Sunday, June 28, 2015


God the Father looked down on earth and did not see a world full of sinners ready to judge.  Rather, He saw a world full of potential lovers.  So He gave his Son to die for us all, even when we were in open hatred against God's love, in order to give us a chance. God, to this day, does not give up on us, but gives us the Holy Spirit to prompt us to follow Jesus' path of love.
God's grace really is amazing.

He forgives us when we least deserve it.

He gives rain and food to all creatures, even the ungrateful and downright evil.

He gives us air to breathe, and berries to eat, and sun for growth and clouds for shade.  All without cost.

He gives us strength to live, and struggle for justice and compassion so we can help those in need.

God gives us loving family and friends, so we can be supported.

And when we have nothing else, God gives us strangers to help us when we are at our lowest.

God is great and His grace knows no end.

How I wish we could say the same about those who call themselves by God's name.  Instead of being a people of grace, we work to create a society of hatred, assumptions, cynicism and anger.  Grace leads to a society of love, distrust leads to a society of fear and poverty and violence.

I have seen pastors call the police to have the homeless arrested when they are simply seeking a helping hand.

I have seen Christians verbally abuse a mentally ill person, instead of trying to help him.

I have seen preachers express their anger at homosexuals and Muslims, stirring their congregation to hatred and words of violence.

I have heard born again middle class people consider the poor in need of salvation, simply because they were poor.

Instead of telling each other stories of grace and hope for redemption, we all to often speak negatively of those in need of help.

We will judge those whose only crime is being generous, because they make us uncomfortable.

We will separate instead of love.

We will condemn instead of forgive.

We will coldly regard those who disagree with us instead of oozing with mercy and grace, as Jesus did.

God, may we not be the dam of your grace, but channels of forgiveness and compassion and love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


There exists a beautiful land, glorious and yet simple, where people live happily in their homes and raised their children in peace.  Once, years ago, there was a terrible dictator who forced people to pay high taxes and there was misery everywhere.  But since that time the Kingdom of God came in, swept away the evil dictator, and since then there has been peace and harmony.  All people work together for a common purpose and they are all free from the evil of the past.  Every family has a strong leader and the children are raise in the ways of truth and justice.

            But there are still a few, occasionally, who oppose the ways of the Kingdom of God.  There are a few who feel, in their greed, that they do not have enough, so they steal from those who have more.  There is, once and again, those who hurt others in their anger.  There is, on occasion, those who are overwhelmed by lust and hate and rape their object of disdain.

            And once, just once, was a woman so that she would kidnap children, selling them to the Kingdom’s enemies.  She confessed to every one of her crimes, yet she remained unrepentant.  Here is the transcript of how justice was done:

Judge:  It is for the sake of your soul that we are concerned.  Please, repent and we will have leniency.

Johnson: I don’t deserve your leniency.

Judge: Then you admit your crimes?

Johnson: I admit that I kidnapped children.  And I would do so again. Happily.

Judge: Do you not realize that you are destroying our community?

Johnson: I do so gladly.

Judge: To take our children from us and hand them over to another nation is to undermine all we have worked for.

Johnson: Don’t I know it.

Judge: Please, all we want to know is where you have put these children.  We just want them restored to their parents.

Johnson: I will not let you know.

Judge: Think of the families you have torn apart!  If you could see the tears of the fathers!

Johnson: I would spit in their faces, if I ever met them or saw them on the street.

Judge: Why?  These men did not abuse the children…

Johnson: Ha!

Judge: Why do you doubt this?  We have their testimony, as well as the testimony of their brothers…

Johnson: Doubt it?  The children themselves told me of the abuse!  Did you ever take testimony of the wives?

Judge: Surely you would not completely trust the word of children?

Johnson: And why shouldn’t I?

Judge: From my twenty years of experience on the bench, I can tell you, children are not always clear about events in the past.  They misremember, they are easily swayed. 

Johnson: I can trust my own eyes when I see an eleven year old pregnant.

Judge: By her father?

Johnson: By her “husband”!

Judge: And what is wrong with that?

Johnson: Apart from the danger to herself because of the pregnancy?  The fact that The General married these children off to his soldiers and they raped little girls…

Judge: They were not raped

Johnson: Not according to your laws, no.  They were legally, forcibly, married to men three times their age and then taken into the bridal chamber and the men had their way with them.  No matter that the man already had two other wives.  No matter that the child has barely had her first period.

Judge: But they all have had their first period.

Johnson: And I’m sure that your male supervisors took great pleasure observing that.

Judge: Don’t be grotesque.

Johnson: You are the ones who are grotesque!  You have kidnapped small boys and girls...

Judge: We are not the kidnappers, you are.

Johnson: Where do these small children come from?  Just as many as die in battle or in childbirth you capture from villages you pass through!  The boys you convince to be mighty warriors for your Kingdom of God and the girls are married to the adult soldiers as prizes.  It is an affront to God!

Judge: You are an affront to God.  You are so self-righteous.  You are not humble before the authorities.

Johnson: I need not be humble before you, you hypocrite!  You support the rape of young girls by calling it “marriage,” and legalize the warping of innocent boys to be war machines by calling it “boot camp”.  You kill the righteous and make it all legal by declaring yourself a government.  You oppress the poor and blame them for your policies.  You bomb cities and declare them to be in rebellion.  The fact is—you are the rebel.  You are the ones who are opposed to God, not I.  Repent!

Judge: This trial is not about how our society is run, it is about your…

Johnson: Repent!

Judge: Ms. Johnson, I need to ask you to calm down…

Johnson: Repent of your sins before God!

Judge: Bailiffs please take her away.  Yes, go ahead and silence her.  Thank you.  Silence truly is golden… ha, ha.  Take her to the range and do what you must.   What is the next case?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hiding Behind Fear

One kind of person I just don’t understand is the fearful.  People who avoid other people because they don’t know how they will react.  People who sidestep or manipulate instead of dealing with things straightforwardly.  People who tell others what they want to hear instead of the truth. 

Last year, a partner church wanted to pull out of their essential work with us, mostly because they feared the people who were on the church grounds.  I asked them to come and meet them and they refused, saying that they’d just would rather not deal with them at all.

Last week, a long time worker and friend decided to spread gossip about a co-worker and to leave, never to come back, rather than face the co-worker with me and the accusation.

Yesterday, neighbors came to complain about our people and I asked them to come over during our monthly barbeque and to meet some people, in a safe context.  They were too afraid to approach people.

I understand why they are afraid.  There is an irrational prejudice against the homeless, which gives people a feel that all homeless are criminal and dangerous.  But this is an assumption, not based on rationality.  The best way to eradicate fear is to face it, and to realize that homeless people are people. 

When invited to come out behind their fear, in a safe context, the fearful don’t take that chance.  I just don’t get it.  They say that their situation can’t be lived with, but they expect the situation to disappear rather than to safely face it.

I am mystified and frustrated.  It is one thing for those who don’t have Jesus to avoid uncomfortable situations, but I can’t understand how those who stand for the one who died on the cross for us, who faced down those who wanted to put him to death, afraid to welcome sinners into their church.
I’m sorry.  I’ve got no answers.  I’m just ranting, I guess. 

I’d be open to any suggestions to how to help the fearful to move toward safety, even if that means taking a chance.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Empire Crutch: An Introduction to Oppression

Oppression is the heart of every empire.  Without oppression, international political or economic rule could not exist.  It is not just that there must be sacrifices made to create a new establishment, but that there must be a class of people whose resources are tapped to create a power base and an economic support for some to live a utopic lifestyle who will not partake in that lifestyle.

There is always the ruling class, who have recently been named the “1 percent”.  They are the main beneficiaries of the utopic lifestyle, but they are also have resources that greatly outweigh their own personal use, and they make the determination who and what receives their power to create their ideal.  Then there are the mass of people who consider themselves the beneficiaries of a well-run society.  They consider themselves “normal” or “average” when really they live above the standards of the majority of the world. They support political, military and economic levers that allow them to keep that privilege.  In the ancient world, this “middle class” were the male land owners, the citizens for whom the laws were made and the land was protected.  An ancient civilization would only be counted successful or powerful if this citizen class was promoted and strengthened.

And then there are the mass of oppressed.  These are those who give to society with the idea of being a part of the middle class, but they never reach it because their resources are necessary to keep the middle class in their privileged position.  This would be the class of people for whom the laws do not apply, are not protected by the police, and are generally feared by the citizen class. This is the group whose employment is forced to seriously disrupt their home life, who must sacrifice themselves “for the benefit of everyone”, whose health is secondary to the health of the system, who even dies so that a greater ideal might be met.  These are those who are forced to do things they would never do or else they lose their ability to survive. They are also the servant class who are ruled, but never rule.  They are the outcast (called by Marx the lumpen-proletariat) who are never welcome into the life of the “normal” because of their social level.  They are those whose past actions forever haunt them.  They are those labeled as “criminals” although never guilty of a criminal act.  They are those who are too disabled, mentally or physically, to ever obtain a “normalized” status.  In some societies, they are women, they are certain races, or they are the poor and one of those societies might be our own.

But this is how empire has always worked and always will.  There must be a lower class whose resources support the citizen class. There must be those who will exchange some of the trappings of the citizen class for a life of servitude.  There will always be slaves, whether we call them that or not, who will work for less than what they need to survive.  And there will always be those who are disrespected, harassed, beaten, arrested, and killed because they belong to a non-citizen class.  These are the oppressed.

Oppression is not about individuals.  An individual can be harmed or be misjudged.  An individual can be murdered or martyred.  Oppression happens when a group or class of people are denied their rights.  That because they belong to a certain ideology, race, sex or social class, they no longer have the rights of “normal” people, or citizens.  That because they are a member of a certain group then certain protections of normal citizens don’t pertain to them.  If a citizen cannot be incarcerated without a fair trial, they are incarcerated without trial all the time.  If a citizen isn’t to be beaten, they are beaten.  If a citizen is a full person, the oppressed group are but a fraction of that.

Oppression does not mean having limitations, having one’s privileges revoked or having one’s rights restricted.  Every class has changes and debates as to what they deserve or do not.  That is part of life in any society.  Every single human being suffers.  Every human being comes up against a wall that prevents them from doing what they feel they ought.

Oppression is legal beatings, arrests for not participating in criminal activity, having no legal protection, suffering damage with no recourse.  Oppression is not being allowed in certain public spaces, being officially asked to leave a city, being escorted to the border and told not to come back.  Oppression is public hatred for no wrong doing, is being hurt for doing good, is official rejection because of a harmless opinion.

So a basic definition of oppression is: a group which is officially persecuted by a government, but not for criminal activity.

Monday, June 1, 2015

16 Verses To Summarize the Bible: Anawim Style

I really appreciated April Yamasaki’s post on 16 verses to summarize the Bible.   I agree with her caveats, that if we pick 16 verses, then we are cherry picking, placing our own interpretation on the text.  But it is still a useful tool to use when introducing someone to the main themes of the Bible.

I don’t have a problem with Chris Bruno’s original list.  It is a summary of the story of the Bible, really, and that’s great to start with.  April’s list is of a different nature, however, which explores significant theological themes of Scripture, almost an Apostle’s Creed made up of 16 verses.  I like that as well, orthodox, but taking a different viewpoint of Scripture.

In approaching this idea, I have to say that my viewpoint of Scripture is a bit different.  I believe the Bible wasn’t written for theologians or literary critics (sorry, guys), but for the oppressed of the world.  The Bible is intended to be for those who recognize that the world has nothing for them, but God offers both hope and deliverance.  And the Bible isn’t just written to those who feel spiritually cast down, but those who are truly rejected by the society they live in—rejected socially, economically, spiritually, and morally.  The very ones that are rejected by the world are welcomed and rewarded by God.  That’s the main message of the Bible, and we see that theme in every story, we see it in the law, we see it in the story of Jesus and the writings of the apostles. 

Again, I don’t want to disregard the previous lists, but I want to provide a different list, one that introduces one to the thematic heart of the Bible: God’s love for the Anawim.

Well, let’s get to it:

I.                   Hope

God is love—Exodus 34:6-7
"The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in faithful mercy and truth, who keeps faithfulness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.”
This is the basic biblical creed, expressing different aspects of God’s love.  Fundamentally, the whole Bible speaks of God’s love and care, especially for those in need, not receiving justice.

God created an ecosystem, for everyone’s needs to be met—Psalm 104:27-28
“All creatures wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.”
God creation was complete, providing for the needs of every creature, human, animal or plant.  There are enough resources to sustain all life.

Human leaders give to the few and oppress the many—Ecclesiastes 5:8-10
“Don't be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy.  Even the king milks the land for his own profit! Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!”
Human leaders, whether governments, business or religious leaders are seeking their own benefit, and will oppress as many as they can in order to maintain their own wealth.

God supports justice for the oppressed—Job 5:15-16
He rescues the poor from the cutting words of the strong, and rescues them from the clutches of the powerful. And so at last the poor have hope, and the snapping jaws of the wicked are shut.
God works for the needy, calling the oppressed his own and his is the judge of them.  He will make sure, in the end, that the oppressed have justice against those who oppress them.

The oppressed who cry out to God will be delivered by Him—Psalm 107:3-9
He has gathered the exiles from many lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. "LORD, help!" they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live.  Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.  For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
God is always listening to the cries of the oppressed, poor and hopeless.  If they cry out to him, he will help and deliver them from their oppression, despite the oppression of human rulers.

Human leaders that do not help the oppressed are cast down—Psalm 82:3-8
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.” But these oppressors know nothing; they are so ignorant!  I say, 'You are gods; you are all children of the Most High. But you will die like mere mortals and fall like every other ruler.'" Rise up, O God, and judge the earth, for all the nations belong to you.
God judges all the rulers of the earth, and sees if they help the poor and oppressed.  If they do not give justice to the oppressed, if they, rather, support the oppression of the needy, then God himself will come down and destroy the leaders who harm the oppressed.

The oppressed are given leadership—I Samuel 2:7-8
The LORD makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the LORD's, and he has set the world in order.
 As God deposes the evil rulers who oppress, he will take some of those who are oppressed, and put them in the place of the evil leaders.  Those who have suffered will take leadership, so to support the suffering.

The oppressed are to carry out God’s love—Leviticus19:18
Love your neighbor as yourself.
All the oppressed, both before and after their deliverance, are called to love others, even as they have received God’s love.  They are to deliver the oppressed, they are to care for the needy, they are to forgive the sinners, even as God has done for them.

II.                 Deliverance

Jesus came as one of the oppressed—Philippians 2:6-8
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross.
Jesus, the Son of God, the full image of God did not come on a throne or in power, but as one of the oppressed, suffering with all of us.

Jesus died as a rebel to human leadership, although innocent—Acts 22:22-23
God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.  But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.
Jesus only did good, but he died as a criminal, a rebel to human leadership.  Yet the only danger he posed was to those who wanted to sustain a system of injustice and prejudice against the outcast.  He assisted the poor and helpless, and so was commanded to die as an exile, unworthy of God’s presence.

God reverses the judgment of human leadership—Acts 2:31-32
God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.
God reversed the death penalty against Jesus, declaring Jesus to be free of all crimes, but also the true King of the kingdom of God.  Jesus has become the true emperor of God.

Jesus dismantles injustice and establishes his justice—Col 2:14-15
He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
If the oppressed would stand with Jesus, all their sins done under oppression would be forgiven, and we are given a new chance in a new kingdom under Jesus.  Jesus defeated all the human and spiritual oppressors, giving us a kingdom of freedom to live in.

Jesus promises a kingdom of well-being to the oppressed—Luke 6:20-23
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
 Jesus’ kingdom is for the economically, socially and physically oppressed.  All who stand with Jesus will be delivered from oppression and live in God, with all the blessings God has to give, including peace and rest and prosperity.

Jesus meets the needs of those who surrender to God’s kingdom--  Luke 12:22-34
Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Because we can be confident of God’s provision for us, if we would but follow Jesus, then we need not worry about how we will live or the basics that we need.  That will free us to do radical acts of love for the needy, even sacrificing our own need.

Jesus teaches us to live out God’s love—John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
The law of Jesus is to love, to have compassion, to bring peace, to offer forgiveness, to restore to life.  Jesus doesn’t just tell us, he gives us a life to show us how to act.  And we are told that are mark of distinction isn’t doctrine or a religious ritual but acting out his love.

Jesus gives us the Spirit which creates in us love and peace—Gal 5: 22-23
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
To live in love is often too difficult for a human being to endure, especially the love of Jesus.  So Jesus also gives us his Spirit so that in our weakness, in the midst of oppression, in the face of those who despise us, we might love with gentleness, bringing peace.