Unconditional Love Requires Radical Forgiveness

BOOK REVIEW- I’ve only just started reading ‘Unconditional’ by Brian Zahnd and I have to say Wow. Zahnd gets to the very core of Jesus’ ministry; love & forgiveness. In the first couple of chapters he discusses stories from holocaust survivors Simon Wiesenthal (‘Sunflowers’), Corrie Ten Boom (‘The Hiding Place’), and Deitrich Bonhoffer (‘The Cost of Discipleship’).

7784363This book is from years ago, but here is a YouTube message he gave at Word of Life church in St. Joseph, Missouri a few months ago where he shares the same thing- Jesus’s call for His followers to share radical, infinite forgiveness. Matthew 5:44 Christianity is the only Christianity that can really change the world.

I began following Zahnd on Twitter and reading articles and blogs he’d written a few months ago and the longer I do the more Scriptural I find his theology and the more Christ-centered and love and grace based I find his opinions.

Zahn is the rare antidote for so much of American evangelicalism- neither the legalism, fear and anger of some hypocritical Pharisee types nor the shallow materialistic empty promises of those preaching nothing but blessing and triumph. This is authentic discipleship. Depth of meaning, sincere hope that isn’t based on or dependent on works-righteousness, but at the same time demands change, commitment and real repentance.

He’ll challenge your thinking and your assumptions.

I want my Christian friends who are prepared to put Jesus ahead of all other political, social and philosophical world views to give him a read. They may just find that the Jesus of the Bible and the early church of the New Testament aren’t what Western society would lead us to believe.

I want my friends who are thinkers, readers, skeptics and searchers to give him a read. They may just find that Jesus and the early church are not as far from the likes of Dostoyevsky, ‎Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Wiesenthal , MLK, Ghandi and others as American evangelicalism would lead us to believe.

And I want those of my friends languishing in limbo who feel like “the Church” doesn’t want them because they’re too worldly but that “the World” also doesn’t want them because they’re too “religious” to give Zahd a read, because they might just find that they aren’t as alone or isolated as they may have been feeling.

His newest book out is actually ‘Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God,‘ which I wanted to read first, but I couldn’t find it in the major Christian bookstore where I looked and I’ll be honest, I was too cheap to order it online- so, when I looked for it at 1/2 Price Books, I found ‘Unconditional’ instead. I’m glad I did. I look forward to reading ‘Sinners’ next, even if I have to pay full price.

 

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Zen at the lake

3 Core Principles found in the Declaration of Independence

New Podcast

Try This; Church on your phone

I’m kind of an accidental Luddite. Anyone over 40 probably knows what I mean. We used to joke about how parents never knew how to program the clock on the family VCR. Of course, now nobody has VCRs. We watch our movies on Netflix.

So this is me, the middle-aged dad, arriving late to the party on all kinds of technology- but being the long time blogger, self-taught web site designer, digital camera toting yearbook advisor who teaches HTML5 coding… who needs his teenage daughter to show him how to change settings on his phone.

When I was a kid, my brother and I would watch a cartoon on TV called ‘the Jetsons’ where the characters (who drive flying cars) spoke to each other on “visa-phones.” We thought that would be SO cool in the future. So the future is now and my wife and I text each other all the time and my daughter asks me why we don’t face-time. I’ll tell you why- I look TERRIBLE on facetime. I don’t want her to seem me on her phone like that, ew. I also don’t want to see myself in the little corner of my screen while I’m watching her.

I sure’s heck don’t want other people to make facetime calls and seem my messed up hair, food stained shirt or our dining room behind me cluttered with 4-H projects in process!

Point being, here I am this tech user whom my mother-in-law calls whenever she thinks she’s lost a Word document, but there are a ton of things that I don’t know.

Let me tell you about a couple that I’m new to this Summer. My children and my students have been telling me to try these for months but I shrugged them off- “meh, why do I need that? I’m fine without it.”

Of course, as soon as I share these, you’ll probably laugh at me because you’ve been using these forever.

Spotify and Podcasts.

Waaaay back in the 90’s my wife and I wanted to discipline ourselves to do two things; walking and read the Bible-in-a-year.  At first, I’d get up at 4:30 in the morning and read and pray, then go for a walk at 5:30 so I could get ready for work from 6:30-7:00 so wee could get to school before 8:00. Whew. Tired.

So then… here’s an idea, listen to “audio-book” recordings of the Bible on a CD Walkman WHILE walking! Sure God wants time alone with us, but why does it have to be seated? Isn’t there a song about walking with Jesus in the garden?

As a teacher, I’m a huge advocate of reading. Frankly, I get a little perturbed with other educators who say they’re “not readers.” Grrrr!!! It’s our job! How can we help kids to- bbbbzzzrrrbbb, Gbfk. But let’s get real- when you’ve worked anywhere from 8-16 hours dealing with teenagers and you finally get home after an away basketball game that’s hours away, you’re sometimes too tired to bother with the self-righteous piety of reading. So… listening to audio books.

But who buys books on tape anymore? The same people who still watch movies on VHS.

So here’s the app I listen to the Bible on on my phone these days https://www.bibleinoneyear.org.

Guess what? That great Christian author you already follow on Twitter? Weekly messages on a podcast? Wait, whaaat? Yeah, and our old pastor from when we lived in California? Whatever happened to him? He took a call to a congregation in Texas, guess what? Sunday sermons every week as a podcast? Oh yeah. It doesn’t make you disloyal to your current pastor, you can still go to church on Sunday, but why not be encouraged and keep growing in your faith on Tuesday or Thursday on your commute to work?

Then there’s music. So my wife is a big fan of a certain national Christian radio station. My problem with this? Same problem all guys my age have with broadcast radio- we want to keep listening to the same music we were listening to in high school.

I’d listened to Pandora for years on my laptop during lunch and on my phone. But when I’d choose an 80’s or 90’s Christian artist like Steven Curtis Chapman, their computer algorithms would throw in all this CURRENT “contemporary Christian” pop music with their synthesizers, and their drum machines and their auto-tuners. Bleh.

But this Spotify thing? Dudes, I don’t just choose the genre or the artist, I can choose the album and the track! If I want to mix some Black Gospel or some Woody Guthrie or U2 in with my Petra, Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline, I CAN.  “Jesus just left Chicago” by ZZ Top right next to the Michael W. Smith? Sure. “800 Pound Jesus” by Sawyer Brown or “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw along side my Mercy Me? Amen to that.

Ironic that this new technology lets me stay in my “old school” cocoon.

I’ve tried this blogging thing and have stuck with it for years now. Although, I don’t focus as well as I should or market myself much.

I tried the video-blogging/YouTube channel thing and frankly I’m not the greatest at it and don’t enjoy it as much as most of the people who’re successful at it. I’ve been toying with whether or not to give podcasting ago but I suspect that I’ll just end up talking to myself. Now that I think of it, I do that a lot anyway.

At least no one would see me.

 

 

Fruitcakes at the Farmer’s Market

There used to be a song that they’d have us sing in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School when I was a kid that went “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.” I think it was based on John 13:35, where Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The hard thing these days is that many are seeing Christians not as loving but intolerant, and lacking compassion at best and homophobic or even racist at worst. Some Christians get defensive and think that they’re being persecuted by these perceptions people have of us, but we should be careful about this because we have to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. We must always become less so that He can become more. If we are the body of Christ, what a shame if would it be if when people look at us, they think that Jesus is exclusive, angry or even hateful?

We also need to be discerning and careful about the voices that we listen to when they are telling us what God’s opinions are. If we’re not grounded in God’s Word, reading it for ourselves (preferably daily) we may be vulnerable to false teachers, be they televangelists, celebrities, pundits or politicians.

They may claim to be fellow Christians, but are they genuinely representing Jesus, or are they trying to gain leverage or power for their own agendas by taking advantage of our desire to seek and serve the Lord?

Jesus tells us how to tell when someone is full of malarkey:

Matthew 7:15-20 You Will Know Them by Their Fruits

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

So, should we look for when it comes to this “bad fruit?” How do we know which things help us grow and which are toxic? Saint Paul does a pretty good job in his letter to the church in Galatia. Basically he tells us that if people don’t teach what Jesus taught or do what Jesus did, we’ll be able to tell:

Galatians 5:13- 22 Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…

The acts of the flesh are obvious: But the fruit of the Spirit is
Food Poisoning!
Galatians 5:19-21
Healthy & Nutritious!
Galatians 5:22
  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • debauchery
  • idolatry
  • witchcraft
  • hatred
  • discord
  • jealousy
  • fits of rage
  • selfish ambition
  • dissensions
  • factions and envy
  • drunkenness
  • orgies
  • and the like.
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control
Against such things there is no law.

And in case you’re about to tell me, “it’s easy to just go around accusing other people of hatred or selfish ambition, but take the log out of your own eye because you’re just jealous and so you’re spreading discord!”

Believe me, I get it. I’m chief among sinners. As a matter of fact (not making excuses here, but) I’ve lost my temper more times than I’d like to admit in the last year and in the midst of my feeling guilty about it, I ran across an article that said that “fits of rage” can actually be a symptom of anxiety.

Makes perfect sense. From a neurological perspective, anxiety, depression, anger and attention deficits are all influenced by our limbic system, the “lizard” (fight or flight) part of our brain. When are you most “edgy” or cranky? When you’re tired or stressed.

But Paul doesn’t tell us to just give in to our flesh, because it’s natural and normal and human. He tells us to walk in the Spirit, to ask God to live in and through us.

Our natural/instinctive reaction to injustice may be to be angry or combative. I know when I’m outraged by what I think is a travesty I don’t want to take it lying down, I want people to know that I won’t back down, that I’m right and they’re ignorant.

But that’s not Jesus’ way. He would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. 1 Peter 3:15 says to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” That’s not easy. Not for me, I don’t know about you.

So how can we not just use Galatians 5 to discern false prophets by their bad fruit, but when we look at ourselves in a mirror and see bad fruit in ourselves, how can we start growing GOOD fruit? Fruit of the Holy Spirit?

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking- I’m not anything like Jesus, at best I’m more like Simon Peter, the disciple who was zealous, presumptuous and short-tempered and arrogant one minute and being reprimanded by Jesus or vehemently denying he even knew Jesus the next!

Well, if you want to learn, you must spend time with the Master. You can’t learn if you’re constantly ditching class.

Spend time reading God’s Word. Spend time in fellowship with other believers. And for Christ’s sake, spend time in prayer. The more you learn about Jesus and read or listen to His words, the more you’ll admire & appreciate Him. You’ll also discover that there’s a difference between just saying you believe in Him and calling yourself a “Christian” and really following Him. Meanwhile, He’ll be be working on your heart, your mind and your character and spirit.

One last way to think about this is a secular (maybe even bordering on “New Age” one). There’s a popular idea out there in the business and self-help world called the “Law of Attraction.” Basically you get back what you put out. What goes around comes around. It’s not really new age because Jesus taught this Himself in the “golden rule,” do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Would you rather attract hatred, anger, jealousy and selfishness? Or peace, patience and kindness? Some people sure seem to thrive on “drama” and conflict and power-struggles, don’t they?

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s Educational Psychologist William Glasser talked about what he called “connecting habits” and “controlling habits.” More recently  Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has been talking about “Growth mindset” and “Fixed Mindset.” Each of these sets of opposites contrast behaviors that are basically self-centered and defensive and behaviors that build community and encourage others altruistically.

Guess which behaviors the psychologists consider positive and effective and which they consider negative and ineffective? Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait.

Duh, right?

Believe me, I know it isn’t easy, I louse this up all the time. Who doesn’t like orgies, right? Just kidding- what I mean is, my first inclination is to be reactionary, and impulsively try to put people in their place when I think they’re wrong and I’m right. Gentleness? Self-control? Not in my nature.

That’s the point. You, me, all of us need to ask Jesus to give us His Holy Spirit to make us more like Him and “produce good fruit.” Let’s turn this world into a farmer’s market.

Dear Jesus- Help! As Jimmy Buffet once sang, “we need more fruitcakes in this world and less bakers!” In Your name we pray- Amen.

 

 

Consider the SPIRIT of the law, not just the letter

 “…sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of-oh, your father”?  ~Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’

Just because idolatry, rape, injustice, murder, polygamy & war all appear in the Bible, that doesn’t mean God condones them.

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”~Mahatma Gandhi

Many conservative Christians don’t think that everyone can have their own interpretation of the Bible, but let’s face it, whether they should or not, they do. There wouldn’t be so many different Christian denominations if there was only one interpretation. That ‘Mockingbird’ quote could probably apply to the Constitution & other documents too.

One person leans on the 10th Amendment and misrepresents the 2nd, whereas some of us lean on the 1st & 4th, the 8th, the 9th & the 14th.

Some people read the Declaration and stick with the word “liberty,” whereas some of us notice the word “all.”

Some read the Gettysburg Address and lift up the part about not letting soldiers have died in vain, I on the other hand can’t get the part about being “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” out of my head.

And back to the Bible, lots of people seem to love Genesis, Exodus & Leviticus but don’t do much with Isaiah, Amos, Ezekiel, or Micah, let alone Matthew 5 or Luke 6 or John 4 or Galatians 5 or 1 John 4!

It seems to me that both in our religion and our civics, many of us would do well to consider the “Spirit of the Law,” and not just the “letter.”

When we focus on just the letter of the law, we are being just like the Pharisees at Jesus’ time.

Of course, if you are gonna focus on the letter, at least get it right- like when something is a departmental policy and not a law, or when it’s being applied to people attempting to apply for asylum, not people who’ve broken any laws yet.

I’d encourage everyone to take a look at the following passages; Isaiah 56:1-8, Galatians 3:28, John 4, and 1 John 4.

Some theologians may accuse me of being a “gospel reductionist” or that I’m flirting with “liberation theology,” but it seems to me that the entire core of everything Jesus Christ said and did is love. Any Christian who believes that the entire Bible, both old and new testaments are ultimately about Jesus, must conclude then, that all of it must be read and understood through the filter of love.

John 13:34  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

 

Matthew 22:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Exclusion is legalistic, but I believe that Jesus taught grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and community- which are all inclusive, not exclusive. We need to love our neighbors. ALL of our neighbors.

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ISAIAH 56: 1-7

56 This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
 who choose what pleases me

    and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”

 

 

The Jesus Revolution