Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A comment made by John Coblentz in a sermon last Sunday has had me rethinking my views of mercy and grace... and finding myself drawn closer to the Heart of God. Instead of a passive, "sure, not a problem (you little wretches)", I'm finding grace an invitation back into the loving Presence of Yahweh. I can't quite wrap my puny mind around all the implications, but this thing is a whole lot more animated than I ever thought possible.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable."
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
my sister, Lori... whom I love very much
Sunday, February 8, 2009
in front of the other
a tired step and then another
is this what you want, God?
learn to smile
say "cheese" for the pic
this charade makes me sick
is this called growing, God?
swallow your heart
when it's in your throat
better sit still or rock the boat
is this love, God?
is sense to triumph
and magic die?
so life's a neat, sweet piece of pie?
what do YOU say, God?
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Jesus did indeed bring to earth a Kingdom unlike any kingdom the world had ever seen. Instead of growing as a result of a thirst for power, Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through the humble who find more joy in serving others than being served themselves. His Kingdom knows no borders and considers no one an enemy. The citizens of this Kingdom know no fear and have no need to protect their lives or possessions, for they have a perspective beyond this life. They have a hope that, after death, a glorious resurrection will occur when the Jesus they adore returns to heal the world of the evil that has ravaged it. Jesus’ Kingdom is a bit intangible in the respect that it cannot be confined to the boxes we picture after long centuries of our ambitions and intellects being molded by the empires in which we reside.
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this
world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews:
but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36)
Popularly, among Christians who correctly believe that Jesus called His followers to a different sphere of purpose than the kingdoms and governments, this statement is interpreted to say that Jesus' Kingdom is entirely separate from those "earthly" kingdoms. Thus, following this logic, God must have instituted two realms of functioning on this earth: the earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God. It also follows that God tells His Kingdom subjects to love their enemies and relentlessly show the world His love while also heartlessly overseeing the governments He set up, killing those He thinks deserves to be killed and bestowing the curse of power upon those He thinks deserve it. I question this. If God is Life, does He authorize death? If God is Redemption, bringing order from chaos, does He use chaos to produce order? Might Jesus have been saying that His Kingdom is, not removed from the kingdoms of this world, but run by entirely different methods, a green plant growing up around barren rocks, bringing life and peace to the world God still loves and works to redeem?
I was taught to believe, simultaneously, that Jesus commanded anyone following Him to love those who hate them, and that God ordained the government to protect us from maniac attackers. Is it possible to believe that love is strong enough to overcome evil on a personal basis, but too weak to triumph en masse? This seems oxymoronic to me. I struggle to believe that God is schizophrenic, loving the population of the entire world (John 3:16) and
not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2
yet orchestrating the violence done by either al-Qaida, Israel, or America. Is God’s personality contradictory, teaching us through Jesus that true justice is the recompensing to each person the love and mercy their bearing of His image requires, and yet brandishing the sword of national armies to wreak havoc on the nations that have displeased Him? As a result of Adam and Eve's sin, evil was loosed upon the good earth God had created. Violence and greed quickly appeared. Even then, God did not set up men over one another to restrain it. It was not until Israel demanded a king that God, unwillingly and with many warnings of the result of their choice, set up a ruler over them. This, combined with the proof of God’s nature as exemplified in His incarnation, Jesus Christ, has convinced me that the power and violence inherent in government shows nothing of God’s nature.
What, then, is God’s view of government and how does He expect His followers to relate to, and interact, with it?
Romans 13Is it a stretch to say that the kingdoms and governing systems are ministers of God in the same fashion as weeds and thistles are, things with which we struggle to see how God can be all powerful and yet not be the instigator of? God has limited Himself in that He will not bypass the choice He gave to man. If man chooses destruction, God respects his choice. This does not mean that, in releasing man to the wages of his choice, God is gleefully destroying him. Why, then, are we instructed to revere the persons in judicial positions who take actions so directly negative to the nature and plan of God? We humans are so bent toward our own means that, I believe, God saw our capability to turn the fresh breath of peace and true justice into a hatred for those violating these principles. I well know my own heart’s propensity toward loathing the people who are the cogs in the imperial machine who are killing my brothers and raping my sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jesus reminds us that we are not a rebel movement fueled by hate, only love for humanity.
1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing
authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are
established by God.
2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed
the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon
3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but
for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will
have praise from the same;
4for it is a minister of God to you for
good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for
nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who
5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not
only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
6For because of
this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to
this very thing.
7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is
due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
8Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves
his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Many people are quick to point out that Jesus' Kingdom values and love-your-enemies-command simply would not work on a national or international level, which must mean that God uses governments to preserve peace and restrain evil. What would happen if your country was attacked and you had no army to defend your citizens? Would not your country, along with innocent civilians, be annihilated? Let me ask a question: has the War on Terror, declared by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks, ensured America's safety? Has bombing Iraq and pouring troops into Afghanistan achieved any peace? Has the detaining of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay restrained evildoers? I venture to say that violence always breeds violence. As Jesus told Peter in rebuking him for using violence as an attempt to protect Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52b)
One report I read recently alleged that a terror suspect who had been released from Guantanamo Bay is now a high-ranking al-Qaida mastermind. This is supposed to prove that releasing the man from torture and humiliation was a grave mistake, that violence is required to restrain violence. Imagine, for a moment, that you were a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. Your life has never been touched by the Giver of Life. Upon your release, would you join the ranks of the country who subjected you to the treatment you endured? Would you not fight against them? Rather than restraining evil, the violence done by armies only spawns hatred against the country they represent and creates a greater danger of attack. Even from a political standpoint, the heroes who work toward achieving world peace are the men and women who refuse to harm anyone.
Anyone who witnesses the atrocities committed by governments in the name of peacekeeping and also believes that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God will hear in this passage the voices of the poverty-stricken, grieving, and dying inhabitants of those nations God is supposedly “judging”:
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not
worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the
revealing of the sons of God.
20For the creation was subjected to
futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to
corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth
together until now.
23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having
the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,
waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope;
for who hopes for what he already sees?
25But if we hope for what we
do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
I am amazed beyond words at the privilege I have, through Jesus, to be a part of the restorative, life-giving Kingdom of God. I am eagerly awaiting the day when creation’s hope of complete redemption is glorious reality. Until then, it is the desire of my heart to alleviate the agonies of a groaning creation and to bring the Kingdom to earth by living the action of the heart of God: love.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
The culture into which Jesus was born was one under the oppression of an enemy empire. Jesus' ethnicity subjected Him to all the atrocities committed by men who have fallen to the evil of power and, mistakenly thinking they are pursuing their own self-preservation and pleasure, work out the destructive plans of Satan. Armed soldiers could demand any man or boy to work as his pack horse for a mile, reducing the beautiful creatures upon whom God bestowed the glory of His image to mere objects to be ordered about and exploited. Not very dissimilar to the neighborhood, national, and global scene today, Jesus saw people taking advantage of each other financially, physically, and socially. Jesus saw people heartbroken, physically suffering, and dying as a result of mankind's succumbing to evil. What did Jesus tell these victims of the greed and blindness of others? Jesus called them to love. He called them to see past the actions of the people who posed as enemies and see them as people deserving of love because they, too, were created in His image and worth dying for. He told the man forced to carry a soldier's pack to walk twice the distance required of him. To the person sued for the very clothes on his back, Jesus' admonition was to give additionally his undergarment. Instead of retaliating, Jesus said it was better to allow one's self to be slapped repeatedly rather than slap in return. One of the most beautiful examples of this is found at the scene of Jesus' unjust and illegal arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. In His own humiliation and mistreatment, Jesus healed the severed ear of one of His assailants. Instead of responding in kind, He was relieving the suffering of those causing His.
Jesus' call to love in return for inflicted evil might seem radical and even unjust to our humanity, but I wonder if He might not have been trying to help us see what love always does. Love sees people for who they really are. Whether or not they are puppets of Satan and agents of his evil is irrelevant; people are universally created in the image of God and deserving of love and respect. Love is not deserved or undeserved by actions. The stamp of the image of God on every person demands treatment of respect, regardless of actions that label them as an enemy.
Does Jesus' command to love rather than inflict hurt mean that He ignored evil and did not stand in its way? Not at all! In, fact, he did quite the opposite. Jesus' reason for coming to earth was to defeat the powers of evil and work backwards the effects it holds on humanity and the entire cosmos. His work of redemption is the counter-acting of evil and the effect it has on Creation. The nature of love clashes quite violently with the nature of evil. The two are complete negatives of each other and cannot work together or use each other's methods. A mere refusal to comply with evil or use its methods of retribution is a standing in the landslide of evil and blocking its progressive devastation. Everywhere he walked, Jesus left in His wake people whose lives had been dramatically and wonderfully redeemed from the scars of evil. Those with maimed bodies were made whole, the dead raised, the sinner released from his bondage. Redemption from evil brings the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus was far from passive toward evil. He turned evil on its head and set its prisoners free.
During His ministry here on earth, Jesus apprenticed men for the carrying on of His work upon His glorification and return to heaven. He did not instruct them to take a passive stance toward evil; He empowered them to fight it. He "gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matthew 10:1). The disciples were left with the task of being the hands and feet of Christ in His absence, carrying the message and actions of redemption to the vast regions of the known world. The battle against evil was not fought with the methods employed by evil, but with love. This movement, this revolution, carried no weapons of destruction, but rather an offering of life. Repeatedly, when followers of Jesus were mistreated, they chose to see the blood of their assailants as more valuable than their own lives and comforts. When Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed, they extended forgiveness to their jailer. As a result, the jailer was touched by Love; his life was transformed.
Not only did the disciples of Christ offer love in retribution for the evils committed against them, but also for the evils committed against others. Acts 16 tells the account of Paul and Silas's reaction to a girl in both physical and spiritual bondage. Paul released her from her spiritual bondage, thus reversing the effects of evil on her life and also making her useless to the men to whom she was enslaved. As a result of Paul's active love for this slave girl, he and Silas suffered a beating and a night in prison. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of redeeming someone else from the grip of evil.
Our world today is just as broken, just as bound by evil, as it was in Jesus' day. Our neighbors live in darkness, bound by the lies of the devil. In nearly every house in every community are children, alone, unloved, and abused, suffering the effects of their parents’ bondage. The global slave trade is alive and thriving. Wars and unspeakable atrocities are rampant in numerous countries. Many of the products we Americans thoughtlessly enjoy are bought with the blood, sweat, and tears of those weaker and less fortunate. Are we, as we claim to be followers of Christ, being His hands and feet? Are we combating evil with love? In a world riddled by sin, true love will inevitably be taken advantage of. This is why Jesus told His followers that, if they're living as He lived here on earth, they will suffer persecution. Are we willing to stand in the way of the avalanche of evil? Whether or not the evil is affecting us personally is irrelevant. If we are filled with the love of Jesus, I believe it should be impossible for us to live idly. I believe we, as the temples in which God has chosen to dwell, are called to set captives free from the bondage of evil, even at the expense of our own lives.