I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:
Faith, Hope, and Love
Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.
But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope. And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.
Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.
You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.
If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.
None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.
May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).
Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?
Which brings me to my next line of thought.
I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address) and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And guess what?
It really all boils down to a few things:
Liberty and Justice for ALL
Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.
The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.
I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).
The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.
The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.
I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.
And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.
Liberty and justice for ALL.
I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.
I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.
If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.
End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.
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’).
This 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.
God’s Love and Ours 1 John 4:7-21
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Today’s scripture in our Lutheran churches was 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
Ironically, the conventional wisdom among American Christians is to use this passage to indignantly boast about how we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong; about evolution, climate-change, gay marriage, abortion, etc. etc. You name it. Or perhaps it is tied with John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” to reinforce that all other world religions are wrong wrong wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe what Jesus says about Himself in John 14:6. I’m not a universalist, but I also believe that God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish (2 Peter 3:9) that’s WHY He sent His Son (John 3:16).
But I wonder if we Christians are missing the point God is trying to make to us through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when we presume to use this passage to support our theological, philosophical, cultural and political biases. Especially when you consider who/what/when/where the early church was compared to who/what we are today.
Of course 1st century Jews wanted a sign, some kind of proof that this upstart sect were following the true messiah. They had been God’s chosen people for thousands of years already. Of course the gentiles are going to scrutinize a group who worships someone who allowed Himself to be crucified. Why would that make sense? Their philosophy, technology, jurisprudence, economy, and military might had conquered and civilized the known world at the time.
Sure, its great to think of yourself as special, exceptional, and best of all “right” when the rest of the world is out of control, confusing, complicated, rapidly changing, even insane. But I contend that this passage is not about us. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about being right or being wise or being ridiculed or persecuted or made fun of or marginalized. It’s not about these things, because it’s not about us. It’s about God.
God is Love- “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 And “LOVE is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
How often do we pine to be proved right, to be vindicated. To win an argument with the unsaved world by having God walk up behind us and corroborate our correctness. We want to win. Win the culture wars, win the elections, win the battle for the most ratings, win win win. But stop and think about how Jesus won our salvation.
Yeah, by giving up His sovereignty, His glory, His authority, His comfort, His safety, security and tranquility. He won us, He once and for all brought about peace and cessation of hostilities between ourselves and God the Father by allowing Himself to be spat on, tortured, and executed unjustly.
Jesus is completely counterintuitive. We want to have the world punished and banished. He wants to love THEM and gather THEM under His wings.
Are we like the resentful older brother in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 or the workers hired first in the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20? Like Jonah, are we going to be mad as Hell if/when God doesn’t go ahead and smite Nineveh after all?
What if when we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, instead of assuming that it’s about Christianity, what if we read it through the filter of the Cross and Christ crucified? When I think about God using foolish things (verses 27-28), I don’t think of a mighty prophet like Jonah, so much as a humble worm that ate Jonah’s shade (Jonah 4:7).
When I consider Christ, I don’t think of crusades or defending the faith, or maintaining traditions. I think of compassion. Welcoming little children, healing the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, providing justice for the stranger and alien, stilling the storm. Sitting with tax collectors and prostitutes, not condemning the adulteress, and chasing the money-changers from His Father’s house, so that it might be a house of prayer.
If you want control, influence, or authority, you probably aren’t going to pursue altruism, humility, servanthood, mercy, patience, kindness, vulnerability or trust. But if you want relationships, you really should consider all of those things, but be prepared to surrender control, influence, and authority.
Understandably, many Christians are impatient with our government for not lowering more shock and awe onto the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria which call them selves the “Islamic State (ISIS).” But before we start thumping the drums of war, we should remember 2 Corinthians 10:3 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” How does Jesus wage war? In Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He tells us in Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Love, prayer, kindness and generosity are our weapons if we’re genuinely following Christ’s command, not money, propaganda, or drone strikes- love.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 just how Jesus waged war-
“6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
That’s NUTS? Jesus must be some kind of a NUT!
But what if more non-Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists encountered this truly Christ-like attitude among those of us who call ourselves “Christian?”
I bet they’d be confused. WOuld they be as afraid of us as we seem to be of them?
“18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:18-21
Many people pretty much live every day motivated only by, as Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson put it, “fear and loathing.”
They fear and absolutely hate, loath, & detest our government. But as I understand it, since we elect our representatives from our population, essentially we are our government. Therefore, they fear and loath themselves. They fear and loath all of us.
I can understand this. People are basically selfish and evil. Thomas Hobbes believed that we are all in a constant state of war. Defending our property, competing for more.
Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Human nature is bad.
If you’ve shown enough tenacity to read this whole blog entry so far, I dare you to read Romans, chapter 12. Rom 12 is to St. Paul what Matthew 5 is to Jesus Christ Himself.
Rom 12 tells us how love should live.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King pointed to Rom 12 when he told us to stop being soft headed and hard hearted and instead be tender hearted and tough minded. Former Harvard & Princeton professor Dr. Cornell West says that justice is what love looks like out in the real world. I bet he’s read Rom 12.
I promise you, I’m not some kind of new aged hippie with the warm- fuzzies. My theology is conservative enough that 1) I believe God spoke through the Apostle Paul, Paul didn’t just make this stuff up and 2) God means what He said. Romans 12 isn’t some liberal utopian hubris, God actually wants us to live this way.
Two of my favorite verses outside of Matthew 5 & Romans 12 are from 1 John-
1 John 4:7, 18
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
What a miserable life if you live it driven by fear and loathing; basing most of your decisions on worry or indignation, anxiety & anger. “Prepping” for the day the “shrimp hits the fan.”
That’s not how I want to live, nor is it the kind of country I want to live and vote in. Wouldn’t you rather live where people are living out Romans 12?
You haven’t read it yet?
Want a bigger challenge? Re-read it for 12 days in a row. Each of those 12 days pray about it, ask God to help you live by the principles found in Romans 12. Get some other people to read it too and ask them what they think about it.
Go read it right now and come back here and post your comments about it- let’s have an online discussion! ( not about this post, about Rom 12).
Here’s a link, go read it now!!! Romans 12 on Bible Gateway.com
“Look up, not down- Look out, not in- Look forward, not backward-
and lend a hand.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” -1 John 4:18
Which are you going to live by- control, top-down, authoritarian, law, secrecy, hierarchy, defensive, restrictive, reactive, critical, directive, etc.?
Or… community, bottom-up, open, progressive, egalitarian, transparent, proactive, positive, collaborative, inductive, supportive, encouraging?
I am tired of living with anxiety about disapproval. As a Christian, I want to live by Luther’s suggestion to “sin boldly.”
As an American I have an aversion to tyranny, but it’s not a selfish freedom from accountability and balance that I seek. I want a liberty that’s tempered by responsibility to others. The three-legged stool of democracy needs equality & justice too.
As an educator, I want to trust my students to Lenard and grow and fail. I want my classroom to be a safe place to take risks.
Hope must be vulnerable. Faith is not security. Love is not static, nor is it comfortable.
I will offend and threaten. I will make mistakes. I will be wrong.
But perseverance, tenacity, & resilience, indeed, character & faith, hope only develop through challenge.
Accuse me of reductionism or relativism if you want, but I choose joy over indignation, connection over control, humility over humiliation, hope over cynicism, pragmatism over pessimism, and above all love over fear.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” -FDR
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7