Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Brief Summary of Jesus' Method of Using Violence

I just want to make it absolutely clear about Jesus and violence.  If we are going to follow Jesus' method of violence, then:

-We only carry weapons if we are pretending to be thugs in order to fulfill Scripture (Luke 22:35-37)

-We never use weapons to harm another because that results in our own judgment (Matthew 26:52)

-We should bring out a whip and turn over tables only in response to hypocrisy in churches, never against those who attack us (John 2:14-16)

-When people try to kill us, we pray for their forgiveness (Luke 23:33-34)

Okay, got that straight?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recommendations for Your Holiday Meal

When you host a feast this Thanksgiving or Christmas, don't invite your friends or family. They will expect to do the dishes, or to bring something, or invite you back to their place next year. Instead, invite the homeless, the refugees, those in nursing homes, the mentally ill, because the only reward you could expect then would be from God.

And when you go to a feast, don't boast about all the things you did this last year, your great accomplishments, and don't expect to be honored. If you insist upon yourself, you will be a boor, and everyone will ignore you and try to interrupt you. Instead, sit in the corner and say nothing. Then your host will note your silence and ask you, "What do you have to be thankful for this year?" and you will be given honor.

Don't demand respect, or else you will be rejected. Be humble and you will be given greater respect.


(Luke 14:8-14)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jesus on Posessions

Matthew 13:44-46
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Luke 14:31-33
What king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 12:13-15
Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."  He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."

Mark 10:17-30
He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

Luke 12:32-34
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Luke 16:1-13
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.' And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Matthew 25:31-40
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'”

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Normal Church

A Glorious Vision
“You have already become satiated? You have already become rich? Without us, you are kings?” I Corinthians 4:8

Like every other middle manager in the world, the pastor has his dreams.  The average pastor spends his day torn between ennui and overexcitement, a tug of war between the internal war of knowing what to preach and keeping certain parishioners off of each other’s throats.  But in a pastor’s careless moments he might reflect on what his ideal ministry would be, what some church leaders might have already achieved in his lifetime:

  • Thousands in the congregation, thirsting after his wisdom.
  • A large building, a modern cathedral with stained glass and exalted spires.
  • Programs seven days a week, meeting all kinds of needs from 12 Step meetings to singles outings.
  • A large paid staff.
  • Bible studies every day for different social categories.
  • Leading regular retreats for a variety of Christian groups.
  • A counselling center advising spiritual life direction at reasonable fees.
  • Meetings with the mayor… and perhaps even the governor!... giving counsel on political matters that relate to their constituents’ spiritual health.
  • Leading groups of local churches in important matters such as pornography or international persecution of the church.

This lowly pastor can see every Sunday, after worship led by a local conductor, he embarks on a verbal journey through the chosen text that week, which he has studied for almost twenty hours this last week.  His elocution and scholarship is praised and hundreds are moved to follow Christ in a deeper and more profound way than they had ever experienced due to his homiletic skill.
A pastor dreams of this, for this is what is called spiritual success in our society. Mind you, few pastors reach this lofty vision, even as few local basketball stars achieve playing in the NBA, but it is still the standard to which every pastor reaches.  And the local pastor is frustrated at his lack of talent, his lack of organization and, especially, his lack of fund-raising ability to obtain such lofty goals.

It is fascinating to watch what a society, or a segment of a society, calls success, because that determines the everyday goals of those who attempt to achieve that success, whether they have the skills or resources to obtain that particular definition of success.  What is “normal” for a person is determined by how far they miss their ultimate goals.  Some might think they could be president, but they might be satisfied with being on a school board or a state senator.  Some might think that they could be a Corporate Executive Officer, but they are content with being an office manager.   But none of these would be content with being a fast-food worker on minimum wage, because their definition of “success” finds that this occupation is too far from their lofty goals. 

Even so, in the church, there is no honor in being a poor congregation.  Not when the goal is to be a mega-church with thousands of congregants and a huge budget.  According to that definition of success, the house church with an unpaid pastor is a failure.  If they move from this model to another model with a budget or building, that’s wonderful, because it means that it is becoming a “real church”.  There are some denominations that will not call a congregation a member of their denomination until it has a building and enough money to pay for a leader.

Looking at the Gospels
If our goals determine what our measure of being normative is, then perhaps rather than looking at Christianity’s view of success, we should look toward Jesus and the apostles to determine our goals.  If we were going to look at the New Testament’s expectations of churches in general, this would be a very long text.  Instead, I would like to look at the social expectations of the normative congregation.  How is the church expected to compare to society at large on an economic and class level?

The writers of the gospels all had one goal: to communicate Jesus to their groups.  Matthew probably wrote to an early Antiochian Jewish Christian group.  Mark probably wrote to a mixed Jew and Gentile Christian group.  Luke wrote to a Roman and Greek Christian audience.  John probably wrote to a group of Greek and Jewish Christians. 

But they all used a base of sayings and narratives that all the church used to communicate Jesus’ life, mission and teachings to all peoples.  Although the books we have were written after some of the other writings of the New Testament, the foundational words and stories were from earlier, and they are the best representations of the person of Jesus that we have today.  These evangelists were trying to communicate Jesus, just Jesus, with the only resources they had.  They were not communicating a version of Jesus, but rather the only Jesus they knew, the only Jesus they loved and committed themselves to.

A Collection of Insurgents
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:334

Jesus is speaking to his disciples, but especially to those who were considering to be his disciples.  Jesus’ method of proselytizing is unique in that he more clearly expresses the most difficult requirements of joining his group, instead of the benefits.  The benefits were clear to anyone who spent an afternoon with Jesus: healing and the ability to heal; wisdom and an education that was greater than the teachers of their day (Luke 7:20-23).  So Jesus emphasized the difficulty of obtaining a place in his school, and so the kingdom of God.

The requirement of “coming after,” or following, Jesus that is most shocking is to “take up his cross.”  The cross was not just a symbol of the death penalty, which today is used almost exclusively on murderers.  The Jews never crucified, but when the Romans used a cross, it wasn’t on common criminals, such as simple murderers or thieves (as many mistranslations of the gospels might indicate).  The cross was reserved for those who were the enemy of the state, those who planned the overthrow of the state or who acted against the rightful government or against society at large.  Alexander might crucify 2000 citizens of Tyre who defended their city against him because he saw himself as their rightful ruler.  It was exclusively used of non-citizens who attempted to undermine the proper order of society.  Slaves were crucified for running away because they were teaching other slaves to forsake their proper role.

Jesus is commanding all of his school to take up the mantle of the insurgent, the one who undermines the state.  Yet, at the same time, he implies that this insurgence will be unsuccessful, because they take up a cross, not a crown. The normative Christian is an insurgent who is caught and punished.

A School of Persecuted Paupers
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.” Luke 6:20-26

Jesus is speaking to specifically to his disciples, who have already accepted Jesus’ call to repentance. Now he divides his congregation between the rich and the poor, the comfortable and the oppressed, claiming that the former will not obtain the ultimate blessings, while the poor among them receives all that He has promised.

The Lucan version of the beatitudes is less familiar to us than the version in Matthew which begins “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, for the Matthew account, it seems to some teachers, has eyes of the needle to allow the wealthy and important into Jesus’ blessings.  However “poor in spirit” refers to Proverbs 16:19, which commends those who lower themselves with the “anawim” poor, rather than being “haughty” and ambitious for social achievement.

It is certain, however, that Jesus expects his disciples to be of a lower economic status, for even the wealthy among them would be expected to surrender their possessions (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:33).
But the primary economic and status loss occurs not from personal surrender, but from attacks from the outside.  The heart of Jesus’ congregation, those who receive the promises, are those who are declared outcast.  Some of the attacks might be mild (insults), but some would be severe (hatred). 
Not all of Jesus’ congregation would be outcast from mainstream society, but all of those who truly receives the reward of God would experience this and live in this.   The normative disciple is poor and outcast.

Being Like Jesus
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” –John 15:18-20

John 14-16 is a discussion between Jesus and the twelve about the nature of a life of following Jesus without Jesus being physically present.  Many principles of faith and love are explained, which are not only for the twelve, but for the totality of those who follow Jesus.

The basic principle Jesus is drawing from is that a “slave is not greater than his master”, or, as this idea is communicated in Matthew, A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.” (Matthew 10:24-25).  The one submitted fully represents his authority by being like his authority.  Since Jesus was rejected, hated and persecuted, those who are under him would experience the same.   

It is interesting that throughout the history of the church, the typical understanding of imitation of Jesus is ethical: being loving or pure.  But in the New Testament, the almost exclusive understanding of being like Jesus is that of lowliness, vulnerability and rejection.  This passage is no exception.  The normative follower of Jesus is hated and rejected by mainstream society.

The Tough Choice
“Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  –Matthew 10:32-37

In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his itinerant apostles to expect persecution and arrests.  Beginning in verse 32, he broadens out his statements to be not only those who are travelling evangelists, but all who is a disciples of Jesus.

Not every follower of Jesus is required to evangelize, but all must be ready to confess Jesus’ name, and this is dangerous business. Jesus’ name and teaching is associated with division and those who stand with Jesus must be ready to accept the consequences. The “sword” Jesus speaks of is not a sword of violence but is a tool of division, that spurs hatred, anger and separation, as his quote of Micah 7:6 indicates.  At the name and teaching of Jesus, the closest-knit families will be divided and those who loved will become the bitterest of enemies.

At this point, the follower of Jesus must make a decision between remaining with Jesus, or remaining with their family.  And those who choose family who hates the name and promises of Jesus will also reject the kingdom Jesus offers.  The normative Christian will be divided from those closest to them.

A Conclusion to the Matter

The normative church isn’t the megachurch, and the normative pastor isn’t the charismatic, popular pastor.  Rather, the standard for church growth, according to Jesus, is persecution and oppression.  Not that everyone in the church must be oppressed, but that as a group, oppression is felt and community is built because of the outside pressure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Love of Jesus Prayer

Father, this day as I rise, let me put on the love of Jesus.

I put on compassion.
I put on patience.
I put on gentleness
I put on a listening that heals.
I put on rejoicing in others.
I put on forgiveness.
I put on healing the sick.
I put on delivering the insane.
I put on comforting the needy.
I put on giving to the poor.
I put on lowering myself.
I put on declaring justice.

May I create peace where there is no peace.
May I create hope where there is no hope.
May I create a place of mercy for all who are in need.
May I make a sanctuary for those whom the world means only pain.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jesus the Master Ninja and the Secret of the Universe

When the Son of Man comes, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne and divide the gentiles before him, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He shall say to those on his right, “Blessed are you, chosen of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you!  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.  I was sick and you came to me.  I was in prison and you visited me.  Enter into my rest.”  And they shall reply, “Lord, when were you hungry and thirsty and we gave something to you?  When were you naked and we clothed you?  When were you a stranger and we welcomed you?  When were you sick or in prison and we visited you?”  The King will say, “In as much as you did it to one of these, my brothers, so you did it to me.”

This is a pretty familiar passage.  And we are pretty sure we know what to do with it—give food and clothes and shelter and healing to people.  To visit people in prison.  The church has been doing these things for centuries, millennia, so we don’t need to learn these lessons, right?

Well, if that’s all we get out if the passage, we still have something to learn.  We need to learn that Jesus is a ninja master.

1.       Jesus is among us, now.
No, don’t bother looking around the auditorium.  You wouldn’t recognize him.  But he is here, possibly right next to us.  Not just in spirit, either.  He is a person whom you recognize, a person you have met.  It’s just that he doesn’t have the classic Jesus look.  He might be an old man, a little girl, a smelly street person, a beautiful woman, a black pastor, a Hispanic immigrant, a single mom.  All we know is that Jesus is in need.  That’s the only clue we have.   And he is looking at our response to him.

2.       Jesus is in disguise
Jesus is not going to be who we think.  We may look at him and think he’s a drug addict, a lazy bum, a person who takes advantage of the system.  We may think he is a false teacher, a liar, an alcoholic, a party animal, a sexual deviant—because that’s what some people thought he was the first time he came, so that’s still what some people think.  Some will listen to the rumors and think he is a thief, a secret wealthy person, a con man, or the face of Satan himself.  All these rumors and speculations are part of his disguise to make you think that you need to keep your distance from him.  The fact is, he is helpless.  He makes himself helpless.  For your sake.

3.       Jesus is the master trainer
Jesus lives in disguise among us in order to train us to be people of mercy.  The weapons of our battle is free food, clothing and water.  Free rooms to host those who can’t pay.  Our time given to those in the most desperate circumstances.   And these weapons must be given to the most unlikely people—desperate drug dealers, prostituting paupers,  illegal immigrants,  travelling preachers with no shoes and a bad speaking voice,  woodsmen.   People who can’t budget, whose money runs through their fingers like water, who couldn’t make ends meet even if they had twenty feet to spare, people whom even Oprah would have a hard time liking.  Why are we helping these people?  Because they might be Jesus.  Just maybe.  Probably not, but you never know.   Because Jesus has shown up in more surprising places than these, and we can’t be too careful.  In this way, because of his disguise and his demand to help him in whatever disguise he’s in, we learn to live generously to whomever comes in need.  We learn to be merciful to the undeserving, to be less judgmental, to be open-hearted people.

4.       Jesus is a master plotter.
The odd thing, is that Jesus isn’t doing all this for the sake of the needy, although that doesn’t hurt.  He isn’t training us for our own sake, even, although he loves us and wants to see us be the best we can be.  In the end, Jesus is doing this for his kingdom.  The stunning point of Jesus’ mission is not that he is creating a whole nation of open hearted, generous people.   He separates people based on their ability to be generous to those unlikely to deserve it.  Open your mind, for a bit, and consider the imagination of Jesus. 
He has in mind a huge nation full only of the most giving, merciful, compassionate and thoughtful people.  A whole nation full of people ready to give their own plate of food at the first sign of a person in hunger.  A kingdom where every individual is open to give a space in their house, if they have it.  Can you imagine what a population like that would be? 
  • A nation without hunger, because everyone is ready to help the hungry, without selfishness. 
  • A nation without nakedness, because everyone is willing to give or to make what other’s need. 
  • A nation without homelessness because every home is open and the owners welcoming to anyone in need. 
  • A nation without sickness, because all are willing to set their own time and knowledge and power to those who are sick. 
  • A nation without prisons, because the selfish are banished and the needy have all their needs met—even people to spend time with them.

5.       It is easy to mistake Jesus’ purpose
Jesus’ ultimate purpose is to establish a kingdom of generosity and mercy and love.  We can so easily lose the game, because we never understood the ultimate goal of the game.

Suppose that Monopoly had a special rule, that anyone who went broke during the game would instantly receive all the money from the current winner.  Those who played Monopoly normally would end up losing the game, because they would think the purpose was to get more money, when really they’d progress better if they had less money.

That’s how most people play Christianity—a game only roughly based on Jesus, but with a different purpose in mind.  Some people play the game Christianity as if those who believe the right things win.  Some people play the game as if those who go to the right church win.  Some people play as if they can obey the right laws, then they win.  Some actually play as if they could be successful in this life, they will win the game.  Others as if they have enough faith, they will win.

But Jesus… and the rest of the Bible, interestingly enough… say that God judges only on deeds, not on religious ritual or even faith. And the kind of deeds he judges on aren’t this or that law, but actions of mercy and generosity, especially to those in need.  The final rule of the game of Jesus is those who display the quality of mercy, compassion and generosity to the needy are those who win.  No one else does.
  • So anyone who is generous only to those who are not in need, they didn't give to Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who judge those in need, for whatever reason, they judged Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who ignore the needy because they have better things to do, they ignored Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who spend days studying the scriptures, teaching them, but fails to help the poor, they failed Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who praise God day in and day out, but can’t find time for the needy, they didn't have time for Jesus so they lose.
  • Those who give everything to a church who somehow fails to give to the poor, they failed to give to Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who have suffered all their lives and kept everything they had to themselves so they could survive, they kept everything from Jesus so they lose.
  • Those who used their smarts and energy to build up a kingdom for themselves and those who were smart and strong enough to work with him, and never needed anything—they lose.
The only ones who win are the generous.
No matter what religion, if they used their religion to learn to be more giving to those in need, they win.
No matter what theology, if they use their theology to be more generous to the poor, they win.
No matter whether rich or poor, if they surrendered all they had to those who had less than they, they win.

Be a winner.  Use what you have been given to help those in need.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Generous

The generous one is not just the giver of the pocket, but the giver of the full self.

The generous soul is welcome to all kinds of sinners, and is ready to forgive them all.

The generous one is merciful and provides for any who have need, no matter what evil they have done.

The generous ones are not concerned with being infected or harmed, for they trust in Him who protects them.

The generous one does not mark time, only the ability to love.

The generous one is honest, laughs, and takes joy in those around him, for in experiencing joy in those around him, they experience joy in themselves.

The generous one does not give by the handful, but by the truckload.

The generous one does not believe in scarcity.  She never fails to give out of her stores of goods or of soul, for the Lord will always provide more.

Two Burdens

Jesus' yoke is easy and light. If our yoke is too burdensome, then we are probably carrying two yokes: Jesus' and our own.
Jesus' yoke is to always be merciful, always be forgiving, always be generous, always to make peace, to heal the broken, to welcome the sinners and to take time to rest, giving our worries to Him.
Our yoke is to live in fear, to protect and defend, to hate the sin and the sinner, to earn a living, to obtain the proper education, to be clean and properly dressed, to make God's people pure, to pour our energies on those whom we have never met, to live a lifestyle we have learned from the world-- and to do everything ourselves, to show ourselves to be independent.
He isn't here to help us carry our yoke. Rather, he is offering to trade us ours with his own.
Let's lay down our yoke and focus on Jesus'.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Summary of Jesus' Teaching for Agnostics (and others)

Yesterday a person in my church said to me, "I just don't get it.  There's all this stuff that I just can't accept in the Bible and it just doesn't make sense.  I believe that there is whatever that created us and that's God.  But the rest of it doesn't make sense."

He makes a good point.  There are so much nonsense in Christian Theology.  We can get caught up in details that are just silly.  Specifics about eschatology, heaven and hell, the nature of God, Christology, soteriology and worship certainly can easily block people from a simple understanding of the basic truth of Jesus.

So I am going to make an attempt to get Jesus' message down to the very basics.  This isn't the message of the Bible, nor the message of Christian theology.  Rather, these is the most important truths Jesus expressed that agnostics might appreciate.

I understand that if you are a Christian reading this I will have certainly skipped your favorite theological axiom(s).  I'm not really sorry about that.

1. There is a God no one knows
Jesus says that everyone has got their own ideas about God, but the only one who knows God is the one who has been up to heaven, which discounts pretty much everyone we have met.  God is ultimately mysterious, and much of what we understand about God is understood in the negative.  (There is nothing God cannot do, for example.)  The main relationship between a human and the unknowable God, according to Jesus, is active respect to God and following the correct ethical path.

2. Some agnostics are on the right path.
Jesus wasn't opposed to people questioning the truth.  Questions are good.  In fact, the people who seem to have the most mix-ups are those who don't question that which they should question, those who are so caught up in tradition, doctrine and ritual that they can't see the truth when it's right in front of them.  Jesus believes that there will be some agnostics praised by the Creator who didn't even know they were on God's path.  Jesus doesn't separate people by Christian or otherwise.  There are those who do what is right and those who do wrong, whether they are agnostic, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or otherwise.

3. The World is full of injustice
Many people are without clear ethical direction, and this causes deep suffering and oppression in the majority of humans. Almost every human being is both the victim and cause of suffering.  We are in need of direction, a place to escape oppression, and the power to enact change.

4. There are two kinds of human ethics
Jesus calls these two paths Mercy and Judgement.  Mercy is the path that is found through our brain's mirror neurons, in which we see the other as ourselves.  Judgement is the path of anger and enmity, which our mind places certain people so that we see their opinions and ideas as always in antithesis to our own.  Jesus says that the main ethical task of humanity is to always choose the path of Mercy over the path of Judgment.

5. Judgment
There is a place for judgment.  Our brains understand this as karma, or reciprocation.  Every human deserves either good or bad, according to whether they do good or bad.  Jesus affirms that reciprocity exists, but that it is the place of the universe to hand out reciprocity, that our human minds are too limited to property see even one human beings place in the scale of reciprocity.  While we need to recognize and correct the bad, we should not do this by acts of harm or hatred.  To enact our rage upon another is to place us into the "bad" category of karma, and so the universe must act to punish us.

6. Mercy
Jesus says that we should instead focus our efforts to love others, which should be the ethical atmosphere of all of our actions.  To "love" is to benefit those whom we have contact with (directly or indirectly), and this benefit will differ depending on the specific context we are in.  The most basic form of love is to do all one can to meet a person's need, especially if they are harmed or oppressed.  The extent of love is without limit, even enacting mercy to those who do not deserve it, or those whom we do do not wish to give it.  To live a life of mercy is to ultimately be delivered from harm and oppression.

7. Sacrifice
Even as there are people who seem to only wish to enact harm, bringing oppression and suffering wherever they go, so there must be people who do the opposite, enacting mercy to all, no matter what the cost to themselves.  Most people live harming some and helping others, but if the world is to escape the cycle of suffering and oppression, we must have more and more people willing to give up everything they have, do and are to give mercy to more and more people, especially those who desperately need it.  Without these people, the world cannot escape being a place of suffering.

8. Power
No human is able, on their own, to be a person who always enacts love and refuses to harm.  Jesus claims that the power to escape one's own suffering and to be a person who loves is found in prayer to the Creator and accepting invisible gifts of energy to be applied to a life of love.  In the end, release from suffering is discovered in mysticism.

In summary, this is what Jesus said is "good news".  Do you agree?  How do you see the universe differently?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Greed Isn't Good

There are many ways to fall into greed. Watch out for them, because they will kill you faster than any doctrinal error. (Luke 12:15)

Greed is the entrepreneur who saves for his future, but doesn’t give to the poor. (Luke 12:16-20)

Greed is the wealthy man who steps over the homeless daily without giving them a thought. (Luke 16:19-21)

Greed is focusing on theology and not on creating justice or giving mercy to those who need it. (Matthew 23:23)

Greed is collecting money instead of relationships that will open the door to God’s kingdom. (Luke 16:9)

Greed is making excuses when a poor person asks you for help. (I John 3:17).

It is anytime you keep for yourself instead of giving to someone who is worse off than you. (Luke 12:33)

Greed isn’t good. Greed kills.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Did Jesus Die?

Is there any reason for good person to die young?  Why should someone be sentenced to death when they were declared innocent? Why should one dedicated to doing good suddenly have their life cut short?  And how can it be declared God’s will for such to happen?

            And yet, this is exactly the scenario that the New Testament proposes.  Jesus was a man who did good, who healed many and taught thousands to change from doing evil to doing good.  He claimed as a basic principle never to harm another.  But the authorities of Jerusalem branded him a rebel whose goal was to overturn their authority.  And because of his rebellion, he was killed.  And yet, all of this was, according to the New Testament, God’s plan and desire—the God of mercy and justice.  How could this be?

            We need to understand the underlying reasons for Jesus’ death—which from our perspective is insanity and injustice, but for the purposes of God it is right and good.

I. Historical Reasons for Jesus’ death

Jesus died because he threatened the temple of God.
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  (John 2:19) Jesus made this statement publicly, right after he cleansed the temple of the impurity of buying and selling.  Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple himself, but he did declare it impure, and he said that it would be destroyed by God (Mark 11:11-20; Mark 13:1-2).  But the temple was the center of Jewish religion in that day, and the leaders of Jerusalem needed it to remain that way.  The temple was the center of the authority of the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews.  If it was destroyed, then their power would be wiped away immediately.  Jesus seemed to threaten the temple (Mark 14:55-58), and so, in the mind of the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem, he must be stopped (John 11:47-57).

Jesus died because he claimed to replace the government of God’s people.
Jesus entered into Jerusalem as a great ruler, which was questioned by the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9, 23-27).  When they questioned him directly about his claims to authority, he agreed that he was the one whom God established as king over God’s people and that he would reign over the priesthood and the ruling Council.  That a borderline heretic could rule over them was unacceptable to the Council and they made a final determination that he should die. (Mark 14:55-61).

Jesus died because justice was replaced by mob rule.
Because the Council was under the thumb of the Roman government, they had to ask permission to kill Jesus.  They presented Jesus to the Roman governor of Jerusalem as a rebel wanting to replace Caesar as lord of the earth.  Pilate questioned Jesus, and while Jesus declared himself to be king, it was clear that he was not king as Caesar was (John 18:29-38).  Because he had done nothing rebellious, the governor declared him innocent.  But the Jerusalemites listening to this trial demanded that Jesus be killed for sedition.  Finally, Pilate was swayed by the crowds, and allowed Jesus to be killed. (Mark 15:12-15).

II. Jesus’ Own Reasons for Dying

Jesus died because he chose to.
But Jesus did not die simply because of the injustice of the Jewish and Roman governments.  Jesus declared many times ahead of time that it was God’s plan for him to die at the hands of these governments (Matthew 20:18-19) and he accepted the will of God in this (Mark 14:36).  He could have escaped at his arrest, but chose not to (Matthew 26:50-56).  He could have phrased his answers to be more acceptable to the Council or to Pilate, but he was being deliberately unhelpful toward his release (John 19:9-10).  Jesus was prepared for his death and he did what he could to make sure it happened, even though the final decision was Pilate’s.

Jesus died to make himself king over God’s people.
Why did Jesus make that choice? Why did he act in agreement with his own death?  Because he saw his death as a means to an end.  He determined that he needed to rule over God’s people.  But to be a ruler under God, he couldn’t just be at the head of an army or gain the acclamation of the people.  Rather, he had to be appointed by God.  To do this, Jesus had to prove to be a perfectly righteous ruler, one who would do God’s will rather than act for his own benefit.  Also, Jesus needed to be oppressed by the ruling governments, to prove that they were unworthy to rule.  This would cause God himself to act, to put down the unrighteous who raise themselves to power and to raise up the righteous who lowered their own desires (Luke 14:11).  In this way, Jesus allowed himself to die to allow God to act for his ambition to rule.

Jesus died to free people from oppressive rule.
But Jesus didn’t want to rule from his own ambition alone.  Rather, he desired to rule, because he saw God’s people as being without decent leadership (Mark 6:34).  Jesus saw the people as under Satan, needing deliverance from his rule of misery and death (Matthew 12:43-45).  Jesus saw the teachers of God’s people as being too ready to judge, and unlearned in the ways of God’s mercy (Matthew 12:7).  And Jesus saw the whole priesthood and temple system as impure and idolatrous (Mark 11:15-17).  Jesus desired to sacrifice himself for the sake of all those who truly desired to worship and follow God, but had no way to do it (Mark 10:45).

III. What Jesus’ death shows us

Jesus died to display the way of faith.
Jesus knew that the one whom God was pleased with is the one who is so faithful to God that he is willing to sacrifice everything he is and everything he has for him (Luke 14:33).  Jesus determined to be a man so wholly devoted to God that he would die.  And he also said that anyone who would gain the life that God has to offer must be so completely devoted (Mark 8:31-38).  And so Jesus showed—not just taught—that the one who loves God most is the one who would obey God to the very end (Mark 13:13).

Jesus died to demonstrate the result of faith.
Jesus knew that if he died that God would act in certain ways.  Whoever, in God’s name, destroyed God’s obedient servant, would be destroyed by God (Mark 12:1-9).  Whoever lowered themselves for God’s sake and God’s people would be raised by God to rule (Luke 14:11).  And whoever died because of their devotion to God, would be raised from the dead (Mark 8:35).  Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised him from the dead to prove the third principle.  After showing himself to the disciples for many days, God rose Jesus up to political authority over heaven, under the Father.  And in 70AD, the temple and the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews were destroyed, even as Jesus predicted. 

The power of faith is self-sacrifice for others.

This is the way of freedom.

Peace Through Death

God’s promise to His People

God gave his people a promise, and for five hundred years and more it was unfulfilled.  People from the nations around would mock the God of the Jews, for he promised them a great kingdom, a peace for his people, but it was not fulfilled.
·         God promised that a land would be given to his people. (Ezekiel 36:24)
·         God promised that he would bring a new king. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
·         God promised that the new king would bring justice to everyone who lived in the land. (Isaiah 11:1-5)
·         God promised that people would be healed of their illnesses. (Ezekiel 34:4; Deuteronomy 7:15)
·         God promised that his people would be forgiven of their sins. (Ezekiel 36:25)
·         God promised that all oppressors would be judged. (Psalm 82)
·         God promised that the people would have his Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
·         God promised that the power of the nations would be destroyed by his new kingdom. (Daniel 2:44)
·         God promised that those of his people who had died would be resurrected. (Daniel 12:2-3)
·         God promised that there would be a time of peace. (Isaiah 11:6-10)
Yet for more than five hundred years after the promises were made, they were not fulfilled.  And God’s people were so focused away from devotion to God, that it looked like they would never be fulfilled.

Jesus—Devoted to Fulfilling God’s Promise

Jesus desired to see God’s promises fulfilled.  During his time on earth, he prayed daily for the promises of God to become reality on earth.  He insisted that God move—for God’s own glory and reputation.
So Jesus was appointed by God to be the “point man” of the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He commanded the healing of God on the sick, and they were healed.  He commanded the exile of oppressive, judging spirits, and they were gone.  He proclaimed the forgiveness of those devoted to God, and they were forgiven.  He taught mercy and justice, and false prophets were rebuked. 

The Final Requirement

But Jesus knew that to establish all the promises of God in a new kingdom, it would require more than healings and teachings.  It required the creation of a new contract, a new people.  To accomplish a new people, a new kingdom established by God required something different than most kingdoms to be established.  To do this, Jesus needed to die. If Jesus did not die, then the kingdom, the fulfillment of God’s promises, could never have been accomplished. 
There were four reasons the holy one of God, the one especially selected by the Father to be the righteous ruler, had to die:

1.      Jesus’ death proved he was a righteous king.
The kingdom of God could only come when a king had been proven to be righteous.  Proof of righteousness, the living out of God’s will, could only be done in the midst of testing.  Thus, Jesus proved that he was just, merciful and righteous by dying the death of the guilty when he was innocent. (Mark 14:36; Hebrews 5:7-8)

2.      Jesus’ death displayed the unworthiness of the current rulers.
The kingdom of God could only be established when the unrighteous rulers of God’s people were deposed.  Jesus proved that the rulers were unrighteous by allowing himself to be sentenced as a rebel, when he was one who waited on God’s will.  Because God saw his innocence, he destroyed those who killed him and refused to repent for it. (Mark 12:1-11; Acts 3:13-21)

3.      Jesus’ death was the necessary sacrifice to establish a covenant.
In the ancient world, a legal covenant could only be established when a sacrifice was made to confirm it.  Thus, the kingdom of God could only begin when a blood sacrifice was made to create the covenant on which the kingdom was based.  The kingdom was ratified by Jesus’ sacrifice, which was perfect and blameless and according to God’s will. (Mark 14:24; Hebrews 9:18-26)

4.      Jesus’ death was the necessary price to free God’s people from oppression.
The kingdom of God could only come when God’s people could be delivered from exile.  Jesus died, allowing himself to be exalted to the right hand of God, and so made himself a mediator for the people of God, asking for their forgiveness.  Jesus also showed that those who showed enduring faith as he did on the cross are the righteous people of God who deserve to be in God’s kingdom. (Mark 10:45; Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Resurrection of Jesus

However, it was not enough that Jesus died.  Jesus died to do all that he could to establish God’s kingdom. But the rest was up to the Father.  God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that the kingdom was established and that the kingdom of God was established.  Jesus really did fulfill the promises God through his death.  (Romans 1:1-4) Now God’s people are forgiven by Jesus’ blood—if only they would repent and accept him as their Lord. (Acts 3:19) The Spirit can truly be given to God’s people, because through Jesus’ death there is a people who can receive the Spirit.  Healing and freedom from oppression can be given to many because God’s blessing flows to God’s people through Jesus.  And we know that we can gain resurrection because if we have the faith of Jesus, then we will gain the reward that Jesus received—eternal life. (John 6:47)

Jesus was worthy to be king through his death.  God sealed his approval of Jesus through the resurrection.  And now we can be free from oppression to be purely devoted to God.

“To this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”  (Romans 14:9)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Real Defendents

Jesus stood before the ruling council of the Judeans, the Sanhedrin.  And he stood before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Yet, it is not actually Jesus on trial here.  It is those who condemned Jesus.

They had no evidence of wrong-doing.  They had witnesses that contradicted each other, and empty accusations.  Pilate even declared Jesus to be innocent, before he agreed to have him taken away and crucified.  Both trials determined that Jesus was innocent, without guilt.  And yet both trials sentenced him to death.

This does not mean that Jesus somehow had done wrong, but that the kingdom of God (Judea) was being ruled by partial, unjust systems.  They were more interested in political expediency than they were about justice.

Who was just in those courtrooms?  Who was the support to the weak?  Who judged with fairness and equity?  Who really cared for the people of God?  Clearly it was Jesus.  Jesus is the deserving ruler, not the Sanhedrin or Pilate.  Not the Jewish High Priest or the Romans.

So we have that same choice today.  Is our justice system ruling with justice?  Do they kill innocent people?  Do our legislatures pass laws that benefit the people or for their own political expediency? Does the police forces and the President execute people on the basis of a fair trial, or by assumptions made in back rooms and prejudice?

Who is more just, Jesus, or our nation?  Who should rule?

The choice is yours over which system you want to guide your life.  The nation you were born in, or the kingdom of God ruled by Jesus.

The Trials of Jesus

After all the time of Jesus claiming to be king of Jerusalem and of his work to show himself worthy as king, it is finally time.  Now he will be shown before the current leaders of Jerusalem.  If they decide they like what he says, he will be given more time to prove his case.  But if they reject him, he will be killed.  God has already determined that these hard-hearted, rebellious rulers will oppose God and kill his Son.  But if they do that, it will mean their end.

The Sanhedrin is the ruling council of the Judeans.  It is led by the High Priest, and all the significant laws and decisions about the Jewish nation is made here.  Jesus is taken to them at night, where many await to accuse him.  Some of them say, “We heard him say that he would destroy the temple!”  But the witnesses contradicted each other.  The High Priest went to Jesus and said, “Don’t you hear what these witnesses say against you?  Why don’t you answer?”  But Jesus remained silent. 

Finally, the High Priest, angry that Jesus would say nothing, demanded, “I command you by the Most High God—are you or are you not the Messiah, the Son of God?”  Jesus replied, “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds at the right hand of power.”  The leader of all the Jews was infuriated that Jesus would claim to be beside God.  He tore his clothes in disgust and cried out, “Blasphemy!  He cannot claim to have God’s authority in heaven!  What do you say?”  And all of the Sanhedrin agreed that he should be put to death.  They released Jesus to the temple guards to be beaten and sent away.

Peter, meanwhile, was sitting outside the High Priest’s house, waiting for a verdict.  One of the girls recognized Peter and said, “Are you with that Galileean?”  Peter didn’t want to be caught, so he answered quickly, “No.”  Another said, “Surely you are—you can’t hide your Galillean accent.”  Peter replied, “No, I’m not.”  A soldier nearby said, “I think I saw you with him.”  Peter cursed and said, “I don’t know him!”  Then he heard a cock crow, and Peter realized that Jesus had predicted the denials Peter had just spoke.  And he ran away and wept.

The Sanhedrin could not kill Jesus legally without Roman agreement.  At that time, Judea was under the power of the Romans, who allowed the council to create laws, but demanded that a governor rule the province.  The most recent governor was Pilate, who was known to dislike Judeans, and not understand many of their customs.  The High Priest and others of the Sanhedrin brought Jesus before Pilate and accused, “This man has called himself a king and has been stirring up trouble in Jerusalem and Galilee.”  Pilate didn’t want to try him so he said, “Oh, is he from Galilee.  Fine, Herod is in town, and Galilee is Herod’s province.  Let Herod deal with him.”

They brought him to Herod, who had killed John the Baptist.  Herod had heard of Jesus and wanted to hear Jesus or to see him perform a miracle.  However, Jesus said nothing and did nothing before Herod.  Herod was enraged and sent Jesus back to Pilate to be killed.

The Sanhedrin accused Jesus of many evils before Pilate and the crowd that was forming.  Jesus said nothing.  Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “So, are you a king?”  Jesus replied, “I have a kingdom, but it is not of this world.  If my kingdom was a worldly kingdom, my disciples would be fighting right now.  But it isn’t.”  Pilate said to the Sanhedrin and the crowd, “I find no guilt in him.”  The priests were encouraging the crowds to cry, “Crucify him!” 

Pilate said, “Look, I usually release one prisoner at Passover time.  I haven’t done that yet.  I have in my prison a man named Barabbas.  He is a rebel against the proper authorities and he has murdered a man.  Who would you rather me release, the murderer or this so-called ‘king’?”  The priests encouraged the crowd to cry out, “Barabbas!”  Pilate was shocked, but he released the murderer.

Then he decided to have Jesus whipped thirty nine times, so he could look weak.  Jesus was whipped bloody, and then brought out before the crowd.  Pilate cried, “Look at him!  See how pathetic he is!  He won’t harm anyone.  I am going to release him.”  The crowd shouted out, “Crucify him!  If you release this king, you are no friend of Caesar’s!  Crucify him!”  Pilate didn’t want any bad word to get to Caesar at this point, or his life could be at stake.  So he washed his hands and said, “I have nothing to do with this.  Take him away.”

And so Jesus was sent to be crucified.

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN."  (Mark 14:61-62)

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."  (John 19:36)