Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Get Committed

We are scared of commitment. Many people are afraid to marry, and those that do are often looking for a way out of it. We change jobs as frequently as our underwear. If we make a promise, we want to find a loophole, just in case we want to get out of it. We have great friends, but we will just as often give them up and look for another one. We sign contracts without thinking about it and renege our agreements as quickly as we make them.

What we have lost in forsaking the idea of commitment is tremendous. Commitment is not just sticking to what we say. It is being faithful to someone or something. It is always being there when they need you, and always trusting when there is trouble. Commitment is a form of love, a loyalty that never swerves. If we have commitment, then we have the power to make things change among those who are committed. But if we do not have commitment, then no one needs to listen to us. Commitment is a bind to each other, and that commitment can change people’s lives.

In Scripture, we are commanded to especially commit to God, above all else. We are to fear God and love God with all of our emotions, thinking and strength. We are to worship God and obey Him. (Deuteronomy 6:3, 5, 24) We are to devote all that we have to God for His use (Luke 14:33). We are to listen to God’s word and obey it (Luke 11:28). And we are to confess openly, in public, our faith in God and in Jesus (Matthew 10:32-33).

But why should we commit ourselves to God? Isn’t it enough that we believe in Him and say nice things about Him? Not at all. We need to remember that God is a King—the King of the Universe—and before he is on our side, He needs to be sure that we are on his side.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rainbow Jesus

Why Jesus and Not Other Teachers?

In the Christian church, we believe in Jesus and in the Bible. We hold to what it says and understand that it is true. But why do we? Why should we listen to Jesus more than Buddha, Muhammad, the local spirit channeler or Joe who smokes mushrooms down the street? There is so much information about the spirit world and about what is true and not true. Why should we listen to one source, as opposed to many? Below is how I understand what is true. Other Christians have other ways of understanding the truth of Jesus, and other religions will tell you just how wrong I am. But this is what is believe has the greatest probability of being true:

1. If we deal with only what we physically know to be true, there is no meaning to life.
If we stick with what we can see, hear and feel—whether with our bare senses or with scientific instruments—then there is no real point to our lives. We are sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes we accomplish little goals and sometimes we don’t—but it is all pointless. No matter what we do on this earth, if this life is the only game in town, then it is pointless. And if we make up our own meaning in life, then that is pointless as well. If we are going to devote ourselves to something, then it had better have a reasonable chance of being true. Otherwise, we might as well quit.

2. Theology is metaphysical truths concerning the reality of a spirit world.
Theology is not strictly dealing with this world. If it deals exclusively with this world, it can be called philosophy or science, but not theology. Theology assumes that since our limited lives on this planet have little or no meaning, that there must be something else. And the far majority of people agree that there is something else—something that gives our lives meaning. There is another world—what some call the spirit world—which is different than our own, that operates on different rules and that is in some way connected with ours. Theology deals with information about that other world and how it connects with our own.

3. Positive theology speaks of the reality of an alternative world that in some way communicates to us.
Negative theology speaks of the limitations or negation of the spirit world—which would be atheism or agnosticism. It is difficult to prove, because it is hard to prove that something does not exist. Most theology is positive theology—from major religions to personal dreams. Every kind of theology is trying to talk about how the alternative world is connected with our own and that they are trying to communicate something to us that is important. Most theologies also believe that the spirit world somehow rules over this world, but some differ.

4. Communication from the spirit world, as a whole, is confusing and paradoxical.
There are millions of different kinds of communication from the spirit world. Visions, dreams, revelations, sermons, teachings, incarnations, divine or spirit beings, metaphors—many, many people are trying to tell us that they have heard something special from the spirit world and they want to tell it to us. But what one person says is totally denied by another, and the next person’s dream denies both of the earlier ones. Some say that ideas go together that seem to be contradictory, but others say they have nothing to do with each other. We want to hear communication from the spirit world, but whom should we listen to? And what is really true? One thing is certain: Those who listen to the spirit world from only one source are not balanced in their perspective of the spirit world. Truth is best determined by multiple witnesses that agree on certain truths.

5. The best way to understand the spirit world is through authoritative statements from those in the spirit world who are benevolent toward humans.
First of all, to understand the spirit world—go to the source. Namely, those in the spirit world. The beings that live in that alternative world. People’s personal ideas are nice, but they don’t really hold any weight. But we shouldn’t listen to just anyone in the spirit world. If your information about our world only came from a drunk, you might get a skewed perspective. So you need to listen to someone who has some authority and can prove that they have authority. Third, we don’t want to listen to someone who hates or despises humans. Communication from the spirit world that is in opposition to humanity is also more likely to lie to humanity. Lack of respect for one allows one to lie in order to manipulate that one for the self’s purposes. So if we are going to get info about the spirit world, we need to focus on three things—a being that lives there, and they need to prove their authority and they need to be beneficial to humans.

6. The most authoritative communication from the spirit world is that through Jesus, commonly known as the Christ.
a. The communication is clearly in the interest of humanity
Jesus did not communicate from his own self interest, as his goal was death for himself. Nor was Jesus interested in destroying others, as it was well known that he did deeds out of benefit for others, preventing them from being harmed.

b. The communication is also clear
Jesus used many methods of teaching in order to present the same topic—he spoke plainly, in proverbs, in allegoric stories, in illustrative stories, and by his own example—both in symbolic acts as well as in his everyday life. Every form of his teaching pointed to the same points, offering great clarity. Most confusion about what Jesus taught is its application to other teachings, such as Paul or to a modern worldview. Within its own context, Jesus teaching is remarkably clear.

c. It is confirmed by the ancient Hebrew Scriptures
The ancient Scriptures of the Hebrews—from Genesis to Chronicles—confirms all that Jesus said and did in relation to the authorities in the spirit world and who can gain benefit from it.

d. It is confirmed by miracles and authority over other spiritual powers.
Jesus demonstrated his authority over the spirit world in many different ways—including over spirits attacking humans, as well as spirits controlling winds and waves.

e. It is confirmed by prophecies that have come true
Jesus made prophecies that seemed unlikely in his day, but they came true. He prophesied that his teaching would be taught throughout the world. He prophesied that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation. While it is true that his prophecy of his return has not occurred, he also did not place a time limit on it, so it might still be fulfilled.

f. It is most definitely confirmed by the unique resurrection of Jesus
Jesus is alone in his resurrection. No other teacher or guide to the spirit world has had such a powerful vindication of his teaching or actions. Jesus resurrection is also confirmed my multitudes of witnesses, many of whom died for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and authority over all.

While there are other spirit-communications that are clearly benevolent and clear, this one communication is confirmed assuredly by the greatest authority in the spirit world displayed on earth. No other prophet, seer, vision, or spirit-communication is on the same level as Jesus’ communication. It stands alone above all else.

In Jesus, we understand the spirit world.
In Jesus, we can have meaning to our lives.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anawim: The Cross In Community

Jesus did not just come to teach and die for his own personal gain—just so he could be risen and lifted up to political heights. He came to establish a kingdom. He did not want to establish a kingdom made up of one person alone, but of a community that lives in and for God. He suffered for others, to create a place where God’s people can live in peace and security. But the big question for the Jews of the first century, as well as the Christians in every century since, is: What characterizes the people of God?

Jesus uses a number of terms for his people who participate his kingdom: “Little ones” (Luke 17:2), “little flock” (Luke 12:32), “my brothers” (Matthew 28:10) and more. Most of the titles he gives are diminutives, indicating the humble state of those who follow him. Some of the most curious titles he gives for his people, however, are those found in the Beatitudes—“The poor”, “The poor in spirit”, “the meek”. Again, these indicate the humility of those who follow Jesus, but they seem more extreme than those found in other places.

There is a single Hebrew source for these three titles (“poor”, “poor in spirit”, “meek”): the word anawim. It is used extensively in the Hebrew Scriptures, all of which the word would usually be translated “the poor”. In all of the contexts that the word is found, though, the poor that are indicated are the oppressed poor who cry out to Yahweh for deliverance out of their situation.

An excellent example of this is the passage Jesus quotes in the Beatitudes, and that might be the source of the theological concept of the Beatitudes—Psalm 37. Jesus quotes verse 11, “the anawim shall inherit the earth.” In this Psalm, it is described that though the righteous suffer and are oppressed under the hands of the wicked, yet the anawim should not take vengeance against the wicked, or do evil in any way to get themselves out of the situation. Rather, they are to trust in God, and God will arrange reality around the justice of their situation. The wicked will perish at God’s hand and the anawim will be raised up—granted land, provision and leadership.

This theological context goes hand-in-hand with the background behind the Beatitudes. Jesus is describing a people who are oppressed and suffer under hardship and persecution due to obeying the message he is teaching. Because of these circumstances, his people are poor, mourning and desiring justice. But they remain righteous in these circumstances, being merciful, completely devoted to God and creating peace in the situation. Because of this, God rewards these “poor” and exalts them, granting them all they need and even the rule of the world.

This “story” constitutes the foundation of Jesus’ answer to one of the great debates in the first century Jewish world. As many scholars have recently proclaimed, there was not one monolithic “Judaism” of the first century, but in fact many constructs on how to follow Moses’ approach to God. The differences between the various groups rest basically on one question: “What kind of people does God accept?” All the various debates about forgiveness, circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, separated or integrated communities and other arguments all rest on this one question.

Jesus’ answer to this question, as found in the Beatitudes and other gospel teachings, is summarized thus: The people of God is the anawim. They are the people so devoted to Him and so merciful to others that they are persecuted for it. God will see their suffering and cause them to be delivered from it.

More specifically, the community of Jesus is described as follows:

Pure in Heart: The Anawim is a devoted community
The basis of the community of God is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your heart and with all of your soul.” (Mark 12) This is a complete devotion, the opposite of which is idolatry. But idolatry is not just concerned with traditional images of worship, but also untraditional ones, such as money, one’s family and possessions (Luke 12, 14, 16). Jesus warns that none of these things should stand before one’s devotion to God, if one wishes to be of the people of God. Also one’s obedience should be to God first, above the traditions of humans. (Mark 7). And traditional acts of devotion to God should be done for the purpose of devotion, not for one’s personal gain on earth (Matthew 6:1-)

Merciful: The Anawim is an ethical community
The community of God not only is devoted to God but is devoted to doing the actions of God. The primary action of God is mercy, or love. In other words, the Anawim are deeply involved in doing acts that benefit others. The benevolent acts of the Anawim are not exclusive, either, picking and choosing carefully those who deserve care or not. Rather, the Anawim do good to even those who do evil to them—no one is excluded. They give to the needy, they tell the truth to those who are ignorant, they heal the sick, they release the oppressed—all without charge or necessarily gaining anything back.

Kingdom of God: The Anawim is a political community
The community of God is the nation of God. This nation is a political entity, under authority and using authority. They have a king, the Messiah, the human representative of God on earth, who is appointed to sit at the right hand of the Father, ruling the heavens and earth (Matthew 28:18). The community of God acts like a political entity, a group with authority. They command powers on earth (Matthew 10:8); they pronounce whether one is acceptable or unacceptable before God (John 20:23); they make judgements as a court and punish those who refuse to repent (Matthew 18:15-17); they offer welfare to the needy (Luke 12:33; Acts 4:32-35); they have their own official messengers, delivering pronouncements from their king (Luke 9:1-2; Matthew 28:19-20); they have a police that provides security, if needed (Matthew 26:53; Acts 12:1-12).

The Earth: The Anawim is an ambitious community
Suprisingly enough, the Anawim has ambitions. They are in competition with the other nations of the world, vying for power. The ambition of the people of God is to rule the earth, under his Messiah, Jesus. Nevertheless, they are an alternative community, not having come unto their own yet. But soon, they are confident, the king will recognize them and raise them to the political authority they desire. But they know that the only way to obtain their rightful position, they must remain lowly and await their king’s justice. (Mark 10:42-45; Luke 18:7-8)

Hunger for Justice shall be satisfied: The Anawim is a dependant community
The Anawim recognizes that they will not gain justice in the world on their own. They desire to see wrongs righted and justice rule. But the justice they seek will not be gained by them manipulating positions and obtaining more and more power. The power they need is already available—it rests in God alone (Luke 18:7). The power of God is the “secret weapon” of the Anawim. Although they are outcast, although they are needy, although it looks like they have nothing to help them politically, in fact, they have the greatest political tool—the promise of the king of the universe that he will establish them to rule, if only they will be humble and cry to him. Thus, the Anawim continues to cry out to God, relying on him alone, and waiting for him to create justice.

Persecuted: The Anawim is a suffering community
The community of God is not like the communities around them. Others find them to be “judgmental” because they hold to a strict standard. But they can judge no person, they only do what they must to obtain God’s kingdom. Nevertheless, they are hated and rejected. Sometimes they are arrested and put on trial. And sometimes they are beaten and killed for their difference. But all of this is a part of God’s plan, and they trust in Him to gain greatness on the other side of the persecution.

The Poor: The Anawim is a community made up of the poor and outcast
The community of God is not made up of the great and powerful. Those have made their choices to obtain power by their own effort and the powers of this age and world. They do so for their own glory or their own ideals to be realized in this age. The Anawim are those who have given up the path of the world to take on the way of the cross. The way of the cross does not seek greatness straightforwardly, but via the way of humility, of downward mobility, of dishonor before honor. The way of the cross does not focus on one’s own effort or money or popularity, but depends on the power of God. The way of the cross does not uphold one’s own ideals, but the will of God.

Thus, all who follow the way of the cross, are the Anawim—the poor, those rejected by the powerful of the world. They are the ones who obtain blessings of God and the powerful take advantage of them to obtain such blessings. The anawim shrug their shoulders and say, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then they await God’s justice. The anawim give to those in greater need than they and depend on God to provide them with greater blessings than they can give away. The anawim are rejected and hated for all the wrong reasons, even the reasons that are technically correct. The anawim are idiots for taking the long route, for not getting what they can now, while they can. Certainly, this is how it looks to those without faith—but to the anawim, suffering and rejection is all part of the plan to obtain joy unceasing.

Some Things To Remember About Mary

- Her real name was Miriam
- She was a sexual deviant
- She accepted God's will, although she knew that she would be rejected by everyone for it, possibly even killed.
- She declared the governments and religious leaders of the world to be worthless before God
- She prayed for the wealthy to be made hungry
- She prophesied the rule of the poor over the whole world
- She was helpless in her society, without recourse.
- She can be listed among the greatest humans ever, because of her radical obedience to God.

What Did He Die For, Really?

Did Jesus die for our consumer Christmas?

Do you really think that Jesus would be pleased with Xmas specials at Macy's?

What about the various Christmas industries--
The latest set of music about infant Jesus by the usual celebrity suspects?
The latest volumes of touching Christmas stories?
The recitation of Christmas platitudes, whether they be about the "spirit" of Christmas, or a general "merry" Christmas?
The recycling of the old Christmas specials that say nothing more than "gosh, we should be nice to each other?"

Jesus, who was born in a stable, would be pleased with people using their wealth to oppress the poor?
Jesus, who had to be an immigrant, accepting the platitudes against immigrants?
Jesus, whose angels came to homeless people, would think it's okay for us to help the needy one day a year and yell at them to "get a job" the rest?

If Jesus came on Christmas day, do you think he'd appreciate our drunken feasts in which our hatreds are barely suppressed? Or would he stand up and throw our Christmas presents out of the homes in which He is declared lord, as so many money-changers' tables? Would he gladly partake of our feasts, or would he ask, "Where are the poor to share this? Why did you only invite your family and friends and not the outcast? Why did you not invite a single person who couldn't pay you back? Why do you celebrate me and use your police to keep the poor away from you? Why do you love your own, but hate anyone who is not exactly like you?"

What is Jesus telling you right now?

Thanks to Bansky for the prophetic image.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Should We "Take Up The Cross"?

 Jesus himself emphasized that those who followed him would have a difficult time in this life: setting aside one’s own desires (Mark 14:36-38; Mark 8:34) giving up family and homes (Mark 10:29-30), sacrificing one’s wealth (Luke 12:33), enduring suffering and rejection (Matthew 10:21-25; John 15:20), not knowing where one’s next meal was coming from (Matthew 10:11-14, Matthew 6:25-33), not participating in social responsibilities (Luke 9:59-62), and facing death (Mark 8:34-35; John 12:24-26).

Why would anyone willingly take on a life like this? It seems ridiculous that anyone would choose this kind of lifestyle. What motivation could possibly be important enough to sacrifice a good, comfortable life for a lifestyle that involves a certain amount of poverty, social rejection and death?

Let us put willing suffering in context, though. We know that if the stakes are high enough, people are willing to lay down their lives for any number of reasons. Those who are concerned about the welfare of their nation will willingly lay down their lives for the many, and so join the armed forces—even though it means that they will be facing suffering and death. A parent will lay down his or her life for a child in danger. Those who are concerned with social consciousness might possibly set aside loftier ambitions or even live in poverty in order to assist those in need. Even more common are those who are willing to face jail time, personal disaster or even death in order to gain a few hours of pleasure in drugs or alcohol.

Choosing suffering, then is not abnormal. The real question then is what is one truly devoted to, and what will really make changes in life. No matter what the rest of the world says, those of us who believe in Jesus agree with him that the only way life will improve is by the way of the cross.

How does the cross work? In summary, the cross is accepting a life of sacrifice, even to the point of martyrdom. The reason that this action does anything at all is because it allows God to use his power for the suffering. God wants to show his power and mercy in situations of true justice, but that means that someone must be suffering unjustly. Then God will move in and assist those who are devoted to him and in need. Thus, the righteous needy, or those who “take up the cross” for Jesus become the focal point to focus the power of God on earth.
So what does the cross do? How will following Jesus and taking up his suffering help my life or the lives of those around me?

1. Taking up the cross results in resurrection
We all have to face death at one time or another. Death is an unknown factor, a fear to be embraced, whether willingly or unwillingly. Most people deal with death by avoiding it—either by ignoring that it exists, or by trying everything they can to put it off. Jesus, however claims that the best way to overcome death is to accept it for his sake (Mark 8:35). That whoever dies for the sake of complete devotion to God and in actions which benefit others will come out on the other side of death alive (Mark 10:17-21). Death, Jesus says, cannot control those who are completely surrendered to God and his love, and God in his power, will restore the one who dies for Him. Thus, while medicine and health products all fail in dealing with death, the cross succeeds.

2. Taking up the cross results in self-control
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that promotes the ideal of complete self-control as the most beneficial life to live. To a certain degree, they have a point—having control over one’s desires allows one to make good choices for oneself. Jesus said, though, that the best reason to have control over one’s own desires is to be able to do God’s desires, for the benefit of everyone, not just oneself. The question that still remains, though is, how does one gain self-control? Stoicism suggests that self-control is within everyone’s grasp, if only they would accept it. Jesus, however, recognizes that our desires are often out of our control and that we need a power outside of ourselves to help us gain self-control. Jesus himself accepted the fact that he would suffer and die for the sake of God, and all else seemed insignificant in comparison with God’s will (Mark 14:36-38). Jesus also said that to those who accept his way of life, he would give them the Spirit of God to empower them to live his life (John 14:16-17).

3. Taking up the cross results in personal peace
Most people are looking for peace in their lives. Contentment and satisfaction with one’s life is almost impossible to find. To gain peace, most people pursue work, a good relationship with their family, more entertainment, or various kinds of pleasure. Jesus doesn’t deny that these things can give you peace, but he also warns that all of these in this age are ultimately unsatisfying. Jobs don’t actually provide what one needs, family is unfaithful, entertainment is fleeting and much pleasure leads to death. Jesus says that to gain true peace, one needs to surrender all that one has and to pursue Jesus and his way of life (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 10:17-21, 29-30). To take up the cross gains peace for oneself for now and for all the future.

4. Taking up the cross creates a just government
Most people see that the political system in which they live could use improvement. Some governments are tyrannical, not caring about the needs of their own people or of other peoples, but only their own power. To take down a corrupt government and replace it with a just one is revolution—which is exactly what Jesus was intending to do. But his method of changing a corrupt government was not to gather up an army or to create a democracy—his method was the way of the cross, which he laid out in the Beatitudes, based on Psalm 37. The power of God works in favor of the righteous poor and oppressed, and it works against the oppressors and the wicked (Luke 14:11). So if the righteous poor place themselves in a position to be oppressed by the powerful, then God will take the corrupt government out. This is exactly what Jesus did and God acted righteously—destroying the Jewish government in 70AD.

5. Taking up the cross results in political rule
Many people want to have political ambitions. Perhaps to create a more just system, perhaps to gain power for themselves, perhaps to help others. But most people see political rule as a straight-forward function. Some will work as lobbyists, some will vote or boycott, some will try to take the government over. But Jesus’ approach to gain political rule was radical. He said that if anyone had political ambitions, then they had to first be slaves (Mark 10:43-45). The one who would lower themselves the most will be raised by God to be the highest, but the one who raised their position the most would be defeated by God (Luke 14:11). So Jesus set himself out to serve others by dying for them—becoming the lowest of all—so that he might be raised to the greatest political position— the right hand of the Father. And this principle still works for those who follow Jesus (Luke 22:26-27).

6. Taking up the cross helps those in need
Many people want to help the needy—to do work for refugees, the homeless, the war ravaged, and others who are oppressed or helpless. But the way of the world to help those in need is to gain a lot of resources and give it to them. There is nothing wrong with this, for Jesus himself presents that as a part of the way of the cross (Mark 10:21). But most people feel that if you have given all of your resources—given up everything, your whole life so that you have nothing left—that all there is left is foolishness. Jesus’ way is exactly that: give up everything— your possessions, your relationships, even your life— until there is nothing left (Mark 10:33-34;Luke 14:25-33). And it is at this point that God will continue the work in power. And God’s power and truth is what the needy actually need to deliver them out of poverty and oppression.

The Way of the Cross is the key to release the power of God.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Does God Want Me To Do With My Money?

Often, this is the last question we want to ask. Our money is ours! We should be able to do with it what we want. This is what our society teaches us and how everyone acts—whether Christian or not.

Money is serious business
However, whether we have a whole lot of money, or whether we have a little, how we use our money will determine how God will use us. (Luke 16:10-12) And if we use our money without regard to God’s desire, then we will certainly not receive God’s salvation, no matter how holy we are in other areas (Matthew 6:24; Mark 10:17-21; Luke 12:33-34). How we use our money indicates whether we really have faith in God or not.

We do not need money, we need God
Money will not meet our needs. We can’t eat or drink money. Money will not shelter us from rain. Money will not give us pleasure. Money is just a means to an end. We need food and drink. We need a roof over our heads. We need companionship and security. Money can be used to give us some of these things, but we don’t really need it. All good things come from God, and so he is the one we should seek. (James 1:17) Do not focus on money—focus on God (Luke 16:13). He is the one who will meet our needs, and he is the one who teaches us what to do with what we have (Matthew 6:25-33).

Money is not ours
The first thing we need to realize is that our money is not actually ours. Perhaps we have worked for it, or it was given to us, but nothing we have is actually ours. It is all God’s. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Psalm 24:1. We do not own anything—rather, we care for it for God’s sake. God has placed things in our care, and we are to use all these things in accordance with God’s instruction, for it is all His.

We are to use money to build God’s kingdom
If we are committed to Jesus, then we have surrendered everything we have to his use—our relationships, our possessions, our labor, and our money (Luke 14:25-33). They no longer belong to us, but to Jesus. And Jesus tells us that to use our resources in his way is to build up God’s kingdom and to increase our righteousness in God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Nothing else should be so important. And whatever is important to us is what we will use all of our resources on (Luke 12:34).
We are not to think that paying for an elaborate building or establishing things in the here-and-now will build up God’s kingdom. Tangible things and buildings and collections of books or CDs or videos will not build God’s kingdom. Rather, it is people that will survive to be in God’s kingdom. Political entities and nice cars will all be destroyed. God’s kingdom is built by giving to people and their needs (Luke 12:33-34; Luke 16:9; Acts 4:34-35).

What Not To Do With Money

Do not increase your debt
Even if you are looking to meet your needs, do not increase your debt. Try to rely on God’s people, not on those who will charge you interest and cause you difficulties. (Romans 13:8)

Do not build up your life on earth
It is pointless to increase our possessions or our life on earth. All of these things will be destroyed and are of no use in the kingdom of God. Rather, we are to focus on the things of God. ( Matthew 6:19;II Peter 3:10-12)

Do not pursue your own desires, comforts or entertainments
If we use our money to meet our whims or comforts, then we are in danger of gaining nothing when the Lord returns. Again, the Lord insists that we use our resources for his sake, not for our own comforts. (Luke 6:24-25; I Timothy 6:6-10)

Do not give to teachers insisting on your money
There are many teachers today who say to receive God’s blessing you should give to them, their ministry or their church. However, the scripture is clear that teachers who insist on their own gain are false teachers, and no deserving of our money. We are not to give any kind of help to false teachers—not even to welcome them into our house. Do not throw your money away by giving money to false teachers who oppose Jesus’ words—“Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8; II John 9-10; I Timothy 6:5)

Tithing To Our Churches
Tithing (giving 10% of) our money and giving it to our churches is a good idea, but how it is accomplished today isn’t found in the Bible. The ancient Hebrews had three annual taxes of 10 percent each and another tax of 10 percent taken every third year—equaling to 33 1/3% of their income every year going to things. Jesus isn’t requiring such a tax to meet the needs of his churches. Rather, he is advocating that everyone grant him all of their resources, and that they redistribute their income according to the following guidelines:

Jesus’ plan: What To Do With Money
1. Care for your own needs
We are all responsible to meet our own needs and not to depend on the church or their family to provide for us, if we can do anything about it. (II Thessalonians 3:6-10) This does not mean that we must all have a “job,” but we must work to meet our own needs. Thus, if we have money, then we should use that money to provide for our own needs.

2. Care for your family’s needs
If we have family that is dependant on us for sustenance, then we are responsible to care for them (Mark 7:10-13; I Timothy 5:8). This could mean children in our care, or aging parents that can no longer care for themselves, or someone who through injury or illness is unable to care for their own needs. By whatever means we care for our own needs, we must care for our family.

3. Pay your taxes
The government we live under now requires money. The scripture says that we must be faithful to give them what they ask, whether we agree with their policies or not. It is a part of the honor we are responsible to give them. (Romans 13:7)

4. Give to those who sacrifice themselves to build you up in the Lord
If our needs are met and our family’s needs are met—not everything they desire, but just their basic needs—then we are responsible to care for others as well. The first ones we are responsible to care for are those who have sacrificed their own well-being in order to bring us closer to the Lord. This could be teachers or healers that travel from town to town, or people who regularly teach us God’s word in our congregation—but the Scripture is clear that we are responsible to make sure that their needs are met, as well as those of their family. (Luke 10:5-9; Matthew 10:40-42; Galatians 6:6;I Timothy 5:17-18)

The Key: Give to the needy
If we are able to care for our basic needs, and our family’s and our minister’s, then we are also responsible to meet the needs of others, especially those who are following the Lord. If we see someone in need, and we do not respond with what we have, then we are not responding with the Lord’s love. To give to the needy is showing our faith in the Lord. If we fail to give to those who follow Jesus in need, then we will rejected by the Lord on the final day. (Luke 12:33; I John 3:17; Galatians 6:10; Matthew 25:31-46;

Planning and Giving
To redistribute our income in the above way is difficult and, in some ways, painful. In order to demonstrate our faith in giving to the needy, often we will have to sacrifice our desires and some of our needs so that others may be helped. Sometimes the Lord calls us to put other’s concerns and needs before our own. But if we are going to do that, we have to plan. It is so easy to overspend in our society, with commercials telling us every minute the newest thing we “need.” But the Lord says that what we need to do is to give to the needy. That is a part of our salvation—not a kitchen gadget or a better car or the food we always wanted to try. It isn’t easy to follow Jesus’ plan on redistributing our money, but if we pray to the Lord and seek the counsel and assistance of his Spirit, we can make the first steps.

If you have not been faithful to God in the use of worldly money,
how can God entrust true riches to you?
-Jesus Luke 16:11

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jesus the Word Icon

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The Good Muslim

A Bible professor approached Jesus, wishing to test his teaching. He asked, “Teacher, what should I do to obtain God’s life that never ends?” Jesus said, “What does it say in the Bible? How do you understand it?” The professor answered, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. And you will love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, impressed, replied, “This is correct. Live this out, and eternal life is yours.” But knowing he had not lived this out—and had no intention to—but wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “But, really, who is my neighbor?” Jesus sighed and responded, “There was a man traveling from Washington D.C. to New York and some terrorists kidnapped him, stripped his clothes off and beat him half to death, leaving by the side of the road, helpless. Now it so happened that a Mennonite pastor passed by, and he saw him. But, thinking he was a homeless bum, he ignored him and went on his way. Then a Baptist worship leader drove by the same spot, but since he was in a hurry to make it on time to his worship service, he also ignored him and made it to the service on time. Then a Muslim drove by and saw the man laying on the side of the road. Compassion welled up in his heart and he stopped, got out his first aid kit, covered his wounds, put him in his car (getting blood all over the new seats) and drove him to the hospital. There he told the doctor, “If he doesn’t have any insurance, here’s my credit card number—just take it from my account.’ Now,” Jesus concluded, “Which of these was the neighbor to man attacked by terrorists?” The professor said, “The M- the one who had compassion on him.” Jesus smiled and looked him in the eye, “Now you do the same.”

Do terrorists and Muslims really belong in this story?
Actually, they do! The Greek word “lestes” is often translated “robber.” But it actually means one who uses violence to achieve economic or political change, so one might translate it either as “revolutionary” or, possibly, “terrorist.” The Samaritans, on the other hand, are those who were similar to Jews—they worshipped the same God and had many of the same stories. But they had different centers of worship and they considered each other heretics. So if the original Jewish victim became an American Christian, who would the Samaritan be but a faithful Muslim? As far as D.C. and New York for Jerusalem and Jericho… well, that might be stretching it a bit.

The Th- Word
At some point or another, everyone has to deal with theology. It sounds scary (especially if you’ve heard of such words as dispensationalism and superlapsarian), but really its pretty simple—theology is just what we can say about God. Of course, Jesus then had a lot to say about theology. But whenever he wanted to get to the basics, to talk about what is most important to God and most important about our relationship with God, he gets back to these two commands: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s as basic as it gets.

Just Do It
But whenever any professor of theology or dogmatician tries to talk about theology, they do it on very different terms. They always speak of “a doctrine statement” or a “confession of faith”. They emphasize what it is we believe about God. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But whenever Jesus spoke about theology, he spoke about action and relationship. Either he is speaking about what God does for us or what we do for God. Even his most basic statement “God is spirit” is followed by a command, “And those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). According to Jesus, God isn’t just someone who sits in heaven—he’s a person who interacts with his people, “God with us.” And we aren’t to be people who observe God like we would a tv screen—we are to be active participants with our theology. If we just believe about God in our head, that isn’t enough—we’ve got to have faith in our hands and feet. And so Jesus talked about a faith that is enacted in obedience and an obedience that is informed by faith. Just like sex and conception, you can’t have one without the other.

Two Relationships of Theology
So when Jesus tells us about theology, he says that in every aspect of it, there are two relationships. Theology, he says, isn’t something that happens in our head, it is a connection between (at least) two beings. First, there is the relationship between the human and God. And this relationship is defined by “love”, so whatever else you can say about this relationship, it is supposed to be positive, and not simply duty-based. Yes, we already know that there is obedience involved—after all, Jesus gave us commands—but the relationship behind these commands aren’t just that of slave to master. Rather, we are to have a positive relationship with God, one in which we both benefit from the process.
The second relationship is that between human and human. This is what is really odd. I mean, Jesus is speaking about theology—what we can say about God—and the very thing that Jesus puts in there is our relationship with other people. What do other people have to do with God? Well, two things. First of all, God is very concerned about people. I mean, He made them, and he gave them the earth to rule (Psalm 8). And he claims to love them all (John 3:16). Also, in this command, God is trying to help us PUT God into every relationship. Jesus is saying, “in your relationship with your neighbor, God is commanding it to be benefitial.” Thus, the relationship between human and human becomes theological, because God is forcing himself into that relationship (Ah, I know people like that…)
But what we need to realize in this basic of theology, is that Jesus is putting God and other human beings in everything we do religiously, theologically and spiritually. We cannot have a spirituality without God, according to Jesus. And we cannot have a faith without other people. If we claim to be doing something for God and it does not benefit others, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Even so, if we attempt to do something for others and do not include God, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ theology is completely balanced between these two relationships—all has to do with both God and other people. To exclude one is to exclude true spirituality.

What is love of neighbor?
Well, we’d like to say more about loving God, but our teaching here by Jesus doesn’t give us any more than that it is love and it is God and well, that’s all that’s said. But the rest of the passage does talk quite a bit more about the love of neighbor. What exactly does it say?

Love of Neighbor isn’t exclusive
The professor wanted to exclude from the command everyone he didn’t like. Maybe he wanted to exclude heretics, or those who didn’t live in his country, or sinners or folks who did him wrong. But when Jesus asked his question, he made the professor answer that it was the Muslim—the heretic, the sinner, the foreigner, the persecutor—who was the neighbor. This means that if he was a neighbor, then EVERYONE is a neighbor, without exception. So the command involves every single human relationship we are in, without exception.

Love of Neighbor is demanded
Secondly, in Jesus’ story, he gave examples of two “good Christians” who didn’t follow the love of one’s neighbor. Thus, in Jesus’ story, although these people had a certain kind of faith, it wasn’t the kind that God was looking for. Their faith was practical and very pious, but it was wrong-headed. Because they thought that the love of God excluded them from the love of neighbor, then they were okay was NOT okay for God. God demands that the people who love Him also love those around them.

Love of Neighbor is compassion
The word that most defines the love of one’s neighbor is “compassion”. The Greek word for this is “splachna” which literally means “the feeling in your guts.” In other words, love is the gut-wrenching feeling you get when you see someone who is in need. To love someone is to recognize their need and to have compassion for it. No matter how evil they are, no matter how wrong-headed, compassion prevails in our attitude towards another.

Love of Neighbor is practical benefit
Lastly, when Jesus spoke about loving one’s neighbor, he was saying that the love was practical. The Muslim didn’t just pray a positive prayer for the man lying on the road. He didn’t just think good thoughts. Rather, he went out of his way to help him out in whatever way he could. He sacrificed his plans, his money and his vehicle to assist the stranger in need. Love doesn’t just stay in the heart (or the guts), but it gets out the pocketbook and gets dirty. Without being of practical benefit, it isn’t really love.

To have right faith is to present a benefit to everyone you meet

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Philipino Jesus on the Cross

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Why Do We Need A Christ?

What is Christ?
“Christ” isn’t the last name of Jesus, but it is a title. It means “anointed one”, just the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. But having some guy with oil on his head isn’t what the world needs. Instead, the “Christ” is actually the emperor of God, the ruler of the world. The Christ is like a Roman Caesar or a Napoleon. Someone who takes over the world by force and then rules over a central part of the world, and, by extension and treaty, provides peace to the rest of the world. Other terms that are used both in the Bible and in the pagan world for an Emperor are: Son of God, Alpha and Omega, Father (or Pope), and Lord.

The New Testament claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of this role, appointed by God at his baptism and approved by God through his resurrection. But the promise becomes crystallized at Jesus’ birth, where the promise of the Son of God, the Christ, is displayed to the poor and lowly of Bethlehem

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Why do we need a Christ?
This concept of the kingdom of God is exactly what Jesus was speaking about. But why do we need a ruler like this? Hasn’t it been proven that dictators are a bad idea? Shouldn’t we learn to rule ourselves? Well, anarchy has been attempted and all it does is lead to injustice and chaos. But why a Christ? According to the Old Testament, there are some very good reasons why we should have an Emperor of God:

So the world can acknowledge God as the true ruler
God is the Creator of the world, the King of the universe. Yet most of the world did not acknowledge him as God or properly give God his due. Instead, they saw other gods, who assisted them with their petty lives, as being more worthy of their devotion and sacrifice. But with the Christ ruling the world, then God will be given his proper due and praise and thanks will be offered to Him by all the world.

And He will delight in the fear of the LORD… For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:3,9

To destroy the injustices of secular empires
The rulership of the world has passed on from one empire to another from the ancient days to today. And not a single empire has ruled with justice or with equity. There is always an elite, who reap the benefits of the empire, and a servant class on whose backs the empire is built. The rulers always ignore the rule of God and establish their own rule according to their own principles. But the new kingdom will be built upon justice and righteousness, and set aside the old empires with their injustices.

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Daniel 2:44 And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. Isaiah 11:5

To take us out of the system of judgment
For all governments of the world, if you do wrong, there is a penalty. Do the crime, pay the time. This is a system of judgment, and it was established by God. However, this is not the only system of dealing with lawbreakers that God had established. Jesus’ system is that of repentance and release. In other words, give a person the opportunity to make their crime right and to turn from their ways and then just welcome them back. Jesus as the Christ does not do away with the system of judgment, but he gives us an opportunity to escape it. This is done through his death, where his new system of dealing with crime is the judicial basis of his kingdom, established by his death and resurrection.

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:11

For the poor to be heard
In every system of government that has ever existed there is a lower class for whom there is no justice. This group is always assumed to be the criminals, they are feared and hated and accused of the most terrible crimes. Should one of this group do something wrong, then they are all punished. But the Christ will listen to the poor and acknowledge their actions. He will not judge them according to their class, but according to their deeds. And he will love the poor and draw them up to rule with the elite.

With righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth. Isaiah 11:4

For there to be shalom
Only through God’s righteousness and justice will there be an opportunity for the world to run as it should, not only for people, but for all creation. “Shalom” is usually translated “peace”, but it really means a community of well-being, a society where everyone is benefited. The Christ brings this peace to all who can enter into his kingdom.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them… And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain. Isaiah 11:6-9

This is the promise of Christmas, “Peace on earth for those favored.” Christmas isn’t just about the incarnation—God coming to earth—as important as that is. It is about the fulfillment of the hope of the Christ that God’s people have been waiting for. It is the coming of the Emperor of God, who rules today from heaven and will rule on earth when he returns.

Got Christ?
We can participate in his kingdom today. We don’t need to wait until he returns. In fact, he doesn’t want us to. Jesus is ruling at the right hand of God and wants us to turn our lives over to him so we can live in his justice and peace right now. If we commit our lives to his rule and get baptized in his name then we will begin living in a different kingdom, under the best ruler of the world that has ever existed, free from our wrongs and living in peace.

What do you think: Jesus and homosexuality.

Paul, for all purposes, agrees with Leviticus in calling homosexuality an "abomination." Mind you, I firmly believe that Paul was a full and true follower of Jesus. All of his views and actions were influenced by Jesus.

However, do you think that Jesus would have agreed with Paul on the issue of homosexuality? Did Jesus say anything about homosexuality at all? If so, how does a rejection of homosexuals jibe with Jesus' (and Paul's) acceptance of everyone, even sinners?

I'm opening up this as a discussion. My only requirement is: Play nice! No insults or hating language...

Christmas Feasts Jesus Style

For as long as there has been Christmas, there has been Christmas dinner. The Christmas feast is older than any other of the traditions we associate with Christmas—trees, lights, even gifts. Christmas began as an opportunity to gather with your family and community and to take the best food you had and enjoy yourselves. In many communities, Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection were days to take a break from the restricted diet they would have the rest of the year. In ancient times, Christmas might be the one opportunity for people to eat meat, as grains, dairy and vegetables were their staples for the rest of the year. It is as difficult to separate Christmas from a feast, as it is to separate Thanksgiving from the meal.

Was there a feast at the original Christmas?
However, the Christmas story has little to do with a feast. In fact, one might say, it had to do with people who were in such difficult circumstances that they were lucky to eat. The first Christmas is about a family with a pregnant woman forced by the government to make a two day walking journey for the sake of bureaucrats in the capital. And when that family reached their extended family, they were forced to sleep in the stable, which is where the baby was born. It has to do with a group of workers that had so little respect that they couldn’t be called blue collar, and their sighting of angels in the sky. It has to do with a group of scholars who traveled thousands of miles to do homage to a great king, just born, only to find that they were a part of a conspiracy to kill infants in a village. These were not people who were feasting. These were people in sad circumstances.

The Feast of All Feasts
And yet Christmas is about a happy time, not a time of sorrow, or danger. How is this?
It is because each of these people in unfortunate circumstances received news that they were in the first stages of getting out of their bad circumstances. Christmas is like celebrating the day you heard you would receive a huge inheritance from someone you didn’t know, even though the inheritance itself you wouldn’t see for months yet. These people had heard that it was time for them to receive a great promise.
• Joseph heard that he would adopt a son who would deliver the whole world from oppression.
• Mary heard that she would be the mother of the man who would bring the poor God’s blessings.
• The shepherds heard that God would soon be ruling on earth in the person of a baby in a manger.
• The wise men heard that a powerful king was born in Judea.

Christmas isn’t about the great time everyone had when Jesus was born. Rather, it is about the promise of God that was beginning to be fulfilled in Jesus.
God promised to forgive sins—that was accomplished in Jesus.
 God promised to heal diseases—that was accomplished in Jesus.
 God promised to establish a new nation—that was accomplished in Jesus.
 God promised to wipe out oppression—that was started in Jesus.
 God promised to have a just, merciful ruler—Jesus is the one.

So Christmas isn’t about a bunch of people in sad circumstances—but rather it is about a celebration of the best news anyone can receive. The news was this: God, through this baby, will change the whole world so those in difficult circumstances will have a reason to party!

Can we have feasts in Jesus’ name?
Now there wasn’t much feasting at that first Christmas time. Times were too tough for the people involved. Yes, there was singing, and rejoicing. But not much opportunity for a feast. However, God has always enjoyed a good feast when it was time to celebrate. God had commanded his people, the Israelites, to take one tenth of their income for a whole year and have one big party with it every year—just to celebrate before God!

And Christmas is the celebration of the first stage of the biggest party ever—the kingdom of God. Jesus often referred to his kingdom as one big party in which all his people will be celebrating and having a good time! And Jesus himself set up and was the host of party after party when he was on earth, all to celebrate the coming of God’s kingdom. So what better time than Christmas to have a Jesus feast! It is an opportunity to celebrate the coming kingdom of God and to have a good time, just like we will in God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ way of Feasting

However, if we are going to celebrate and have a party in Jesus’ name, it can’t just be any kind of party. Jesus set up a few rules if we are going to party for Jesus. These aren’t the rules we normally think of—the no-drinking, no-dancing kind of rules. They are odd, rather:

1. Jesus said to invite the needy rather than family and friends
Jesus wanted parties to be an opportunity to be a part of the big Party that was to come. To gain greater benefits in God’s Kingdom, we need to give up what we have to those who need it most. Our family and friends—there’s always another day to invite them to celebrate. But a Jesus party is one in which the needy and hurting are invited. Perhaps it might make the party less fun for you. Perhaps it would cost you more. Perhaps it would be more difficult for you. But in the end you gain more in God’s kingdom for having a Jesus party only for the homeless, disabled and outcast. Because God will give you a bigger party in the end.

2. Jesus set up parties which were opportunities to repent from sin
As we mentioned, Jesus had many parties himself. But whenever he had a party, he gave an opportunity to have people get right with God and repent from their rebellion against God. It was kinda like having a church service in the midst of a party! But that’s the way Jesus did it. People would sometimes just speak out their repentance, or pray in the middle of the feast! Even so, a Jesus party celebrates God’s forgiveness by offering it to others.

3. Jesus established a feast to remember his death
Also, Jesus established a memorial feast that was supposed to remember his death. This seems kind of grim, having a wake all the time, but it’s really not. Jesus established this party, not to remember the terrible details of his murder at the hands of the state, but to remember that it is through his death that God’s kingdom got it’s start. That’s right! Jesus asked us to remember the birthday of God’s kingdom! Christmas is a good time to have this feast. Let’s have a good time and also, let’s focus on Jesus and what he did for us!

Have a Jesus party for Christmas
To Celebrate God’s Party to Come!