One of the biggest stumbling blocks in following the teachings of Jesus is our tendency to do whatever we want, and to then convince ourselves that Jesus supports our agenda. This is especially true when it comes to His peace teachings. I’ve talked to church leaders who really want to speak the truth about peace but are afraid of repercussions from people in their congregations who are either in the military or related to someone in the military. There are a couple of things I’ve learned from thinking through this issue. The first is that we can love and respect people without agreeing with all of the choices they make. Many Christians do join the military, or support going to war, but I believe that there are much more Jesus-focused paths that we can take. The second is that none of us is perfect at following Jesus but we do need to be honest with ourselves about what He taught. He is the Prince of Peace and His teachings on this topic are incredibly clear, so if for some reason we don’t want to follow Him in all situations, let’s just admit that and not pretend that He didn’t actually say what He said.
My prayer for all Christians is that we’d be brave enough to take Jesus seriously and to do what He asks us to do – live peacefully by loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and doing good to those who hate us, but that will only be possible if we put our trust in God and know that Jesus’ way of peace isn’t intended to be a success strategy, it’s a love strategy. Or perhaps instead of allowing our culture to define “success” for us, we Christians need to redefine it as following Jesus well by loving all people.
While I am on hiatus I highly recommend that you go over to RedLetterChristians for your daily dose of living Christ’s words in your life. I think my blog here actually precedes them but being a considerably size org they do a much better job than I ever could. Click on the logo above to go there. They ask for a donation but it is absolutely not needed to get onto their frequent posts. It is inspiring to see all the examples of those who read Christ’s words and actually take them to heart. When I come back here I hope to do a better job of accentuating the positive as they do.
I got to thinking the other day about how I am different than I was ten years ago and especially twenty years ago. Although much is the same a lot has also changed in my life in those years. I have a friend at the soup kitchen where I volunteer who proudly wears a T-shirt that says “Thank God, I am not the man I used to be”. He is a recovering drug addict and one of my dearest friends. I too should be wearing that shirt as I am not the man I used to be either. Thank the Lord I was never involved in drugs, other than a thirty-year addition to tobacco which was bad enough, but I have changed a lot in other areas. Mostly for the good I think. Sometime, well really often times, I get impatient with others who call themselves Christians but don’t act like it. I can’t understand why they don’t understand the words of Jesus like I do. Why do they still stubbornly cling to words of man instead of their creator?
Recently I posted part of Rachel Held Evans who is fellow Christian blogger, much more famous than I am, that managed to get an interview with Shane Claiborne. Here is part of what he had to say regarding how we all are, or at least should be, constantly growing into what it means to be a Christian:
I do think it’s important to keep in mind that conversion is not just about a moment; it’s about a movement, about continually changing into the people that God has made us to be. So we need to have the same sort of patience with one another that God has with us as we move through that process. Sometimes, when I speak at a mega-church or something, someone will ask, “How do you come here, after being in Iraq or Calcutta? How do you speak into a culture like this with love?” And it’s because I see myself in the mirror! We’re all in process and that should give us great patience and peace with one another.
….That and the fact that the Bible is full of really messed-up people! Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist, for example. David was a womanizer who pretty much broke every command there was in two chapters of the Bible. But that’s part of the story—that God uses not only our gifts, but also our brokenness and our history. Desmond Tutu says that the love of God is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. What a beautiful reminder that we should should never write anyone off.
Conversion is not as many seem to believe, just about a moment in time. It is really about a lifetime change. We all take baby steps in the beginning and then our stride increases as we grow in life. Some as Shane points out above start out more screwed up than others but we must all realize that each of us no matter what we think, are at various stages of growth.
Shane Claiborne is a young man, at least by my standards, who is a visionary leader of the Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia and helps birth similar communities around the world. He is also a prolific author. If you have yet to pick up one of his books I pray that you will do so soon. His words just might change your life.
”Can you imagine our Savior dying for all of us, yet we have to argue over just whether he dident die for us personally, and not for you. Sometimes you wonder if His lessons of sacrifice and devotion was pretty near lost on a lot of us.” – Will Rogers, 7 April 1935
Those who follow my at my other blog at RJs Corner know that I am an avid Will Rogers fan. I quote him often on that site. But, when I came across this quote I knew it was time for him to appear on Red Letter Living. Will was not a very religious man; he spent little time talking about that but he did get it down with this quote. Since the quote aligns with my current study of universal salvation it belongs here.
I don’t think that Will is the only person who might be an agnostic to think about the idea of God’s grace. Will is troubled here with the idea that Jesus’ death was not for all. Most religions today believe that one of the reasons for Jesus coming to earth was to satisfy God’s wrath. That is God had to punish someone for the world not turning out as he had wished. So, he took on a human form as Jesus and allowed himself to be killed for our sakes.
Will Rogers here is lamenting the fact that so many who call themselves religious seemed to think , even in Will’s day, that Jesus’ sacrificial death was meant for them only and excluded those who saw religious things differently than they do. As Will said I think that the real messages of sacrifice and devotion is pretty much lost on a lot of us. We just don’t seem to get it that God loves each and every one of us and not just a select few.
Did Jesus put conditions on his sacrificial love for us? That is one of the primary things to think about when it comes to universal salvation.
I am going to jump off the series of posts about God’s grace for a quick aside.
It amazes me how God can have agape love for us humans. He puts no conditions on his love and he loves each and every one of us. Knowing that God’s love for me is not dependent on me is reassuring indeed. It also amazes me how we Christians seem to put so many conditions on accepting that love!
I was recently vegging out for a few minutes with TV and came across a series that documents a Hutterite community. I didn’t get much info about it so I went to Wikipedia to try to learn a little more. Hutterites are Anabaptist in nature. They are similar to the Amish and Mennonites in that regard. It was obvious from the TV show that the male is the dominant figure in the family; women are very secondary to them but I’m getting off topic here.
The scene I watched was of a young, probably twenty-something, girl trying to get permission from her mother to go to an out-of-town wedding. The mother went on and on about how she didn’t like that idea as the girl might do something to jeopardize her upcoming baptism. She wanted reassurances that the daughter would not do anything “crazy” while she was gone. She just didn’t seem to trust her daughter when she said she would “behave”. Eventually mom gave in and off the daughter went. That is all I saw so I don’t really know if the daughter “behaved” or not.
It seems strange to me to put some conditions on being baptized and given my Catholic roots it is also strange that a twenty year old is still unbaptized. I am not trying to judge the folks on the TV show or even the Hutterites in general. Generally I am more aligned with Anabaptists than most other versions of church. They, unlike many other churches try to live out their faith in very discrete ways.
To illustrate another story about conditions that are placed on God’s grace by the church we need only go to the first stories out about the new Pope Francis. It is said that he chastised priests under him for refusing to baptize children born out of wedlock brought to them. Thank heavens (literally) that a future pope set the priests straight in this instance.
The point of this discussion is more about us putting conditions on getting God’s love when he puts none on giving it. To me baptism is one of the most fundamental ways of accepting God’s love. To say that you have to earn God’s grace by behaving in a certain manner seems strange to me, especially when it comes to baptism.
I am well aware that there are Christians who believe that all of the bible is the words of Jesus and must be taken literally and totally without the possibility of error in every regard. On my very first post on this blog almost four years ago I was confronted by this belief by a person rather high up in the Lutheran denominations. I have always been a person who asks questions about everything. Always asking questions has gotten me in trouble throughout my life but never more so than in the secular realm. When I study the bible I just find too many inconsistencies in the stories and especially about the spirit of God to believe it to be from God’s lips that is if he actually has lips. As I have evolved I have come to take the bible as inspired stories about the history and yes even the myth of what we now call Christianity. The bible contains many valuable messages but it is just not intended to always be taken literally.
When I came across the blog by Rachel Held Evans I discovered a young kindred spirit. She, like me, is not afraid to ask “why” even to the biblical text. She learned much earlier in her life than I that in mine that the bible contains valuable stories about Jesus and God but was not dictated, either literally or otherwise, by God. Here is an excerpt from one of her postings.
The epistles were never meant to be interpreted and applied as universal law. Rather, they provide us with an instructive and inspired glimpse into how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by real people, in real communities, facing real challenges. It is not the details found in the letters that we should seek to imitate, but rather the attitudes. The details (head coverings, circumcision, meat offered to idols, widow management, hair length, etc.) are rarely timeless, but the attitudes (“as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” “do not cause your brother to stumble,” “avoid the appearance of evil”) provide guidelines that can instruct us as Christians today. So the questions we should be asking ourselves today are not: Should we eat meat offered to idols?, or Should women wear head coverings?, but rather, How can we find peace when Christians feel convicted in different ways? and How do we avoid unnecessarily offending others by our appearance?
When read this way, I am constantly impressed by the degree to which these early Christians were willing to sacrifice beliefs and traditions they held dear for the sake of love and for the sake of advancing the gospel. Such a reading does not devalue scripture, but rather honors it for what it is, not what we try to make it.
From Rachel Held Evans via About The Epistles…..
Rachel is a very prolific blogger! I don’t know how she keeps up the multi-day postings and I am a person who has four blogs running. She is on my daily read list and I have just ordered her first book entitled Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.
I could not have said it better so I will leave her words above to stand on their own.
Many of us Christians never seem to give up our childhood views of just who God is. We think of him as that white bearded guy up in heaven. True, we do add some things to this vision as we get older we see him as that guy who spends his day saying “You go to heaven; you go to hell”. We often view Jesus in the same childhood comprehension. Jesus is that long-haired, brown-bearded guy who sits around all day playing with sheep and always has children gathered around him.
When we grow in wisdom of him and finally come to see God as the light within each of us then we discover that one of the reasons Jesus came was to teach us how to live as God intended. As we study Jesus’ words the real Jesus emerges and our childhood images fade into the background. Many churches today are stuck in the childhood Jesus mode and as a result never take the Christian life seriously. As cited in the Lord’s Prayer he intends us to do our part in making his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Contrary to what many current church denominations believe our task is not to just make an altar-call and then sit back and wait to go to heaven! While we are on this earth we have a many other daily, even hourly, responsibilities.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. – 1 Corinthians 13:11
God never intends us to remain as children in our knowledge of him. He expects us to study his word and get to know him better as we become men and women. Yes our trust in Jesus should remain childlike but our knowledge of him and his purpose for coming to us should grow as we age. When we fixate on one or even a few particular verses found in the Bible and ignore all the others we have a very limited view of God. That is definitely not what he intends.
I am again an Apple computer guy so when I saw recently that Apple had won a court case against Samsung on their using things that Apple has patents on the thought of for the title above came quickly to mind. Many Christians seem to think that they have exclusive rights to who God is and what we are to believe about him. I believe I can say with some certainty that no one has exclusive patent rights on God.
When I was a Catholic in my early years the nuns and priests that taught me about God insisted that only Catholics would go to heaven. All other types of Christians including Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and the like and especially including all those “other” type religions will not be in heaven. Even as a very young person this proclamation bothered me. Why would God send Johnny, who was my best friend but not a Catholic, to hell? Johnny was probably the most caring person I knew so it pained me that he would spend an eternity in unquenchable fires!
Since those times back in the 1950’s Catholics have admitted, although very quietly it seems, that maybe others who believe in Jesus just might also earn heaven but still those “others” are bound for hell. Of course almost all of the different denominations think they alone have an exclusive channel to God. Everyone else only have a fuzzy vision of who God really is. As an adult in a Lutheran Bible study was told that Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists and everyone maybe even those Catholics are not praying to the same God we were. Their god was indeed a false god. This practice of each religious group excluding all the others has always troubled me.
I personally believe that everyone has access to the same God. My muslim brothers are praying to the same God as I am. Jesus said no one gets to heaven except through me but he didn’t say he wouldn’t let other religions come through him. Jesus is the gate-keeper but he didn’t say he was going to reject those who come to him on different paths. Jesus was very much Jewish in his religious affiliation. If we want to exclude every religion that came after Jesus then we would also have to question whether Christians are allowed in heaven as that religious body never existed in his time.
I think it is pompous at best and deadly wrong at its worst to say I have exclusive rights to God. God is who he is and no one can ever fully fathom what is in his heart. We all pray to the same God but with different man-made sets of beliefs. Who is to say that other religions who happened to come after Jesus are not from God? Please don’t insist that they are not because they are not mentioned in the Christian Bible. I just don’t buy that logic anymore….
It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.
The quote above seems pretty radical! It must be from one of those new age thinkers! Guess again. It was from the Author of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy in 1894. Although he says it much more bluntly than I ever would I can’t say I disagree with most of it.
The Nicene Creed which was authored under the Roman ruler Constantine is mostly what we are supposed to believe about Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is what Jesus himself told us how we are supposed act if we are his followers. Tolstoy saw that the church even during his time put much more energy in maintaining man-made beliefs about Jesus rather than just following Him. Not a lot has changed in that regard. I think almost all clergy are well-meaning men who have simply bought into a tilted system based on beliefs about Jesus instead of lessons from Jesus.
Tony Jones a hundred years later also speaks of this in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier
In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls-there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang-the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit. There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million. Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. In fact, we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is-or at least it’s quickly becoming so.
Churches are like pay-phones? That is a very interesting analogy. God is not dead. It is only the man-made institution built in his name that is on life support. I have hopes that this new emergent movement will prove to be a worthy substitute for fast dwindling church structures of today. We have to return to doing what Jesus says….
This is another aside post that is somewhat linked to the previous one. In that post I discussed how I replied to some fellow Christians Facebook comments about how it was not the government’s job to take care of the poor. These Christians admitted, but it seems not many of them do, that it is the church’s job to do that. I then went on to agree with them fully. I’m sure they were surprised with my agreement. But I then went on to say since the church presently only takes care of about three percent of the need the government must step in to fill this enormous gap. At the conclusion of that post I mentioned that I hope I planted a small thought in their hearts.
That got me to thinking about all the arguments and such between our political parties. Each party seems to think that somehow they can turn their advocate around if they could just win this discussion or make that particular statement. They think that somehow they can cause a person to flip on a dime with their world views.
This type of logic is not limited to politics; it also occurs frequently in our cross-denominational struggles with the Christian church. There are currently about 39,000 different versions of Christianity out there. Each one is convinced that they are right and everyone else just has it wrong in one way or another. Many are convinced if they can just quote the right Bible verse then their opponents will give up their current way of being a Christian and join them.
Disregarding the overall premise of these examples the logic of a quick “win” is, at least in my mind a faulty conclusion. Once a person has it in his/her mind that their party/church/way of life is the correct one it is almost impossible to get them to change their minds. The only thing that we can hope to do is to give them a little nudge in the direction you want them to head. Then over the years enough nudges might get them to re-think what the previously thought to be untrue.
You can’t change a Tea Party Republican into a moderate one let alone a Democrat by winning one or even many arguments. But if you can put a small thought in their mind that their current way of thinking lacks something maybe eventually they will eventually come around. If you can plant a seed in a Christian who believes that his version of Christianity is without error maybe she/he will eventually look at those words of Jesus in a different light than the spin they have been taught.
Except for a few very very rare occurrences these things just don’t happen overnight. They take a long stream of nudges to make them happen. When we realize that fact we will treat our opponents, although we will come to know that they are not really opponents, in a different light. Remember the secret to this is nudges not insults or rants….