following Jesus means dying for those who hate us

1

Category : different, faith

All the news for the last week has been about a church that says it’s going to burn the Koran in retaliation for the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero.  And as the weekend draws closer, a handful of other churches are saying that they will do the same.

I hate writing about things like this.  I really do.  The whole purpose of R3 is to help people understand what it means to live out a life of faith.  The purpose of R3 is not to tell you who to vote for or what social policies you need to implement.

Jesus was very clear about church / state issues.  Render unto Caesar what is his, and render unto God what is His.

But there are times when I feel the need to talk about current events.  Like this church down in Florida.  We can disagree about whether a mosque should be built in NYC.  We can even disagree if it’s okay to burn books (the Koran or otherwise.)  But what we can’t disagree about is how Jesus called us to live – and that’s sacrificially.

He’s called us to live a life of sacrifice in service and in love of our neighbors.  And I can’t see any way that burning the Koran lives out those principles.

Jesus was always patient, loving, kind, generous, and merciful to people who were the furthest away from God.  In fact, the further away from God you were, the more Jesus had patience for you.  It was the religious elites – the self proclaimed keepers of religious law – that Jesus came down on.

If we take that model and apply it to the mosque / Koran burning group, who are those furthest from God?  And who are those that are proclaiming to be the keepers of religious law?

If this church was serious about making a difference, it would set up mission trips to the Ground Zero mosque.  It would bring people in by the truckloads to build relationships with the Muslim men and women going into that mosque.  They wouldn’t inflame the religious beliefs of another group.

Paul, who was one of the most gifted missionaries of the Early (or otherwise) Christian church, never attacked the Greeks for their beliefs.  Instead he used their own culture, their own logic, their own religion as a way to highlight the differences between his God, and their gods.  He told stories not about distant, angry gods, but about a merciful, loving, fatherly God.

Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who were throwing large rocks at him.  As those stones slowly beat him to death.

Do any of those examples look like burning a Koran?

Because they don’t to me.

When I see Jesus, I see a God who sacrificed everything to reach out to those who despised him most.  If you aren’t doing that, then you don’t know God nearly as well as you think you do.  And if you think burning a book is a good way to show God’s love, then maybe you don’t know God’s love nearly as well as you think you do.

As Americans we may have the right to act like idiots and offend people in unnecessary ways.  But as Citizens of the Kingdom of God, we don’t have that luxury.  We’re called to love people, at a cost to ourselves.  That’s what shows God’s character to the world.  That’s what separates us from other religions.  That’s what shows His glory.

This guy in Florida, and others like him, couldn’t be further from God’s truth, and for that reason, I pray for them.

photo provided by flickr user MelB

being broken is a good thing

Category : different

I’m in the midst of moving.  Which means it’s time to pack up my old stuff.  There’s nothing like the thought of carrying heavy boxes to make you really evaluate something’s worth!  I’ve been pretty ruthless so far in getting rid of things.  And one of the underlying questions I ask is simply, “is it broken.”  The last thing I want to do is take the effort to pack something that’s broken.

Let’s face it, we all value things that work.  This is why we throw away VCR’s and 8 track players instead of keeping them forever.  Something eventually comes along that works better, so we jump onto the bandwagon.  The very idea that we should keep something that is broken seems strange to us.

But to consider brokenness as a good thing?  Well that’s just crazy talk.

Yet when we look at life through God’s eyes, brokenness becomes something to seek out.  In fact, I think brokenness is one of the best gifts God has for us.  CS Lewis said that pride was at root of all evil.  That the more prideful we are, the further away from God we are.  Think about your life for a moment.  When do you hurt the people you love the most?  I would bet that the vast majority of the time it’s when you felt you were being prideful.

Pride has a way of making us feel perfect.  Above reproach.  It says, “if I’m not broken, then I don’t need fixing.”

This is why so many people have no need for God.  They see themselves as “good people” who might not be perfect, but they certainly aren’t broken.  They work just fine most days.  “Other people of course,” they reason, “are broken, but certainly not me.”  But that’s not the reality of our lives.  The reality is that we’re all broken.  The whole world isn’t working the way God had planned.  Ever since Adam and Eve, we’ve lost our way.

The people who recognized Jesus for who he was (God) were the ones who recognized they were broken.  It was the prostitute pouring out the perfume that knew what Jesus offered, not the religious leader who was throwing Jesus a dinner party.  (Luke 7: 36-50)

That’s the theme we see throughout history.  The people who were best at keeping up religious pretenses were the ones who didn’t see the need for Jesus.  So they worked to kill him.  They couldn’t understand how he could be the Messiah if he was rejecting the “beautiful people” in favor of your average, run of the mill broken sinner.

Ironically they saw Jesus as broken.  Not themselves.  So my question to you is this: are you broken?  How you answer that question will determine how you respond to Jesus.

photo provided by flickr user wwworks

where was Jesus

Category : Jesus

I have heard people over the years challenge God by saying, “If God was so merciful, why did it take thousands of years for Jesus to show up? “  I think that’s a good question.  Why wasn’t Jesus standing outside of the Eden as Adam and Eve were being kicked out?  There’s no reason (that I know of) that would have prevented Jesus being there.  It’s not like it was impossible for God to do that.  Yet the question lingers: why did Jesus wait so long to enter the scene?

I think the answer lies in the journey itself.  God is more concerned about a relationship with us, then forcing us to be obedient.  It’s the same if you have kids.  You really want your kids to love you by their own choosing, not because you control their allowance, TV, or car privileges.  We know that deep down, a bribed love is no love at all.  Isn’t this the moral of many of those after-school-specials?  In those specials we learn that Betsy Sue’s “real friends” are the ones who want to spend time with her, not the ones who just want to ride in her new car.  (And if it’s on TV, it has to be true.)

It’s impossible to know for sure why God didn’t act faster.  But I think the evidence points to the fact that God was preparing us.  All of history, from Adam to Jesus is filled with examples of who God is, and what he wants for us.  He used the history of Israel to lay down the story that would guide our understanding of Jesus.  He time and again gave us a glimpse of who Jesus was.  Abraham, Moses, and David all demonstrate parts of God’s personality (just like you do, by the way.)  He showed us his power and redemption with stories like Daniel in the lion’s den and Esther’s position as a queen to save the Jews.

God wants us to be in relationship with him.  He wants us to be sons and daughters not servants and slaves.  If Jesus had come sooner, we wouldn’t have had the frame of reference to understand who he was, let alone why we needed him.  We would have been right back where Adam and Eve were.  And I think we would have been making the same choices as they did.  Because let’s face it, we all make daily choices against God.  It’s just that Jesus assumes our guilt.

I for one am glad it took Jesus so long to show up.

Photo provided by flickr user s-a-m

the death of a son

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Category : Jesus

Could you kill your own son if God asked you to?  That’s the question Abraham wrestled with as he climbed a mountain with his son.

In most of the Old Testament God speaks with two meaning.  On one level he talks to the people of the time.   He’s literally giving a specific message to Abraham or Adam and Eve.  He is literally saying that Abraham will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) or that Adam and Eve’s son will kill the snakes they find near their homes (Genesis 3: 14-16).

However, on another level God is speaking to future generations.  He’s preparing us to recognize Jesus when he comes.  To understand who he is, and why he is important.  For instance, the family blessing in Genesis doesn’t just mean Abraham’s family.  It also means the blessings that will come from Jesus (who was a descendent of Abraham).  And it’s not Adam and Eve’s immediate family that will be at war with the snake.  Jesus will also crush the serpent under his heel by dying on the cross.

Wherever you look in the Old Testament God is planting the seeds of Jesus’ arrival.

That’s what’s so remarkable about the story of Abraham and Isaac.  To us this is so scandalous, so offensive, that we don’t even want to believe that it’s a true story.  But back in Abraham’s time, child sacrifice was common.  Children weren’t seen as something to be treasured.  And if a god required a sacrifice?  So be it.

But as we read into the story we see that duality of meaning.

We first see it as Abraham is heading up the mountain; he places “the wood for the burnt offering” on his son.  What other son carried wood on his back?  Jesus, in the form of the cross.

Next we see it as Isaac, while carrying the wood, asks one question, “Father?…The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)

Where is the lamb?

That’s a good question.  In fact it’s the only thing Isaac says on that journey.  To the reader, it seems as if Isaac has foreshadowed his own death.  But Isaac is not the lamb.  God spares Isaac from being sacrificed (God provides a ram.)

Although Isaac’s life is spared, his question is never answered.  In fact, his question lingers for the next few thousand years until Jesus comes onto the scene.  Jesus is that lamb that God would provide.  Jesus takes the hit that you and I (and Isaac and Abraham) deserve.  God saved us, just as he saved a boy from being sacrificed.  But it came at a great cost…

photo provided by flickr user Scootie

finding the perfect job

Category : faith

I’m the type of person who likes to have things with nice neat answers.  I don’t like a lot of contradiction or even things that seem to defy logic.  That’s why I tend to avoid Genesis.  While I believe that God created the earth, I don’t see any reason to get into the 7 literal days verse 7 “eras” conversation.  Nor do I really get why the Bible tells us people lived to be 800 years old.   Is that a metaphor?  A real life span?  Couldn’t they count?

For a while I struggled looking for answers to those questions.  Then I realized all of that is less relevant to my life than answering another question: was Jesus a real person?  If he was real (yes) and he was God (yes) then I can simply take his word for everything else.   So if Jesus vouches for Genesis, then that’s good enough for me.   I can’t “prove” Genesis, but I can “prove” Jesus.

Why do I share all of this?  Because over the last few weeks I’ve been doing something called “The Story Formed Life.”  It’s an 11 week course that focuses on the story of the Bible.  This has forced me to wrestle with those topics I haven’t spent much time dealing with.  Particularly in Genesis.

As I re-read Genesis, what stands out is the amount of authority and freedom God gives us.

God gives Adam the authority to name the animals and the freedom to pretty much do whatever he wanted.  It was an ideal place.  If you take your average person today what’s their biggest concern: finding the “right” job.  We spend hours worrying about what we were meant to do.  Billions of dollars searching for new jobs and getting professional development.  Yet we still feel like our work has no meaning.

Adam on the other hand was literally created for his job.

It’s often easy to think of God, especially the so-called “Old Testament God” as someone who’s distant and vengeful.  But the real God of Genesis shows us a God who cares so much for his creation that he gives us perfect freedom and perfect autonomy.  Of course that doesn’t mean absolute freedom and autonomy.  God placed certain rules and restrictions on Adam.

But that wasn’t enough for Adam.

He and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And with it, they gave up their freedom and authority.  They walked away from the perfect job because they thought they could get something better.

How often do we do this?  How often do we give up the authority and freedom God gives us for something less filling?  Something more restrictive?

God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  And the priests took that and turned it into hundreds of highly detailed laws.  As Christians we take the freedom Jesus brings and wrap it in formal prayers, religious obligations, and moral thuggery.

Obviously we aren’t that different from Adam after all.

timing is everything

Category : taking action

Timing is everything.  That’s a phrase that we hear constantly.  But how often do we apply it to our faith?  We know that timing matters when buying a house or building a business.  It also matters in sports (which is why you practice your “timing”).  Even comedians work hard to get the timing of their jokes right.

But again, do we apply that same thought to our faith?

We’re willing to take risks all the time.  We do it when we invest in the stock market.  We do it when we jump out of a plane or go on a roller coaster.  We even do it when we get married or ask someone out on a date.  Do we know if those things will work out?  Of course not.  But when it comes to our faith we slow down and start to say, “wait, I’m not so sure.  How do I know?”

Is it any wonder we freeze in our tracks?

But look at what Jesus says about timing: “And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend” yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”  (Luke 12: 11-12)

Did you catch that?  “Will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”

Not a week before.  Not a month before.  Not even an hour before.

But “at that time.”

Timing is everything.  Even in our faith.

Photo provided by flickr user beggs

are you living the urgent life?

Category : living a life of faith

“Is there anything more important than your soul?” (Mark 8: 37 NLT)

That question, asked by Jesus, haunts me.  Because I’m not living that way.  When I get frustrated by traffic, am I living as if there is nothing more important than my soul?  How about when I’m frustrated because something I want is out of stock at the store?  Or when a business deal goes bad?

The bottom line is I’m not living my life with any urgency.

I’m realizing just how much stuff creeps in and distracts me from what is really urgent.  In one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons, Homer is kicked out of Moe’s Tavern.  By sheer coincidence someone who looks exactly like Homer (but with a British accent) goes into Moe’s.  His name, of course, is Guy Incognito.  Everyone thinks it’s Homer, and so he’s thrown out of the bar where we see Homer walking across the street.

Homer’s reaction is natural.  “Hey that guy looks like me!”  But before he can figure out why he has an identical (apparently British) twin, he sees a dog with a fluffy tail.  And that’s the end of Homer’s urgency.  Yelling, “That dog has a fluffy tail!”  He goes off to chase the dog.

That, my friends, is how most of us live.  We experience the amazing, and sometimes miraculous.  But we’re too busy following dogs with fluffy tails that we completely miss out on what’s truly urgent.   We seem to get distracted by everything.  People we work with, family members, bad drivers, movies, TV.  Everything.

That’s not how I want to live my life.  That’s not what it means to live out a life of faith.  In a letter to the city of Corinth, Paul captured that fact, saying, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9: 26-27)

I want to run that race like everything is on the line.  Because you know what?  Everything is on the line.  There is nothing more important than our soul.

How are you running?

photo provided by flickr user yoppy

are christians wimps?

Category : living a life of faith

When you think of a Christian, what do you think of?  Someone who is brave and bold?  Or someone who is a bit too uptight and self righteous?  Are Christians fearless or fearful?  Are they loved?  Or loathed?

Sadly in many cases it’s the later.  That’s why we get such stereotypes as Christians not being “manly men.”  That somehow living out a life of faith is the easy option.  (Because, as the argument goes, if you “need” God then you just aren’t tough enough to handle reality.)  All of this makes Christians out to be people who are wimps.  That we complain about stuff.  Launch protests over the things that “normal” people like.  Complain about TV and music, and generally do some pretty weird things.

That’s why, when it comes to Hollywood, Christians are more likely to look like Ned Flanders than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And it breaks my heart.  That’s not who Jesus laid out the vision for believers.  It’s not how he said we should be living.

“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you want to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Luke 9: 23-24).

Does that sound like Ned Flanders Christianity to you?

I don’t blame much of the world for viewing Christians as wimpy and whiney.  The truth is many of us are.  We don’t want to take a stand.  We aren’t willing to make sacrifices.  Despite talking a big game, we end up looking a lot like everyone else.

So how do we fix this problem?  The solution isn’t to create a marketing campaign to prove we aren’t wimps.  Or to prove that we do care.  The way to prove the intensity of Christianity is to live it out.  If we actually take to heart what Jesus said about being his followers, perhaps things would look a lot different to the world.  Perhaps we’d be seen as indispensible to our communities, not a nightmare of complaints.  Perhaps when Hollywood wanted to make fun of Christians, they’d find they couldn’t, because everyone could think of a believer who broke the Ned Flanders stereotype.

Image copyright of Matt Groening


praying for people you hate

Category : revolutionary

Nothing is easier in this world than wanting bad things to happen to other people.  We seem to have a natural gift for this.  Even children quickly adopt this attitude, demanding that toys are taken away from “friends” or how quickly teenagers will say, “I wish you were dead.”

Of course it doesn’t get any easier when you’re an adult.  We hate our bosses.  We hate our politicians.  We hate, hate, hate.

In some cases it’s for good reasons.  Our bosses are evil.  Our politicians are corrupt.  And our neighbor likes country music.

The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah to come along – the person who would restore Israel to its former political and military might.  What they got was Jesus.  Jesus had no interest in military or political power.  He knew of something more.  Something that CS Lewis called “the deep magic”.

That deep magic is the transformative power of love.  And yes, I know, that sounds like a terrible cliché.  But stop and think for a moment.  Which would be better: an ex spouse falling off the face of the Earth?  Or having them change so much that they become a positive influence in their child’s life?  Is it better for a horrible boss to be fired?  Or change their ways so that they lead the company forward?  Would you rather your neighbor’s stereo break?  Or that they discover the joys of rock?

Our natural view is to want the “hated enemy” to be punished.  Or at the very least disappear.  But that’s not how the Kingdom operates.  It’s not how the world truly changes.  Jesus was onto something.  Jesus knew that if we all experienced the transformation that comes only through love, the world would experience a revolution.  We wouldn’t need to hate, because we would all benefit from a changed heart.

In one of the most famous lines from Star Wars, we hear that “hate leads to the dark side.”  If hate leads us to build giant, faceless, merciless armies, where does love lead us?

So as hard as it is to pray for our enemies.  Maybe it’s time we really tried to.

photo provided by flickr user livininoblivion

living is more important than knowing

Category : living a life of faith

The Bible is an action oriented book.  It’s all about doing.  God continually tries to teach people about who he is, and how the world works.  (It’s hard to live by action if you don’t know what direction you should head!)  Yet time and again the people God points to as “role models” are the people who take action, even without knowing all the details.

Consider the woman who gives all she has at the Temple.  Jesus tells his disciples that what she does is worth more than all the large donations of the people before her.  She doesn’t know that.  She doesn’t know that God values her donation more than a big one.  All she knows is that God is important to her, and that she wants to honor him, and if giving everything she is what it takes, even if that’s only a few cents, that’s

Or the Good Samaritan.  He was a man who didn’t believe in God.  He didn’t know why there was an injured man laying on the ground.  He just knew he should act.  That was in contrast with all the Jews and religious leaders who walked by, knowing that God cares for the injured and helpless.  The man who acted was the one who didn’t “know better.”

Perhaps the most powerful example was the criminal on the cross next to Jesus.  While everyone else mocked him, he refused.  Out of everyone involved in that day, he’s perhaps the only person who recognized Jesus for who he was – and acted on that belief.  And because of it, he was saved.

Knowledge to God isn’t about how much you know.  It’s not about getting an A+ on a theological test.  It’s about putting what you do know into action.  Each of these people took the little that they knew and applied it.  And in each case God’s Kingdom advanced, and they left their mark on the world.

Knowledge is important, but not at the cost of living out a life of faith.

image provided by flickr user dan taylor