Where do I live? What does my country stand for? What Christianity are we invoking? What is the future of the faith I hold so near and dear?
I’m an immigrant in my own native land. I belong to a kingdom that is both here and now and coming. The kingdom of God. It has no political allegiance. There is no binary. The only item on the agenda: love. The party platform, summed up in Matthew 5 when President Jesus lays out what it means to be a follower and participator in The Way.
Two events this week have truly caused me to take pause and really think. I’m not rocked. I’m not overcome by fear. I maintain an ever resilient hope. But I am a bit shaken and stirred.
To ask the government to reexamine the use of torture truly is remarkable. Regardless of what benefit it may provide, this truly is against all it means to be human, to be decent. Claim to be atheist, agnostic; no interest in religion whatsoever–I can understand this position. To beat the drum for the cause I go to work for every day and believe it lines up with Jesus, that’s beyond the pale.
Bless those who persecute. Pray for your enemies. Turn the other cheek. This is the Jesus way. Never have I encountered a single instance of, “Raise the stakes. Torture them till they talk. Treat your enemy as subhuman.”
Then the executive order to ban people from Muslim countries, enact a religious test and suspend the entrance of refugees from the US. Here’s some cold hard facts: A study conducted by the libertarian Cato Institute found that between 1975-2015, the United States admitted approximately 700,000 asylum-seekers and 3.25 million refugees. Four asylum-seekers and 20 refugees later became terrorists and launched attacks on US soil.
“The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an asylum-seeker was one in 2.73 billion a year,” wrote the study’s author, Alex Nowrasteh. “The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion a year.”
Compare that with the fact that guns were used in 11,078 homicides in the U.S. in 2010, comprising almost 35% of all gun deaths, and over 68% of all homicides. On average, 33 gun homicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010.
In 2015, there were 35,092 motor vehicle deaths. Yet I don’t hear calls for banning guns or vehicles anytime soon. In fact, the very side proposing these unprecedented bans–of people, believe more guns should be available.
It’s a sad day and a sad state of affairs when we value objects, things over people. If we’re simply weighing risks and in the name of “keeping America safe” making these decisions, look no further than guns, vehicles and while you’re at it, maybe our environment and food supply. But to exclude people in the name of safety and worse yet in the name of Jesus is the very essence of anti Christ. Friends, following Jesus ain’t safe.
What do I do from here? Where do we go from here? Continue to be ever skeptical of “the establishment”. Be wary of partisan politics. The solution doesn’t lie in an elephant or donkey. No legislation can truly bring about the Jesus way. Only the prophetic declaration of what Jesus stands for.
Work for peace. Work for justice. Work for human dignity. All life is sacred. All people are created in the image of God. To devalue or think otherwise of humanity is to spit in the face of our creator.
This is the representation of Jesus the world is waiting for.
Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
Feels like we’re just waiting, waiting
While our hearts are just breaking, breaking
Feels like we’ve been fighting against the tide
I wanna see the earth start shaking
I wanna see a generation
Finally waking up inside
On the final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell You that I tried
To live it like a song
And when I reach the other side
I want to look You in the eye
And know that I’ve arrived
In a world where I belong
We can be people of the future. Here and now. We can both be fully present now and be people from the coming age. Wait…what?! That sounds a little too Sci Fi, you may think. How exactly are we to be futuristic? In what context? Well, let’s unpack a few things first. Let’s start in the beginning.
Many times when you hear the gospel presented, it starts with “We’ve made a mess of things; this is a broken world; we have a tendency to jack things up” some variation of that. And while those are all true enough (and we’d probably all admit to some level of jacked upness and adding to the chaos) that’s not the full story. That’s not how this whole thing got kicked off.
Rather, in the beginning, God was creating, ordering, naming, expanding, flourishing, this world–and he called it good. Sin, brokenness, pain, and the like enter the picture later on down the road. This wasn’t God’s intent or how he envisioned things playing out. (I know that may spark questions of free will, predestination, what God causes vs. allows; perhaps a post on that later)
So, after the surely frustrating moment of “and now here we are”, God’s creation which he called good and beautiful was fractured. So God’s reclamation project comes in the form of His son. While he was born so that he may die, he did do some living and teaching in the 33 or so years on earth. Jesus models an entirely new way of being human. With his “you’ve heard it said, but I say”, with his shocking and scandalous Sermon on the Mount, and when he finally says, “Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself. The law and prophets hang on these”. (I don’t think we really fully grasp the gravity and weight of what Jesus was doing, and there really isn’t an adequate example that would be as revolutionary as he was.)
It’s interesting, people called him the last Adam, he’s mistaken for a gardener almost immediately after he resurrects, there are several hints and suggestions of “pay attention, this is what the future holds and how humanity will be!” So this is how we become people of the future. We continually become more Christlike and interact with our Father and others around us the way Jesus did. In a strange paradoxical way, the future is also the past. God is about reconciliation, restoration, and renewal–of people, of relationships, of the earth.
Ultimately, God’s judgement is coming. Think less wrath and fury, fire and brimstone, heaven and hell; and think more of God sorting and proclaiming. Ask yourself, what are the things will God say, “This is the world I’ve created and intended. These are the things that are good, blessed and of Me…” What things will God say, “This has no place in the new world. These things are anti-human…” Hang on to the things God will say stays and are being instituted. That, is how we are to live. We are to live as the new humanity. Those of the coming age. Those who are from the future. Those who are created and called to bear the image of God.
Sanctification. Justification. Atonement. Dispensationalism. Eternal conscious torment, annihilation or universalism. These terms and many others are what make up differing stances and thoughts on theology. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, lively debate on interpretations of scripture, application, implications, etc. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a conversation of “Pre tribulation, mid tribulation or post tribulation rapture? Any rapture at all?”. Or “What is your stance on __________?” Again, I’m fascinated on why people believe what they believe and how they’ve arrived there. But in the end, what’s the point?
Don’t misunderstand, what you believe can and does shape how you live and what you do is often a result of what you know. But often times we over complicate things when in fact they’re quite simple. There’s a story in the book of Micah that illustrates this really well.
So in Old Testament times, people were required to offer a variety of sacrifices, a variety of ways for a wide variety of sins to remain in good standing with God. If the letter of the law wasn’t upheld, then there had to be an offering (or sacrifice) to account for this. (By the way, many times we get caught up in the letter of the law all the while missing the spirit of the law/principle. More on that later.) So eventually comes a prophet, (think less of a fortune teller and more of a clarity bringer–is that a word?!) Micah, who is trying to teach the Israelites what God is really about.
He says, “He has shown you, oh man, what The Lord requires: that you do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” First, I love that you can hear the weariness in his voice. The writer of this particular passage clearly wanted to demonstrate that Micah is somewhat agitated that people aren’t getting it. Oh man… Second, this should be freeing! Liberating! A huge weight lifted! Good news (*hint hint*) to all of the hearers of this revolutionary new way of thinking.
So along comes this Jesus guy, the good news in the flesh, who references this great prophet from many years before him. When the Pharisees are stuck on the letter of the law, following things to a T, living a sacrificial lifestyle, getting belief systems and theology right; Jesus tells them to go learn what God meant when he said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Well this isn’t good news at all to a bunch of guys who feel they’re pretty great at keeping the letter of the law. In fact, they’re put off that this really means there is going to be more room for others at the party who haven’t had to sacrifice anything close to what the “good guys” have. The jokers who don’t believe the way the rule keepers and correct thinkers do, have hope too?!
Let’s not stray too far from the original point: theology and beliefs. The Pharisees thought they had the right beliefs, right practices and right traditions. Jesus jacks up their whole reality by telling them they’re missing the point. He challenges them to learn what desiring mercy not sacrifice means, and later will say that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving neighbor.
We should take the same approach as Jesus (that’s never a bad plan, by the way.). We should strive to point people to the simple, easy things that aren’t gray. The things we can apply and will spend a lifetime trying to achieve. So the next time you’re Jesus juked into a conversation on politics, pacifism, marriage, drinking, (the list really could go on for a long time); remember what God requires isn’t that you have the correct beliefs, but that you work toward justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him–love God and love neighbor. Tell people that’s what you’re expending energy on. If we focus on believing all the “right” things, but forget Micah 6:8, in the end, what’s the point?
Sometimes I categorize people. Do you do this? I assign labels to certain groups, populations, religions, cultures, sexes, political parties; the list is really endless. Maybe pointing out the “otherness” of others is really a deflection of dealing with the “us-ness” of us. What I mean is we can rally around the unpardonable, mob identified, sin and go after “them” while sweeping the agreed upon offenses of “us” under the rug. But, like Lucilla astutely utters in Gladiator, “The mob is fickle, brother.”
We can tend to make a mountain out of a mole hill in others’ lives while overlooking the Kilimanjaro in our own life. This sounds strangely familiar…ah yes! Jesus talks about it in Matthew 7 when he says, “Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother’s eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam of timber in your own eye? You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye.”
I can’t speak to anyone else, only myself. But I’ll admit it; I mess this up. More than i should. Too often, we categorize the sins of others as unacceptable while conveniently justifying our own, by dividing the world into good and bad. The “us” versus “them” mentality is not only counter productive to telling the story of the fullness of grace and acceptance of Jesus, but also hurts the heart of God. We should strive to notice the best in others while realizing the worst in ourselves.
Being selfish and speaking in the “I” is generally unbecoming unless referring to your own struggles, hurts, habits, and hang ups. Then, I believe, we have the green light to use the personal pronoun liberally. Paul sets the standard when he proclaims, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.” This isn’t Paul being arrogant and self centered, rather a humbleness to the fact that he’s acknowledging the log in his own eye well before he even thinks to point out the speck in anyone else’s.
I need to be more forgiving. I need to be less judgmental. I need to stop trying to label, divide and categorize people into nice neat, tidy groups. The fact is, the community of Jesus doesn’t look like well put together, clean, sensical groups. It looks like a whole bunch of people with all of our struggles, failures, shortcomings and pain doing our best to repent (which is to turn away from our mess) and follow the Jesus way. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It’s disorganized. It’s an evolving, living, breathing community. But, when you have the elements of grace and love through Jesus, it’s a beautiful thing.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I was sitting in the baby doctor office recently, and found myself particularly perturbed with a pregnant lady who was talking loudly on her Bluetooth. Why was I so tweaked? She was very pleasant. In fact, she was so nice that I think that’s what annoyed me.
She talked about everything from working from home, to the expiration of lunch meat, to matching outfits in the summertime to her red hair and pale skin, to finally encouraging her husband to put his feet up and relax on a Friday after a long week. Why was I so irritated?
Maybe some of it was due to the decibel range she was projecting in. But if I was honest with myself, the real reason I was put off was the fact that she was so happy. It was the kind of happy that was making me contemplate jumping from the third story of the doctor’s office building.
Then it hit me: How childish, insecure and frustrated was I by my own experiences and circumstances that I resented this sweet, pregnant lady?
I think we do this sometimes. Maybe more often than sometimes if we’re honest…we expect everyone else to be miserable, angry or having an off day just as we are. To be singing the blues just like us.
Truth be told, we all have those days that aren’t especially bright and sunny. And that’s fine. To always pretend everything is rainbows and unicorns is a whole other problem in itself. But to expect everyone else to wallow in our sadness, bitterness, discontent, frustration, anger and take up our offenses is incredibly selfish and short sighted.
Envy isn’t good. Being resentful isn’t especially helpful either. So if you find yourself having an “off” day, month or year; rejoice in the happiness of others. Stick close to those who are joyful and pray that it rubs off on you.
Surround yourself with joyful people. Do things that bring joy to your life. Being positive is sometimes much harder than being cynical, but positivity is far more rewarding (and probably causes you to live longer).
If you were looking forward to an exposé and a discussion on Al Gore’s climate change, sorry; this isn’t it. What I’m writing about is much more controversial, much harder to swallow and more impactful to your life than that. It might not be the most popular opinion and probably isn’t the best church growth strategy in the world, but I feel I owe it to you to fill you in.
Are you curious what it is I’m talking about? Are you on the edge of your seat? Are you frustrated that you’re reading a blog in the first place and ready for the writer to just get to the point? Okay, here it is. The inconvenient truth:
Following Jesus is hard. There’s a tension.
What do I mean by that? So many things… Jesus calls us to come and die, take up a cross and follow him. We are creatures of habit and comfortability. Dying to the old ways, changing the way we see things and people and issues and breaking old habits are uncomfortable. You know that old saying “old habits die hard”? Well, there’s some truth in that. With Jesus’ help, they can though. A little at a time.
Following Jesus is going to result in me having to do things I really, frankly, don’t want to do and feel I shouldn’t have to do. Forgiving someone who has wronged me or stabbed me in the back. Loving and embracing someone who has shown no interest and no desire to extend a hand to me. Reaching out to someone who is different than I am. Being positive and encouraging when it’s easier and popular to be negative and critical. Showing grace and mercy. Doing justice when we don’t feel like it. Laying aside my agenda, my desires and my “rights”.
Following Jesus is also not always going to be seen as the politically correct thing to do. Here’s some cool news though: Jesus isn’t all that into correctness and not really all that interested in politics either. Trying to be like Jesus is going to rub Christians and non-Christians the wrong way. If neither is taking notice, well…
Let me just say it like this: If there has never been a day in your walk with Jesus that you’ve frankly gotten a bit ticked off and found it more than irritating that he calls you to be set a part and live differently; that Jesus may be one that’s created in your image. That Jesus may oddly dislike all the people you dislike, feel the same way as you about various issues and excuse the things that you excuse. I would offer that you’re shaping your own Jesus; he’s not shaping you.
Here’s what I can encourage you with, however. As you take steps to live the Jesus way, something inside you changes. The times your gut, your instinct or your “flesh” decides it wants to come through become less and less. In a sense, you begin to see things the way God intended you to see things. You begin to see Jesus as challenging rather than irritating.
Don’t get me wrong, there will still be times that aspiring to be like Jesus will frustrate you to no end, because it requires you to lay down your rights and to react in love and understanding and patience and grace and humility. But I can tell you; it’s God’s best plan for you. I can tell you that there will be good seasons, tough seasons, fun seasons and down right awful seasons. Following Jesus is inconvenient, but sometimes, the things that are inconvenient, end up being the most worthwhile, fruitful and valuable things of all. The inconvenient things, strangely, become the things you hold most tightly to.
“Whenever you open the scriptures and take seriously the teachings of Jesus, there’s a tension. Personally and individually we want to resolve that tension. But if we do, we give up something important. It’s what drove people crazy about Jesus. But he was comfortable with it.”
Doubt. In faith circles, this is seen as a dirty word. Most believe it’s the antithesis of faith. If you doubt, you aren’t a good member of your particular religion. What if doubt and faith are more closely related than we could ever imagine? What if doubt is an all important step to forming a better, deeper and more lasting faith? What if?
My faith centers around a person. Sure there are dogmas, scriptures, creeds and traditions that surround him; and these are all well enough. But at the end of the day, it’s about the life of a man, Jesus. The claims of Jesus and his followers are really quite extraordinary. Virgin birth, miracles, God and man in one, claims of a new way to be human and raising others and eventually himself from the dead. These really are quite compelling assertions.
I would offer, that if your faith is formed off of taking this at face value, for what authority figures such as pastors, parents, Sunday school teachers and even previous interpretations of the Bible have taught you, and you’ve never had a good struggle with many elements of your faith, that’s preposterous. This is where I think a good dose of doubt comes in handy.
If you begin to doubt, wonder and meditate on these things, you can’t help but be moved. Moved to search. Moved to action. Moved to explore and really know why you believe what you believe. It causes you to look at the world differently. It causes you to rethink Jesus. Reexamine the way we’ve been doing life, treating our fellow man, treating the environment and treating our relationship with our creator.
One of my favorite parables in the Bible is when Jesus sends his disciples across the lake in the boat and he says he’ll catch up later. In true Jesus fashion, he comes strolling along on the water. The disciples freak out, taking him for a ghost. Peter believes that this is Jesus and expresses the desire to walk to his teacher. Jesus tells Peter to go for it and after a step or two on the water, he begins to sink.
Jesus’s response is very interesting. He grabs his beloved disciple and rescues him. He doesn’t yell at Peter or tell him that he’s unfit to be a disciple. Jesus helps Peter out then asks him why he doubted. Not that he doubted in Jesus, but that Peter doubted in himself. (I think Jesus would understand if Peter was just a bit skeptical in seeing his teacher walking on water.) Jesus is telling Peter that he shouldn’t doubt in his own God given ability to do extraordinary things.
Doubt, wonder and mystery should lead us on a quest of sorts. Filled with reading, prayer, silence and solitude, conversation, questioning and more reading. Anything that is worth anything takes struggle, work, dedication and discipline. If faith is just easily and simply formed, it’s easily discarded and deemed irrelevant all the same. Maybe this is why our young adults, 18-30 year olds, are leaving religious affiliations of any kind in droves. We’ve told them not to question, not to think, not to doubt; but simply to believe.
The mistake that’s been made with millennials is one that we must correct. We have to allow and see the value in questioning. If we learn to ask big and well thought questions, we can get some deep, rich answers. Or at least arrive at a place that we know we’ve given a lot of thought to certain beliefs. Besides, I have a hunch that God isn’t scared or intimidated by any questions we could lob his way. He’s God.
At the end of the day, we may not arrive at comfortable answers. And that’s fine. We’ve never been commissioned to have the answers. If we have all the answers and there’s no room for doubt, uncertainty and further questioning, God ceases to be God, because we are. Arriving at truth on our own is much more powerful anyway. If we were intended to have all the answers, correct beliefs and right thinking, God could have just created us that way. Instead, he allows us this journey to be a work in process. Having all the answers is God’s job and we wouldn’t be very good at it anyway.
Rob Bell says, “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” Maybe God isn’t a God to be figured out. Maybe there are certain things that we are supposed to question and doubt and poke and prod. What I can be sure of is my desire to continue the conversation. It’s a conversation that’s been happening for many years and is sure to continue for many more. So what can you contribute to the discussion? What’s your story? How have you dealt with doubts, questions, fears and mystery? Have you figured it out? I doubt it.