Friday, October 31, 2008

Christian Socialism?

In a recent Bible study I was leading with some college students, we were reviewing Acts 2:42-47, and one student asked, "Does the New Testament support socialism? Should we be socialists?" Anyone familiar with the passage will recall verses 44-45:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

It is easy to see how someone could easily conclude such from this passage. Similarly, could one not also conclude that Jesus was for socialism when he told the young rich man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matt 19:21)? This is a serious question in lieu of the current election that is just days away. Many Christians in America are a priori Republican and actually go as far as to say that one can not be both a Democrat and a Christian. This position (in my view) is very misguided.

By some accounts, the Democratic nominee is a socialist, which has been deemed bad by many Christians and non-Christians alike. But, if one takes Jesus' words and Luke's (from Acts) seriously, he may be left to conclude that if a candidate is promoting socialism, he is the vote Christians should cast their ballot towards. There are a few passages, off the top of my head, that others might refer to to throw a wrench into these arguments.

Most notably would be Jesus' depiction of the Kingdom in Matthew 25:15a, in which he describes the kingdom as a place that is more capitalistic than socialistic. Moreover, it is God himself that distributes capitalistically. Jesus says, "To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability." Apparently, the "Master," who would indisputably be God in this parable, distributes the talents unequally because some are apparently capable of handling more than others (cf. "each according to his ability").

What is also striking about this description of the kingdom is how the Master handles the servants' management of the talents entrusted to them when he returns. To the first two, who invested their talents and consequently doubled the amount, the Master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness" (v. 23). It cannot be overemphasized that the reason the first two were asked to "share in [their] master's happiness," and were praised with, "well done good and faithful servant," was because they had taken responsibility for what they had been given and proactively did something with it. Only as a result did they receive the praise. God expects his servants to be faithful with the gifts and talents he has entrusted them with. This is responsibility, a word hardly whispered in socialist ideology.

Rather than personal responsibility, it is government responsibility one should lean on within socialism. The government is responsible to provide the health care, the food budget, the electric bill, and so on and so forth. Maybe it's stretching, but from the parable, it seems that Jesus is telling us that what God has entrusted to us, we are to be "faithful" with, thus acting responsibly, so as to increase what we have--be it a gift, a talent, money, or what have you. It should not escape the reader that the servant who just hid what he had, did nothing with it, was called wicked and lazy. Apparently, God views negligence of the gifts he's given to his servants as wickedness. Not only so, but he does the exact opposite of socialism, he takes from the one who had little and gave it to the one who had the most! So how does Matthew 25 square with Matthew 19 and Acts 2? Either Scripture contradicts itself--both teaching socialism and capitalism--or there is a third option. Could it be both?

In a recent conversation with a friend, he revealed that he is both a Christian and a Democrat. More specifically, he is an Obama supporter. A strange idea to some, but it is true, there is never a time when we can expressly label any one party, person, or position as "Christian". Bible believing Christians can (and do) fall on both sides of the issue, contrary to popular belief. Nonetheless, we disagreed. As we delved further into the discussion, his reasons for supporting Obama were as follows: (1) he'll bring the troops home; (2) he'll bring change that is needed in Washington; and (3) he will "take care of the poor." The only issue we'll address here is the third point.

After some probing of questions about the third point, it became clear that his worldview shared many characteristics with postmodernism. In particular, what was coming out was his belief that we are all just products of our social construct, that one has no choice in what socioeconomic plain he is born into, and therefore, becomes bound to his social construct, unable to break free. The problem with such a stance is that even one instance in which someone breaks out of his social construct disproves the entire argument. Therefore, we spoke about one of my friends and his twin brother who both were born into poverty, destined to end up in jail, or at the very least, be on the streets their whole lives selling drugs (apparently victims of statistics). However, they broke free ... both of them. Therefore, apparently, it is possible for it to happen!

Fundamentally, our philosophies were at odds. My emphasis is on personal responsibility and his is on victimization. People are just victims (or recipients) of their social construct. They have no choice. Their decisions don't determine their destinies. Their environments do. This is what is sometimes referred to, understandably, as environmental determinism. His final argument centered around saying, "Who's going to take care of the poor and help them meet the bills? Some people are working 40+ hours a week and they still aren't able to meet all of the financial demands. Are we just supposed to say, 'Tough!'?" Therefore, in his view, the government, proposed by Obama, was to step in, take from "the richest Americans" (a figure, by the way that has dropped from $250,000, to $200,000, down to $150,000 in the last two weeks) and redistribute their hard earned money to people who just have no choice in their money making abilities. It sounds a lot like a famous philosopher, "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." So is this the philosophy advocated by Jesus in Matthew 19, by Luke in Acts 2, and yet contradicted by Jesus later in Matthew 25? I propose, no.

Acts 2 advocates socialism only in a very limited sense. First, a fundamental difference between socialism and the portrait of the early Church in Acts 2 is that socialism doesn't allow the individual to determine whether or not he puts in or takes out, the government just takes what it deems necessary. In Acts 2, the people chose to sell everything they owned and give to each as he had need. The power still lied in the people's hands, not in the government's. Acts 2 does not say that the Roman government came in and made them sell everything they own so that they could consolidate it and redistribute it to everyone as they had need. Second, socialism and the portrait of the early church are fundamentally different because it was the body of Christ that was taking care of one another, and later the poor (Gal 2:10). Taking care of the poor has always been the duty of kingdom people (Isa 1:16-17; 58:6-7; Matthew 25:41-42, 45), not government. So why in the world do some Christians want to give away their right to choose to help the poor? The world is never transformed from the outside in but always from the inside out. The kingdom is an inside-out, upside-down kingdom.

So what of Matthew 19 and it's parallel passages in Luke and Mark? Well, it's quite simple really. When Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor, it wasn't an instance in which Jesus was prescribing what every follower thereafter must do. Rather, he told this man to do this because it was his wealth that he valued above all else in the world. Jesus, knowing this, challenged him in the most profound way to surrender everything to God, and in so doing, he would save his life (cf. Matt 16:24-26).

Neither Acts 2 nor Matthew 19 support a view that says that Christians must be socialists. Quite the contrary. They actually put the burden (responsibility) of taking care of one another and the poor on us as kingdom people. It has never been God's plan to transform the world through government. It should actually motivate Christians, especially those who support Obama, to harness the responsibility of taking care of the poor rather than abdicating that responsibility to the government.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reviewing Romans 7:7-21 Part 1

Standing outside on my friend's driveway after a Bible study I had sat in on with a community of eager young believers years ago (nearly a decade now! wow), Zach gave me some encouragement. He was older than I was, about four years or so, and so naturally I looked up to him somewhat, especially in the faith. Honestly, I don't even remember what was going on in my life that made him think of this passage and his understanding of it as encouragement, but I will always recall what he said.

Zach had opened the door to his Mitsubishi 3000GT and was leaning on it as we spoke. He grabbed his Bible and read Romans 7:7-21:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

He said, "Man, when I read this, it reminds me how far I have to go. I mean, if Paul, Paul of all people, struggled with sin like this, then who am I to be so arrogant as to say that I am above him? He said the very things he wanted to do he didn't and I've seen how I do the same. Sin is just going to be with us as long as we're here."

It is true, this passage can be so comforting to us, can't it? We read this from such a spiritual giant as Paul. And not just "Paul," the guy down the street. But THE Apostle Paul! The man who was single-handedly responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire. And sadly, so many stop there, with verse 21. But what else might Paul have to say about this? Not in one of his other epistles, but within the same passage, the same chapter (and the beginning of chapter 8), just a few verses later? First, let's review (briefly) the most common understanding of this passage.

Most people will say that Paul wrote this about himself as he was at the time of writing, that this entire passage is Paul after Christ. This is especially true when you begin reading the final paragraph of this passage when the verbs become present tense. "I am unspiritual," "I do not understand," "for what I want to do," "The evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."

So rightfully, they believe, their conclusion is that Paul struggled this way, we struggle this way, and we are all doomed to "nothing good [living] in [us], that is, in [our] sinful nature." I mean, from that quote alone, we must conclude, since Paul logically links the two, that "me" and "sinful nature" are the same thing. Therefore, nothing good lives in him because his sinful nature is what indwells him. With this understanding, the follower of Jesus Christ can take solace in the fact that his sin is not his fault because he wants to do good but evil is right there with him. Because sin is just a foregone conclusion in the Christian walk and we shouldn't be too harsh on ourselves, right? But, again, what does Paul say...just a few..........verses..........later?

Taken in isolation, this passage is one of the most fantastic proof texts (most often unintentionally) employed by most Christians. But is it possible that if we consider the surrounding context (not going far), Chapters 6 and 8, that our conclusion would be radically different, maybe even transformative?

Friday, August 03, 2007


Howdy blogers (the few that actually read this! :)

I was recently at a scholars and professors conference where people were presenting various papers and essays that were in-process. One of the fellow participants and I were chatting about the very verse that is at the top of this blog. A verse, by the way, that is crucial to the embracing of our identities.

A New Testament scholar, which makes him very familiar with Koine Greek, he told me his preferred interpretation of this pericope. Specifically, he does not like how the NIV translates entos as "within" you. This is no small controversy among many NT scholars. Various people I have read have had problems with this understanding. However, in the Septuagint, entos means "within" in Ps 38:4; 102:1; 108:22, and Isaiah 16:11. In each of these instances, entos is used in reference to something inside the thing being referenced (e.g. "inmost being" Is 16:11; "heart" Ps 108:22). In other words, it is ontological in nature, speaking of the very being of the pronouns spoken of.

The main objection to understanding Luke 17:20-21 (esp. 21) as Jesus saying the kingdom of God is "within" you is due to the pronoun within the prepositional phrase (though some say it is an adverbial phrase) being plural. The alternate translation, that advocated by the translators of the NAS, is "For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."

Those pushing for an "adverbial phrase" do so because then it will necessarily be understood as "in your midst." However, entos is a preposition to be sure. And frankly, some of the objections I've run across are as flimsy as, "Until there is a clear passage that posits the kingdom of God being within someone, we shouldn't understand Luke this way." This is an argumentum ad ignorantiam. It says, "There is no evidence for 'P'. Therefore, Not 'P'" In my view, this position shows the bias of the individual more than a sound argument. Furthermore, is there not ample evidence to understand entos the way the NIV promulgates? The four LXX passages are simply explained away by opponents because they do not reference a plural pronoun. This is not good enough.

Here's a few reasons why I think this understanding of entos in Luke 17:21 is untenable.

(1) It commits the etymological fallacy. It defines the word outside of its context and then inserts said definition into a new context, one in which it wasn't meant to be. It simply makes little to no sense that Jesus would say, "You will not see it by careful observation. You will not say, 'Here it is,' or, 'There it is' for the kingdom of God is in your midst." For if the kingdom of God is "in your midst" that would be observable, the very thing Jesus told them wasn't possible! Furthermore, it was Jesus who said, "My kingdom is not of this world." And it was Jesus who continually contrasted this "kingdom not of this world" with the kingdom(s) of this world. Could it be that the reason the kingdom of God is not of this world is because it resides within "he who does the will of the Father" (Mark 3:35)?

(2) As hinted at in the previous point, it does not take into account the teachings of the rest of Jesus' ministry and those of the NT. The NT is clear in teaching that the Kingdom is an inside-out thing. When Jesus talks with the woman at the well, what does he tell her?

...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. (John 4:14, italics mine)

Jesus believed that when one "drinks of the water" (i.e. believes in the son), his very ontological existence changes, that when he steps into eternity, eternity steps into him. This is what has always made the gospel so powerful--transformation. Consider also Matthew 15, one of Jesus' most pointed teachings on God's passion for our heart transformation rather than mere behavioral transformation. This is not new to Christendom! Paul was no stranger to this inside-out kingdom. He speaks of being transformed from the inside out most notably throughout Romans 6-8, especially 6:1-4. We were raised with Christ for the very reason of being freed from the identity of sin and death and living/walking in this new life of freedom. Paul seems to believe that Christ is in us (Gal 2:20). And what are we to make of Christ in us? If the kingdom cannot be "within us," as some opponents are weary of embracing, then what do we make of Christ in us, who was the very embodiment of the Kingdom. Christ is The Kingdom Identity.

(3) Finally, the understanding of entos as "in the midst of" is untenable because of its very narrow conceptual consideration. The opponents of my proposed translation, and that of the NIV, hold to a literalistic understanding. One opponent demonstrates this effectively when he says, "Evidence that 'the kingdom of God' is a state in the heart of Christians can only include passages with these very words, or passages with closely related synonyms such as 'the kingdom of heaven'" (italics mine). So for this opponent, unless he reads these exact words "The kingdom of God resides in the hearts of men," he will not accept it! Never mind that the very concept of the kingdom of God being within the Christ-follower's heart is replete in Jesus' teachings and those of the NT.

This is why we must be conscientious of our fascination with the original languages. If we're not careful, we will become so fascinated with the individual words that we forget that those words make up sentences that inform their definitions. We have to come to a place where we embrace the kingdom of God as something within us rather than something out there. This theosis that I am arguing for, as I've mentioned, is not new to Christendom. In fact, it is the reality of the kingdom within us that changes our hearts which informs our every decision and action. Without this inward transformation, this heart transplant in which Christ infuses himself within us, we will only be doing behavior modification rather than kingdom living.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Death for Inclusion

One evening during the Christmas break of my senior year of college, while back home visiting, I called my mentor, Todd, to see if he wanted to get together that night. In turn, he invited me to go with him to town, which from where I'm from, is about a fifteen to twenty minute drive. He had to go to Best Buy to look at cameras, so he thought, "We can go do that while we catch up." I agreed and off we went. Not only had Todd invited me to go along, but he had also invited his daughter's boyfriend to come along. You see, he's always had a way of being involved in his daughter's life and the life of whomever she's dating. The three of us chatted on the 20 minute drive up to Best Buy, caught up while there, and then continued our conversation all the way back home. All-in-all, we spent probably an hour and a half on that trip catching up.

There was another time when Todd did something similar during one of my visits home from college. I asked him what he was doing the next day, a Saturday, and whether or not he had time to get together. He said, "Sure. Why don't you come on over tomorrow morning. We can put in this new bird bath my wife and I just bought, and if you don't mind, we can catch up while we're doing that." Therefore, the next day, while putting together a bird bath, setting the foundation, and weeding out the garden it was going in, we talked.

We could simply describe Todd's family as includers. They are disciplers. They get that discipleship doesn't merely happen when we sit down for an hour every week, read the Word, and pray together. Rather, good discipleship occurs within the context of life. I've had the pleasure of watching Todd's house be open every Christmas Eve for anyone to come by and share that evening with he and his family. Some people's lives have been dramatically effected by this simple gesture. There is not a single guy his daughters have ever dated that he has not gotten to know on a deep level and poured into.

One young man that one of his daughters dated for two and a half years, he poured into so much that his role as a mentor and discipler didn't end when they broke up. Todd was the one that took him to check out different colleges he was thinking about attending. How often do you find people who are so kingdom minded that they continue to pour into the lives of their kids' friends even after their kids are no longer friends with them?

Their lives are characterized by inclusion. If we look closely (maybe even generally?), the life of a kingdom person is precisely that--one of inclusion. In fact, Christ died just for that.


Paul, writing to the churches in Ephesus, gives them a simple command-- remember. It is the only command that he gives to them in the first three chapters of the letter. What is it that he wants them to remember? That they were separated from Christ, were excluded from citizenship, and without God and hope in the world. This is one of the most insightful passages in all of Scripture. First, notice that these two words "without God" are actually one word in the original language of the New Testament--atheoi, or "atheist". Granted, the Jews thought that anyone without the God of the Scriptures was an atheist. Setting that aside, is it possible that there is an inextricable link between the atheist and hopelessness? That when God is not a part of our world, hope is lost as well? If this is true, then the converse is also, that when we find the Eternal invading the temporary, we find hope as well. I think it is one of the saddest events when someone has fought against embracing the Life his soul longs for because his mind is unwilling to follow where his soul longs to be.

Now if this were all there was to their story, they would be left "without hope and without God." But for Paul's readers, his Gentile audience, they had "given in", and allowed their souls to carry them to their Creator. He includes this crucial word, "But," into the equation. "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." How often do we allow this truth to sink in to our Kingdom Identities. We are now brought near through the blood of Christ. It seems that more often than not, there is some not so subtle self-hatred within Christianity. It is more popular to wallow in our old identities. To claim how worthless, destitute, broken, and sinful we are, missing this crucial truth, that we were all of these things but are now near to God in Christ Jesus.

At the conclusion of the summer after my senior year of college, I was back at home, sorting through old stuff. You know, the things that you haven't looked at since high school that you thought were worth saving at the time, but now have little to no value to you. In the mix of math and English assignments I couldn't recall writing, I came across an old journal of mine. It was a journal from my junior year that I had to write in during the beginning of English. You see, the first semester of my junior year of high school was when I stepped into eternity with God through Jesus Christ, experiencing Life, wholeness, and hope for the first time. I was zealous for Christ, consuming the Word at an alarming rate, memorizing as much as I could, trying to satiate what my soul had always longed for and finally encountered.

Though I was new to the whole "Christian" thing, my primitive theology was already developing. I looked at what that kid wrote, things I could not recall writing. He seemed so spiritual for a high schooler, writing about how grateful he was that God had saved him, had made him whole. But in the midst of that was this sentence, a sentence that stood in stark contrast to "wholeness," "I'm so unworthy. I mean, I probably sinned 50 times before I even got to school today." Sounds very spiritual, very pious, but so far from what Paul says about our Recovered Kingdom Identities. So unbiblical. To this sentiment, Paul screams out emphatically, "No! You are a new creation! You are no longer separated, excluded, and without hope and God. You are near to Him now through the blood of Christ!" Paul desperately wants us to experience the new life we have in Christ, but we are more comfortable wallowing in self-pity than embracing our new identities. Christ died that we would have peace between ourselves and God. This is the logical progression that Paul establishes.


Remember, the Kingdom is about inclusion. Christ died precisely for that--that we would be included with God in eternity. Christ died to bring peace between two different people groups--Jews and Gentiles. Paul's readers in Ephesus were well aware of the gap that existed between these two groups. In fact, a cursory reading of Paul's epistles shows us how deeply embedded this problem was. Galatians is an entire letter dedicated to the chasm between Jews and Gentiles. Romans consistently contrasts the Jews and Gentiles for the first eleven chapters as Paul disseminates how the Gentiles could possibly be included in the Kingdom, and conversely, how indeed there were natural born Israelites who were not included in the Kingdom! The letters to Corinth at various times address how Jews and Gentiles are to cohabitate with one another in the Kingdom. And most importantly, in our text, Paul screams out emphatically about the peace that Christ's death brings to these groups.

And when we talk about "hostility" between two groups, we often don't think of it as being as serious as what existed between these two. Their hatred ran deep. In Luke's journal of the early church he recalls this story about Paul:

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place." (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, "Away with him!"

Did you catch that? "While they were trying to kill him!" Though the accusation was incorrect, just the thought of a Jew bringing a Gentile into the Temple was grounds for being killed! That's hostility. The very hostility that Christ's death abolished. In Christ, the two groups are now one. In Christ, there is unity rather than division. In Christ, hatred has been replaced with love, malice with service, animosity with reception. In Christ--peace. Christ abolished the "dividing wall" which was the law. Where once the law reigned as an imposing force, Christ's death and resurrected life now liberates. Rather than the law, now there is the Spirit.

The Kingdom is one of inclusion. Where it used to be that one must follow the rigors of the law in order to be in the Kingdom, now there would be one man, brought together through belief in Christ Jesus. And out of that unity, there would finally be reconciliation, for anyone who believes, with God.

Have we learned anything from this feud? I would submit no. Christ died to bring peace among all people groups, all socioeconomic groups, and even between the genders. Yet our feuding and divisions continue between blacks and whites, rich and poor, male and female. Females are still largely downgraded as second class within many church denominations (at least when it comes to leadership). There are even some denominations that have gone through their entire organization and removed every woman out of leadership roles where they may be leading men. Is this peace? Is this the walls of hostility that Christ's death abolished? Rarely do we find a church with members of mixed socioeconomic backgrounds. And, often, when we do, it is by accident rather than design. I've actually had the pleasure of working with a church in St. Paul that has as its very mission building bridges between socioeconomic and racial boundaries. It is strategically placed right on the border of inner city St. Paul and the suburbs. Consequently, we are very effective at bridging the gap. Yet this, I submit, is the exception, not the norm

It's time for the hostility to die. Folks, its time for Christ to be our passion, for unity and peace to be the result. It's time to stop giving people reasons to turn away from Christ, when really, they are turning away from a bad version of the church more than anything. The Kingdom is beautiful. It's inviting. And as Kingdom people, it's up to us to be the includers. Our role is to show people the beauty of the Kingdom, which always looks like Calvary. It always looks like self-sacrificial love demonstrating itself through service. Why is it that when we hear of a church like Mosaic, which has over 80 nationalities represented, our hearts soar? Something resonates with our souls when we hear about the unity in diversity that exists in these situations. Could it be that our hearts recognize what the Kingdom looks like even before our minds?


Paul goes on,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Notice what Paul is doing here with his language. "By which he put to death their hostility." He's not saying this as an aspirational goal. It's not, "By which you should put to death hostility." No, he states it as a foregone conclusion. The cross has abolished their hostility toward one another. Can you see why he's getting so frustrated with them? He's telling them, "That's not who you are anymore! You're not hostile toward one another. Christ has brought peace among you. Therefore, live peacefully with one another." It's not that once you live peacefully with one another that Christ will have brought peace among you, but it is precisely because peace already exists that you live peacefully. Are you followin' me here? Later on, Paul's going to do the same sort of thing. He's going to say, "Now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." It's not that once they live as children of light in the Lord that they will be light in the Lord. Rather, Paul's argument is that because they are already light in the Lord...go live as children of light. In other words, "Embrace your identity!"

Peace is already here, so why don't we see more of it? Could it be that we've become more concerned about ourselves than serving others? I mean when's the last time you went out of your way to pick up a piece of trash on the ground outside of WalMart? Or more importantly, stopped to set aside your crap long enough to serve a friend by listening to her? And I mean really listen. You know, not this stuff where you "listen" while you're working on emails, listening to phone messages, and reorganizing your bookshelf. But listening. Dropping everything to listen. When's the last time you empathized with someone else rather than expected them to empathize with you?

I have this vision you know. Maybe it's crazy or naive. But I see a Kingdom where people include others rather than form their little cliques. Cliques that are more destructive than we'll ever truly know. I see a place where people really find the community, the acceptance their souls long for. Where rather than defining who you are before you come to the group, we let you dictate that to us. Where we extend grace to one another when we screw up because God extends His grace to us when we screw up. Maybe we haven't embraced peace among our communities because we're so egocentric that we're only concerned about ourselves. "If they would just..." "If she would just ______." "If he would stop ________." Maybe we would see more peace among brothers and sisters in Christ, among marriages, among blacks and whites, among socioeconomic groups, if we would stop being so centered on ourselves and who looks like us and start being curious enough to get to know one another, to serve one another.

What does it look like when peace exists within the Kingdom? I submit it looks like Christ on Calvary--self sacrificial love demonstrating itself through service. The cross of Christ brought peace. His death brought inclusion. Within humanity, from one to another, there is peace. His death invited all, rather than just the Jews, to be united together as one body in Christ that would ultimately be united with God. For as Paul said, "Through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." Through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It seems that we are more interested in creating truth than finding it these days. We used to go searching for truth, now we create it on a moments notice. We are more comfortable creating truth than to do the work of discovery. How foolish is that? Truth, by its very nature, cannot be created. If it is created, then that is called lying. Really what it comes down to is this simple phrase, which is abused and pitched in almost any situation, "Well that's your opinion." Or, "That's your truth." What are we communicating when we say this to someone, even to the best of friends? Think on it for a moment.


Really, what this phrase is uncovering is our need to trust. We have a need to trust in something, in someone. It's unexplainable by science. Science can answer the basic questions: What? How? When? Where? but it lacks the ability to answer the "Why?" In order to do this, it must gravitate towards philosophy. "Why" isn't in the realm of science. You would think, after all of our evolution, and especially after the Enlightenment, that science would have moved us past such a primitive question. We shouldn't have this need to know, this need to discover the why of life.

Why did this happen?
Why do good things happen to bad people and bad people happen to good things? (Think on it for a while)
And, while we're on it, if there is a God, then why does He allow all of this evil to continue?

Ultimately, we ask "why" because our souls desperately crave meaning. We are meaning machines. We ascribe meaning to everything, don't we? Even foolish things. Rabbit's feet. Wearing the same pair of socks throughout the football season for good luck. Growing our hair out for the same reason. Wishing upon a star. Walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror. And on and on. Indeed, we have an insatiable need to believe in something, in someone. The Bible talks about believing in the sense of putting one's trust in something or someone. The need for believing in something, in trusting in something or someone is so great that we will believe just about anything, except of course trust in Jesus Christ. Now that would be outlandish! Are you kidding? Jesus?

But ourselves? We'll trust in ourselves. Never mind the fact that we are inundated with information, overrun by its presense, and yet we struggle to know ourselves more than ever before. But I digress. Isn't that what the question at the beginning is all about? Trust? And it communicates to the person you are speaking with that you do not trust them. When we say, "That's your opinion," what we are communicating is that we do not trust the person from whom the information comes. And maybe more importantly, we are communicating that we trust only ourselves. Thus, our quest for truth most often ends with us. We choose to create it, convinced that no one else can be trusted. Trust and truth are intimately connected, and God, is often found in between. Truth can only be discovered when trust is present in the source of the dissiminator of truth.

Have you ever considered that Jesus did not tell us the truth? No, his claim was far more bold than that. He said, "I am the Truth." Is it possible that Truth is embodied in God? That He is its source--where it is found and present? Could it be that when we search for Truth we are simply searching for God? And maybe, when we find God, we find Truth. Truth and trust. Without one, we cannot have the other. We cannot find truth in something we fundamentally do not trust.

Is it possible that one of the greatest stuggles for people desperate to find God and step into the Kingdom through Jesus Christ is the assertion that God cannot be trusted? Maybe, by ascribing to a version of God that makes Him responsible for every action, thought, desire, and word since the beginning of time has actually crippled people's ability to step into the Kingdom. A God who is the orchestrator of evil and suffering, for most whom I have met that have not stepped into the Kingdom, is a God not worth believing in or trusting. Avoiding the theological debate that could ensue, how can we expect people to step into the Kingdom when they do not trust God? Aren't trust and Truth intimately connected? This is not to say that Truth is not found outside of us. Indeed, it is. But as subjective beings, we are unwilling to find Truth in something or someone we do not trust.

Yet our souls will continue to scour the earth for Truth. Our souls will search for it even when our minds will not. And if you haven't discovered yet, our souls will often embrace what our minds are unwilling to accept. How long will we fight our souls, not realizing that our quest for Truth is really just our soul's craving for God?

Thursday, November 23, 2006


How do we see people? And, how often do we even attempt to see people the way that God does? More specifically, how do we see the people that irritate us the most? That friend who continues to make poor choices that result in his persistent state of poverty--spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially. The son that decides that a life without your values is a life well spent? That sister who has the same conversation with you over and over about the guy that she knows and you know she should break up with. (I know, I know, Christians never get irritated with anyone. So, for those of us who are Christian, let's pretend that we sometimes get frustrated.)

At what point do we lose hope for the people we love the most that show no signs of changing trajectory? My experience is sadly showing me more and more often that this state of despair for others exists in the Kingdom more frequently than we would like to admit.

I spoke with another Kingdom person a while ago who may relate with many of us in similar situations. Though she verbally asserted that she had not lost hope in the person we were speaking about, she simultaneously affirmed, "I want to believe them ["Them" and "They" are being used to maintain anonymity], but they have made it such a lifestyle that it's hard for me to accept." Certainly many of us have friends or relatives that we have seen that repeatedly make debilitating choices. At some point, it's easier to give in and assume that change is impossible than to continue to employ the emotional energy required to maintain hope for that person. It hurts when we hold out hope for someone we love just to watch him throw his life away again and again. It tears at our souls, grips our hearts, and crushes our spirits. When hope dissipates, despair sets in. Isn't it great that God never loses hope in humanity?

God's answer for humanity was to be the ultimate relater, to step into human history, take out as many barriers as possible, and engage humanity from a human level. He is the best at empathy, for he emptied himself so that he could take on humanity to give us a glimpse of what the Kingdom Identity looks like if each of us should choose to embrace it. In the midst of His humanity, he demonstrated how it is possible to live in this present reality in light of eternity. Could it be that for those who have stepped into the Kingdom that they too have the ability to live in this present reality in light of eternity, because God has now stepped into them, making such a feat not only possible, but actual? Could it also be that much of our struggles as Kingdom people revolve around our inability to grasp this? If God chose to empty himself, step into human history, and empathize with us from our vantage point, how much more should we empathize with one another due to our Kingdom status?

What seems to happen more often than not is we become the arbiters of morality. We decide that our friends/relatives/roommates need someone to tell them that they are messing up and we are just the person to tell them! We are the ones that should let them in on reality, holding them to a ridiculous standard that even we could not attain to. We should also discuss the motivation behind our judgment. Most often, it seems that our motivation lacks compassion. Instead, it is replaced with self-righteousness couched under the "authenticity" card. We tell them that we "are just being real", which gives us licence (apparently) to say whatever comes to mind--unfiltered. How many hearts have been crushed by the unfiltered words of a reckless parent? "You're worthless!" "You'll never amount to anything!" And even after you begin to do better, all you hear is, "Well, how long before you mess this up?"


Without it our souls drown in despair. How many people have we withheld hope from that desperately needed it? Last week (12.4-12.10.06), a guy that I knew from way back when (about six years ago), I'm told, decided that the gap between who he longed to be and who he actually was, was too great. He tragically ended his life.

The logical end of a life filled with despair and overrun with hopelessness is most often suicide. There is a person that God longs for each of us to be. We know who it is. It tugs at our hearts, ignites our souls with passion, moves us to compassion, drives us to leave the world better than when we entered it, warns us of the person we long to become yet lack the ability to attain on our own. But how often does our identity get defined by our parent's longing of who we should be? Roommate's? Bestfriend's? Husband's, wife's, BF, GF, etc.?

How often have we passed up the opportunity to speak into someone's life and give him hope? How often have we carelessly told someone they will never amount to anything? How often have we passed by the person on the street whose face screamed out for someone to acknowledge their existence? And how long will we close our eyes to the scenery of each soul that God longs to impact through us? When will we pray for His eyes in us and begin to act through the reality He has revealed us to be?

Jesus told the disciples, "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." Prophets waited for centuries to see the Kingdom of God. They waited to hear the good news,

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn ... to bestow on them ... a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Anyone who has stepped into the Kingdom now has Kingdom eyes that have seen what prophets longed for and righteous men dreamed. The metamorphosis that has occured within those of us in the Kingdom is not there simply to terminate on itself but to be extended to all. Will we choose to see with God's eyes looking through us and carry the good news to those who desperately need it? Or will we "let someone else take care of telling" our family, co-workers, and friends? It's part of who you are now as a Kingdom person. You are an includer. Our identity implores us to invite others to step into eternity. Fighting that urge numbs our souls to the pain of a world looking for God and to the lives He has created us to live.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Is it really importance that matters?

Have you ever wondered why it is that the world values what it values? And I do mean the world. Why diamonds? Why perils? Why gold and silver? If it's because they're shiny, we need to figure out more criteria. Is it because they are rare? This has been the most common response. But as I consider what I value and what I should value, I'm drawn back to considering how Jesus redirects our attention away from these rare temporary things to something that is eternal.

I met with one of my students on Friday. We got together and chatted about life at a restaurant in downtown St. Paul. During the course of our two hour conversation, we eventually got to talking about what we value. Most people measure a "good day" or a "bad day" by whether or not they were "productive". Think about those conversations. "How was your day?" You might ask a friend. "It was great!" "Oh really? What made it a 'great!' day?" You quip back. "Well, I got so much done today. I cleaned my house, went to the store, helped my friend move, did some home work, read a book I wanted to read, and went over to a friend's house to watch a movie, after which we went to a restaurant that is open 24 hours and just hung out." She may proudly list off. This all sounds good doesn't it? But what then, do we do, think, and feel when we have a day that is non-productive, in the sense of getting very little accomplished? We then remark, "I had a bad day today."

When we become keenly aware that we no longer want this system for measuring our days is when we have multiple "bad days". In other words, when we have multiple days in which we are largely unproductive. What I discovered during the three weeks following the conclusion of my sophomore year of college is that I too was measuring my life by how productive I was in a day, but this was not a good thing. I had about three straight weeks of being unproductive. I had waited until the end of the year to begin looking for a job and I spent three weeks doing so, only to discover that it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. My logic was that due to the diaspora of college students leaving Manhattan (Kansas that is:) for the summer, certainly there would be vacant jobs. This ended up not being the case. Thus I spent day after day for three straight weeks looking for a job only to discover that they were not available. Thus, once five o'clock rolled around and I could apply at no more jobs, I was on my own. There was no one for me to hang out with because all of my friends had left for the summer. I was left to read. And read I did. I think I read eight books in those three weeks that I was there.

Maybe you are not like me. Maybe you do not love to read books, but instead fill your day with all of the latest reality TV shows, or watching your favorite movies. But no matter how much you love those things, if you do not have people to interact with, eventually, those simply will not do it for you. I discovered that my love for learning and reading books became less and less when I was no longer reading them to learn but simply to fill the chasm of time that existed between me and sleep, just so I could start the process all over again. Can any one relate with this?

The beginning of that summer illuminated for me rather clearly how pervasive this method of measuring a "good day" had become in my life. Thus, it sent me on a quest to discover what I value, and more importantly, what God values. I figured, whatever God values, as His follower, I should value the same.

In the course of discussing this with the student that I was with, he then told me that how he measured a good day was similar. He had determined that if he had gone deeper with a thought about something, about himself, or with someone else in a relationship, then he had a good day. That was his only measurment. The one thing I heard missing from that was how he came to that value. Thus, I challenged him to try to discover what God values and make that his value. He may discover that the two already line up, and maybe not. Nonetheless, "Seek God's values and not your own." I told him.

Once we discover what we value, and measure our lives to that, then we can intentionally have good days every day, as long as we live congruently with who we are, especially when who we are is who God has created us to be. Since that summer, I have rarely had a bad day, only good, great, or fantastic. Does this mean that I am productive everyday? Nope, but then again, I'm not interested in measuring a good day by how productive I am, but by how congruently I have lived with what I say I value. I may spend an entire day building relationships, be it with God or with others, or with both, and that would be a great day. I may spend a day where I build relationships, seek Truth, serve, learn, and lift, and that would be a good day. Any combination of those five things would make a great day.

Today I was reading one of the gospels in the NT and in it Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, as he often was. He was concluding a discussion on wealth from a temporal perspective (i.e. money) and eternal wealth when he said, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." God seems to always be interested in the condition of our hearts more than other's perspectives of us, our wealth, our popularity, or even our happiness. People can think we are awesome, but God measures our lives not on what the world values but on what He values. He wants desperately for all of us to be in relationship with Him and to live in that reality. But it takes us moving that direction and determining that what God values is more important than what the world values.

How do we determine what we value? How do we determine whether or not our values are God's values? It's really quite simple. How do you spend most of your time, even when you are at work? If we follow the rabbit trail of our time, it will lead us to what we value, and what we value will communicate to us what or who is on the thrown of our hearts. It's simple really ... we make time for what's important to us.