News from the Frontlines: When Shepherds Need Shepherding

I wanted to share an update I got out of Athens, Greece written by a German friend of mine who has dedicated this time of her life to serving, training, and loving both the massive Afghani refugee population and the volunteers who come from all over the world to join her. As a “short-termer” myself, I can definitely understand how exhausting it must be to have a consistent influx of short-term volunteers who bring absolutely zero cultural, religious, or language-speaking experience with them to Athens, whether with the Greeks or the Afghanis.

In this short story, I hope you’ll see that even when the task at hand feels unconquerable, there is a simple beauty in a conversation held between two shepherds who recognize their shared weakness, despite the fact that every feeling that comes with being a shepherd makes you think that being a shepherd requires strength you don’t have.


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I met her in church. She was standing next to the big tea pot, holding her plastic plate with couscous, salad, and Greek yogurt.

I had seen her before. And we had nodded at each other.

I walked over. And asked for her name and where she was from. She told me that she was leaving in six days.

I asked if she was willing to meet me for coffee. She was.

Two days later I went again to Omonia church. She was sitting next to a man from Syria, papers with Arabic and English words were scattered around the table.

While I was waiting Mamma Eleni told me that she was an angel and how sad she was that she was leaving. That the man sitting next to her had accepted Jesus on Sunday morning and was baptized on the same evening. A man, who had lost his wife and child in the war and who wished with all his heart that they could be alive to join him on this joyful day. This man found Jesus because she started teaching him. Because she was there.  Every day. Consistently.

She is not from Afghanistan. Or Iraq. Or Syria.
She is from Colorado.
She is not a refugee (the reason I came the first time to Greece), but a volunteer (the reason I am still here).

And meeting her had been the highlight of my week.

While sitting in a coffee shop close to Victoria Square we shared for hours how God had been leading us, how living in Athens and serving in this crisis had been challenging. I listened to her story, how God was shaping and forming her more and more into a mature and wise woman (even if she was just 21). Sometimes I had to shake my head because she reminded me so much of my time when I was trying to find my place in this world. When she told me that she couldn’t even enjoy watching movies because the Holy Spirit was convicting her to use her time wisely.

Being two hours the big sister and being reminded and encouraged through this 21-year old volunteer from the States had been the highlight of my week.

Yes, it would be great if Athens would be full of skilled workers, who had served with Muslims in the past, who speak Arabic and Farsi and have a vast knowledge about crisis relief and development. Yes, that would be great.
But I have seen over and over that God doesn’t care about how skilled we are. He uses the ones who are willing. The young. The shy. The introverts. The people whose first language isn’t English. The ones who don’t know what to do with their life.

God is only asking us to be obedient. And to go. And to love. And then it happens that a Syrian man asks: This church is full of people who love me. How can you love me without knowing me? And his question is answered in one person: Jesus.

We don’t need to have everything figured out. We don’t need to be perfect. But when we pursue God with everything we have then He is using us in tremendous ways. And then He is using us to bring comfort and hope to the world.

And she reminded me of that.


 

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to Sarah for sharing this moment in time.

“______ isn’t in the Bible.”

“______ isn’t in the Bible.”

As logic & reason move closer to joining the giant panda and Bengal tiger on the endangered species list in the West, the feral species informally known as the “mic drop strawman” argument continues to devour the newly available space. That’s not an academic term, but I think you know exactly what I mean. It typically rears its ugly head as a rebuttal in an argument and is often preceded by something along the lines of, “Oh yeah? Well…

…my friend/relative is a [race, gender, or religion in question], and he/she doesn’t [action] so you’re clearly wrong.”

…[amount of time] ago, [race, gender, or religion in question] committed [atrocious act] so you’re just an idiot.”

…[political party] is the reason [event] happened so they’re obviously all just stupid.”

Y’know, those arguments. They’re used with the intent of going for the jugular and ending an argument, and when used in a public setting, they typically do because sometimes thinking is hard. However, when people with at least half of a functioning logic operator in their head encounters this statement, sirens go off in their head. They may not know why, but essentially their logic detector in whatever part of the brain it exists is alerting its host that as it was running the claim through its filter, it had a complete kernel failure, overloaded, and exploded into a million tiny pieces, like when you force a TI calculator to divide by zero and it essentially yells at you in its all-caps format, “HEY STUPID, THAT’S NOT EVEN POSSIBLE.”

These sorts of arguments are rampant in religious arguments. I wanted to call them religious discussions, but the word “discussion” implies an interaction between two people speaking in a cordial, tempered tone with the goal of coming to a better understanding of each’s respective viewpoint. Most religious interactions are not so civil. Typically, the goal is to “win” the interaction by whatever means necessary, and if the interaction is a war, then the “mic drop strawman” is the guerilla warfare tactic that tries to squash the opposition as quickly as possible with no regard for the by-standing civilians who have no stake in the game and are just trying to feed their families.

This brings me to the topic of this post, one of my all-time favorite of these knock-out blow strawmen that’s really just a flail at the air. And by “favorite” I mean it makes me want to test out the whole string theory thing to see if there’s another reality in which such a thing does not exist:

“Oh yeah? Well [subject] isn’t in the Bible, so I can do/not do [subject] if I want.”

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The Bible: Remastered Special Addition

Who doesn’t love a good remake? Who doesn’t want to see their favorite video game/movie/TV show from 20 years ago get a reboot with modern technology, effects, characters, and plot elements? Sure it’d be impossible for the remake to live up to your astronomically high expectations, but you still want it to happen.

Now, who wouldn’t love the same for the Bible? I mean, what the heck, God, you give us a book that we’re supposed to use verbatim as the thing that structures our lives and even our societies, but the one you wrote is, like, 2000 years old now. I NEED TO KNOW WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE COOL WITH BAPTIZING INFANTS OR THE MODERN DATING STRUCTURE!!!!

Unless….unless that’s not what the Bible is for. Hmmm, perhaps that’s an uncomfortable thought. See, here in the West, we want, nay, demand that we have a monopoly on information. If there’s something to be known, we have to know it, master it, and find a way to monetize it, and if we can’t, then we grab some duct tape and try to force it to make sense. We deserve to know everything, and it has to be possible to know everything because if it isn’t, is the information even useful?

Take the Bible for example. What it is literally is an ancient book written over an extremely long period of time by ancient people, some educated and some not, attempting to understand a chaotic world that didn’t make any sense. Be the prophet Isaiah for a moment:

“How do I even describe God here? Any attempt to verbalize how truly awesome and inconceivable He is would be doing Him a staunch injustice, but I have to at least try. Hopefully He’ll forgive me for it. Hmmm, what else is inconceivable? Ahhh, the ocean! No one knows where it ends, how deep it is, or what terrifying things are even in it. It’s the essence of complete chaos. But surely something controls it, right? There’s always order to counterbalance chaos. Let’s just say there a giant sea dragon to represent this concept.”

*10,000 years later*

“THERE USED TO BE/MIGHT STILL BE A REAL SEA MONSTER IN THE OCEAN, IT SAYS SO IN THE BIBLE, SEE?! ISAIAH SAID IT AND IT ENDED UP IN THE BIBLE SO IT HAS TO BE TRUE!”

Yes, it’s a silly example, but that same logic is applied by many Christians and non-Christians in less silly situations. For example, imagine going back in time and talking Paul the Apostle:

You: “Hey, so remember that whole thing you did where you wrote letters to some tiny churches about how slaves should be submissive to their masters because you didn’t want Christians to be known for violent uprisings against authority since God is their ultimate authority anyways? Well, in 1,500 years, a bunch of civilizations are going to use those letters as an excuse to involuntarily enslave millions of people and tell those slaves that they can’t rebel because the Bible says so.”

Paul: “What’s the Bible?”

You, clearly frustrated by such a ridiculous question: “As time passes, the early church is going to slowly compile all the verified documents they’ve got into one single book.”

Paul: “Hmmm, that’s pretty smart. That’ll be really helpful if people ever learn to read. But obviously future people will understand that I can’t predict the future and I’m really just writing some of these things for a specific group of people in a specific situation, right?”

You: “Welllllllllll…”

Well, if the Bible isn’t supposed to be the face-value thing that tells us what to do in specific situations, then what IS it supposed to be?

“How” Rather Than “What”

Let’s look at a list of things that the Bible doesn’t directly comment on but we all intrinsically know God doesn’t want us to do:

  • Develop a heroin/cocaine/prescription drug addiction
  • Shoot someone with a gun
  • Embezzle money through a shaky investment deal
  • Kill humans who haven’t been born yet (we do know that’s bad, right?)
  • Become a Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist

So why is it that Christians don’t do these things? Well, biblically speaking, there’s an endless amount of verses that would suggest God isn’t a fan of murdering people He made or following other gods. So while He doesn’t say, “Don’t shoot people with automatic rifles,” He does say, “Don’t murder.” But those are some easy ones. What about ones that are less clear on how we should act today?

  • What does “modesty” literally mean for us today?
  • Who should we vote for? Should we even vote at all? Is it bad to vote or is it bad to not vote?
  • Should we own guns?
  • Should we believe in global warming?
  • Do we have to believe the Earth was created in six literal days?
  • Which economic system is best?
  • Do we have a right to self-preservation?

The point is that there is obviously some difficulty in directly applying texts from 10,000-2,000 years ago to today, and perhaps the problem is that we’ve been trying to do exactly that here in the West for way too long. We have to refocus our approach.

We have to use the Bible as something that directs HOW we should live rather than WHAT we should do.

For example, one of the classic modern (I know that’s an oxymoron, I’m not a…moron) strawmen made by Christians & non-Christians alike is something like this: “Jesus never said, ‘Homosexuality is wrong’, so you can’t say the Bible says it’s wrong therefore I win and you lose and you’re dumb and I’m brilliant.”

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Voddie Baucham dismantles that statement in full in this short video. Aside from this statement being false, he explains why it doesn’t matter even it was true:

If our new Christian ethic is, “[It’s only wrong] if Jesus mentioned it specifically, the homosexuality is the least of our problems…In doing this, we divorce Jesus from the rest of the Bible. When people do this, I just look at them and say, “…so??”…You can’t divorce Jesus from the left side of the [Bible] because He’s IN left side of the [Bible].

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This does not mean biblical interpretations should be treated with a postmodern, “whatever seems right to you” mentality. As I touched on earlier, Jesus said that He is THE Truth; not one of the truths, not a truth, but the logos. If someone were to tell you, “Hey, I just saw your best friend walk up to someone on the street, brandish a large battleaxe, and slice the person’s head off,” the first thought in your head would be one of two questions:

  1. Why did my friend have a large battleaxe? Or more likely…
  2. Is the reported action congruent with my friend’s past words & actions?

You would think back to what you know about your friend, discuss with other people who know your friend, or perhaps check for textual primary sources involving your friend. Biblically speaking, Peter states quite clearly:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. –Acts 2:32

(Yup, the Bible did it wayyyyy before Nike & Lebron James did. It’s kinda blasphemous if you think about it.)

Thus, because the disciples claimed to be direct eyewitnesses of the words & actions of Jesus, they speak with credibility as to His character. THIS is how the Bible has its authority. Thus, when we see someone make a statement regarding what Christ would have us do, we should ask ourselves, “Is this congruent with what the primary source says He was like?”

Imagine for a moment that a particular religion regarded poems by Robert Frost to be its holy scripture. Now, look at perhaps one of his most famous verses:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

There would be two possible responses to this:

  1. When we approach a fork in the road, we must always take the road that appears to be less traveled, regardless of what our destination may be.
  2. Frost is using allegory to illustrate a grander point, which in this case is that there’s a beauty to taking a lesser known option in the world.

It may seem silly, but many people go for #1 all the time because it represents something that complements their ideal way of life more. I’m sure you’re thinking of one particular group of Christians or even non-Christians that do this, but it’s everyone. We’re not consistent enough in our approach to the Bible.

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Though I feel the need to explain my position further, I’ll end my examination here. If you’re curious about this subject, I highly recommend checking out The Bible Project podcast & YouTube videos as they do about as good of a job one can do in teaching modern people how the ancient people thought when the Bible was written.

As always, thanks for reading. I love hearing from folks how my writing is able to teach them just as it teaches me.

The Road Best Traveled: Chaos vs. Order

The Road Best Traveled: Chaos vs. Order

We’ve all heard someone say something along the lines of, “What is life?” or “What is my life?” for the purpose of expressing how confused he/she is or how desperate a situation is that he/she is dealing with. Aside from the fact that it’s quite a lazy way of expressing one’s feelings, I think it’s very strange (and almost sad, really) that such a question has become so trivialized. For example, someone is telling a friend that she has two term papers to complete in a single night and doesn’t know how to describe her honest feelings about the situation to her friend, she may defuse the tension by saying something along the lines of “I can’t even” or what even is my life right now?” The most common response to this occurrence is that both parties laugh about the comment so that they can progress on to a different subject.

I think there are two likely reasons for this laughter response:

  1. It’s perceived as a rhetorical question. Each person is assuming that the other a) has an understanding of what it means to be a person/to exist and that b) the other person’s understanding is the same as her own.
  2. Neither person can sufficiently answer the question if they were to take it seriously, so they both internal decide it’s best to just laugh it off.

Even as you read this rambling, you may be trying to dodge self-reflection of the thought by seeing this as something only I notice or experience. I’m not even saying one way is more right or wrong than the other (that is, dodging the question versus addressing it). Heck, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes laments towards the beginning of the book how he wishes he had the ability to simply ignore life’s abstract questions, I wish I didn’t have to have a semi-existential crisis once per day. But since I’m half crazy, I can’t help but press into that question when I’m one of the people involved in that situation. It invariably leads to others.

What is my life?

What is your life?

What is it to live?

I don’t think there are any sufficient answers to these questions. I think we know so little about how complex we are that for anyone to claim they’ve definitively figured out the right way to live one’s life would be a completely ignorant statement. I don’t mean that in terms of morality but rather in terms of practicality. As a believer in the life & teachings of Jesus, I know what’s morally right and wrong, but the way in which these actions are carried out is indefinite. It’s as Socrates said:

“The Oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.”

I’d like to tell you a story. This story is not an attempt to persuade you to think a certain way. It’s more of a request for you to join me in my quest for piecing together what to make of these events that I experienced.

Order vs. Chaos

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Order

It was a typical work morning for those on my crowded Austin train headed towards the downtown station. Being unemployed, I enjoy using this setting for pretending to have a job like everyone else on the train. This morning, however, my thoughts drifted with uncertainty for the meeting my train briskly carried me to. I was attempting to prepare for both the personal and professional conversation I was to have over coffee with a long-time family friend, someone who just so happens to be one of the most successful businessmen in the city. He & his family are members of my church and are no doubt faithful throughout their family. Upon sitting down, it became quite apparent to me that the personal questions & conversation points I had prepared would not be necessary.

He got right down to it, telling the story of his family’s history of impeccable work ethic and widespread success in a variety of industries, and each generation passed these things on to the following generation. I’ve been quite blessed to be surrounded by such successful Christian businessmen, and I genuinely never tire of soaking in whatever wisdom the story of their experiences has to offer. He warned me of the dangers of mediocrity, pressing me to pursue excellence in whatever business I conduct. He spoke with a certain ethos that suggested this way of life was the best way to live life, a life not necessarily pursuing the benefits of work but rather pursuing excellence itself.

I left the cafe in a whirl of emotions, thoughts, and questions. What was I supposed to do now? Am I capable of such work ethic? Do I even want to be successful professionally? Should I want to? Do I even have the tools to be successful? I think I do. I think. Or do I hope?  Perhaps if tell myself that I do enough times, I can suppress the doubt. No one in the business world necessarily wants to be average, but that’s the nature of average: most people are, by definition, average. But that sounds terrifying! Should it sound terrifying? I’m going down a rabbit hole now, what the heck do I even do?

Rise up the ladder. Establish unwavering discipline. Commit all your waking hours to it. Don’t just play the game.

Be the game.

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Chaos

The train on the return trip was basically empty since it was now the middle of the day, and most people have jobs & stuff. As I sat waiting for its departure, my mind hosted an all-out war between a feeling of panic due to the task at hand and my attempts to actually address the task at hand. Anyone who shares my Myers-Briggs letters knows this battle all too well. Unfortunately, the former was winning. I threw on my headphones to resume my audiobook: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (a book that’s firmly a member of the “books you think you hate because you were forced to read them in high school and you never understood it so it made you hate it but now that you’re not forced to read it, you can actually appreciate its brilliance” club. The club needs a shorter, more grammatically correct name.) Because as I said, I’m half-crazy, so I love spending my time on reading depressing works by 19th-century Russian philosophers.

Just as the train’s automatic doors prepared to shut, a man dashed through the gap. He appeared to be a middle-aged man, but his weathered, tanned skin and worn features added several more years to his appearance. He had the look of a typical Austin homeless person: jagged teeth, unkempt long hair, heavily worn clothing, and a pink-and-purple backpack carrying whatever else he had. After throwing himself into the seat across the aisle from mine, he immediately made it clear that he had every intention of holding a conversation with me, ignoring the presence of my headphones. Selfishly, I was eager to resume my book, but I surrendered my headphones as he persisted.

He spoke loudly with a brash, though amiable, tone, exhibiting that while he knew such mannerisms were uncouth, his had experienced too much in life to have any concern for social rules. We somehow arrived on the subject of our international traveling experiences. He told a few stories of his European accolades: a DUI in Copenhagen, a PI in Kiev, and, his favorite, an arrest on an airplane in Amsterdam for accidentally bringing marijuana on the plane. I told him a few of my own stories from Brussels, Barcelona, and Rome but found his stories much more interesting. The more he explained his lengthy travel history, the clearer it became to me that this man was not a homeless person at all. He was a troubadour.

One thing I love about the sojourners of the world is that, no matter if they stay or never stay in one place, they exist outside of civilization’s games and societal trivialities. They don’t have to “switch gears” to talk about life or existence as a whole because that game is the only game they actually participate in. Enthralled by this lifestyle, I grilled him with both interrogative and highly personal questions. He was in his early 50s and obviously unmarried, though some years ago he had met a woman (who did not appear to be anything but a side character in his story) with whom he had a child, who was the reason for his temporary visit in Austin. In a movie, this sort of a character would come from a chaotic, potentially even successful, background, and a series or even single chaotic event would be what triggered them to adopting this nomadic lifestyle. But not this man.

In a movie, this sort of a character would come from a chaotic, potentially even successful, background, and a series or even single chaotic event would be what triggered them to adopting this nomadic lifestyle. But not this man. For him, it made all the sense in the world. Sure, he no doubt had what we would call an “unconventional” upbringing, but he looked at the game society was playing and decided it wasn’t for him. None of it. No formal education, no lifelong careers, no stability, and no continuity. It wasn’t a response to some sort of a nihilistic or hedonistic worldview. It was simply what he decided to do. So for decades now, that’s what he’s done: move. Not move forward or backward or up or down, just move.

Despite his complete lack of academic education, there was a genius about his understanding of life that perhaps not even he realized, but I did. I think it was exhibited best in the later bits of our discussion, something I hope I don’t forget:

Me: “Do you own anything?”

Him: “Not really. And I don’t really want to.”

Me: “I think that’s admirable. Do you ever look around at our materialistic society and feel like you’re wrong for not want to acquire and own stuff?”

Him: “Ehhh maybe sometimes. The way I see it though is the less stuff I got, the less I gotta worry about. What’s the point of keepin’ stuff anyways?”

We talked about how Jesus, the God-man who claimed to be the physical embodiment of the ultimate terms of truth and life, chose to lead a very similar lifestyle. Where he stood in his theology, I’m not sure, but he gave one last nugget of wisdom as I the train arrived at my stop:

“[Jesus] said to look at the birds ‘n sparrows and think about how much more He must care about me. I can tell ya, there’s been days that I might have felt hungry, but never in my life have I ever gone hungry.”

I shook his hand, wished him well, and half-joked about maybe seeing him again out in the world one day. Half-joked. If I thought I was having an existential crisis before our encounter on the train, then I was undeniably in the midst of one now.

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There’s no real resolution to this story. The events in it have been completed, but the concepts in it certainly haven’t. In both of these men’s lives, I see ways to live a life in accordance with ideal life Jesus proclaimed man ought to live. Each life presents its own unique set of troubles, difficulties, triumphs, and rewards. I can’t really say one way is more right or wrong another. But which one is best? I guess most people just pick how they want their own order-and-chaos scale to tilt and stick with it, not me. Does that make me weaker or stronger than most people?

Is a life of chaos “giving up” or is it “living life to the fullest”?

Is a life of order “mindlessly falling in line” or is it a display of true contentment with one’s place in the universe?

Practically speaking, there is nothing that we have to do in this vapor-like amount of time governed by fate, but is there something that we should do?

I encourage you to ask these questions of your own life not so you can vainly spend your time “in nothing except telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:21)”, but so you can join me in seeking the only thing, yes the only thing, of any relevance in this life: the truth. An understanding of the full, unadulterated, absolute, objective truth.

Judas Iscariot: A Betrayer or A Patriot (or both)?

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We do not have much information on Judas Iscariot’s life prior to turning Jesus in to the Pharisees & Romans in exchange for silver. In order to understand who he was, we are forced to create his story for ourselves based on what information we do have, both in the Bible and in history, for the purpose of understanding, not justifying, his action. As I typed the previous sentence, I nearly included the word “treacherous” to describe the action, which in and of itself is interesting. When I think of the word “treachery”, I almost always think of it in a political sense, such as Brutus’s treachery against Caeser or Benedict Arnold’s treachery against the American rebels. Yet Judas’s betrayal in this political sense would have no doubt been praised by the Pharisees and other nationalist Jews at the time. Thus, I think it’s intriguing to think about WHY Judas did what he did. It’s easy for us, having full knowledge of the story, to view the betrayal as an inexplicable, intentionally evil act, but let’s try to put ourselves in his sandals for a moment.

Up to Judas’s point in human history, the foundational element of human civilizations was the society’s theological belief. From the Mesopotamians & Sumerians to the Greeks, each civilization first decided what they believed about who God was/the gods were and formed social hierarchal power structures based on that belief (i.e. god-kings). Of all these early civilizations, none have been or ever will be prouder than the Jewish people. Since the days of Abraham, the Hebrew people have boasted the “There is only one true God and He’s on our side” message (despite God constantly trying to tell them that’s not how it works [Hosea 1:9-11, Amos 5:21-25]). As time passed, the Jewish people were passed into the hands of mankind’s more powerful civilizations, yet they constantly taunted their conquerors like a winless fighter proclaiming himself better than Muhammed Ali. In fact, by this point in time, the Jews had literally convinced themselves that they had not, in fact, EVER been enslaved at all (John 8:33)…

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Enter the Roman Republic/Empire/it’s complicated, mankind’s first major civilization that conquered not in the name of its god, but rather in the name of, well, itself. After defeating the Phoenician empire in the Punic Wars, the Greek empire put up little resistance before willingly handing its lands over the Romans. As they went on setting up control of the entire Mediterranean world, they allowed each civilization to keep its customs, religion, culture, and rules so long as it conceded one thing: Caesar is lord and Rome the boss. So they send one of their best guys, Pompey the Great, over to Judea to see what’s happening, and upon arrival, they find the Jews in the midst of yet another of their civil wars. After making quick work of the Jews, I’d imagine it was a quick first meeting between the Jewish leaders and their new Roman conquerors:

Pompey: “Alright, you have two options here.

  1. We lay waste to the rest of your plebian armies and use your precious temple as our newest palace.

OR

  1. We let you stay in control of your people and continue practicing your religion so long as you bend the knee to Rome when we say so. You may take a moment to weigh your opt—“

Jewish leaders: “We’ll take #2, please.”

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Fast forward to 29 AD. Judas’s entire generation is the first generation to be born into and grow up entirely under Roman rule. Undoubtedly, they were told their entire lives that their people were God’s chosen people, and one day God would lead them in rebellion against their Roman conquerors to make a united Israel into a world political power (They attempted to do this three times in the years following Jesus’s death, and were humiliated each time). Now be Judas Iscariot, whose surname is most likely derived from the Hebrew word qiryah, a word that many believe to be a common reference to the southern Jewish city of Kerioth. If there’s anything I know about America, it’s that growing up in a middle-of-nowhere city is a great way to insulate yourself from other cultures and be fully indoctrinated into a worldview consumed by a nationalist agenda. I’d imagine it was no different for Judas, who, now a middle-aged man, adamantly believes that they are still the true God’s chosen people, and God’s chosen conqueror could rise up any day to lead the rebellion against the Romans.

Now this Jesus of Nazareth, a no-name town just like Kerioth, starts getting attention throughout all the no-name Judean towns. Like Vladimir Lenin & the Soviet Union, L. Ron Hubbard & The Church of Scientology, and countless over revolutionary leaders throughout history, Jesus was gaining influence not by rising through the established power hierarchy or by acquiring wealth, but by mobilizing the marginalized peoples: the sick, the poor, the weak, and the uneducated. As Jesus begins His ministry, He intentionally selects Judas by name to be part of His inner circle, and Judas probably couldn’t say yes fast enough. Things are going great in the beginning as Jesus keeps talking about things like love & peace and performs a bunch of crazy miracles. People love it. Judas loves that people love it.

Then the red flags start to come up for Judas. Jesus’s words are clearly controversial and critical, but He keeps directing them at the Pharisees instead of the Romans. “Okay, the Pharisees aren’t the best leaders,” Judas probably thought to himself, “but we’re going to need some sort of power in our corner when the big rebellion day comes.” But it gets worse. Every time they get moving with a substantial crowd, Jesus turns around and says something that makes most of the crowd want to leave. Things now appear to be going the wrong direction. Judas then goes off on his own for a little while one day to reflect on the past couple of years. He thinks about how every time Jesus brings up concepts like fighting and waging war, it’s always directed at things like sin and the devil rather than the Romans. Come to think of it, one of the only times Jesus has mentioned the Romans thus far was when He was talking about paying taxes to Caesar (not a very rebellious thing to do), and He couldn’t have cared less about the question. In fact, He almost seemed frustrated that He was interrupted in the middle of another one of his “Kingdom of Heaven” parables to be asked about the Romans.

A scary thought enters Judas’s mind: What if Jesus isn’t the one? Sure, all the peace & love talk was great for getting people on board, but he thought surely that was only intended for fellow Jews rather than the whole world. He’d been the crew’s treasurer this whole time, which was quite a simple job considering they never had hardly any money in the first place, but that was supposed to change at some point, right?  As Jesus continues preaching about things like “the Day of the Lord” and “the Kingdom of Heaven”, it’s starting to sound more and more like Israel isn’t necessarily part of that whole event. What if…what if Jesus plans to continue doing this forever?! They were about to enter Jerusalem for Passover, a time Judas had circled on the calendar as the “now or never” time for Jesus to begin the operation. It was all too perfect: they were going to be in God’s Holy City on God’s Holy Day, and just like in Egypt, God would deliver His people through a violent rebellion led by Jesus of Nazareth. But nothing could have prepared Judas for the bombshell Jesus would drop after they entered the city:

“If you (Jerusalem) had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” –Luke 19:42-44

That was it. Not only was Jesus saying Israel wouldn’t rise again, but now He’s saying Jerusalem will fall! And He went out of His way to be pretty graphic about it, too. Judas realized in that moment that these last three years of his life had been nothing but a waste of time. Instead of being part of the rise of Israel about all the other nations, the thing he’d been taught for his entire life was Israel’s destiny, he’d assisted a man who had been intentionally subverting this exact agenda. Jesus couldn’t be sent from God, much less be God Himself as He claimed, because God wants Israel to be on top in this life. Judas knew what he had to do now. It was his duty as Jew to have Jesus silenced for the good of Israel.

I tell this story to make a point that I will now state bluntly: the ideas of nationalism and patriotism, whether for the sake of ideological advancement or self-preservation, will almost always be at odds with Jesus’s mission for His people. His people are not represented by a single flag, culture, song, race, gender, border, name, or any other qualifier mankind invents for itself. “One nation under God,” but which god is it? America is simply repeating the sins of the Holy Roman Empire, an empire that justified its sinful actions by performing them in the name of a God who doesn’t care about who the biggest ant on top of the dirt pile is.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, don’t write this off as another Christian saying “those Christians aren’t the REAL Christians.” I ask that you judge the actions of Christians based on the words of Jesus rather than judge the words of Jesus based on the actions of Christians. If you are a Christian and you’re reading this, I hope you’ll reflect this story on your own life and, if necessary, repent & turn from the divisiveness of extreme nationalism. But whoever you are, thanks for reading.

Willful Inefficiency & Micro-Rebellions

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It’s frustrating how temporary and forgetful we are as human beings. Exactly six months ago, my flight left Amman Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan. Even in that moment, I wasn’t foolish enough to tell myself, “I’ll never forget how I felt about the things I saw here,” because I knew it wasn’t true. Just as I forgot how I felt when I got a puppy or my first car, past emotions are constantly overwritten by present emotions. I did, however, tell myself that I wouldn’t make it easy for my mind to do so, placing around me images and objects intended to have fragments of those emotions attached to them, kind of like that guy from the movie Memento.

However, I think that nothing impresses the mind quite like culture shock, that scarring, glitch-in-the-Matrix moment that is so contrary to how you assumed the world worked for everyone else in the world because it’s how it worked for you and everyone around you. As a naive Westerner throwing himself into the heart of Middle Eastern culture, no amount of reading or images could have prepared me for the realization I had about halfway through the trip as I wandered through a street inhabited by markets of various purposes. Seemingly out of nowhere, it occurred to me that these marketplaces were nothing like the movies in which the marketplace in X Middle Eastern city is the location of a manhunt in an action movie. There was no yelling, pushiness, or pressuring from the vendors to purchase their products. In fact, the shop owners didn’t ever seem to have a sense of urgency to make a profit, but rather they leisurely sat in tattered plastic chairs in the front of their shops so they could smoke cigarettes and talk with the other shop owners, even those who I assumed would be treated as competitors.

Then I realized I had seen, heard, smelled, or touched one single advertisement for a product or service (that is, outside of the Westernized areas–ironic, really). Try to imagine that yourself. Try to imagine going through an entire day of your life seeing nothing that was purposely formulated by a company’s marketing team in order to get you to feeling a certain way or do a certain thing. It’s impossible! This is America; we invented mass communication and, as a result, advertising as we know it today.Heck, as I sit writing this, I didn’t even have to move my head to find something that could be considered advertising.

As I continued observing their way of life, I came to the conclusion that everyone seemed to be fully content with their respective places in life. But like trying to force a TI graphing calculator to divide a number by zero, there was a logic failure in my brain. I wanted to blackout. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to run to the nearest street corner and scream to the people, “WHERE’S THE SENSE OF URGENCY?! WHERE’S THE DRIVE TO MAKE MORE MONEY?! DON’T YOU PEOPLE GET IT???” But they did get “it”. They got “it” better than I did, in reality. I was beginning to understand just how well I’d been conditioned by western society to pursue, at all costs and with no exceptions, that word which is the goal of every management team of every company in capitalist society: efficiency.

The quote in the image above is one of my absolute favorites from Mr. Ellul, which is certainly saying something. Ellul wrote these words in his book Perspective on Our Age in 1981, over a decade before personal computers, smartphones, and the technical revolution of the 90s, but like a soothsayer or oracle, Ellul saw what was on the horizon. If he were alive today, he would hardly be surprised at our society’s desire to make the qualitative, quantitative, forcing emotions and personalities to be ratios, percentages, and probabilities. See capitalism is, like any other economic system, great–in theory. It assumes that competition will drive a producer’s desire to get a bigger piece of the pie than he or she already has, which will result in products that are constantly improving, which will better serve the consumers. The problem is that, again, like any other economic system, it cannot account for mankind’s inevitable desire to take a bigger piece of the pie for themselves…and then take everyone else’s pieces, too. Heck, you learned that very early on when your older brother took you for everything you had in Monopoly Jr.

As a result, like an endless assembly line, our lives are constructed to where our immediate purpose is to acquire the necessary parts and knowledge to prepare for the thing that comes next. I wish I had a dollar for every time (my capitalist conditioning at work even in that idiom, perhaps) someone has asked me about if I’m excited for the “next phase of life” following my graduation from college last month. Eventually, I turned around to look at my personal assembly line to see just how many phases I’ve been told there are. Gotta get the proper educational foundation in elementary and intermediate school so that I can be ready to succeed in high school. Gotta succeed in high school so I can go to college. Gotta go to college so that I can be in the best possible position to succeed in the professional world. That’s just one, very broad assembly line; there are countless others I’m sure you or I could think of.

However, a supremely awkward occurrence transpires immediately following graduation from college: that “next big thing to look forward to” is no longer prescribed to you. Obviously that just won’t do, so people starting making 5-year/10-year/20-year/50-year/1-day plans & goals so that the assembly line of life can keep humming on efficiently (Obviously I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with setting goals & plans). The idea of “having drive” no longer becomes a unique personality trait, but rather an assumed necessity to keep the process flowing. If you’re not working towards buying that thing, earning that new professional/relational status, learning that new idea, or mastering that new skill, well then what are you really doing? Imagine Mr. Jackie Ellul having a conversation with the average working professional:

Jack: Why are you working so hard when you clearly hate it?

Guy (OR GIRL, DON’T WANT ANYONE TRIGGERED): Sure it’s hard and I wouldn’t prefer to do it anymore, but a little bit more of doing ______ and I’ll be able to ________.

Jack: Okay, then what?

Guy: Well I suppose I’ll be able to do _____ next.

Jack: …then what?

Guy [clearly growing frustrated]: I dunno, dead Frenchman, what do you suggest?

Jack: Have you considered just living?

“Just live life”. I don’t mean that in some sort of meta, faux-wisdom hippie way, but seriously, can we just take a second to account for what’s real? Money isn’t real; we print that stuff. Job titles aren’t real; we create those words and the meanings behind them. The way we measure time–days, weeks, months– isn’t real; we made all of that up! Imagine living in a world with no measured hours, minutes, or seconds (people did it for centuries, so this one isn’t a hypothetical). Nothing would really work in our society, would it? So if the values placed on how we measure time are entirely made up, and everything our society does is reliant on those measurements, then nothing in our society is necessarily real either.

This isn’t about a movement or a new trendy lifestyle (even those can become our next life project); I don’t really believe in change at the macro level. When X politician made Y policy change you didn’t like, did it suddenly make you like the policy? Of course not. Just because things change in how society operates doesn’t mean that each individual’s feelings towards that change are also adjusted. If macro-level change was effective, mankind’s first ever civil war would have been the last one, but in reality, there’s been thousands of revolutions, revolts, and rebellions. Thus nothing really changes. Nay, the truly daring thing to do is what I call a micro-rebellion.

A micro-rebellion can occur every day. When I tell a friend about why I don’t really have any “professional aspirations”, a small-scale rebellion against how things are assumed to work has just occurred! Or when I dialogue with someone about why I don’t really care about having a huge savings account, the seeds of revolution have been planted! Biblically, we’ve heavily complicated a thing that is supposed to be quite simple; our only requirements in everyday life as believers are that we 1. work hard (Colossians 3:23-24) and 2. be good stewards of what the Lord provides us with (1 Timothy 5:8). That’s it! We’re told WHAT we’re supposed to do, but there are no biblical requirements for HOW we’re supposed to do it. It is crucial that we don’t allow societal standards for a respectable life (early retirement, eventually buying a nice house, etc.) mix with biblical standards. As the Lord says, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light…but we cannot forget that no matter how easy the yoke is, there is still a yoke!

I suppose I’ll wrap this up now. Am I excited to move to a new city and start a new job? You bet! I’m not completely a robot. But am I excited to start this “next phase” because I can start planning all these different things to add to the assembly line of my life? No way. I only get one of these, making time an invaluable asset. Our jobs attempt to compensate us for spending our time working for them, but no company could ever properly compensate someone for their time. Will I get married and have a family one day? I hope so. Will I make more money or get promotions at work? Perhaps. Will I try to acquire more knowledge or formal education? Certainly. But these things will happen or not happen on their own. The only goal for my life is to live it for those around me and increase the Kingdom as I search for God’s elect. Much less stressful to have just one unchanging mission for life than it is to constantly have to create plans, goals, and events to stimulate your inevitable journey down the assembly line of life. There is no next phase or next level. There is simply life. One last bit from Ellul:

“Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The social environment in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. He was made to eat when he was hungry and to sleep when he was sleepy; instead, he obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. He was created with a certain essential unity, and he is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”
Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society

Thanks for tuning in.

Choosing comfort over transformation: an exposition of Matthew 2:3

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A couple of days ago, I begin reading through the New Testament from beginning to end. It’s something I’ve done before, and I can confidently attest to the power of doing such a reading plan. So oftentimes we hear verses so completely isolated and stripped of context that we forget that the books of the New Testament, just like any other book or story, were written with an intended order in mind.

So as I made my way through Matthew 2, I found a verse that I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed before (which frequently happens when I read in this aforementioned way):

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. –Matthew 2:1-4 ESV

I’ve heard the narrative of Jesus’s birth countless times in my life, so it’s pretty difficult to not let my eyes glide over passages like this one because I know exactly what’s going to happen. I know that after the magi reveal to Herod the prophecy of a coming king, Herod is not a fan, but it’s the bolded phrase I wanted to focus on here. According to Matthew’s telling of the event, it wasn’t just Herod who feared someone the people would see as some fulfillment of a prophecy of a coming king, but also the overwhelming amount of Jews feared it themselves! What?!

Let’s wind the clocks back a couple thousand years for some historical perspective. Shortly after the reign of kings over a united Israel, the Jewish people split into two separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, and as a result, the Jews would be conquered and controlled by various world empires. After the Assyrians conquered the northern Israeli kingdom, the tribes of Israel are never seen again. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of Judah:

  1. Conquered by the Babylonians, who eventually conquer the Assyrians as well, but are…
  2. Conquered by the Cyrus II and the Persians, who allow the Jews to return back to the Promised Land, but the Jews are later…
  3. Conquered by Alexander the Great and the Greeks, who are shortly…
  4. Conquered by the Roman Empire

Why does this matter? Well as history shows, the people of Israel, a people set aside by God and called His own, a people who were promised freedom by God if they would live in repentance, instead spent almost their entire history under the rule of the kings of men. And after enough time, the Jews eventually just accepted their position. Though they were chosen to be a great nation, they rejected their privilege by turning from the ways of God and accepted the ways of men. But throughout all this history, the prophets of the Old Testament are still prophesying in the background about Jesus the coming King, though they are rejected, persecuted, and ignored, as Jesus alludes to in his parable of the tenants:

33 There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” –Matthew 21:33-41 ESV

Now with all of that in mind, let’s return to the verse. After centuries and centuries of enslavement, capture, and occupation, the thing that those old prophets had been referring to for so long was finally HAPPENING. Like HE’S COMING. Like no more games. Like noreallyitshappeningthistimernirlRonPaul.gif. And what is the collective response?

“Uh, but like, does he have to though? Because my family and I were just starting to get used to the whole Roman rule thing, and another change in who’s in charge would really make it confusing for the kids. So do ya think he could just, y’know, NOT come?”

You see, to the Jews, the pinnacle of human existence was to have your people group ruling over all the other one’s, so it’s hardly surprising that they were (and still are) expecting the prophecies to be about a literal king that would free them from the Romans (hence Herod’s freaking out). In that light, it’s really quite understandable why they were less than thrilled at the notion of what they perceived to be the coming of another rebellion with more fighting and revolution. You see, when mankind begins to believe their actions/words/objects carry intrinsic worth in God’s eyes, God’s promises to us become much more tangible, and thus much less supernatural. Allow me to illustrate this point with three examples:

  1. Jewish temple worship: God mandated that the Israelites construct a temple for Him so He could “dwell among them”. Over time, the Israelites started feeling quite proud of themselves, and they thought that they and only they were the ones that could bring God to Earth. God reminded them countless times this was not the case (Isaiah 66:1), but nevertheless, they took something supernatural (God using the temple) and made it artificial (God only uses the temple). Made it a bit awkward when the Roman Empire fell, the Jews dispersed, and suddenly there was no way for all of them to worship at the Holy Temple anymore (still awkward to this day for Judaism).
  2. Roman Catholic idol worship: Look, this isn’t the point of this exposition, so I’m not going to go too far down this rabbit hole; however, the illustration still fits. Almost immediately after Jesus left Earth and presented some VERY simple instructions for what the church was to do until He comes back (Acts 1:8), humans got back to their idolizing ways. This takes a few forms in the Roman Catholic church, namely the treatment of communion bread & wine as literally Jesus’s body & blood, prayer to figures of Jesus & Mary, and the inerrant authority of the Pope. It’s a major reason for why Christianity is dying in the Mediterranean countries today, as these places were the first to be subjugated under Constantine’s Holy Roman Empire. If you think you can literally see and touch the things of God, He becomes a lot less awesome.
  3. American fundamentalists’ “The Believer’s Prayer”: This one really hits home, as even I grew up believing that salvation was like a 3rd-grade schoolyard club password where you “say these words and you’re IN”. Seriously, can you imagine how frustrating it must be to be Jesus? Imagine hiring a group of people to paint your house, but they have no idea how to paint. They ask you what can be used to paint, so you give them one paint brush. You leave for a week, come back, and find them there still painting the house! Even worse, it appears only one person is even painting. When you ask what the deal is, they say, “Well, you gave us this brush, so we’ve been using this brush and only this brush since obviously no other brush would work.” This sounds silly, but it’s exactly what “The Believer’s Prayer”. It’s a case of human beings placing so much value on their words and language, which are man-made, that they think the words themselves are valuable.

This is why the collective Jewish response was not like that of John the Baptist (John 1:29). They believed God’s ultimate goal for their people was to be the leading political power ruling over all the nations on Earth, but the significance of such a goal can be rationalized and compromised. Little did they know that Jesus’s plan for them was much more radical than political change: He wanted to change their hearts. And with that in mind, perhaps the Jews had a reason to be scared.

Think of your own life. I know that all the time I ask God to change my heart, convict me of my sin, show me how I need to change, etc., but when I catch myself requesting this, I always have to ask myself, “Is that REALLY what you want?” Because transformation of the heart IS scary. We as human beings are conditional creatures; we like routine, order, and habits, and when those things are compromised, we instinctively resist. Don’t believe me? Think of that instant wave of panic that washed through your body when the person behind the sneeze-shield at Chipotle told you they were out of guacamole. See, as believers, we openly recognize we’re sinful, but we like to feel like we have a handle on our flaws. Even if we are convicted of our sin, whether by the Spirit or other believers, we like to think, “Okay, NOW I’ve confronted all the major things about me.” So we start to put down roots in our new way of doing things, which seems innocent enough, but being a follower of Jesus is about a LIFE lived in repentance. We never get “cleaner”! Look at the story of Uzzah for example:

1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. –2 Samuel 6:1-7 ESV

As sinful human beings who constantly undervalue the levity of our sin, we read a story like that and think, “Come one God, this was supposed to be a happy time, and you had to go kill the vibe (literally) just because the guy was trying to keep the ark from falling to the ground? In fact, it kinda seems like he was doing a good thing!” But R.C. Sproul provides a reality check for us in this story, as he says, “Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt. God said no.”

I challenge you, dear reader, to not be like the people of Jerusalem in Matthew 2:3. In two days, we will celebrate the coming of the King who wants to recklessly overthrow the sin that rules in our hearts. Am I saying we should live our lives constantly question the security of our salvation? Absolutely not! We’ve been made new, period (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it doesn’t stop there. We are constantly being refined as we pursue righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:18). I encourage you to never resist this revolution!

Thanks for tuning in.

American Christians, stop making this difficult: let the refugees in

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Over the next two months, the world will watch an angry old man and an angry old woman stand on a stage and make blanket statements about what should be done with millions of people from another country. That wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the fact that one of those angry people will (likely) be president of the United States. Now all of a sudden it’s a very big deal.

Below is text taken from a post on the r/Reformed subreddit, created by one of its stellar posters, Pastor Jeremy Horneck (Grace Baptist Church in Wisconsin):


Let me share some quotes from the leaders of Assyria some 3,000 years ago.

I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls.

In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword … I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city.

I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers.

Surely these wicked people were worthy of the most brutal of punishment. Certainly God would command his people to do whatever they could to secure their borders from raiding Assyrians. Of course, God would expect his beloved children to do whatever they could to avoid contact with them.

Here’s what God said about the Assyrians:

Jonah 1:1 “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.'”

[Some pretty fantastic attempts by Jonah to preserve himself can be found in the rest of the chapter and the next one.]

Jonah 3:1 “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city,a three days’ journey in breadth.b 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”

Jonah 4:1 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,a and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Do you know where Ninevah and Assyria were? Modern day northern Iraq and Syria. Can you think of anyone who operates up there with a penchant for beheading and mutilation? You can even forget about the perpetrators of this violence. How about the masses who are forced to flee from them? How should we respond to them? What would God desire?

Be less afraid of welcoming terrorists to our country than you are excited about sharing the gospel with them.”


As the Lord has worked in my heart over the past year, one revelation I had was how contradictory it was for Christians in the West to have such drastic self-preservation tendencies. I’d never really thought about it before, but after a while it was blatantly obvious:

IF we as Christians believe that our souls are secure in Christ by grace through faith (both in life and in death), AND those who are not in Christ are therefore separated from Christ (both in life and in death), THEN why do so many American Christians (myself past self included) feel their desire to kill/keep out non-Christians is justified because of their fear of death?

Perhaps it’s because we don’t truly believe the things that are said about the place to which we’re going upon death. If we did, self-preservation would seem, well, illogical. I mean, for non-Christians like the two mentioned in the beginning self-preservation is the only hope they have, so it’s completely logical. But for the covenant community? Not at all. Let’s look at some verses.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. –1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The modern American obsession with (the illusion of) freedom stems from a sinful desire that’s been around since Adam & Eve ate the fruit: the desire to be equal, and therefore separate, from God. Even after constantly rejection by His people, God sent His Son to pay debt created by our sin. So that price is paid, we’re released from the debtors prison, and we’re free to go on our merry way, right? Well, not exactly.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin,have become slaves of righteousness. –Romans 6:17-18

Whether it’s in modern worship or teaching or Christian sayings, people tend to think that Jesus moved us from slavery into freedom, when that’s not totally accurate. Jesus moved us from slavery to slavery (Paul clarifies his analogy in verse 19, making sure we don’t picture the human practice of slavery). We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to the Father, and we eagerly await our full unity with Him. But what do we do while we’re here?

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. –Philippians 1:21-23

It’s good Paul clarifies that we are to live for Christ while in our current state. Otherwise we’d have the world’s biggest suicide cult going on. But then he says that “to die is gain”. That’s pretty clear. Not a lot of explanation needed there. So then why the fear of death if death would be even more beneficial? Shouldn’t the thought of millions of Musilm refugees COMING TO US be way more exciting than any sort of fear of death?

 

Peace and love. Thanks for tuning in.