Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Ones Jesus Loves

When Jesus hung upon the cross, there were only a handful of people who stood nearby. Most of them were women; His mother, Mary Magdalene, and a few others. But only one of his Twelve Disciples stood there with them – John.
We know where the other Disciples were that day. Judas was anguishing over what he had done. Peter and the rest were in hiding, fearing that they might also be rounded up for their former allegiance to the Nazarene who was being executed for opposing the Religious and Civil authority.
But not John. He was near the cross. Near enough to watch Jesus suffering. Near enough to hear him say, “Behold your Mother” and to tell Mary, “Behold your son”.
So, why wasn’t John afraid like all the other Disciples? Why wasn’t he hiding in fear for his life? What made the difference?
I think it was love.
John continuously refers to himself throughout his Gospel as “the one Jesus loved” rather than simply “me” or “I” or even, “John.”
Later on in his life, John would write this:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  – 1 John 4:18
Furthermore, only John wrote 3 epistles to the church which were entirely about the topic of love. [That would be 1, 2, and 3 John].
I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I saw myself as John did – as “the one Jesus loved”.
Didn’t Jesus love all the other Disciples? Of course. He loved all of them, even Judas.
But what made the difference in the life of John was the acceptance of that love and the continual reminder that he was “the one Jesus loved”.
That’s why he wasn’t afraid of being arrested like Jesus. That’s why he wasn’t hiding with the other Disciples. That’s why Jesus trusted him with the well-being of his own mother. It’s also probably the same reason that John was the only one to receive further revelation from Jesus to share with the Seven Churches throughout Asia, later on in his life.
John was one of the "Sons of Thunder". He once, along with his brother James, asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven to burn up a Samaritan village. But something transformed John into "the one Jesus loved" who set all of that aside and embraced self-sacrifice, humility, service and compassion. 
What can you and I learn from this? Simply that we are loved more than we realize. And that the more we do realize it, the closer we can be to Jesus, and the more likely that we will hear His voice.
It also means that the more aware we are of His love for us, the less we will live in fear and the more bold we will be in walking out a more dangerous faith where the love of Christ compels us to embrace the whole world as “the ones Jesus loves”.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Crucifying Our Common Sense

If you’re seriously going to follow Jesus, you’re going to have to let go of a lot of things – your selfishness; you sins; your bad habits, and most surprisingly, your common sense.

Jesus doesn’t give us any handrails when he tells us to love our enemies. There are no safety cones around his command to give to everyone who asks of you, expecting nothing in return. We have no bumper pads to shield us from the sharp edges of “turn the other cheek”, “bless those who curse you” or “do good to those who hate you”. None whatsoever.

Jesus proposes a reckless faith in a dangerous world where sometimes people get bruised, and jailed and yes, even killed, in the process of walking this path of sacrificial love.

Look what it did to Jesus, for example. Why should we expect better treatment?

Look what it did to the early Christians for nearly 300 years of following Jesus. Ours is a dangerous faith.

Didn’t He warn us to count the cost before taking up our cross to follow Him? Didn’t the idea of carrying a cross – a Roman torture device – clue us in to the fact that this was always about life and death? Doesn’t the New Testament contain dozens of verses that urge us not to fear but to trust in Him? Don’t we remember those scriptures that encourage us to endure suffering and commend us for bearing up under the cruel weight of persecution?

My mind has been boggled this week as Christian after Christian – while claiming to follow Jesus – has flat out denied everything Jesus ever said about welcoming the stranger as we welcome him, and who our neighbor is, and how we’re to be known for our love and hospitality.

Some have claimed that the issue is “complicated” or that Jesus isn’t really all that clear about what He wants us to do. But the only way to legitimately claim that Jesus isn’t clear is if we have conflicting sets of teachings from Jesus that make it difficult for us to understand Him. However, what we actually have is verse after verse where Jesus clearly – very clearly – aligns Himself with the outcast, the stranger and the refugee and tells us that the way we love them is the way we love Him. And on the opposite column we have absolutely nothing to counter or contradict this command to love others extravagantly.

So, what’s the confusion? If I understand correctly, most are appealing to “common sense” and the need for “self-preservation”.

Apparently the main conflict for most is the confusing possibility that Jesus might intend for us to welcome the stranger even if the stranger might potentially hurt us.

This is just common sense, of course.

The only problem is that Jesus never gives us any exceptions like this. Ever. 

What He does say is:

“Anyone who seeks to save his own life will lose it but those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” [Matt. 16:25]

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” [Luke 9:23]

“In this way they will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” [John 13:35]

What we don’t ever see is Jesus saying “Be careful”, or “Take it easy out there” or “Watch yourself”. Instead he urges us to love until it hurts.

This refugee crisis is a perfect opportunity for the Church to stand up and be known for love. 

 Instead, it’s turning into an embarrassing example of how everyone, except Christians, are willing to open their hearts to the people who are fleeing a war that our Nation helped to create.

Jesus was a refugee Himself. How could He not want us to show compassion to families fleeing violence as His family once did?

Jesus aligned with the stranger and the outcast, even going so far as to let us know that our compassion – or the lack of it  - would determine whether or not we belonged to Him.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done it unto me.” – Jesus [Matt. 25:35; 40]

So, you only love Jesus as much as you love the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger. 

Let that sink in a moment.

Rejecting refugees is the same as rejecting Jesus. That’s the simple truth of it.

See, our love for Jesus is fueled by His love for us – which is boundless and limitless and reckless and sacrificial. That’s the kind of love that kicks common sense to the curb and abandons all sense of self-preservation to run headlong into the arms of the unknown.

His perfect love casts out all our fears. But our fears can also choke out His love if we let it.

Following Jesus involves nailing your common sense to the cross and crucifying your fear.

No, it doesn’t mean that we seek out danger. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally throw ourselves into the Lion’s den.

But what it DOES mean is that, as we follow Jesus and put His commands to love everyone into practice, we will encounter dangerous situations. And when those encounters threaten us and tempt us to back down and attempt to make us waver in our commitment to follow Jesus through the very gates of hell, we need to stand firm, open our arms and pour out the uncommon, irrational, transformational love of Christ until our enemies become our friends, or we die in the process.

Either way we win.

Bottom line: There is no room for self-preservation on the road to self-denial. Jesus calls us to stop trying to save our own life and to start giving up our life – as He did – in service to others.

You can have caution and security in the name of wisdom, or you can have transformational love and mercy in the Name of Jesus. Take your pick.

Who’s ready to love with wild abandon?


"Following Jesus isn’t safe. If you want safe you need to pick someone else to follow. Following Jesus is scary and dangerous. It takes you places that make you uncomfortable. Following Jesus isn’t simple. He asks us to balance loving our enemies and protecting the innocent. If you want simple you need to pick someone else to follow." – Brian L. Powell

 NOTE: Photo Credit - David Hayward "RefuJesus". Used by permission of the artist.
David's website>
Prints available HERE>

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Follow Closer

If you hate Muslims,
if you fear immigrants,
if you despise refugees,
if you want to kill your enemies,
if you think violence cures violence,
please don't tell people you follow Jesus.
Because that's not "Following Jesus"

You can't say, "I follow the Prince of Peace" while saluting the flag of a conquering nation, or while cheering for war, or by calling for vengeance or while dismissing the words of that same Prince who disarmed Peter saying "Put away your sword. Those who live by violence will die by violence", and who said "Love your enemies", and who said "If my Kingdom were of this world, my disciples would fight," and who said,"Blessed are the peacemakers" and who told us that those who seek to call down fire on their enemies "do not know what spirit they are of", and who gave us "the ministry of reconciliation."

Either Jesus was a fool who taught nonsensical ideals that cannot work in this world, or he was the Son of God who came to teach us another way to think and live; who gave us a new blueprint to follow, and who ended his sermon on loving our enemies by asking, "why do you call me 'Lord, lord' and don't do what I say?"

Your New Testament was written by a violent man who went from house to house killing and persecuting Christians on behalf of the religious elite and with the blessing of the Empire until Jesus transformed him into an Apostle who taught the Gospel of peace until he was put to death by that same Empire.

You want blood? You want vengeance for the evils done? Jesus says, "Here, take my blood, shed by that same empire of violence and retribution you salute and pledge allegiance to. Here, drink my blood until it transforms your heart into one like mine which cries out, "Father, forgive those who do violence, for they know not what they do!"

We cannot kill our way to peace. Someone has to welcome the enemy and return love for hate. Someone has to lay down their weapon first and be the one who is willing to die- but not kill - to make this world a better place.

We have forgotten our heritage. We have ignored three hundred years of Christ-following martyrs who put the teachings of Jesus into practice, and who valiantly loved and served and blessed the Romans who put them to death.

We now longer resist the Empire, we now embrace that same spirit of Empire which killed them, and Paul, and the other Apostles, and even our own Lord, Jesus.

"Come out of Her, my people," Jesus says. Stop fornicating with the Empire of violence and retribution.

"You know not the Spirit you are of."


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Obedient Lovers of Jesus

Jesus equated love with obedience:

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” [John 15:10-12]

But the idea of loving others can be challenging. Especially when it comes to loving our enemies.
I've been in numerous debates in the last few days. Mostly with Christians who want to wiggle out of Jesus' command to love our enemies. We want to redefine "Love" or look for different meanings of the word "Kill", or make ammendments for self-defense.
Then, quite often, Christians will bring up the Holocaust or the Nazi's in WW2 and ask, "Why didn't non-violence stop Hitler? 

Here's something almost no one realizes: The Nazi's had no way of dealing with those who responded with non-violent resistance.

“B.H. Liddell-Hart, widely acknowledged as the foremost military writer of our times, discovered in his interrogation of Nazi generals after World War II that they had little trouble dealing with violent resistance except in mountainous areas of Russia and the Balkins, or where advancing armies were close. But they expressed complete inability to cope with nonviolence as practiced in Denmark, Holland, Norway, and, to a lesser extent, in France and Belgium.

“’They were experts in violence, and had been trained to cope with opponents who used that method. But other forms of resistance baffled them. They were relieved when nonviolence was mixed with guerilla operations, which made it easier to combine suppressive action against both at the same time.’

“The generals found friendly noncompliance more frustrating than any other form of resistance, and had no effective means to counter it. ‘If practiced with a cheerful smile and an air of well-meaning mistake, due to incomprehension or clumsiness, it becomes even more baffling…. This subtle kind of resistance cannot really be dealt with in terms of force: indeed, nothing can deal with it. There is really no answer to such go-slow tactics.”  - Excerpt from "Engaging the Powers" by Walter Wink.
So, we can't point to a conflict which was initiated, and escalated, by those who believe in violence as an example of how non-violence couldn't stop it. Especially when we can see that non-violence does work - and did work - in situations where it was actually put into practice. [And there are several examples of how non-violence worked during WW2, and in other conflicts worldwide, from Liberia to India and even in the good ole' USA].
But, again, please keep in mind that Christian non-violence is not "doing nothing". It involves trusting Jesus for wisdom, strength, protection and grace in the midst of suffering, oppression and hate.
The goal is not to become door mats. The goal is to become ambassadors of Christ and to demonstrate - as He did - the abounding, endless, audacious love of God to those who have never experienced it as we have.
The hope is that our enemies will be transformed by the surprising love of Christ when we return blessings instead of curses, and love instead of hate.
Many have been completely transformed by this unexpected outpouring of love in response to acts of violence. Early Christian history - the first 300 years especially - is full of examples of exactly this kind of radical love which transforms the purveyors of violence.
When it works this way, it's beautiful. No weapon can stop it. No aggression can overcome it. Light truly does push back the darkness. Love really does overwhelm hate.

But, sometimes it doesn't always result in repentance and transformation. And in those cases, we may die. But if we die, then we die, and in that way we "share in the sufferings of Christ". What greater honor can there be than to follow Jesus all the way to our death?

I don't know about you, but I would rather die because I was putting the commands of Jesus into practice than to kill another person because my Government said so.

For a follower of Jesus, death is where we begin our journey with Him:
"For we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God." [Col. 3:3]
"If anyone would follow me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me." -Jesus

Self-preservation is not our goal. Obedience unto death to the Lord of Life and the Prince of Peace is.

Do we trust Jesus to take care of us as we put His commands into practice? And if we suffer for doing good, that's what it's all about, isn't it?
“But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” [1 Peter 2:20-21]

Yes, non-violence quite often does work, when it is put into practice by obedient disciples of Jesus who are following His example of humility and love.

And even if it doesn't end with our lives being spared, that's not the point. The purpose is to put on display the extravagant love of Jesus that has filled us, and the whole earth.
This is the love that can change the human heart and transform our community, our nation and our world - one person at a time.
But it will only work if we put the commands of Jesus into practice.
"A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you." - Jesus
How has Jesus loved you? This is how you should love others - yes, even your enemies.
"If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" - Jesus
Are we really following Jesus, or do we just "believe in" Him?
If we really love Jesus, according to Him, we will obey His commands.
Jesus makes it very clear: "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you" [Luke 6:27].
I would never kill someone I loved. Therefore, we cannot kill our enemies if we hope to be obedient disciples of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
"Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is Love". [1 Cor. 13]

[Special Thanks to Travis Glenn Blankenship for the Walter Wink reference]

Friday, November 13, 2015


Professor Lee Ross has done a lot of work in conflict resolution, promoting dialog between various groups in places like Northern Ireland and in the Middle East with both Palestinians and Israelis.

“People on both sides are always interested in meeting with those from the other side,” he says. “But why do they want to meet? Because they want to explain to the other side how things really are, and they think that if they do that the other person will become easier to deal with in the future. If that doesn’t work then it just proves that those on the other side aren’t objective or reasonable. What I have never experienced in 40 years of doing this is people who say “I really want to meet with the other side because I think I have things wrong” or “I think I’m biased and I want to meet with the other side so they can set me straight.” I’ve never, ever had the experience of even a single individual tell me that.”

That’s the problem. No one is willing to admit the possibility that they are wrong about something. No one is willing to confess that they are capable of having anything new to learn from the other side.

It’s no different in our churches. As long as we refuse to admit that we have something to learn, we will never learn anything, and we’ll never be at peace with those whom we think have plenty to learn from us.

What we need to do is to recognize the authenticity of the other person. We need to admit that they are as sincere in their beliefs as we are in ours. We need to, honestly, love them as we love ourselves and consider them better than ourselves and worthy of love and respect, regardless of their viewpoints or doctrines.

If we emphasize what we have in common – which in the Church is our love for Jesus – rather than hammering on what separates us, we have a better chance of really learning something about one another. And who knows, we might possibly even experience a new insight for ourselves in the process.

What do you think?

NOTE: This post was inspired by a podcast at "You're Not So Smart". 
Listen to the original interview with Lee Ross here>

Thursday, November 12, 2015


After a long break, Keith and Dan are back at the microphones to talk about the healing power of the ekklesia community.

Can you guess where Skype randomly cuts Dan off in our conversation? Do we get him back? Does the audio cut out? All these questions will be answered in this exciting episode of Keith and Dan's Video Skype Podcast on Organic Church and Christian life.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Blind Spot Bias

Whenever we look out at the world, everything registers on our retina except for one area known as the blind spot. When it comes to perceiving reality, the biggest and most common blind spot is our self. 

“Ever notice how everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin

This little observation perfectly describes the blind spot that almost everyone suffers from. Those who agree with us are rational, intelligent and possibly even genius-level savants, but those who disagree with us are morons, buffoons and sheeple.


This phenomenon – known as “Na├»ve Realism” – was observed and categorized by two scientists, Lee Ross and Andrew Ward, back in 1995. They concluded that since most people believe that their ideas and opinions have only been arrived at after careful and thoughtful study, [which isn’t usually true], we then falsely assume that a simple statement of facts which support our position will “fix” anyone who disagrees with us. When it doesn’t work we then assume that these people must be idiots, blinded by their worldview, brain-washed, or possibly even subversive agents who oppose “The Truth”, [which is also usually not true either].

Essentially, we all fail to recognize our own biases and, at the same time, are acutely aware of everyone else’s biases.

Jesus called it having a log in the eye.

Naive Realism has three tenets:

One: You tend to believe that you arrived at your opinions after careful, rational analysis.

Two: Since you are devoted to sticking to the facts, this must mean that you are free from bias. Anyone who reads what you have read or experienced the same things you have will naturally see things your way.

Three: If anyone disagrees with your opinions it must be because they simply don’t have all the facts yet.

Simply put, this is why we have so many arguments on Facebook.

You read something and disagree with it. The other person cuts and pastes from their sources to prove you wrong or to defend their logic. You cut and paste, or quote from, your favorite sources to advance your unbiased perspective. They ignore that and post links to other sources that should convince you – if you were rational and unbiased as they are – and when it doesn’t convince you they begin to go down their list of reasons why you must be so blind – you’re stupid, you’re brain-washed, you’re lazy, etc.

Eventually someone gets un-friended or blocked.

Post. Argue. Repeat.
The problem comes when we assume that we see the world objectively, as it truly is. Therefore, we assume that those who see it otherwise are not simply seeing it differently, they are seeing it incorrectly.

We are right. They are wrong. That’s all there is to it. But that isn’t reality.

See, none of us is without bias. Not you. Not them. Not even me. We all believe that our beliefs are the right beliefs – otherwise we’d believe something else. But if we’re honest, we are much more critical of other people’s arguments than we are of our own. Which is what a recent study discovered.

In the experiment conducted by Professor Lee Ross, University students were asked if they would be willing to walk around campus wearing a large wooden sign. About half of them agreed to do so. When asked to guess about how many others might also choose to wear the sign, or not wear the sign, both groups guessed that “a majority” of other students must have decided to do as they had done. [Actual results were 50/50].

Then, they asked both groups this question: 

“For those who chose differently than you did, what do you think their choices reveal about them?” 

In each case, students said that those who chose not to do as they had done were probably fearful, foolish, or otherwise abnormal. However, when asked what their own choices revealed about themselves, every student felt that their decisions revealed nothing about them; because they had simply made the “normal” choice that any rational person would have made.

Or, in other words, those who drive faster than me are maniacs and those who drive slower than me are idiots, but those who drive the same way I do are normal, rational and wonderful human beings.

So, now that we’re aware that we all do this, what can we do to mitigate against it?

Well, mainly it means that we have to recognize that we are not perfect. We are capable of being wrong. We all have our own inner bias, and we need to have grace for others who also have their own set of biases.

In our house church family, we’ve come to the same conclusions through other methods, but the essential concept is the same: We’re all in process.

Because we all recognize that we are in process, along with everyone else, we tend to have grace for one another, especially for those who don’t happen to see things the way we currently see them – because not so long ago we saw things in a totally different way than we do now.

This also means that we are less focused on trying to get others to see things our way and more focused on allowing Jesus to transform us into His image.

In other words, we seek a consensus of heart – which is about how we put the words of Jesus into practice – and we’re not seeking a consensus of opinion – which is about getting everyone to conform to a set of doctrines and beliefs.

In fact, we actually value the ability to fellowship with those who see things differently. How else can we learn if we only associate with those who already agree with us?

This works beautifully, as long as none of us decides to impose our views on everyone else. As long as we can all hold loosely to our ideas and adopt a posture that says, “I might be wrong”, or “I have something to learn from the rest of you”, we’re in good shape. It’s only when someone demands conformity that we’re in trouble.

This "Naive Realism" phenomenon exposes our inherent narcissism. We all have a version of reality that places ourselves in the center and elevates our ideas as the standard to which everyone else should conform.

If everyone who drives slower than me is too slow, and if everyone who is faster than me is too fast, then only those who are doing what I am doing – or thinking like I am thinking – are in the right. This means that only those who are like me are worth listening to and those who aren’t like me are inferior.

Does that sound like a way of thinking that Jesus would advocate?

Certainly not.

But it does illustrate why Jesus commanded his disciples and followers to do one thing right off the bat: Deny yourself and follow me.

Jesus knows that men and women are selfish at heart. He completely sees how we all live in our own little universe – or kingdom – where we are at the center and everything is oriented to conform to our way of thinking.

Instead, Jesus says that we have to put Him at the center of our lives and we must conform our way of thinking to His. This is what he means when he says, “repent”, which means “to think differently."

So, what’s our only way out of this trap of self-deception? I think we have to let go of the idea that we are the unbiased standards for excellence. We have to surrender ourselves to Jesus, allowing Him to be our center and our standard. We can’t lean on our own understanding. We must orient ourselves towards Jesus and allow Him to guide our thoughts, and actions, and attitudes.

As one friend pointed out to me, Jesus said “Follow me and I will make you…”, which means transformation is built into the deal.

We have to admit that we need to change, and then we have to confess that we cannot change ourselves apart from Jesus. He makes us into the people we need to be; conformed to His image and filled with His Spirit which is brimming with love, and life and hope and peace that passes understanding.

Put Jesus at the center and then let go of that steering wheel. You’ll like where He wants to take you.

I promise.


NOTE: This blog post was inspired by an  interview with Lee Ross by David McRaney over on the "You Are Not So Smart" podcast. 
Listen HERE>