Saturday, May 20, 2017

Politics & Prostitutes

Ronald Reagan once quipped, “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

Quite frankly, this is an insult to prostitutes everywhere.

Is it any wonder Jesus had no use for politics, religious or secular? Yet politicians were certainly interested in Him—all for selfish reasons of course, just like today.

Matthew tells us that a group of politicians (“the chief priests and the elders”) confronted Jesus regarding the matter of authority (21:23). They wanted to know who gave Him the right to teach and preach; the implication being, He had no authority since they hadn’t conferred it upon Him.

Politics is always about power.

So Jesus asked them a simple question: The prophet, John the Baptist—did you give him authority or did God? Fearing the crowd, the politicians refused to answer.

Then Jesus dropped a truth bomb: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Why would Jesus say such a thing? Is He trying to embarrass or anger them? No, though He surely knew He would do both. Rather, He is doing what He always does—speaking truth.

The leaders already confessed that they did not listen to the voice of God as it fell from the lips of the prophet. But Jesus says prostitutes and tax collectors did. They listened and they believed.

We learn from this that entrance into Jesus’ kingdom has absolutely nothing to do with one’s social status, gender, wealth, race or any other worldly identifier or achievement.

It’s a kingdom of pure grace.

As such, the kingdom of God—which is in the world but not from it—is antithetical to and transcendent over all earthly domains. And Jesus would like for you to be part of it, to follow Him in His Way.

Would you seriously consider it?  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Prince & The President

Then the devil took Him up and revealed to Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give You the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to You if You will worship me.” ~Luke 4:5-7

Without apology I imbibe as little news as possible. Nevertheless, this trickled in last week.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday meant to allow churches and other religious organizations to become more active politically, though the actual implications of the document appeared limited. . . .

[Trump said] “We are giving our churches their voices back and we are giving them back in the highest form."

Since reading this, I’ve had two nagging trains of thought—theological more than political.

Trump is quoted above as saying “we” (I don’t know if this is a magisterial we or if there’s a Republican in his pocket) “are giving churches their voices back . . .” 

As a Christ-follower this raises very serious questions.

First there’s a matter of fact: Were churches silenced prior to Trump?

Really?

Then there’s a matter of faith: Who gives the church her voice—the State?

Roll that around awhile…

Let’s board my second thought-train now.

Greg Boyd asks, “If Jesus viewed the desire to acquire political power to be a temptation of the devil, why do so many American Christians fight to acquire as much of this political power as they can?” (Keith Giles, Jesus Untangled, p. 16)

That’s a good question, Greg!

A few hundred years after Jesus, the church was seduced with secular power and she’s been hooked ever since.

Politics is the church’s worst problem. It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the prince of this world. ~Jacques Ellul

Dear reader, the devil’s promises are hallucinogenic poison.  

So just say “No.” Jesus did.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

God & Kenny Wallace

Last week Shelly and I enjoyed a baseball game at Busch Stadium (aka, “Baseball Heaven”) with some dear friends of ours.

Midway through the game, a gentleman struck up a conversation with my pal and we began to talk shop about Cardinals baseball. (Yes, I butted in because I’m friendly like that.)

Before long the game got exciting and we were all reveling in the thrill of victory. It was a glorious day, dear reader!

As we were leaving the parking garage my friend said, “Man, that guy looked familiar. It was his mannerisms and the way he talked. I feel like I’ve seen him before…”

A few days later he realized who it was: NASCAR driver, Kenny Wallace.

(After a walk-off Grand Slam, a jubilant Kenny shot this video. If you watch without blinking you can almost see us behind him and his wife.)

What?

I was yelling, laughing, and high-fiving with Kenny Wallace? I hadn’t a clue. But how could I?   

I’ve heard of him but I don’t follow NASCAR. I’d never seen his face. I wasn’t expecting to run into a race car driver. It wasn’t like he was carrying a sign or something. Kenny was incognito.

So how could I possibly have known?

Naturally, such an encounter makes one think.

My mind went to C.S. Lewis.

We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. (Mere Christianity, p. 50)

My premise is this: It’s entirely possible to meaningfully interact and connect with another person whom one does not actually know.

If this is possible with a human person, is it reasonable to think it’s possible with a Divine one?

It seems plausible, in fact it appears highly likely, that one could relationally experience God but not truly know who He is.

Of course, there’s a big difference between Kenny and us and God and us.

I didn’t know Kenny and Kenny didn’t know me. (I’d imagine if Kenny reads this he’ll think: “I didn’t know that was Steve Griffin!”)

But God knows the one who doesn’t know Him—and He loves this person immensely. Upon what levels does God mercifully and lovingly relate to those who sincerely, yet ignorantly, interact with Him?

Jesus is our only hope of salvation. He’s the only Way to the Father. But is it possible that the narrow way is wider than it appears?

I know some will label me a heretic for having, much less expressing such ruminations.

So…

If you find me burned at a stake, don’t believe the suicide note.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Moral Injury

Last week I pointed out that over the last 30 years or so, the US has killed around 3,000,000 people in the Middle East. Now, I’d like for us to think about what we’re doing to our own sons and daughters. 

A Vietnam veteran and dear brother in Christ shared this affecting video with me a couple of weeks ago.


The soldiers…they just wanna go home.

It’s a great line delivered by a great actor. And I’m sure it’s very true.

Yet many of them don’t get what they want. They don’t go home.

Thankfully, most of them do. But here’s the thing: the soldier who goes home is not the soldier who left home.

There are physical wounds. There are mental wounds. Some heal, some don’t.

And then there’s suicide.

We may quibble over how many and why veterans are killing themselves. Still, it’s alarming that,

Suicide rates within the veteran population often were double and sometimes triple the civilian suicide rate in several states. . . . Almost one out of every five suicides committed nationally is a veteran. . . [yet] veterans make up only about 10 percent of the adult population in the United States.

Something’s wrong.

That “something” is what Robert Meagher calls moral injury.

“Moral injury” has most commonly come to mean the transgression, the violation, of what is right, what one has long held to be sacred—a core belief or moral code—and thus wounding or, in the extreme, mortally wounding the psyche, soul, or one’s humanity. (Killing From The Inside Out, p. 4)

Meagher’s thesis is many war veterans are morally injured. They suffer not only from what they’ve seen, but also from what they’ve done.

He shares a scribbled note from Noah Pierce, a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Mom, I am so sorry. My life has been hell . . . I am freeing myself from the desert once and for all. . . . I am not a good person. I have done bad things. I have taken lives. Now it’s time to take mine.

Noah then shot himself in the head.

Two questions, dear reader:

1) Why is the US killing 3,000,000 people in the Middle East?

2) What’s it doing to those doing the killing?

Think about it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Killing For Peace

Making war has apparently become as addictive to American political leaders as crack cocaine or heroin. ~Jonathan Shay 

War is big business and under our new businessman-in-chief, business is absolutely booming.


 Using poorly paid professional soldiers for profit is old hat. We all know this.

But did you know that the US has been waging war for 222 out of the last 239 years?1

Please, take a moment. Let that sink in.

Here’s something else to contemplate.

The Washington DC-based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) released a landmark study [in April of 2015] concluding that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the 9/11 attacks is at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as 2 million. . . . In Iraq alone, the US-led war from 1991 to 2003 killed 1.9 million Iraqis; then from 2003 onwards around 1 million: totaling just under 3 million Iraqis dead over two decades.2

So, over the past 3 decades the US has slaughtered around 3,000,000 people in the Middle East—I’m guessing the vast majority of them civilian.

Again, take a moment. Let that really sink in.

Dear reader, this is the way of empire. It’s the way of “the thief” who comes to kill and destroy (John 10:10).

This is not the Way of Jesus who comes to give abundant life.

Here’s my concern…

How can people who claim to follow Jesus support the savagery of empire?

Evangelicals who self-identify as “pro-life” and yet shamelessly vote for warmongering politicians are deluding themselves. They may be anti-abortion but they’re certainly not pro-life.

I confess that I was once among this crowd—the “Christian Right.” But as I walk with Christ (I speak only of my own walk, not yours) He is leading me in a different Way.    

Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). 

Yes, and they’ll be called lots of other things too.

Even so, killing our way to peace doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

__________________________


Friday, April 7, 2017

"Just War" Or Just War?

Please note: These thoughts (and others) were first published on September 13, 2013 (see here). So, no, I’m not picking on Trump. I’m simply observing that some things never change.

Dear reader, the appetite for war is voracious.

**************************

Something to consider: How would we Americans feel if the top leaders of a country (a country we never threatened or attacked) assaulted us with missiles? 

This is precisely what our leaders did to Syria. 

Syria is in the midst of a civil war. And as is the case with many civil wars it can be more than a little challenging to know who—if anyone—is wearing the white hats. 

Furthermore, like all civil wars, innocent non-combatants are caught in the middle. (Hence the “noble rebels” are fond of fighting Assad by murdering Christians.) 

Speaking of Christians

The 16th century reformer Pierre Viret said, “There is nothing which Christians should be more wary to employ nor which is less suited to their profession [than war]” (Joel McDurmon, The Bible & War in America, p. 29). 

Yet oddly enough, it seems American Christians are often eager to beat the drums of war (especially if the President is a Republican). After all, what’s wrong with killing people when one is always on the side of the angels?

But are our wars “Just” or are they just wars? 

Reflecting on the unconscionably high rate of suicide among US veterans, Robert Emmet Meagher observes,

Every war is just, from the perspective of those waging it, and every killer is a hero, to the side they are on. That is the wall our veterans still run up against today. They are expected to deny their own pain, ignore what war has taught them, and take up their civil status as heroes. (Killing From The Inside Out, p. xv)

Jesus calls His followers to a different Way.

He says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). 

When He speaks of the blessedness of peace-making, I don’t think He has blowing up Syrians in mind. Do you? 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fear & Trembling

Fear is a powerful drug.
It’s a fantastic political tactic.
It’s a wonderful manipulator.
It’s an effective motivator.
But it’s a really lousy religion.
~ John Pavlovitz

Have you ever thought about how fear is routinely used to manipulate or motivate us?

Fear is used to sell virtually everything: cars, tires, and life insurance are classics. But, clever marketers also use it to sell breakfast cereal and deodorant. As a result we purchase all sorts of things that a generation ago were considered unnecessary. . .

But it’s not just marketers who use fear to control others: doctors, politicians, newspersons, preachers, parents, peers…the list is lengthy. Sometimes it’s warranted. Many times it’s not. It’s the latter that concerns me.

Like never before, we need to recognize and reject fearmongering. To be sure, propaganda isn’t exactly new. But with the unparalleled influence of today’s social media, discernment is sorely needed (as is an “off” switch).

Jesus once told a weary crowd: “Come to Me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Maybe today He would invite those with anxious minds: Come to Me and I will give you peace.

“Why are you so afraid?” He asks (Mark 4:40).

It’s a piercing question: Why do the things that trouble me so, so trouble me?

Think about it, won't you? 

Jesus is no scaremonger. He says, “Don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

You see, the Kingdom of God is governed by something far greater than fear: Love.

Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love. ~1John 4:18

Would you like to walk peacefully with Christ in the Way of perfect love? You certainly can.

But you’ll have to leave the fearmongers and their fearmongering ways behind. 

That’s the deal.