits that are “anti-Christ”.
This is why Jesus can confidently say, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do these two things you will fulfill all the requirements of the Law and the Prophets.”
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Here is a link to today's message, which can be downloaded or listened to online. It is a study of the death of John the Baptist and the Feeding of the 5,000.
Today is my mom's birthday!
Happy Birthday Mom!
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous., compassionate. If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream.
from God Has a Dream
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Friday, October 09, 2009
October 9th, 2009
Hello blogging friends,
Some of you probably have encountered the recent painting, “One Nation Under God.” Artistically speaking, it’s an excellent work. Theologically speaking, it incarnates, in the most graphic form imaginable, the sin of nationalistic idolatry. It’s sort of an artist’s rendition of The Patriot’s Bible which I reviewed on this blog some time ago. You can see the painting here. As you scroll over each character in the painting a commentary by the artist on why they were included pops up. I’d like to offer a few comments on several characters in this painting.
At the center of the painting, of course, is a very European looking Jesus holding the American Constitution. This document, the author claims is “[I]nspired of God and created by God fearing, patriotic Americans.” One might think that this outrageous modification of the traditional view that the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God would be enough for Christians to lose interest in this work, but I suspect it won’t. It’s not clear why this artist believes the Constitution is divinely inspired, though I suspect it’s the same reason other patriotic people throughout history have thought their foundational documents and causes were divinely inspired. This is simply the way nationalistic idolatry works. People just know that God (or the gods) is on our side and against our enemies. It’s obvious, right? Nothing in history has caused more bloodshed than this arrogant and unfounded assumption. Nor, I submit, is anything more contrary to the Kingdom Jesus brought than this assumption.
Moving on, an F-16 pilot is honored to be in the presence of Jesus. The artist comments that this fighter represents all those pilots who have given their lives to preserve freedom. The people these pilots have slaughtered with their bombs and bullets are unfortunately not present. This too is typical of idolatrous nationalism: it gives divine sanction to our spilling of blood while ignoring, if not demonizing, those whose blood we have spilled.
Thomas Jefferson stands close to Jesus, of course, which is a little odd since he is famous for insisting on the separation of church and state and for cutting out all of the miraculous elements of the New Testament. He found the doctrine of the Incarnation to be especially revolting. Something similar must be said of the inclusion of Thomas Payne. He is honored to be in the presence of the pro-American Jesus because he was a Founding Father, wrote pamphlets fueling the American Revolution, and was an Abolitionist. The artist does not mention that Payne also wrote pamphlets and books vigorously attacking Christianity and all religion. As an Enlightenment Deist, he and other Founding Fathers objected to any belief in supernatural occurrences, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection. I can’t imagine Payne or Jefferson being too happy about being co-opted as cheerleaders for the pro-American Jesus.
The former slave Fredrick Douglas is also present, which is a bit ironic, especially in light of the thoroughly European Jesus he’s revering. Douglas famously proclaimed that the Christianity of white America has nothing in common with the Christianity of Jesus. I think he would vigorously join Jefferson and Payne in protesting their inclusion in this idolatrous painting. Also ironic is the inclusion of John Adams, since it was he who wrote in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” It’s hard to imagine him applauding the intense fusion of church and state in this painting.
Another famous Founding Father who is given the honor of being present with the Constitution-holding Jesus is James Madison. He seems to have been a decent enough fellow, unless you happened to be one of his slaves who tried to get free (many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves). He is reported to have nailed one rebellious slave to a barn yard door by his ear, despite signing a Constitution that declared all men to be created equal!
I was a little surprised to find the folk hero Davy Crockett included in this painting. But it must suggest that Jesus was highly invested in keeping Texas part of the Union rather than going to Mexico, to the point of affirming Crockett’s valiant killing of Mexicans to keep this from happening.
A particular interesting character surrounding Jesus is a civil war soldier who is crying. The artist explains that his tears are because the civil war was the only war in which “American fought against American, and brother against brother.” Apparently the many other wars we have fought were not between “brothers,” which is why no tears need be shed over them — even if those we are fighting are fellow Christians. Close by we find an American Revolution Soldier who is said to represent those “brave men who fought against all odds in defeating Britain in the Revolutionary War.” The British, of course, were Christians. In fact, they felt a divine obligation to keep Americans under the authority of the King because the Bible says all authority is given by God and Christians are to submit to the authorities they are under (Rom. 13:1-7). But we killed more of them than they us, and since this artist apparently is happy about this, our Revolutionary soldier gets honored next to Jesus while British soldiers are excluded. One of the most demonic aspects of idolatrous nationalism is that it tends to give people within one’s nation more value than those outside it, especially if those outside are in conflict with one’s own nation. Jesus died to tear down just these sorts of stupid, violence-tending walls (Eph. 2:13-14).
There are many other loathsome aspects of this idolatrous work that could be mentioned, especially regarding the people present in “Satan’s corner” (on the lower right corner), but enough has been said. The bottom line is that someday, people from every tribe and every nation will gather around Jesus (Rev. 7:9-10) and I assure you he won’t be holding a particular nation’s Constitution! The chief business of the church is to model this beautiful unity-amidst-diversity in the present. We are to manifest a Kingdom in which there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, rich or poor, American or British, and in which there is no violence.
This painting is a perfect illustration of the sort of primitive tribalism and diabolic nationalism that keeps Christians from doing this. It must, I believe, be renounced in the strongest possible terms.
If you’re interested in viewing an inspiring painting of the true Jesus and the true Kingdom, go here
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Monday, October 05, 2009
N.T. Wright in Evil and the Justice of God
How many times do we submit to the idea that it is necessary to use one form of evil to defeat another? Is it really possible to defeat evil with evil?
This is why Jesus says, "Do not repay evil for evil, but bless those who curse you".
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Many fear that a public option for health care is the beginning of socialism, and socialism is to be feared. Perhaps it is, i don't know.
i still struggle with the notion that there may still be room to talk about what is a move toward "big government" and what is just plain "common decency". i don't want government to make rules for every aspect of my life. i don't want to be told how many children i can have, or how to discipline them, or what they must learn. i like to be able to make those decisions for myself and frankly i don't like a lot of what i see being taught in the public school system. i'm glad i have other options, even teaching my kids myself (though i thankful to the many great teachers who work in the public school system and have excellent values!).
On the other hand, when i think about every person being able to receive the health care they need without going into massive debt, this just seems like common decency to me. i'm not trying to be anti-Jesus on the issue. It's just that i have private health care and i'll tell you, my government supplemental health care has enabled me to keep paying my regular bills. i'm very thankful for it. You wouldn't believe how much my private $13,500 a year health care doesn't cover!
The other argument i have is this: If half of our tax dollars go toward military expenses, it only seems like common decency that we would be more concerned about people's general health. Nobody seems to question that our military budget easily dwarfs that of any nation and compares with the combined military spending of all other industrialized countries combined. This is arguably beyond what is necessary for "keeping us safe".
If we can spend this much on potential destruction, then wouldn't it just be common decency to spend more on potential healing?
For me, the question isn't a political one, just a humane one. Is it evil to ask these questions?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Today's Message: "Concerning the Revolution" (Parables of the Mustard Seed/Leaven/Wheat & Weeds)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
"To rule is to be in the midst of your enemies. And whoever will not suffer this does not want to be part of the rule of Christ; such a person wants to be among friends and sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the religious people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been saved?"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer "Life Together" quote in parenthesis belongs to Martin Luther, as quoted by Bonhoeffer in "Life Together"
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
The closer people are to the truth, the more tolerant they are of the mistakes of others. -William Burton
This axiom is why raging fundamentalism is fundamentally wrong. Truth is not just a matter of correct belief and facts. It is more foundationally a sober understanding of self, humanity, and creation, especially as they stand in relationship to God.
If our knowledge only puffs up and serves primarily for self-exaltation, even if only in our own eyes, then it is false-knowledge and understanding. Another axiom, "The more i learn, the less i know". This of course has a double meaning. It is not that i am less sure about knowledge and facts, but rather that i am less sure i have the corner market concerning my understanding of the knowledge and facts. It is also understanding that truth, in many instances, is pliable. That is, different experiences and perspectives result in truths being applied validly in various ways.
But you say, "Sin is sin!" Is that so? Then how do you explain Paul's logic concerning the nature of sin itself? Romans 14:2-3, 14, 22-23 "One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."
This is certainly not not a ticket toward absolute relativism. We would all agree that there is a common law which states "you should not kill my mother and i should not kill yours". At the same time, it also shows a certain flexibility which recognizes experience and perspective as factors in determining truth and virtue. Therefore, for one person, something can be a sin, while for another, it is not.
In addition to all this, to grow in truth and understanding is to perceive oneself more soberly, and therefore to extend grace to others, based on a proper perspective of self. When we see ourselves for who we truly are, especially as it stands in relation to God, we develop a sincere appreciation for another truth: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to humanity." 1 Cor 10:13
The closer we are to the truth about ourselves, the more tolerant we become toward the mistakes of others, because we see a reflection of ourselves within them. This is why Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself".