Friday, March 29, 2013

Taking a Stand

Today, I am taking a stand.  Some of you will not understand why I am doing this, and some of you will strongly disagree with me.  I hope that if this is you, you will seek answers.  As Jesus said: "ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  I hope that those of you who don't understand why I'm taking this stand will ask me why I have done so, and what convicted me to do so.  Please understand that this is something that I am not doing lightly - it is a subject that I have experienced a complete reversal on my opinion, and it did not come easily.  It came after much thought and prayer and careful examination.  It started with compassion, and this is why I have previously not openly taken this stand: I know for some of you, it must start with compassion.  Until you have experienced this, you can't see past the system of beliefs you have held.  I know this because this was me.  But please understand further that after I experienced this compassion, it didn't end there.  I didn't throw out the Bible verses that you'll quote to me - I sought answers.  I used logic and reasoning.  I searched for historical perspective and details on translation from the original language.  I am not throwing out the Bible verses I know you might quote for me - I haven't crossed them out of my Bible.  I am familiar with them all and I am keeping them them all - but I think there is a different message than the one you have taken away from them.  Even after I came to this conclusion, I did not want to defend it.  I had talked to some people about leadership opportunities at my church, and I was afraid that if I defended this position, these opportunities might be withdrawn from me.  I thought to myself that maybe it would be better to be quiet about this conviction I held and gently call others towards love, and maybe they'd arrive at the conclusion themselves.  Maybe it would be better for me to be a "secret agent" among the ranks of those defending the old systems of belief.  But this did not sit well with my conscience.  I wrestled with the ethics of this decision all week long, and finally God spoke to me.  You're going to laugh, I'm sure, but that's ok: God spoke to me through the lyrics of a Progressive Metal song today.  Don't believe me?  You don't think God can do that?  God speaks through prophets, and He speaks through the lillies of the field, and the sparrow, and even through our enemies - why can't He speak through the lyrics of a Progressive Metal song?  It's funny, too, because this is a favorite band of mine, and I've heard this song many times before.  Lately, I feel like I am hearing things I've heard many times before for the first time, and seeing things I've looked at many times before for the first time.  The song is called Fields of Sorrow by Darkwater:

I fear, that I am losing it all
I hear, there's nothing I can do
On this, path where I've been so long
I seek, for now my soul is torn

An ever waking mind claims their might
And every day for them is a wait for night

(I've seen them) they dwell within the shadows
Outcast by our kind
I've seen them run in fields of sorrow
The forsaken ones

I feel, that I am losing it all
I bleed, for things that I can't control
I've tried, to leave all my fears behind
I am joining the forsaken ones

An ever waking mind claims their might
And every day for them is a wait for night

(I've seen them) they dwell within the shadows
Outcast by our kind
I've seen them run in fields of sorrow
The forsaken ones

In despair they fight for their lives
All because of our sacred delusion

Blinded, I stared at the sun for too long
I cry, how could I ever come clean
I breathe, the poison that's spread everywhere
I know, I don't want to play this scene

An ever waking mind claims their might
And every day for them is a wait for night

(I've seen them) they dwell within the shadows
Outcast by our kind
I've seen them run in fields of sorrow
The forsaken ones

So after wrestling with this all this time, and wondering whether I should take this stand or remain silent, I knew I was hearing an answer in the form of this song.  I knew I must join the forsaken ones.  To do otherwise would go against my convictions, and they have torn at my conscience for far too long.  For those who disagree with me - I hope you will ask, seek, and knock, and above all: love.  For those who have taken this stand openly long ago, I'm sorry it took so long for me to join you openly.  So here I stand, but I have to do it my way.  What can I say - I'm a bit of a rebel...and a little bit of a heretic know who else was a bit of a rebel and a heretic?  Jesus was.  Don't believe me?  Ask!  ;-)  And so I take my stand:
That's right, I am taking a stand for equality.  If you don't understand why, please ask.
Here's the song I was talking about:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Hidden Meaning Behind Peter’s Denial of Jesus

I've been reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and have found it incredibly inspiring.  Watching how God convicted this man of the belief that being a disciple of Jesus is about so much more than following a list of rules for your own personal life, but about actively loving those who are despised and seen as unworthy of love has been affecting my own thinking about the central message of the Bible.  I was so inspired by reading his story that I went to Google and started looking up quotes from things Bonhoeffer has written, and one quote started a train of thought that I wanted to share with you.  First I’ll share my train of thought and then the quote.

I was thinking about Peter’s denial of Jesus.  Now we have to remember that Peter was very close to Jesus – he watched his whole ministry and was considered one of Jesus’ closest friends.  But nevertheless, on the night Jesus was betrayed Jesus told Peter he would deny knowing Jesus 3 times.  Now, I don’t think modern Christians have a healthy respect for this situation.  We did not walk with Jesus, and we did not live through His earthly ministry.  We didn’t watch him give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, heal the sick, and raise the dead.  And yet we think somehow that we will have the strength of character that we will not deny Him.  And this is pride, and the Bible has some warnings about that.  Well, I want to share what I think is a hidden meaning behind the denial, and how modern Christians deny Christ every day.

You see, after Jesus’ resurrection, I think He revealed this hidden meaning behind the denial.  In the book of John, chapter 21, starting at verse 15, Jesus asks Peter three times: “do you love me?”  Each time Peter answers “you know I love you.”  And Jesus’ reply?  “Then feed my lambs.”  I think there is a powerful, convicting message here.  Jesus is telling us here what the opposite of Peter’s denial is.  You see, Jesus left another clue as to how we can follow him in the form of a story he once told.  This story is in Matthew 25:31-46, and is known as the story of the sheep and the goats.  And in this story, the dividing line between the sheep and the goats is not how they keep themselves pure from sin, or how often they attend church, what they wear to their church, or the kind of songs they sing in that church.  The dividing line between the sheep and the goats is how they treated others.  The sheep fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, invited the stranger in, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner.  And in Jesus’ story, He says that the King said to the sheep that whenever they did these things “unto the least of these” they did it unto Him.  I believe that what Jesus is doing here is expounding upon the two great commandments: love God, and love people.  (Matthew 22:37-40)  Victor Hugo seized upon this idea in his Magnum Opus, “Les Miserables”, when he said “to love another person is to see the face of God.”  So if we want to show love to God, we need to seek out ways to show love to the despised, the rejected, the least, the lost, and the lonely.  And to not do these things is to deny Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, in his book “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).

Now if you would indulge me a bit longer, I believe there is a powerful, and very convicting message here that I would like to share in a bit more of a direct way.  Because I believe that this quote points out something I think we have missed: if your idea of Jesus/God takes away the active love of his character that sought out those who were despised, rejected, lost, lonely, and regarded as the least, and if your idea takes away from the how He served and showed love to them and commanded us to do the same, then you are not worshipping Jesus/God – you are worshiping an idol.  You see, I think there is a prevailing lie that has been portrayed that the Christian life is about what you don’t do.  People who believe this lie believe that they are righteous because they are sexually pure (and because they don’t hang out with people who aren’t), and because they don’t listen to rock music (or hang out with people who do), and because they don’t cuss (or hang out with people who do).  But that’s a lie – don’t believe it.  Because following the law is worthless.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the Apostle Paul:

But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law."

No, following the law is not the goal of life, nor is it what we should strive for.  The goal of life, for a follower of Jesus, is to love.  And when we love with the love of Jesus – the love that seeks out ways to serve those who are despised, those who are rejected, the least, the lost, and the lonely – everything else will fall into place.  Because when you truly love one another, anything that presents an obstacle to that love will be broken down.  Now if you’ll indulge me a bit longer, I’d like to apply some more of Paul’s words to our modern day and age in a paraphrased version of I Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I avoided all forms of secular music and only listened to “Christian” music, and if I played in a “Christian” band, and filled the sanctuary of my church with beautiful worship music that brought the members to tears every Sunday, people might say I was a great witness to Christ; but if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I lived a life of sexual purity, avoiding all forms of sexual sin including pornography and any form of lust, and if I studied theology in a Christian school and even went on to seminary and earned a master’s degree and even a doctorate, and if I went on from there to become a respected theologian who pastored a church of thousands, people might say I was a great witness to Christ; but if I didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  And even if I gave everything I had to the poor and sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Is this beginning to make you feel a little worried?  I hope it is, because there’s more.  In my childhood I had the impression that the age of prophecy is done – any prophecy that occurred was in the past, and there is no prophecy for today.  But lately I have come to the belief that God does, in fact, speak to us in ways that can be prophetic.  It may not be in the way we imagine it, but He does.  And I believe that God can speak through people – even people like me – if they would but step out in faith, take the risk and speak.  So I am taking a big risk, because I believe there is a word of prophecy for the church in America.

The Word of the Lord to the American Church
Hear, O America: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  (Deut. 6:4)  A new commandment I have given you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  (John 13:34)  Whoever does not love does not know me, because I am love.  (I John 4:8)  But you have turned your backs on me and have refused to return.  Even though I diligently taught you, you would not receive instruction or obey.  You have set up your abominable idols right in my own Church, defiling it.  (Jeremiah32:33-34) 

Though I have repeatedly shown you that I wish for you to care for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-11, Deuteronomy 15:11, Psalm 82:3-4, Proverbs14:31, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Proverbs 29:7, Proverbs 31:8, Isaiah1:17, Isaiah 1:23, Isaiah 10:1-2, Jeremiah 22:13-17, Ezekiel 16:49, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:20-26, Luke 6:38), and though I have told you that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10), and though I have told you that you cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), you have worshiped at the altar of the idol of wealth, offering up unto it sacrifices in the form of special tax breaks, exemptions, and stimulus packages, praying that this idol would trickle down blessings upon you.

Though I have told you that it is better to take refuge in me than in humans (Psalm 118:8); though I have told you not to put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3); and though I have told you that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), you have worshiped at the altar of violence, trusting in your own strength to protect you.

I have repeatedly told you not to judge (Matthew7:1-5, Luke 6:37, John 7:24, James 4:11-12, Romans 2:1-3, Ephesians 4:29, Romans 14:1-3, John 8:7, Luke 6:31) but to love one another (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, Hebrews 13:1, Romans 13:10, I John 4:11, I Peter 4:8), even to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), and even to the point of laying down your own life (John 15:13), and I've even said unto you (in case this message was not clear enough):
"If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (I John 3:15)

And though I have said all these things, you have worshiped at the altar of self-righteousness and judged your brother, who is my beloved, and you’ve even caused little ones who believe in me to stumble in this (Mark 9:42).

Therefore, since you have not taken my invitation, I will send my servants to the street corners to invite to the banquet anyone they find, and my wedding hall will be filled with guests.  (Matthew 22:9-10)  I will exalt the humble and humble the exalted.  (Matthew 23:13, Luke 14:11, 1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10)  I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you stark naked.  (Ezekiel16:39)  So the last will be first and the first will be last.  (Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31)

To those who have felt despised and rejected; to the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely: I see how the world has hated you, but know that it has hated me before it hated you.  (John 15:18)  I know what it’s like to be despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces.  (Isaiah 53:3)  But I hear my people when they call to me for help.  I will rescue you from all your troubles.  I am close to the brokenhearted; I rescue those whose spirits are crushed.  (Psalms 34:17-18)  Be patient, because I am not slow in keeping my promise, as some understand slowness.  (2 Peter 3:9)  And know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)  You are my beloved – abide in me and I will abide in you.  (John 15:4)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (I Peter 3:8-12)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Woe unto whom?

Looking at his disciples, he said:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Luke 6:20-26

Jesus said it, not me! And you know what, this passage makes me feel worried - does it make you feel worried? Because here's the thing: while I don't consider myself rich in terms of American wealth, I do consider myself rich in terms of worldwide wealth. I realize full well that 99% of Americans are the 1%-ers of the world. So this passage worries me! Is there any comfort for me? Well, let's read further in the passage:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Luke 6:38

This passage is SO important for American Christians today. I am afraid we have lost sight of this passage, and we are not living by faith that Jesus will keep this promise. And this isn't the only place Jesus addresses riches and poverty - remember the rich man who asked Jesus what he must do to be saved? I like the Mark version of this story (chapter 10) a lot because it says in verse 21: "Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him." But then what does Jesus say? He says the rich man must sell ALL his possessions and give the money to the poor and follow him! ALL?!! The man's face fell, as I'm sure yours or mine would. How can we even live if we sell everything and give the money to the poor? We'll be out on the streets, right? But what else did Jesus say? Follow him. Exactly what the 12 disciples were doing, and they were provided for, right? And in the Luke 6 passage Jesus tells us that if we give, the measure we use will be measured unto us! If the rich man had given everything he owned, he would have received so much more in return!