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Archive for July, 2017

The title of this post is not click bait, it is however what many American Evangelicals actually believe in practice. The great issues that are so fiercely debated usually come down to this question, “does Jesus really want us to love (blank)?” 

I was pretty taken back by the hostility shown when my community, Grace Church, decided to come alongside Syrian refugee families living in our city. In every conversation I had with people who were against it, I never once heard a biblical objection. Usually it came down to fearing a terrorist was hiding among them and would soon figure a way to commit a terrible atrocity in our own back yard. In the end, fear was the driving force behind the opposition.

A biblical sermon on the Good Samaritan(1), from Luke 10:25-37 will make a room full of American Evangelicals visibly squirm. The message Jesus is delivering in that parable is a brutal critique of our current world and culture. For one, Jesus was teaching that a Samaritan could know God better than a Jew demonstrated by the Samaritan’s love of the injured Jew and the hatred shown by the Jewish characters in that parable. This was a very bold claim to make a claim that alone would instantly make him many enemies in the Jewish leadership. Jesus does not end on that note however, but instead drives the lesson deeper under the skin of his hearers. The Jews and Samaritans were more than neighbors who didn’t get along, they were enemies. In the Jewish mind, the Samaritans would always be the ones who defiled the Temple and attacked them; they were terrorists. Jesus chooses this current conflict with which to answer the question, “who is my neighbor?” So Jesus teaches the Jews that the Samaritans, who may or may not be terrorists, are their neighbors. In fact they may also understand and love God more than they do. The bottom line is, the Samaritans were their neighbors, regardless of their rough history. Taking this teaching into our own world, indeed parables are meant to be teachings with handles so we can carry them away with us, a Syrian family is our neighbor and we are commanded to love them. I can’t see a way out of this one. 

Fearing terror is the opposite of wisdom. Fear is the inseparable fellow of hatred and it seems that biblically it can be argued that fear will become hatred very soon if it is allowed to grow. Perfect love casts out all fear, or rather, the Spirit of God indwelling his people, will make them love, for God is love. Love is the only godly response to neighbors. And the only option apart from love, is hatred. The Christian must make a choice, hate or love? Fear or compassion? (2)

The same parable and teachings should guide us in how we respond to racial injustice as well. When an entire community is crying out for justice, how can the Church ignore them? Or even worse, deny the injustice? Its like a man calling his friend a liar for comaining of a stomach ache, because he himself doesn’t have one. The Gospel of Jesus commands us to be a people of justice. The Christian’s allegiance is to never be given to a ethnic or social group, political party or nation. The Christian is to follow Christ and to pay homage and worship to him alone. Nationalism and racism is a false religion precisely for this reason.

I pray we as a people become fierce in our compassion and active in our casting away of fear. May we be intentional in our refusal of hatred, repenting of our fears until we are a people who love, for God is love.

Jesus actually means it when he commands us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. Indeed it is love that brings the Kingdom of God into this broken world of hate. 
1. This is a link to a sermon by Pastor Heath Watson, whom I serve Grace Church with, on the Good Samaritan. This sermon actually did cause us to squirm. Please take a listen.

2. See I John 3&4. Here are two sermon I preached on these texts that further expound upon my points here.

A New Commandment

God is Love pt.1

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The Gospels present a Jesus that is intentional in his agenda. Jesus in the New Testament is on a mission of the Kingdom of God (1). Indeed much of Jesus’ miracles and teachings serve to unpack what he means by “the Kingdom” (2). This dedication to the Kingdom by Jesus results in him possessing a temultuous presence in his worlds, that of the Second Temple Jewish and the Roman Empire (3). 

Just like in our world, people wanted to know where Jesus stood politically. Was he conservative or liberal? Or more likely, was he Sadducee or Pharasee? Was he sympathetic with the Herodians? Or was he in league with the Zealots? What were his views on taxation, resurrection, the very deep Jewish/Samaritan conflict and more? Like our day, actually perhaps even more so, the world of Jesus’ was a political fire storm and if one would lead people, they would need to choose a side.

My argument is that Jesus refused to play that game. Not only did he not play political ball with the Scribes and leadership, he seems to intentionally go out of his way to demonstrate his disagreement with them. He wanted to make it clear that he was not a part of any political party, he was not representative of any sect of his time. He was radically and intentionally, non Partisan.

One example I would like to offer is a very popular one. When Jesus is asked about taxation in Matthew’s gospel, he was being asked to choose a party, or reveal which sect he is in league with. His answer is not what anyone would or could predict, he asks whose face is on the coin. “Caesar’s” is the brief answer. “Then give to Caesar what belongs to him and give to God that which belongs to God (4)”. Boom goes the dynamite. We must keep in mind the context. Matthew has just spent a good deal of time recounting three parables of Jesus, all coming in answer to the question posed “By what authority…?”. And after his taxation answer he is approached by the Sadducees who question him regarding one of their most definitive positions, resurrection (5). The literary structure reveals Matthews message, Jesus was a King beyond that of any of the current or even ideal and hoped for leaders of his day. He was a King beyond even the power and scope of the Empire. He was King of the nation’s and he would not follow any party or sect, he would critique them and call them all to repent and follow his lead (6). 

His answer is that Caesar does not have the authority he claims to have. The Empire has coins. Fine, pay them their coins. God however is over all and to him we owe our absolute obedience. This type of thinking did not sit well with Rome (7), and it would make Jesus even more enemies. Perhaps some of his own disciples would hear this and begin to rethink their role as one of his inner circle (8)?

Jesus was radically non Partisan because if he was truly bringing the Kingdom of God with him, how could he agree with or ally with any of the systems of this world? He certainly agreed with aspects of certain parties. He agreed with the Sadducees on resurrection, at least that there was resurrection. He agreed with the Zealots in their shared hated of Roman oppression and he had good things to say concerning the Pharasees. Yet he would call them all to repent and follow him. They all failed to see the true reality of God’s coming Kingdom. Not one political party understood how God worked in his creation and this would result in great errors. 

I believe this is a lesson we also need to hear and accept. We are surrounded and bombarded by voices telling us which way we should go. None of them knows however. They may get somethings right, but they fail in their dedication to the Kingdom of God. I hear everyone say, “my party isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we got.” There are a couple things that come to mind when I hear or see this. The first is, what do you mean by “perfect”? If a Christian is saying this then we can agree that perfection is defined by God. We see in the Bible that politics is the legislating of morality for a community and society. We have laws against theft and murder because God hates them and tells us to not murder or steal (9). Perfect politics is something only God can do. And we rely on his Word to teach and guide us in how to govern as well as be governed. If your party isn’t perfect, why join? If they aren’t following God’s word and his perfect politic, why would you want to be associated as one with them? The second is, what are we suppose to do with imperfect and ungodly systems? Daniel and his friends did not join the “better” party or the “less of two evils”. Instead they stood as representatives of the Kingdom of God and his politic (10). None of the prophets or Apostles joined the party “closest” to God’s word and politic. Why do we not follow in this practice? We are so scared of either terror or liberals or conservatives that we fall into a snare of fearing man rather than God. 

Your political party is evil. It condones stealing and murder in the name of national security or “patriotism”. Your political party supports bigotry and racism, even slavery in various forms. Your party is party to blasphemy and idolatry and yet we don’t care. It is time to follow Christ. He alone is the good King and he alone is worthy of our allegiance. 

How can we help the poor? The first century church had nowhere near our resources and wealth and they created a welfare system that flabbergasted and frustrated the Romans (11). How do we support our troops? Teach them God’s word and what it says regarding war. What of Police brutality, education, abortion, prisons and more? The Bible speaks on them authoritatively and we who claim to follow Jesus must begin to read and obey. The Republican and the Democratic party are both equally antitheitcal to God’s politic and mission. It’s time to call them out and seek true Justice.

Leave your political party and follow Jesus.
1. Matthew 4:17

2. This is particularly the case with Matthew. He seems to paint Jesus as the promised King as well as the final and head Prophet. See Kistermakers commentary.

3. See ‘Simply Jesus’ by NT Wright. He argues in his introduction that Jesus was actually born into the perfect storm created by the collision of three worlds.

4. Matthew 22:15-22

5. The parables of the Two Son’s, the Landowner and the Marriage Feast all come after Matthew records the authority of Jesus being questioned by the chief priests. Also, after he is approached about taxes Matthew immediately has him aporaoched by the Sadducees regarding resurrection. This is a clear case for my interpretation.

6. When Jesus called for people to “repent” it had primarily political ramifications. Repentance was, “stop following them and that way and I stead follow me and my way.” See Matthew 4:17 and also Matthew 23:37-39.

7. Paul would later find himself arrested and even executed by Rome for his echos of anti empire thinking like that recorded in Romans 1.

8. One theory I have come across is that Judas “the dagger” as a member of the Zealots before following Jesus never actually left that sect. Jesus’ radically different views on how to deal with Roman occupation and specifically taxation, may have been part of motivating Judas to betray Jesus. This of course does not discount the Divine decree that Judas would betray Jesus. 

9. Exodus 20:1-17. 

10. See Matthew Trewhella’s, ‘Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate’.

11. See Rodney Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’

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