Saturday, November 18, 2017

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTB—uh…?

The main cause of Rome’s persecution of Jesus’ followers came about from the tradition of emperor worship. . . .

Caesar worship was mainly a political loyalty test; a way to register someone as a “good citizen” at least as Rome defined it. But of course, it proved nothing about a person’s real loyalty. Christians, who COULDN’T participate in Caesar-worship were in fact, often better citizens than those who took the oath because their Holy Writings enjoined them to pray for those in authority.1

The above prompts me to think of the current Flag flap in the NFL.

Since 2000 there have been 872 recorded arrests and/or indictments of NFL players: raping, pimping, and beating women; murder, DUI, assault, child abuse, theft, dogfighting…and so on.2

Nobody seems to mind all that much.

But kneeling during the National Anthem? Never!

Something’s a bit wonky with our moral outrage. Don’t you think?

Moral confusion, hypocrisy, and the like are rampant in things as important as sports and as unimportant as politics. Such can be seen even within the church.

This is the fruit of devotion to Caesar. After all, we tend to become like who or what we worship.

Jesus offers a different Way. Will we walk in it?

I am the way, the truth, and the life. . .
~Jesus


__________________________




Thursday, November 9, 2017

What's Wrong With The World?

This world is indescribably beautiful. This world is ugly to the core. This world is full of life, love, and joy. This world is unspeakably sad. . . . Ours is a world where the words child and pornography are used in the same sentence. What is wrong with this world? To some extent, all religion is an attempt to answer that question: what is wrong with this world?1

Similarly, one could argue that “all politics” is also an attempt to answer what’s wrong with the world. Marx (that’s Groucho, not Karl) observes:

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.2

Religion & politics haven’t served us well and I think they never will.

Why?

Because too many religionists and politicians suffer from dim eyes, dull ears, and drippy mouths. Such are the maladies of “us vs. them” mentalities where the problem is always them, never us.

It is said that editors from The Times newspaper asked: “What’s Wrong With The World?” 3

The inimitable G. K. Chesterton replied,

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours, 
G. K. Chesterton

Has anyone ever said more with two words?

Chesterton echoes Christ. Jesus says,

From within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.4

Jesus doesn’t offer hype or hypotheticals for real-world problems. He cuts right to the heart of things and the heart He’s eyeing is yours. And mine.

__________________________

1Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, p. 237



4Mark 7:21-23


Monday, October 30, 2017

Sinners Like Us

Before my Great Divorce, I disliked the term “war on women.”

Basically, my attitude was if you wanna see a war on women go to Saudi Arabia! (Yeah, I know…I used to set the bar like really, really high.)

Now there's Clinton, Trump, O’Reilly, and Weinstein—all accused of sexually harassing women (Trump by his own filthy mouth).  

I fear the already too long list that won’t stop growing is scarcely the tip of the iceberg.

What’s going on in the Land of the Free?

Clearly, I’ve been na├»ve regarding the progress of women in America (just as I was on issues of race). Like a child pestering his parents, “Are we there yet?” I now realize we’ve not journeyed as far as I’d fancied.

While I still don’t like the “war on women” nomenclature, I’m starting to understand it.

But what to do?

Obviously, sexually harassing women is not a “Left vs. Right” or “Democrat vs. Republican” kind of thing. No, mistreating women is totally bipartisan.

And I don’t see how “political correctness” accomplishes anything beyond confusing, angering, and muzzling folks. (Face it: Thought Police do little more than mess with our minds and then gag us.)

Furthermore, I don’t see how one can help women by waging a “war on men.” In other words, the “us vs. them paradigm is as useless as it is natural.

We’re in this together, people.

So…what does Jesus say to sinners like us?

Well, like always, He goes straight to the heart of the matter.

Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In Jesus’ time and place, there were laws—stipulating death!—against adultery. These laws, written and enforced by men, were selectively applied and enforced against women.

And Jesus was having none of it.

He understood that such laws or rules are always selectively applied and enforced. 

Don’t believe me? Go back and read the aforementioned names of two presidents accused of mistreating women. Then think about how the “Christian Right” responded and continues to respond to each. 


Not only are laws or rules selectively applied and enforced, but also they are impotent when it comes to the root of our problem: the human heart.   

Laws may encourage outward conformity but they can never instill inner transformation.

Jesus knows: rid the heart of sexual lust and then things like adultery and sexual harassment are no longer a problem.

Therefore He offers cleansing, not codes.

Thus, while He may not enjoin the battle of the sexes; He’ll win the war against lust. So let’s join Him in the fray for the heart. 

He'll probably want to start with our own.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Doomed

In light of this current difficult and polarized social, spiritual and political climate, we artist types need to open our big mouths and share the light a little louder. ~Maynard James Keenan

Until recently, Maynard James Keenan was one of the many hard-rock & rollers I’d never heard of. Then, through no fault of my own, I was exposed to his band’s new song, “The Doomed.” (Yes, it’s every bit as pleasant as it sounds.)

Though “The Doomed” ain’t exactly my jam, its message is jarring.

Behold a new Christ
Behold the same old horde
Gather at the altering
New beginning, new word
And the word was death
And the word was without light
The new beatitude:
"Good luck, you're on your own"

Blessed are the rich . . .
Blessed are the envious
Blessed the slothful, the wrathful, the vain
Blessed are the gluttonous
May they feast us to famine and war

What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
All doomed
All doomed

What’s your gut reaction to this?  

If your initial response is “righteous indignation” at such a “blatant attack on Christ,” I urge you to look again.

I don’t think the song assaults Jesus. Rather, it’s a blistering commentary on the church.

I think the artist is screaming: Christians are twisting the words of Jesus! They’re turning His teachings upside down!

I know. It’s more than a little tempting to think that God wouldn’t stoop to speak through rockers or bloggers.

But then again, there was that time when God spoke through a donkey…so…?

At any rate, the song strikes ambivalent chords in me.

I’m saddened that A Perfect Circle sees some things clearer than evangelicals. Yet I’m hopeful that more folks—inside and outside the church—will rediscover the true Christ and walk in His Way; that we will undergo a radical reformation.

Maybe it’s not only the “artist types” who need to “share the light a little louder.” 

Know what I mean? 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Two Masters

He’s an NFL quarterback and Christian who is misunderstood and maligned for his meek* witness on his knees. 

I’m talking about Tim Teb Colin Kaepernick .

One of the most interesting things about Kaepernick is his faith. Yep. Kaepernick is a Christian. He was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran and attended a Baptist church during his college years.

He sounds virtually Tebow-esque when he talks about his faith in God, saying, “I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field.”

Kaepernick has a Bible scroll with Psalm 18:39 tattooed on his right arm. Underneath is written “To God be the Glory.”

Lots of thoughts crowd my mind but I’ll express only two. (You’re welcome.)

First, it disturbs me that so many Christians despise—perhaps even hate—Kaepernick, our brother in the Lord. They’ve never met him; never spoken with him; and know next to nothing about him.

And yet they judge him.

Their harsh judgment of him—based upon nothing but conjecture and soundbites—goes against the clear teachings of Jesus: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).

That Christians judge Kaepernick is unsettling. Why they judge him is equally so.

Thought two…

Christians are crucifying Kaepernick in the name of Caesar.  

The rage against him and any other heretic who doesn’t respect—in the orthodox way—the sacred songs and symbols of American civil religion is quite troubling.

The early followers of Jesus refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Instead, they humbly but boldly proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord.” Thus they refused to conflate the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Rome.

And they were hated for it.

Now…

You may be thinking (or yelling at your computer), “Hey Steve, you don’t know him any better than I do! You don’t know his motives…so shut yer word hole!

Of course you’re correct. I don’t know him.

But here's the thing…this writing really isn’t about him. This is about us. Where is our true loyalty, our true passion?

Dear reader, we can’t devote ourselves to two masters.

There may be a time when Christians in America need to choose between Americianity (the unofficial syncretic religion of the American empire) and following Jesus.

I’m thinking maybe it was yesterday.

____________________________ 

*It’s difficult to think of kneeling as anything but meek and nonaggressive. Also, a big THANK YOU to my buddy, Randy Hester, for informing me that Kaepernick kneels during the anthem at the suggestion of an Army veteran.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sometimes It's Personal (or it should be)

Nearly every Sunday, at Grace Bible Church, we pray for persecuted Christians.

Presently, hundreds of Iraqi Christians are imprisoned with no clue as to when they will be released, where they will live, or if they’ll ever see their families again.

You may be thinking: “Ohhh…hate ISIS!”

I know. Right?

Except I’m not talking about Iraqi Christians in Iraq. I’m talking about Iraqi Christians in America.

What’s that now?

Yeah…I’m talking about Christians in America being persecuted by the US government.

With the Trump administration threatening to deport more than 1,400 Iraqis . . . This summer, hundreds of Iraqis were behind bars in holding centers around the United States, slated for deportation to Iraq. The majority were Christians . . .

“Not only would they be breaking up families that have been here for decades . . . but they would be sending an already targeted minority to a country that no longer welcomes them.”

 . . . Many Chaldeans suspect it was no accident that ICE conducted its largest round-up on a Sunday, when many would be on their way to church. (Christianity Today, October 2017)

At GBC we not only pray for the persecuted, but also for the persecutors. This is exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Now, before your head explodes faster than you can stand for the National Anthem, please understand: I’m not equating ICE to ISIS. (That would be stupid.)

But as I imagine the fear and helplessness that Iraqi Christians are experiencing in the US, at the hands of the Trump administration, I think about something else Jesus said.

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 takes it personally. Maybe we should too. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Great Divorce

I suppose it’s time to make it official: The “Christian Right” (CR) and I are splitsville.

Some of you have seen this coming for a few years now. Others are undoubtedly shocked—what with us being together since high school and all. (We even made it through my college years.)

It’s difficult to say how these things happen really. I guess it’s never just one thing. I think more than anything we just sort of drifted apart…

I know I’m not the same person I was back in high school when I first fell for CR. And, honestly, I think CR has changed some too. (For example, CR used to be so focused on the family and was always talking about how character matters and such. CR got weird and stopped talking like this a little over a year or so ago. It was like these things never really mattered.)

I don’t’ know…maybe I started seeing CR a little differently when I first bumped into a guy named Ron Paul. All his talk about not killing foreigners got me to thinking: Was there ever an American war that CR wasn’t absolutely giddy for?

Our relationship only got more strained as I started rethinking “wars” of all 
sorts—the “war” on terror, the “war” on drugs (every bit as effective as yesteryear’s “war” on alcohol), and the granddaddy of them all: the culture “war.”

The wise words of Edwin Starr come to mind. 

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing

Speaking of absolutely nothing, it started to feel like that’s what CR and I had in common after I stopped fighting folks all the time.

Greg Boyd didn’t help us any. His “Myth of A Christian Nation” only put more doubts in my mind as I wrestled with new thoughts and feelings. I started to suspect CR wasn’t all I had imagined.

I don’t mean to throw Greg under the bus. There were others. But in all actuality, Jesus is mostly to blame. I began to focus, and I mean focus, on His teachings. You know…the red letters.

It slowly dawned on me. Conservatives and Progressives are walking the same way—the way of Empire. Both want coercive power over others.

What do conservatives want to conserve? The Empire. What do progressives want to progress? The Empire.

Jesus offers an entirely different Way. Finally, I could see it.

I was going to have to choose.

And then there was the political dumpster fire of 2016. That was the last straw, my Meatloaf moment.

“I would do anything for love…but I won’t do that.”

As I parted ways with CR, for the most part, I felt relief. But there was also sadness and a few “What now?” moments.

Can CR and I still be friends? I don’t know. CR has anger issues.

Breaking up is hard to do and this ain’t no Hallmark movie. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Basement Statement

What’s my opinion of the “Nashville Statement” you ask?

Well…

In my estimation it’s yet another salvo needlessly fired in the unending culture war.

I say "needlessly fired" because as far as I can tell, it has accomplished nothing other than to harden people in their already held positions. I see no one reading the statement and significantly changing his/her mind. The initial fruits of the document are more anger and fighting.

Does our culture need more fragmentation? Not just the culture—how about the church?

83% of LGBT people were raised in the church and 51% left the church after they turned 18 years old. Do you know why? The reasons aren’t primarily theological; they are relational. Only 3% of LGBT people who left the church said they left because of the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. The main reasons why they left had to do with relational problems not theological ones. They were dehumanized, isolated, shunned, or simply kicked out of the church once it was discovered that they experienced same-gender love. So my question is this: Will the NS [Nashville Statement] help or hinder these profound relational problems?

That’s a good question! Here’s another one: Is anyone being drawn closer to Jesus because of the Nashville Statement?

I don't see how. Neither does Josh Daffern.

What’s the greater purpose behind the Nashville Statement? To defend the biblical view on gender and sexuality, I get that. But the manner in which this statement defends it is so abrasive that it actually runs counter to a much larger goal, and that’s called the Great Commission. If we as Christians are called to love people into the Kingdom (regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity), this sure is a funny way to show our love. In fact, this statement will in fact drive a wedge further between us and those we’re called to love. Instead of drawing lines in the sand, we should be building bridges. To me that’s one of the great fatal flaws in the Nashville Statement: this seems to do more harm than good in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Some believe the Nashville Statement will at least help the church to focus on God’s word. But dear reader, Christ-followers focus on the Word of 
God—Jesus—by trusting Him and His Way every single day: no Nashville Statement needed.  

Okay, enough of my opinion. This is what I know about you.

Jesus knows your name. He knows your story. He loves you deeply, selflessly, and without reserve. And He always will.
 

I’m thinking folks like us need the Savior from Nazareth far more than the Statement from Nashville. (But then…you probably already knew that.) 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Statues and The Image of God

Until recently, when Americans of a certain age heard General Lee they pictured this.

Not this.

But the times, they are a changin’.

For example, it used to be that White supremacists had to slink around at night bedecked in bedsheets and dunce caps. Nowadays they proudly show their faces in the orange light of...ahem…day.

Still, why did they descend on Charlottesville to defend a statue? (I’ve a hunch that the vast majority of them were visiting their "beloved site" for the first time.)

Remember when racists gathered in Arkansas to protect the 10 Commandments statue? Me neither.

So I don’t think they just have a thing for statues. There must be something more…

The Robert E. Lee statue is a symbol. And like all symbols, it evokes different things in different people. Some value it as an artifact of culture. Others view it as a reminder of oppression. Many see it as some old guy on a horse. (Ignorance is bliss?)

One thing’s certain; General Lee himself wanted no such monuments of war.

I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.

Regardless of one’s perspective, it’s rather difficult to argue that the statue stands for heritage not racism, when the folks vehemently protesting its removal are neo-Nazis, not history teachers. 

Again, symbolism is subjective, but more than this, a symbol’s meanings evolve. What a symbol stands for today may not be what it conveyed yesterday or what it will communicate tomorrow.

Yes, symbols can be very powerful; but even so, what are the statue’s actual effects on society?

Will the lives of African-Americans in the USA be better once it’s removed? How so?

Will its removal alter the study of history as we know it? How so?

Suffice it to say, I think the statue has extremely minimal real-world impact—except, of course, for the 3 people (and those who loved them) who were killed because of hate-filled people using it as a pretext for violence.

Jesus says that humans are much more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

I’ll bet He thinks they’re much more valuable than statues too.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jesus, Fire & Fury

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States . . . they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
~Donald Trump

Will only the U.S. have option [sic] called “preventive war” as is claimed by it? It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that its mainland is an invulnerable Heavenly kingdom.
~Korean People’s Army (KPA)

All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. . . . Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
~Jesus

The stark contrast between the Way of Jesus and the ways of Empire couldn’t be clearer. Even so, do you think Jesus’ teaching “just won’t work” in the “real world”? Is His “wisdom” only so much wishful thinking? (Be honest.)

However we may answer; Christians within the USA—by and large—have not followed Jesus in the way of peace.  

Richard Hays observes,

One reason that the world finds the New Testament’s message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry.

In other words, despite Jesus telling us that we can’t possibly serve two masters, Christians doggedly persist in their attempts to do so. But to what end, dear reader? 


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

War Games

A couple of days ago a Chicago Sun Times headline grabbed my attention: “North Korea missiles have range to hit Chicago.

I almost cared enough to read the story.

Thinking better of it, I turned to my favorite newsman, Stephen Colbert, and as always he delivered.

I have a hard time believing Chicagoans will be scared by this. Okay? For Pete’s sake, the Cubs won the World Series! They already know the end is near.

Something else grabbed my attention just moments ago…fighter jets, circling my home.

I understand they were practice-bombing a bridge a couple of miles from my house. The sights and sounds were stunning. For about 15 minutes I watched in awe—the climbing, the diving, the synchronized soaring. It was spectacular.

Three thoughts tumbled into my reverie.

1) I’m glad they’re on our side.

2) I’m sure glad it’s only practice.

3) People who think their guns are protecting them from the government are delusional. (I’d be very surprised to learn that the fighter-pilots observed me gawking into the sky with my mouth open and thought: I’m glad he’s on our side.)

Sidebar: I know. Dead is dead. But “From my cold dead hands!” is so much sexier than “From my incinerated bits & pieces!” Forget Charlton Heston. Not even Liam Neeson’s pulling that off.

My ruminations grow a bit more somber now as I think about why the USA conducts war games.

It plays war around us to wage war around others. 

Thus, the display of raw power that mesmerized me looks and sounds a bit different to those who are being terrorized by a dispassionate deluge of death and destruction. 

This is the way of Empire but it’s not the Way of Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus teach His followers to kill their way to peace.

Jesus comments, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn 14:27). Jesus’ disciples knew who Jesus meant by “the world.” It was plastered on city walls, engraved on columns and stamped on coins. The Roman Empire prided herself on peace, the famed Pax Romana. . . . The United States is famed worldwide for Pax Americana, for bringing peace the same way the Romans did. . . . We should not confuse Pax Americana with the Christian way. We need to stop writing scripture verses on the sides of bombs. (Richards and O’Brien, “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes,” p. 185)

Bombs with Bible verses? Eat your heart out, North Korea.

Friday, July 7, 2017

All Abooooaaaarrrd!

How many times a day is Hitler referenced on social media, do you suppose? (I defy anyone to read an on-line political fight—past 3 paragraphs—without finding a mention of Hitler, fascism, or Nazism.)

So I thought I’d finally join the chorus!

Just kidding (sort of).

I want to talk about something much more important: The church.

The odious truth is, “Hitler was an opportunist who was quite happy to use the church for his own ends.” 1

This is the truth but not the odious part. We expect politicians to try to exploit the church.

The odious thing is this: the church, by and large, was quite happy to be used by Hitler.

In general, Protestants in Germany found a way to be both believers in Christianity and supporters of Nazism.2

While this was appallingly generally true, thankfully it was not universally true.

One detractor was theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Someone asked Bonhoeffer if it would be wise to participate in the “German Christians” party and try to work within the system towards a good end (a kind of “lesser of two evils” approach…sound familiar?).

He famously replied: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”
  
Bonhoeffer causes me to think of my own nation and how it seems to be headed off the rails. In my estimation, politics in America is a runaway train and has been for a long time.

Most of my adult life I rode the rails with my fellow travelers as we culture-warred against anyone and everyone too stupid to be in our particular car. It never occurred to me that my “enemies” and I were on the same train, going inexorably in the same direction—away from Christ and His Kingdom.

In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly but many were enthusiastic. . . . Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage everywhere—there are just too few of them.3

My prayer is that more and more American Christians will open their eyes, exit the train, and walk with Jesus.
___________________________





Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Kingdom of Love

As I reflect on the United States and how it is polarizing within and diminishing without, my thoughts turn to GK Chesterton’s assessment of Rome.

There was nothing left that could conquer Rome; but there was also nothing left that could improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. It was the best thing that was going to the bad. (The Everlasting Man, p. 162)

Couldn’t the same be said of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, and Brits?

In with a “bang” and out with a whimper. Such is the way of empire.

But such is not the Way of the Kingdom of our God.

Of Christ and His kingdom prophets and angels agree: There will be no end.

Clearly, Jesus’ kingdom is superior to all earthly powers, and it is different in quality and in kind. He teaches,

The Kingdom of God can't be detected by visible signs. You won't be able to say, “Here it is!” or “It's over there!” For the Kingdom of God is already among you. . . . My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36).

To be sure, Jesus’ kingdom is a present reality that is in the world but not of or from it. He rules in the hearts of His followers.

Hence, Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love, not force. Jesus says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. This is true of all earthly kingdoms. They come into existence and pass into non-existence by coercion.

Not so with the kingdom of heaven. It does not kill and it cannot be killed. No one is forced into or out of it. The kingdom of love has no end.

Furthermore, Christ’s kingdom is a domain of peace with no geographic borders, nationalities, or economies to advance or defend. In other words, His realm transcends all things that would divide and conquer us. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes, 

In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us. (Colossians 3:11) 

Christ is all that matters. Do we really believe this? 

Think about it. 

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.