Monday, January 27, 2014
"What do we do about Suffering?" Larry asked.
My good friend Larry had been part of our house church for over a year. During that time I'd seen him grow spiritually and take radical steps in his faith. He had recently started meeting early on Sunday mornings to disciple a co-worker and on Tuesday's he helped to lead some of his family members in weekly Bible Study. The discussions spinning outward from those meetings had sent him back to his own Bible to understand more of God's Word and to answer the hard questions being thrown at him.
As we sat at a local coffeeshop one night, Larry admitted that he really didn't have an answer to the question of suffering in the world today. "It seems to be one of the hardest things to explain to people," he said, "Because they wonder how God could be good and still allow innocent people to die."
Larry was right. The problem of suffering is one of the most difficult questions to answer for most of us who believe in and follow Jesus. For some the question is a smokescreen. They really don't want an answer to the question, it's more of a challenge to a faith they've already dismissed as irrelevant. To them the question of suffering is more like a slap from a leather glove across a believer's face, intended to end any further discussion of faith in a personal God.
For others, the question of suffering is a serious stumbling block. They want to have faith in a God who loves them and is good and who has a wonderful plan for their lives, but the suffering of innocent children due to poverty, or natural disaster or violence leaves them puzzled and full of doubt.
SORTING IT ALL OUT
There have been numerous apologetics written to address this problem. Most point out that no one is truly innocent, or that God has an eternal perspective that transcends our finite, mortal existence in this physical world.
While I do acknowledge that suffering is difficult to endure, on some level I have to confess that it's always puzzled me why people get hung up on this question so often. Part of me wants to ask what world they were born into? Don't they live in the same world we all live in? Aren't we all very acquainted with the fact that people die, accidents happen, sickness is real and tragedy strikes all of us sooner or later? Why do we expect God to step in and prevent every accident, tragedy and act of violence? What has given us the idea that this is God's job function?
As Larry and I discussed this I realized that our desire to have God intervene in our suffering, and the suffering of others, is connected to the eternal Kingdom of God itself. Why? Because for us to live in a world where God prevented every accident, healed every sickness and averted every natural disaster on every continent twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, we would have to live in a world where God was the absolute ruler and King of every minute detail of our lives.
When people genuinely cry out for a world where God prevents suffering and manages natural disasters and eliminates pain, they are revealing an inner desire to live in the Kingdom of God itself. Any world where God plays the role of cosmic policeman and perpetual rescue worker is also one where we are fully submitted to His rule and reign.
A BETTER WORLD IS ON THE WAY
Of course, it is doubtful that most of those who complain the loudest about the problem of suffering would really want to live in a world ruled completely by God, and obey His rules and submit to His absolute authority. If they did, then they would have already submitted their lives to Him and placed their hope in God.
Yet, this is the sort of world that Jesus invites all of us to enter- a world where God is our King and His perfect will is always done in every aspect of our lives. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God and his message, his good news for all of us, was that we could enter this Kingdom immediately, on the spot.
Admittedly, the world we live in today is not a pain-free world. Suffering is part of our daily experience and reality. But this does not mean that God isn't working, even now, to bring mankind to a better reality. He really does have a plan to take us to a place free from suffering.
FROM EDEN TO EDEN
It has been said that all of creation is from Eden to Eden. In the beginning God created an Eden where He and mankind were co-laborers together in the creation, where He was King and there was no sin, or pain or death. At the end of the story we see that God will bring everything back again, ultimately, finally, eternally, to a place where we are co-laborers with Him in His renewed creation, and He is King and there are no tears, and there is no pain or death.
In the meantime, we are invited to step into the story and join with God in His plan. We can become co-laborers with Him in advancing His Kingdom here and now. We can submit to His rule and reign in our actual lives today.
When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God at the beginning of his ministry he invited those who were ready to enter to follow him. He provided the blueprint for all of us who were eager to enjoy the Kingdom reality. His message, his Good News, was that this Kingdom was at hand, even near enough to reach out and touch.
Sadly, even those who call themselves after his name today are largely unaware of this message. In churches across this nation, week after week, this message of Jesus is rarely spoken. Many who consider themselves followers have yet to take up their cross daily and pattern their life after the teachings of Jesus.
If those who are most familiar with Jesus are ignorant of his message, we should hardly be surprised that no one else has heard the Gospel.
The world we live in now is one where suffering and pain and evil are continually present. As we live our lives, day by day, we wait for God to complete His plan and establish His Kingdom in every heart, and in every nation. Until then, we can take heart that God has a plan to use even the suffering we endure as a tool to shape our faith and inner character after that of His own son, who was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with suffering. We can even partner with God to comfort those who are suffering and extend to them the compassionate heart of Jesus in the midst of their pain.
My wife and I have been through a lot of suffering over the last few years. We've endured financial hardship, persecution, miscarriage, and uncertainty. Yet, even as hard as all of that was for us, I wouldn't take any of it back. God taught me things during those times that I could never have learned from a book, or a sermon, or a seminar.
Better still, God has taught me about suffering and enduring hardships so that I can help and encourage others who find themselves in similar places.
"But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;" - 2 Cor 1:16
So often the popular Christian message is that God wants you to be wealthy and healthy and happy all the time - but when we discover that this isn't the Gospel, and that God's Word actually teaches that God works through our suffering and pain to make us like His Son, we can more fully understand why God allows pain and realize that He is "the God who is with us" in the midst of our suffering.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-4
So, I just wanted to encourage each of you today that your pain isn't for nothing. It's meant to give you a faith that won't let go, a perserverance that will cling to God in all things.
No matter what suffering and pain you've been through, all of it is (in some strange way) part of how God reveals His love to us. (see Hebrews 12:5-11).
During the darkest times of my own personal suffering, I have often repeated these words to Jesus in the dark, remembering the words Peter spoke when he felt the urge to abandon his faith, "Where else can we go Lord? You have the words of life."
*NOTE: This article originally appeared as part of the [Subversive Underground] e-newsletter.
Monday, January 20, 2014
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." - Jesus, (John 15:18-21)
ESCAPING THE SWORD
Jesus promised his followers that the world would hate them, even as it had hated him. Resistance was to be expected. Living counter to the culture was an inherent element of God's Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus was to be lived out in the midst of a society that was bent on snuffing the life out of it.
What happened to us?
How have we become a Church where the World doesn’t hate us the way it hated Jesus? Sure, some people do hate us, but many of those, at least in America, only find us horrifically annoying. They might hate being around us, but not enough to kill us. And those that do hate us don't hate us the way the Pharisees hated Jesus. They hate us because we're hypocritical, hateful, intolerant and judgmental. The Pharisees hated Jesus because he was radically inclusive, spent time with the wrong sorts of people who were unclean and dirty and poor and sick and sinful. No one hates the Church for any of these reasons.
MODERN DAY MARTYRS
I know that Christians around the world are hated, and even persecuted and killed because of their devotion to Christ and the preaching of the Gospel. For those who endure this daily I offer my prayers for safety and for faith to continue sharing Christ in the midst of suffering.
Here in America, and most of the free, Westernized World, being a Christian carries no negative connotation or expectation of brutality other than being shunned by hipsters and perhaps mocked openly on prime time television.
FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD
Jesus said that the World would hate us because we "do not belong to the World". Perhaps the World doesn't hate us the way it hated Jesus because we're just like they are? Instead of being "In the World, but not Of it" we have become the Church who is "Of the World, but In it".
The Gospel of Jesus was subversive and controversial. It challenged the status quo of an entire society. It held up the mirror to the Church of the day and convicted the actions of Kings and exposed the injustices of self-seeking Government. In America our Gospel is not dangerous. It is safe, safe, safe for the whole family.
The earliest followers of Jesus were constantly persecuted because of their commitment to a Jesus way of life which cloned the subversive nature of Jesus and multiplied it across the fabric of society. They loved extravagantly, sharing all things in common with the poorest among them and held defiantly to the Gospel of the Kingdom which declared that God's rule and reign had indeed come to each and every one of their lives. When they were enslaved they served their masters respectfully, as if they were serving God Himself. When they were arrested and beaten for refusing to renounce Jesus the Messiah they did not fight back or demand their inalienable rights as human beings. Instead they went quietly to their deaths or sang hymns of praise to God for the blessing of martyrdom. They were a people who loved others so much they would rather die than shed another person's blood.
LIKE LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER
For over three hundred years the followers of Jesus, the citizens of "The Way", took it on the chin and held on tight to their faith with perserverance because they knew that the enduring of trials and difficulties meant that God was working in them the character of Christ Jesus and depositing a quality of faith that would not let go of God, even in the face of imprisonment, beatings, persecutions or death itself. They also knew that their uncommon, radical posture of love and compassion for others, even those who beat them, persecuted them and put them to death, was having an impact of nuclear proportions in the lives of those outside the faith. The power of their love created ripples in the fabric of humanity that changed hearts and turned the world upside down.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
When Emperor Constantine lifted the persecution of the Church in 313 A.D. it came with a caveat: The Church would have to submit to his vision of what Christianity should look like and how the faith should be practiced. For the first time in history a person could claim to be a follower of Jesus and still take up a sword and strike a man dead. Under Constantine's new rules of faith the Christian Church would take on the pagan practices of the day, worship in their converted temples and submit to the authority of a select Clergy wearing the robes of pagan priests and adopting the language of paganism.
Some might wonder if the price we paid for escaping the sword was too high. Some might wonder if we had forgotten the promise of Jesus that those who followed him would be hated and persecuted because of how they were unlike the world. Some might say that the Church befriended the religious system and practices of pagan Rome in order to save themselves any further persecution, rather than remain loyal to the same Jesus who said that we were to be set apart from the World and its systems.
There were some within the Christian Church in that day who refused to comply with Constantine's compromise. They attempted to continue gathering together in their homes as they had done for over three centuries, but Constantine issued a new law that made it illegal to continue this practice. Their choice suddenly became crystal clear; they could either submit to the Emperor's rule or face further persecution. In effect, Constantine's compromise was a mandate, not a friendly suggestion.
Around the world and throughout history, as the Church has been persecuted she has flourished. Whenever threatened she finds her inner compass and that always leads her back home, to the organic nature buried indelibly in her DNA.
In Soviet Russia, or Communist China or oppressive Korean regimes the Church of Jesus has not only survived, it has thrived and exploded as it remembers to be the church and reverts to the home-based, family model of worship revealed in Scripture.
So, even as the Church shifted slightly under Constantine and adopted a more relevant and culturally acceptable format of worship, these instances of persecution throughout history have revealed what essentially makes us the Family of God. It is at these times that she remembers her original mandate and reverts to the form once assumed in the very beginning.
OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
So what do we do about this today? How do we reconcile the promise of Jesus that the world would hate us because we are not of it as He is not of it?
Rather than focus on getting the World to hate us, perhaps it makes more sense to turn our energies towards being a people who love like Jesus loved. If we expect people to treat us they way they treated Jesus, I think it makes sense for us to do the things that Jesus did.
Whether or not you embrace the house church is irrelevant. You can be someone who follows Jesus with your everyday life whether you worship in a multi-million dollar building or under a tree in the park. The calling on you is the same as the one that is on me- to follow Jesus.
When we stay safely insulated inside our customized Christian comfort zone, our need for Faith is diminished. In fact, surrounded by hundreds of other Believers, from the safe vantage point of my padded pew, Faith is irrelevant. Faith seems to only be necessary for those who are in a dangerous place, outside their comfort zones, engaging the enemy, embracing the diseased, loving the poor, serving the least and the last. Faith is only necessary for those who choose to live a dangerous life outside their comfort zones.
Perhaps this is why Jesus wonders out loud if he will find any on the Earth who have faith when he returns? If we insist on remaining in our safe places, our zones of comfort, then our faith will grow weak and limp and useless. We can barely use it to generate personal wealth and unending health, much less to heal the sick, cast our demons, comfort the afflicted, or love the unlovely.
ADVANCING THE KINGDOM WITHOUT RETREATING FROM THE CULTURE
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." - James 4:4
This verse doesn't intend to drive us into the monasteries or to seek refuge among our Ahmish Bretheren, nor does it compel us to create Christian version of this world with cross-emblazoned products and holy goods and services. We are not called to retreat from the culture or to create a better, private version of the world we're supposed to change. Those first Christians didn't retreat from society, instead they obediently lived lives of such love among the heathen that people began to change from the inside out (see 1 Peter 2:11-12).
Simply put, if we would consider it our daily practice to serve others we might start to resemble those people who were so much like Jesus that they began to be persecuted for living lives of astounding love.
Jesus made no room for us to compromise our calling to be a peculiar people. We have no right to surrender our calling to love others in exchange for a better, more comfortable life in this temporary existence.
"Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." - Jesus (John 15:20)
I pray that the Church would rise up again and become the people who are known for the way they love others, even those who hate them and who would stand for Gospel of Jesus, no matter what anyone else may say about us, or do to us.
"If you have love for those who have love for you, what credit is it to you? for even sinners have love for those who have love for them." - Jesus, Luke 6:32
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Love isn't an easy thing to do. If you do it right, it will cost you everything.
To love someone you must lay aside your wants and focus on their needs. Their happiness takes precedence over your comfort, and their joy becomes more important than your own.
To be honest, I do not often do it right. Often I am too overcome by my own desire to be comfortable or happy to love someone else in this way. Love is difficult. It is challenging. Love is not for the faint of heart.
In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the future. We get to see what will count for Eternity when we stand before Him at the end of our lives. Surprisingly, what counts is how we have loved others.
"Whatever you have done for one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me."
Many of us will be surprised at how little weight Jesus gives to church attendance, tithing, drinking alcohol, using swear words, or wearing Christian t-shirts. In fact Jesus makes no reference to any of these things when it comes to the final Judgement. He seems to only care about one thing: How did you love others?
It's not a shock really, since the main command he gave to his followers was to love one another as he loved them. (see John 13:34)
So, in the end, it's all about the love we show, not the outward acts of power and service in the name of God.
Jesus was also clear that we are called to love those who don't love us in return.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Don't even sinners do that?" (Luke 6:32)
Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love not only those who love us (our parents, our wives, our children, our best friend, etc.), but also those who do not love us (the guy on the freeway who cut us off, the family member who infuriates us, that annoying guy at church, our co-workers, our stupid boss, etc.).
Love, as I said before, is not an easy thing to do.
That's why we need to be changed, from the inside out, so that we can become the sort of people who love unconditionally and extravagantly.
"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" - 2 Cor 5:16-17
As far as impossible things go, forgiveness is no walk in the park either. I'm reminded of a great quote from the film, "Into The Wild" where one character says to the main character, "When you forgive you love, and when you love God's light shines down on you."
Another thing that happens when you forgive is that you set yourself free.
"Forgiveness is giving up the right to retaliate. Forgiveness is the willingness to have something happen the way it happened. It's not true that you can't forgive something; it's a matter of the will, and you always have the choice. Forgiveness is never dependent on what the other person does or does not do; it is always under our control. Forgiveness is giving up the insistence on being understood.... Jesus forgave those who crucified him. This is a radically new way of thinking. For those who accept and practice this discipline, there is a release of energy and a sense of freedom." - Pixie Koestline Hammond; "For Everything There Is a Season."
Evil is overcome, then, not by force or by destructive power but by the amazing love of God. Only His perfect brand of love - without strings attached, where only the good of the person being loved is taken into account- can overcome a world of hate and violence and pain.
Like it or not, you and I, the followers of Jesus, have a mandate. We are commanded to love. We are compelled to forgive. Our only hope is to become like Jesus so that we can love like Jesus loved. This is the only hope possible for our troubled world.
Do we really believe that the greatest weapons against hate are love and forgiveness? Do we really put our faith in towels and basins of water as instruments of change? Do we actually trust in the power of daily dieing to ourselves so that Christ can live through us?
"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." - Colossians 1:27
Friday, January 10, 2014
In what way am I a Christian if I do not follow Jesus?
"Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Luke 9:23
"Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." - 1 John 2:6
In what way am I following Jesus if I don't obey Jesus?
"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching...he who does not love me will not obey my teaching." - John 14:23-24
In what way do I obey Jesus if I don't serve others?
"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." - John 13:14-17
In what way do I love God if I don't love others?
"If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
- 1 John 4:20-21
In what way do I love Jesus if I don't love the poor?
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40
In what way do I love the poor if I don't share what I have?
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." - 1 John 3:17
In what way am I saved if I don't know Jesus?
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" - John 17:3
In what way do I know Jesus if I don't know God?
"If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" - John 14:8-9
In what way do I know God if I don't share with the poor?
"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" - Jeremiah 22:16 (GOD, speaking of King Josiah)
In what way is my church better than unbelieving pagans if we have no concern for the poor?
"Now this is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were proud and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen."
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
The last thing I expected was to get into a debate over theology in the nursing home.
Our house church family was going from room to room at Fountain Care Assisted Living Center singing Christmas carols and praying for people as we'd done for the last four years. Already we'd had some amazing interactions with a few people who had broken down in tears as we prayed over them, or sang to them. A few had even gone beyond our expectations and brought us to tears as they shared their amazing testimony with us. But this room was different.
After we sang a few Christmas carols to the two men in the room one of them asked us about our church. One of the sisters with us responded, "We're just a group of Christians in Orange County who love Jesus."
The man bristled at the statement. "But what do you believe?"
I stepped forward to explain; "The main thing is that we love Jesus and we're following Him in our daily life," I said.
"But different people believe different things about Jesus," he countered.
"Yes, that's true," I said. "But as long as you follow Jesus and you're trying to obey His teachings in your actual life, that's all we're concerned about. The other issues are not as important to us."
His roommate responded, "So, you're non-denominational?"
I nodded, "Yes, I guess you could say that."
He turned back to his television and his friend continued the interrogation. "So, you're just a bunch of miscellaneous Christians, then?"
"Yes. We're a group of miscellaneous Christians who love Jesus and want to follow Him daily."
The man seemed disgusted at our lack of doctrinal purity. He stared at us for a second and then he said, "The Miscellaneous Christians of Orange County?"
I could tell that he was interested in knowing what we believed so that he could assess whether or not we were his brand of Christian based on a comparison of doctrines. He seemed very upset that he could not get us to play along. So, as nicely as possible, we all said, "Merry Christmas!" and backed out of their room.
Afterwards, we all met back at our home for hot chocolate, tea and Christmas cookies. As we reflected on the various people we met at Fountain Care that night, someone invariably brought up the confrontational exchange we had with the two men.
"I think we should call ourselves the Miscellaneous Christians of Orange County!" someone suggested and we all had a laugh. But I wonder if maybe we shouldn't stop and consider the title more seriously?
If we define Christianity as the practice of following Jesus daily, and if we understand that following Jesus means doing they things he said to do, then it makes perfect sense for our church - for every church - to identify themselves as "Miscellaneous Christians".
In other words, if we identify ourselves based on the doctrines we believe, then we either have to break fellowship with one another when those beliefs change, or we have to pretend that we still believe certain things (even if we don't anymore) to preserve fellowship with one another.
Is that what Jesus had in mind when he prayed that all of us would be one even as He and the Father are One? I don't think so. Denominationalism is man's idea, not God's. Everytime we align ourselves with belief systems and doctrines, we naturally (or unnaturally) exclude ourselves from the fellowship we are intended by our Lord Jesus to share with one another.
What does the bible say about unity? It says, "For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
It does not say that we are all one in our doctrines, or in our denominations, or in our views of the end times or in our opinion about bible translations. Those things divide us, they do not unite us.
What unites us? What makes us one? What is the common denominator between every person in the Family of God? It's Jesus. If we love Him and if we are in daily relationship with Him, then we are in the Family of God. Those other issues are secondary.
So, maybe we should all consider ourselves "The Miscellaneous Christians" of our city? In the end, that's what we are anyway. Whether we meet in this building or in that living room or under that tree or in this gymnasium, we are still members of the Family of God and we are still brothers and sisters because of Jesus.
What do you think?
Friday, January 03, 2014
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." - (1 Peter 2:13-17)
More and more I find that there is a blurred line in American Christianity between "The American Way" and "The Kingdom of God".
The Kingdom of God and the American Dream are not the same thing, and in fact, they are two opposing viewpoints which are in conflict on many levels.
The American Dream is founded on the concept of every person's right to the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you can imagine would make you happy you are free to pursue it with all your heart. That's your right.
The Kingdom of God is founded on the concept of laying down your life, your idea of what will make you happy, in favor of receiving from Jesus what He knows will really fulfill you.
Following Jesus involves laying down your life and giving up your rights. It means full and complete submission to God because you recognize that His perfect will for your life is a million times better than anything you could ever dream up, or pursue, on your own.
Jesus didn't ever instruct any of his disciples to fight for their God-given, "Inalienable Rights", and neither did Paul the Apostle. In fact, they both encouraged their disciples to live humble lives, serving others and not demanding more because they deserved more. Paul even specifically told those followers of Christ who were slaves to remain slaves, even if they were being mistreated.
Historically, the early Christians didn't fight for their rights as citizens, they took it on the chin, and in the Lion's den, and in the arena. They literally would rather die than to take another person's life.
Simply put, they followed their Lord and Savior, Jesus and they followed His example of non-violence and submissive service to those who hated and mistreated them. Does that sound like the American Dream to you?
We cannot afford to become distracted by nationalism or led astray by politics.
As followers of Jesus, He must be our one and only priority and influence. This is what it means to make Jesus our Lord.
As Christian pastor and activist Jim Wallis has said:
"God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God is not partisan. God is not ideologically committed to our Left or Right. God's politics challenges all of our politics. It includes the people our politics regularly leave out; the poor and the vulnerable. That's God's politics."
It would have been virtually impossible for an unbeliever living in those first three hundred years of Church History to ever reject Christianity on the grounds that it lacked compassionate people or failed to teach loving kindness.
In fact, we have testimony from many of the most hostile pagans who lived during the first three hundred years of Christianity who were put to shame because of the overwhelming generosity of the Church. Julian, the Apostate wrote of this frustrating situation when he said"
"The godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also."
Christian philosopher Aristides (125 AD) wrote about the radical charity of the early Church also, recording the fact that:
"…if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food."
For a Christian, killing our enemies is not acceptable.
If being a good American citizen means you need to cheer on a war that kills innocent people then you must lay aside your Christianity.
If being a faithful member of a political party trumps over 2,000 verses in the word of God about caring for the poor, then you need to make a choice.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to speak to Jim Wallis on this very subject and his response has stayed with me ever since. He said:
"The Church today is more American than Christian. The Kingdom of God is not the same as the American Empire. When we are more American than Christian we confuse the meaning of the Body of Christ with any nation state. This notion of the Church as a counter-cultural movement is Biblically obvious. There's no doubt about that. We're in the world to transform the world for the sake of this new order that has come in Jesus Christ. If Jesus' vision of the Kingdom was so threatening, why is our vision of the Kingdom so safe?"
The Gospel of the Kingdom is not the American Dream.
It saddens me to see Christians more passionate about their political party than they are about the Kingdom of God.
(Death to the status quo/Constant Conversion)
Thursday, January 02, 2014
Last year our family started a new tradition. We decided to write down all the miracles and answered prayers the Lord provided for us during the year and place them in a jar. Then, on New Years Eve, we would open the jar and take turns reading to one another all the times that God had done something amazing in our lives.
We took the idea from the passage of scripture in Exodus where God commanded the Israelites to remove one stone for each of the 12 tribes from the dry ground in the Jordan where the Lord had dried up the river and allowed them to cross over. God then told them to build a mound of these "stones of remembrance" so that generations later they could point to them and remember the time when the Lord had taken them into the Promised Land.
So, our "Jar of Remembrance" works the same way. On New Year's Eve we sat down and read again about how the Lord had saved our entire family from being killed the night that our pilot light went out on the water heater and we only discovered it because David (our youngest son) had decided to take a shower before going to bed and noticed there was no hot water. A closer inspection revealed that the pilot light was out and the cabinet was already filling up with explosive natural gas. After I shut off the water heater I called the gas company. When their technician arrived at midnight he found two gas leaks in our heater, and another one in our dryer line. We would've all died in the night if not for this discovery.
We also remembered how God had answered our prayers Dylan (our oldest son) to sell all of his raffle tickets for school in a single day and how God did that - not once but twice.
We remembered how He cared for us and comforted us when we had our miscarriage, and we remembered how He had spared Wendy from getting a ticket the time she stopped in the wrong lane at LAX airport and the police officer discovered she didn't have her driver's license with her.
We remembered how God answered specific prayers and encouraged us in amazing ways during the year. Then we bowed our heads and thanked God for His faithfulness and constant care.
It was so great we decided to start over again in 2014. We've taken all the slips of paper with the testimonies of God's provision in 2013 and placed them in an envelope (in case we ever want to remind ourselves again of what He did for us), and our new jar sits empty on the table in our den, just waiting for the next time God answers a prayer, or works a miracle, or speaks to us in another amazing way.
Maybe you need to be reminded sometimes of God's enduring love? May I suggest finding an old candy jar and starting a Jar of Remembrance of your own? It's a great way to build your faith and to count all of your many, many blessings.
Just be sure to choose a very large jar. They fill up pretty quick.