Holy Rollers, Hipsters and Dead People

CON

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It seems like there are three types of Christians:

One group follows Jesus because it makes them feel they are right.  They like the fact that Jesus was sinless, so they try to be as well.  They end up hating people not like them who do drugs, swear, smoke, and have pre-marital sex.  They always use their faith as a reason to correct people and make themselves feel better about their own piety.  They’ll definitely lift their hands up high in the air at a Sunday church service, and tithe, and read their Bible all the time, and go to any church function they can to be seen by all the other church-goers as a righteous person.  I guess it’s people like that that make so many in my generation afraid to read the Bible and get serious about following Jesus, because they think that reading the Bible too much will make them a self-righteous person who could care less about the outcasts, the poor and the broken.  Many in my generation think that if they read the Bible on a regular basis, they’ll become holy-rollers with no positive effect on society at all.  They’ll become separatists that raise their kids in Christian Schools, surround themselves with only Christian friends, and further a country-club inclusive mentality that is frequent amongst many American Evangelicals.

One group follows Jesus because it makes them feel cool.  This is like many in my generation.  They like the fact that Jesus was a radical revolutionary, so they try to be as well.  They end up hating people not like them who enjoy mainstream pop music, wear sweaters, talk “Christian-ese”, and practice strong religion.  They always listen to indie rock, buy into all the latest feminist and existentialist philosophies, and dress different than anyone else.  They sport tattoos, and never wear preppy clothes.  They’ll definitely appear somber and cynical at a Sunday church service.  They’ll be good at loving the poor and outcasts, because they themselves feel like outcasts too.  They love it when people outside of the Christian community give them accolades for being so cool and down to earth, and rarely ever talk about their faith for fear it might offend someone.  I guess it’s no wonder why people in my generation aren’t challenged to take Jesus’ words and the scriptures as a whole seriously.  I mean, why bother when we can just follow Jesus because he’s merely a hip revolutionary?  That way, we can love Jesus and all the political statements he made, without ever having to read the Bible closely, or hate our own sins and shortcomings.  This way, we can just look like everyone else in our lenient, permissible culture, and Jesus will appear accessible to everyone.

But there’s one last group of people that follow Jesus.  They follow Him because they want to be crucified with Him.  They see that Jesus was both radical in His mercy and love, and completely perfect in the way He lived His life.  They’re blown away by this tension that Jesus lived in, and feel completely incapable of matching up to it.  They’re constantly on their knees asking Jesus’ character to take over theirs.  They believe that Jesus came to save anyone who would accept Him, and know that speaking out for Him will get them flack, but they don’t care, and they do it with love because He is perfectly loving, but they also speak the truth because He is perfectly truthful.  Some are barely noticed at Sunday Church services, because they’re not looking for accolades.  But some of them are leaders in the church as well.  They use their gifts to point to Jesus.  In turn, many people are drawn to Jesus because of them.  They have the kind of presence that points people to God and not themselves.  They love it when people tell them that God used them to strengthen their faith, and that’s the greatest compliment they can get.  It’s people like this that actually compel other people to follow Jesus, and they pray for people to know what it means to follow Jesus, as much as they give everything to follow Jesus themselves.  I’ve been privileged to know and befriend people like this.  They have changed my life and shown me the love of the Savior.  I am indebted to them.

I wish I could say that I’m in the third group, but I’m likely usually veering between being in the first group and the second group.  I do wish to strive to be in that crucified group of Christ followers.  I want to be a person that gives it all for Jesus to die with Him and truly live.

 

True Wealth and the Crumbling of the American Dream

The composer George Frideric Handel, who compo...

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Do you know of any poor people that are on the elder board or financial decision-making board at your church?

In the American church, we’ve adopted exactly what our culture dictates.  Those who have wealth have power.  People aren’t lifted into positions of leadership and influence because of their character, boldness in witness, or wildly selfless life.  They’re given power because of polish, and ability to attract a crowd with whimsy and charm.

But wait a minute!  Crowds were attracted to these wild followers of Jesus that were around after He died and rose again.  Did they have power and influence in the religious circles of their day?  In Rome?

This is what the early community of the church looked like;

“Now the full number of those who believe were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.  And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands of houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”  (Acts 4:32-35)

Whoah!  Hold on a minute!  You mean to tell me that even people who had wealth in the early church gave up large chunks of it to help the needy among them?

This would make sense though, because all the apostles likely lived in some measure of economic strain.  Though it’s clear that people with money were part of the church also.  Hmmmm…  Feels like a tension!

It sounds to me that people with wealth were commanded to help the poor.

But also the great leaders of the early church were certainly living minimally.  And the poor and outcast were drawn to the saving grace of Jesus on the cross.

So why doesn’t the church in America look like that?  We read the Bible, don’t we?

It’s because we want to be “relevant” to the culture, and think that in turn, we’ll reach the culture.  But the opposite is happening.

The church in America is sadly declining.  We have leadership from the baby boomer era when there was a time of economic prosperity in America.  During this era evangelicals focused on reaching the people of the suburbs with slick programming and marketing techniques.  It worked.  The mega church was birthed in America and grew, doing plenty of great things like supporting missions to the third world, and creating a large generation of people who love Jesus and the Bible.

But our current America looks different.  The middle class is disappearing and the upper and lower classes are expanding.  To make it financially, one has to work harder and get paid less.  People of affluence have to fight to keep their wealth, sometimes having to cheat and steal.  We have a generation of twenty and thirty somethings that desire a simpler existence and are cynical towards the apathy and luke-warmness of the previous generation.  Will the evangelical church begin to care about this sector of culture?  Loving them?  Learning from them?  Or will they desire to hold on to money and influence and thereby sink in the mires of yesterday?

Time will tell.

If you are in a church as a member, or work in one, suggest that more poor folks and ex-cynics are allowed to have a say in the decisions of the church.

Throw a concert for free and raise funds to give away to those in need, like Handel did during his performances of the Messiah.  Maybe even the Christmas concerts could be used to this end instead of just being performances with the gospel tagged on them.

If you are an affluent evangelical, sell a bunch of your stuff and give the money away, or just give away something you’re really holding on to like a nice car, extra house, nice piece of furniture, extra TV, or anything else.  Then you’ll enter into the freedom that radical generosity can bring, and you’ll have more joy in Christ than you’ve had before.

The Church Shouldn’t Be a Business

The canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &...

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Why has the church in America become a business?

Seriously.  Stop for a moment and compare the church in America to this little passage here:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

(Acts 2:42-47)

Now even if you don’t believe in Jesus you have to admit that this picture above is beautiful.  These people; Prayed together, saw miracles happen, loved each other like family/had everything in common, were crazy generous- selling property & possessions to give to anyone in need, they met together every day, they ate meals together, and people were drawn to them like a magnet.

Why do you think they were drawn to them?  They were living what seemed like a perfect existence.  I’m sure they had problems, like arguments, or lies, fights, and other things.  But the picture above portrays an amazing community of people by anyone’s standards.

I’d like to rewrite what I usually see in the American church (just a little satire for fun):

They devoted themselves to reading the Bible in the comfort of their offices and homes, to over consumption of fast food.  Nobody believed anymore in miracles, but definitely held to the inerrancy of scripture.  All the believers were separated into different departments in the church based on their specific “gifting”.  Every Tuesday the church leaders would have staff meeting to talk about the Sunday when all the other believers would get together for an hour.  They always went out to the same restaurant after church on Sunday and then tried to avoid each other.  Back in the 1990’s the church was growing, but since there’s been a plateau lately they’ve been studying the latest marketing and cultural trends in order to try and reach society.  They also shortened sermon time to make sure it’s not too boring for the people coming.

Might sound ridiculous, but that’s how it is, isn’t it?

Hmmm.  Maybe people would be drawn to Jesus if we actually lived like followers of Him, instead of a watered down American version.

Then the church in America wouldn’t be ineffective.  It would be a force to be reckoned with.  It wouldn’t treat people like robots or numbers or products either, but like real people with real beating hearts, gifted personalities and struggles.  But man we really have a long way to go don’t we?  With God all things are possible.

Jaded

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It’s a well-known saying; “Youth is wasted on the young”.  I don’t know about you all, but at the age of 29 I’d rather waste a little more youth!

See, I’m a musician.  There’s nothing as flighty as the music scene.  Whatever current trend that’s happening will be quickly replaced in 3 or 4 years.  Usually I’ve tended to “roll with the tide of popular trend” so to speak.  But I think my days are running a little short with that trip.

I starkly realized this last night.  I’m playing at what we’re calling a “Carol Sing”- kind of a post-rock get together to sing Christmas songs and hymns.  The guys leading the band are younger than me, and way cooler.  The youngest in particular- a great kat named Trey- is playing accordion, mini-synth, a glockenspiel, a mandolin/banjo like instrument, and an electric guitar complete with effects.

I come from a generation where we thought that playing electric guitar complete with butt loads of delay effects and gritty distortions was “edgy”.  But I realize that the style Trey portrays, sort of an amalgamation of many influences of the ages, is now on the cutting edge.

So I could do three things in reaction to this…

  1. I could adapt.  I’ve always done this well…  at least I think maybe I have.  Heck man, I’ve officially grown a beard.  Maybe I could trim a few more off the waist and buy skinny jeans?  But wait a minute.  Would I look like a faker?
  2. I could assert my identity more.  This would be easy.  I could act like my understanding of style is better and more mature.  I could make fun of things I don’t understand.  I could fight to the end to prove I’m the “experienced musician”.
  3. I could get behind him, support him, encourage him, and give him space to shine.  I could care less about getting attention for myself, and more about letting people who are on the cutting edge have their season, and then maybe each generation will empower the generation after it.

I’m gonna go with the 3rd option.

The last thing I would want to do is be one of those old dudes trying to be cool.  John Lennon pulled it off his whole life.  But I’m not as cool as Lennon.  I don’t want to be one of those old guys that are still trying to take attention for himself.  I want to be the kind of person that gets out of the way and allows others to grow, and potentially become better leaders and artists than me.  All the while I get to learn on the way, and be influenced by different styles.

This is what Jesus meant when He told two of His followers who wanted seats next to Him on His throne: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

Normally, even us in the church, are trying so hard to be “hip” or assert our identity, that we forget what Jesus was saying.  If all of us actually followed what He’s doing we’d see many generations of folks following Him, and feeling free to express worship, style and culture in the way they feel comfortable.

I’m privileged to be a part of a church that encourages this.  Our lead “worship guy” Jim exemplifies this well and gives all of us space to be who we are without forcing his thing on us, or constantly criticizing us.  I only hope that I’ll be the same for generations below me, and that in turn they’ll do the same for generations below them.

Reflections on 1 John 2:1-6

Angry man

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Something I may dwell on often is the way that supposed followers of Jesus seem to turn people away from Him because of how they live.  I know it’s true in me.  I have moments where I curse people in traffic, back-bite, get arrogant, freak out on my cats, or yell at my wife Sarah.  Stuff like that doesn’t add up with the perfection of Jesus.  But we’re all human.

I was reading today that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  I’m grateful to know that when I fail, Jesus is able to cover it and love me still.  That makes me want to be less selfish, less crazy, less angry, etc.

I was also reading that Jesus is “the sacrifice that bears God‘s anger and turns it to favor”, and not just for us but for the whole world.  I’m amazed to understand what this offer is, and how God’s love is poured on me only because I simply get to know Jesus.  I’m also baffled by the love of God in how this message is for everyone.  I know that not everyone accepts or believes it, but still, God offers it to everyone, longing for their love to be returned to Him.

“By this we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”  This is where the part of being ethical comes in.  Do we claim to follow Jesus and love Him, but still condemn others?  Do we claim to be wild and intoxicated with His love and then go and get totally hammered with others at the bar?  Granted- an occasional drink is alright, but people who claim to be followers of Jesus shouldn’t be getting wild drunk, or stoned, or whatever else.  But more so, do we have a love for people that is evident?  Do we have a patience?  Do we always respond in anger or with understanding, even to people we disagree with?  Are we people that fight for the justice of the oppressed and poor?  Are we materialistic, and consumeristic?  This is what “the world” mentioned above, whom Jesus sacrificed Himself for, is waiting to see.

“Whoever says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him.”  Let’s just think for a moment about America.  How many people do you know who claim “I know Jesus” and yet don’t live like it?  That’s a chilling thought.  John is saying here that people like that are liars with no truth in them.  I often wonder what would happen if some oppressive regime took over America, and were demanding that those who claim to follow Jesus either deny it or be executed.  This is happening in other parts of the world, and there is a small minority of people who really claim to follow Jesus, and within these churches are amazing, sacrificial, giving, generous, loving, patient people.  People who aren’t for real just reject it.  In America we have another scene altogether.  We have a large amount of people who call themselves followers of Jesus for many reasons, but so many probably really don’t believe it or live like it.  Do I believe it and live like it?  Would I be willing to lay down my life for it?  Those are questions worth asking.

So may we walk as Jesus walked.  Even though it’s tough.  Even when people who claim to follow Him don’t live like Him.  Even when leaders in churches seem to be hypocritical.  Even when parents shove religious hypocrisy on us.  May we seek to be like Jesus and forget everything else.

Charlie Brown Was No Idiot!

A Charlie Brown Christmas (album)

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As many of you know, my favorite Christmas movie is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  One of the best scenes is when Charlie Brown and Linus go on a search for a Christmas Tree for their Christmas play.  They head into an array of pink, purple, blue and silver aluminum trees all set up in a consumer commercial extravaganza.  Ironically, Charlie Brown picks the little natural tree that’s barely making it.  Linus even protests the choice, saying that his sister Lucy wouldn’t think that this little tree would fit “the modern spirit” of Christmas.

Charles Schultz was so ahead of his time man.  He was making a commentary about the over-commercialization of Christmas.  I suppose this was becoming evident even in 1965, and more so today 45 years later in 2010.

But I love the fact that Charlie Brown picked the outcast tree.  Not long after that, he was laughed at by little Peanut peers for going against the grain.  Yet if we remember, by the end of the cartoon all the Peanuts come together, rip off Snoopy’s prize-winning decorations, and turn that tree into something more beautiful than any aluminum tree could imitate.

It actually reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend, Rich, about six years ago.  Back then, Rich was into Buddhism and some pretty heavy psychadelic drug use.  We used to meet together and go running, or we’d take turns making healthy dinners at each other’s houses.  Once and a while he’d light up a joint around me or something, and I (by God’s grace) would resist the temptation to partake.

I remember my last full conversation with Rich before he took off all over the country to hitchhike and explore the world and his mind.  He started it off by saying, “C’mon Ben- you know this Christianity stuff is a bunch of bull****, right?  You can’t really believe it, can you?”  I then proceeded to tell Rich that I loved him, and wanted him to be in the Kingdom with me when God restored all things and made them right.  I tried giving him a wild analogy.  I said something like this:

Rich, following Jesus is kind of like this…  There’s a huge mountain, and you’re at the bottom of it.  There’s a bunch of cars at the bottom, and someone tells you that only one of them will make it to the top of the mountain.  The cars are a bunch of different varieties and ages.  You immediately go to the ones that seem to make the most sense- the 4-wheel drive trucks and jeeps- they break down…  The economy cars break down- the vans too.  You try them all, from the most attractive ones to the least attractive.  All of them break down until there’s this one left.  It’s the crappiest looking car of the whole bunch, at least you thought it was.  You think “This will never make it”.  But it does make it.  That’s how Jesus is Rich- He’s the only way to God.  I know you believe in a lot of gods- which is a Hindu Philosophy– and you believe that they’ll all get people to heaven.  But its not true Rich- Jesus Christ is the only way to God and eternity in heaven- every other way leads to hell.  Christianity just looks unattractive because there are so many hypocrites that call themselves Christians and don’t live it.  I’m not perfect either, but I know that its true- that Jesus died for my sins and yours.  I’m telling you this because I want you to be in the new Kingdom with me.

I loved Rich’s reply, he said very candidly; “So you’re telling me that Jesus is some piece of **** jalopy at the bottom of a hill that will get me to heaven?  That’s a pile of **** bro.  But I do believe in what you’re doing, and I think you do it well.  I’ve got a lot of respect for you man.” As Rich himself would attest, he didn’t even really believe in any “way” or “religion” that solely could lead to God.  He really rejected all “gods” in a sense, because he was searching for enlightenment beyond any perceived definition.  When Rich left, I told him I loved him, and we had a good hearty man hug.  Not long after that Rich hitchhiked through the U.S. and Canada.  We still keep in touch occasionally by email and the last I heard he was studying at the Oregon College of Oriental medicine.

You have to understand as well that I didn’t have this intense conversation with Rich until I had gone jogging with him many times, invited him for dinner, and had him sit in with some musician friends playing hand percussion.  I really did and do love Rich, because we naturally shared a lot in common and enjoyed each other.  All of us connect with certain people more than others, and it’s certainly no mistake that we do.

That possibly goofy analogy I used in conversation with Rich reminds me of Charlie Brown’s love for the little beat up tree amidst all the flashy aluminum ones.

And I still believe that in our culture- Jesus may seem like the most unpopular, jaded, silly, archaic, mythic, foolish, anti-intellectual “choice” of the many spiritual things out there.

But when we take in this rejected, unloved little tree amidst all the flash and attraction of other paths, He elects us to Himself, takes us in as His own.  And in the end of the story, we find He is more beautiful, and completely true.  Just like the beauty of the tree at the end of the story in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

Jesus wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat! (or a Herodian, or a Pharisee, or a Communist, or a Socialist, etc., etc…)

Jesus was not a Republican or Democrat

 

In the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 16, the prophet Ezekiel compares Israel, who were God’s people of his time, with a whore who prostitutes herself to all the surrounding nations.  God is the husband in the allegory, and Israel is the adulterous wife.  God (the husband) speaks of his supposed people (his adulterous wife) with phrases like:  “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.  You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his…  (16:15) …therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated.  I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness.” (16:37)

So through Ezekiel, God speaks to His supposed people as if they were a whore.  There is good reason too, because the people of Israel were so corrupt at this time that they were engaging in pagan practices that included child sacrifice and prostitution.  But the seemingly lesser sins they were engaging in were things like greed, and forged political alliances with the wealthy pagan nations in order to advance their social, economic and political status.

I love verse 49 and 50 in chapter 16.  They say:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Often in our culture, we think of the main sins of Sodom as being the rape that the “Sodomites” pushed on Lot, who was the only righteous guy in the whole city.  That reality is somewhat inferred by Ezekiel, with Sodom doing “haughty and detestable things”.  But how come so few in America mentions the fact that the people of Sodom were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy”?  Maybe not enough Christians in America have taken a good look at the radical message of the prophets.  If we did, we would be a bit disturbed with our church as it stands today.  In this passage, God says that He “did away” with Sodom and Gomorrah.  Partly because they did “haughty and detestable things”- including sexual immorality and perversion that led to a group of men making an attempt at gang-rape, but also because the culture was characterized by being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, and did not help the poor and needy”.  Does that bother you at all?  It bothers me!  I certainly don’t want to be “done away with”.  But God doesn’t really need people who don’t desire to do His Will, and He can “do away” with anyone anytime He wants.

One thing is for sure, the prophets were definitely not liked for their message.  Imagine if some wild dude got up in the pulpit in front of a mega-church and said that the church is a whore who is prostituting themselves to the idols of narcissism, capitalism, materialism, New-Age-ism, right-wing moralism, and all sorts of other “detestable practices”?  We get plenty of televangelists condemning gays, liberals, ecologists and the ACLU, and granted, the morality espoused by many liberal people is weak and unbiblical.  But who is hammering the poor display of Christian values that are portrayed in the American church today as displayed by chauvinists, republicans, legalists, eco-wasters and the moral majority?  Not many get away with it.  But the rough news is the fact that the prophets were hated for the same reasons.  The prophets were sent by God and spoke the message of God fully, no matter whether or not it offended the “liberals” (during biblical times- many Roman “pagans” or “Gentiles” would have held values in common with them) or “conservatives” (during biblical times- many religious people or “Pharisees”, and “Zealots” would have held values in common with them).

And then again, I suppose we have to say that some biblical values do coincide with our modern “conservative” and “liberal” parties.  You may find yourself in either party, and you may be a follower of Jesus.  I’m not saying that this is wrong.  We all have convictions and passions that we’re currently captivated by.  I’m simply just saying that Jesus can’t be classified into one camp or another, because they are flawed human systems that are not as much based on scripture as they are a view of government.  All government groups have an obvious, necessary agenda to receive the votes of the mass population that they cater to.  In many cases, opposing parties even force their candidates and representatives to take views that even these people don’t necessarily agree with.  The point is, all human systems are flawed…

I also love Jesus’ reaction to a two groups of people who were in opposition politically, and their quip to try and pigeon-hole Him…

“15 The Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 16 They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

22 His reply amazed them, and they went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22)

Now the Herodians were “a Jewish political party who sympathized with (Mark 3:6;12:13Matt, 22:16Luke 20:20) the Herodian rulers in their general policy of government, and in the social customs which they introduced from Rome. They were at one with the Sadducees in holding the duty of submission to Rome, and of supporting the Herods on the throne. (Comp. Mark 8:15;Matt. 16:6.).” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)  The Pharisees were a fairly conservative Jewish group that had gained power under the help of Herodian rulers, but were far more pious and considered themselves to be separate from the customs of Rome in many aspects (except, of course, for using politics to gain an advantage as was the case in Matthew 22 here).

So, though these two parties were about as opposed to each other as many liberals and conservatives would be in America today, they agreed to try and trap Jesus together.  So they used flattery and placated Him first, trying to act as if they believed in what He was saying and teaching.  But Jesus, knowing their hearts, made a revolutionary statement about the civic vs. the spiritual responsibility of those who follow Him.  Jesus didn’t tear down the government in a revolutionary sense, or encourage civic disobedience, which would have appeased some in the Pharisee party, and especially the zealots of the time, who desired a Davidic Messiah King to come and overthrow Rome, reinstating Israel into another golden age of glory.  Jesus also didn’t place Caesar on an equal, comparable or greater throne than God Himself, which would have appeased the Herodians and Sadducees in a sense, who were full on political supporters of the government, at least in their outward expression.  Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s”, a truly just statement.

We can obviously see that the political landscape of the time of Jesus’ life was far different in many complex ways in comparison to the American government scenario we find ourselves in today.

But the principles set forth in this interaction are valid for us.

To my understanding, Jesus is teaching us that we are not to make an idolatrous altar to any form of government, and keep the perfect government and Kingdom of our righteous and loving Lord at the center of our hearts and future hope.

Jesus is also teaching that as we are put into a conflict between the City of God and the City of Man (to reference Augustine), we have civic responsibilities on this side of heaven and earth as well.  We are to honor all governments as far as it is ethically and biblically possible, even paying respect towards a corrupt government, which Rome certainly was!  We are to be influencers within the city of Man, bringing shalom, joy and humility into it, and with that a foretaste of the City of God that will one day come (Rev. 21).

Yes, we can do this in both the democratic and republican spheres.  And followers of Jesus can be influencers for the Kingdom of God in either realm.  In my opinion, if political people of Jesus’ day couldn’t pigeon hole Him, then they shouldn’t be able to quite pigeon hole us, either, no matter what our political or social affiliations are.  What they should see in us is Christ-likeness, and the beautiful, good values of scriptures oozing out of us!

And if you claim that Jesus is your King, I’m sure that His substitutional atonement will save you, then inspire you to follow His teachings and submit to His direction for your life.  And if you follow Jesus, your allegiance to Him will eventually transcend your politics.

If Britney Spears and Bob Dylan Became Best Friends…

Performing Womanizer

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I was an only child, born to two parents who were extreme opposites…

My Dad was a loose goose, wild-child troublemaker.  He was raised in a hard-line fundamentalist home.  It was the kind of Protestant church that hated Catholicism.  In fact, my Dad’s mother was on the verge of joining the monastery to become a nun when she made a spurious decision to marry my Dad’s father, Edward White.  Because of the flack that my Grandmother got from her family for making that decision, they shunned the marriage.  My Grandmother and Grandfather became fire and brimstone, fundamentalist Protestants.  My Dad was raised in that world, and it was all he ever knew of Christianity.  He tells me stories of when he was a young pre-adolescent, and believed everything this church said to be completely true.  There were even times when they would do something wild like kick out a guy because they didn’t like his beard, and quote something in Leviticus to back it up.  I don’t know if they didn’t like the dude or just didn’t like his beard, but they definitely misquoted some scriptures.  When my Dad began to question some of their judgmental attitudes at the age of 13, they simply told him that he was siding with the devil, and they’d hear no more arguments.

What came after that was my Dad’s long, wild road into the hippie sixties, and crazy seventies.  My Dad rebelled against the religion of his youth, and rebelled against God.  It wasn’t until the age of 56 that he came back to that relationship with God.  This time though, it wasn’t the God who would strike his hand off with lightning if he so much as thought about masturbation.  It was the God who loved my Dad, and longed for him to have eternal salvation, and leave behind a life of pain, anger and sin.

My Mom was somewhat of a goody-two-shoes type.  She was a quiet, shy girl.  She was raised by hard-working immigrants from Czechleslovakia (now the Czech-Republic), who raised her in the Vatican I Catholic church.  She went to Latin Vulgate Masses at least twice a week, and Catholic school all the way up until High School .

My Mom was a born and raised Catholic to the grain.  She still is, even though she severed herself from the Catholic Church, during her divorce from her first husband.  However, she biblically divorced him because he was cheating on her, so in that sense she followed Jesus (Matt. 19:9 talks about this).  But my Mom carried a fear with her through the sixties, seventies and eighties that led her to be afraid to return to the full practice of her religion.  She did a little partying, especially around the time of meeting my Dad.  But she never went overboard with it, and kept her senses about her.

When questions of religion and spirituality came from my mouth at the age of 10, a verbal war ensued in my family that carried some minor characteristics of the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland.  I was talking to my Dad’s mother about wanting to get a Bible and check it out.  She definitely wanted me to have one, so she bought me one for Christmas.  Then my Mom got involved, and was worried that I would get brainwashed into her church.  So my Mom counter-acted and bought me a Catholic Bible.  They’re actually both good translations- my Grandma got me the New King James Version, and my Mom got me the New Revised Standard Version.  But I obviously didn’t realize that at the time, nor did they.  What they were doing was warring about human doctrines, and not God’s Word.

From there on out, my parents definitely began to fight when topics of religion arose.  A “fundamentalist-edge” would often come to the surface in my Father.  He would get all fire and brimstone on my mom, and tell her that the pope might be the anti-Christ.  Martin Luther said the same thing, and in his time, he definitely had a right to say it because the popes were so greedy, murderous, evil and power hungry during Luther’s era.  But my Dad, on the other hand, was just trying to dig at my Mom.  His basis for argument was weak as well because he was still occasionally using drugs and lying about money issues at the time.  My mom would definitely argue back though.

Eventually she won my Dad over enough to get me to come to Catholic Church with her.  I went a few times, and then made friends with my friend Dave, who played drums in my high school band “Mulberry Tree”.  Dave and I would get dropped off at the Sunday night mass by our parents, and sneak out to go behind the church to smoke cigarettes.  My mom would pick us up later, asking us, “How was it?”  We’d reply, “Oh man, it was great!”

My Dad’s mother continued to be nasty to my mom.  For one, my mom was once divorced, so in Grandma’s eyes she had to be an adulteress, because Jesus said so (though like mentioned above, my Mom’s divorce was totally justified!).  Secondly, my mom was a Catholic.  Also, my grandma had rejected the call to become a nun, and been shunned by her Catholic parents.  Obviously, there was a lot more to the situation than met the eye.  I think my Grandmother was battling something inside herself.  It was easy to point the finger at my mom.  Instead, I wish Grandma had faced her own issues more often.  I guess we all should face the mirror as much as possible.

When Grandma was riding out her last days, something in her changed.  The sourness of her legalism and condemning attitude towards people began to subside.  She talked to my mom, and the last words she uttered to her were, “You’re a sweetheart, and I love you.”  This was my Grandma’s expression of finding grace, and peace with God.  The last words she told me were, “Ben, just remember to read your Bible, and listen to it more than you listen to ‘man’.”  Maybe that was her struggle, because she had accepted a lot of religious garbage in preference to what God had to say.  But the Word of God stood as the authority in her life still.  Maybe it was a prophecy, and she knew one day that I would live for the Word of God.  Or maybe she didn’t know, and God put it in her heart to say.

All I know is that about a month after she passed away, I began to follow Jesus seriously.  At the time when she was dying, I was confused spiritually, and into all sorts of different beliefs.  Somehow I think my Grandma sought rest with God, and things began to happen in my heart that changed me for good.  Contrary to our complaints, God certainly makes no mistakes.  He truly makes all things work for His perfect plan and will.

But still, I have a dichotomous history that I can’t ignore.  My mom was an ex-fundamental-Catholic, and Dad an ex-fundamental-Protestant.  I was a burn-out hippie wanna-be in an Upper Middle Class haven of rich, white people.  My beautiful wife Sarah was an honors student, who was in homecoming court and listened to Britney Spears in high-school, and I almost failed high school, and listened mostly to old Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  I didn’t become a Christian until I went to a liberal arts school.  I didn’t begin to care about social justice and the poor until I worked at a middle class medium mega-church.

I believe in being a counter-balance.  I believe that the Body of Christ and the kingdom of God are vastly more than our obscure vision can make them out to be.  Because I myself am an extremist, and struggle with non-conformity, I have to see that there are polar opposites in every assumption, and this is a truth that can’t be denied. Because in the Kingdom of God, wealthy tycoons are equal to lepers, the last are first and first are last.  The poor are rich, rich are poor.  The weak are strong, and strong are weak.

Leadership involves thinking outside of the box in every situation.  When we stay in the Scriptures, we continue to wrestle with our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses we see in the church today.  We have to speak out in love about these struggles, because the truth needs to be heard.  If we don’t stand for what we know God has made true, then we’ll give up, become impotent, or sell out.  Being truly outside of the box is leaving the box of the systems put in place around us, and seeking what God has to say.  Its guaranteed that His way will always be harder to swallow and follow, but its always the best way.