Lamb Theology: An Introduction

Hello, my name is Jon Bauman, and Welcome to my blog: Lamb Theology.

The mission and purpose of lambtheology.com is to present theological thoughts dealing with classic doctrines, new ideas, Christian living, and other various topics all through the lens and revelation of Christ – The Lamb of God; taking seriously His teachings, actions, and commandments and applying them at large, and in our everyday life.

Please subscribe, comment, and join me on this journey of faith and thought.

**The views expressed in this personal blog may not necessarily reflect the views of the church I am a part of, or the denomination in which it is in**

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Storms & Giants: Lectionary Readings for June 24, 2018

There are times when we are faced with something bigger than we can handle. And I know that statement runs opposite of the line “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…But sometimes that statement does not match our experience. Sometimes that statement feels like an encouraging bumper sticker on a car that is being towed to the junkyard.

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Sometimes, yes, sometimes…we are faced with things that we CANNOT handle. But hope can still give light to our existence when our past, present, and near future times still appear as dark and murky. This hope does not minimize the pain of our current struggle, but it gives us the strength and nourishment that we need to get through our struggles. 

I believe that God is on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent. This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God. 


1 Samuel 17:1–49

I remember sitting with my parents a few months ago at their place watching an old Christian movie about David and Goliath that was almost two hours long, and it was only and solely about the big fight. It was the cheesiest, most drawn-out movie I have ever seen. 

But Goliath was a bodybuilder. And David was a twig. 

The Philistines were an established nation and force. And the Hebrew people were just starting out. 

So when the Philistines offered to forgo the big battle in exchange for a champion vs. champion fight — the Hebrew people were tempted, but they remained silent. 

No one wanted to fight Goliath. They would rather die in a big battle than die at the hands of a man who probably had the most gruesome rumors spread about him. 

David stepped up to the plate, and those around him probably thought he was being sarcastic…but he wasn’t. This crazy shepherd boy who plays the harp actually wants to fight a bodybuilder who could have torn him limb from limb. 

David’s faith motivated him to overcome his fear, and it drove him to face his demons because he had the God of the underdogs and the oppressed with him. He knew that God was on his side. 

Goliath fell victim to an inexperienced and ill-equipped boy with a slingshot because of the power and compassion of a Mighty God who stepped into a situation that an entire nation could not handle.


2 Corinthians 6:1–13

Facing giants isn’t a new theme for Judaism or Christianity. It is riddled in our history as an integral part of our identity and our relation to God. 

We do not worship God because we want our best life now. We worship God because God is worthy of our praise, even when we are facing giants, or in the deepest of valleys. 

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The Judaic/Christian faith is an honest faith. The Psalms are full of celebrations and laments. It’s not all rainbows and smiles — and I like that. It is life-giving, hopeful, but it also lets us mourn, grieve, cry, and even get angry. Therefore, our faith cannot be reduced to an encouraging bumper sticker on a car headed to a junkyard — as if all hope is lost when life hits us hard— our faith is more like the family and friends who surround us and support us after the wreck.

The Apostle Paul is an important influencer on the Christian faith, but he can sometimes be an intimidating character to imagine. There are times when you’d want to invite him into your living room for a nice chat, and maybe so that he can encourage you, and there are times when you’d like to leave him at the door. He’s kind of like that family member who gives you some tough advice that you really don’t want to hear in the moment, but then later you realize how right they were in that advice, and how their roughness around the edges was motivated by their intense desire to see you succeed and grow.

Paul wasn’t like a TV preacher with a shiny suit, and a Mercedes. What he said to those who were suffering was born out of his own experiences as one who had previously caused much suffering, and as one who currently suffers for the very message that he was presenting to the church. 

In 2 Corinthians 6:1–13, Paul writes of all that he has gone through in his pursuit of God, and in the pursuit of spreading his message. He lists that he and his peers went through “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”, but he also maintains that unrelenting hope that we’ve been talking about. He writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

A beaten man who had been thrown into prison on multiple occasions continues to seek and follow God because hope was no longer a manufactured emotion, but an implanted sense of direction to lead him through his calamity.

God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new. il_fullxfull.438193639_q47r.jpg


Mark 4:35–41

As a Christian, no figure brings me greater hope than Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel accounts. So much of how we should treat one another, how we are to understand Gods love for all (including ourselves), and to what great depths God was willing to go in order to redeem a broken world, is found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Gospel of Mark is an intriguing read. In it we find Jesus who is equally concerned about the people’s spiritual and physical needs — but Mark focuses on spiritual warfare and power, unlike any other Gospel account. 

In the first few chapters, you find story after story of Jesus performing exorcisms; literally casting out demons. In Mark 3:23–30, Jesus gives this INCREDIBLE explanation of why he is doing it; he said that when a person breaks into a house, he binds the strong person of the house so that he can gain control of the house, and take what he wants. He is saying that by casting out demons, by binding the devil, he is debilitating the effects that the powers of evil have — Christ is taking over control of the house. 

The people, who were formerly demon-possessed, used to be outcasts of society; their family disowned them, they could no longer go to the temple, and the religious folks gave up on trying to help them. But now they were free from the strong man that bound them, and they were free to escape their calamity and shame. Christ took over the house.

After this, Christ spends some time teaching parables — stories — that explain the importance of faith amongst, and despite of, the reality of turmoil and struggle. It is only fitting then, that the author of Mark places the next scene in the middle of a stormy sea. 

Image 06.jpgThe wind is howling, the waves are crashing, and water is beginning to get into the boat. The closest followers of Jesus on earth are scrambling to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is sleeping on a pillow — as if nothing was happening. 

Frustrated, they woke up the one person who may know what to do, and they asked him, in pure panic, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning??”

Jesus arose from his slumber and ordered the winds and the sea to be still.

All was calm. The boat remained afloat. And these followers of Jesus were left scratching their heads as they wondered who this man really was…the man who had control over the winds and the sea. 

Jesus demonstrated power and authority over the storms of people’s lives, and the storms that would cause them to lose their lives. Christ took over the house.


Application

There are times when we feel like those early followers of Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea — we cry out to God and we desperately ask: “Don’t you care what is happening to us?? Wake Up! Move! Do Something!”

And there are times when we observe others going through turmoil, shame, abuse, oppression, persecution, prejudice, and heartache, and we cry out to God with those same words.

But it is in times of destruction that renewal can most clearly begin to formulate in our vision — like a dead-looking tree in winter that begins to bud in anticipation of spring. We may see the leaves and the flowers, or maybe we won’t — but we now know that that tree is not dead. All Hope is Not lost. 

And when we realize this great hope that we had to have implanted within us, we are then called to share the source and the sustenance of that hope with those who need it most. 

In remembering the words at the beginning of this message:

God is a God who is “on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent.” This calls us to stand with those who are hurting, broken, and oppressed.

 “This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.” This calls us to stand against the powers of evil in this world — to bind them and gain control for the Kingdom of God.

We may not be able to handle things on our own, but we have an ever-present God, and an ever-expanding support network to hold one another up.

“God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new.”

Hope is already, and Hope is yet to come. Amen.

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Gospel Without Borders: Romans 13 & The Children

Those are the words of a friend who messaged me this past weekend, searching for an answer to the anger she felt over Jeff Session’s defense of separating immigrant families by using the bible, as well as the anger she felt towards the bible passage itself.

I responded to her later in a jesting manner by saying “Don’t let Jeff Sessions be your biblical interpreter”, but I knew that the problem was deeper than that.


 

This blog post is not a news article. I am not here to inform you of the topic any further than seeking to tap into our common morality that will hopefully bridge the gap between competing political opinions.

Regardless of when this policy started, or when some of the pictures are from, lets agree with this, no matter the side you are on:

Separating children from their parents, or anyone who would care for them, for an extended period of time is NOT okay

Agreed?

We know that illegal immigration is still a problem, we know that the immigration system is a broke system.

Let’s start the reform that is needed by figuring out what to do with these children, who regardless of what some may think of their parents, deserve our compassion AND action.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders. 

 


Getting back to Romans 13

While we may accept that something isn’t right here, Jeff Sessions is sweeping morality under the rug of Romans 13.

Romans 13 has hidden many messes in the past, so I am not surprised that it is being used to hide this one.  What better way to shut up the religious folks than saying, “Hey, God appointed your leaders, and you are to do what they say and respect them!”.

Just recently, I saw a post on facebook from someone explaining that although they don’t like what is happening to the children, Romans 13 gives the government the authority to punish those who break the law.  Thus, any progression to help the children is halted by the crimes of their parents, and this individual cannot do anything because they are called to respect their government.

But Romans 13, if taken 100% literally, 100% of the time, would mean that Paul should have stopped preaching about Jesus when Nero said to stop.  It would mean that the early church should have ceased to exist when Roman rulers before Constantine outlawed it.  It would mean that the Nazi regime should have never been resisted by the confessing church in Germany.  It would mean that Christians should never resist evil, so long as evil is coming from the government.

Something is wrong then in how Jeff Sessions is interpreting Romans 13.  I am confident that Paul never meant for his writings to be applied like that.

Maybe Romans 12, and the rest of Romans 13 after verse 7, are meant to show the contrast that is supposed to be there between those who have come into the faith community of Jesus, and those who did not, including secular governments.

Perhaps Romans 12, which tells us how Christians are to act, is meant to be a way for us to interpret when the government is not following the will of God in their actions and laws…


When Paul wrote Romans 13, Nero was the emperor.

Nero was a known tyrant, and after this letter would have been written, there was a fire in Rome that was falsely blamed on the Christians, and Nero then started the state-sponsored persecution of Christians.

“But he was appointed by God.  We are to follow his authority and rule. ”

Yet, Paul, the author of Romans 13….didn’t follow the law of the land.

Paul did not live in a democratic republic like the United States.  He did not have a political voice. But he rebelled to the point of death when his higher authority superseded his earthly authority.


We have one authority that deserves our allegiance.

All other authorities in our lives are superseded by the authority of God.

If an authority on earth goes against our call to action from our supreme authority, we must not support the action of a lesser authority.

And in situations where we have a voice in the political sphere, we are called to speak up when we feel that a wrong is committed.

And that wrong is what is being done to the children. We agree on that.

For our God is concerned about the oppressed, and the broken, the foreigner, and the immigrant.

The book of Amos is full of God becoming angry at the arrogance and wealth of his people, while others starve.

Even Leviticus calls the people of God to care and welcome the stranger – Leviticus 19:33-34.

The bible cannot be held by a political party. And our politicians cannot be our pastors.

But what is being done should not require articles and podcasts that seek to get Christians to rally against it – we should be leading the resistance.

Let the church rise against the evils of the State, and be the example that we were always meant to be to the world.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders.

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I thought this cartoon got a good point across.  Source Link – Click Here

 

 

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

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So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

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“God [is] with us”

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

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Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 3)

Betrayal is something that many can never get over.

As Jesus prayed in the garden for his suffering to be over, his friend Judas was orchestrating for his suffering to increase.

After Christ was arrested, the same people who shouted Hosanna before, we’re now shouting “Crucify him!”.

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His own disciples, when asked if they were a friend or follower of Jesus, denied their connection to him out of fear.

Jesus was alone in captivity, alone is his torment, and the only ones calling him a King now were Roman soldiers as they portrayed him as a lunatic with a ragtag sceptre, and a painful crown…


He carried his cross to the place where he would die. He watched as nails were driven into his hands.

87674682.jpgAs he was lifted up, not on a throne, but on an execution device for criminals, he saw soldiers gambling over his clothes…he heard the mocking of the crowds…he heard the taunts of one of the other criminals on one side, and the confessions of another on the his other side.

Some saw him as a King of the World…some saw him as the scum of the earth.

On that day, the Jesus that rules over the Passionate Kingdom, died.


Before he died, he proclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED!”.

His life, ministry, and death ALL meant something for this world – every Christian will agree to this.

But what did it do that made the world quantitatively different?

Why do we still experience evil, torment, betrayal, and blood-thirsty crowds?


Jesus knew our pain, our sorrow…our hopeless and endless longing for something to change.

He knew the hurt from betrayal.

But He became a King at a Table amongst friends and a King on a cross amongst enemies.

And he died for both audiences.


But what was finished?


In this time of reflection upon the death of Christ, our questions linger inside of a sealed off tomb.jesus-sealed-tomb.jpg



Subscribe for part 4 after Easter

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 2)

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Imagine if Jesus did not go to the cross, but instead overruled the Roman Empire in Judea in the 1st Century.

His rule would last for as long as his earthly body would live, but then the world would resume its chaos just as it had before.  Jesus would be replaced with a lesser king, and then a lesser king – until finally the people of God were left with filthy rulers who claimed a special connection with God.

Wait..doesn’t that sound familiar?  World history is FULL of leaders of nations who claimed to follow Christ and yet were famous for their bloodshed, odd practices, and injustice.

If Jesus had followed the desires of the people of Judea in the first century, nothing about his mission then would make a difference of substance now.

So what does this Passionate Kingdom of Jesus look like?


Freedom To Serve

The ways in which Jesus lets down and exceeds expectations is dramatic.  We know he wasn’t some military leader, but the “Last Supper” scene that is told each year on Maundy Thursday (The Thursday before Easter) is breathtakingly absurd.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that the Last Supper took place on the first day of the season of Passover; on the day in which a lamb was sacrificed for the meal. (Mark 14:12)

This is important because it means that Jesus and his followers, being observant Jews, were meeting together to observe the Passover meal together; a meal with many elements that represented different parts and themes of the Exodus story.

christ-washing-the-feet.jpgChrist began the meal with an act of service.  He washed the feet of his disciples (something usually done by those in lower classes, or servants).  He even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot – the one whom he knew would go off to betray him.

His disciples were taken aback by this odd act of service carried out by their leader – they even protested it! But still, Christ cleaned the feet of his disciples as a way of leading them by example to wash the feet of others – to be a servant to others.

Christ did this to show how the members of his Passionate Kingdom should act towards others in this world; to not remain still, or to just judge from afar, but to bend your knees before your fellow human being in need.

Christ was purposeful in his use of symbolism during this Passover meal with his disciples. When Christ says that the wine is his blood, the bread is his body – The symbolism was incredibly powerful.

The bread of Passover was meant to symbolize the Hebrew people’s time in slavery.

The four glasses of wine used at a Passover meal was used to symbolize God’s four expressions of deliverance in Exodus 6:6-7 – “I will bring out, I will Deliver, I will Redeem, I will Take you as my people” (Summary).

And so, here is a possible way of viewing Christ attributing the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood.

Capture-3.jpgWhen we break the bread, we are to remember that: His crushed body frees us from the slavery and bondage of our sin, the world, and the powers of evil.

When we drink the fruit of the vine, we are to remember that: His blood that was poured out redeems us from our past and marks us as the people of God.

Christ is the continuation and fulfillment of the Exodus account.

He was telling his disciples that He came to free us in a way that Moses couldn’t.  It wasn’t political freedom. It was freedom from the nastiest parts of ourselves, freedom from the most abhorrent wrongs committed by those in our world, and freedom from any true power that the powers of evil could have over us.

Instead of a Throne, A Table

When Christ conveys the rich symbolism of the bread and wine in the Last Supper, he does so as a King who is sitting at a table with those who did not meet the standards of the religious leaders of his day.  He was sitting with a tax collector, some fishermen, and he even sat with someone who he knew would betray him.

At a time when the Roman Empire was expanding by force and oppression of the “different”, Christ’s Passionate Kingdom was foreshadowed as expanding through the display of love and service to the “least of these”.

Instead of a throne overlooking peasants, Christ chose a table amongst friends to communicate the kind of relationship he seeks to have with his people. 

 

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Header & footer image used with permission from Kevin Odette Photography – Check out his other photos at kevinodettephotography.com

 


 

Did you miss Part 1? Click Here

Subscribe to read Part 3 Soon!

 

 

 

 

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 1)

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Palm Sunday just happened.

Churches throughout the world preached on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey, and on the people laying down Palm branches and coats on his path as they honored him as a King.

 

In our church, the Pastor speaking mentioned that as Jesus was marching into the city from one direction, Pontius Pilate was marching into the city from another direction (Click Here for an Article on that).

I’d like to walk through that story here, and maybe reflect on what happened the day after Jesus walked into the city.


A Tale of Two Kings

The religious season was Passover.

Jewish people flocked to Jerusalem in droves to celebrate the release of Hebrew slaves from the land of Egypt through the power of God.

lambThey remembered the plagues that Moses called down from heaven.  They remembered the blood of a lamb that had to be put on doorposts in order to save them from the justice of God that was coming for the people in power who kept refusing to release the people of God.

And as they prepared themselves for these reflections, and in the midst of this Passover season, they saw something odd…

 

A man named Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey.  Rumors of Jesus got around – he healed the sick, cast out demons, knew the Torah well, and opinions on who he was were varied – was he a prophet, lunatic, agent of evil…or could he be their Messiah?

 

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Icon from Afon

 

Their attention focused in on the Donkey that he was riding – this was prophesied to be something that the Messiah would do!  And so, the Jewish crowds gathered in suspicious anticipation that this MAY be the King they had been praying for; the King who would free them from Oppression! They laid palm branches and their own cloaks before his feet as they thought…

“Maybe this is the Justice of God coming…Maybe we will be freed from our oppression…”


centurion.jpgOn the other end of the city, the most immediate source of that oppression marched in.  Swords, spears, helmets, and shields were glistening in the sun as this ruler made his grand entry in a show of force and power to meet the possible threats of crime and uprising as these rebellious Hebrew people flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

This ruler was feared, and some of the Hebrew people were seeking to overthrow his power.  And yet, he marched into a city that was under his domain like a conquering war machine – demanding the people’s respect and allegiance.


The people gave Jesus the pomp and circumstance that Pilate desired.

The people chose to lay down their cloaks – their symbol of status, and protection from the elements – for a rebellious young teacher riding a farm animal.

The people wanted Jesus to overrule Pilate.

Their laying down of palm branches was an act of rebellion against the Empire of Rome!

So why did this crowd of people who shouted “Hosanna!” in an act of desire for deliverance…join the crowds of taunters to shout out “Crucify Him!” a few days later?


One King Knows Best

Jesus did not come to earth to overthrow earthly powers. He was not the great military leader that others expected him to be.  He did not satiate their blood-thirsty palates in carrying out God’s justice on Pontius Pilate and Rome itself.

He was a leader of a movement who did not resist arrest.

He turned the other cheek, and some viewed him as weak because of it.

He was a leader on a donkey with no army behind him.

They rejected Jesus because he wasn’t the King that they wanted.

Jesus was surely a Rebel, but he rebelled against Empire by demanding total allegiance to himself DESPITE earthly rulers; He didn’t need to overthrow an earthly ruler to demand complete allegiance, and have complete power.  And Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that he came to not only turn earthly powers on their heads but to bind the source of the powers of evil themselves – demons and Satan (Mark 3:22-27).

 

And so, Jesus really was the Messiah riding in on a Donkey – declaring that he was there to overthrow power…But his plans were longer lasting than what others expected.

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Questions for Reflections:

  1. Would we consider Jesus to be a weak leader to face today’s problems?
  2. When there is an injustice, how do we normally expect justice to be carried out?
    • How is this similar and different from the ways of Jesus?
  3. Did my line about Jesus demanding COMPLETE allegiance rub you the wrong way?
    • What would this mean politically?  What would this mean personally?

Subscribe to read Part 2 soon!

 

When taxes point to God

Context:   Ever since January, I have attempted to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a basis for my youth lessons, and for any preaching that I was asked to do during that time.  The RCL is a set list of scripture passages that is used by churches throughout the world as a basis for their messages on Sunday mornings.  I liked the idea because I like the “bigger picture” that it paints; I have always liked the idea of learning, saying, and doing things with Christians throughout the world, and throughout time.  I record most of these messages, and I put them out as a Podcast, which you can listen to by subscribing to the “Uncommon Lectionary Podcast” on your favorite podcast application, or by clicking here.  The following is one of those lessons put into “blog” form. 

Let’s read the following passage together:

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Matthew 22:15-22 – Common English Bible (CEB)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Pharisees were strict adherents to the law of Moses, and they weren’t too keen on being ruled by the Romans who did not worship their God and charged high taxes.
  • The Supporters of Herod, called Herodians, were Jewish people who thought that being ruled by Rome wasn’t as bad as others thought, and they actively supported their local ruler (like a Governor) named Herod.
  • They went together to Jesus as two opposing opinions seeking to trap Jesus.  If he responds that people should pay their taxes, the Pharisees write him off as a heretic and his ministry is affected drastically.  If he responds that people should not pay their taxes, Jesus may be reported by the Herodians and be killed before his time.

And how does Jesus respond?

The empty-pocket celebrity asks to see a Denarion (a coin that equals a day’s wage) because he has none of his own.

He examines the coin and asks: “Who’s face is on here?”. The people respond that is it Caesar, and so Christ responds, “Okay, so give what is Caesar’s what is his, and give to God what is his”.

The people, confused and frustrated, walk away.

I have a hunch that Jesus responded this way to point out at least two things:

1) God is bigger than money, and money shouldn’t be something that distracts you from God (Speaking to the Pharisees).

2) God is greater and more powerful than any government on earth, even ones that demand complete allegiance from its citizens (Speaking to the Herodians).

And both of these two points relate to trusting in God: His rule, His provision, His truth.

Let’s take it a bit closer to home.  Let’s look at our US Dollar – think of a few things that stick out:

One-dollar-bill

We have George Washington’s face, 1, ONE, an odd Pyramid, the eagle, and of course we have “In God We Trust” written on our currency.

What does it mean to trust God?

What does it mean to trust and honor God with our money?

This dollar could be used for so many things that are not what we are called to do as Christians.  It could be used to buy drugs, buy CDs that degrade other people, and at a government level, it could be used to buy bombs and missiles, with no guarantee that those bombs would only kill “Bad people”.

So, while a dollar bill can never truly say “In God we trust” on it without being slightly ironic, you can, as individual Christians.

We trust in God when we use our dollars to help others who are needy, to go towards a church’s or other organization’s good deeds, or even to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones.

We trust in God when we start to see God as being more important than Money.

We trust in God we don’t let the pressures of this world…taxes, tension, war, heartache…cripple, or get in the way of, our belief in God. Sometimes, it may not make sense…but in those times, we still have to trust God.  Even in paying taxes, we are reminded that we, though we are citizens of our nation, are ultimately citizens of God.

So, the next time you see a Dollar, ask yourself….am I trusting in God? Or something else…

“There’s life after death…and taxes…” – Relient K (Link)

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Sackcloth and Ashes

Within the last eight weeks, two of my friends, both in their 20s, have passed away.

One of them was named Zach.

Zach was not just a friend, he was my wife’s cousin who was just six months or so younger than her.  Zach welcomed me into the family with open arms, useless facts, and sarcasm. He always knew how to rile up the uncles at family gatherings to discuss politics, how to get along with the younger kids, and how to make a newcomer feel as though they were always a part of his life.

Zach was also a man who would be there for anyone in need.  He would drive an hour away after a full shift to help Courtney and I move our things into our house, and he even drove two or three hours to spend some time with the family as we fished off a pier in New Jersey.  Family was important to Zach.  Courtney was important to Zach.  I was important to Zach….

Unfortunately, Zach passed away in an accident while coming home from work.  The accident was not his fault as far as we know.  The whole family slowly found out through getting calls late in the night.  I held my wife as she shook, and it was the worst pain that I have ever felt for another human being.

His funeral was PACKED.

As the minister, who knew Zach personally, led us all in processing the loss of someone who made such large of an impact on our lives, something hit home: “Zach kept a journal by his bedside, and one of the last entries was him writing his goals in life: to ‘be a godly man, have a godly family'”.  Zach was FULLY committed to Jesus Christ, and his last message for us all was of his own commitment to Christ…and you knew that in that funeral room, Zach would have wanted for all who were present to join him someday in the presence of God.

I haven’t allowed myself to process his death in the fullest sense, I don’t think.  I always feel odd when there are others who need to grieve before I begin to let myself fully grieve. But that message of Zach’s hit home….


The second friend who passed away, I will leave out of this post out of respect for his family and his close friends who need time to mourn. His funeral was packed as well as a testament to how much of an impact he had on others.


And Here we are.

When you are in your teens, and your twenties, you feel invincible.  You expect your life to extend to your 80s, at least.  But I lost two friends in the last 8 weeks who were both under 30, and who both stayed away from drugs, and other harmful choices.

It makes you think….

Am I leading a life that is blessing others?

Am I leading a life that is remaining faithful to my God?

Will my funeral be a source of encouragement, oddly, to those gathered?

I hope so.

And I’ll see my two friends again.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix -Situational Ethics

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Situational Ethics: “What would you do if…”

“What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened the lives of your spouse, children, parents, and what if they were going to rape them…what would you do??”

 

This question gets asked a lot.   It is an understandable, and important question.  Our natural tendency is to fight or flee a violent scenario, and when flight is not an option, we desire to defend ourselves and the ones we love, at whatever cost.

I am a married man, and I love my wife more than I love myself, and I would gladly lay down my life for her.  We do not have any kids yet, but I am sure that if we did, I would love them and desire to protect them from harm as well.  So when the question is asked, “What would you do if…”, it is a hard question to answer, but I will go over my general thought process when thinking about it:

  1. I love my wife, and I would love my kids when I have them
  2. I have no fear of dying if it meant saving their lives
  3. Jesus would desire for me to spare the life of the attacker (Link)
  4. On instinct, I cannot guarantee that I would be faithful to my religious beliefs
  5. If I take another life to protect my loved ones, that does not mean that I would be justified to do so under the Lord’s Will for my life, and even after being forgiven, I would still have to deal with the physiological effects of taking another life.
  6. I have a moral responsibility to advocate for nonviolence in all scenarios; hoping that that advocacy could translate into further commitment to nonviolence when a situation arises.

As you can see, I do not have a crystal clear answer to this question, and while I do not doubt that there are some pacifist-like folks who could answer clearly and honestly, I think that for those of us who know that we cannot guarantee our actions in the moment, it is better to be honest about our true struggles with this question.  We can avoid entering the military, we can avoid taking a job that may contradict our convictions, but we cannot avoid an intruder/attacker if they break into our house.  

That is why I put the sixth thinking point in there.  Even if I do not know what I would do in a real life scenario, I have a moral obligation to advocate for nonviolence so that hopefully I could remain committed to what I see as a commandment of Christ.  But advocating for nonviolence in this scenario not only could help my response in the moment, it could also help the way that myself and others think about those who we perceive to be a threat.

In other words, how much would I be thinking of a nonviolent way to address an intruder, when I keep a loaded pistol in my nightstand?  How could I possibly see their life as having value when I’ve already set up the booby traps before they would even break in?  I realise that many would respond to these questions with “I am only preparing for something in case it happens”, but in reality, by doing that, they have cut out the option for nonviolent solutions before giving them a chance.  And while some may have the strength to not pull the trigger, many will react in fear and instinct and kill an intruder, even if that intruder has not violently threatened them.

However, many people say that protecting your family is a biblical principle to follow.  I wanted to give this view justice because a fair amount of people believe it, but not many can provide a reference.  Based on what I could gather, the main passage that is used to support this idea is found in Exodus 22.   Let’s study it.

Exodus 22:2-3  – When an intruder breaks in

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (ESV)

These verses are often used to justify lethal home defense, as well as the biblical right to keep a weapon ready to defend your family.  But I really don’t think it’s that simple.  These two verses describe two different scenarios.

The first scenario:

It’s dark, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you are not guilty of murder.  

Let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  You are laying in your bed, or on your mat, and you are startled awake by an unusual sound.  Someone is in your house, and your family is all asleep, and you did not invite anyone. Still drowsy, you stumble out of sleep, and as you meet the intruder, you have a confrontation, which ends up with you striking them in some way, or pushing them, or maybe they tripped, and that causes their death.

The second scenario:

It’s daylight, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you ARE guilty of murder.  If the thief is alive, they will surely have to give back what they stole, or if they don’t have it, they will be sold as a slave.

Now let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  It’s daylight, and you are up and about; possibly doing some household chores.  You hear someone break in, you rush toward them, and you strike them, and kill them.  You are now guilty of the blood you have shed.

So what’s the difference?

In both scenarios, the homeowner spilt the blood of the attacker, but they are only guilty of that if they did so when it is daylight.  That distinction is extremely important in talking about this passage.  Why is this?

I believe it comes down to a difference of consciousness.  In the daylight, you are alert, and aware of your surroundings.  You know exactly where your bat, bullet, sword point/edge, or other weapon, is going to land, and you have complete control over the force of that blow if you are not using a projectile weapon.  You are also thinking clearer than at night, and possibly could have found another means to make them leave.  In short, killing them in the daylight would be intentional.

Blogger and author, Benjamin Corey, writes the following on these verses:

“When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.

However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder. In these cases, the one who used lethal violence against a day-time intruder would themselves be put to death.

While often used by gun-slingers to justify shooting a home intruder, verse 3 actually backfires (see what I did there?) on the one making the argument.”

Therefore, being able to aim a gun and pull the trigger at night would not be justified.  Keeping a loaded gun near you, ready for a break in, and then using it, gives little to no room for a possible nonviolent solution to enter your mind.  A human life could be taken by your hands because a thief wanted your $200-1000 TV. I don’t think that that is worth it.

So…what am I to do?

It’s easy to say that you will stay committed to your nonviolent commitments, and it’s another thing to actually do it.  In the heat of the moment, no one knows for certain what they will do.  But one thing we can know is that if we don’t talk and think about nonviolence NOW in all circumstances, we likely won’t practice it later where it counts.   John Howard Yoder says the following in “What would you do?”:

I am less likely to look for another way out if I have told myself beforehand that there can be none or if I have made advance provision for an easy brutal defense. I am more likely to find a creative way out if I have already forbidden myself the easy violent answer. I am still more likely to find it if I have disciplined my impulsiveness and fostered my creativity by the study and practice of a nonviolent lifestyle”. (Kindle Locations 293-296)

Thinking about this stuff is a needed discipline for Christians.   Do you remember that story about the Amish forgiving the man and comforting the family of the man, who killed several amish school children?  Do you know how much that story has impacted the world?  If people see that our underserved grace is given to those at inconvenient times for us, the world would be absolutely Stunned by the Power and Love of Jesus in our lives.  Their images of hateful Christians would SHATTER at our feet as we are able to show them the God who loves, forgives, and serves, unconditionally.  It would show them that this love of God is so Extreme, so REAL, that it caused us to put the life of an enemy above our own.

Right now, the thing for us to do in times of peace is to pray, and to be active in our nonviolent commitment.  Pray for a change of your own heart towards those who are your “enemies”, pray for the hearts of your enemies, and pray that God shows them the transformative love that envelops you.  Pray for God to show you a nonviolent solution.  Advocate for nonviolence, defend it, and live it out in order to show this component of the Will of God for us to others.

My Biggest Frustration

In talking about this issue with my brothers and sisters in Christ, my biggest frustration is not that I get asked the question, “What would you do if…”; my biggest frustration is that when I explain to them my position, and that I hold my position because for my commitment to Jesus and His words…it’s not enough.

Direct quotes from Jesus, the one we claim as God, are not enough to make some of my brothers and sisters in Christ even consider this teaching of His.   When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, there was no “But not if…” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Pray for your persecutors..”, there was no “that they may all die” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Turn the other cheek…”, there was no “as long as it matches what the Old Testament says” attached to it.  

I get it.  A Hippie God doesn’t seem to jive either, but please see my writings on the Old Testament in chapter two.  What God does is up to God.  He is the one who will carry out vengeance.  He is the one who will make the wrong right.  But WE are called to “not repay evil for evil”.  WE are called to be PeaceMakers.

My biggest frustration is that we let politics, anger, pride, and revenge, get in the way of following the way of the Cross, of BEING PeaceMakers.  A way that looks like a radical commitment to God, for the betterment of others, even if it costs us our life.

If an intruder intended harm, or was committing harm, upon my family, I cannot promise to you that I would remain faithful to my religious convictions.  But I pray that God would give me the ability to be able to if that time truly came, God forbid.

So…what would you do?


Works Referenced

Corey, Benjamin L. “Why Exodus 22:2 Doesn’t Work To Justify Armed Self-Defense.” The Official Blog of Benjamin L Corey. Patheos.com, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.
John Howard Yoder. What Would You Do? (John Howard Yoder Series) (Kindle Locations 293-296). Herald Press. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix – FAQ

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do with all of the War & Violence in the Old Testament?

This is one of the most common questions that is asked of me.  And for good reason. The Old Testament contains some pretty graphic scenes; some of which are said to have been approved and ordained by God.  A strict adherence to nonviolence seems to ignore these parts of the bible, especially when many who may hold to nonviolence fail to address these passages, or simply shoo them away as if they were a pest. I do not desire to do that, and though my answers will not be completely satisfying, what answers can be when there is so much violence in the Old Testament, and such peaceful teachings of Christ in the New?

In short, I believe that God has complete rights to kill those he wills to, for His purposes.  I believe that God worked through the Israelites, as well as the pagan nations that held them in captivity, to carry out His will.  However, there are specific instances in which the Israelites entered battle without the Lord’s blessing/command, and they were punished.   Even in their ancient tribal, and later civilized, society, violence against another was not permitted unless allowed by God.  Therefore, it is important to note that drawing a comparison between what was permitted for believers governed under the true Theocracy of Israel, and any modern government today, possibly using Romans 13 as a justifier, is a completely unfounded comparison.  

My question back to this question would be, “What do you do with the nonviolence as taught and exemplified by Christ?  When God himself teaches something directly, why not follow it?”

For more on the Old Testament, please refer to Chapter Two.  For more on the New Testament, please read chapters Three and Four.

What do you do with Romans 13, and Capital Punishment?

I’m not scared of Romans 13 because Romans 12 precedes it.  Romans 12 and 13 are meant to be read together with the overall theme of “How do we respond to those around us, on different levels”.  Romans 13 starts with what the Government is able to do, and how we are to view said government.  Romans 12 teaches Christians to love all, to never avenge yourselves, never repay evil for evil, to live peaceably with all men, and leave vengeance up to the Lord. I don’t think that those requirements to the believers are somehow made void when their government tells them to do something contrary to those requirements.  For more on this, please refer to Chapter Five.

How important is this issue, really?

Sometimes, this issue prompts some to ask me if this issue is really all that important to be unified on when there has been disagreements on this issue for hundreds, and thousands of years.

For those who believe that a Christian can kill if they are ordered by their government to do so, I understand this question.  Why should I make such a big deal about it – it’s just my opinion.

But it’s more than just an opinion to those on the nonviolent side of things.  To us, it’s literally a matter of life and death because we place equal value in all human life, and it’s also a matter of following the Lord’s will.  I don’t mean to say that I judge those who disagree with me – as they obviously do not believe nonviolence is a command of God, like I do…but I think that if people are unwilling to consider the argument of nonviolence, and jump to situational ethics questions as a first defense, I think something is wrong there.  We need to be seeking the Lord in ALL things…even when it is uncomfortable.  

If Christ taught nonviolence, or even if we can all agree that he preached that nonviolence is the IDEAL, why wouldn’t we strive for nonviolence and seek to avoid violence?  Why would be willfully enter a fight, or a position in government, that requires violence, when we can easily avoid these things?

If Church fathers before Constantine took such a bold stand against violence, and then after Constantine the Church was wrapped up with the State…why would we not look back to their understanding of this issue before the church and the state were One?

For more on this, please read Chapters Six and Seven.

How do you view those who serve in the military, or police? Do you judge them?

First, I respect all people, and second, no I do not judge them.  But I believe this is the hardest hurdle to get past in this discussion.  On a personal level, the Nonviolence advocating Christian is often placed in a box along with secular soldier-hating and police-hating hippies.  So sometimes, it’s even hard for us to know how to view soldiers and the police, especially when they are Christian, when our position would say that a Christian shouldn’t even become a soldier or join the police if they can help it because the role of the job may conflict with their faith. 

I do not judge non-christians in these positions because the morality of nonviolence is not a religious calling to them.  I do not judge Christians in these positions because the teaching of nonviolence was obviously not made known to them, or at least the argument was not made well; therefore, they are not willfully going against what I would see as the Will of God.  

But here’s the hard part…

Though I do not judge them for being in these positions, I would like for the teaching of nonviolence to lead them to either vowing to not kill in their positions, possibly requesting a change in role, or to not re-enlist when their time of service is complete. That is a LOT to ask, and I know that, but if I am being faithful to my convictions as if they mattered, this would be the desire of my heart for Christians in these positions.

I think it is always important for those on the Christian nonviolence side of things to always remember to respect ALL people.  I’ve always supported veterans by dropping a few dollars in the bucket at VFW drives outside of a walmart, and I’d never trash them, active duty soldiers, or the police.  Advocating for nonviolence necessitates a belief that all life is unconditionally valuable because it IS life. If men and women put their lives on hold, and/or put their lives at risk in a public service manner, no matter if we agree with the validity of the wars we are in, they deserve the people’s respect.  They deserve Our respect.

Therefore, the tension is holding a position that is potentially completely offensive to them, while at the same time making them aware that you still respect them.  And that respect is complicated – it’s a respect of the man or woman, your sibling in Christ, and not in what their position may require them to do.  Tension will be there, but love need to eclipse that tension.

What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened your wife and/or family?

This question is asked so much that it deserves its own section.  Please follow this blog to see when the next section that will answer this question goes up.