Anti-Christ

The word anti-Christ probably conjures up some images and thoughts. You might start to think of the book of Revelation – full of other imagery including beasts, dragons, horses, and a host of other creatures.

Maybe you think of specific people of history. Nero was often referred to as an anti-Christ figure. But he wasn’t the only one.

Some of this gets confusing when we start to throw “the” at the beginning of anti-Christ. All of a sudden we go from thinking about an array of figures to a specific figure at some point in the future. And the debate about this flows.

But what is an anti-Christ? Simply put, an anti-Christ is someone or something that is in opposition to Christ – the opposite of Christ. While the term may cause us to think of sneaky individuals who are fooling many people, the reality is that anti-Christ figures often aren’t hidden. They aren’t sly. They aren’t even sneaky. They are pretty obvious actually.

I don’t think it’s all that controversial to say that an anti-Christ figure will be obvious to anyone who is truly faithful and really knows Jesus, what he is about, and what he’s up to in the world.

An anti-Christ quite simply takes what Jesus says and does the opposite. When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, an anti-Christ tells us to hate and kill our enemies. When Jesus talks about praying for those who persecute the faithful, an anti-Christ tells us to hit back on those who persecute. When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, an anti-Christ withholds food. When Jesus talks about welcoming the stranger, an anti-Christ talks about pushing the stranger away. When Jesus talks about caring for the sick, an anti-Christ talks about only the strong surviving and the weak and sick dying off. When Jesus talks about setting the captive free, an anti-Christ talks about imprisoning more people. When Jesus talks about knowing the truth and the truth setting us free, an anti-Christ asks what truth even is. And the list goes on.

Our concern, as followers of Jesus, shouldn’t be about “the” anti-Christ. We should be on the look out for anti-Christs – both big and small. We should pay attention to those things and people who attempt to pull us away from Jesus. Not through trickery, but rather blatantly.

And most important – do not fear! Jesus says this phrase over an over again. While Jesus brings peace, an anti-Christ brings fear. Let those who have eyes see.

What to do…

We are in an age where there are great and deep divisions in our society. Politics, or rather partisanship, is one of those divides. People in different parties see the people in the other party as an existential threat to the nation. And that’s not an exaggeration. Loyalty to party has taken a key place – above many other things. At least that’s the perception.

Religious divides are treated in a similar way – especially within Christianity. The divide can be classified as Evangelical/Fundamentalist vs. Progressive. And in many cases one’s faith is tied directly to one’s political ideology or party loyalty.

I have heard many say that they don’t recognize the Christianity of others who see the world so differently from themselves.

Some question if they should try to continue to convince those that are so very different. Some express frustration that their fellow Christians don’t seem to be open to hearing a different way of seeing things – they seem to be firmly entrenched in their beliefs with no room to budge.

I understand this mentality and thought.

The question is this – can reconciliation actually happen with those who are intent on division, fear, and a heavy concern for being right – regardless of what the topic is? Reconciliation requires both parties (people) to desire to come together, to offer forgiveness where it is needed, and to seek a new start. What do you do when someone has no intention of that? What do you do with someone who is only interested in defeating you and your way of thinking?

You wipe the dust off your shoes and move on. There is no sense in wasting energy and effort on someone who has no intention of developing or mending a relationship. That doesn’t mean you bad mouth someone. You just move on and move forward with the building up of the kingdom of God with those who are willing to building and mend a relationship with.

Trying to convince someone of something they have no openness to is a waste. Sometimes the best way to love someone, which is what we are called to do, is to let them go and move on without them.

Having said all of this, the invitation is always there for renewal in relationship. The invitation must remain open for reconciliation. The invitation for mending should remain. And we continue to pray for healing. We continue to pray. We continue to move forward.

Encounters with Jesus

Need to hear about some encounters with Jesus? Want to see how encountering Jesus transforms lives? Are you fleeing something/someone and need refuge in God?

Take a look at our fall magazine and read stories of hope, of refuge, of encounter and transformation.

And when you are done, please pass it on to someone else who needs to hear these stories.

The idolatry of personal piety

Maybe you don’t think the words idolatry and piety belong together. Afterall, one of the ways Merriam-Webster defines piety is:

“The quality or state of being pious: such as dutifulness in religion: Devoutness.”

(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety)

The word pious is interesting. Here’s a screen shot with definitions of that word:

(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pious)

Pious can mean two opposing ideas. It can mean serious reverence towards God. It can be legitimate worship and practice. In this piety can be a good thing.

As the definition also states, pious can be “marked by sham or hypocriscy.” One only need think of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees from time to time. How many times did he call the pious acting Pharisees “hypocrites” or worse – “You snakes” or “you brood of vipers!”

Piety can be a double-edged sword – it can be good and it can be a idolatry. Idolatry, according to Dictionary.com can mean: “extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.” (Source: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/idolatry?s=t)

When piety is idolatrous, it is dangerous. This kind of piety is about acting as if salvation and faith are only matters of how we act individually and what we do personally, without any consideration of how it impacts others. There is no consideration of others in fact. And this goes against the great commandments – to love God and to love neighbor.

This kind of piety becomes focused on our works and what we do. It sets us up to judge others in relation to us and what we are doing to determine rank – who is better? Or who is more faithful based on what they are doing? It focuses us on being respectable.

This individual faith, or personal piety, is nothing more than the idea that salvation is only about a personal relationship with God.

There are many problems with this.

For example, we can say that we are for welcoming the stranger – Jesus told us to do so and we would if we ever came across a stranger. Yet, if we support policies that exclude and push away strangers so that we never have an opportunity to encounter a stranger, are we really living into welcoming the stranger?

Personal piety is not enough. Faith is more than just personal. It has a public impact. And it is in the communal and public impact that we are then impacted personally.

We can claim to follow Jesus’ command to love our enemies, but never really have to because we have pushed away anyone who disagrees with us or that we see as a threat. In this, we are personally valuing loving our enemies – at least in word. But our actions actually negate the value of loving our enemies. Instead, we actually value maintaining the status quo and doing everything we can to not upset the apple cart – our comfort becomes more important that being engaged in relationship with enemies. If we never interact with enemies, we don’t have to worry about not loving our enemies.

We can dehumanize enemies because we don’t have contact with them. They are no longer actual people to us with names and lives and loved ones and stories of their own. They are abstract. And so we have no need to love the abstract.

Our personal piety should not create a divide that separates us away from others around us, but instead should move us to be more loving towards others and ultimately towards God. Our piety should point us towards the life example of Jesus. Our piety should not be about rules, purity, and judgement.

Empires

Empires are narcissistic by nature. They are narcissistic systems. As I’ve mentioned before, empires thrive on four things – exploitation, oppression, death, and destruction.

All empires exploit the people and the land they control. They exploit people through taxes and tributes. They exploit people through their unquestioning loyalty and their labor. They exploit people through their sweat and blood.

They exploit the land by stripping the resources from the land and using those resources to exploit and oppress other people. They exploit the land of resources that are sent back to the head of the empire for their own personal use. They exploit the land to build up the center of the empire at the expense of any conquered land and people.

Empires oppress. They oppress people. They oppress people through intimidation, manipulation, jailing, beating, and stealing. They force those they oppress into service for the empire. They silence conquered people. They enslave.

Empires kill. They are really good at killing. They kill anyone who is a perceived as a threat to the established order of the empire. They kill the will to resist. They kill the desire to question or present any alternative to empire. They kill relationships and families. They kill dreams and hopes. They kill futures of those they conquer. They kill belief. They kill the spirit of the people they oppress. They kill the culture they conquer.

Empires destroy. They destroy people and the land they conquer. They destroy motivation. They destroy ownership. They destroy faith. They destroy nations and peoples. They destroy farms and businesses. They destroy livelihoods.

Empires exist to build up the center of the empire – the seat of power. Empires are at their core narcissistic. They bend in on themselves. They are like black holes that suck everything in their orbit and destroy it.

And at the core of narcissism is this – destructive selfishness. Narcissism is the antithesis of the two great commandments – to love God and to love neighbor. You can’t live out these two commandments through empire.

And like all narcissistic systems, organizations, and people – they come to a tragic end. The question becomes how many people and how much land suffer in the process?

Kingdom of God vs. Theology of Empire

This fall I’ve been leading a bible study on the book of Revelation. I really like Revelation. That may sound odd to some folks. No, I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy seeing violence. I don’t like war. So what’s up with me liking Revelation.

I read Revelation through a lens of hope. I don’t buy into the Rapture theology of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. It doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and has no backing with history.

There is a lot of death and destruction in Revelation. All you need to do is read the chapters on the seven seals being opened to see it.

But reading Revelation isn’t scary to me. That’s because I don’t see Revelation as some kind of prediction of God throwing a global hissy fit and destroying everything in a blood bath. I just don’t believe in that kind of a god.

Instead, Revelation is a message of hope. It is a message of judgement for empire – specifically the Roman Empire – and all who devote themselves to empire. It is a message that says – God wins.

Revelation is a judgement on the theology of empire. And it is similar to other books of Scripture that judges and condemns other empires of history.

All empires are essentially the same. Sure, their time and location are unique. Their leaders have different names. But they all have the same DNA. They all act the same way. They are predictable. All empires thrive on exploitation, oppression, death, and destruction. All of them that have ever existed and all that ever will exist are the same.

As I mentioned, Revelation comes from a long line of Scripture that judges and condemns empires.

The book of Exodus is a story of Israel being set free from Egypt – the empire of that day. It is also a story of judgement and condemnation of the Egyptian empire. God confronts the Egyptian gods through the plagues and defeats them all. It is a judgement on these false gods and those who adhere to them. The Egyptian empire was a typical empire. They exploited and oppressed the Israelites. They sought out to destroy and kill them when the Israelites left.

The book of Daniel is an indictment on multiple empires. It is certainly a judgement of the Babylonian empire. It shows the kings of Babylon as narcissists and fools. It shows how cruel they are. It talks openly about how the Babylonians exploited and oppressed people. And the book shows God’s judgement on Babylon and it’s rulers.

But the book of Daniel is also an indictment of the Seleucid Empire. The book was written during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The kings in the book represent Antiochus and his ruthlessness and profanity. And the book is intended to proclaim that God will judge and condemn the Seleucid Empire and its ruler just as God judged and condemned previous empires.

Revelation is an indictment of the Roman Empire. At the beginning of the book we see that John, the author, is writing to seven churches in what is modern day western Turkey – an area that was occupied and exploited by the Romans. The imagery in Revelation is designed to show that the power of God is greater than Rome and that God’s judgement is inescapable – Rome has been judged by God and will be ended for its exploitation, oppression, death, and destruction. God’s kingdom will take its place.

Revelation isn’t some scary prediction of death and destruction that is to come. Rather, it is telling the continuing story of God condemning Empire. Why? Because empires, and those who rule them, are anti-Christ to their core. Empires, and their rulers, see themselves as gods to be worshiped, to have all resources brought to it/them. Empires view themselves as the center of the universe. Empires are selfish and narcissistic.

And they all end. Thanks be to God!

Simple statements

“If you can’t get a job in this economy, then it’s your own fault.”

That’s the statement I overheard some time ago at a meeting I was attending. The comment wasn’t intended for me and the other people engaged in the conversation all seemed to agree with this statement.

Of course that’s easy to do when you have a secure job and have probably had one for a long time.

But these individuals were missing so much. There are so many things to consider when we encounter someone who does not have a job, even in a supposedly great economy.

Making a statement like the one that was said publicly is easy to do. Especially when we think our own situation and experiences are the norm for everyone else. And it’s easy to make this kind of generalization because it really applies to no one in particular. There are no names attached with it. No faces. No lives. Just a critical statement that releases everyone else from responsibility.

And then there is reality. Real people. Real faces. Real lives. And these real people are much more complicated than the statement implies. Poverty works that way. Yes, there is a lack of employees for open positions. Does that mean that all people looking for work qualify for all jobs open? Hardly. The reality is, even with a smaller pool of potential employees, employers are picky about who they hire. I have no issue with that. You want the best candidate for the job. That makes sense.

And we need to face another reality – we have a whole bunch of people that no one is interested in hiring for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons are self-inflicted. Some concern mental states, health concerns, changing jobs and locations.

So instead of making easy statements that devalue people, can we acknowledge that we have bigger problems. It is a reality that businesses are looking for employees. It is also a reality that there are many people who want to work but can’t get a job. The two truths can co-exist and both be true. So the question is this – now what? What do we do with people who want to work, but are unqualified for the existing jobs, or don’t have people skills needed, or have some kind of mental health challenge, or are struggling with homelessness or poverty?

Maybe we should see that there are at least two issues at hand and start to tackle these instead of believing that jobs available and job seekers are always related.

It would be a start. And it might stop us from making simplistic statements about people that we know nothing about.

Who/what do we really worship?

Everyone worships something/someone. The question is what.

Even those that claim there is no god worship something. The definition of worship is:

“reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.” (Source: Dictionary.com)

So the question is what do we worship? There’s the stated answer – whatever it is you claim. But that may not be the actual answer.

Do you want to know who/what you really worship? The same question can be asked of groups, churches, organizations, and even nations.

Here’s one way to determine the real answer. How do you spend your time, money, energy, and attention? Do you use all of those listening to God in the variety of ways that God speaks to us? Or do you devote more time, money, energy, and attention listening to the other gods that demand worship?

Who are these gods? They are numerous. Here’s a short list. Money, power, being right, a politician or elected official, a political party, your work, exercise, social media, entertainment, sex, drugs, intelligence, etc.

Where do your beliefs align with – God or a god of your choosing?

Do you spend more time defending God or a god of your choosing?

Do you spend more time proclaiming God’s word and promises, or the promises of a god of your choosing?

What you spend more time, energy, money, and attention on is what you value. It is your god.

The same is true for a group of people, an organization, a church, and even a nation.

We shouldn’t be surprised

A California website posted an article on the new face of homelessness. And who is the new face of homelessness? According to the article – “the elderly and disabled.”

More locally, the trends in South Central Pennsylvania point to a dramatic increase in number of homeless elderly over the next decade, with some estimates showing the numbers tripling.

My reaction to these two sets of information is this – we shouldn’t be surprised.

Should we be surprised that there will be dramatic increases in homelessness among the most vulnerable of society? I don’t think so. What do we value in society? Production and profit. Our society places a high value on people who produce things and add value – especially those who are gifted at making money and increasing profit.

Let me be clear about this. Producing things and making a profit are not inherently bad. Many good things have been made over time. And great amounts of profit have been used to better society.

The challenge comes when we systematically value people who produce things and make a profit over and above those who don’t fit into those categories. The bigger challenges becomes when those who don’t produce or make a profit are seen as less valuable. In other words, when value of a person is equated to money, we start to have problems.

For the most part, the elderly don’t produce things that can be bought and sold for a price and can turn a profit. They just don’t have the ability. There are exceptions of course.

When profit and money are more valued than people, then it makes sense that the elderly and “disabled” will be seen as having little to no value. Why make sure those with little to no value have housing? They can’t pay it back. They can’t produce anything that would pay for the housing – so the thought goes.

Even the terms “elderly” and “disabled” are loaded with meaning. Pictures of who these people are come to most people’s minds. No different than other terms used to describe people – labels like “homeless,” “poor,” “immigrant,” “refugee,” etc.

But value doesn’t just apply to the conversation about the elderly and “disabled.” It will make sense to a society that protecting nature and natural resources will not be valued if that society finds more value in extracting resources for use and for profit. Future generations don’t receive any consideration to that kind of a society – they aren’t producing anything.

Health care for people who produce little or make little to no profit doesn’t make much financial sense when money is more important to people. Health care only makes sense for those who are producing things. And it’s not really health care – it’s more sick care designed to get people back to work, rather than prevent sickness in the first place.

When a society places value on people based on what they produce, that society has fully embraced the belief that only the strong survive. Except they don’t.

Ancient Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs had a scheme that valued production. It was about making more bricks. Those who could produce were valued more so than those who couldn’t. That is until you couldn’t produce anymore – at which time you became a burden and could be disposed of. That’s the problem with making production the highest value – everyone is replaceable eventually. No one survives. It is dehumanizing to the core.

Yet, Pharaoh met his match in Yahweh and his representative Moses. Moses was the prophet and messenger who had a far different message. The message was that God gives identity based on who a person is, not on what they produce.

The point is this – we have a choice. Whose message are we going to listen to – the prophet of God or profit and production? If you listen to profit and production to find out your value, you’ll be out of luck soon enough.

The prophet’s message is this – God doesn’t value you because of what you can produce. God values you because of who you are. Prophets over profits always has more value.

Did Jesus really care?

“The New Testament clearly portrays Jesus, his family, and, with few exceptions, everyone he encountered throughout his life as impoverished and oppressed, exploited by the religious establishment, brutalized by their Roman colonizers. That this was his setting in life is undeniable. Yet from the picture of Jesus painted by the traditional, mainstream Church, we are supposed to believe that he was little if at all touched by the realities around him; that the direction of his message and ministry was not influenced by the deplorable conditions in which his people lived. Instead, we are told that his was only a narrowly spiritual, otherworldly message that, with few exceptions, was exclusively focused on citizenship in heaven. Moreover, we are to believe that Jesus had no interest in the economic and political issues of his day. In other words, this belief hold that although Jesus might have had empathy for the suffering of his people, he just did not want to get involved.”

(Source: The Politics of Jesus, pg. 76-77)

In other words, we’d rather believe in a Jesus that was never political and never took sides, especially with the poor and outcast of his society. We’d rather believe in a more respectable Jesus that acts more like the Pharisees of his time.

The problem with this Jesus that we would rather believe in is that he isn’t biblical at all. He’s a figment of our imagination – no different than other imaginary beliefs about Jesus.

It’s time to wake up from the dream Jesus. It’s time to recognize that this dream Jesus is just plain empty and pathetic, demanding nothing from his followers, telling them to put down their cross, and telling people to just be nice people who don’t disturb the false peace that exists. That Jesus is a lie. That Jesus wouldn’t have been killed by the Roman empire. That Jesus wouldn’t have had any followers either. And we shouldn’t follow fake Jesus either.

Fake Jesus doesn’t save anyone. Fake Jesus doesn’t impact anyone’s life. Fake Jesus is a waste of time and energy.