Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Christians are Wrong about Judgement

Christians love talking about judgment day.  It seems to justify everything they do.  If you stay on one side of the line, then you’re okay, but if you stray on the other side, then you are tortured for all eternity.  What is this line?  Some Christians talk about belonging to one group or another, but in the end the word they all use is “faith”.  If you believe the right thing—like God and Jesus and the resurrection and stuff—then you get to go to a good place.  If you believe the wrong thing—anything other than God and Jesus and the resurrection—then you are tortured for all eternity. 

Christians say it’s a pretty easy deal.  There’s nothing to do, just believe the right thing.  There are a couple obvious problems with this system, though.  First, not everyone has heard about Jesus, and if they have it’s easy to think of Jesus as a good story and nothing else.  None of us believes in things that aren’t given to us as fact.  Also, belief isn’t always something we can control.  You could tell me that Thor and his hammer rule the world, and no matter how much you try to convince me, I can’t really believe it.  Even if I wanted to, I just couldn’t make myself do it.  So why would I be punished for eternity because I couldn’t believe in Thor?  And how different is the story of Jesus?

But that’s not why Christians are wrong.  They are wrong because there is one phrase throughout the Bible that describes how people will be judged on the last day: “Everyone will be judged according to what they have done.”  There isn’t a single verse in the Bible that says that God will choose the Christians to inhabit the good place and the bad place to be for the non-Christians.  Rather it is all based on how people live—whether they lived good lives or bad ones.

So what makes a good life as opposed to a bad one?  Does it mean a life of sexual purity and singing praise to God?  Does it mean attending the right church?  Actually, Jesus talks about it quite plainly.  Those who exhibit mercy and love in their lives are the ones who get the thumbs up, and those who are apathetic and uncaring get the thumbs down on judgment day.  Specifically, Jesus says that those who spend their time feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, helping immigrants, healing the sick and being kind to people in prison are those who get to hang out with God.  Which only makes sense, because God is love and it’s only reasonable that he’d want to hang with kind people for eternity.  And those who don’t do kind deeds are separated from God, which also makes sense because why would God want to hang out with self-righteous, stingy people?

But what Jesus says about these guys is even more surprising.  That the people who got in, didn’t know they were getting in, and those on the outs didn’t know they were being thrown out.  When they saw Jesus dividing the people between good and bad, they thought they’d be on the other side.   Why is this?  Probably because they’ve been told all their lives that being on the right side has to do with what you believe and which religious group there is.  But in the end, there will be Buddhists and Muslims and atheists and pagans who get to hang out with God and plenty of Christians and Jews who don’t.  Why?  Because anyone who acts out the generosity and kindness and love of God are the kind of people God wants to hang out with.  And self-righteous prigs who think their intellectual capacity and the pious activities they do are enough to be with God never got it.  Judgement day is a party for those who show the love of God only. 

Judgment is based on what one does: Job 34: 11; Ecclesiasties 3:17; Ezekiel 33: 20; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; I Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:13. 

Judgment is based on acts of kindness: Matthew 25:31-46

Why Christians are Wrong About Hell

Hell is a pretty much Christian concept.  In the Hebrew scriptures, it talks about punishment of the wicked, but it describes that punishment in strictly physical terms.  Christians point to Jesus and the book of Revelation who speak of the eternal fire and eternal punishment. 

The basic idea of hell is this: If you live before God, you are safe from judgement.  But if you screw up royally in your life, then you spend eternity being tortured for your screw ups.  This is the justice of God.

Many have pointed out some difficulties with this concept. Can this really be called justice?  Let’s take a pretty typical screw up: You sleep with your boyfriend before marriage.  Your body is filled with sexual desire, and it is a naturally human thing to want to have sex, but God says you need to wait for marriage, and so you screwed up.  Because of this error, even if you had no other error, you still screwed up, which  means that even if you never screwed up in any other way, you will still be tortured for eternity for this one mess up, no matter how natural it seemed at the time.  And Christians call this exchange of a single sin for an eternity of torture justice.

This crazy way of thinking isn’t why Christians are wrong.  It’s just a description of how they think.
The reason they are wrong is because they just don’t understand God.  The most common description of God in the Bible is this one: “Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of merciful faithfulness, forgiving to thousands of generations.”  In summary, God is love.  He isn’t a judging God who punishes people because they look the wrong way.  Rather, he is a kind Father who leads people in the right way, and offering forgiveness for their sins.  Jesus said that he didn’t come to earth to punish people, but to show them how to love.

This doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t talk about God as judgmental.  He’s got plenty of room to judge people.  But it is interesting the kinds of people Jesus says will be condemned.  Those who judge others.  Those who live out lives separated from love. Those who take innocent people, who don’t know much better, and condemn them to such a degree that they will fall away from love.   God is love and God relates to people who show mercy, and those who condemn and don’t forgive and hate are the people who God will judge.

There is one other group that Jesus says will be especially judged.  That is hypocrites.  A hypocrite, according to Jesus, isn’t just someone who says one thing and does another.  A hypocrite is specifically a person who talks about God and God’s mercy, but lives out hate and condemnation.  It seems that Jesus, when he talks about hell, is really talking about a place for Christians.  Maybe not all Christians, but specifically the kind of Christians who talk about a God of love, but condemn people for not being like them. 

Seems like the people who talk the most about hell are people whom hell is being prepared for. 

Bible verses about God:
Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103: 8,9; Psalm 145:9; Eze 18; Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 54:8; Matthew 5:43-47; I John 4:7-8

Jesus talking about who will be judged: Matthew 13:31-42; Mark 9:41-42.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why Christians are Wrong about Creation

My name is Steve and I am a Christian.  Join me in my recovery as I share why Christians are wrong and how they could be right.

Today’s topic: Creation.

It was calculated by Archbishop James Ussher that the world was created on October 23, 4004 Before Christ.  This seems excessively particular, and Ussher was more specific as he determined the world was created at 6pm.  James Lightfoot did his own specific calculations and determined that Ussher was wrong—it was actually 3929BC.  Sir Isaac Newton, yes the scientist that helped build our modern world, calculated that creation occurred in the very even year of 4000BC. Many conservative Christians, although debating the precise date, agree that the earth is young and goes to the Bible to prove this.

This calculation is determined through careful reading of the genealogies of Genesis 5, which gives the length of ancestor’s lives and the time of the birth of each later ancestor.  One can follow closely the Bible timeline and come with an early date of the Genesis 1 creation.  In fact, some, like the Bible students at Answers in Genesis, insist upon it. 

When I was in Bible school, I had a professor who said, “I don’t have enough knowledge to object to Creationists’ science, but I wish they were better Bible scholars.”  I have to agree.
First of all, we have to look carefully at Genesis 1 to see the chronology there.  We all know that creation happens in six days in that chapter.  So when does the six days start?  Let’s read the first few verses:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  (Some think of this as a summary of all that comes after, and some say that heavens and earth happened before.)

 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  (This is clearly a description of the world before God started creating, for all was chaos, and God’s spirit or breath is just hanging out)

 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

Now the beginning of God’s creation.  Before this, all was darkness, and God made light happen.
 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

So we have “Day One”.  What did God make on “Day One”?  He made light and divided light from darkness.  That’s it.  He didn’t make the sun, because that happens on day three.  Well, still, that’s a good day’s work.

Coulda gone sailing before the first day.  But no sunset.
But what DIDN’T God create on the first day?  He didn’t create the earth or the water.  They were already there, according to verse 2.  Before He started his six day creation there was already earth and already water.    We know that God created the earth, because it says so in verse 1.  But the word “creation” can mean either a initial creation, or a remodel.  Erasing the blackboard and starting over.  Since we already have an earth and water here, actually God isn’t creating the earth in these six days from scratch.  Rather, the place is a mess and he is remodeling the place. 

So when was the earth created?  We don’t know.  The Bible just doesn’t say.  The earth could be hundreds or thousands or millions or billions of years older than the six day creation according to a literal reading of the text, because it simply doesn’t say.  And there might have already been animals and plants and all kinds of things on the earth before it was covered with water and darkness.  We don’t know, because we have few clues as to what happened before Genesis 1.  One thing we do know: if anyone says that the Bible says that everything begins at the six day creation needs to go back and read their Bibles.

It is interesting that some great ancient Bible scholars like Augustine didn’t think that Genesis one was meant to be taken literally, but metaphorically.  In fact, if John Calvin and John Wesley could have a discussion, they might argue about many things, but they would agree that Genesis 1 is allegorical.  And they have good reason to think this. 

The book of Genesis is a collection of many different ancient documents or oral sources, put together into a single book.  The separation between texts are usually divided by a phrase, “This is the generations of”, which we can see in chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 10 and so on. 

The same phrase is used in Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth” which separates one text from another in the book, offering two separate but related creation accounts.  Genesis 1 has the organized six day account, while after 2:4, there is more of a narrative account.  We could put many details together, if we want, but there are a couple details that simply don’t match.  For instance, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humanity (day three and day six, respectively), while in Genesis 2, the human being was created before the plants. 

Many Christians and Jews believe that Moses edited the book of Genesis.  So Moses, out of all the creation stories he could have chosen, and he could have re-written, he chose two that differed in one particular matter—the chronology.  It seems that if there was one thing that didn’t matter about the creation story is WHEN things happened. 

What was the point of the creation stories that Moses chose?  He chose a couple that were based on ancient myths of the time, that showed God’s power and authority over all the other gods of his time.  That’s the main point of the stories of creation, not precisely when or how things happened.  The six day creation is poetic and supposed to be understood as mythic.  Not untrue, just fitting a literary standard of the time.

What’s the point?  If you believe in a young earth, then you are not reading the Bible literally, but putting your guesswork into a text that you didn’t really understand.

If you want to read more about Genesis 1 and creation, I highly recommend the JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Obey: A Four Letter Word

My friend Styx and I were driving in the snow, just leaving a store where we picked up some food for the homeless folks in our church, keeping folks safe and warm and fed another day.  Yep, we are good people, and we don’t care who knows it.

Suddenly, blue and red lights flash behind us, and we are being pulled over by a local officer.  I’m wondering what I could have done wrong... as far as I could see, everything was legal.  The officer comes up to the window and politely points out that my friend didn’t have his seat belt on.  Styx is in a rage, almost shaking, but he keeps it to himself as he gives his ID number.  When the officer walks away, he fumes, “Really?  Don’t they have anything else better to do?”  He is almost shaking in rage. 

After the officer comes back, he gives Styx a ticket and explains that he won’t have to pay anything if he takes a safety class. As we drive away, Styx says, “Let me know that this is no big deal.”  I assure him that it isn’t, but that doesn’t lessen his rage.

Let’s face it, none of us likes to get caught doing something wrong.  We especially don’t like it when a wrong is over-punished, like Styx getting a 350 dollar ticket when he forget to put a strap across his shoulder. Recently, I’ve been reading what the Bible has to say about the ten commandments, and many have been shocked at how frequently the death penalty is used for the smallest infraction of the laws.  Like the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath and he is stoned to death.

Sometimes obedience is a problem because we think particular laws are useless or pointless.  An oft-repeated law in the OT is the rejection of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.  Who would have thought of  that?  And if a society is okay with eating meat, what’s wrong with that?  Some rabbis interpret it as a separation between meat and dairy, but that doesn’t seem to be the point to me.  What IS the point?  Why should we go out of our way to obey such an arbitrary command?

In the end, obeying a bunch of arbitrary commands seems downright silly or even immoral.  Keeping the Sabbath holy seems okay until we are telling kids not to play on the Sabbath, or going hungry because a crisis happened and we couldn’t prepare food ahead of time.  Few people know that in the same section of Scripture that places a taboo on incest and homosexuality is a taboo on having sex with one’s wife while she is on her period. I mean, the idea is kind of gross, but they are married, so who can complain?  And what harm is there in other sexual taboos?  Bestiality is a form of animal abuse, and pedophilia is child abuse, rape is violence, but other kinds of sexual taboos… really, where’s the harm?

In the end, many people want to label sins as “stuff we do to hurt other people” and “nobody’s business”.  Obedience depends on whether we are harming others or not.  If we are loving people, all is good.  Otherwise, we shouldn’t bother.  If a person uses drugs, no harm, no foul, unless they do actual harm to another, like steal or neglect their child.   Everything should be dependent on love.  If no one is harmed, the no one should complain.

Living with God
The funny thing about sin, though, is that it has more to do with our relationship with God than anything else.  The ten commandments and all the laws that follow under those ten categories have to do with a community living under the sight of God, in the presence of God.  They are laws that don’t necessarily say, “This is how we live together”, but more like “God’s house, God’s rules” whether they make sense to the people or not.  God’s people couldn’t eat shellfish not because it could make them sick, but because, in that context, it was “gross” to God.  God was displeased by it.  Just like in my house we don’t have alcohol on the property and no one drinks there.  It’s because we have some who struggle with alcoholism, and we don’t want to tempt them.  This doesn’t mean that people can’t drink in other houses.  Or that loving people don’t drink—I don’t believe that.  That’s just how we work it in my house.

Often there are things that disgust others that we have no problem with.  Our spouse might find eating meat horrifying, but we don’t have any problems with it.  It would make sense that we not eat met in our house, out of respect and love for our spouse, although we might occasionally sneak out and grab a hamburger when she’s not around.  As long as our relationship is honest and respectful, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if we insisted that our spouse watch us eat meat, or participate in eating meat, or to have the smell of cooked meat in the house, we are forcing the one we love to share in that which is abhorrent to her.

When we join God, we are married to Him.  As soon as we begin living together, we begin negotiating our lives with Him.  He will insist that we change some aspects of our lives, and we agree because we love him so.  We don’t want to disgust Him, even if we see nothing wrong with it.  So we make terms of living together, and we work these terms out together.

The problem is that some people think that the terms they live with God must be replicated by everyone else, as if everyone’s marriage must come to the same terms.  But how can we determine another’s relationship?  If we do not participate in a relationship, what right do we have to tell them how it should work?  Yes, we can look at another’s relationship and offer wisdom (if asked) about what might work or not.  But in the end, it is that couple, that pairing of God and that particular person, that must determine their own terms.  We might see how a couple might fail unless something changes, but in the end, that’s between them.

Learning to love
Let’s say that all “sin” or wrong-doing did have to do with harm to others and that all positive action has to do with loving others, including God.  Part of the problem we have with this is: What is real “harm” and what is only superficial?  What is really love?  And can’t something be loving in one context, but not another? Can’t something be loving in most contexts, but not all?

And how are we to know?  Let’s say that we have a toddler who only wants to love.  He would give useless gifts to those around him.  Do little deeds that ultimately mean nothing.  Perhaps he would command people to do pointless tasks, because he thinks that’s really loving, even though it’s not. We find it cute, but the actions of a toddler don’t really add up to love, no matter how much he tries.

Even so, we are all toddlers.  We all fail to understand what is truly love.  This is what happened to the law.  So much added to it that the people failed to understand the basic point.  Many people today couch the idea of love in the context of economic terms, that if we do what is good for the economy, we are doing what is good for everyone. 

Sometimes I feel that Jesus is the grown up trying to explain things in simple terms so us toddlers to love could understand.  He lays it out very simply and starkly sometimes: “Do good to those who harm you.” “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “Deny yourself.” “You cannot worship both God and wealth.” “Do not commit adultery.” “Do mercy.”  We sometimes find excuses to not follow these straightforward commands. We make ourselves busy with what doesn’t matter, so we don’t have to obey.  But really, we are just acting like disobedient toddlers who don’t want to do what is good for all of us.

Some of us need laws
While I was sitting next to Styx, all I could think of was how I agreed with the seat belt laws.  When I was in high school, I wrote a five page report about the proof that seat belts save lives.  I included the chances of death without a seat belt and how much more likely it is for a person with a seat belt to not die in the case of an accident.   But that didn’t change my habit of not wearing a seat belt.  Just knowing what was right and good doesn’t change our habits.

What did change my habit was when my state made wearing a seat belt compulsory.  On the day it became law, I began to click it around me and I have never turned back.  I appreciate the law because it was a simple tool to help me save my life for the sake of my wife and my children.  I probably would never have done it myself, without the law in place.

Even so, I don’t think I would have learned compassion or sacrificial love without Jesus telling me to do it.  I had a couple people ask me how I am such a compassionate person, and I responded to them honestly (which isn’t always the best idea): “I’m not compassionate.  I don’t really care that much.  I help people because Jesus told me to.  Someone asks me for help and my first response is to say no because I’m too tired or too busy already or don’t feel that they really deserve it.  Then I am reminded that I do this work not because I want to do it, but because Jesus does.  I’m here to represent Jesus and even though I might not give to this person, Jesus would.  So I’ve got to do what Jesus says, even if it doesn’t make sense to me.”

Some people might call this a servant mentality.  Some people might think that I’m so obedience-minded that I’m not open to really loving people.  I might agree.  But obedience is the path God gave me to learn to love.  I wish I was naturally loving.  But at least I’m on the path.  Perhaps others can approach love more flexibly and open-mindedly.   But I’m on the path that works for me.

So I’d say don’t complain about God’s rules and laws.  Perhaps they are doing some people some good.  And remember, that Jesus also gave us a law not to judge others.  That very restriction could be the path of freedom to everyone.


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and they are His because he made them and subdued them and established good for all creatures—clean water, clean air, good food and sufficient shelter for all.  He then created women and men in His image, and gave us this good creation: all the earth, all the creatures of the earth, the real of the air, the realm of the sea and the realm of the land.  God also gave us ourselves to rule.  He gave us this world to rule for good, not for ill, to sustain and to create the Good, for we were made in His image and we were to rule in His likeness.

Humanity soon decided, although morally we are as toddlers, to rule ourselves and the earth without God’s counsel or assistance.  This is not as it was intended by the Creator.  He and we were supposed to rule in partnership, we ruling and he advising and empowering.  In rejecting the Creator in the rule of the earth, we rejected Love, we rejected Justice and we rejected true Power.  Without the Creator, we became narrow-minded, established self-serving systems and those who understood the good were powerless to establish it.

When Jesus came, he demonstrated a life of true partnership with the Creator.  He lived out and taught the law of Love, which did not have so much as specific rules as the basic principle of living for the well-being of others.  Jesus established justice by inviting the Creator to breathe life into those who are dying.  And Jesus relied on the Creator to demonstrate that true power comes from Him—not from politics, not from medicine, not from education nor from religious ritual.  Rather, it is an ongoing relationship with the Father that justice and love and power arises from.

* * *

The church is but a shattered image of Jesus.  Some pursue a relationship with the Father, praising exuberantly, attempting to live out His will, seeking His truth, to the exclusion of all else.  These will spend hours a day in prayer or study or meditation, seeking the descent of heaven in their lives. They seek God to work in our world, believing that He alone can establish the Good.

 Others are working to establish God’s kingdom on earth.  They are loving all, creating places of peace, establishing justice, working with the needy and establishing the good.  They look to God to infuse them with Love and Truth, and they do the work for they believe that they are His hands and feet.

Both sides have forgotten the partnership.  There is a place for human work and a place for the Creator’s work.  The Creator guides us to acts of love.  Like Jesus, the Creator shows us the work we are to do and we step into it.  But we must pray to depend on the Creator’s power.  We recognize our weakness, but it is easy to rely on human power to establish “God’s work”. 

Yet Jesus didn’t rely on his own power.  He left his home and family.  He had no medical knowledge to heal, yet he healed.  He didn’t carry food with him to feed the thousands, yet he fed them. He didn’t have a degree in psychology to bring peace to the mad, yet he gave them peace.  He accomplished his work through his boldness to approach the most needy around them, to understand the work of God and to step into God’s power to create life.  Jesus had nothing but his compassion and his reliance.

On the day of his arrest, Jesus saw the crowds coming, and he warned his disciples.  The disciples, having not prayed, only saw those who would separate them from their God.  They were the enemies, the hateful, the despised.  So they fought, then they retreated, then they scattered.  But Jesus, having prayed, was full of the love and power of God and saw people whose lives were on the edge.  So he healed, he comforted, he taught and he forgave.  He did not see enemies, he saw the needy.

Even so, God has put in our path the needy.  We know people whose lives hang in the balance.  They will die unless they have the touch of the Creator.  And we are to be Jesus to them.  We are not their Savior, rather, we are here to provide the way for them to touch the Savior.  We are to speak the word of love the Creator put in our mouths.  We are to touch them and pray for healing.  We are to ask them what they need. We are to speak the hard truth in gentleness. We are to feed the hungry.  We are to give shelter to the homeless. We are there to save lives.

But we are not to do this on our own.  We are not the Lifegiver.  We are not the Creator, but simply the mediator for the Creator.  We do not have energy to be there for everyone who is dying.  But the Creator does.  And He will give us the energy and power and love to create justice.  If…

If we would but pray and listen and work His work.  We need to pray because the work is not our own, but a partnership with the Creator and He gives us the power.  Without prayer, God does not act through us and our strength is insufficient to do the work.  We need to listen because in many ways we are still toddlers.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that our way is God’s way.  We listen to truly understand love.  And we need to work.  Without work, our prayer is simply words.  We pray and then we step in our prayers, embodying them, with God to give us the power.

Thus is the world subdued to peace.

What is Peace in the Bible?

Often when people talk about “peace” they think in terms of not having war.  That might be a form of national peace, but that is only a portion of what peace is in the Bible.  In the New Testament times “peace” was used as a term to mean what some politicians describe today—peace through warfare, through conquest and defeating enemies.  This stands in stark opposition to the peace of Jesus.

In the Bible, there are two main words used for “peace”.  One is “shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament scriptures.  In the New Testament, the Greek word “erine” was used as a replacement for “shalom” but they really meant the same thing.  In both testaments it was commonly used as a greeting.  We might think that the greeting was simply a general way of saying, “Hey, I won’t kill you,” like shaking hands used to mean that no one was holding weapons.  But “shalom” meant more than that.

1.       Peace is personal and national
Just like today, the term “peace” in the Bible is used as a personal, individual characteristic, as well as a community or national one.  It is used as a characteristic for a church as well as being content with one’s lot.  It also is used to express a lack of conflict between two people.

2.       Peace means “complete well-being”
“Shalom” certainly stood for having a lack of conflict. But it also meant having one’s needs met, and not having anxiety.  It meant being of good health and having good relationships. 
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:10-11

3.        Peace means both security and contentment
To have “shalom” was to be safe from harm.  But it also meant that one’s mind was at rest from oppressions, whether real or exaggerated.  To be at peace is to be free from both spiritual and inner demons.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 

4.       Peace is reconciliation
Paul the apostle especially uses the term “peace” to speak of the reconciliation of all peoples under God.  It is the reconciliation of people with God and people with each other. This is the ending of false separations between races, sexes and religions, all unified under God through Jesus.

5.       Peace is unity
Christian peace is seen as unity between all followers of Jesus, forgiveness and holding others as more important than oneself.  Peace is love in community.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  Colossians 3:12-15

6.       Peace is often seen as an agreement or covenant
Peace is sometimes established by a covenant, like a peace treaty.   Covenants, or permanent agreements between people, are tools for peace.  So when Jesus established his “new covenant” is was a peace treaty.
They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'"  Genesis 26:28-29

7.       Peace comes from God
To truly be at peace is to receive peace from God.  The Bible doesn’t deny that there are other places to obtain peace, but that such peace is temporary and sometimes false.  God is the only source of peace that is complete and permanent.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  John 14:27

What is peacemaking?
Thus, when Jesus speaks of his people being “peace-makers”, he is saying not so much that they stop wars, but that they bring peace to all relationships, to communities at large.  That they mend relationships, and create unity in Jesus.  They meet human needs and so create whole communities. 

Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14


Scholars of Mosaic law note that the sets of laws are often grouped according to the ten commandments.  That there are laws about proper worship, and then laws about roles.  There are laws about killings and laws about sexual mores and laws about justice.  But sometimes you get groups of laws that don’t seem to be connected at all, like in Deuteronomy 22:

A woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
If you happen to come upon a bird's nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled.
 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
 You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
 Deut. 22:5-11 (New American Standard)

These laws just seem completely random.  But they aren’t.  In fact, the connection between not wearing another sex’s clothes and having a parapet on the roof gets to a deep theme in the Old Testament.  All of these laws have to do with setting proper boundaries.  That God created a natural order to things, and that things separated should not be mixed.  It is obvious that a roof on which people work and sleep (which they did in the ancient world, and in many places in the world today) should have a wall to protect people.  Even so, the OT claims that there needs to be walls placed between the sexes, walls placed between seeds, walls placed between species and walls placed between kinds of seeds, because mixing them brings disaster.  It is for this reason that there are food laws in the OT, and laws which declare that certain nations must be enculturated (perhaps up to 10 generations!) before they can be full citizens in Israel.  There must be an absolute border between Israelites and Canaanites, which is why the Canaanites were no longer supposed to exist as a race.  Some boarders cannot be crossed for any reason.

And yet when Jesus came on the scene, he seemed to have a different point of view.  The law that separated lepers and non-lepers, Jesus just ignored, touching lepers.  The laws that separated Jew and Gentiles, Jesus often ignored.  The laws that held men and women in different roles Jesus sometimes ignored (which is why Mary was allowed to have the male role of student, although Martha wanted her to take a more proper feminine role).  And what about Canaanites?

And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.  Matthew 15:22-28

At first, Jesus seems to be affirming the border of the Mosaic law—there is a firm distinction between Canaanite and Israelite, and they shall never pass.  In fact, Jesus calls her a dog.  But when she accepts this term, and claims that even dogs get crumbs, Jesus does a complete turnaround.  Why?  Because faith—trust and devotion to God—trumps all the other borders.  Borders mean nothing when there is faith and love.  In as much as the OT law affirms borders, Jesus breaks them.  Jesus insists that the very things that are separated by walls—male and female, Jew and Gentile, Moabite and Israelite, leper and healthy, sinner and saint—are no longer separated, but are, in fact, united by faith and love. 

And yet we have trouble with this even today.  We Christians want to re-establish borders because ultimately our love and faith isn’t strong enough to overcome our instinct to set up walls.  We want to distinguish Christian and non-Christian, homeless and housed, male and female, Jew and Palestinian, citizen and illegal immigrant, belonging to the right church group or the wrong one—all the very kinds of borders that Jesus did away with.  As quickly as Jesus takes down our walls and replaces them with love, we build new ones. 

We can either have walls, or we may have love.  We may either have borders or we may have a unity of faith.  

Your Salvation is Too Small

If your salvation includes forgiveness, but not healing, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes heaven, but not a restored earth, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes Christians, but not sinners, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes freedom of worship, but not food, shelter and hope for the poor, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes resurrection, but not the eradication of oppression, then your salvation is too small.

If your salvation includes reconciliation between God and man, but not reconciliation between enemies on earth, then your salvation is too small.
If your salvation includes a peaceful worshiping community, but not the destitute, then your salvation is too small. 
If your salvation includes purity, but not love, then your salvation is too small.
Think big

Your Kingdom Come

Once upon a time there was a kingdom of children, with a wise and celebrated leader.  The leader was a healer by trade and he brought these children from abusing families to be his children, and he cared for them with sweetness and gave them a wonderful home with all his vast resources at their disposal. 

At one point the children, still very young, decided that they were old enough and that they could take care of themselves.  The leader said, “You are still very young and need someone to guide you.  You can feed yourselves, but you can’t get along together.”  The children rose up in protest and anger and demanded that they be left alone to take care of themselves.  The leader said, “You are ultimately in charge.  If you want to leave my house and take care of yourselves, you can.  But I would rather you stayed in my house and lived with me and let me care for you.  I love you so.”  These words fell on deaf ears, and the children, as a group, decided to leave that night and rule themselves.

You could guess what happened.  The children, at first, were focused on surviving together and figuring out how to eat and build their shelters.  But soon little squabbles broke out.  Broken bones happened that weren’t healed correctly.  Some children wanted what they did not make, and if they were bigger, they took it.  More and more children got hurt, and everything was a mess. They chose some of the children to be in charge, to bring some order and stability, but all they did was cause more hurt.

But rather than think to themselves, “We should go back to our leader’s house” the children blamed the leader for all their troubles.  “The leader could heal my hurts, but he didn’t,” some would say.  “The leader said he loved us, but look at how miserable we are!”  “The leader could feed us better than this, but he abandoned us.”  “The leader is angry at us because of our misdeeds and so is causing us to suffer so.”

Of course, the leader never took his eyes off of them.  He loved them so, but he knew that they wouldn’t welcome him.  Finally, he couldn’t stand seeing them in their misery so he went and visited them.  Right away, he saw a child who was covered with sores and so he brought out a bottle of salve and made him feel better right away.  He saw another child who was irrational with anger and he spoke to him and calmed him and gave him peace.  He saw another child who was suffering with a broken bone that never healed, so he gave the child a local anesthetic, reset the bone and carefully wrapped it.  He saw two children fighting and he separated them, listened to them and loved them.

Soon many children flocked to him, realizing that he didn’t come to punish, but to love.  And he told them, “You all need to learn how to care for each other.  Take the effort you put in your anger, in your punishment of each other and put it into love.  Stop studying how to be in charge, and study how to help each other better. You have everything you need to care for everyone.”

The chosen rulers of the children could see their power slipping away, and that children would soon choose the leader to be in charge of them again, he was so kind and caring.  So they arrested the leader, beat him up to an inch of his life, and told him he had to leave.  He turned to the children and said, “I have to go.  But I will always be here.  Any of you can choose to have me as your leader again.  All you have to do is ask me, and I will guide you to love and care for each other.  Just call out my name, and I will be there to lead you.”  At this, the rulers of the children stabbed the leader, causing him to bleed, and he left.

Some of the children wondered if the leader was too weak to lead them.  Some of the children wondered if they should go to him, and try to find the house where they all once lived.  Many of the children said that the leader was just selfish and he was trying to trick them.  But many of the children listened to the leader, called out to him and he did lead them.  We aren’t sure how, but he did.  They would say, “Leader, your kingdom come.” Then he would come, secretly, and lead those children to love and to care for the other children, even if the other children didn’t deserve it.  And the world became a better place because the king came, if only for a little while.

This is a representation of Peter Abelard's soteriology.  I don't believe that it is a complete theology of salvation, but I do think it represents a better theology than substitutionary atonement. 

Five Timeless Heresies of the Church

For Reformation Day, when Martin Luther's 95 theses against the church mis-doctrine of indulgences are celebrated, I want to remind us of a few ways the church continues to misguide us all. 

1.       The church has the right to oppress heresies or immoralities
Heresies and immoralities come and go.  There will always be a sin that people call righteous and there will always be an evil doctrine that people call godly.  But the response of the true church to these is not to fight them or attack them.  The true church, in humility, realizes that neither our doctrine nor practice is perfect.  The true church will discuss, and point toward Jesus.  The true church realizes that Jesus alone is the true teacher and that Jesus is the only judge.  Thus, we do not judge for ourselves, nor teach our own doctrine or practice, but just point to Jesus.   And, like Jesus, we harm no one, nor let a hateful word pass our lips.

2.       The church is a place of safety from the world
We see our properties and buildings as holy places, a place of purity and quiet to worship the Lord.  To do that, we lock ourselves off from the chaos of the world, we separate ourselves from sinners and we create peace for those who live according to the tenants of our community.  But Jesus lived among the demon-possessed, the lepers and the chronically ill, in order to bring healing.  Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, making them family.  Jesus offered peace to those who have no peace in themselves.  The church is not to create safety for itself, but safety for those who truly need it—the vulnerable of the world.

3.       Church leadership is a means of gain
Many become pastors because it is a decent profession and they want to help people.  Many become pastors because they want to discuss theology and the Bible and make a living at it.  Some become church leaders because they see it as a means of avoiding poverty and even a means of power for them and their family.  But Jesus said that church leadership is not a means of power or gain, but rather a means of slavery.  True leadership in the church is lowliness, poverty and the acceptance of persecution.  Jesus’ true leaders are those who give and give and give until there is nothing left to give, who drain themselves in love.

4.       Money and influence is power for the church
Churches and church leaders often complain that there is not enough money to run their programs, that they need more volunteers, that they need to wield more influence on the world.  They want to change the world and build community and they see wealth and people and politics as the means to create true change.  But according to Jesus, true change happens through resurrection, and resurrection only happens through the cross.  True change occurs when we completely trust the Power that enacts change.  The greatest power in the world for change is trust in God, and we enact that trust by living according the merciful will of God.

5.       Oppression of the church is to be avoided

We pray for our persecuted brothers throughout the world, and we might seek political change to ease their suffering.  We are willing to fight and even bomb those who threaten the lives of our fellow Christians.  We will enact cultural war so we need not change our traditions and practices for any outside influence.  But Jesus said that we are not to fight persecution, but rejoice in it.  We are not to fear tribulation, but to recognize that it is the key to open the door to the kingdom of heaven.  It is a means of opening up the heavens so that blessings would come down upon us.  For when we have the comforts and support of this world, we will not obtain the greater blessings of God.  The oppressed church is the normative church.

Is Suffering Beneficial?

As a new pastor (many years ago now), I welcomed my church to a Sunday evening bible study.  Only a few people showed up at first, but we had the occasional visitor.  A tall, red-haired man and his wife showed up, and sat down listening while slightly uncomfortable.  The subject that night was the New Testament teaching on suffering, and how suffering is seen as beneficial, for it develops character. 

We read Romans 5, “Tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” (Rom 5:3-4).  And Paul in Acts, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)  And James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

The red-haired man finally spoke: “That is a load of crap.  I have suffered pain for the last five years, a degenerative condition in my back and neck that leaves me immobile for days.  I function as well as I can, but often I can’t do anything.  And I’m here to tell you, my pain and ‘tribulation’ hasn’t improved my character one bit.  In my suffering I am only more irritable, irrational, frustrated and hateful.  My wife hates who I’ve become and no one visits me because I’ve become a miserable wretch.  So don’t give me some fairy tale about suffering developing character.  That’s na├»ve bullshit.”

It seems that I gave him some platitudes and unsatisfying dogmatics that night, but I don’t really remember much about my response.  I’ve never forgotten his honest evaluation of the text, however.  It’s easy for a young person who hasn’t undergone chronic suffering to quote and evaluate texts in the Bible and to express an opinion, but until one has actually suffered our opinion doesn’t count for much.  We should listen to Paul, Jesus, James and others in the NT because they knew what they were talking about.  They understood suffering, and knew the consequence.  But they gave us little more than summaries of their experience.  Not enough for a person unexperienced with trauma to comfort anyone.

Since my experience with the red-haired man, I have had a number of encounters with suffering.  I’ve suffered chronic, deep pain with gallstones and an inflamed appendix.  I’ve had sciatica which shot pain through my leg for weeks at a time.  I’ve experienced a decade of depression.  I’ve been rejected by my friends and co-workers, accused of all kinds of immoral and criminal activity.  I’ve had the police, the homeless and the mentally ill scream threats at my face.  I’ve encountered the deaths of too many of my friends and seen my wife suffer because of a lifestyle that has been hard on both of us.  I don’t say this in order to obtain sympathy, but to establish my qualifications:  After the last two decades, I have gained the right to draw some conclusions about suffering that I was unable to say as a young pastor.

1.       Suffering benefits no one if it disregards our responsibility
Often when we suffer, we are looking for the cause of our anguish.  That makes sense, because if we find the cause of pain, then we can often resolve it.  All too often, however, we think that the cause of our anguish is the final trigger of us snapping, rather than the chronic precursors.  It is easy to blame my child’s noise for my anger, instead of my overwork or the constant pain in my back.  I blame my child, not because she is the real cause of my suffering, but because she will accept my blame and agree with my evaluation.  If I blame causes that have no real solution, or no easy solution, then I cannot give myself the temporary satisfaction of having “solved” the problem.   Suffering can allow us to misjudge the source of our suffering because we find the true source to be difficult to find.  This is self-deception, and perpetuates our mental anguish.

Suffering benefits no one if it excuses our tendency to cause others to suffer
When we suffer, our natural response is to pass that suffering on to others.  We don’t mean to cause others to suffer, we simply want to reduce our own suffering by controlling others’ actions.  In our mental anguish, the only way we find to control others is by increasing their suffering.  As if our suffering excuses our causing suffering in others.  What we don’t understand is that if we increase others’ suffering, then those around us will be miserable, isolated, and respond to us with increasing our suffering in turn.  This cycle of suffering producing suffering comes back against us, and we end lonely, bitter, and angry.  This end result of this cycle is that we become a small, shriveled, black mass of hate.

3.       Suffering is a benefit if it teaches us to lessen ourselves
The first lesson we must learn from our anguish is that we are weak.  We are not failures, we are not corrupt, but we are weak and we can accomplish nothing in and of ourselves.  We need to stop thinking that we are the power in our world, that we do our work of our own power or ability.  Suffering teaches us humility.  It teaches us the need for rest, because we are unable to function without a Sabbath.  It teaches us the need for community, because we are unable to function without others to support and take our place when our suffering is too great.  It teaches us to depend on God, for only God never fails, is always strong.

4.       Suffering is beneficial if through it we accomplish God’s will
An acquaintance of mine has suffered with fibro myalgia for years.  For those who do not know, FM is daily pain, some days worse than others, where the cause is unknown and it is incurable. She is also the mother of two, one of whom is autistic.  These children are her life, and she has the most remarkable parental wisdom I have ever heard.  She is not a perfect parent, but she is an amazing person because of her focus on her children.  For a person in great pain, she is full of love and is so inventive.  Her suffering sometimes limits her because when she has a bad day, she is unable to function at all.  But she has others who help her, her husband and a small group of friends.  She is an inspiration to many, not just because of her pain, but because she knows what God’s will is for her life—raising her children—and she pours her energy into that work, not allowing her ailment to stop her.  This gives her a strength of character and wisdom that without her suffering and work she might never obtain.

5.       Suffering is beneficial if it drives us toward empathy

I have seen a wrong attitude toward the poor cripple people.  Many people have a poor view of the homeless.  Some think that the homeless are criminals, lazy, worth nothing.  Many of these people become homeless themselves.  Some do not change their opinions.  Some homeless steal, and they think that all homeless are like that; some homeless leave piles of trash and they think they all do that.  In that way, they also hate themselves, because they see themselves as a part of this horrible group.  Others become homeless and it opens their eyes.  Suddenly, they understand that the homeless are a compassionate, supportive group, struggling to survive against the odds.  These homeless use their suffering to empathize, to have compassion, to understand others’ pain and struggle.  When I was in the depths of my depression, I stumbled into a pornography addiction.  This allowed me to understand the addiction of many people that I knew, and gave me the compassion to deal with them gently, to have the wisdom and strength to help them make better decisions.  Suffering can help our neighbor if it increases our love.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus' Politics: Death and Resurrection

The glorious one, the resurrected finishes his discussion of confession and forgiveness with the child who denied his Father.  

Peter: Well, that was uncomfortable.

Jesus: Wasn’t too comfortable on my side, either.

Peter: Yeah, I’m sure.  (A silence hangs in the air for a moment, as a decision to change the subject is made.)  So what is with all the elaborate setup?

Jesus: (Raises his eyebrows) Sorry?

Peter:  I’ve had some time to think and I realized—You set all this up.  The arrest, the conviction, the crucifixion.  Not only did you know it was going to take place, but you created the circumstances through which it would happen.  Okay, so why?  Why do all this?  I mean, resurrection is great and all, but why bother?  There were other ways to accomplish your goals.

Jesus: (Sits back) Really?  So what is the goal?

Peter: Well, to be Messiah, right?  To be king of Jerusalem?

Jesus: Well, kind of.  Remember my first message?  What I repeated again and again to all synagogues?

Peter: (Thinking…) Well, um.  Yeah.  “The kingdom of God is near.”  Sure.  And that’s how you establish God’s kingdom, by being Messiah, right?

Jesus: Well, that’s how I establish MY kingdom. 

Peter: (Speaking quicker, with more assurance) Same thing.  So why didn’t you establish your kingdom through armies?  Killing off your enemies?  Or why didn’t you do politics, infiltrate the Council and take power bit at a time?  Or just ask God to wipe them all out?  Or tell your followers to take over Jerusalem.

Jesus: Yes, those are all good ways to establish my kingdom.  But I never was interested in doing that.  I want to set up God’s kingdom.

Peter: I just don’t understand the difference.

Jesus: When Moses established God’s kingdom, who did the work?

Peter: Moses.  Of course.

Jesus: Um, really?  Moses freed the slaves?  Broke open the Red Sea?  Feed the masses?  Established the ten commandments?

Peter: Well, yeah… I mean, kind of.   (He slowly realizes Jesus’ point.) Well, I guess not really.  God did all the heavy lifting.

Jesus: Right.  This is the difficulty: God’s kingdom must be led by humans, because that is God’s promise to Adam and Abraham and David.  But it cannot be God’s kingdom unless it is established by God’s power and principles.

Peter: That still doesn’t explain why God didn’t just do a major miracle—like wiping out all the Roman armies—and just put you in charge.  That would be God doing the work and you stepping in.

Jesus: Yes, but that’s not how God’s justice works.

Peter: I think it’s quite just.

Jesus: (Rolling his eyes) Yes, you would.  Do you think God just wipes people off the way a child destroys ants? Don’t you yet understand God’s love for people?

Peter: I don’t think he much loves the elders and priests who killed you.  I can’t wait to see their comeuppance.

Jesus: All this time with me, and you still don’t understand the ways of God.  Haven’t you heard that God is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and forgiving to many generations?  Don’t you think that the elders and the priests and the Pharisees fall under God’s grace as much as you do, denier?

Peter: (Winces at the hard truth) Ouch.

Jesus: (Softening) I’m not trying to rebuke you, Peter, I’m trying to explain.  God isn’t interest in condemning anyone.  His mercy falls on all people.   Remember, I asked for God’s forgiveness on all those who crucified me.

Peter: (Quickly responding) I heard about that.  You said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Surely that applies to the Roman soldiers who tortured you, but not the elders or high priest.  They knew exactly what they were doing.

Jesus: (Firmly) Stop judging quickly, Peter, and start thinking with compassion!  The Council didn’t understand, either.  They thought they were protecting their temple and nation.  God’s plans were so deep, they didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Peter: (Confused, as usual) So why did you allow yourself to be killed?  Why did God resurrect you?  I understand less than before.

Jesus: (Giving that condescending smile that professors have given since time began) Good, now you are ready to hear.  Who are God’s appointed authorities?

Peter: Well, the priests, of course.

Jesus: Right.  And with them the High Priest, right?

Peter: Of course.

Jesus: What about the Council of elders?

Peter: Well, they are given authority in the Scriptures…

Jesus: Yes.  Who else?   

Peter:  Um… maybe the Emperor?

Jesus:  That’s right.  Who else?

Peter: I’m not sure.

Jesus: Under the Emperor is the Roman army.  And Pilate, who condemned me to death.

Peter:  Pilate was established by God?

Jesus: Absolutely.  I told him so myself.

Peter: (Smiling slyly) I bet he loved that.

Jesus: He avoided almost everything about me.  You know who else is established by God?  The Pharisees, who plotted my death.  And the Sadducees who hated me.  And Herod who condemned me.  But you see?  Since God established all of them, do I have the right to take them down, to destroy them, to take their place.

Peter: Well, if you were appointed by God, as you were, then you had that right…

Jesus: (Slightly exasperated)  Do you really think so?  Look, David was appointed by God while Saul was still ruling God’s kingdom. Did David have the right to take out God’s appointed Messiah and put himself in Saul’s place, even though he had God’s anointing?

Peter:  Actually, no.  It’s strange, but he made a point of stepping back and never even touching Saul, because he was God’s appointed king.

Jesus: That’s right. David didn’t step toward ruling the kingdom until God had dealt with Saul himself. Until Saul had proven that he was unworthy and had been judged by heaven.  David never raised a pinky against Saul, even though he had the promise.

Peter: So he waited for God to act?

Jesus: Yes, because God has to establish His kingdom.  We humans can’t do it ourselves.  Our place is to wait for God to act.

Peter: So why didn’t you hide out in the desert, like David, and wait for God to act against the evil authorities?

Jesus: Well, first, it would take forever.  There’s always a new High Priest, always new Pharisees, always another Herod, another governor appointed by the Emperor.  Also, there needed to be decisive proof that these authorities were evil.  They needed to all be complicit in the worst deed a God-appointed authority can do.

Peter: (Guessing) Sexual immorality?

Jesus: Worse than that.

Peter: Umm… (Thinking for a minute). Taking a bribe?

Jesus: Do you want me to tell you?

Peter: Sure.

Jesus: Killing an innocent citizen.

Peter: (Incredulous) Really?  These guys have done that for years!   Blood drips from their hands!

Jesus: That’s true.  But now they have gone that extra step—they have killed God’s chosen one.  They have killed the Messiah, the Son of God.  Every life is worth a world.  But the stirring of God’s ire against them is rising into a flood of wrath.  They prove themselves to be the anti-David, more than willing to destroy God’s chosen if it is politically convenient.  They have proven, decisively, that they are unworthy to lead God’s people.  That they need to step aside.

Peter: Is that why you are resurrected? 

Jesus: Among other reasons.  It is true.  I was sent to dark Sheol, where those who have been declared guilty go.  But my case was given before the final Judge of heaven and earth, and he decided to overturn the verdict of the Pharisees, of the Council, of Herod and of Pilate.  They declared the very innocent one to be guilty, and so their sentence was reversed.  And I was brought back.

Peter: So now, now is the time? Now God will take them out, and destroy them?

Jesus: No.  Our political campaign isn’t over.

Peter: What do you mean?  We’ve done the work.  You paid the ultimate price.  It’s time to end this and establish your kingdom.

Jesus: You are right.  It is time for God’s reign through me to begin.  And I will go and take this kingdom up very quickly.

Peter: (Standing up in excitement)  Well great!  I’ll call the others over and we’ll gather all the followers back and we will take over Jerusalem…

Jesus: (Laughing out loud)  Peter, you know I love you, right?

Peter: (Eyes like slits)  I hate it when you do that.  You make me look like an idiot.

Jesus: (Slyly) I’ve never had to do that, Peter.  Why do you think I named you “rock”?  No, this dirty, unholy Jerusalem is not where I will receive God’s kingdom.  You think the Father will come down here and hand me this mess?  My kingdom is not of this world.  I must receive it elsewhere.

Peter: (Eyes tearing up, delving into the waters of mourning he had just released. ) You go to the Father?  You will leave us again?  Can’t you take us with you?

Jesus: No, Peter, I can’t.  I will go to heaven and try to repair the world from up there.  But the work you will do is just as difficult.

Peter:  (Tears dripping down his face.) Great.

Jesus:  Peter, it’s okay.  I’ll make sure you are ready.  You’ll have enough time to mourn and to be prepared, I promise. 

Peter: What is this work?

Jesus: You know that I forgave all the authorities that killed me.  I want you and your fellows to go to them all and give them an opportunity to repent and to be a part of my kingdom.

Peter:  How does one become a part of your kingdom, Lord?

Jesus: Same as always, Peter.  Turning away from the nations of this world, even Judea and the priesthood, and taking on the rite of immigration to my kingdom-- being baptized in my name.

Peter: The authorities would never do that. 

Jesus: Probably not.  But some will surprise you.  Even Gentiles, even oppressors of our people, will come into my kingdom. 

Peter: Yeah, sure.  We won’t even get an audience with the Council or Pilate or Herod, let alone the emperor.  No one will listen to us.

Jesus: You’ll see.  Tell them of my resurrection.

Peter: Couldn’t you do this yourself, Lord?  We’ll talk with them, but it would be much more convincing if you show yourself, alive and glorious, ready to rule God’s kingdom.

Jesus: Then they might hesitate to show who they really are.

Peter: What do you mean?  How do they do that?

Jesus: They are killers of the innocent.  And even if I have forgiven them, many of them will refuse to repent and continue to kill the innocent.  Once they have made their final refusal, then God will step in and take them out.

Peter: Wait… you are talking about us, aren’t you?

Jesus: Yes.  I will send to them apostles and prophets and they will kill you.  You will go to kings and judges and priests and emperors and they will show you who they really are.  And God will then judge them according to their actions.

Peter:  So when you said to take up your cross…

Jesus: I meant it literally.  It is the only way to establish my kingdom on earth.  And when I come, you, in full resurrected splendor, will reign with me as well as all your companions who were rejected by this world by enacting the mercy and grace and compassion of God.

Peter: Well, that’s a tall order.

Jesus: Yes, it is.  Few will be able to accept it.  But I have confidence in you.

Peter: But I’m not worthy.  How do you know that I won’t deny you again?  I’m already broken, fallen.

Jesus: Yes.  I know.  But I have confidence in you, Peter.  In all of you.  As broken as you are, that’s just how strong God will make you for this work.

Peter: So when you establish the kingdom in heaven…

Jesus: So you will establish my kingdom on earth.  Bring people to me, Peter.  I’ll  take care of the rest.

Peter: (Breathes deeply the breath of decisiveness.) Okay.  I’ll do it.

Jesus: I knew you would.