Thursday, November 29, 2018

Human Shields: Worthless & Invaluable


A few days ago I pointed out that tear gassing children—or anyone really!—doesn’t accord with the Spirit or Way of Jesus. I was speaking of the fiasco that is our southern border.

Someone responded: “Quite a few of the people with kids were not the parents, and had ‘grabbed’ the kids to use as something akin to shields or leverage to try and get into this country.”

Now, I have no idea if this claim is true; but it got me thinking…

My first thought is this: let’s pretend the allegation is 100% true. Does it really make a moral difference? Should we reason: Oh, this child is with his parents…but that kid over there is a human shield—gas her?

You see, dear reader, all children—even the human shield ones—are image bearers of God and are known personally and loved dearly by Him. Their Father is effected when they are mistreated and abused. Isn’t this what Jesus teaches us? Doesn’t your heart ache when your own children are hurting?  

My second thought is that those who would stoop so low as to use women and children as human shields against the USA are sorely misguided. They are disastrously overestimating the values of the USA.

The shocking and well-documented history of the USA is that it slaughters women and children indiscriminately (Native Americans, Japanese, Germans, Branch Davidians, etc.…). Women and children are paltry shields when it comes to the powers of empire.

Please understand, this is a political issue but not a partisan one.

That is, both major parties of the USA endorse the use of state-sanctioned violence against women and children whenever it suits them. Sadly, so does the overwhelming majority those who self-identify as Christian.

I don’t suppose there’s a more misused term in all of American evangelicalism than “prolife.”

As I ruminate on the perversity of human shields, Jesus comes to mind.

It seems to me that many folks view Jesus as a human shield of sorts. That is, Christ enters the world to shield us from a God who is hell-bent on destroying us for offending Him.

In these ways of thinking, Jesus hanging on the cross is the ultimate human shield against the ultimate destruction of humanity—God’s wrath.  

But is this how Jesus thinks?

Jesus in words, works, and ways, perfectly reveals the Father’s heart. He shows us that God is kind, merciful, and forgiving. Jesus says He came from God because “God so loved the world.”

Isn’t this good news? We are loved by God!

God is love and Love requires no human shields. Human shields are the futile invention of dark minds, not divine.  

Even so, the human shields so utterly worthless in the voracious eyes of empire are infinitely valued in the adoring gaze of God.

Heavenly Father, give us grace-healed vision to never see shields but to always see humans—to always see Christ.  

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these
My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!
~Jesus





Saturday, November 10, 2018

What World Do You Live In?


Their world is but a knife’s edge away from apocalypse: Muslim terrorists…Mexican hordes…liberal mobs…lame-stream media…all salivating to devour what’s left of their crumbling, third-worldish infrastructure.

Their world’s only protection?

Anger.

Fear.

Hate.

I understand their world quite well because I used to live in it. (Isn’t it amazing how one can change universes but not zip codes?)

I’m speaking of the two “worlds” we all inhabit: The inner-world of our minds and the outer-world of shared reality. In other words, objective reality is subjectively perceived or understood (or misunderstood).

Have you ever said or heard, “What world do you live in?

Such things are uttered when our imagined realities don’t measure up.

For example, I hear or read folks parroting the anger, fear, and hate that flow from their politicians of choice. And then I think of their actual lives.

They have money. They live in warm homes in low-crime areas. They eat very well. They drive nice cars. Their closets burst with clean clothes they no longer wear. Add to all this gadgets galore for their ease and enjoyment.

So…why all the anger, fear, and hate? What world are they living in?

The mind-bending incongruence of those who angrily, fearfully, and hatefully have all they could ever truly need or want reminds me of Jesus’ piercing question:

What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?   
I’m thinking the world may be, to an extent, populated with lost souls.

I’m not talking about people going to hell. I’m talking about people going to church. I’m talking about those of us who have material blessings and who believe in Jesus with all of our angry, fearful, and hateful hearts.

We have an abundance of things. What we lack is an abundance of life.

Jesus says,

Life is not measured by how much you own. . . . I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (Luke 12:15; John 10:10).

Dear reader, no politician can give us an abundant life. That life of love, joy, and peace flows from Jesus. And no enemy—real or imagined—can take it away.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Sword & The Cross


A Facebook acquaintance of mine, Keith Giles, writes:

Let’s face it: America is an empire. Like all empires, America rules by death, fear, and the power of the sword . . . America is nothing like Jesus. She is not Christ-like. America will kill women and children for political gain. America will exploit the poor to build greater wealth for herself. . . . America loves money. America’s true God is not Jesus. Her only gods are comfort, safety, and luxury. War and death have been in the heart of America since the beginning. (Jesus Untangled, p. 173)

Are Keith’s words provocative? Sure. Could they raise the ire of flag-worshiping patriots everywhere? Of course. 

But a more pertinent query is this: Is he telling the truth?

It sure seems so.

I mean…how can we say with a straight face, “No, Mr. Giles, you’re dead wrong!” when we’re all privy to the fact that blood-money flows in the economy’s veins?

President Donald Trump says he doesn't want to cancel a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia . . . .

"We would be punishing ourselves" by canceling arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He said the U.S. was competing against China and Russia for the $110 billion deal with the country. . .

Trump says the sale is a "tremendous order for our companies" and will help supply jobs across the country. . . .1

Saudi Arabia received $9 billion in weapons from the U.S. between 2013 and 2017, and last year alone garnered some $3.4 billion, more than the next top five U.S. customers—Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.2

War is business and business is good.

A few months ago I heard a Christ-follower, Mercy Aiken, speak of attending the all too frequent funerals of Palestinian teenagers murdered by Israeli snipers. She bemoaned the harsh reality of America’s complicity when a grieving woman said to her something to the effect: The tear gas projectiles read, “Made in PA, USA.”

That the American Empire is enriched by global murder is heart-breaking.

But even more soul-crushing, to me, are those who self-identify as “Christian” and yet all the while affirm the Empire’s insatiable blood-lust. And I tell you with tearful repentance: I used to be among them.

I was a faithful soldier in the “Christian Right.” There wasn’t a single murder in the name of God & country that I didn’t wholeheartedly support.

I just couldn’t see then what I can’t un-see now: Warmongering is never Christian or right.

Dear reader, won’t you at least think about throwing down the sword so that you can take up the Cross?

If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from
your selfish ways, take up your cross daily,
and follow Me.

~Jesus

____________________________




Friday, October 19, 2018

Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 3


I’ve been a United Pentecostal and a Reformed Baptist. I’ve been a tongue-talker and a frozen chosen. I’ve been a Dispensationalist and a Post millennialist. I’ve been a presuppositionalist and an evidentialist.

As a great philosopher once said, I’ve been everywhere, man.

Funny thing is…I rarely leave my basement.

But the journey is spiritual, not spatial. And though the places I’ve been are dissimilar, they are nevertheless alike in their absolute commitment to this one thing: fundamentalist certitude.

Hence the prevailing attitude towards me and my expedition is eerily one and the same from cultist and Calvinist alike. The former accuses me of “leaving the truth” and the latter alleges I’ve “abandoned the Gospel.”

See what I mean?

Neither considers me a “true brother” in the Lord. I say this painfully, not flippantly. With precious few exceptions, actual relationships—not the Facebook kind—are strained and most of them ended. (I fully anticipate an online “thinning of the herd” after the publication of this blog series.)

So what—or where—am I?

I self-identify as a Christ-follower and leave it at that.

That being said, I’m presently enjoying the still waters of Anabaptism. The Lord had me in this green pasture before I even knew what Anabaptist was.

Please know, I’m not speaking of a particular denomination or church environment or religious culture per se. Rather, I’m talking about certain spiritual affirmations (devotion to Jesus’ person, works, words, and ways) and how these are expressed in our actual life and doing theology.

In other words, to the convictions I’ve brought along the way, I’m adding commitments to:

--A Jesus-centered life, faith, and hermeneutics
--Discipleship (following Jesus’ words and ways)
--Separation between the church and the Republican Par state (a disavowal of Americianity)
--Commitment to peace and nonviolence  
--Equality, not hierarchy in the church

We could envision my pilgrimage like this:

Having been raised in emotionalism, I gravitated or “swung” to intellectualism. But now I’m learning to appreciate the richness, the fullness, the wellness of a marriage between heart and head (picture a thesisàantithesisàsynthesis sort of thing).

I’m discovering that robust faith—intimacy with the Infinite—awakens the whole of us.

My venture out of United Pentecostalism through Calvinism and into Anabaptism isn’t as unique as I’d imagined. I have fellow-travelers. And while I know so much more and less than I used to; this I believe: If we follow Jesus we never trek alone.  




_____________________________________

Wondering Pilgrim pt.1

Wondering Pilgrim pt. 2

Friday, October 12, 2018

Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 2


Not long after leaving the United Pentecostal Church, I plunged into the deep waters of Calvinism. How different it was from all I’d ever known and practiced!

My brain loved it.

I devoured John Calvin. His “Institutes of the Christian Religion” informed nearly every aspect of my worldview. Even now I can see the Institutes and his 22 volumes on the Bible as I glance across my study.

I was awash in Reformed books and sermons: Spurgeon, Sproul, Packer, Piper, Van Til, Bahnsen, MacArthur, Horton, White, Berkhoff, Luther, Reymond, Frame, and Augustine.

I wholeheartedly subscribed to “sola scriptura” and the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 was my Bible.

A Reformed…Baptist?

I know. The “pope of Geneva’s” wrath would’ve—ahem—burned hot against me. Even so, I was thoroughly committed to Calvinistic soteriology and hermeneutics.

This commitment lasted a little over 15 years.

What happened?

I think what happened is I began to sense that though my mind and intellect were satiated by Reformed systematics, with time’s passing my emotional and spiritual self was languishing. (Obviously, I’m speaking only of myself. This is certainly not the experience of the vast majority of Calvinists.)

Something—or was it Someone—was stirring inside me.

For some reason I decided to revisit a man I came to know my freshman year of Bible College. This was out of character for me because this man was clearly not a Calvinist. Nevertheless I walked away from my book shelf with CS Lewis—a long neglected favorite of mine. Though many of my Calvinist friends labeled Lewis a heretic…once again he was feeding my soul.

I mused: Hunkered here in this Reformed echo chamber, what other authors have I ignored?

The genie was out of the bottle.

The more I began to appreciate non-Reformed voices the more questions assaulted my fortress of certitude. None of this was planned—not by me anyway.

After months of reflecting and rethinking, it seemed to me that while Calvinism was philosophically robust and systematically sustainable, I could no longer square it with scriptures. Yes, there were verses that sounded awfully Calvinistic, but there were others that didn’t sound that way at all. These “leftover verses” (to use Christian Smith’s terminology) were being “shoehorned” to fit into my system.

I had become more sola systema than sola scriptura. That is, I was reading every word of every verse through a Calvinistic lens. But things once “clear” were now a bit blurry. After 15 years…I needed a new prescription.

I wasn’t a Calvinist anymore. So what was I?

I didn’t know. But I was hoping to find out…

_____________________________________


Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 1


Friday, October 5, 2018

Wondering Pilgrim, pt. 1


My earliest memories are of Bible stories—not just learning them. Living them.

My budding five-year-old imagination was the 1976 edition of The Living Bible.

You see, I was raised in the United Pentecostal Church. In those days TV was absolutely verboten. So, true confession? My biblical, albeit cartoonish, fantasies were probably more a privation of entertainment than an abundance of piety.

Even so, I became serious about my faith at an early age and I sincerely gave my life to Jesus.

I knew it was to Jesus that I gave my life because we were “Jesus Only” folks. So, who else was there? That’s right. The church of my youth denied the Holy Trinity.

There were other troubling things. If you didn’t speak in tongues (at least once!) you couldn’t be saved. If you weren’t baptized the right way you couldn’t be saved. If you weren’t living a holy enough life you couldn’t…well…you get the idea.

And then there were the dress codes!

They called them “holiness standards.” Basically, my hair couldn’t be too long or my pants too short. (Nothing says, “I’m a Christian” like sweatpants on a hell-hot summer day.)

Of course, this was nothing compared to the girls. UPC girls couldn’t cut their hair, wear pants, makeup, or jewelry. The only thing longer than their hair was their jean skirts—and their faces. I don’t suppose I knew any UPC girl or woman who actually liked how they appeared without months—most of them years—of “convincing” that they were holy and they wore it well.

As a sincere teen I had questions. None of them asked, of course. But unasked questions rarely go away.

In my very early 20’s the church-whispering began: “Steve is in danger of leaving the truth. That’s what happens when you go to Bible College.”

Leaving the truth.

I’d heard that a million times. It was indelibly impressed upon my mind. Fear is how we were kept in line. And guilt! Boatloads of guilt.

The truth is I was leaving…

But I wasn’t leaving truth. Nor was I walking away empty-handed.

What did I take with me?

--Devotion to God
--Respect for the Bible
--Hunger for truth
--Commitment to the local church
--Desire to serve

I knew the journey would be long and I didn’t pack light!

Clearly, despite all the errors of belief and practice, I’d been given much to be thankful for. And though I couldn’t stay, I understood how incredibly blessed I was for having been there.

As I left the denomination of my upbringing, I did so with excitement, hope, trepidation, and a little sadness. That’s the way leaving home usually goes.

I’d been travelling only a few years when I wandered upon 3 volumes of Charles Hodge. And thus began a great adventure upon Calvin’s rugged peaks…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What The Devil Happened?


It was through Pride that the devil became the devil . . .
~CS Lewis

Have you ever wondered about the mystery of evil? I’m talking about its origins and so on. I was asked about this not long ago, specifically: How did the devil become the devil or from where did the devil derive evil?

*To begin, the Bible really doesn't say. (The devil is already "the devil" when he appears in scripture!) But the short—and speculative—answer, I think, goes like this...

God made angels (some, it is believed, who became demons) and humans with what we commonly call "free will."

That is, angels, demons, and humans are moral beings with the capacity to know right from wrong and the ability to make genuine choices. In fact, we make unforced moral decisions all the time.

For example, in the Genesis story, when the serpent "tricked" Eve into eating the forbidden fruit he may have fooled her but he certainly didn't force her to eat. The desire for the forbidden fruit came from within her. The desire was all hers. (The same is true for Adam. Eve did not coerce him to eat. He wanted to eat more than he wanted to abstain.)

We can apply this same principle to Satan. Like the first humans he was not created evil but evil desire arose from within him—probably borne of inherent pride. No external agent made him devilish.

But the question then is: Could God have made Satan (and us!) without the ability to sin or make wrong choices?  

Well...yes and no.

He could make beings without free will but such beings would be altogether different from angels and humans.

It seems to me that God makes a world where love is possible. And love must be chosen. There is no such thing as forced love. There is no such thing as programmed love (a robot or a computer cannot possibly love).

So beings who can love must be beings who can love not.

Apparently, God chose to make a world where love is possible, knowing that a troubled world is better than a loveless one or none at all.

God is love. His world reflects this even in evil beings. Yet in the end…Love wins.

____________________________

*For a possible allusion to the devil becoming "the devil" due to his prideful inclinations see Isaiah 14:12-15.