We have a choice

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There are many in this world that think that the only way to get what they want is through force.  Some will choose violence to get what they want and what they think is right.  Violence can come in many forms – physical, verbal, mental, emotional, etc.  It can come through dehumanizing comments, how people are treated, and by destroying property of targeted groups and individuals.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

There are many in this world who live their life in fear – fear of “those” people who are coming here.  They fear they will lose something – maybe the status quo, maybe some kind of rights or privlege, maybe a job or a job opportunity, maybe their definition of “normal.”  And so these people who live by fear and in fear strike out.  When someone feels cornered, sometimes they strike out.  Especially when that person had authority, or power.  They have lost their status and get angry about losing it.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

Yesterday I saw a video that showed a “Christian” family videotaping themselves going around degrading a Mosque – teaching their children hatred of Muslims and tearing down fliers about the Mosque.  There was dehumanizing language about Muslims.  This video was on Facebook, and it was meant to show how some people are hate filled.  Unfortunately, all these videos really do is give free rein to the message that is being proclaimed – a message of hate.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

We can respond in kind – saying all sorts of terrible things about this family.  We don’t have to think very hard to come up with some very harsh comments, belittling statements.  We don’t have to work very hard to dehumanize the dehumanizers.

But does that make us any better?  Or are we just using the same tactics that have been used – an in doing so, legitimizing the approach?

Oh how badly I wanted to let my comments rip this family a new one.  Oh how badly did I want to label them.  Oh how badly did I want to respond in anger.  Oh how badly.  My insides were hot with rage.

And yet, we have a choice of how we respond.

As I was watching, willingly exposing myself to this anger and fear, a small voice inside me whispered a passage of Scripture – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The whisper was powerful and strong in a different way than the anger.  It offered words that touched the very heart of me.  It offered words that I needed to hear.  It offered words that others needed to hear.

And so I posted parts of this passage of Scripture in the comment section, along with a prayer.  A prayer that highlighted a response of love.

We have a choice in how we respond.

We can’t control what others will do, but we can control how we respond.

For those of us that are Christians, or Christ-followers, the question is this – do we really believe Jesus?  Do we really believe that love will win?  Do we really that peace is a way of life and not a destination – it is the now, not someday?  Do we really believe that love will conquer?  Do we really believe that 1 John 5:3-5?

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Do we really believe?

We have a choice in how we respond.

Here is what I will be doing going forward, when I see a disturbing or upsetting or angering or fear-filled article, video, or comment – I will be responding to it with Scripture and prayer.  I don’t promise that I’ll do this for everything – but for ones that I feel a response is necessary.

We don’t stop fear and anger and violence and hatred and prejudice and the -isms through fear and anger and violence and hatred and labeling.  We stop it by changing the focus completely.  You can’t put a fire out by adding more gasoline.  You can’t stop a war by dropping more bombs.  You can’t stop shootings by adding more bullets.  You can’t stop hatred by adding more anger.  You can’t stop fear by adding more anxiety.  You can’t stop dehumanizing by dehumanizing in response.

You stop it by changing it – you change how you respond.  You change how you talk and interact.  You change how you show respect.  You change by loving, being peaceful, offering mercy and grace. You change without expecting others will change, but inviting them to change too.  Jesus didn’t confront the Empire or the Temple authorities by using violence.  He didn’t use the same tactics that those in authority used.  He presented an alternative way of living, and invited others to participate in this way of living.  And by doing so, he change the world.

We have a choice in how we respond.

I choose this.  I invite you to join in.  Especially if you are tired of being angry, living in fear, and being upset at the world.  There is another way.  You don’t have to be fluent in Scripture – you can google passages that seem appropriate to the situation.  If you are going to respond, respond out of faith and love.  We have a choice in how we respond.

Live the way that Christ calls us to live.  Some will join in, some won’t.  You can’t control it.  But there will be an impact.  It’s how the world is conquered.

We have a choice in how we respond.  Respond well.  Offer a response that changes the world.

Jesus Interrupted

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Does Jesus interrupt your life?  Or is Jesus just an interruption in your life?  If all you do is go to church on Sunday for an hour, but live how you want, then Jesus is just a minor interruption in your life,

Jesus should be interrupting your life all the time.

But do we try to bring the narrative of our life back to something in which we believe we are in control?

That doesn’t end well.

Throughout the Bible we see story after story of people trying to do just this.

God interrupts in the Old Testament all the time – much to the dismay of the people who have been interrupted.  With the interruption usually comes a change of their life.

In the New Testament, it starts with Jesus being born and interrupting King Herod’s narrative and life.  Herod thought he had control over time and the narrative.  He certainly had everyone scared.  Only he didn’t have control.  He loses control of the narrative to a baby and strangers who aren’t even on the map. They are from the East.

Seriously though – he loses control of the narrative to a baby.  How fragile is Herod’s narrative that he loses control that easily?

And what does he do when he loses control?  The same thing all those in power do when they lose control – they try to take down as many others with them as possible.  He kills the innocents because he is weak.  He needs to kill those out of power to show his own supposed strength, but the reality is he is far weaker and his end ends with him being a footnote in history to a greater narrative.  He becomes a minor actor with a short scene in a greater narrative.  It’s a narrative he doesn’t control.

This is how all those in power end.  Especially the truly weak – the ones who have the biggest egos and make the biggest claims.  The reality is that they are full of emptiness and empty rhetoric and empty promises.

Instead, it is a baby who offers hope for a new reality.  It is strangers who have a vision of the future.  Herod, like all those who think they control the narrative, ends up destroying innocents in an effort to keep the narrative.  But God interrupts.

How is God interrupting your life?

NFL and the National Anthem

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Here’s a confession – I haven’t watched an NFL game for several years.  There have been a few exceptions here and there – parts of a Super Bowl, mostly because the kids were interested in the outcome, etc.  I stopped watching football regularly though when we moved to Finland back in the summer of 2014.  Having been a long time Buffalo Bills fan, it was easy to stop watching – my team sucked – for many years.  And frankly, I was tired of rooting for a crappy team that never seemed interested in doing anything to become uncrappy.

Then a decision was made that helped me see something else about the NFL – it was a decision to increase the number of games that the players play overseas.  There was talk about launching teams in Europe.  And it was then that I realized that all the NFL really cared about was making a profit – it was the almighty dollar demanding more human sacrifice.  In this case, sacrifice of the player’s health and the fans dollars and euros.  There was big money to be made at the expense of the players.  Granted, they aren’t doing shabby financially.  But still – how much are the players’ health worth?

The concussion situation doesn’t help the NFL either.  Again, a disregard for the players, all in the name of making a buck for the owners.

And us fans aren’t innocent in this.  It is our thirst for sport, for seeing the modern-day gladiators, hit each other violently.   Oh how willing we are to pay these owners to see violence done to people in the name of one of our own idols – entertainment.

And now yesterday we get the decision that players and teams can be fined if they offer a protest during the national anthem – kneeling silently.

This was a bad decision in many respects.  You can read about these in stories that are all over the news sites.  It was bad because it brought the issue up again – it was not being talked about.  It’s bad because it was based on fear of a certain politician – would his tweets have an impact on sales of tickets and merchandise.  It’s bad because it’s just going to cause more people to tune out.

But the biggest reason, and most important reason, that I saw was because the NFL made the decision based solely on finances.  There is money to be made and so rights and protests need to be pushed out-of-the-way.  This is what we in church call systemic sin.  This isn’t about the national anthem at all – it’s about making a profit off of people at their expense and pushing away anything that might impinge on that profit.  And it is something that pervades our culture, with limited escape.  We wrap the flag around this sin, as if washing in soldiers’ blood will cleanse us and save us.  And we demand that the presentation be a spectacle – full of pomp and circumstance, complete with a fly over of the jets.  We want to hear the roar of unity and since that doesn’t actually exist, the owners did what they could to create the illusion – they pushed the protest out of sight.  Nothing says American values and what the Anthem stands for like silencing peaceful protest apparently – all in the name of keeping the status quo of making a nice juicy profit.

Which is interesting since the NFL is a non-profit according to the tax law.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.  Yet, I don’t hear protests from people about these non-profit executives’ salaries. Why?  I often hear how terrible it is that a CEO of a non-profit, ones that actually impact people’s lives for the better, will be compensated six-figures or possibly more.  Yet, I hear no complaint about how terrible it is that the owner of a team that is part of a non-profit makes multi-millions and allows for these men to be billionaires.  Why?  Maybe it has something to do with the idea that it is easy to criticize the non-profits that are helping if we don’t contribute to them.  It’s much harder to criticize the NFL when we are contributing to these profits – we would have to do some self-examination and ask how we are contributing to propping up the system that exists.  And that would be a bit to uncomfortable and close to home for us I guess.

Yesterday I heard Fr. Richard Rohr speak about systemic sin in an interesting way.  He said that we have a world that upholds the seven deadly sins in a corporate (communal) way, but punishes individuals that practice these.  In other words, killing is ok when it is done by the state and is called war because it is for defending what we stand for, but it not ok when an individual does it.  We put statues up to people who caused great killing and suffering on behalf of the state, but punish individuals who do this on their own.  You can see this same type of logic in other areas as well.

This sends a mixed message at best.  And when we give a pass to such systemic sin but condemn individual sins, then we are fooling ourselves into thinking we can have a just and free society.  We aren’t really free at all – we are in bondage to sin.  A bondage that doesn’t allow for freedom.  A bondage that will squash any opposition that exists and silence those who question what is happening.

We think of these systems as super powerful.  Yet, the reality is they are weak beyond belief.  I say that knowing that really, there is a paradox.  These systems are very power – they have immense pull and sway over us.  Yet we willingly participate in them.  Sometimes we can’t avoid participating in them.  But think about this.  The only way these systems continue to persist is through threat and silencing opposition.  They are weak in this regard.  When exposed, they fall apart.  They can’t withstand the truth.  And they crumble like a statue made with clay feet.

The NFL is promoting greed corporately and wrapping it in the flag – as if the national anthem had anything to do with football.  As if what the anthem stood for was actually being promoted through football.  It isn’t.  But the NFL punishes individuals who use something supposedly cherished by what the anthem stands for – free speech.

The NFL has become an empire that demands allegiance and turning a blind eye to the systemic sin it is protecting and benefiting from.

This really has nothing to do with the national anthem or the flag.  If it did, they would follow all the rules related to how the flag should be used and how it should not be used – like on clothing.  But when profit is your idol, your god, then that doesn’t matter. All that matters is making appropriate sacrifices to your idol.  Players’ health and freedom of speech need to be sacrificed apparently – the gods demand it.  There’s a profit to be made.  There’s the spectacle of unity to be shown, even when it doesn’t exist.  Silence has to be forced on those who raise an issue.  It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Empires thrive on complacency and spectacle.  It’s also how they end up falling apart.  They get lazy and lethargic.  Their chants become empty and they are shown for what they are – greedy.  And eventually, the “barbarians” waltz into Rome and expose what is left as weak.

Faith and politics

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What lens do you see the world though?  Your partisan political loyalty or the faith that has been given to you by God?

If you party loyalty is the foundation of your life, then here’s what is important – what the leader of your party says each day.  Your leader may contradict what was said before, but that’s ok – it’s about advancing the party after all.  You can fool yourself into believing that the party cares about you – that is until you speak out against the party on any subject.  At that point, the party will through you under the bus because you will no longer be useful to it.  Parties are merciless and will use anyone they can to advance their cause of gaining power and then discard them when they are done.  Forget loyalty – the only loyalty that matters is your complete compliance with the party.  When party is your foundation, you can excuse rhetoric and behavior that is unacceptable to anyone else because the pursuit of power for the party is of utmost importance.  The ends justify the means becomes your slogan.  Only the weak care about ethics and the process.

If faith is your foundation, then you are going to say and do things that come in conflict with the parties and the pursuit of power.  You come in conflict with the empires of this world – whether they be political, religious, sports, entertainment, financial, or anything else.

Faith as your foundation means that Christianity isn’t a series of policy proposals, it isn’t a culture war, it isn’t a few rhetorical weapons that are added to your political loyalties and arguments.

Faith is a way of life.  It comes from God.  God lays claim to us, gives us faith, and invites us to participate in the unfolding of God’s kingdom right here, right now.

Faith is a way of life that will live beyond whoever is in power.  Leaders come and go.  Christ is forever.

Politics and Gospel

Why do we allow our partisan politics to control and determine the Gospel?

Since when did politics get to determine what was considered Gospel?

Why do we place politics in the primary place of our lives – to the point that the Gospel has to fit into our political ideologies?

Why do we allow the Gospel to be characterized in political terms – as if politics is the foundation of life?

The Gospel isn’t a Republican or Democrat message.  It’s not a conservative and liberal talking point.  The political powers of Jesus time had him killed because he wouldn’t fall in line.  Because he wouldn’t advance the party narrative and power structures of the day.

If the Gospel doesn’t make our politics uncomfortable, then we aren’t proclaiming the Gospel.

When our politics makes proclaiming the Gospel uncomfortable then we have our priorities backwards.

Politics is not the foundation of life.  Politics in our current setting is an either/or adventure that narrows things down to only two options – two really bad options.  Why would you choose from really bad options that are anything but life-giving?

The Gospel though is different.  The Gospel makes demands on our life – our entire lives.  Not just on a Sunday morning for an hour.  Our entire life is to be centered in the Gospel. The Gospel impacts and changes our lives.  If it doesn’t change us, then there is something wrong with us – we’re not all in.  We’re putting up barriers to it – probably because the Gospel is uncomfortable and inconvenient.  It conflicts with our politics and ideology.  It conflicts with our preferences and beliefs.  It gets in our face and tells us that there is a different way – a way that is different from the either/or mentality that our culture offers us.

The Gospel is something that changes our lives – and lays claim to our lives.  It’s not just something to hear and go on with life.  It is life itself.

But the economy…

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Acts 16:16-24 tells the story of Paul and Silas being jailed in Philippi.

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

In this story we see a radical message – that when the kingdom of God is proclaimed and where it is unfolding, the status quo will be upset.  Often in Scripture we see a linkage between evil and profit-making at the expense of humanity.  Profit itself isn’t evil – profit-making at the expense of humanity is.

And in this story we see it vividly.  The owners of this woman only cared about her as long as they could exploit her and make money off of her.  And when they could not do that, it wasn’t her well-being they were concerned with.  It was the fact that she no longer made money for them.  She became worthless to them.

They saw it as an attack on them and on their profit motive – or really, their abuse, manipulation, and power trip.

Paul and Silas literally affected the economy of Philippi through their proclamation.  This is what happens when God’s kingdom comes near.  The status quo is flipped on its head.  And many weren’t happy about it.  When people’s money is affected, people start to pay attention.  They know that what is happening is real – and they see that they are not in control.

But as long as the economy is humming along – allowing some to benefit at the expense of others – many turn a blind eye.

When money becomes prime in life and society, humanity suffers.  When money is more valuable than people, then everything is out of whack.  People are not valued for who they are, but rather for what they produce.  Humanity ends up with a price tag.

When money takes this type of central role, then it becomes an idol, a god.  No wonder Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject.

But making money into an idol, a god, has deeper ramifications than this – When producing becomes the prime directive, then the Sabbath is broken.  Sabbath doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing all day.  It’s about resting from work in order to pay full attention to God – to focus on God and listen to what God is calling us to.  If there is no room for Sabbath, then there is no room for God.  Instead of listening to God, we listen to what the almighty dollar instructs us to do.  And people suffer.

We are no longer made in the image of God, but rather, we are just workers whose purpose is to make a profit.  We snuff out the Imago Dei in which God created us.

This is why Paul and Silas were beaten, stripped, and jailed – upsetting the entire belief system that worships money.  It was an act of defiance against the entire empire, its economic system, its message that salvation comes through the empire and Caesar.  Paul and Silas’ proclamation meant that the empire, Caesar, and their economic system of exploitation were empty and valueless.

Another blog I visit often said it best:

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.

For several decades our politicians have been giving us a message that needs to be weighed against the Gospel.  Sometimes it comes through a question – “Are you better off than you were four years ago.”  And other times it comes in campaign slogans – “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The economy is a powerful pull.  It has the power to determine our elections more often than not.  Candidates, politicians, and presidents of both political parties are often very flawed – caught in controversy, investigations and scandals, sexual philandering, and dehumanizing rhetoric, supporting policies that do not support the general welfare they are sworn to uphold, but rather to support the status quo where some benefit at the expense of others – where people are valued for what they produce, rather than who they are.

But if the economy is humming along, many are willing to overlook these character flaws.  Many are willing to put blinders on to the plight of our neighbors because “the economy.”  Many are willing to rationalize away dehumanizing policies and rhetoric because there is more money in some people’s pockets – maybe even our own.

But Jesus has a different message.  An upsetting message.  A message that conflicts with our own economic self-interest as we turn a blind eye to our neighbors’ plight.  A message that doesn’t always match up with our national narrative and what we value politically.  Ouch.

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

(Matthew 16:24-26)

Jesus is asking us – what’s more important, the economy or humanity?  Money or God? And he is speaking in economic terms – savings, profit, gain, return.  Jesus directly confronts the economic systems that exploit others and those that maintain these systems and benefit from them.  Maybe that doesn’t sound very American.  But then again, Jesus wasn’t worried about wrapping himself in the flag.  He had another kingdom to advance – one that is everlasting.

Or as Jesus once said in the Sermon on the Mount:

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

(Matthew 6:24)

So which is it?

 

“These aren’t people. These are animals”

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“These aren’t people.  These are animals.” President Donald Trump said this.  The debate is whether he said this in relation to only a specific gang or in relation to all immigrants.  The context seems to point towards a reference to the gang, but previous comments by him leaves the door open to raise the question.

Regardless of who he is referring to, it is wrong to refer to anyone as an animal – no matter how terrible they may be.

Why?  Where do we draw the line?  Who is considered an animal and who is considered a person?  And if they are an animal – what can be done to them?

I wonder what the president thinks about the people we work with and do ministry with at Flying J.  Are they animals?  They aren’t immigrants.  They are citizens.  But they come with many challenges. Many are homeless or living in their vehicles.  Some are ex-convicts.  Some have health problems.  There are families with children.  Some work, some can’t.

When we do ministry at Flying J twice a month, we start with an assumption – that everyone we encounter is a person, has value and worth, and is a child of God.  We provide the limited resources that we have – we make sure people get a shower and can do their laundry.  Being clean is important.  It is a way to bring dignity to a person.  It is a way for a person to feel human again.  To be seen as a person.  To be seen and not smelled.

We bring people over to Denny’s and sit down as a large group, hand people a menu and ask people what they want to eat.  Choice is important.  It’s not much, but having a choice on a menu is a way of empowering people who don’t have much power over other things in their life.  When we empower people with choice, we are saying that they have value and worth.  That they are capable of making decisions.  That they are human.

We sit with our friends and talk and laugh and share.  We share information.  We share jokes.  We share life.  We hear stories and we tell stories.  And we offer respect, a listening ear, and remind people of their humanity.  We proclaim boldly a counter cultural message – that a person’s value isn’t tied to material things, how much money they have, where they live, what they do for a job, or anything like that.  Their value and worth come from the fact that they are human.  We proclaim that God loves them and that they are not alone.

We do this because we are followers of Jesus.

Jesus spoke often about the value of people.

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” ( Matthew 6:26)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. ( Matthew 10:29-31)

“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” ( Matthew 18:12)

“What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” ( Luke 15:8-10)

Beyond this, there is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Luke 10:25-37)  There is Jesus talking about the second commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Mark 12:31)

The list could go on.  I didn’t even talk about the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:1-12)

In only one place in the Gospel do we see a reference to Jesus calling someone a dog – Matthew 15:26.  Yet, even in the interaction with the Canaanite woman, Jesus still heals.  There are great commentaries on this passage of Scripture that are well worth reading.  The point here is that Salvation is open to more than just the people of Israel – but also to all Gentiles.

Who has value as a person?  Who gets to decide who has value?  And who gets labeled?

Do we follow what Scripture says about each person?  Or do we follow the way of the world – where value is assigned based on whether someone is a part of the right group or not.  If a person can be considered an animal, then what is to hold us back from treating that person like an animal.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

(Luke 10:25-37)

Treating people with respect and dignity is easy when they are just like us – having the same skin color, nationality, language, belief system, ideology, etc.  It’s easy to love a neighbor when they are essentially just like you.  But what about those that are different.  As the lawyer asked – who is my neighbor?  Are they a person?  Especially if they are different.  Especially if they have different skin color, language, nationality, economic status, abilities, sexuality, gender, age, legal status, criminal background, etc.

Who is my neighbor?  Is your neighbor a person?  Or an animal?

Are you going to follow Jesus, or someone else in determining who is your neighbor and how you are to treat them?

I choose Jesus.  How about you?

The appeal of violence

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Violence has an appeal to it.

This may sound surprising to you.  But think about it a bit.  Violence makes up a great deal of our entertainment – from movies about war and crime to our professional sports that celebrate the hard hit.

Violence is celebrated when we attack whoever is considered the enemy.  Think back to the celebration that erupted with the news of Osama Bin Laden being killed.

But violence goes beyond just the physical.

We experience violence when we drive – how many times have you or have you wanted to give the finger to another driver on the road?  Or have it happen to you?  Or just witnessed road rage?

We hear stories of violence in relationships with others, even those that people claim to love.  We hear yelling and screaming.  We see violence through social media – people who are distant politically or on other identifications yelling at each other, demeaning and dehumanizing one another.  We may even participate in any number of these things ourselves.

We hear violent rhetoric from world leaders threatening others with weapons of mass destruction.

Violence has a great appeal – it is used often.

The late Walter Wink is quoted as saying “We trust in violence because we are afraid.”

I think there is great wisdom in this.  We are afraid that we won’t be in control, and so we turn to violence to get our way.  And it usually works. But it’s not a permanent solution or a solution that causes others to change internally.  People will comply when threatened with violence, but they will also look for a way to either escape it or return the violence.  Violence doesn’t bring about a positive change long-term.  It doesnt’ produce a thriving life.  It is totally focused on the short-term.  And, like any drug, it requires a greater dosage as time goes on.

How do we conquer the world?  The world answers with two answers – force and might.   The world conquers through violence and fear.  And it always falls and fails in the long run.  Once the person who has been doing violence to another goes away, there are very few who will remember fondly that person.  And they shouldn’t.  Violence leads to death.

Instead, Scripture gives us another option.  In 1 John 5:4, we are told:

for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

And John 3:16 says:

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Violence doesn’t conquer the world.  It just brings destruction.  Faith and love conquer the world.  Not just for a short time, unlike violence, but for eternity.

Faith and love are both vulnerable.  It’s scary to be vulnerable.  And so when we are afraid, we turn to violence.  We take matters into our own hands.  We enact our own version of justice.  We put ourselves in the place of God.  And we end up suffering the consequences of these decisions.

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

(Matthew 26:52)

Put your sword down Christ-follower.  We are not called to fear and violence.  We are called to vulnerability – faith and love.