Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jesus' Moral Teaching

This post is kinda technical.  It's a list, a condensed summary of all that Jesus taught about morality.

For a non-Christian, this list is maybe an interesting intellectual exercise.  For a denominational Christian, it may be unnecessary to go over an area that the church presents for our own good, and with greater detail.  But for a Jesus follower, this list is essential, a basic tool of our lives, that we return to again and again.  When the Spirit is working in my life, I find myself resembling this lifestyle, and as I grow distant from God, I struggle with this way of life.

This is the shalom that Jesus leads us to.

A. The Basics
Jesus basically summarized the ten commandments, but he also applied them in specific ways.
Don’t murder

Don’t steal

Don’t defraud—
This means not lying in court or trying to cheat someone in business.

Don’t commit adultery—Jesus described this as not cheating on your spouse, not having sex with someone else’s spouse—even if they are divorced—and not desiring that someone else’s spouse was your own.

Honor your parents—Jesus described this as giving respect for your parents and providing for them in their old age.

B. Loving God
“No one can serve two masters”—This command also comes from the first two of the ten commandments. Jesus doesn’t want us serving other gods, nor does he want us to worship images as God. The main issue that Jesus spoke of in this regard was wealth. He considered wealth, money and possessions to be another god that demands service. There are certainly other gods that we can serve instead of God as well, such as sex, drugs, alcohol, or television/movies.

“The Lord’s name in vain”—Part of respecting God, Jesus says, is using His name carefully. So we do not use God’s name in cursing, falsehood or broken promises.

“Pray this way”—Jesus told us that we need to pray on a regular basis. When we pray, we use the Lord’s prayer as a model. Also, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit. Another thing that Jesus would often do when he prayed is to listen to God and see if he has anything to say to us.

“Clean the inside of cup”—To be right before God, Jesus says, we have to have our intentions and motivations pure, not just our actions. Even the smallest of actions display our true intention, and that is what we will be judged on. This is why we pray for the Holy Spirit, to clean our inner thoughts.

“Don’t be as the hypocrites”—Jesus wants us to take care when we worship or serve God that we are doing it for Him and not for other people. Jesus said that it would be good if we did some of our religious deeds in secret, so no one would know else would know we are doing them.

Porneia— As a part of our purity before God, Jesus wants us to not participate in sexual immorality. By this Jesus meant not being involved in: sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, or incest.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”—Jesus wants us to focus on two things—what God says and helping people. But he doesn’t want our added traditions or commands—our religion—to in any way harm others or to stand against God’s commands. This means, for instance, that we don’t use the Bible to destroy others, emotionally.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed”—Jesus wants us to recognize that God can do anything He wants to—and that He will respond in love to our prayers. This means sometimes that we need to step out in faith to do what God wants us to do, even if it seems crazy to those who don’t trust in God.

“Seek first the kingdom”—Jesus wants us to do work for God, expecting no wage. There are different kinds of work Jesus affirmed—evangelism, giving to the poor, prayer, teaching Scripture, healing the sick and more. Also, Jesus tells us to pray that God would call more workers.

C. Love your neighbor
“Do Unto Others”-- Treat others as we would have them treat us. We want to be respected, communicated with and supported—so, Jesus says, we do the same to others.

“Whoever is angry”—Jesus told us not to act in hostility against others, including insulting them or harming them in revenge.

“Look of lust”—Jesus told us that our sexual purity must include even the smallest actions such as looking at someone with lust.

“Certificate of divorce”—Jesus tells us that the only thing that breaks a marriage is adultery or divorce. But to divorce and get remarried is adultery, and a forced divorce could cause great harm.

“Let your Yes be Yes”—Jesus said that if we make a promise, we must keep it, even if it’s inconvenient. To do less than keep our word, Jesus says, is of Satan.

“Love your enemies”—Rather than getting revenge, Jesus says that we are to do good to those who do evil to us. We are always to think of how to best benefit others in all circumstances.

“Be reconciled”—If we have done anything wrong to others, we should make our wrongs right by going to the person we have wronged.

“Judge not lest you be judged”-- Don’t judge without mercy. Always assume the best and give people a chance to make their wrongs right.

“Forgive and you will be forgiven”—Jesus says that if anyone tries to make their wrongs right, we must take them back into relationship. We cannot keep people at arm’s length because we don’t like something they’ve apologized for.

“Give to the poor” – Jesus says that if we see anyone in need, we should do what we can to help them.

D. Church Morality
“Love one another”—Jesus said that in the church we are all to look out for each other, caring for each other as we would family members.

“Be at peace”—Jesus doesn’t want us to have arguments about minor matters. Nor are we to divide ourselves from others in the church, except for continuing sin.

“Rebuke him privately”—Jesus told the church to correct anyone in the church not living up to Jesus’ morality. This correction is to be done gently, with the intention of restoring the sinner.

“Well done, good and faithful servant”—Jesus said that everyone in the church needs to do work for the kingdom of God, with God as our employer and rewarder.

“Wash each other’s feet”—Jesus wants us to be hospitable to others who follow Jesus—including feeding each other, inviting others to our homes, praying for each other, and visiting each other when we are sick or in prison.

“I came to seek the lost”—The church of Jesus is to constantly be open to those who have failed God and wants to come back to Him.

“Preach the gospel”—Jesus tells the church that we—especially our leaders—are to proclaim God’s kingdom, the death and resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins.

“Heal the sick, cast out demons”—The church of Jesus, especially the leaders of the church, are to pray for others to give them spiritual freedom from sickness and evil spirits.

“Beware of false teachers”—The church is not to put leaders over ourselves who teach something apart from what Jesus taught. Nor are we to place people who are disobedient to Jesus over us as leaders.

“The last shall be first”—The leaders of Jesus people are there to serve all the others, to be humble and merciful.

“Freely received, freely give”—The teaching and the ministry that Jesus gave the church to give to others is to be free—without cost.

“The worker is worthy of his hire”—The church of Jesus is to take care of their leaders, providing for their basic needs.

E. Humility and Sacrifice
“The humble will be exalted”—Jesus says that we are to allow ourselves to be humiliated, disrespected and put down. If we do this, God will honor us and raise us up.

“Invite the poor”—We are to give honor to the lowly, poor and outcast, who cannot repay us, so God will give us honor.

“Sell your possessions”—Jesus wants us to not just give to the poor when it is convenient, but to sacrifice our own personal wealth for the poor.

“Turn the other cheek”—We are to submit to authorities, even if they do us harm. The only time we do not submit is if they tell us to disobey Jesus.

“Take up the cross”—Jesus wants our lives to be surrendered for the sake of others and God. Doing minor acts of mercy or devotion is not enough—we must surrender our whole lives, even literally if necessary.

“Rejoice and be glad”—Jesus said that if we do get persecuted, hated, isolated, or rejected because of following his way, speaking the gospel or living for Jesus, then we shouldn’t be depressed, but happy. For God will look at our faithfulness and reward us greater than the persecutions we suffered.

How did I come up with this list?
I wrote out by hand all of the sayings of Jesus, creating an index of Jesus' main themes.  Then I pulled out from this index the moral teachings and summarized them.  This list was distilled even more over years of teaching and discussion with other Jesus' followers.  This list covers Jesus' commands in the gospels only.

I am sure there are many who disagree with my findings.  I would appreciate any polite comments and critiques.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Love Your Idiot As Yourself

“Love one another,” “Treat others as you would be treated,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” “Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you”— Jesus was clear, that loving those around us is our most important task, apart from being faithful to God. And yet, it is funny how we often take our relationships for granted (unless we are dating someone we really like). We assume that we treat everyone fairly and with love—even though sometimes it is “tough love”—and we expect to be treated fairly in return.

Often, however, the most difficult people to love are not those who openly despise us, but those who just irritate us.  Those who are too loud on the bus, who drive the wrong speed, who hold the wrong opinions.  And then there are those who can't communicate well, or who misunderstand what we say.  Also, how are we to deal with people who are ungrateful, selfish or simply hopeless?

Dealing with people is the most difficult task imaginable—just ask God, He has a terrible time with it! Jesus told us that our relationships should be a major priority in our lives just because they would be so difficult to maintain. Jesus didn’t tell us to treat everyone with fairness, but with love and humility. And this means, often, that we need to set aside our own ideals and focus on someone else’s needs and goals. We cannot love if we are just thinking about being “fair” in relationships. To love we must sacrifice and reach out.

1. Meet others needs
When Jesus taught about love, he did not mean that love is a feeling, or a response, or a particular kind of relationship. Rather, when Jesus said, “love” he meant an action. To love is to act in the other person’s benefit, whatever that means. And the most basic way of doing what will help another person is to make an attempt to meet their needs. This is why when Scripture talks about Christian duty, it describes feeding the poor, visiting the sick and welcoming the stranger. Because loving means seeing the need and doing your best to meet it.

But we also need to recognize that people need more than bread and clothes. Jesus himself did much more than meet people’s physical needs—although that was a big part of what he did. Fundamentally, people feel that they have the following needs:

• Survival—Having one’s basic needs met, such as hunger, sleep and health
• Security—Feeling safe from what one fears
• Inner Peace—A sense of contentment with life
• Pleasure—Enjoyment and laughter
• Honor—A sense of being significant to others
• Society—Feeling a part of others and communicating with them

There are other needs that we have—a relationship with God, understanding significant truths, a sense of being a “good person”, but we don’t always feel these needs. The six above we feel almost every day at one point or another, and they deeply control our sense of well-being and color our perception of everything around us. When Jesus met needs, he recognized that people not only needed their “survival” needs met, but also the other ones. Especially in his teaching, he wanted people to feel secure, to have peace, to have joy, to gain honor and to be a part of a good society.

Even so, when we are looking to meet people’s needs, we need not only look at survival needs, although those are foundationally important. But we must also remember to give people respect, to ease people’s fears, to help them laugh and enjoy themselves, to just communicate with others. In doing all of this, we are loving. And all of it is acting in love.

2. Be Humble
Perhaps when you opened this post, you thought, “Oh good—I’ve got a lot of idiots I’m supposed to love.” However, the most important lesson Jesus taught us in loving others is “the first shall be last and the last first.” If we really want to love others, the first step is to remember that, more often than not, WE are the idiots, not the people around us. Rather than thinking, “I wish so-and-so could read this tract,” you need to take responsibility for your own idiocy in relationships. If we are really going to love, we need to be humble. How can we do that?

• If a mistake was made, give others the benefit of the doubt
• Take blame upon yourself, instead of pushing it on others
• Focus on what other’s need, not yourself
• If changes need to be made in communication, take as much responsibility on yourself as you can
• Pray for other’s blessing—especially those you are in conflict with

If we place ourselves in the giving position, then we will find that we can actually deserve the honor we might expect others to give to us—whether we get it or not. Most importantly, assume that the other person is trying to be as good and as polite as they can. You may feel that they are acting rude or badly or stupidly. But, chances are, they are not. They are just trying to meet their needs, just like you are.

3. Recognize differences in communication
Another way we can be humble is to recognize that, more often than not, the people around us are not idiots, or jerks, or rude, but they have different communication patterns than we do. If we see someone who looks like an immigrant come up to us and speak loudly in a foreign language, waving his hands, we would not think he was rude, but that he just didn’t have the same customs that we do. But if we see someone speak to us in our language, with our accent, speaking loudly and waving her hands, we would think that she is rude, or possibly have some mental problems. But some people grow up in situations in which speaking loudly (or quietly) and using expansive gestures (or using none at all) is normal, and they are just trying to speak to us normally. We do not feel that it is normal at all—we feel that it is rude, or that they have a problem with us. But often it is not that case at all. We have to take account of other’s different way of speaking.

For instance, different people have a different sense of how long one must pause to allow another person to speak. If one person expects people to talk over her, then she might not give anyone else a chance to speak, and so feel that no one is interested in what she is talking about, because no one is responding. On the other hand, another person might feel that she is hogging up all the time to speak because she won’t stop for a few seconds so they can chime in. Neither person is rude, they just don’t understand how the other person communicates.

There are many kinds of communication differences: How much space to give another person when talking, how direct or indirect one’s requests should be, what kind of touching is appropriate between people, how people should apologize, and how a conversation should begin. Instead of assuming others are “idiots”, perhaps we should try their kind of communication with them and see if they respond positively to it.

4. Respond Positively to Interactions
Every time we communicate with others, we may have as many as a hundred interactions with them in ten minutes. With everything people say to us, we are reacting—even if we think we are giving a neutral or a non-response. With every bit of communication, we either respond with them—on their side—against them or just ignoring them. In a positive relationship, up to 9 out of 10 responses will be positive. If even four out of ten of the responses one gives is offensive or ignoring the other, then the relationship is rapidly going downhill, and may never recover unless something is done.

A negative response to someone doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with them. On the contrary, two people could be having a conflict, but their reactions are positive toward each other. It is HOW they disagree. If they keep the conversation upbeat, break the heavy discussion with humor sometimes, always show respect for the other person and the relationship, then even a conflict can be a positive relationship. However, if a conversation is characterized by biting sarcasm, insults, outbursts of anger, threats, treating the other like a child, or simply ignoring what another person says, then that conversation will tear down the relationship.

In loving others, we need to work on our communication, so we always try to respond positively. This does not mean just ending the conversation on an upbeat note, but trying to communicate in a positive way throughout the conversation. This can be difficult, and we can make many mistakes along the way, but with God’s help we can do it—even to those who have hurt us.

5. Find the True Meaning behind the Words
None of us means what we say. Most of our communication is a parable of what we really mean. We often ask “how are you?”, but we almost never are looking for a doctor’s diagnosis. A husband may say “I love you,” but not at that moment feel a surge of emotion for his wife. Our child may say, “I don’t feel good,” but they might just be emotionally hurt, not having a physical ailment. Even so, quite a bit of our words have meaning that is not stated directly in the words we used.

And it isn’t only words. I could say, “My mother in law is coming to visit,” and depending on the look on my face or my tone of voice, I would communicate to you whether I liked that idea or not. But if you didn’t understand my non verbal communication—you heard disgust in my voice when I was trying to communicate with my face happy anticipation—then we will get our wires crossed and spend time trying to unravel the miscommunication.

Or we might get into a conflict with another person, and we can argue about the silliest things—whether the sky is actually sky blue or not—whatever. But if we get into a conflict, often the conflict is not about what we are directly discussing. Perhaps the argument is about how one communicates. Or it could be about a long-held ideal or dream that hasn’t been communicated yet. And the conflict could go on eternally without resolution, because the true meaning of the conflict hasn’t yet been discussed.

If the person we are communicating with understands our indirect communication, fine, no problem. However, every time we use indirect communication, we are taking the chance that the other person might misunderstand. And then we don’t understand what they misunderstood because we communicated as clearly as we could—or so we thought.

We need to do our best to get behind the simple meaning of the words. And how do we do this? We ask. We tell the other person what they think they meant by a face or an argument, and give them a chance to explain in a different way.

6. Listen Carefully
Jesus told us that we must “Be careful how you listen.” It is never enough to just listen, but we must listen in a way that communicates. Even our listening communicates a reaction to what others say. And how we listen can either meet others needs or tear them down.

If we do not look like we are listening to the other person, then they think we are ignoring them and they are not important to us. One person may expect someone to look at her when she is talking, but her partner may need to look at the floor to concentrate. Even if he can repeat everything she said, she will still not feel listened to, but ignored. When listening, we need to show that we are interested, in the best way we can, in the way the person we are listening to understands.

We might ask questions, but not too many. We might make listening “noises” like “uh huh”, but not too often.  We might nod, but not too excitedly. If we do not do these things enough, the other will think that we are ignoring them. But if we do these things too much, then the other person will think that we are not trying to listen, but to take over the conversation. We must find the right balance for each person.

The most important part of listening in love is two things: First, don’t be trying to force your agenda on the other person. Let them say what they need to say. Second, do your best to give them your full attention. Because we live in a society in which everyone feels that everyone is too busy to listen, this is the best gift that anyone can give.

(Thanks to the work of John M Gottman and Deborah Tannan)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What We Wouldn't Hear In An Early Anabaptist Meeting

I just spent the last weekend with my friends in the U.S. Pacific NW Mennonite Conference.  It was great, as usual.  In our worship time, we had four different cultures leading in worship: Anglo, Central African, Hispanic American and Anglo homeless.  The Spirit spoke to all of us in many ways.

At the same time, I was reading a biography of an Anabaptist forebear, Pilgram Marpack, which included some of the transcript of the final trial of Michael Sattler, in which he was condemned to death by fire.  I have also been thinking about the early Anabaptist worship services in which they would meet in the woods, worship, read the word and pray, not knowing if they would be caught, tortured and then killed by the local magistrates.  And I was thinking about how different our context is…
"Olly olly oxen free!"

Lines we would never hear in an early Anabaptist meeting.

“What do you mean, you forgot the guitar?  How can we lead worship?”

“If I don’t have my latte, I’ll never be able to preach.”

“Don’t you be criticizing the government, after all, Paul told us to submit!”

“Look at that.  Neighborhood kids broke a piece of the stained glass window.  Do you know how expensive that is to replace?”

"A little to the right, please"
“I’d like to minister to the homeless, but our insurance won’t let us.”

“Pastor, I don’t like this translation.  Can I read this from The Message?”

“There’s that woman.  I hope she doesn’t ask for food for her family again.”

“Must we always sing four part harmonies?  We need to buy a drum kit.”

 “If they come to attack my family, I have every right to fight back.”

“I don’t want to go to a church where they don’t have childcare.”

“Which hymnal for this song?”

Please add your own!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Before this, there was nothing.  Then, poof!  (or Bang!) there were heavens and earth.  The two basics of all life. Sky and ground.  Ceiling and floor.  Up and down.  These are the two basics of many cosmos origin stories.  Some say that life was created from the union of these two basic elements.  Of all the ancient cosmos origins, only the Hebrew one declares that all that we know was created by an outside entity: God, who is both outside and greater than earth or heaven, and they are both submitted to him for He is the maker of both.

And we know in the Bible that when God creates, his creation is Good.  Yahweh, Elohim, the Creator, is neither evil nor is he the originator of evil.  Nor is He the originator of chaos, of empty utility.  When God finishes his creation, whatever it may be, he looks at it and says, “It is good.”

This does not mean that creation is perfect.  There is still growth to be made, things to be named, enemies to subdue, difficulties to overcome and tests to either pass or fail.  God’s creation is never a perfect creation.  It is sufficient to grow in, it is sufficient for peace, it is sufficient for sustenance.  But it can also fail, it can falter, it can become inadequate, it can potentially be destroyed.   However, when everything begins, it is enough to be called “good”. 

Thus, when the heavens and the earth were created, God looked at it and said, “it is good.”  But at the beginning of God’s six-day creation, all was not good.

The earth was formless and void, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the breath of God was over the waters.

The earth was not as God had made it in the beginning.  It was empty, vanity, chaotic, purposeless: a wasteland.  It had changes drastically away from the good that God had created.  He created a good heavens and a good earth, but there is the earth being the very antithesis of the peace that God had intended in creation. 

We will discuss how it got this way in another episode, but for now, let us look deeper at this inversion of creation, this chaos out of order, this void out of substance,  this evil out of good.   First, there is darkness.  Darkness is not of God, but of the enemy of God, in fact, darkness can be seen as the opposite of God.  God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.  But on the earth, God’s creation, is no light whatsoever.  It is completely dark.

Second, the earth is full of the deep.   The deep is the Sea, the Ocean, full of darkness, chaos and insanity.  The deep is the enemy of earthly creation, a horror story in and of itself, in opposition to God’s creation.  Even though the Sea itself is a creation of God, yet the deep pits itself against all other forms of God’s creation, leaving only destruction in its wake.  No one can determine the motivations of the sea, no one can understand it.  None except God travels into the deep, and only God dares to move His wind, his breath, his power over the top of it.

In the first verse God created all the cosmos in good and strength.  By the second verse, all is darkness and chaos and waste and horror and monstrosity. 

And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light and God saw that it was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light day and the darkness night.

So God creates again.  He creates something like Himself, something good, some light to be put in the darkness, some hope to be put into despair, some order put into the chaos, some mercy in the midst of hatred.  God creates because it is in His nature to create.  In the beginning God created out of nothing, out of emptiness.  After that first creation, God’s creation only builds, re-forms, but never out of nothing again.  God will never again wipe the slate completely clean.  Something must be built out of something, even if that something is ruined, turned into evil.

Because evil is never purely evil.  There is no such thing as pure evil.  God created all things and he created them good.  So evil is simply an attempt to be better than good, which is the same impulse God has.  God also wants to see good improved.  It is just that evil uses the means of destruction.  Evil believes that weakness should be wiped away and then only the perfect will be left.

God believes that everything has its place, and that creation must be filled with weakness in order to firmly establish strength.  So when God re-created, when He took back the earth from darkness and the deep, the enemies of God, he didn’t wipe darkness out.  Instead, he gave darkness its proper place.  To wipe out one’s enemies, that is the path of evil.  God isn’t like that.  Rather, he sets boundaries, and says, “Darkness, this is your place.  But you can’t cross the border to this place.  Stay there.”

God says to the Sea, “I am giving you a place on earth, but you may not have it all.  You have a border, a limit.  You stay in this place, you may not cross over.”  Mind you, darkness and the Sea are forces of chaos.  They will test these borders, they will attempt to cross over and wield destruction.  But God always puts them back and says to them like a rebellious child, “No.  This is your place.  You may not cross over.  Stay there.”  And, like a rebellious child, they stay in their place until the next time they escape.

* * *

Our lives are God’s creation.  We were started by God in the midst of this world.  And quickly after our lives became chaotic, ugly, even horrific.  We think we can fix it, but we find that fixing our lives is like placing darkness in a box, pushing the sea back with a bulldozer.  It can’t be done.  We don’t have the capacity for it.

Our only hope is to  have God fix the darkness and chaos of our lives.  To have Him re-create our world.  But when He does that, he doesn’t get rid of the chaos or the destruction.  Rather, he forms our lives so that the chaos remains in its place, it has a limit, it becomes manageable.  Yes, sometimes the destruction escapes and gets out of our control.  That’s when we need to call God, the Father, and ask him to put the rebellious child back in its place.  The evil in our lives is still there.  It is just limited.  With God at our side, perhaps that is enough.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Judge With a Right Judgment

"Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with a right judgment" John 7:24

None of us want to be judged. We don’t want people to think that we are bad people, or to assume we have evil motivations. At the same time, we often judge others in the very way we do not want to be judged. We make assumptions of others and think badly of others, sometimes even if we do not have evidence for it. And every time we make a negative assumption about someone, we are placing ourselves over them as judge and jury—and we might even sentence them if we have the chance. Of course, Jesus has much to say about judging, but some of it may be surprising to us.

Jesus says that by whatever standard we judge, we will be judged by God. (Matthew 7:1-2)
We are all being judged by God, but unlike us, God is completely just. To be just to us, God will judge us not only by His standard, but by the standard that we think is right or wrong. If we live against the measure of right and wrong we use on others, then we are hypocrites. This means that whatever principles we use to judge other people, God will make us stand against as well. If we judge other’s because they interrupt or are sarcastic, then we will be judged if we interrupt or are sarcastic.

Jesus says that we should not judge by our own standard, but God’s. (Mark 7:6-8)
To prevent us from being judged unnecessarily, we should not think that another is evil, unless they break God’s standard, not our own, or even our society’s. A person might be rude or difficult to be around, but we cannot determine that they are a “bad person” unless they rebel against God’s standard. (To see what God’s standard is, read the post "A Complete List of NT Sins")

Jesus says to be aware of our own misconceptions. (John 5:39)
We think we know what is true and right all the time. But our minds are weak—sometimes we remember things that didn’t happen and sometimes we forget important things about another person. We don’t often understand why someone did something inconceivable to us, although we are often ready to put a negative spin on it. We need to recognize our weaknesses and double check what we think we know, especially if what a person said or did doesn’t make sense to us.

Jesus says to get our facts straight. (Matthew 18:15-16)
Rather than assume why a person did what they did, we need to talk to them and ask. We cannot assume that a person is a bad person or has done something evil unless we have seen it or heard it from their own lips. If we still have a problem with someone, we should bring someone who is objective before the Lord and ask them for their perspective. But we should never take action based on our own (mis)conceptions or assumptions.

Jesus says to accept people, even if they responded wrongly in the past. (Luke 17:3-4)
If someone says that they repent from their actions, we must accept them. If someone says that we are assuming wrong motivations for their actions, we must accept their statement, unless it is a clear lie. If someone has done us wrong in the past and it seems as if they are doing it again, but we have no clear evidence and they say they are not doing it, we must not assume they are lying. Paul says that to act in love is to “keep no record of wrongs.” We must be a people who accepts openly those who have repented—not those looking for a reason to blame or attack another.

Jesus says to not make assumptions about a person based on their group. (Matthew 8:11-12)
We must not determine what someone is like based on their race, the neighborhood they live in, their family or their social group. Every person is different, and we cannot paint a whole group as evil based on the actions of one or two. Rather, we have to determine who each person is by his or her own actions and words.

Jesus says to let mercy rule over judgement. (Matthew 12:7)
There is a time to determine that someone’s action is evil. But if there is no clear evidence for it, then we are to allow mercy to make a decision. We shouldn’t judge someone based on circumstantial evidence. Nor should we see a contradiction and assume that someone is lying—let us do the work of trying to find out how they are telling the truth. Making negative judgements of others is easy, a cop out. Having mercy on others’ is hard work, but it will help us receive mercy from God.

Jesus says that anyone can change with God’s power. (Luke 15)
Jesus says that we are never to determine who someone will be in eternity. We just don’t know. If Paul, one who hated Jesus and Jesus’ people changed to be one who allowed himself to die for others’, then anyone can change and become a person who lives in God. Instead of thinking evil against those who do evil to us, we should pray for them and ask God to give them grace to repent.

Jesus said all judgment is in God’s hands.(Matthew 12:36)
If someone seems to be doing something wrong, but we can’t prove it, we must recognize that all wrongs will be judged in the final day. We do not need to search and discover every wrong every person does, for it is in God’s hands. (I Timothy 5:24)

Judge not by our own ideas or assumptions, 
but on God’s word and the truth.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How to Read the Bible

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.  You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life…”  -Jesus

There’s a lot of people who think that salvation is found in the Scriptures.  I’m here to tell you, it isn’t true. 

That’s a pretty shocking thing to hear from a guy who’s still pretty much evangelical.  I mean, aren’t we supposed to be all about Sola Scriptura—salvation by Scripture alone?  As an Anabaptist, aren’t I supposed to believe that anyone can find salvation, the truth and hope of God, by just picking up a Bible and reading it?

Well, if you’re looking for me to believe something just because its “evangelical” or “Anabaptist” I think you will be pretty much disappointed in me.  Mind you, I certainly believe that the Bible holds the truth and that this truth can lead you to salvation.  But the Bible isn’t salvation in and of itself.  And clear-thinking people can get the Scripture wrong.  Really, really wrong.

Look at the Jewish leaders Jesus was speaking to.  They knew the Scriptures quite well.  Better than you or I do, that’s for sure.   But here is Jesus, in John 5, telling them that all their Bible studies and memorization and analyses were wrong.  They were doing all they could with the Bible, and they were dead wrong.  Dead, as in God’s judgment dead.  That’s pretty dead.
There’s a right and wrong way to read the Bible.  Let’s talk about the right way, and we’ll look at some wrong ways.

How to read the Bible:
You're Reading it Wrong
1.      Look for God’s care
Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 NAU)
People often look at the Scriptures and they find a horrible God in the Old Testament and a loving, kind God in the New Testament.  But Scripture was not written to terrify us, but to give us hope.  God is and always has been a God of love.  Yes, in the NT it says that God is love, that God so loved the world.  But in the OT the foundational statement about God is: “Yahweh, Yahweh God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness…” (Exodus 34:6).  If we are looking for God’s hatred, then we are reading the Bible wrong.  Certainly the Bible says that God hates sin, but he loves all people, no matter who they are, what they’ve done or how much they personally irritate you.  We need to look for God’s deliverance, God’s compassion, God’s mercy and God’s acts of salvation.  If we look for destruction or hatred, we are reading it wrong.  Throughout the Bible God is the Father, not the Destroyer.

Pastor Edwards, you're doing it wrong
2.      Look for Jesus 
And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me...You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me. John 5:37-38

When we read the Bible, we should be looking for Jesus, if we are reading it right.  Some want to see Jesus’ death in every verse, or look for Jesus’ presence behind each bush.  I think this is the wrong approach.  I think Jesus lead us to play the game “Where’s Jesus”in a couple different ways:

a.       See Jesus as fulfillment
Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Scriptures.  This means that he came to live out prophecies, but also to fix all that was wrong about the Bible.  The Bible contains a lot of failures (one of the best things about Scripture), but for every failure, Jesus is there to be the success.  David sinned, big time, Jesus was without sin.  Israel didn’t trust in the Father, Jesus completely trusted.  For every prophecy, for every failure, we should see Jesus as the answer.

b.       See Jesus’ principles
Jesus taught the Scriptures himself, and He taught how the Scriptures should be used as a guidebook to life.  Jesus taught us to look for mercy, for grace, for love.  We should re-interpret the Bible as a way to understand what Jesus taught us.

Calvin, you're doing it wrong
3.      Look for what we should do
Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:22)
Many people see the Bible as a book of doctrines, of a list of things to believe.  They want to find precisely what the Bible teaches so that we can have our teachings in line, believe the right things, and so be saved.  However, the Bible tells us that we should see the Scriptures as a way to live, a guide to a particular lifestyle.  If we are only looking for things to believe, we are reading the Bible wrong.  Rather, the Bible should change how we live, point at what we should do in order to be pleasing to God, and to live in harmony with each other.

Guess who's reading it wrong?
4.      Look for love
If you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:7)
You search the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life... I know that you do not have the love of God in you. (John 5:39, 42)
And now we come back to the beginning.  Even as we should be searching the Bible for God’s compassion, so we should be seeking out our own.  If we use the Bible as an excuse to hate or to reject someone, we are reading it wrong.  The Bible is there, according to Jesus, to teach us to live in compassion, grace, mercy and encouragement.  If we use the Bible to enact our prejudices, our oppressions, our greed or our ambition, we are using it wrong. 

According to Jesus, the context of the Bible, the whole Bible, is love.  If we read hate in it, then we are reading wrong.  Yes, there are acts of hatred, vengeance, prejudice in the Bible.  I won’t deny it.  But these acts should be even more startling when we learn “God is love” and we are to love all people, even those who do us wrong.   Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, and all scripture should point to God’s Gdeliverance of the needy, and the hope that God gives to all of us. 

Please, don’t read the Bible wrong.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Jesus is the piper, and we are the children.  He is leading us the asylum, so we can be mad for love as He is.

He provides rain and food to all, even to the ungrateful, even to the wicked.

Even so, we shall not ask, “Who is my enemy that I am to love?”  Rather, we should see all people as enemies so we may lavish on them the love that only our enemy deserves.

We shall see all people as our neighbors so that we could give them all manner of things that they do not deserve.

We shall give praise to the criminal, so that they might repent from the kindness of God.

We shall bless those who threaten us and our families so that we might know the blessings of love.

We shall take those who take advantage of us and give them even more so that we might be filled with the riches of God.

We shall lay hands on those who deserve to be beaten and pray for their healing.

We shall embrace the sinner and offer them forgiveness.

Such is the madness of Christ!  Embrace it!  Do not allow yourself to be swayed by sanity, for the love of Christ compels us!  Give in to the madness, for only in surrendering completely to mercy will we receive mercy!

Only in poverty shall we obtain the kingdom of God!

Only in making peace shall we be called the sons of God!

Only in embracing suffering shall we be heirs with Christ!

Clothe yourself with the madness of Christ! 

And if the strains of love are so much that you go to bed each night as though beaten;

If you collapse under the weight of the burden of love;

If you cry out to mercy from God because you can no longer raise your head from love—

Then at least do this, do not harm!

Keep your silence rather than speak abuse.

Keep still rather than hit your brother.

Starve yourself rather than withhold bread from the hungry.

In this we shall learn the infinite patience and grace of God. 

In this we are transformed in our minds.

In this we become saints.

In everything we do, we must love

In everything we don’t do, we must love.

Let us become drunk on the cup of love,

Rejoicing with those who rejoice

And weeping with those who weep—

Let the party begin!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cramming for the Final Exam

There are many Christians today who want to keep quiet about Jesus’ coming, about the fact that he is coming to judge the world with all of his warrior angels, that he will be accompanied by all the saints and gather every person—living or dead— on the earth to judge them (Matthew 25:31-33; John 5:25-29). We do not know when he is coming, only that he could come any time. We see signs and possibilities all the time that his coming could be right around the corner. The question is, are we ready?

The final day is like a final exam. We have studied and worked hard all of our lives, but we still aren’t sure how we’ll do on the last test. We will be tested on everything that we’ve learned—but are we really ready? Can we cram in the last few minutes, in order to pass? Is there a bribe we can pass to the Examiner, to make sure we pass?

But the real question is: What is on the test? We need to know what will be on the test, so we can pass. If we pass the test, we will have great joy and reward from God. If we fail the test, we will live in eternal torment. So what is on the test is exceedingly important—it means life or death for us. So how can we be prepared?

Although many people make many grandiose claims of knowing how to help us through the Final Exam, there is only one person who has already passed through it, so he KNOWS. That is Jesus—he has already been tried by men and God, and God declared him righteous. Jesus knows what the judgement is going to be like, and he knows the reward. No one else has had this experience like Jesus, because no one else has been given their final reward already. So let’s listen to him, and let him tell us what he knows about the judgement day:

Content of the Final Exam: Our lives
a. We will be held account for every action and speech, no matter how unimportant seeming
The first principle of judgement has to do with the content. What will be examined? What is the content of the test? We need not carry pencils around or be gathering up bits of knowledge. The fact is, we are taking the final exam every day. Jesus says, it is our whole lives—our words and deeds (Matthew 16:27; John 5:29). Not just our lives in a general way, but a specific sifting, looking for every single pertinent act or word—no matter how small or carelessly spoken (Matthew 5:22, 28; 12:36). We may think that a single action is too small to be noticed, or that something is just “small potatoes” to God—but God is concerned about every small step, and will hold us account to it all.

b. Anything we repent of in Christ we will not be accounted for
This sounds so harsh of God, to not overlook anything. But God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, not of judgement. He doesn’t want to condemn us unnecessarily. So he gave us the Giant Loophole to judgement: the Cross of Jesus. Because Jesus died on the cross, we will not be judged for our sins. We have only two requirements: we must commit ourselves to Jesus, so the cross will wash away our sins. Secondly, we need to repent of our sins. Any of the sins we repent of in Christ, under his authority, will be wiped away and completely forgiven—if we would only repent. We need to depend on Christ and His Spirit to lead us into repentance, and then all the evil things we have done will be cleansed, never to be spoken of again. More importantly, these things will not be brought up on the judgement day. (Ezekiel 18:30; Luke 13:5; Luke 17:4)

How to get prepared for the Test : the principles of judgement
The next question then is: How will God look at our lives? Does he have a list of secret sins that no one knows about that he will insist that we have all repented of? God is also merciful in his examining of our lives.  There are three basic principles that he will follow in looking at us.

c. However you treat the Lord, that is how you will be treated
First of all, He will examine closely how we treated Him and His Son. And however we treated Him, that is how He will treat us. Did we praise Him before others? Then he will also praise us. Or did we curse his name? Then he will also curse us (Matthew 10:32-33). Did we take his word seriously and listen and obey him? Then he will listen to our cries. Or did we disregard his commands and teachings? Then he will also not listen to us, and our needs. (Zechariah 7:13; Matthew 12:50; Luke 11:28). Were we completely devoted to God, serving him with a single mind? Then he will be devoted to us and reward us. However, if we were not devoted to him, but desired other powers before Him, then he will not be devoted to us, but punish us. (Matthew 5:8; Judges 10:10-13). Thus, to pass our Final Exam, we must treat the Lord as he deserves.

d. Whatever you give to others, that is what you receive
The second principle that God will use in examining our lives is an extreme version of the Golden Rule—However we treat others in our lives, that is how God will treat us on the judgement day. Do we treat others with mercy, with concern for them and their ultimate benefit, giving others what they need? If so, then the Lord will treat us with that same merciful care and give us what we need (Matthew 5:7). Do we forgive others’ of their weaknesses and take the difficulties they give us without any harm back to them? Then God will treat us with forgiveness and care (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 6:35-37). Do we treat those with lowliness around us with care and assistance—then we will get such assistance from God when we are lowly before Him (Matthew 25:35-40). On the other hand, if we judge and condemn others, then we will be judged by God (Luke 6:37). If we hate our enemies, and treat them wickedly—with insults and threats— then God will visit evil—insults and punishments— upon us (Matthew 5:22; I John 4:20). If we cause others to sin, and show no care for their needs, then God will throw us in prison and show no compassion on us (Mark 9:42; Luke 12:45-46).

e. Whatever you receive from others, you will receive the opposite
The third principle that God will examine our lives with is one that isn’t thought of as much, because it seems to have little to do with things under our control. However the principle is clear: However we have been treated by others, especially while doing God’s will, we will receive the opposite. It is assumed in Jesus’ teaching that anyone who is truly following God and his ways will face opposition, oppression and anger from those who oppose God. Thus, if you are struggling with oppression or hatred against you; if you are suffering because of poverty or injustice; if you are in terrible circumstances in life because of following God; if you are disenfranchised or outcast—Jesus says then to be glad! Because God will reward us so greatly in heaven, that all of this life will be but a distant memory (Matthew 5:3-6, 10-12; Luke 6:20-23; Luke 16:25; Luke 14:7-11). On the other hand, if we are greatly praised by everyone—even God’s enemies; if we live in comfort and entertainment all the time; if we are considered important and take the opportunity to command many for our own good—then God figures that we have had enough of the good life. We have sought out salvation on our own, worldly, terms, and so have rejected his salvation (Luke 6:24-26; Luke 16:25; Matthew 6:1-5). Again, we may feel—how can I control what circumstances give me? But it is clear, if we follow Jesus’ way completely—confessing Jesus publicly (even if it is not acceptable), sell our possessions and give to the poor, reject the ways of our family and friends—then we will gain much disrespect and even hatred. So we can control it somewhat.

f. The more you have, the more is required of you
God is not severe with us, but he is completely just. If we know much of God’s will and desires, he will judge us more severely. However, if we do not understand much of God’s will, God will show us mercy, according to what we know. That doesn’t mean that he won’t judge us according to the above three principles—he will. But the severity of the judgement will be lessened if we don’t understand it all. (Mark 4:25; Luke 12:47-48)

The last thing we need to remember about these three areas of examination by God—we need to pass in all three areas. If we do not repent in any one of these areas, then we will fail our exam. We must seek to be completely devoted to God, completely merciful to others’ and always lowly before others. If we fail, then we repent. But if we reject any of these ways, we reject our hope of success on judgement day

What are the grades?
g. It is eternal satisfaction, or eternal torment
Perhaps this seems too difficult, too other-worldly for you. But remember the cost that is at stake—it is your eternal soul. Our lives right now are but a small, paltry thing. It is little for us, compared to all eternity. Eternity is forever—that’s not just a long time, it is the real Reality. A bit of suffering or self-control or repentance for a few years on earth—maybe sixty, maybe twenty years, whatever you have left—is nothing compared to a thousand years, a million years, a hundred billion. The numbers of eternity are so large, that you can realize that our current life—in comparison—doesn’t even exist. And we have a choice—follow these principles and gain eternal life and joy and contentment (remember, this is FOREVER), or ignore them and face eternal torment—unhappiness, suffering, fear, frustration. These are the consequences (Matthew 25:46; John 5:29; 3:36)

It isn’t too late!
Perhaps you think that it is hopeless. But God is so merciful, so kind, he is willing to bend over backwards to help you pass the Final Exam. All you have to do is ask. He has already given his Son to die for us, so we can be delivered from judgement—won’t he give us more so we can make it the rest of the way? Of course!  He promises to give the Holy Spirit—the Helper—to anyone in Christ. He will give us all the resources in heaven and earth to help us pass. All we need to do is ask, and allow Him to give us the help to pass!

Judgement Day is serious,

But God is merciful