The anger of Jesus

I have walked slowly through Mark 1-4 the past few days… over and over.

There is a story of a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). The religious leaders are all standing around seeing if Jesus would dare to heal a man on … horrors! … the Sabbath. 

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Jesus was angered by their hardness. Here was a man with a need right among them and they were waiting to trap Jesus on a technicality.

It is that frustration, but I know NOT that level of anger, I feel when we talk about anything in the American Church today.

We don’t even hold our anger very long. It was just a few weeks ago those horrid Planned Parenthood videos started coming out and for awhile they finally outraged social media enough it became something of a “sensation” for about 2 minutes. We just don’t sustain a holy anger very long any more.

Instead, when something comes along that should cut our souls and call us to action… we all tend to be more like the religious leaders than Jesus.

The horrifying reality of the Syrian refugee situation came home this week with the photos of a little boy’s body washed up on a shore in Turkey. It outraged the world… for about 2 minutes. Most don’t even know about any picture yet.

We get “horrified” in a social media way… but then we go back to our trenches and lob our theological grenades. And we don’t help anyone. We don’t act.

We stand around with our Pharisaical rulers and make our judgments. From the “right” and the “left.”

“Well, those Planned Parenthood videos were heavily edited.” (Like that makes us feel better about the taking of a human life.)

“Well, that child was probably the son of a terrorist.” (So we feel better… how?)

Like the Pharisees watching the actions of Jesus, it’s all we do these days. We think we act like Jesus, but here’s the reality: we don’t even ACT. We just sit around and watch and then lob our ideologies out there on Twitter. 

And for the American Church, we need to wake up with a realization: Jesus is looking around at us… all of us… self-righteous evangelicals, self-righteous liberals and progressives… All. Of. Us. And he is NOT happy.

While Syrian refugees drown, while babies are still be sliced up, while people slog around in horrid conditions of life and ACTION is needed, we’re all standing around sniffing at whoever might dare to take action because somehow, in some way, they just don’t believe something right.

There are people who just hate the idea of a Republican being nice because, doggone it, it wrecks their view of Republicans being EVIL. And vice versa for Republicans not liking a Democrat. We’re just not allowed. So we’re sniffing at each other and no action is taken. 

More babies will be sliced up. More refugee bodies will wash up on shore. And the Church capable of doing SOMETHING will continue to turn their noses up at any action because, somehow, it’s not the RIGHT action. (Excuse me… the correct action. I sure don’t want any LIBERALS mad at me!)

I don’t want to “feel” justified about my political positions anymore. I don’t want to sit and feel good about my correct theological beliefs anymore. There are actions I need to take. Specific actions that may not solve a deep crisis like abortion or the slaughter of people in the Middle East, but action that none the less can make a difference for someone.

It’s awful when we can’t take action and would rather criticize because our “position” is more correct. I think how long that man with the withered hand had to suffer in that condition because no one wanted to break a rule…

Dear Lord, forgive me for my political, theological, philosophical stubbornness. It is an offense to you. You are angered by my inaction. And I understand.

Help me to ACT.

What made the religious leaders angry?

I am not very good at goal setting when it comes to Scripture reading schedules. This should be a week when I am on Luke for the second time… or maybe Matthew for the third time… and I’m in Matthew 9 the “second” time around.

But, what’s my hurry?

As I read through Jesus’ actions and the anger of the Pharisees, I am struck by this thought: Jesus hasn’t angered them by his arguments, but by his actions.

When he healed the blind and mute, the Pharisees accused him of being demon-possessed himself. When he acted, when he did what they should have been doing, they were angry. People in Israel should have been set free in so many areas, but the religious leaders had no spiritual power.

Our call as the Church is similar. We drift into crazy theological arguments that divide us up and get us angry… and sell books and get us blog post time on widely ready sites… but we find this condition all around us:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)

When we devolve into foolish theological arguments, people around us stay bound up when we have all the ability, as the Church, to set them free. 

Live in the liberty Christ gave you… not for your own selfish pleasure… but for the joy of seeing other set free. 

The place of doubt

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I ran across this wonderful quote from Rowan Williams:

If you are forbidden to voice the hard questions, this might suggest that faith survives only by never being challenged. The person who actually expresses their fury or disgust or disillusion can, at least sometimes, be demonstrating faith of a sort, confidence that, if God is real, it is possible, even necessary, to say what you feel about Him – and that, unless you can say this, the God you started with is not worth believing in. This underpins many of the Jewish Psalms or the poems of George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins. Blasphemy resists the conspiracy of silence about the agonising difficulties of belief, resists the stifling of a real and honest response to an unjust world…

Herbert, Job and some of the Psalms remind us that sometimes the seriousness of faith is most effectively explored precisely in the risky business of testing the limits. And without such testing, such forcefully expressed doubt, you may never know the real strength or weakness of what you claim to believe. The secularist needs to understand some of the internal critique that faith is always struggling with; and the believer needs to recognise that blasphemy isn’t necessarily a matter for panic, let alone violence. It may even be a gateway into a larger and more durable commitment.

Excellent food for thought.

We need to have room for doubt, and be willing to TEST what is true. We also need to realize we don’t have to always dwell in angst, though it gets you far more blog hits and a possible spot on the Huff and Puff Post… but there are better things to do with your time.

The need for greed

We wrestle with consumerism and materialism. I take that back. Some have long surrendered, actually. We may even fake wrestling because, quite frankly, we like our stuff.

But when I read these challenging verses out of Luke’s Gospel, I am left with an aching heart, quite honestly. I realized today the compelling force of what Jesus says so plainly in these verses really could drive people to forsake all and take up the monastic life (like Anthony of the Desert) or head into a life of poverty serving the poor. These are strong verses I think we too easily explain away.

But let’s be reminded again and again to understand the stuff we have needs to NOT control us.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

Treasure Jesus. Let stuff go.

So easy to write. So hard to do!

The culture of LIFE

It’s is incredibly unfortunate that “pro-choice” people are now recycling a quote from Catholic nun Joan Chittister from back in 2004:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
—- Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B

It’s a huge mistake for “pro-choice” people and especially Christians who don’t like the 1980s version of the Pro-Life Movement. The reason it’s a mistake is it only puts the conversation back into the political trenches where it DOES NOT BELONG. We all go back to our trench warfare lobbing our bumper sticker grenades at each other.

So, the “pro-choice” answer to “pro-life” people who really seem to only be concerned with allowing babies to be born is: KEEP ABORTION. It’s foolishness.

What’s more, it fails to understand the deep underpinning of a true PRO LIFE ethic. It’s not a political answer alone. So, for my 1980s style “pro-life” friends, PLEASE don’t make this about “electing the right people so we get the right judges who will overturn Roe vs. Wade” and be done. Let’s not stop there.

And for “progressive” Christians who are hiding in the shadows and whisper oh so quietly, “Um… I’m pro-life,” but not too loudly, I invite you to a better discussion as well.

And let’s start here: Sister Chittister’s remark about tax money alone is stupid. I said it. STUPID. If you think all it takes is tax money… PUH LEEZE.

So, to my 1980s pro-life friends… it DOES take some tax money. And to my “progressive” friends hiding in the weeds, it takes MORE than tax money.

I beg all of us to get out of the bunkers as believers. QUIT the Republican and Democrat mantras! PLEASE!

It’s being horrified by these Planned Parenthood videos. PLEASE allow yourself, my progressive friends, to be horrified. Let something sear your spirit once again.

THEN… let’s get to work. For a true PRO LIFE ethic to work, we have to demand better use of our tax dollars. When it comes to “funding” I think it doesn’t just mean defunding Planned Parenthood. It means FUNDING another source.

For my progressive friends, think more broadly. Since you want to parrot back, “How many so-called pro-life people are adopting?” I will challenge you: more than you want to admit or research. And I ask this favor: YOU have the ear of the Democrats right now. And while you have it, why not lobby them for better adoption laws? Why not make lobby them for easier adoption procedures… and CHEAPER adoption procedures? Why does it have to be so doggone expensive to adopt a child in America?

For my 1980s pro-life friends, quit making the public schools your enemy. Get in there and help. To my “progressive” friends, quit squawking. There are PLENTY of true pro-life people IN the public schools slogging it out. It’s true. So, for ALL of us, let’s demand better education and let’s HELP with delivering better education. Mentor some at risk kids. Every week. Don’t just go for the big splash events or school rallies and feel good. Make a difference. One kid at a time.

This is way too long, but I am so tired of the trench warfare we’ve been engaged in for 40 plus years. It’s time for a better way, and it’s the CHURCH who should rise up and lead the way.

Please… let’s do this.

The gods of our culture and the mark of the beast

I was listening to a teaching on eschatology given at a church camp by one of my favorite all-time teachers. Gordon Anderson has been president of North Central University for many years, but I was privileged to have him as a teacher when I was a student in my undergrad program before his appointment as president. Listening to his teaching on “end times” reminded me of his teaching as his student.

One thing he would constantly talk about in those days was the symbolism and how we get it wrong. We go around looking at our right hands and checking our foreheads saying, “Whew! No mark of the beast today!” But, he speculated, what if it wasn’t a “mark” but a selling out to the world’s system? We can go around all day long saying, “No mark yet!” and have sold out to the allegiances of the gods of this world.

I reflect on that today as I continue to be stirred by the insanity of our culture and what gets us upset… or not. And quite frankly, what gets us upset in one area often dictates we somehow can’t get upset in another area. And THAT, I would contend, is a sign we’re wavering in our allegiances and we may have a bit of the “mark” in us.

For instance:

Why is it we can’t be horrified by the actions of Planned Parenthood selling human body parts AND be upset by “Cecil the Lion” being killed?

Why is it we somehow have to “choose” between being ALL for the police or ALL for #BlackLivesMatter?

What is it we have to be ALL for Israel (as evangelicals) and never for Palestinians?

Why can we not be deeply concerned by poverty in our country and still desire people to earn a good living and live a good life?

Maybe the “mark” of the beast is seen in blind loyalty to such marks as “Planned Parenthood” and the “NRA” and yet we go around thinking we’re still somehow totally loyal to Christ at the same time.

Maybe the “mark” of the beast is seen in blind loyalty to a political party or being labeled “progressive” or “liberal” or “conservative” and that has become more of our “mark” than our allegiance to Christ.

We are really struggling in our Christian walk these days and it’s not because Christ is confusing. It’s because we’ve allowed marks to be applied to identities other than that what is the “mark” of Christ… and we’re confusing “brand” loyalty with “CHRIST” allegiance.

If we don’t get this figured out soon, those identifying too closely with any other allegiance than Christ will find themselves swept under in the next wave of whatever liberal or conservative garbage that washes ashore.

My greater fear is so many may have taken a mark and just not realized it yet. Then, the cost will come. Not a pretty day.

God help us.

Hitch your wagon to a political movement…

Hitch your wagon to a political movement and watch that party fly off, dragging you along, letting the wheels fall off, and you’re left barely hanging on.

Evangelicals did this with Republicans in the 70s and 80s. It took into the 90s and then early 2000s before the realization hit: “Hey, they’re not paying very much attention to us.”

It was too late, we had then raised another generation that saw that mistake… then went and made the opposite mistake. They have hitched their wagon to the Democrats and now the same thing is happening with them.

What is funny is that in both instance we all swore at the time, “Oh, no! I don’t vote lock, stock, and barrel for…” (insert political party here). But truth be told, we did.

So, when the GOP came knocking and gave serious air time and platform time to evangelicals because we were “pro-life” (which is a misnomer I will explain), we sucked it up. Power is heady stuff. Then… nothing happened. We would blame the Democrats. (“Well, if we had Republican majorities we would get things done!”) We got that in 2000 and guess what? Nothing.

The next generation saw the hypocrisy of that… and went right out and made the same mistake. This is where we are currently.

Correctly, the next generation saw that the “pro-life” movement gave all the attention to the unborn but did nothing for the poor and the marginalized. So… be born! And then… good luck!

The Democrats came calling. They let evangelicals into the national conventions. Pastors prayed at their big events. They weren’t so “anti-Christian” as they seemed before.

But then, evangelicals who really did still believe that unborn life was still life found out something: Democrats didn’t want to hear it. At all.

So, we’ve reached another dilemma.

We get these horrific stories like Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia who was an abortion doctor doing horrific things. It should have raised the flags then. While all this time pro-abortion (and that will be my label. I’m not bowing to the “pro-choice” moniker on this one) touted the need for Roe v. Wade to be held up as law in all cases so there wouldn’t be any more “back alley” abortions, here was Kermit Gosnell doing procedures that acted like back alley abortions. 

Then this week, the leaked video of the Planned Parenthood exec talking matter of factly about selling body parts from aborted babies.

The progressive Christians and evangelicals who have cuddled up to the Dems are now in a tight position. They truly hold a pro-life position, but if they speak up to the horrors of this particular issue, the PRESSURE from their liberal friends will be awful. The shaming on Facebook!

Here is the crux of the matter: social shaming is tough stuff. For the left to make fun of Christians and say, “Hey! You’re not being persecuted!” I agree. Not like in the Sudan or Syria. But the social shaming in our context is awful.

Don’t believe me? Fine. But on my Facebook feed I have friends all over the political and theological spectrum, and I have good numbers in all camps. I’ve had ONE friend post a blog post from someone else who was progressive and made a case for being pro-life. (And it was a good case.)

But friends I have who are quick on the trigger (and rightly so in my view) on racism… silence.

Friends who were quick to put the rainbow meme on their Facebook picture… silence.

Bigger progressive voices in the evangelical world? They’ll eventually figure out how to say something with all kinds of qualifiers. But for now, on this date… silence.

You know why? It’s not “persecution” but it’s unbelievable pressure.

And THAT is what we’re left with when we hitch our wagons to political movements lock, stock, and barrel. We lose our PROPHETIC voice… and we have only become PATHETIC.

I will readily confess it.

I am far more “pro-life” in my ethic than most conservatives. I am womb to the tomb pro-life. But there was a time when it meant more to be pro-life in the Republican sense. So, when I hitched my wagon to that issue and voted, I was rabid.

Then, I began seeing the poor. I began talking about the poor. I began asking about how to meet the needs of the marginalized. And things got quiet on the GOP front.

Since even saying the label “pro-life” (and not getting an opportunity to explain it) gets me sniffed at with derision by any Democrat, I’m a man without a party.

And I don’t care. It may not make voting easy, but I have found an uncomfortable place in the prophetic where I can raise a voice for justice on many issues… and get accused of being liberal… or conservative… or Green Party… or Tea Party… at just about any given moment. I have lost “friends” on Facebook with regularity because of all kinds of things. I’ve spoken against actions Israel took, I’ve raised questions on the changing of the meaning of “marriage,” I’ll say something about gun control… you name it… it just doesn’t fit neatly into any one party.

That’s not a comfortable place to be. But when a young white man walks into a black church and starts firing away, I call for justice and a conversation on racism. I want to learn more. And when a Planned Parenthood exec is caught on tape spewing out their basic philosophy of death and it’s finally exposed, I am calling for justice again.

Dear friends, we have lost our way. To the right… to the left… we have lost our way. Years ago, it was my turn to walk away from the “right” politically. I am making a desperate plea to my friends “on the left” to PLEASE make your move away from the Democrat Party. Don’t allow their death agenda to mute your heart’s cry. You KNOW what you saw in that video was wrong. You KNOW how valuable life is… even in the womb. You KNOW the unborn are as marginalized.

YES, there is a greater conversation to have that goes beyond “Well, you guys don’t care about them once their born!” Let’s quit the bumper sticker politics. We need a deeper conversation.

But it will only start when WE as BELIEVERS rise up above the political trench digging and call for JUSTICE.

Let us LOVE GOD! And, dear friends, let us love one another. 

I plead with you.