Friday, October 28, 2011

THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD


"Then He (Jesus) began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at harvest time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.

Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those vinedressers said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'

So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.” – Mark 12:1-9


In the Gospel of Luke we have this added insight at the end of this parable:

“And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people-for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.” – Luke 20:19

Unlike most of the parables of Jesus, this one is fairly straightforward. The house of Israel is the vineyard. How do we know this? Because of what we see in Isaiah:

"For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.” - Isaiah 5:7

The man in the parable who planted the vineyard is God, the Father. The servants and messengers of the owner of the vineyard are the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, etc.). The son of the owner is Jesus, and the vinedressers are the priests and the scribes of the Jewish faith (as seen in Luke 20:19 above).

So, essentially, Jesus says that God planted the house of Israel as a beautiful vineyard. Those to whom He entrusted the vineyard (the House of Israel) were dishonest, selfish and disobedient to the Father. Many of the prophets that God sent to them (the Jews) were persecuted, rejected and put to death. As a last resort the Father sent His Son (Jesus) and these disobedient people killed him as well. What is the Father’s response to this? “He will give the vineyard (the house of Israel) to others.” (Mark 12:9)

So, if Jesus says that the Father took the "House of Israel" away from the Jews and gave it to others, who is He talking about? To whom did God give the House of Israel to? The Church.

As Paul affirms:

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” - Romans 9:8

“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." - Romans 2:28-29

"Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring [seed]. It does not say, “And to offsprings [seeds],” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring [seed],” who is Christ." - Galatians 3:16

“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” – Galatians 3:29

What does Jesus think about the claim of racial Jews to the title of “Israel” or the “Seed of Abraham”? In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus discusses this very point with the Pharisees who claimed to be the offspring (or seed) of Abrahm. Here is what Jesus says in response to their claim:

"I know that you are offspring [seed] of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father."

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children [seed], you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did." - John 8:37-40

As followers of Christ, we are now the true Israel of God. We have a new covenant with Him that He will be our God and we will be His people and He will write His laws upon our hearts. (See Hebrews 8) The old covenant is history. It has been fulfilled in Christ.

"But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another." – Hebrews 8:6-7

"By calling this covenant 'new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear."- Hebrews 8:13


As Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)

So, did Jesus fulfill the Law? Yes, he most certainly did. He accomplished all that the Father sent Him to do. (see John 17:4 and 19:30) This is why the old covenant is over and done. "It is finished!" and now we have a new covenant, a better one:

"This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant." – Hebrews 7:22

The purpose of Jesus' parable of the vineyard is to teach that Israel is now taken away from racial Jews and is now given to anyone who receives the Son of God as Lord and Messiah.

Mediate on what it means to now be called the children of God, because that is what you are (see 1 John 3:1).

You and I are the new Temple, the Living Sacrifice, the Holy Priesthood and the Israel of God.

We who were once not a people are now the people of God (1 Peter 2:10). Glory to His Name!
-kg

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Join Me: A Three Day, Third World Fast



I'm spoiled. In the United States most of us enjoy three meals a day, and snacks in between, and never give a thought to how this alone sets us apart from nearly every other person on the planet.

For example, if I eat chicken for lunch I don't want it for dinner, and if I eat scrambled eggs for breakfast I sure don't want that for lunch and dinner too.

But for most of the planet, this is reality. If they have three meals a day at all, (the lucky ones are happy to eat once per day), it’s usually the same thing; rice or beans.

Imagine eating rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, and then rice again for dinner. Now imagine eating that way for a week, or a month, or a year. Try your entire life.

In order to experience a taste of this for myself, I’ve decided to spend just three days eating nothing but rice and lentils for each and every meal. Here’s what I hope to accomplish:
*First, to experience a bit of solidarity with my brothers and sisters around the world who survive on one simple food source each and every day.
*Second, to strengthen my appreciation for how rich I really am to enjoy such an endless variety of food while others depend on so little.
*Third, to fast from my extravagance and spend time in prayer for those around the world, and even here in America, who cannot afford to take food for granted the way I do.

Want to join me? I’ll start on Monday morning of this coming week (October 31st) eating only rice or lentils (for protein) for every meal through my dinner on the evening of November 2nd. I will not snack on treats or chips at work or at home between meals. I will only drink water or coffee (can’t quite quit that one yet), and I will spend time in prayer for those who are suffering for food around the world and in my own community. (I'll also take vitamins during these 3 days).

If you do join me, I’d love to hear your experiences before, during and afterwards. Please share what God teaches you in this experience of solidarity with the poor.

If those dates don't work for you for whatever reason, please consider taking another group of days and trying this.


Peace,
Keith

**
God's Idea of Fasting:
"Is such the fast that I choose, only a day for a person to humble himself?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’"
(Isaiah 58:5-9 ESV)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thomas Crisp: Jesus and Affluence (the PDF article)

If you'd like to download and read the PDF version of the article by Thomas Crisp entitled, JESUS & AFFLUENCE, the link is
HERE

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fun at the Motel Today







Today we had a great time hosting a carnival for the kids at the motel in Santa Ana. Plus we got to share a lot of free groceries with everyone, too.

What if we could multiply this by four or five?

In partnership with the Catholic Workers of Orange County, we might be able to do just that.

They've offered to increase our food drops each month if we can find other house churches willing to duplicate what we do in this motel in other low income housing communities in their area.

So far we've got one other confirmed house church group willing to join us and pick up their free food drops every week. We've got a few others still praying about it.

Hope we can find others willing to do this at other motels or low-income apartments in Orange County soon. I'll be sure to let everyone know what happens.

Thanks for your prayers.
-kg

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Part 4 - THOMAS CRISP: Jesus and Affluenza

In this final section of the interview, Thomas and I talk about the Protestant confusion of the Gospel of the Atonement versus actually following Jesus daily.
**

KEITH: The whole thing with the Isaiah House is really a blessing. I love what you and Chase and AJ and others are doing to just spend time with the people there on Sunday mornings to share breakfast and listen to them and befriend them. It's so beautiful. If I could split myself in two I'd be there every Sunday right along with all of you.

I really loved hanging out with you guys last Sunday and one thing that really hit me as we were all together and sharing what God was doing there was, you know, I think these Catholic's really love Jesus.
(laughs)

As a really good protestant for all my life I have to say, wow, I think the Catholic's get it in a way that a lot of my protestant friends don't get it.

Especially these young people. I mean, these Catholic kids are young and they really understand what it means to follow Jesus.

THOMAS: Yeah, it's like somehow the Catholics missed out on all the...I mean, the way I think about it may be simplistic, but I think what has really wreaked havoc in the lives of Evangelicals is having reduced the entirety of the Gospel into the theory of the Atonement.

KEITH: Yep. That's it!

THOMAS: ....believing the right things about the Atonement.

KEITH: Yes. You understand this Atonement transaction. You do this. God does that. You get eternal life in exchange for believing in Jesus and your status changes from lost to found...

THOMAS: And that's it!

KEITH: Yes. That's all.

THOMAS: It's Bar Code Christianity.

KEITH: When I interviewed Dallas Willard he called it Vampire Christianity. Because people only want enough of Jesus' blood to get saved but they have no intention of actually following Jesus or putting His words into practice. They don't want to be humble like Jesus. They don't intend to suffer like Jesus. They don't want to hang out with the poor or the outcast like Jesus. They only want His blood to get saved so they can go ahead with their life without Him.

THOMAS: You what it's like? It's like the Mystery Religions of the early Roman era, where you have an initiatory rite which secures your access to the afterlife, and in most cases it involved blood, but that's it. There's no community involvement or particular ethical demands placed on you. It's just this one time event which secures your position in the afterlife. For a lot of Evangelicals we've turned the Gospel into a kind of Mystery Religion.

KEITH: You know, here's what's so weird about that to me, and I've participated in all that for most of my life so I think I understand it, but if you divorced yourself completely from everything you know about...let's say we're not even talking about Christianity, let's say we're going to come up with our own religion. In this religion it's all about one-time, you just have to sign this piece of paper, say that you agree with these five truths, and then we're going to certify that you're going to be safe and secure from anything bad after you die, and that's the whole thing. That's it. That's the beginning and the end of our religion. My question is, "How would you sustain that?"

It just seems like once you get them to sign on the dotted line you'll eventually run out of people to sign up for your little club and then why would anyone continue to send you money, be a part of your group, come to your meetings...I mean, why? Do I have to go? No? Then why would anyone continue to be a part of that or give money to that or buy your products with your brand on it, or anything? I don't get it. If our symbol is a triangle and we make triangle t-shirts and lunch boxes. Why would people buy our stuff with our logo on it to show they were a member of a club they joined 20 years ago? It just seems like if you designed something from the beginning to operate like that it would not work.

If you really, really thought that this is all that Christianity is about, why would you continue to participate in that? I mean, obviously Christianity IS more than that, but we're reduced it to pretty much just this kind of foolishness.

THOMAS: Well, that's the thing. Given this as a view of the Gospel, if you start reading the actual Gospels you start to see that the two don't fit together. You'd have to force it into a really unnatural mold to get Jesus to say anything like what we have today.

KEITH: That's the big disconnect, I think. You have to get around it by saying the the Sermon on the Mount and everything that Jesus said about the poor and the Kingdom and all of that is about the Kingdom that he intended to bring but the Jews rejected Him so it's for a future Kingdom and it's not for today. So, we put a pause button on all that Jesus said and then maybe when Jesus comes back again we can have all of that at the end of time. You basically make everything that Jesus said a real waste of our time if none of it was for us right now.

THOMAS: Yeah, so think about how bizarre that is. So, what we end up with then, is this historic movement that claims Jesus as our Master and we have no interest whatsoever in doing any of those things He said to do. None of that applies?

KEITH: Yeah, can you imagine meeting a Jew who didn't know or follow Moses? Or a Muslim who didn't really follow Mohammed? How can we say we're followers of Jesus if we're not actually following Him?

THOMAS: It's especially startling when you look at how Jesus says, "If you don't do the things I'm saying, you're not my disciples."

KEITH: Jesus says this over and over again in the Gospels. In John there are like two whole chapters, like 13 and 14 I think. He says it every possible way too so we don't misunderstand him. "If you love me you'll obey me." "The one who loves me obeys me but the one who does not love me does not obey me."

I've actually had debates with people over and over who deny that Jesus means what He's saying so plainly.

That's the whole point of the wise man who built his house upon the rock. Jesus says, "Let me tell what the person is like who hears my words and puts them into practice" - that's the wise man, and the foolish man is the one who hears Jesus and does not put it into practice.

THOMAS: And the passage just before that Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of God, only the one who does the will of my Father."

KEITH: Obviously there are preachers and teachers who have this over-the-top version of Grace, where it's all about 'You can do nothing at all to earn your salvation" and that translates to, "Don't ever do anything at all." In fact, if you did do something you run the risk of trying to earn your salvation and you may negate God's salvation by Grace.

THOMAS: Oh, yeah.

KEITH: Instead of going to Ephesians where Paul says that "we are saved by Grace to do good works," and taking everything in context, we stop at the saved by Grace part and ignore the "to do good works" part.

THOMAS: I think people like N.T. Wright and James Dunn are correct when they point out that when Paul talks against works or legalism he's not talking about caring for the poor or anything like that. He's speaking against doing works related to keeping the Jewish Covenant like Fasting, Circumcision, Temple observance. Paul was saying that those things - the traditional, cultic marks, dietary laws, Sabbath observance, those things necessary for membership in the Old Covenant community - those are the works we should cease to do. Now, under the new covenant we are made righteous by faith in Christ and our salvation is by Grace. So, works of the Law aren't necessary anymore. Paul would have said, "Of course, if you're a follower of Jesus you will do works of righteousness."

KEITH: Of course. Paul does affirm that. One of my favorite is in Galatians where Paul meets with Peter and James and John and they agree that he should go to the Gentiles and they will go to the Jews. It's in Chapter 4, where Paul says, "They only asked one thing, one thing they required, that we would remember the poor." And then the very next verse Paul says, "That was the one thing I was eager to do." So, for Paul, of course we're going to care for the poor.

The one thing Peter, James and John required was caring for the poor, and that was the one thing that Paul himself was eager to do. In other words, if we agree on anything we agree on this; We should care for the poor. It was unanimous. So, Paul would never say that caring for the poor was legalism or works.

I always say "Swimming won't make you a fish, but if you're a fish you will swim." So, we're certainly saved by Grace but once we're saved we will obey Jesus and show the kind of love that He commands us to.

THOMAS: It's also the Spirit of God. There's some kind of movement of faith. I'm not sure how it happens, but somehow the Spirit starts urging us deeper and deeper, filling us more with love. Pretty soon we can't help but want to do things like care for the poor and serve others.

KEITH: I agree. Then that becomes what marks us. Jesus said that this is how they would know that we were His disciples, that we love one another. It's also what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25. "I know you love me because you showed love in tangible ways to all these different people in all these different contexts." Not because you thought that if you did that you'd be saved. That's why they say, "When did we visit you in prison?" "When did we feed you?" The followers of Christ couldn't help but to demonstrate love to the people around them who needed mercy.

THOMAS: I like the metaphor that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It starts small and you look away for a few days and then, whoosh, it's grown out of control. That's who the Kingdom is. The Kingdom gets hold of a group of people trying to follow Jesus and it just starts growing up in their midst and drawing them in directions they never would've guessed.

KEITH: I love that too. It's like this weed that just grows and grows. You won't be able to stop it.

THOMAS: I also like that Jesus says that it will be a home for the fowls of the air. Not the doves or the songbirds.

KEITH: Yeah, the crows and the vultures.

THOMAS: What a perfect metaphor for the Kingdom. The low are at home there.

KEITH: I love digging into all those nuances. I used to think that Jesus was saying the Kingdom started small and grew into a beautiful tree. But really, the mustard seed is a weed and people used to work constantly to dig it out of their gardens and they didn't see it as a beautiful tree but as a pest. And the part about the fowls of the air making nests in it. I mean, THAT'S the Kingdom of God? Really?

THOMAS: I think a lot of parables are like that. The prodigal son is a great example of one that we think is so beautiful but to their culture it was shameful. First the father shames himself by lifting up his robes, and then he shames himself by running to his son. Those were shameful things in that culture. So, Jesus is saying that God is doing something shameful which would've seemed strange to those people.

KEITH: Yeah, I think that Jesus was much more of a head-scratcher than we think. His parable about the Good Shepherd is like that too. People in that day would've called that the Parable of the Stupid Shepherd because he left thousands of dollars in livestock unprotected to go get one stupid lamb. Those 99 would easily have given birth to twenty more in a few months to replace that one lamb. No "good shepherd" would ever do what Jesus described.

The most obvious example, of course, is where he says that people must drink his blood and eat his flesh and most of the people abandon him. In fact, the Twelve are so bewildered that Peter can only say, "Where else can we go? You have the words of life."

THOMAS: Amen.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

Saturday, October 15, 2011

PART 3 - THOMAS CRISP INTERVIEW

In this section Thomas and I get very personal and practical and discuss the differences between sharing and giving.
**
KEITH: In Western culture we think it's about giving more. We think of writing checks but I think it’s really more about what we'd call sharing that Jesus is wants. It's not just giving money apart from relationship with those who are poor. Really, I think it's knowing their names and understanding their struggles and making them your own. Then it may still involve sharing money, but it goes beyond a percentage tithe and becomes more about meeting a specific need for a specific person. It's sharing not just giving. Because you could write a check and not really engage with another human being in a meaningful way. To me, it’s almost like the Widows’ Mite, where writing a check for $100 to an impersonal organization is less impactful than sharing $20 with the person right in front of me.

THOMAS: Maybe you and I disagree on this, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a both/and that Jesus wants us to divest ourselves of our extra resources, in love. That matters. That’s important in it’s own right. But also, the Shalom thing is, in the Shalom community everyone is included in the relationship. There are no outcasts. People are drawn into relationship. So, if I’m going to seek that for my brother as well as I seek it for myself, I’m not just going to give them food or money, but I’m also going to draw them into relationship if they’re lonely, I’m going to draw them into my church community, and around my personal table for dinner.

It means – to pursue the idea of Shalom – I both give my money away, and that I have people around my dinner table. You can’t separate those things.

KEITH: I think I totally agree with you. I think I’m meaning to say, more in the sense of “this” or “that”. In other words, usually if I’m having a conversation with a Christian to whom these concepts are foreign. They have no concept that to follow Jesus is at minimum a tacit invitation to interact with and engage with and love the poor around them in their community. To those people, their first reaction is that they’ll just start giving to World Vision and then they’re done. They’re off the hook, so to speak. And I would say that according to Jesus they are not done. I would say that Jesus really does want us to know someone who is poor by name, and to open our homes to them, and to welcome them into our lives. To me, following Jesus in this way is not primarily about just writing checks. We can write checks, but it only begins there, it doesn’t end there.

I mean, it’s good to give to World Vision. Our family has been supporting a girl in the Phillipines for years now through Arms of Love and we love that. But I would say that this isn’t enough in itself to fully walk in obedience to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves or to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow.

To me what we’re called to is so much deeper. I think Jesus intends to mess up our plans and our lives with this. If it’s convenient for us we’re not where He wants us to be. I think that if you start down this road that God is going to put people in front of you who are poor and He’s going to challenge you to love them in a very real, personal way. I can’t imagine anything different.

THOMAS: I totally agree by the way. When Jesus says, “If you throw a banquet don’t invite your friends but the poor”, He’s calling us into table fellowship. To the extent that we’re trying to follow Jesus and to do the works that He did, Jesus is going around laying hands on lepers. He’s entering into close personal contact and fellowship with folks who are hurting. Drawing people into the joy of table fellowship – who would not otherwise be welcome – to include them, and He calls us to do the same.

So, yeah, it’s about inclusion and relationship AND economic sharing. It’s all of that.

KEITH: Do you feel like in the process of writing this paper that you arrived at some conclusions? Are you still struggling with these concepts now?

THOMAS: No, I’m totally struggling with it. I’ve got all kinds of hypocrisy. (laughs)

KEITH: (laughs) Me, too.

THOMAS: Like, the thing is, I’ve got tons of extra stuff and things and material in my life that I need to let go of.

KEITH: Same here.

I love this quote by Basil that you included in your paper.

What is a miser? One who is not content with what is
needful. What is a thief? One who takes what belongs to
others. Why do you not consider yourself a miser and a
thief when you claim as your own what you received in
trust? If one who takes the clothing off another is called a
thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the
naked and refused to do so? The bread that you withhold
belongs to the poor; the cape that you hide in your chest
belongs to the naked; the shoes rotting in your house
belong to those who must go unshod.


Wow.

I have all of those things. I have shoes that I’m not wearing. I have probably 15 different jackets I don’t wear and shirts that just hang in my closet all year long.

THOMAS: I know. Think about the Rich Fool in Luke 12 who says “I’ll build bigger barns to have more room to store extra grain so I can take life easy”

KEITH: And Jesus says, “You fool...”

THOMAS: But that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve got a retirement account. I’m doing the same thing.

KEITH: I guess I have you beat on that account because I have no retirement savings whatsoever. I’m the fool in the eyes of the world, I guess. I’m not investing at all in any way so I guess I’ll have to work until the day I die. Or maybe my kids will get rich and support me? Or maybe I’ll end up homeless myself.

I don’t know if that’s really wisdom per se, but that’s how my life has worked out.

THOMAS: Well, this is what I wrestle with. We’ve got the retirement accounts. We’ve got savings accounts for our kid’s college.

KEITH: So, the question is, “Is that wrong?” Aren’t you seeking the Shalom of your children to go to college and get an education like you did. That’s not a bad thing, is it? I know from the experience I’ve had in the workforce that if I didn’t have my Bachelor’s degree I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family the same way I do today. That college degree did open doors for me that might not otherwise be opened.

THOMAS: I don’t have any problem giving my kids a college education, I guess. That’s like teaching them a trade.

KEITH: Yeah, I think if you had the ability to help your kids with an education and you didn’t I think that would actually be wrong.

THOMAS: I’m actually fine with that. I’m even fine with saving for retirement, I guess, but that starts to get trickier. But there are other luxuries like, I’ve got a $65 smartphone plan.

KEITH: But there were people in the first century church who would be considered rich. I agree with you that Jesus’ command was to seek the Shalom of others, and in that context of the Kingdom to consider your wealth as a tool to influence people for the Kingdom and to use it for the good of others as you see the need. It seems that there is an allowance for maintaining some level of wealth but keeping it with an open hand so that as you encounter poverty you are free to share that with others.

THOMAS: Definitely.

KEITH: I don’t see any condemnation for those of us who haven’t just gone straight into voluntary poverty. There’s still a mandate for us to provide for our family and to take care of our children. But, striving to have a posture and a heart that says, “God if you ask me to give or to share what I have it’s yours.”

THOMAS: I think that’s right. But I don’t think you have to read Jesus’ teachings as being about that. I think that if you look really closely at what He says, He says things like, “Don’t store up treasure for yourself here on Earth.” So we think, “Oh, he wants me to give everything away.” But in the very next passage He says “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be provided for you.” What things? Food, clothing and shelter. So, I don’t think this is an ethic of indigence. This is not about literally giving it all way so that you have nothing because in the very next breath He’s saying that if you do this God’s make sure that you’ve got those things – all that stuff – to provide for your basic needs.

I think it’s actually an ethic of simplicity that Jesus calls us to. He saying we need to get rid of all the stuff that’s extra. Like in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the man dressed in fine linen and purple while the poor were suffering all around him.

KEITH: But, do you think that getting rid of it (the excess stuff) is something we should do this weekend, all at once? Or is it more of the process of getting rid of it as you go through your life and encounter people who need the excess stuff you have. Like, you meet a man who needs shoes and you have an extra pair so you share it.

Is it about pushing the button to eject all your worldly possessions or is it about daily trusting God to show you who you need to share your stuff with in relationship?

Wendy and I have talked a lot about this because it’s easy for me to give myself a guilt trip. Wendy always asks me, “Is there any specific thing that you feel like God asked you to do and you refused?” and if I can’t honestly say that I’ve been disobedient in some way then I have no cause to beat myself up. But if I can look and see that there were specific times when God did call me to go here and do this or let go of something or share something, then I am walking in obedience and I’m not withholding anything from God or from others. What do you think about that?

THOMAS: I guess what I think about that is, the whole thing has to be viewed through the lens of the Prodigal Son. The Father’s attitude towards us is not one of being angry because we haven’t given away enough stuff, it’s that He’s running toward us with loving arms, wanting to embrace us. So, I guess I think that He has a lot of patience with us and with the process, and recognizes that it’s going to be a process. I think He guides us deeper and deeper into this process, slowly rejoicing with us as we go.

But I also think that there is this radical call to sell our stuff and care for the poor. So, I guess I think that I wouldn’t be doing wrong if you caught the vision and you suddenly divested yourself of all your excess wealth and shared it with the suffering. It wouldn’t be that you’d done any wrong there. I think God would celebrate that action as well.

For the rest of us who are gradually working our way into this, and slowly easing into a more radical simplicity, I think He rejoices at that too.

But, I do suspect that for most of us it’s this process.

KEITH: For myself I see it more as a process and I feel as if God has a place He’s taking me. He’s teaching me things daily that He wants me to show me, about myself, and about His own heart for others. And He has been. If I look back on my whole life – even before I came to Him – I can see that He was working in my life. So, He’s still doing that today.

I can remember specifically when I was still in High School and praying to God, feeling a call to a more radical lifestyle of holiness and service, and I remember in that moment saying to God that I completely agreed with this vision. I completely wanted to end up in that place. I say “Yes” to that, God. That’s where I want to end up. That’s who I want you to make me into. That’s where I want to go with you. But, you know me and you have mercy for me and grace for me because you know that it will be slow. I can’t do that all by tomorrow. But by your grace that’s where I want to go with Jesus.

I take great comfort from scriptures that reveal that God remembers that we’re made of dust. He knows we’re weak. “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

THOMAS: Or the thief on the cross. Or Zaccheus. Both examples of God’s delight and response to people in process.

KEITH: That’s a comforting truth. It can be so…let’s say someone reads your article or reads this interview. It can be so challenging. I mean, it can just scare the crap out of you. A lot of people could have the reaction, “I can’t do this. This is too much.” In despair they could say, “I guess I’m just not a true follower of Jesus” and walk away from their faith.

What I want to say to encourage people who might be in that place is that all God is looking for is someone who is willing to be willing. He’s looking for someone who will say, “God, I love you and I hear what you’re saying about loving the poor, and in my wildest dreams I would love to have you make me into someone who is like Jesus. I would love to become someone who could let go of everything and anything you asked me to, but I can’t be that guy right now. I can’t make myself into that kind of person by my own strength.”

I think that if we’re willing to take one moment at a time, one day at a time, and take up our crosses daily and learn from Jesus how to die to ourselves and allow Him to show us how to love the way He loves and how to give the way He gives and how to forgive the way He forgives, He will do it. He is faithful when we are not.

I think that for anyone who says that, God will say, “Ok. I’ll take that. I can work with that.” A mustard seed’s worth of faith is enough.

THOMAS: Oh, I agree. I think it would be a mistake to take this batch of teachings from Jesus and come away with guilt and fear. God is a Father of tender compassion. He has lots of room for process, like you say. Secondly, this call to divest ourselves of excess resource is an invitation into the abundant life. This is the easy yoke. This is where our burdens are light.

KEITH: It's a treasure hidden in a field that you can't wait to sell everything to obtain.

THOMAS: It's an invitation into a joyous mode of life.

KEITH: Not an invitation to misery and poverty and disease and sickness and hunger. That's the side of it we fear. Jesus just wants to take me through so much suffering and pain. He just wants to pull my soul through a giant cheese grater and rip me to shreds. But that's not what He wants. He wants to show you that his way is true life. We give up our empty, selfish way of living to find true life in Christ.

THOMAS: I think this has not just spiritual application but material implication. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus says that those who have given up everything in this life to follow me - given up houses, and children, brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, in this life - won't fail to receive ten times as much in this life and in the life to come.

He includes in that list not just family, but farms, interestingly. Property!

So, I think to sell one's possessions and follow Jesus and give all one's stuff to the poor is for the community, not just one person. I think whenever we do this we never do it alone. It's always in community.

As we step into this with others we're always being taken care of by those who are also following Jesus this way. It's a joyous life where all of us in community have enough.

We shouldn't feel guilty because God is a God of infinite patience and He's happy to walk us through the process. It's not a thing to fear, it's the way to true life and light burdens, and it's the way to joy where everyone has enough and everyone shares in the Shalom of God.

But this is very different from the American Dream.

KEITH: Yeah, and I think that's the huge collision. Really. I think that's the biggest stumbling block for Western Christians, especially if your idea of being a Christian is connected to the pursuit of happiness, owning a home, starting your own business, amassing wealth for yourself, etc.

They are actually totally opposite messages. One carries the message that you should gain more wealth, more property, more status, more respect in the community...

THOMAS: ...to be more independent.

KEITH: Exactly! I don't need community. I mean, the worst thing that could happen to me is that I might ever need to depend on someone else for anything like food or shelter. The American Dream is all about being self-sufficient.

The Gospel is about moving into relationship with the poor, it's about moving into community with other believers, it's about becoming less self important and less selfish and less independent, but more dependent upon God and others for life.

In the Western mind, Jesus is there to help me get that new car or grow my business or buy a bigger house. That's what Jesus, my co-pilot, will help me do.

THOMAS: If you think about the American Dream it's about increased status, increased wealth, increased independence. Following Jesus is about going in the absolute opposite direction on all three points.

[END OF PART 3]

Friday, October 14, 2011

PART 2 - THOMAS CRISP INTERVIEW

Part 1 of our dialog ended with me asking Thomas an important question about what Jesus was asking us as His followers to give up and how far we should take this idea. Before we get around to discussing that, Thomas and I took a tangent first.**

KEITH: Before we get into that, I wanted to first touch on something that you and I talked about a few months ago about what happened in the early church. In Acts chapter two we see thousands of people who have not only taken Jesus as their promised Messiah, but they've embraced the idea of God's Kingdom as coming today and they're living in a community of true Shalom. So, people who didn't even know one another a few days ago are now loving each other enough to sell property and share it with these former strangers because they are now joyously citizens of a Kingdom community of Shalom on Earth.

Because of their full acceptance of Jesus and their understanding that the Kingdom of God was being established within their actual lives, they were able to fulfill the Great Commandments to Love God and Love One Another with complete integrity.

What's also fascinating about that is the idea that their response to the poor around them was to risk their own poverty and identify themselves with those who were suffering. Whereas in our culture we see ministry to the poor as finding ways to lift the poor up to identify with our wealth.

In contrast, we're not so quick to repent of our affluence in order to bless the poor. We're more interested in staying where we are economically and working to improve the standard of living of the poor in our community.

To go down, to humble ourselves in order to risk our own poverty so that the poor might have enough isn't very popular. We'd rather "eradicate poverty" and find a way to give every homeless person a job, a nice car, a cozy apartment, a big screen television, etc. That's our goal. Our compassion doesn't include letting go of our stuff. To be fair, I haven't embraced this myself.


THOMAS: It's not just economic. It's also social. When Jesus says, "when you have a banquet don't invite your rich friends and relatives because they could pay you back" Pay you back in what? It's not just that they might invite you to their house, it's that they raise your social status. Instead, Jesus says we are to invite the poor, the blind, the lame, and others who would only lower your social status.

KEITH: That's why you got kicked out of McDonalds.

THOMAS: (laughs) Yes!

KEITH: "No, you can't speak to the manager" (laughs)

THOMAS: Yes, that's the very first time I've ever experienced anything like that. (Thomas was recently kicked out of McDonald's by an employee for sitting and talking to his homeless friend over coffee just before this interview).

KEITH: You should rejoice over that, my friend.

THOMAS: I know. It occured to me, why am I so upset about this? I should be rejoicing. I'm acutally living the Gospel here!

KEITH: That's never happened to me. I'm jealous.

THOMAS: I was so indignant. It just shows you what's in my heart. I was just holding on to my social status there.

KEITH: Of course. You and I know that people wouldn't treat us that way.

THOMAS: I'm a Biola Professor for goodness sakes! I even said that to the manager.

KEITH: Don't you know who I am? You can't help but pull in your clout.

THOMAS: Yeah!

KEITH: You don't treat ME that way.

THOMAS: That's exactly it. But then it was crystal clear to me later that this is what I'm supposed to do - to give up social status in order to love the poor. So, yeah, I think what you're saying is exactly right. I think we're called to move in the direction of ecnomic simplicity and insecurity and give up our social status to love others.

KEITH: It's one thing if sometimes the homeless people at Isaiah House mistake you for a homeless person. Because those people are loved at Isaiah House. It's perfectly acceptable to be homeless there. Because that mistaken identity and that solidarity with them becomes a sign of your being welcomed in that place by those people. You're one of them. But if you're treated as a homeless person outside of that context it's very different. Suddenly our pride wells up and we feel the need to defend our honor or something.

THOMAS: It was really degrading. I've never been kicked out of a restaurant before.

KEITH: And a McDonald's of all things! It's not like a four star restaurant where you're not wearing a tie or using the wrong fork or something. It's McDonald's!

THOMAS: (laughs)

KEITH: I love it. (laughs)

Let's get back to the article and talk more about how far we take these implications. I mean, if I were a single college student, if I were Shane Claiborne or something, I think I might be more eager to say "screw it" and sell all my stuff, go stay over at the Salvation Army or sleep at the Civic Center or whatever. I mean, I think I would do that. I'm not sure. But, being that I'm not single, I'm married, I've got two teenage sons who depend on me. I don't want to drag my family into poverty. The reality of following Jesus into this kind of radical love and sharing is scary. It seems kind of impossible to be honest.

I know people who aren't married and they're still asking these questions. How close to poverty do I go before maybe I'm in sin because I'm not taking care of my own children? Do I seek the Shalom of others until I become a burden on the community myself?

THOMAS: The way that I read it is, the call to love your neighbor as yourself is a call to pursue the Shalom of your neighbor the way you seek it for yourself. Or, to put his Shalom on par with your own Shalom. But notice that's not a call to put the pursuit of your neighbor's Shalom above your own or your wife and kids. We're not called to starve so that others can know Shalom. Maybe sometimes that would be appropriate, to fast for a time to share with someone who had nothing, but that's not the norm.

KEITH: The early church did do that actually. Quite often a stranger would come into town after the weekly distribution of food and they would eagerly fast for the week in order to give their food to the person in need. That's astounding to me. Frankly because it would have never occured to me to do that.

THOMAS: Or for christians to go into plague-ridden towns to minister to the sick, knowing that they themselves would get the plague and die as well.

KEITH: Or that they could die.

THOMAS: Yes, I love reading about people walking out of a plague-ridden city to escape it as the Christians were walking into the city to offer mercy to those who were dieing.

So, there are special circumstances but that goes beyond the love command. The love command only asks us to put the Shalom of others on par with my own Shalom. It's mainly about pursuing needless luxury while there are people suffering in my community. I see the love command calling me to a point where I no longer put my Shalom above that of others. If I divest myself of my needless luxuries I will get to a point where I'm not putting my Shalom ahead of others and I am still able to feed my family.

How far do we take that? Jesus never tells us this. I don't think he was wanting us to treat these as precise rules. I think it's something like, "Keep on giving until giving more wouldn't be possible without losing joy." Where exactly is that line? I think there's no line, per se. It's a principle that every individual person must discover.

KEITH: So, it's about equally sharing the Shalom of the community. But, that's still farther than most of us are willing to go. It's still about coming waaayy down from what I'm comfortable with.

Just to play Devil's Advocate; that argument seems to be a softening of Jesus' command to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow Him. If Jesus' specific command was to get rid of our possessions so that we would have nothing in order to be His disciple, that's more radical isn't it?

I mean, for those first disciples when they heard Jesus say the things we've already looked at, they understood it to mean an actual liquidation of everything they owned in order to walk to the next town, sleep under a tree and eat whatever they could find. Jesus was homeless and his disciples, according to Peter, gave up all they had to follow Jesus. So, are we getting off easy by saying now that what Jesus wanted was only for some kind of equilibrium in the community where everyone is content with "enough"?

Is he only saying "Sell your excess and give to the poor"?

To me, the reason that Jesus didn't say to Nicodemus "Sell all that you have" is because that wasn't his problem. His problem was that he needed to become like a baby and be born again. So, to me, the reason that Jesus gives different answers to that question ("What must I do to gain eternal life?") is that he's keying in on that specific person's area of need. The Rich Young Ruler had a lot of money, and so Jesus saw that this was what he had to surrender to enter the Kingdom. Nicodemus needed to surrender his status in the society. Zacheus needed to repent of his greed.

That's how I've understood those verses. But, it seems like Jesus might be saying to every disciple "Sell your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me."

David Ruis pointed out to me once that we do see that there were wealthy people among the members of the early church. We see that some owned property, some owned businesses, and the fact that James has to rebuke the church for treating the rich among them with greater respect must mean that the rich and the poor were side by side.

So, is this a universal command for every disciple to embrace poverty? If it's not for everyone, if it's only for some people, then what are we even talking about it for? You can either do this or not do it.

THOMAS: The way I look at it, it IS a universal command not to store up treasure for ourselves here but to share what we have with the poor. I see that Jesus warns us not to be like the Rich Man from the Parable of Lazarus who surrounded himself with luxury while people were starving outside his house. I think sometimes there's Jewish hyperbole being employed when Jesus says, "Sell ALL that you have" to the Rich Young Ruler, but I think it's the same teaching Jesus gives on the Sermon on the Mount. It's consistent with his teaching to the disciples to give up all they have in order to become his disciples. I think the goal is to divest ourselves of needless wealth in order to share the community of Shalom with everyone - to the point that we would have to stop and ask ourselves if sharing this or that might be taking it too far.

The goal is not destitution. It's not so that we should become homeless. It's about radical simplicity. I think that's what Jesus calls us all to.

Then we have the question, "What does that look like?" and that's what we have to work out.

KEITH: There's always going to be a question of how far is too far and we could ask those questions of many other scriptures.

THOMAS: The key thing is not to store up treasures here and now but to store up our treasure in heaven. That's for everybody. We can't love both God and money. That is a universal teaching for every disciple.

KEITH: In other words - and I agree with you - if your intention is to be a disciple of Jesus you have to work these things out for yourself. You can't ignore it. You can't dismiss this. If you really want to put the words of Jesus into practice in your actual life you need to ask the question and you need to have an ongoing wrestle with these questions. You and God need to have peace over these challenging ideals. Are we being obedient to Jesus in this area?

THOMAS: I see it as a constant learning to divest oneself of wealth and status. It's a process. Like Zaccheus who says, "I'm going to give away half my possessions to anyone I've wronged" and Jesus says, "You got it!"

KEITH: And he only gave half of his stuff away!

THOMAS: It's a process. Yes.

KEITH: You and I have both had to make hard decisions about how to help people that God puts in front of you. How do we help them? What do we give up or give away to bring them into Shalom with God and in the community? I think God is active in this process. If we're willing to work it out and if we give God permission to give us the kind of heart that is willing to let go and to share whatever is needed, He will do that. He will change us in this process.

I think it's all part of our own personal sanctification. I think God is the one who will challenge us. We don't need to work up the courage to sell everything all at once. It's like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, if we could sell all that have and give it to the poor but we don't have love to go with it, it's pointless.

In other words, we could do the actions but have be an empty and worthless act in God's eyes. We have to motivated by love or there's no point.

THOMAS: I like the picture of Jesus leading us more and more in the ways of the Cross and leading us into self-giving love. We can love with our money and our possessions. If we give ourselves to Jesus then He will take us further down the road into relationships where we can let go of our possessions and embrace people who need love. Like you say, once we open ourselves to this He starts bringing things our way and challenging us to not store up treasures for ourselves but to give it away in love.

[END OF PART 2]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview: Thomas Crisp and the Sin of Affluenza

My good friend Thomas Crisp is a professor of Philosophy at Biola University. We became friends because we share a similar passion for issues of justice and following Christ into community with the poor.

Recently, Thomas wrote an influential philosophy paper entitled "Jesus and Affluence" which I was fortunate enough to read. After considering the arguments in this paper, I asked Thomas if he would agree to an interview where we could discuss the paper in a more conversational manner and allow me to post the results on my blog. He graciously agreed to this and here is the first part of my hour and a half interview with Thomas.

The basic argument in his paper is based on a premise by philosopher Peter Singer which states that "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so."

Additionally, Singer goes on to support this concept with the following:

On your way to work, you pass a small pond. One day, you
notice that a small child has fallen in the pond and is
having trouble staying afloat. You look around and see that
you are the only one who can help. You can easily wade in
and save the child, but after a moment’s thought, you
realize that, if you do, you’ll ruin the rather expensive
shoes and slacks you’re wearing and be late for work. You
pass by and the child dies.


Quoting from the paper, Thomas concludes:

"Surely your conduct here is abominable. But why? Because, says Singer, it’s a fundamental principle of morality that, if it is in your
power to prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so. Cases like the pond case make this principle plausible. Singer's conclusion is severe: if it's right, our prodigious spending on luxury and frill (fancy houses, boats, cars, clothes, dinners, vacations, etc.) is morally wrong."


"Singer proposes that his argument, though demanding in its
implications, fits nicely with some of our most respected ethical
traditions. For example, it fits nicely, he suggests, with Jesus’
teaching on wealth and poverty. Jesus, he proposes, is an ally of
his argument."


With this basic idea in mind, Thomas and I sat down to discuss these implications further.

KEITH: Briefly, talk a bit about your inspiration for this paper.

THOMAS: I’ve been wrestling with the Peter Singer argument for years now.

KEITH: In what way are you wrestling with it?

THOMAS: The implications are so demanding and so radical. I was kind of hesitant to follow the philosophical argument to where it may lead.

KEITH: Some people would say that your problem is that you’re taking philosophical concepts and actually attempting to put them into practice. They’re just philosophical arguments.

But, you’re like me in that respect. If the principle is true you need to let it guide your actions.

THOMAS: Exactly. That’s kind of how you and I got acquainted. I had this kind of epiphany – a kind of second conversion experience – where the Gospels presented themselves afresh to me as Jesus saying “If you want to follow me you have to love the vulnerable; you have to give yourself in love, and quit being like the rich man in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus who dressed himself in purple in fine linen every day while poor people lay starving at his doorstep."

KEITH: I love that in your article you point out something that I don’t think I’ve seen before, which is that in the parable when the Rich Man asks if Abraham can send Lazarus back to warn his brothers – that what he wants his brothers to be warned about is not to live the way he lived, (ignoring the poor). I think usually we assume that what the Rich Man wants his brothers to be warned about is not to reject Christ as Messiah, but that’s not even in the parable at all. The whole point seems to be, if you ignore the poor as the Rich Man did, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the judgment. So, the whole point of the parable is not to live as this man did; not to amass wealth for yourself and ignore those living in poverty around you. Frankly, until you pointed it out to me I didn’t see that this parable is a warning for us not to ignore the poor.

THOMAS: That’s right. That parable, and other teachings of Jesus, presented themselves to me afresh, in a powerful and life-changing way. So, as a result I dropped all of my scholarly projects and work and decided I needed to write and think about issues that matter. I couldn’t afford to waste my time with interesting puzzles anymore.

KEITH: What kind of projects were you working on at that time?

THOMAS: Issues of the philosophy of time and abstract metaphysical arguments about time and the nature of space. All very interesting, but it started to feel like fiddling while Rome was in flames. So, I wrote a letter to Nicholas Wolterstorff who is a really thoughtful Christian philosopher who writes on Justice and asked him, “Where is there need for a philosopher to help out on issues that matter for the vulnerable?” He said, “Well, there’s need all over the place. There’s hardly any Christian philosophers working on these topics so I recommend you find something that’s of interest to you and dig in.”

KEITH: See, that’s shocking to me. There are not a lot of Christian philosophers writing and thinking about Justice? I mean, I would understand if philosopher’s in general didn’t want to explore this area, but Christian philosophers – if they’re not wrestling with these practical issues of love and justice – then what are they wrestling with? These issues of “What does it mean to follow Christ and put His teachings into practice in the world today” seem to be the paramount issue that all Christians (philosophers or otherwise) should be concerned about. Are they also working on issues like time and space and reality?

THOMAS: Yeah. There’s been a flowering of Christian philosophy in the past 30 years or so, but it’s mostly been focused on metaphysics, epistemology and physics, and not so much on social ethics.

KEITH: So, are you thinking of going deeper in this new direction?

THOMAS: Oh yes. I had a book project that I had been working on for 3 years or so and I trashed it and cleared off most of my commitments to pursue the ethics of poverty and peace and violence. So, since I had been wrestling with the Singer argument forever I decided to focus my attention on this. Singer says that you shouldn’t be too scandalized by the radical conclusion of his argument because some of our most respected ethical thinkers have been saying the same thing for thousands of years. Jesus, for instance.

KEITH: He doesn’t develop that assertion?

THOMAS: He gives a couple of verses of Jesus and he quotes Aquinas on the issue, but that’s all. So, I thought I’d start with Singer’s argument and I wanted to see if he was right about Jesus being in agreement with his assertions. So, I decided to start with the Love command that Jesus gives us.

KEITH: One of the things I wanted to ask you to expand more on is the idea of the command to love God and to love others being tied to the Jewish concept of Shalom, which as you point out is more than simply "Peace".

THOMAS: The original context of the command to love your neighbor as yourself is taken from Leviticus 19 and it shows up after a series of specific commands like, 'be sure to leave extra on your fields after the harvest so the poor can glean from it' and 'don't trip a blind man or curse a deaf person', 'be sure to pay your laborers on time', 'rebuke your neighbor so as not to partake in his sin', and all kinds of commandments about how to treat one another well in the context of community. After this long list of such commands you finally get this "so love your neighbor as you love yourself' and Wolterstorff points out in his forthcoming book that the neighbor-love command there is meant to be a summary of all these other commands.

This got me to thinking, "Is there anything that these specific commands (leading up to the summary command) have in common?" What I see is that, to live in accord with these commands would be to engage in the Shalom community.

The Old Testament version of Shalom as you find it in the prophets, in the Law, in the Psalms, is as a community in which there is enough. There's enough food for everyone, there's enough safety from harm, there's enough justice for all, there's enough celebration where everyone is included and people care for each other.

KEITH: The idea is that everyone is included in everything the community enjoys; peace, safety, food, drink, clothing, shelter, etc.

THOMAS: Yes, everyone is included in these "enoughs".

KEITH: And the point of this is that if someone is not included in this then it is not truly Shalom. The community has no Shalom (peace) if certain people are not also being fed, or sheltered, or clothed, or welcome. So, those in the community who might have enough for themselves might say, "We have Shalom" but God would look at them and say, "You have no real Shalom because you're not including everyone and welcoming them into my peace."

THOMAS: Yes. In the true Shalom community, the poorest of the poor must be included in the "enough". The vulnerable, disabled neighbor is included in the "enough". There's only real Shalom (peace) when everyone is included in the community and shares in the "enough".

So, it looks like the list of commands in Leviticus 19 which are summarized by the love your neighbor as yourself command are intended to be a snapshot of what it looks like to live in a Shalom community. If you're living in a community of "enough" or Shalom you'll be leaving extra in your fields for the poor to glean, you'll be paying your workers on time, you'll be doing all of these things.

KEITH: You'll be honoring the lame, taking into consideration those who are blind and deaf in your community...

THOMAS: ...caring for the disabled, being honest in the courts, and ensuring that all in the community have enough food, shelter, safety, justice, and so forth. This is arrived at by obeying all these commands.

So, that made me think that the love that is being enjoyed and shared in this Shalom community is the love that seeks to include your neighbor in all of this, in the same way you are inclined to seek your own inclusion. We're naturally inclined to seek our own inclusion in this community of "enough" and we want our loved ones to be included as well, so we must also seek to include everyone in the community so that there can be true Shalom and everyone can enjoy the same love, peace, safety and justice.

That, then, made the Parable of the Good Samaritan collide in a new way for me. One of the interesting passages in the Old Testament where you see the notion of Shalom offered is in the book of Judges where there's the story of a sojourner who's making his way through the town and no one will take him in for the night. So, he's sitting in the town square and an old man comes to him and is shamed when he realizes that his community has not extended hospitality to this stranger. He quickly says, "Shalom to you!" and he takes him into his home and cares for all of his needs. He includes him in the peace of their community by showing him hospitality.

KEITH: Yes, it's not just saying "Peace to you!" and going on your way. Or as James says, "If you see a brother or sister poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and say only 'Go in peace (shalom) be warmed and filled' without giving them the food or shelter they need, what good is that?" (James 2:16). The actions must match the sentiment. We must bring them in.

THOMAS: Bring them in to the community of care, the community of enough.

So, it looks to me like the Parable of the Good Samaritan is alluding to this same passage in Judges. If you read that and then hear Jesus you immediately see that the Samaritan is including the man on the side of the road into the community of Shalom. Then Jesus says, "Go and do the same." Who are we supposed to love? Who is our neighbor? If the command to love our neighbor as ourself really is about Shalom, then the Parable of the Good Samaritan means that anyone you run across who is in need - or who is outside the community of enough or Shalom - needs to be brought into that community.

KEITH: I love what you pointed out about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus says, "Go and do likewise" as the punchline of the story, you say, "We should imitate the behavior of the Samaritan...note though, the Samaritan in the story does not love his benefactor, he does not love only the member of his own community, he loves someone outside of his community." He's a Samaritan who is loving a Jew - someone outside of what would be considered "his community" and Jesus says, "Love like that."

The genius of this parable, to me, is that once you pick out all the nuances of what Jesus is doing in this story it takes on so many layers of meaning. Not only is the Jewish man the bad guy in this story, if you will, but because he's made the hated Samaritan the one showing Shalom, again to someone outside his own community, it's like an unspoken challenge that basically says, "Don't let the pagans, or the Samaritans outdo you in this Shalom." It's like he's saying, "Surely you can love even as much as an unbeliever can. Whatever this Samaritan did, as extravagant as it might seem, we can certainly, at minimum love as least as much as someone like that, can't we?"

As I was reading it again it seemed like such an in-your-face challenge.

THOMAS: That seems right. If it is a parable about Shalom and it's showing us who we need to include in this "enough" community, then when you look back at the Leviticus 19 passage it seems to have evolved out of this love command. The command is not just to share the Gospel, but to include people in the Shalom community where everyone has enough shelter, justice, and all the rest. Who am I to do this for? Anyone who is in need.

KEITH: I think it's a good point to make because I've been in conversations with people before who will say that going to this extreme of putting people in motel rooms or buying them food or letting them sleep on your couch, those steps are secondary and of lesser importance. What those people really need is the Gospel. So, if you really want to love them the way Jesus means it when he says, "Love your neighbor as yourself" then you'll tell them that they're going to burn in hell forever if they don't say a prayer. But, if what you're suggesting here is true and if Jesus is really summarizing these Levitcal commands and all of the Law and Prophets with the command to "Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself" then it seems the love command is really about showing actual compassion and demonstrating a love that results in shared food, shelter, and clothing. It's not consistent to share the message of the Gospel without also seeking the Shalom of the whole person.

I think this is why Jesus points out that the second greatest command is "like unto the first" greatest command. Loving God is intertwined with loving others. If we say we love God and hate our brother we're liars, according to the first letter of John, or "If you see a brother in need and do nothing how can the love of God be in you?" (1 John 3:17)

So, these concepts of loving God and showing actual, tangible love to people in our community cannot be separated. We express love for God when we express love for a neighbor, and vice versa. It then seems that it's very much about putting them up in a motel, or buying them groceries, or giving them the shoes off your feet, or whatever their immediate need might be. That IS loving God and that IS loving others.

THOMAS: I think that's right. I think that's why it makes perfect sense for Jesus to say, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor" and why at the Judgment Jesus will say, "You fed me when I was hungry and you clothed me when I was naked". Of course those are the things that you should do if you are seeking to obey the heart of the Law and the Prophets. If we're seeking the Shalom of our community then of course we're going to be feeding people.

KEITH: You and I have talked about this before, and I love how in your paper you point out something controversial. When Jesus commands the Rich Young Ruler to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor we usually hear objections from modern Christians that this command was only made to this specific person and not to every disciple of Jesus.

THOMAS: Not true. Jesus says to the disciples in Luke 12:33, "Sell your possessions and give to the needy" and in Luke 14:33 he says that "anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." In Matthew 6:19 he says to the disciples that they should not "lay up for (themselves) treasure on earth" but to lay up "treasures in heaven."

KEITH: So, Jesus did say to the disciples...

THOMAS: He DID say to them, "the way to lay up treasure in heaven, the way to do it is to sell your possessions and give them to the poor."

KEITH: So, that teaching and Singer's argument, have radical implications don't they? As you point out, if Singer is right, and if Jesus agrees with him, then for someone who says "I'm following Christ," these are pretty frightening and challenging realities. So, the next question is, "Where do I draw the line?" I mean, do I just need to go to eBay and sell everything now? Do I have a massive garage sale and empty out my house and then become homeless myself? Is that what Jesus is requiring of me?

[END OF PART 1]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Success, Failure and the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God is for losers. Those who are blind, broken, forgotten, poor, marginalized, weak, sick, sinful and sad are right at home in the Kingdom. In fact, those who consider themselves to be healthy, self-sufficient, popular, rich, strong, righteous and in control aren’t even able to see the Kingdom of God, much less find the door and enter in. Even if they did, they honestly wouldn’t want to continue living in a place where their riches, popularity, righteousness and pride weren’t celebrated.

Jesus was quite clear that only the sick were in need of Him. (see Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32) Only the sinners were capable of being welcomed into His healing embrace. Those who can see have no need of being healed from blindness, do they? Those who already have a great life cannot receive the eternal life that Jesus provides, unless they’re willing to let go of their life and follow Him.

"In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." (Jesus) - Luke 14:33

This is exactly why Jesus warns us that the rich cannot enter the Kingdom of God. He says it’s impossible, really. (see Matt 19:24) A rich man already has all that he needs so he doesn’t realize that what Jesus offers might actually be worth trading his riches for. The more we have to lose the less likely it is that we will succeed at losing it for the Kingdom.

In the Kingdom of God everything is upside down from the reality we’re used to. The first are now the last. The humble are exalted and the proud are laid low. The greatest is the servant. Only those people who lose their lives find true life in Christ, and even then they must still die daily.

It’s the surrender of life that trips most people up, frankly. Especially those of us who have been raised to believe that we have certain rights to freedom and happiness and wealth and fame. The American Dream is an alternate path, not a parallel one. You cannot serve both God and money, Jesus said. If you love one, you will hate the other.

Success in this life can prevent us from fully embracing the Good News of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaims. In fact, success in the Kingdom looks like total failure to the world we live in – Giving away your possessions; Sharing with people who can’t pay you back; Forgiving people who don’t deserve it; Loving people who can only hurt you – all of these things seem like failure to those who are not of the Kingdom. It makes no sense to them. Why would we fail on purpose? Why would we lay down our lives for the scum of the Earth? Without eyes to see the Kingdom there’s no point in trying to explain it really. But we must still fail in the eyes of the world if we hope to succeed in the Kingdom of God. To put it another way, “We fail to succeed at failure when we succeed at failing to fail.”

Jesus is for losers. The Kingdom of God is for those who mourn. The Good News is that everyone can enter the Kingdom right now. But the price of admission is a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and a willingness to surrender everything in order to receive the treasure of the Kingdom.

“The Kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44)

-kg

Friday, October 07, 2011

WINNING GOD'S LOTTERY

It’s not hard to understand why people long to be financially secure and dream of winning the Lottery. People can’t help but dream of a life where every need is taken care of in advance and all fears of the unknown tomorrow are laid to rest. But money does not perform that work in us.

We have convinced ourselves that money will take away our anxiety about tomorrow. We believe that with enough money we will never need to worry about anything again. But one can plainly see that the Millionaires in our world are not the most peaceful, content and worry-free among us.

Having money usually brings more anxiety along with it. Keeping money and protecting it and finding ways to earn more of it is a never-ending process that consumes the human mind and poisons the heart. Money does not bring us peace, or happiness, or joy. A recent study by the University of Rochester confirms this fact. In the study, one of the researchers, Edward Deci, a professor of psychology, concluded that, "even though our culture puts a strong emphasis on attaining wealth and fame, pursuing these goals does not contribute to having a satisfying life.”

In fact, according to the results of this study, being rich, famous, well-respected, or beautiful can actually have the opposite effect. It can actually make you miserable.

Want proof? Just watch a half hour entertainment news program on television and you’ll see the evidence: Drug abuse, infidelity, diva tantrums, criminal acts, psychological meltdowns, and other assorted examples of self-destructive behavior. It’s no different for politicians, CEO’s or lottery winners either.

The secret to real happiness and contentment is not found in the things of this world. It’s not found in our circumstance. I’ve met people who are dirt poor and yet full of joy. I’ve met people who are rich beyond belief and yet still empty inside.

In Matthew 6, Jesus confidently assures us that, if we will change our perspective to align with the Kingdom of God, we can enjoy the peaceful, stress free sort of life we’ve always dreamed of. According to Jesus we already have all we need for our life today. God has already provided each of us with our daily bread. Just as God cares for the daily needs of sparrows, He cares even more for us.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" - Matthew 6:25-26

Jesus also tells us that we do not need to worry about tomorrow. Why? Because God has everything - absolutely everything - under complete and perfect control.

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:31-34

Of course, if God is in control, that means that you and I are not. This is what most of us really struggle with. But we can't have it both ways. If God is in control, we are not. That's why trusting God is so important. Without trust, we are filled with anxiety and strife. But if we can let go of everything and trust that God is good, that He really loves us, and that He really only wants what’s best for us, then trusting Him is the only response that makes sense.

So, who is truly rich? Isn't it the person who has all they need right now and who has no fear or anxiety about tomorrow? Jesus urges us to live that way right now. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, our daily bread is secure and Jesus has tomorrow under complete control.

If you have eyes to see the Kingdom, you have already won the greatest Lottery of all. You are a child of the Creator of the Universe. You’ve been adopted into His family. He loves you. Everything is going to be alright.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:11-13

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

TO LOVE IS TO DIE TO SELF

According to Jesus, all of the Law can be summed up in just two simple commands, “Love God” and “Love others as you love yourself.” This means that whenever we break the Law, or sin, we are essentially failing to love either God or our fellow man. (See Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus also suggests that the two commands are connected; "...and the second is like the first..."; which would mean that if we don’t love God then we won’t love others, and if we don’t love others then we’re not really loving God either. (see 1 John 4:20)

Whenever we sin, we’re misdirecting our love for God and others and we’re aiming it at ourselves. Because we love our own pleasure more than we love our spouse we look at pornography. Because we love our own comfort more than we love the homeless we keep on walking and pretend not to see them. Because we love our own reputation more than we love our co-worker we keep our mouth shut whenever someone asks us about our faith.

Our ultimate failure, then, is that we love our own comfort, and reputation, and pleasure, more than we love other people. It's not even so much that we're not loving when we sin, it's really just that our love is self-focused and not aimed at God or at those around us.

This is why Jesus tells us that it is impossible for us to follow Him and become one of His disciples if we do not first learn to daily practice death to self. (see Luke 9:23) Why? Because as long as our love for our own pleasure and comfort and reputation is pulsing through our veins, we cannot even begin to love God - or to love others - the way Jesus commands us to. It just can’t work.

Lately I’ve been sensing a need to locate that old cross of mine again and to lift it up on my shoulders before I leave the house each day. I think it might be under the bed, or maybe in the hall closet. Hopefully it’s not up in the attic or in the garage (then I’ll never find it again). But I do know that if I don’t get back on my knees again and wedge that cross against my shoulder every day, and lift the weight and feel those splinters in my hands again, I will never learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’ll never be able to love God or to love other people the way Jesus does without dying to myself daily. There’s no other way.

"The way of the cross leads home. The way of the cross leads home. It is sweet to know as I onward go. The way of the cross leads home." - Jessie B. Pounds (1906)

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

THIS SATURDAY: INTRO TO ALT CHURCH

INTRO TO ALT CHURCH
Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 – 9am to 5pm
$10 at the door (lunch included)
at Anaheim Vineyard Church
5340 East La Palma Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92807
NOTE: The 91 E. fwy is under construction. Please plan your trip accordingly.

Presentations by:
>Bill Faris - Five Characteristics of Alt - Churches
>Don Sciortino - Building Nets That Work
>Keith Giles - Being Church: Discovering Your Mission in Your Community
>Eric Brown - (topic to be announced)
>Jerry Paumier - Small Drop, Big Splash
*Ken Eastburn of The Well will be joining in our panel discussion

RSVP HERE

ILLEGAL CHURCH?

You may have heard that a home bible study in San Juan Capistrano is being ordered to stop meeting in a local home or face hundreds of dollars in fines.

Since we live just up the road from this bible study and live in the same county (Orange), it's likely that the outcome of this pending case before the court could impact our little house church family.

At first glance it appears that that this family (incidentally the publishers of Worship Leader Magazine) are being singled out and persecuted for their faith. That may be so, but after watching this local news clip I learned that it wasn't as simple as I originally thought.

For example, the gatherings regularly draw up to 50 people. Their home is laid out with chairs just like a church service. Plus, they claim not to be a church but simply a Bible Study where they can "enjoy one another's company" and read the Word of God together. But they meet on a Sunday morning. What Bible Study draws 50 people on a Sunday morning?

Are they a church? Does that make any difference? What if they had 100 people showing up every Sunday morning? What then?

In our case, we have about 28 people at most gathering in our home on Sunday mornings (or in one of the other homes where we gather regularly). Where the family in this case claims that they are not a church, we claim the opposite. We are a church, although we have no 501c3 status or bank account and no one leads our meetings (other than Jesus) and no one takes a salary.

The Bible Study in San Juan Capistrano does not take any offering, but our group does, although all of that money goes to help buy groceries for the poor in our community, or to help those in need within our house church family or otherwise.

If the city rules that this "Bible Study" is a church according to their definitions and forces them to pay a fine or apply for a conditional use permit (which would also cost them potentitally thousands of dollars for environmental impact studies and wheelchair accessibility ramps), then I wonder what it might mean for us. Would they knock on our door next? Would they demand that we either stop meeting or pay the fines, or incorporate our church?

The bigger question for me is what we do if this happens to us.

Needless to say I'll be watching this case closely.

-kg

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

SCANDALOUS MERCY

God shouldn’t offer us His unending love and devotion, but He does. He shouldn’t pour out His daily morning mercies on all mankind, but He does.

This, I think, is why so many of us miss the Kingdom of God. We have yet to have our perspective shifted from the one we were born into. We need to have eyes to see the Kingdom.

In Micah 6:8 the scriptures tell us that ”(God) has shown you, O man, what is good, and what is required of you; to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Doing Justice is hard enough without learning to love Mercy. Why? Because Mercy is when someone who doesn’t deserve a blessing gets one anyway. We hate that. Unless of course the person receiving that undeserved gift of mercy is us. That’s totally acceptable. But when that sinner repents after a lifetime of wasted selfishness we’re not usually the first ones to cheer. When that angry, judgmental person who lives next door to us wins the lottery we do not rejoice over their good fortune. When the hateful, self-important bigot we work with is handed a raise, we do not rush to congratulate him. Mercy is only good when it’s deposited into our account. Or, at least we act that way sometimes.

Yet, if we understand that God is sovereign and that He is in control of all things, we can rejoice whenever someone who does not deserve a blessing gets a big fat gift from God dropped into their lap. We can learn to love mercy if we truly understand that we are also among those who do not in any way deserve the daily blessings we receive from God’s hand.

Jesus is for losers. The Kingdom is for the poor, the blind, the broken, the weak, the hopeless, the helpless, and the sick. This is good news for all of us sinners.

"And now I know the secret that only losers keep, and I wallow in the hopeful tears that every finder weeps." - Finder's Weep

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Monday, October 03, 2011

ONLY THE LOSERS

Only the broken can know the unending joy that comes from being re-formed again into something beautiful. Only the hopeless can experience the astounding relief that comes from being rescued at the last moment. Only the poor can understand what it feels like to receive that undeserved gift of mercy, or food, or rent. Only the losers appreciate the fact that they have been given a trophy that they know they could ever earn on their own.

This is the Kingdom of God. It is scandalously inclusive. It runs against the grain of fairness and tramples on our sense of equality.

Jesus came announcing the Good News that the Kingdom of God was wide open. Anyone could enter it on the spot. However, there were a few conditions. His Sermon on the Mount outlined the requirements for seeing and entering the Kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who mourn.” He said.

As John Fischer points out, when it comes to the Kingdom of God - “Proud people don't get in. Rich people don't get in. Successful people don't get in. Self-righteous people don't get in. Happy people don't get in. Competent people don't get in. And it's more than just getting in. People like this don't even see it. They don't know what it is. They can't. They are blinded by their own sufficiency.”

This is why Jesus proclaimed that it was not for those who are well that he came, but for those who are sick. It was not for the righteous that he came, but for the sinners who were desperate for salvation and had no way of measuring up without a Messiah who was full of mercy. (see Luke 5:31-32)

I love the account in the Gospel of John (chapter 9) where Jesus heals a man born blind. The entire chapter chronicles a kangaroo court where the Pharisees attempt to get at the bottom of this miracle (which Jesus decided to perform on the Sabbath, of course). Throughout the chapter there is a fascinating juxtaposition of the physical blindness the beggar experienced and the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees. At the end of the chapter, Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”(John 9:39) Hearing this, some of the Pharisees asked him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:40-41)

See? Those who know that they are blind receive sight. Those who pretend that they can see are without hope because if they would simply admit that they were in need of Jesus, he would reach out and heal them.

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**

Sunday, October 02, 2011

*SOUTHERN BAPTISTS RE-NAME THEMSELVES. MAY I SUGGEST “CHRISTIAN”?

You may have read the news that the Southern Baptists are about to change their name as a denomination. Their reasoning is that it no longer reflects their identity accurately.

As a former Southern Baptist (Licensed and Ordained) I couldn't agree more. Their name has never really reflected their actual identity. Not even on the first day they coined it.

If there's any possibility that I might still have a vote in this debate, let me suggest the name "Christian". Only this title properly reflects the true identity of those people.

In fact, if that title isn't the most accurate name for this group of people, it may be time to re-evaluate being associated with them at all.

At some point in your walk with Jesus you need to come to the realization that you are not a Baptist, a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Charismatic, a Pentecostal, or a whatever. You are either a follower of Jesus and therefore a member of the one and only Bride of Christ, or you are not.

There is only One Church. It is made up of people who may disagree on how to reflect the Infinite, or who exhibit a different focus on a particular gifting, or who emphasize their own brand of adoration, but in the end there is only One Bride of Christ.

Ask yourself, "Are denominations God's idea or man's idea?" Does our division advance the Gospel or inhibit the effectiveness of our witness?

I'd like to submit that our denominationalism is a sin. It is the fruit of our pride and our inability or unwillingness to love one another in spite of our differences of opinion over matters of doctrine or inflections of scripture.

Christ is what unites us. Only Jesus.

If you are putting your hope in Christ, and if it is your ongoing, daily intention to follow Jesus and put His words into practice, then you are a member of the Church with full membership privileges. You are important. You matter. We need you. You need the rest of us.

Let us be One even as Jesus and the Father are One. That was the prayer of our Lord, and it should be our desire as well.

If you belong to Christ you are my brother or sister. You're in the Family.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" - 1 John 3:1


"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." - John 17:20-23