Wednesday, May 30, 2012
About the book:
Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and if He commanded His followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek and not to live by the sword, then why do so many Christians today support wars, torture and nationalism?
With an introduction by New Testament scholar Jon Zens, this book is a collection of articles and essays by author, blogger and teacher Keith Giles on the subject of Jesus and Non-Violence.
Giles is also the founder of Pacifist Fight Club, a quarterly gathering of Christians in Orange County, California who meet to discuss issues surrounding Christian non-violence.
This book explores typical arguments regarding the meaning of Jesus' statements against violence, as well as common objections related to the turning over of the tables of the money changers in the Temple, the command to "go and buy a sword", and various appeals to Old Testament scriptures where God leads the nation of Israel into battle.
Whether you agree or disagree with the author on this controversial topic, you will be challenged and inspired to return again to the words of Jesus and to investigate your own heart and motives when it comes to obeying the radical call to love as Jesus loves.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Jesus says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)
At the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by establishing that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. In the King James version of this same verse the phrase “one jot or one tittle” shall pass from the Law.
But, what did Jesus mean to communicate in this sentence? Did he mean, as some suggest, that the Old Covenant Law should be observed until the return of Christ? Or did Jesus intend to say something different?
We must first look at the context in which Jesus spoke these words. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking primarily to his disciples about the Kingdom of God that he has come to inaugurate. His Beatitudes establish a new set of values that stand in stark contrast to the values of this World. He lays out a set of expectations for his followers to go above and beyond the Old Covenant laws to embody a more radical expression of God’s love to the World.
So, when Jesus pauses at the beginning of his Sermon to say, “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”(v. 17), he is preparing them to hear what is about to come next. Namely statements that appear to contradict the Old Covenant Laws but in fact take them to another level. Statements like:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (v.21-22)
Additionally, we have to take into account the qualifier that Jesus adds at the end of his “jot and tittle” statement when he says “until everything is accomplished.”
Let’s first ask ourselves, “Has anything from the Old Covenant Law ceased or passed away?”
The answer, of course, is “Yes.” We don’t observe animal sacrifice any more. We don’t observe the Sabbath anymore. We don’t support a Levitical priesthood with our tithes any longer. We don’t keep Jewish festivals or feasts or observe holy days any longer. We don’t insist on circumcising male children on the 8th day. These are parts of the Law that have since passed away.
So, what’s up? Is Jesus wrong? Or maybe the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled? Let’s see what Paul says about this:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
The shadows were summed up in the Old Covenant dietary commands to avoid pork and shell fish, and to observe religious festivals, including the Sabbath day. But these all pointed us to the Messiah – the reality – who has already now come. Because he has come and because Jesus has fulfilled these shadows of the Old Covenant they are now obsolete and we are under a New Covenant. As it says it Hebrews:
“By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established 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)
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1)
So, while Jesus does affirm to his disciples that the Old Covenant Law and the word of the Prophets will not pass away, he clarifies that they will stand until they are fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled them. Now they are passing away.
This means we are no longer under the Old Covenant. I know that for some of you this isn’t big news. But for many, many people this is a very strange concept. I’m constantly running into people (mostly online) who continue to return to the Old Covenant scriptures to make a point about how a Christian should behave, or to quote Old Testament prophets to settle an argument about how we should interpret Jesus. This is bass-ackwards (as my father would say). We should never interpret Jesus or Paul or any of the New Covenant scriptures through the lens of the Old. Instead, we should always take the words of Jesus as authoritative and interpret the Old Covenant in light of the new revelation we have received through Christ.
To do any less is to put ourselves back into bondage to the Law. As Paul says, this is foolish:
“Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Colossians 2:18-19)
“These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:22-23)
Now that Jesus has come and now that he has fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets we are truly set free. God has written His laws upon our hearts. He has called us to be His people and for us to call Him our “Abba”.
We are no longer bound by those Old Covenant regulations and laws. We are children of God. We are co-heirs with Christ. We are Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
A friend recently engaged me in an online discussion about what it means to judge others, and specifically how we as Christians should respond to the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage. He especially wanted to know how we could possibly evangelize people if we don’t point out their sin first.
Here’s my response to my friend, with a few additional thoughts thrown in for good measure.
What do you think Jesus means by saying we should love others and not judge them? Do you think it's possible to condemn people with the truth rather than love them and point them to the Truth?
I try to think of how I came to know Jesus. Your experience might be different, but I know that as a 9 year old boy I was mainly overwhelmed with my need for God. I couldn't have told you the first thing about sin or repentance or any of that. I just knew I needed Jesus desperately.
A friend of mine once told me that before he came to Jesus he already knew he was a sinner. No one needed to point that out to him. He got that. What he didn't know was what to do about it.
So, that's why I think our evangelism should be more about loving people first (and that can only be done in relationship), sharing our own testimony (we're sinners who are desperate for Jesus and actively learning to know and to love the God who created the Universe - again, relationship), and pointing them to Jesus so they can know Him.
I think God will convict people of their sins just fine without us - because that's what He said He would do – and He specifically told us that it is not our place to convict people of their sins.
If we love people we make room for the grace of God to touch their hearts. (The kindness of God leads to repentance). But if we judge people, our condemnation becomes a barrier to those people and they cannot see the love of Jesus in us...and where else are they supposed to see it?
As I already said, I don't think we need to point out people's sins. I think the Holy Spirit will do that if we will introduce them to Jesus. Another example I can share is a couple we met at the motel about 5 years ago. We continued to serve them and love them in practical ways as they had need. They eventually started joining us in our house church, and then we started reading through the Gospel of John with them. Suddenly they both realized that they were sinners and that they needed to make some changes in their life. That was the Holy Spirit, not us, and they are continuing to read the Word of God and to allow Him to change their hearts. We never once had to say anything to them about their sin.
If we want to talk about sinfulness we have to start with our own. We must freely admit that we are sinners in need of Christ. Our message can't be, "You're a filthy sinner and you need Jesus" it should be, "I'm a filthy sinner and I need Jesus" and our invitation should be to follow Jesus daily, not to escape hell. If the emphasis is placed where Jesus put it - on following Him daily and surrendering our will to His - then the rest will follow (i.e. repentance, sanctification, justification, salvation, etc.).
We don't know who is or isn't saved, and acting as a judge isn't our job.
I'm not sure I see a correlation between voting and judging others really. But, I will address the question of how we speak to same-sex marriage.
In Luke, chapter 6, Jesus contrasts Love and Judgment as two opposite actions. We can't do one if we're busy doing the other. If our job - our mandate - from Jesus is to love like God does, then we can’t waste our time judging the hearts of others. Simply put, we can't love and judge at the same time.
In Romans 2:1, Paul says that when we judge others we're actually passing judgment on ourselves. James chapter 4 tells us that when we judge others we're putting ourselves in God’s place.
Paul even draws a distinction between correcting sinful behavior of those within the Church (1 Cor 5:12) with the right to judge those outside the church.
So, according to the New Testament, followers of Jesus have no business trying to condemn the morality of the culture at large. Paul never did it. Peter never did it. Jesus never did it.
Why do we feel the responsibility to change our culture to behave the way we want them to? It doesn't make any sense – especially if our primary way of affecting change is supposed to be preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations. We can only teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded if they are willing disciples. But if they're not disciples of Jesus, why do we think that we can change their hearts or influence their behavior with a law or a policy? It's foolish, and it's not the Kingdom.
We should be more concerned that Kingdom people actually live out the Gospel in their daily lives. That’s actually what Paul’s main point about judging those within the Body is all about in 1 Corinthians 5. We’re expected to keep our own people on the straight and narrow, not those outside the Church. God will judge them without our help.
If we major on following Jesus ourselves, and teaching others within the Church to do the same, then we can offer the culture an alternative lifestyle that is direct contrast to the sinful ways of men.
Yes, I understand that Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to "go and sin no more" but then again, Jesus was the only person left standing who didn't have any sins to confess. The whole point of that passage is that those men who brought the woman to Jesus were in no position to judge her. That's why they dropped their stones and walked away. They understood that they were also sinners. Just like you and me.
At least, that's how I see it.
Monday, May 21, 2012
This Episode: God said that His ways were not our ways. But just how far off are our ideas versus God's ideas when it comes to faith, worship, fasting, evangelism, knowing God, church-planting, and more?
Listen as author, teacher and blogger Keith Giles explains how our ideas and God's ideas are like night and day.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
Do you know what the Gospel message is according to Jesus? Most Christians surprisingly do not, and this confusion has created many of the problems we see in the American Church today.
Listen to Subversive Radio host Keith Giles as he explores this important topic.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Chase Andre teaches at Pacifist Fight Club on Saturday, May 5, 2012 on "The Dangers of Christian Nationalism".
Monday, May 07, 2012
Brandt Russo teaches at Pacifist Fight Club on Saturday, May 5, 2012 on "Is Your Gospel Strong Enough to Change a Terrorist?" (How Love Overcomes Hate).
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Live video by Ustream Watch Keith Giles teaching on Christian Zionism: Israel, Palestine and the Kingdom of God at Pacifist Fight Club on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
I recently started reading a book called "The Essential Writings of Ghandi” at about the same time my family and I took a trip to Washington D.C. While we were there we visited the Holocaust Museum. I remember coming home that night and reading the next chapter in this book which was, coincidentally, about Gandhi’s view that Hitler could have been stopped through non-violent resistance. The horror of what I’d seen at the Holocaust Museum that morning was still fresh in my mind. I remember closing the book and shaking my head in disbelief. "How could Gandhi believe that non-violence could have stopped Hitler?" I wondered. It’s one thing to use non-violence to change the culture of a land, or to resist an unjust law, but Hitler’s regime seems so much more evil than any of that. If people weren’t moved to lay down their weapons when they saw thousands of Jewish women and children being starved to death, or shot in the head, or burned alive in massive ovens, then how could they possibly be moved by a show of solidarity and determination to resist evil to the point of death?
Over the last few months I believe I’ve come to some better understanding of what Gandhi meant, and also what a Christian non-violent response could have accomplished against Hitler’s schemes.
Obviously what I'm going to share is complete supposition. At best, I am only thinking out loud and inviting you to consider these thoughts along with me.
What I wonder is what an organized, non-violent response to Hitler might have accomplished. What if, from the beginning, the Jews and others in Germany had collectively refused to cooperate with the injustices imposed upon them and said, "You can kill us, but we will not wear the Gold Stars. We will not comply with your racist and oppressive rules and laws." What would have happened? Would it have made any difference?
As we consider this, let me remind you that non-violence and passive resistance don't emphasize passivity. On the contrary, it requires great courage and it involves laying one's life on the line to oppose injustice. In other words, many people would probably have still died in the battle. But, it would have been a battle where only one side was the aggressor and the other side was a unified force that refused to go along with even the tiniest injustice imposed against people – regardless of their own race or creed.
What was missing from this equation was someone like MLK, or Gandhi, or an inspired follower of Jesus who would lead the way. What was required was someone who had an influence on the people, someone with a voice who could inspire the people to agree together that they would not stand for the racist laws, and that they would not comply in even the smallest way with the unjust policies imposed upon them or others.
Not to place the blame on the victims, but history shows us that, without such an inspiring leader to point the way, the Jews did what everyone else would do in such a case – they mostly went along with what was asked of them by their Government. They were good citizens who believed that what was asked of them was something temporary, or inconvenient. None of them had any idea just how deadly and malevolent the process would eventually become.
Certainly some did resist the unjust laws and policies, but those individuals were quickly killed or arrested to set an example to any others who might attempt to resist. Those who watched these people being arrested or killed probably wondered if it was worth the price they had to pay in order to resist. However, it’s theoretically possible that, as in the case of MLK, or Gandhi, if everyone together collectively agreed to resist - even to the point of death - and regardless of how many of them were arrested or put to death, we might have seen a vastly different outcome.
Of course, we do not know this for sure. I understand that. I do.
Simply acquiescing to evil is not the same as passively resisting it. As Gandhi famously said, (and I’m paraphrasing) "I will lay down my life to oppose injustice and evil. But I will not kill anyone." So, our commitment has to be to die for what is right - to fight - but not to do violence or to kill anyone in the process.
As a follower of Christ, I'm skeptical about whether or not anyone other than a follower of Jesus can ever actually do this. It’s not that I believe Christians are more loving or self-sacrificing. It’s more that I’m skeptical of any human ability to lay down their life for strangers. I'm not sure I believe that anyone, apart from the indwelling love of Christ, is capable of loving their enemies enough to lay down their lives and die to themselves, and for one another, in such a way. For example, those who followed Martin Luther King, Jr. did so because they were followers of Christ, primarily. Those who marched were largely church members. Those who resisted to the point of shedding their own blood were Christians. And, of course, they were African-Americans. They were the oppressed.
Even Gandhi, I believe, had a basic faith in Christ that informed his own passion for justice and inspired a willingness to follow Jesus' example of overcoming evil with good, even to the point of death.
As an aside, Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every day and wrote as much about Jesus in his writings as any modern Christian author does. I wonder, what do you call someone who reads the words of Jesus every day and puts his teachings on love and forgiveness and service and self-sacrifice into practice? Regardless of whether or not Gandhi would have called himself a Christian (and he wouldn't have), I personally feel that he was a better follower of Jesus than I am at times, and perhaps a better follower of Jesus than most American Christians.
Maybe I’m wrong about this, however. Again, this is all supposition anyway. But, maybe with the right inspiration and an organized non-violent strategy the Jews could have successfully stopped Hitler in the earliest stages and the Holocaust could have been avoided. Or not.
Still, my mind goes back to the images of the death camps. I see again in my memory the heart breaking despair and unbelievable inhumanity expressed under the Nazi regime and I find it hard to accept that anyone or anything could have stopped this evil, short of assassination or war.
But, was this war - the only viable candidate for anything near to what could be referred to as a “Just War” – truly just? Was it truly the best possible solution to answer this atrocity?
Above all other wars in human history, World War Two alone stands as the primary (if only) example of what a Just War could look like. Laying aside for a moment whether or not you believe that a Just War is even possible, let's look at the fruit of this “Just War.” What did it produce, other than the eventual end of Nazi Germany?
*The development of nuclear weapons
*The death of 80k people in Hiroshima
*Another 60k dead due to radiation poisoning
*73k killed in Nagasaki
*Another 70k after that due to radiation
*50 plus years of Cold War escalation as nuclear weapons proliferated between the US and Soviet Russia
*A total of over 70 million fatalities
Let’s remember that America did not enter the war in order to stop Hitler. We knew all about what Hitler was doing to his people and to neighboring nations and we did nothing. In fact, if it were not for the fact that Japan dared to bomb Pearl Harbor we would never have considered entering the war at all. So, if we are honest, we only entered the war when it was about defending our own pride, not because the lives of others were at stake.
World War Two was the deadliest conflict in human history. It brought about millions of deaths. It created the atomic monster that continues to plague our world and threatens still to blow up the planet ten times over.
Is that what a "Just War" looks like? Is this - the best of all possible wars - really something we hope to emulate again?
Whether or not the war against Hitler was justified, the costs were enormous, and it should cause us to rethink the idea of war and to become desperate to find peaceful means to resolving future conflicts.
As followers of Jesus - the Prince of Peace - we need to become experts in peace. We must take seriously the promise of Jesus when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Earth."
Are we peacemakers? If not, are we really followers of Jesus?