Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Can Someone Who Is Not A Christian Be More “Christian” Than A Christian?

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Can someone who is not a Christian be more “Christian” than a Christian?

In my last post I noted that recent Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s “way” imitated that of Christ.  A friend commented though that she wasn’t a “Christian” and was, in fact, a “Muslim”.

True…

This is obviously something that I have been thinking long and hard on for the last couple years or so…

What does it really mean to believe in Jesus?

I recently taught at a Sunday service where I asked by a show of hands who had friends, co-workers, or family that were not Christian but acted more in a way that Jesus taught than Christians they knew.

Pretty much every hand went up…

Which begs the question, “Can following “the Way”  Jesus taught us be separate from being a Christian?

 

“Christian” as a tribal identity 

The term “Christian” was first used in the book of Acts to denote followers of “The Way”.  It was meant to suggest someone who is imitating Christ.  Through the centuries though politics and religion mixed with history to transform the term “Christian” into a type of tribal identity.

It was used to help separate “us” from “them”.

Today when someone says they are a Christian I can guess within a certain spectrum what beliefs they affirm (but may not practice), the language they speak, and the religious culture they occupy.  I can assume certain rituals, norms, and practices but the one thing I realize I can not be sure of.

I can no longer assume a “Christian” is a follower of Jesus!

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As Benjamin Corey states in his book Undiluted:

When we look at the undiluted radical message of Jesus, we see that it was never about wearing a theological label, subscribing to a particular theological structure, or even about becoming a Christian.  The undiluted message of Jesus is, and always has been, a straightforward invitation to follow him, and to learn to be like him.

Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus pg 33

When Jesus gives the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, those who are approved by the king were surprised to hear the king counted their good works as done for him.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 34-40

Wait a minute!  Is Jesus really suggesting that people could be following in his “Way” and don’t even fully realise who is really on the receiving end of those acts of goodness and life?

Seems to be…

That notion really offends and irritates a lot of people because it means that some of “us” could really be part of “them”…and some of “them” could really be part of “us”.

And many Christians don’t even want to contemplate that.

UsvsThem

But Jesus said there are a couple ways of identifying who are his disciples, or followers of “the Way”…

* the bearing of fruit: (John 15:8) People who are following Jesus are eating from the Tree of Life.   If they are they will produce fruit after that kind.  Life giving fruit!  Life that can be given to others for strength and nourishment.  When we see people bringing life, grace, and peace to their environment we can guess they are about the Father’s business.

* the love a person has for people in general: (John 13:35) Jesus said himself if you want to know who is “with me” look at the way they treat people in general.  Do they love others?

When Jesus returns it will be interesting (and probably terrifying) to see who he points to and says, “That one is from my Father’s Kingdom, now enter into His house prepared for you”

I think we will be VERY surprised indeed!

Weekend Distractions: Nobel Peace Prize Winner Demonstrates Christ’s “Way”


Malala-Yousafzai1
Yesterday Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace prize recipient by winning the award at the age of 16.

As early as the age of 12 Malala was blogging about the need for girls to have access to education and being critical of the Taliban, who were closing schools for females in regions of Pakistan they controlled.

She finally became so vocal that the Taliban sent a group of assassins to kill her. On Oct 9, 2012 the Taliban group stopped the bus she was riding on and shot her 3 times in the head and neck.  After many painful life saving and reconstructive surgeries she miraculously survived and has since become a rallying cry for the dignity and rights of females in the region.

Malala’s “way” follows the pattern of Christ.  A message of liberty and freedom is announced.  The “powers” in control don’t like the thought of control being lost and attempt to silence the messenger even to the point of killing them. Then the “return” of the messenger becomes the spark that opens up society to a new and better way of  living.  And the messengers commitment to non-violence “exposes” the “powers” in charge for what they really are; weak and fearful.

So kudos to Malala Yousafzai on her Nobel Peace prize but even more so, for following in “the Way”!

“The Romance of Grace” by Jim McNeely

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As the message of grace spreads through the church it goes without saying that grace authors face an increasingly difficult challenge; distinguishing their grace book from the plethora of others that have recently hit the market. In The Romance of Grace Jim McNeely does just that. His Romance transcends the feeling of intimacy a grace book naturally generates and takes it to the next level…

God doesn’t just love you.

No indeed.

God is in love with you!

McNeely sets the tone for this passion at the beginning of The Romance Of Grace by invoking an iconic movie about true love, The Princess Bride. Highlighting the scene where Princess Buttercup is being chastised by an old woman, the Ancient Booer, for treating true love like garbage and settling for a love much less true, McNeely ties this cinematic exchange to the real life misery most Christians find themselves in.

We walk with the voice of the Ancient Booer in our ears accusing us of settling for misery – and for no good reason. We have romance in our hands knowing that our true love lives, and we give that up for nothing but petty fears, useless obligations, and secret shames. Truly our great sin is not stealing or adultery, or anger, or false oaths – our greatest sin is that we give up true love. We fall short not of our obligations, but of glory (Rom 3:23). (p.12)

Despite Buttercup’s condescending and flippant attitude toward Wesley’s unconditional love, Wesley pursues Buttercup with a singular passion. He overcomes swordsmen, giants, con men, and death itself to win his True Love! And the church’s “Wesley” is even better…

Boo Meme

Morality vs. romance

All grace books address the works vs grace dichotomy. Most followers of Jesus struggle with the weight of performance as an aspect of their faith at some point, and the rest that comes with grace is a welcome message. McNeely, though, addresses the issue with the passion of Solomon writing of his Beloved:

Picture God as a man who is ravaged by his love for a beautiful woman. Such a man’s first thought is not, “How can I get this woman to be more practical and virtuous?” His main thought is, “How can I get this woman to fall in love with me?”… Morals were important enough to send Jesus to the cross, but we are the joy for which he endured the shame. (pp.17-18)

The thought of God being ravaged in his love for us is a message which doesn’t get delivered in the standard sermon. Instead the church, as if it were a grown woman at an orphanage, is told that if we clean ourselves up and patch a couple of holes in our dress, we just may find a suitor who will overlook our obvious shortcomings.

Moral good vs. aesthetic good

Jim McNeely offers a compelling insight into a dilemma that has driven Christians crazy since Paul the Apostle; “Why do I want to do bad things and sometimes not want to do good things?” In Romance he argues that our will is consistently at odds with our heart, acting as a moral bellwether of what we know we should or shouldn’t be doing. Essentially our will is needed to keep our desires in check. In the Garden, because all desire before the fall was life giving, the will was not essential.However:

once the desire for the forbidden entered, at the suggestion of the serpent, the moral and aesthetic good were split. Then our conscience was born and we entered the prison of the ought. (p.22)

Christians then fall into the trap of attempting to strengthen their will to shore up their morality and make themselves attractive to God. In Romance McNeely demonstrates that that mode of thinking – what Paul described as “the flesh” – is something that God seeks not to remodel but to bulldoze. His desire is not for a will so strong it always trumps our desire, but for our desire (the aesthetic good) to once again be for what is life giving (the moral good).

The romance of Grace

The book suggests that the main question for God is not how he can make us good but rather, “How can I get them to respond to my love?” The strength of McNeely’s The Romance of Grace rests in his ability to suggest the notion of God as our lover without the corruption of that notion that a broken culture would produce. Instead McNeely intertwines grace and romance effortlessly and suggests:

He (God) gave us absolute favour and acceptance first, and lets us work out how we live with that afterward. He is looking for a perfection of love, for virtue chosen freely from desire. (p.97)

Yes, we are indeed Princess Buttercup, and our “Wesley” will not stop in the pursuit of his True Love!

Forget “Left Behind”: Jesus Breaks the Cycle of Power and Violence


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When Jesus walked the earth he tended to make a lot of people around him angry and frustrated.

That’s because the Jewish people were looking for a new leader. Someone who would rise up with God behind him to throw off pagan Roman rule and make the nation of Israel great again.

They were looking to be back on top!

The history of mankind is the history of nations seeking to be “on top”.

The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British…each nation, and countless others, had their time.

Their moment in the sun.

Their brief season “on top”!

Now the United States is “on top” with China hoping to occupy that seat if it can.

But each of these great nations claimed the “right” to rule the earth and shape history using a system at war with the Kingdom of God.

They used a system of power re-enforced with violence.

It is a never ending cycle…

But is it?

Could someone possibly break the cycle!

 

Worthy to break the cycle

In the book of Revelation we see this very scenario played out. John, the author of Revelation, uses apocryphal poetic language to lay out the history of humankind and it’s quest for power. We see “beast” after “beast” rise up to make war on the earth bringing destruction and misery in their quest to be “on top” and rule the world.

Their cycle of violence is sealed up in a scroll that cannot be broken. (Rev 5)

The question is asked, “Who can open this scroll”?

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside

Rev 5:1-4

No one could be found to break the cycle of power and greed.  The never ending series of pretenders to the throne that bring famine, disease, economic collapse, and death in their wake looks like it will continue on…and on…and on.

But wait…

Someone is found who can do it.  John is told to look at the mighty Lion who is able to open the scroll and break the cycle.  But when he turns he doesn’t see a mighty Lion!

sheep-lamb

He sees a little lamb!

A lamb that is standing…but looks slain.

He sees Jesus!

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne,

Rev 5: 5-6

The angelic beings around the throne of God begin to sing the reason he is able to break the cycle.  It is not because he overcame those other empires (the “beasts”) through power and violence.

No…

If he had he would have been just the next king of the next kingdom in a long line of kingdoms that believes it gets to mold people and shape society to its will through coercion and bloodshed.

No, its because Jesus chose not to use power!

It was because when he had a chance to slay his enemies…

…he instead chose to forgive them.

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He broke the cycle of power and violence through love and mercy.

And when he (Jesus) had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Rev 5: 8-11

Note that the singers in this passage are specifically carrying the prayers of God’s people as they declare the cycle broken. What a hope we have that our prayer of it being on Earth as it is in Heaven has been, and is being, answered.

So leave all that Left Behind theology that distorts what Christ has done and is doing.  Don’t look for a Jesus that will come in vengeance to establish his Kingdom by force.

He didn’t do it 2000 years ago…and he won’t do it now!

Dispatches From Hong Kong: My Experience as the City Speaks!

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If you’ve seen the news the last couple days you know then that Hong Kong has come alive.  On Sunday evening  tens of thousands of students took to the streets in Central Hong Kong in response to an announcement that although Hong Kong would be able to vote for its Chief Executive for the first time ever, the candidate pool would be culled to two or three people approved by Beijing. (For the record, China has never been against democracy per se… they simply want to know the result before hand)

Many of us then watched in shock and despair as the news depicted the peaceful demonstrators being repelled by the police with tear gas and pepper spray.  The normally safe and quiet streets of Hong Kong had transformed in an instant.

The video of the police reaction fueled a massive response by the people of Hong Kong to come out and support the young students who had been on the front lines of the demonstration.

So after work some friends and I decided to go out in the evening to see what we could do to offer help.  We had planned to bring supplies of bottled water but then heard instead that the demonstrators needed supplies of large garbage bags for the trash that was accumulating.

Our "team" picking up trash

Our “team” picking up trash

Armed with garbage bags we started in Wan Chai and slowly waded into the thicker crowds gathered closer to the government buildings in Admiralty.

First, let me say this has to be one of the most peaceful political protests in human history.  50,000 people on the streets and no

* violence

* looted stores

* vandalism

And the atmosphere is festive.  There are drink and food stations with tons of donated supplies.  I can’t tell you how many times I was offered a bottle of water, a towel, or even a pair of goggles. (In case of a tear gas being employed again)

Bottled water and supplies station

Bottled water and supplies station

The camaraderie among the people at the demonstration, and what was extended to me and my friends, was a wonderful experience.

There was something startling, and then encouraging, for the demonstrators to see me, a “white guy in a tie” who was moving through the crowd with a garbage bag asking if I could take away their trash.

People were patting me on the back, thanking me, and giving me the thumbs up.  When I responded to one group in a little Cantonese they asked me how long I had been in Hong Kong.

“First moved here in 1990″ I responded.

lapsap

Armed with my garbage bag!

There was a collective gasp among the group as they realised something that just dawned on me.

I was living in Hong Kong before most of these demonstrators were born!

* I met my wife in Hong Kong

* We’ve lived most of our life together in Hong Kong

* Our two sons were both born in Hong Kong

I wasn’t just down here picking up trash as a kind gesture from an “expat” or “outsider”.

I am also “Hong Konger”

and yes, I will also get to vote for the Chief Executive in 2017…

Proud to see my son down here as well!

As I moved through the crowd with my garbage bags in tow the smiles and the gestures of goodwill increased.

I don’t know how this will all end…but I do know I have never been more proud to identify with this city or its people.

Lord, let your peace rest on Hong Kong

…amen…and amen!

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3 Reasons Why Jesus Is NOT My “Personal Lord & Savior”

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If you grew up in evangelical or charismatic church circles you were probably encouraged to “receive Jesus” as your “Personal Lord and Saviour”.

Doing this, usually done in the form of a “sinner’s prayer”, guaranteed you bypassed hell and went straight to heaven.  While I’m grateful for a lot of my church upbringing, there is a large portion of it that is demanding a reappraisal.

With that in mind, here are 3 reasons I have to say “no” to Jesus as my “Personal Lord & Saviour”.

 

1) Jesus didn’t go around asking people to accept him as “Personal Lord & Savior

It’s interesting how the message that Jesus focused on seems so much different than the one of a lot of the present day church.  Jesus was announcing a new kingdom and way of ordering society.  He seemed to proclaim Good News where he went rather than focus on telling people what they needed to do.

For example in Matthew 9:3 a paralytic man is brought before Jesus.  The man thinks he is about to get healed but Jesus does something shocking!

He instead pronounces his sins are forgiven!

This poor handicapped man had not:

* received Jesus as his Personal Lord and Savior.   

* acknowledged he himself was a sinner

* even asked for any sins to be forgiven.

Jesus simply proclaims the Good News that God forgives him regardless.

Oh, and then to demonstrate to the religious folk who were upset by this turn of events, Jesus went on to heal the man’s physical handicap as well.

savior 2

Or remember Zacchaeus?  The corrupt official that Jesus had dinner with one night in Luke 19.  One night hanging with Jesus and he decides to give all his ill gotten gains back to the poor.

No asking forgiveness…

No receiving Jesus as his Personal Lord & Savior…

And yet Jesus proclaims:

 “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

No alter call…no repeat after me prayers…no background worship team to heighten the emotional response.

Just God doing his thing…seeking and saving his children!

 

2) It turns a response to Christ’s work into a magic spell

When Jesus proclaimed “It is finished”… It was…  The curse was broken and a cure for what was diseasing humanity was released into the world.  Jesus showed us life didn’t have to be a never ending cycle of “power” that is maintained through threat, intimidation, and violence.  He instead showed us a world where love and compassion are possible and are underpinned through forgiveness and grace.

And yes, there is a response on our part to this finished work that is needed.

But somehow we’ve turned responding to the Good News into a magic formula. The church condemns Harry Potter yet sometimes I think it’s use of magic words (“repeat after me sinner’s prayers”) and magic rituals (alter calls) to replace a real transformed heart is much more damaging.

Harry-Potter-saint

How many times have I witnessed someone who obviously had no idea what they were really doing get proclaimed “saved” by a minister who had just led them in a prayer.  Somehow that magic incantation is supposed transform someone from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light?

I think not…

I know when I have met someone who is following in the Way of Jesus …and many of those people have never said a “sinner’s prayer”.

 

3) It minimizes the role of Jesus as King and his redemptive work in Creation 

Let’s face it…making Jesus a “personal Lord and Savior” greatly reduces who Jesus is.

Now just for the record

Jesus is King of Creation, King of Kings, and Lord of all Nations etc….etc…. throw in an Alpha & Omega or my personal favorite, “I AM” and you start to get the picture!

Point of fact, the disciples of Christ were not executed by Rome because they were sharing if you accepted Jesus as your “personal Lord & Savior” then in the afterlife you would go to the “good place” rather than the “bad place”.

No way…

They were killed because they were proclaiming a King higher than the emperor who was in authority NOW!

As N.T. Wright says they got in trouble for talking about someone new being in charge.

Really in charge…a new boss!

We in the Western church like to keep Jesus the “political” figure who was setting up a new government separate from the “religious” teacher who was teaching us about good morals and the afterlife.

We like our Jesus to be “personal”!

That’s why so many Americans can do things like say the Pledge of Allegiance or do Fourth of July celebrations during a church service.

Because Jesus isn’t King of a new government of which they are a citizen…

no…

Jesus is simply a Personal “Lord & Savior”

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Can you imagine going into the presence of God and saying, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

It’s absurd!

But we can do it because Jesus is not King of any real kingdom!

He is an ornament…a beautiful ornament granted…but an ornament none the less.

And when Jesus becomes the ornament, the magic lucky rabbit’s foot that guarantees our heavenly destination it steals the attention from the fact that Christ wants us to be his body in the process of redeeming all creation back to Himself.

That’s why Jesus is not my “Personal Lord & Savior”

That title is just way to small for me!

 

Weekend Distractions: Scotland Shows How It’s Done With Non-Violent Referendum

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A big day in the United Kingdom this week. The people of Scotland had the opportunity to vote for their independence from the rest of the union.

Think about that for a moment.

They got to vote…

They got to choose…

How often has that happened in the history of the world?

Historically a country’s independence is forged in blood.  An insurgency against the “power” in charge leads to rebellion and civil war. A lot of people end up dying for “the cause”.

But that didn’t happen in the U.K last week.  And when the people of Scotland ultimately decided to remain within the union the leaders of the the Scottish National Party who advocated independence were not rounded up and executed.  There were no charges of treason or insurrection.

Other than some incidents of passionate voters getting carried away there was no violence whatsoever.

Incredible!

A Chinese friend of mine this week mentioned how the Chinese government looks at what happened in Scotland this week and it makes them nervous. “Steve, think of how much smaller China would be if different areas could vote to leave the PRC?  Tibet, Xinjiang Province, Inner Mongolia… all would leave if they could just vote.  Beijing would be against the idea of what happened in Scotland this week but they can’t even understand it”

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Think about it.  The Scottish Nationalist Party has been openly advocating Scottish Independence since 1934 and the party is allowed to exist by the “powers” in charge.  On top of that it actually has Members of Parliament voted in and representing the SNP in Westminster. Essentially you have a party whose ultimate aim is to break off a large segment of the country and go independent operating normally within the governing framework of the existing “power” .

A government has to be incredibly secure to tolerate that.

Can you imagine a person advocating Tibet or Hong Kong independence representing a recognized party in Beijing?

I’ll let that thought marinate for a minute…

The irony of allowing freedom of choice in the Scottish referendum resulted in the people of Scotland ultimately choosing to stay.  

I know there was very passionate opinion on either side of the Scottish referendum and I has friends who were very disappointed with the result but rather than take up arms and start a violent rebellion they are simply going to the pub, ordering a pint, and saying, “Oh well, maybe next time.”

So three cheers for the U.K. and the people of Scotland for showing the rest of the world how it’s done!

More “Left Behind”: Thoughts on Raptures, Resurrections, and Turning The Prince of Peace into A God of War

 

Jesus_AR15My last post on the upcoming Left Behind movie seem to generate more than the usual amount of discussion.  To everyone’s credit the interactions with me, or the one’s I observed between others, were polite debates and discussions with people wrestling with a lot of unknowns on “this side” of Christ’s return.

To our benefit we live in a time when we have at least seen Jesus come the first time.  Because we live in Anno Domini we have a clear understanding of the nature and person of God through his Son.  (Heb 1)

Yes, thanks to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we in the 21st century know God and how he really responds to sinners and saints alike.

Think of the poor folk trying to figure God out who lived before Jesus’ first appearance…

…they were really flying blind!

So I thought I would touch on a couple discussion topics that stemmed from the Left Behind post.

Rapture or Resurrection? 

A few folk agreed with the themes of the previous Left Behind post  but took issue that I suggested there was no “rapture”.  I think we need to differentiate between a “rapture” (which is never mentioned in the Bible) and a “resurrection” (which is).

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is often used as a foundation for the theology of a rapture.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lordforever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

But the context in the letter is Paul’s desire to share with people who are grieving dead loved ones that they don’t have to grieve!   He is talking about “resurrection”.  The hope that we all have when Christ comes again.

The problem I have with the present understanding of ” the rapture” is that the word suggests the church being taken away. The great promise is not that we are going but that He is coming… and we are transformed in the process. As N.T. Wright suggests it was traditional for the faithful followers of a returning king to go outside the city gates to meet the king and walk in victorious with him. Yes, we will “meet Jesus in the air” to be with him …but he will be reigning from the throne of his father David on Earth!

 

Prince of Peace or God of War?

Imagine if you can, the thought of Mother Theresa returning from the dead and slaying all her enemies.  Yes, all those that didn’t believe in her mission to stand for the poor and the oppressed in India would feel her mighty wrath.

Weird thought eh?

How about Ghandi?  Or Dr. Martin Luther King?  If they came again would they justly smite all that opposed their message?

The thought of any of these three engaging in such an action is so outrageous that suggesting it isn’t even as offensive as it is laughable.

And yet a multitude of Christians seem to have no reservation proclaiming that when Jesus returns he will literally kill lots of people!  As one commenter said to me, “I do believe He will come and destroy His enemies.”

Apparently Jesus may have been the Prince of Peace the first time around but on his Second Coming he will be the God of War who kicks butt and takes names!

Or as the Saturday Night Live parody suggests, “Next time, no more Mr. Nice Jesus”!

One of the arguments I hear to justify Jesus’ actions is one of justice!

“You have to understand Steve, Jesus is merciful…but he’s also just!”

It’s interesting that almost everyone I have heard say this “justice” phrasing to me has been:

* white

* Western (American, British, European etc.)

* from a relatively prosperous economic background

I am the same…

In the crap shoot of birth I was born white, male, and in America.  I had loving parents who taught and modeled compassion and kindness to me.  I never wanted for a meal, shelter, or fresh drinking water.

thresa

I also have had the opportunity to travel the world and see most of the people on this planet are not so fortunate.  I’ve seen whole cultures trapped in cycles of poverty, mistrust, and violence.   Men who do abysmal things because abysmal things were done to them and they don’t even understand that there is a better Way!  Women who live in fear and lash out at those around them because that is all they have ever known.  Children who are sold into economic and sexual slavery and then grow up to perpetuate the cycle by doing the same to the next generation.

They didn’t win the birth lottery I did!

I had a much better opportunity to “receive Jesus” and live in his Way than they did.

Is that justice?

Is that how the Kingdom of Heaven operates?

A crapshoot of who was born to a particular passport?

God forbid!

According to many Christians though when Jesus returns these are the people he would be slaying.  These are enemies who have failed to “receive him” and must be destroyed.

The reason they believe this is most Christians don’t even bother to think through their theology. They don’t take it to the logical conclusion and see where it really leads.

It leads to the Prince of Peace becoming a God of War!

Jesus though showed us a better Way. Those of us who have been blessed by the Good News of Jesus are to go into these areas where people are trapped in cycles of poverty, despair, and violence and are to break the chains holding them trapped as Jesus taught us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

Luke 4:18

The Good News of Christ is freedom and liberty to those who are trapped not a threat to those who do not respond!

For the record I do believe when Jesus returns he will destroy his enemies!

But his enemies are not people!  They are the theologies, philosophies, cultural traits, government systems, economics, and everything else that brings death to his children.

As Paul says in Ephesians:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The struggle has never been against flesh and blood and it won’t be when Jesus returns.

The Son of God, who on the cross begged forgiveness of his murderers and who when raised from the dead proclaimed, “Peace, don’t be afraid” was the model of what we, who are his Bride, are to proclaim to the world!

In your quest for justice don’t end up turning the Prince of Peace into a God of War!

3 Things To Consider Before Inviting Your Friend To See Left Behind

LeftBehind_poster_webIn a couple weeks time the Left Behind movie will open in cinemas around the world.  As someone who got “onboard” the Left Behind evangelistic bandwagon 14 years ago when the original version with Kirk Cameron came out (yes I rented out the big screen at a clubhouse and invited many unsaved friends hoping that by watching it they may become “saved”) can I offer 3 things to consider before getting evangelistically excited about the new Left Behind?

Take it as the voice of experience…

 

Left Behind Theology is Bad Theology

News Flash: The Rapture – Tribulation – Anti-Christ theology of the Left Behind series is only about 200 years old!

Theologians are still pondering how the musings and theories of 19th century Plymouth Brethren minister John Darby became the eschatological underpinning of millions of evangelical and charismatic Christians.

But it did…

I was one of them.

Darby’s theology ( later propagated through Biblical translations like Scofield’s Reference Bible)  fostered an escapist attitude among the church that focused the Bride’s attention on escaping the earth rather than renewing it.

Fast forward 200 years to when many Christians increasingly cast themselves in the role of persecuted victim, a theology where Jesus comes back and proclaims we were “right” after all and proceeds to kill everyone else has a certain attractiveness.

The problem is (to paraphrase Brian Zahnd) Jesus is not like that.  Jesus has never been like that.  There has never been a time when Jesus was remotely like that.  Many Christians don’t realize that…but they should.

Summed up, Left Behind theology is bad theology for a number of reasons but chief among them is that it just makes Jesus look bad.

And I don’t care much for that…

 

People won’t get saved watching Left Behind

I was perusing the Left Behind facebook page and one thread had over 30,000 comments talking a lot about the movie being used as a tool for salvation.

Comments such as:

* Can’t wait to see this movie! Hope this movie brings the unsaved to Christ so they don’t get left behind.

* I pray that many get out to see this, to realize what is ahead of they aren’t ready for the coming of Christ.

*  I can’t wait. I am dragging my husband (agnostic) to this so he can SEE what he will be facing someday..

I appreciate the sentiments (hey, I was there once) but seeing a movie doesn’t “save” anyone.  And when fear is used as the tool, that’s about as far away from the salvation Jesus brings as you can get.

And that’s what Left Behind sells.  It sells fear!  As if Jesus can’t woo his bride to himself through unconditional love, he instead has to put a shotgun to people’s head and threaten them with all sorts of catastrophe if they don’t “accept” him.

I’m not saying books, film, and art can’t be used to help reveal who Jesus is to people…

…I’m just saying the Left Behind film doesn’t reveal who Jesus is.

 

Left Behind is about money

Christians are simply being marketed as a group and used to make a number of people a LOT of money.  As a film lover myself I have no issue spending my hard earned cash at the cinema or for a download on iTunes knowing that while I am purchasing a couple hours of entertainment and storytelling some producers and actors are raking it in.

But…

* no one is trying to convince me to bring my friend to see Iron Man 3 because their eternal salvation is at stake.

* no one is trying to sell me a ministry resource kit so I can do a church small group study on Guardians of the Galaxy

* no one is urging me to see the latest disaster movie because it’s all in the Bible and going to come true one day

EVENT-KIT

No, movie producers know that there is a huge market now for Christians who will not only pay to watch movies where they are cast as the persecuted victim who is finally vindicated  (God is Not Dead) but movies where they can be convinced that it is their moral duty to bring as many friends as possible.

The sound you hear is Jesus turning over tables in the market place… 

To sum up

My transition from evangelistic promoter of Left Behind in 2000 to vocal critic in 2014 doesn’t come from deep theological discussions or eschatological arguments.

Not in the slightest…

It’s because I see who Jesus is just a little clearer now than I did then.

I see now that the prince of peace really is The Prince of Peace

Why do I feel so strongly about Left Behind?

Because Jesus deserves so much better…

On YWAM and 25 years of Christian Ministry

DTS outreach in Malaysia

DTS outreach in Malaysia

I turned 48 yesterday.  Not a milestone birthday I grant you (save for the joy found in reminding myself I’m not 50 yet) but it did cause me to reflect on an actual milestone anniversary in my life.

25 years ago this month I arrived in Melbourne Australia to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth with a Mission (YWAM).  It was essentially my moment of entering “full time ministry”.  I know, as someone who has openly questioned the concept of “full time ministry” on this very blog I realize I am navigating a theological minefield here but bear with me.

It was 1989 and the Christian ministry world was very binary for me at that time.  When God calls, you have one of two options:

* either pastor a church and counsel people’s problems all day long

or

* become a foreign missionary and see the world as you bring the Good News to new lands. 

I knew which one I wanted to do…

Of course all this happened because I had one of those “moments” where God really shakes you up.  I hadn’t really gone to church much between graduating high school and turning 21 preferring to focus on other things…like myself!

But a Bible study I was invited to by a mentor of mine at the time followed by many reflective discussions in the bar afterwards soon had me “on fire” again.

However I was still nervous about blowing all the money I had saved to move to Los Angeles and become an actor on a 6 month missionary school in Australia. Truth be told,  I purposely applied to the Melbourne school 1 week after the cutoff date with the hope that I would be rejected.

I wasn’t.

In fact I got a call from Melbourne and Tom the DTS leader told me they received my application late but had prayed about it and felt I was supposed to come.

Now in these days of Skype and the internet an international call is as common as phoning my neighbor but for a suburban raised American in 1989 a call from Australia where they had prayed and felt God wanted me to go?

Forget Hollywood…I’m goin’ to a land down under”

Yes, my shorts scream '80s

Yes, my shorts scream ’80s

A Good God

And let me add about how much God loves us.  About a year or two before I went to Australia a young Australian guy named Peter visited our church for a while as he traveled the world.  My dad employed him for a few weeks in his flooring company and so we got to know Peter pretty well during that time.  Peter wasn’t just from Australia…he was from Melbourne Australia.

So when I arrived in Melbourne in September of 1989 (after an excruciating Detroit – Denver – L.A. – Honolulu – Sydney – Melbourne flight) it was Peter who was waiting for me when I landed.  I stayed my first week before the DTS with Peter’s family who practically adopted me as one of their own during my time in Melbourne.  (Australian readers may appreciate memories of that first weekend include eating fish and chips and watching Hey Hey Its Saturday)

My point though is I was young, away from my family, and in a strange land for the first time in my life.  So God arranged for a loving family to watch over me in my new home away from home.  In all of the cities in all of Australia I knew only one Australian personally before I arrived…and he lived 30 minutes from the YWAM base I would be attending.

There are no coincidences…

God is just cool like that

Discipleship Training School

The DTS itself was an experience I will never forget and it really confirmed in me that I would be in some form of ministry and that it would be overseas. Melbourne was so much more cosmopolitan than anything I had ever experienced growing up in suburban Detroit.  I tasted curry for the first time in Melbourne.

I was 23 year old and had never had a curry!  (Now I can’t go a week without it)

The DTS gang waiting for a train

The DTS gang waiting for a train

Our  DTS  was very International and had about 23 people in it from Germany, Switzerland, Egypt, the U.K., New Zealand, America, as well as the Aussies.

I kinda knew then this was the life I wanted to live.  I loved the clash of cultures and cuisine.  I loved talking about God through the lens of other people’s experiences and upbringings.

My time with these new friends were full of adventures as we learned, worked, prayed, and played together.  I even developed a crush on one of the pretty young YWAM base leaders.  Turned out she also had a crush…but alas, not for me.  Thats ok, it cleared the way for Tammy a year later :)

I later went on outreach with the DTS to Malaysia and it was there that I picked up a book called Heartcry for China. I read it twice in the jungle and thought for the first time my next move may need to be to Hong Kong.

Turns out Hong Kong was where the journey took me but it wasn’t where it started.  It started 25 years ago at a YWAM base in Melbourne Australia. So thanks to all you who were part of that chapter of my life.  I have many fond memories and it laid the foundation of where I am today!