A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/13

And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” John 2:13

I saw a meme that said, Remember, “when doing what Jesus did, turning over tables and cracking a whip is not out of the realm of possibilities”. Sometimes we get so focused on gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that we forget he could also exhibit righteous anger. People turning a place of worship into an idolatrous den of thieves was one of the things that provoked his wrath. A place that was intended to draw people closer to the Lord had become a place that actually drew people deeper into sin.

We don’t like to talk about the wrath of God or his righteous anger. A sweet, gentle, grandfather of a God. But the good news of the Gospel is good news because Jesus took the hit for us and took God’s wrath on himself so you would not have to. The anger of God, his wrath, was also righteous. We are deserving of punishment because of our rebellion against God. But God’s mercy is such that he made a way for us to avoid that punishment.

The existence of God’s righteous anger raises a question for us. When is it okay to be angry? Lot’s of followers of Jesus think that anger in itself is a sin. It isn’t. Jesus god angry and yet never sinned. In fact one could make the opposite case that to never get angry could be sinful. People who never got angry about the abuses in the Temple were actually sinning by approving of sin. If you never get angry over child abuse, or racism, or a whole host of other evils in the world then you may be guilty of turning a blind eye towards things that grieve God.

The trick to righteous anger is to never let the anger fester within you and take root in your heart. You need to be angry at the right thing, the sin, and always leave room for mercy and grace for the sinner. Sadly, we too often get angry and the sinner and leave too much room for the sin.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/12

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. John 2:7-8

Sometimes it seems like God asks us to do things that make no sense and don’t seem to be very spiritual at all. In 2 Kings 5 a man named Naaman has leprosy. He goes to Elijah to be healed and Elijah tells him to bath in the nearby river. Naaman is take aback by this because he expected Elijah to do something more dramatic, more powerful.

I have to believe that the servants Jesus spoke to in John chapter 2 where also a bit confused. If Jesus was going to do something about the wine running out shouldn’t there be something more dramatic? Shouldn’t there be calling down some power from heaven, some long, loud prayers at least. Yet all Jesus tells them to do is fill the vessels with water and then give some to the steward of the wedding. As far as they can tell Jesus didn’t even pray. Yet this miracle happens.

It should be a lesson to us that God doesn’t need to be outlandish in order to do the miraculous. He doesn’t need to send fire from heaven or knock people over with a word, or have someone shout and dance and break into a sweat in order to do something powerful. In fact, often times in the ministry of Jesus, he did the miraculous in very subtle ways. Often, as we will see, when Jesus healed someone he told them to be quiet about it. He wasn’t flamboyant, certainly not like many TV preachers today. That should tell us something. God doesn’t need charisma. He doesn’t need flash and glitz. In fact it seems that most often God works in very normal, everyday kinds of ways. But those are no less miraculous that when he sends fire from heaven.

The trick for us is to see God at work in the little things. We need to see God at work when someone crosses your path that you never expected but it becomes clear that he arranged it. We need to see God in the quietness of breaking bread and sharing it with one another in holy fellowship. We need to see the miraculous in the birth of a child and the rebirth of an adult into faith in Christ. We need to see the power of God at work in the sermon that speaks right to a current need. We need to see the miraculous in forty people showing up to pain the house of a single mom with cancer, even though they never met her before. Just like those servants who listened to Jesus and did a very mundane thing that turned into a miracle, you and I need to obey Jesus in the mundane things in life and let him turn them into powerful testimonies to Him.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/11

 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4

After Jesus gathered a few disciples they were invited to a wedding in Cana. Jewish weddings in the first century were a big deal and could last for days. The better the celebration the greater blessing the bride and groom would be expected to have in their marriage. On this occasion things go south and the wine runs out. Mary, the mother of Jesus comes asking him to do something. This is a very strange request because Jesus hasn’t performed a single miracle yet. But for some reason Mary seems to think he can fix this.

His response to her is even more perplexing. What did Jesus mean when he said his time had not yet come? And if that means he was not ready to tip his hand and make himself known through a miracle, why does he go ahead and perform the miracle anyway? The reason for saying his time had not yet come was that Jesus was focused on the primary reason he came into the world, to be the suffering servant who went to the cross in order to be the redeemer and savior. Nothing else would deflect him from that mission. It wasn’t the right time for people to begin looking to him as the messiah.

One would expect then that Jesus would not do anything about the wine. But Mary is not deterred and simply tells the servants to do whatever he, Jesus, tells you to do. At which point Jesus performs his first miracle. Even though this blog is focusing on the words of Jesus, it is the words of Mary in this story that are so powerful. “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do”. How much better would your life be if you just did whatever Jesus tells you to do? How much pain and hardship would you have avoided if you simply did that? Yet so often we think we know better. We try to nuance what he says or just ignore it. But Jesus has the words of life. He ignore him to our own peril. Do whatever he tells you to do. You can’t beat that.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/10

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19

Of all the words of Jesus these may be some of the most well known and famous. Yet for all the familiarity we have with these words, they may be among the most ignored words of Jesus, if not also misunderstood. The call that Jesus placed on his first disciples is the same call that has been placed on every follower of Jesus since that day, follow Jesus and make disciples.

In Christianity today there is a great deal of emphasis placed on believing in Jesus. Altar calls are given on a regular basis calling people to invite Jesus into their hearts and believe in him. Yet from the start Jesus called people to follow him. He wanted people not only to believe in him, and trust him, but Jesus calls for more. In calling disciples to follow him he is saying that the goal is not just to believe but to actually become like Jesus. In first century Judaism a disciple would do everything they could to become just like their master. Jesus wants us to become just like him.

The hard part is what does it mean to become like Jesus? The best clue to that is found in other words of Jesus, Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Being fully devoted to God means having every part of our lives devoted to bringing glory to God by the way we live. Loving those around us is the most clear way to demonstrate our devotion to God. That kind of love requires sacrificial living for the sake of others. It is exactly what Jesus did by coming into the world and giving his life for us. If you want to be more life Jesus then it means being more loving to those God puts in your path day to day. That is not always easy. Sometimes doing the loving thing is difficult and means we sacrifice for others. That is what Jesus did for you.

The second part of the words of Jesus gives a very practical way to show that love of others, be a fisher of men. What Jesus meant by that was that when we follow him we are to go out a reach others, bring them in, help them to follow Jesus as well. Being a fisher of men means to be a disciple maker. As you live your life following Jesus that means helping others to follow him as well. Yet sadly, most followers of Jesus never tell someone else about following Jesus. But being a fisher of men is not just about telling people about Jesus, it is also about mentoring others, being a disciple-maker.

If you are a parent, your first responsibility to your kids is to mentor them by being an example of a follower of Jesus. If you have friends, neighbors, co-workers, or people who God has simply put in your path, you have the privilege of being an example for them of what it means to follow Jesus. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Being intentional in following Jesus and helping others do the same is the only way to be a fisher of men and be like Jesus.

Who has Jesus put in your life for you to help become like Jesus? Who do you know who needs Jesus? Who do you know that you can spend time with like Jesus spent time with his disciples? Start by praying for God to show you who and then pray for them on a regular basis. Pray that God gives you the opportunity to be an example of what it means to follow Jesus. Have conversations with them about what Jesus means to you. Dig into God’s Word and let that word shape you and shape how you become a follower who helps others follow him as well.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/9

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:47-51

Imagine meeting Jesus and have him immediately complimenting you as a person who is transparent and honest. Then as you wonder in amazement how he even knows you, he tells you that he saw you when you were sitting under the fig tree. But you know that there is no way he could have seen you. You come to the realization that what you heard about Jesus being the Messiah must be true. He has a prophetic gift.

This is what happened to Nathaniel. But that is only the beginning of the story. Nathaniel goes from being amazed by Jesus to being somewhat embarrassed. He declares his faith in Jesus and in response Jesus lets him know that he has been impressed by very little. “You believe because I said I saw you under a fig tree you believe” Jesus says to him. But he then points out that Nathaniel hasn’t seen anything yet. Nathaniel is going to see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

It sounds strange to our 21st century ears but Nathaniel would have understood that Jesus was making reference to Jacobs Ladder when there was vision of a connection between Heaven and Earth. The angels ascending and descending showed the way to Heaven from Earth. Jesus us telling Nathaniel that he will be privileged to see that way to Heaven opened. By saying that they will does ascend and descend on the Son of Man, Jesus is in essence saying that he is that ladder, that connection between Heaven and Earth.

This had to be astonishing to Nathaniel. It was one thing to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, it is another all together to believe that Jesus will be the way to Heaven. This was not what was expected of the Messiah. His work was to make this world a better place. But Jesus is raising the bar and letting Nathaniel and us know that he is here to do something far more glorious than just make life better. Jesus came in order to open the way to heaven so that we could have access to the glorious wonder and majesty of God.

Let’s think for a moment about how the realization that Jesus is opening the way to heaven fits with the transparency of character found in Nathaniel. One of the most common qualities you find in the lives of church going people is hiding who they really are. Ever since Adam and Eve hid from God we have been hiding from God and one another out of shame over our sin. We live some level of deceit. By coming and giving his life for us and for our salvation Jesus made it possible for us to be honest about our sin and brokenness. He made it possible for us to experience the deep, deep love of God in spite of our sinfulness. You don’t need to pretend to be better than you are. You don’t need to live in shame because of your past or your present. You can come to Jesus in openness and transparency, without deceit, and find the same kind of welcome and embrace that he gave Nathaniel.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/8

42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

After Andrew spent the day with Jesus he immediately went and found his brother Simon and introduced him to Jesus. Andrew becomes known for the fact that every time we see him in the scriptures, unless it is simply to list his name with the other Apostles. he is bringing someone to Jesus. His enthusiasm for Jesus cannot be contained and he is constantly thinking about who he can introduce to Jesus. That kind of zeal is often common when people first come to faith in Christ. Sadly it often wears off over time. Andrew had been searching for the messiah for some time and when he found him he is completely changed and filled with joy. It is a joy that has to be shared. That certainly should cause us to ask, “what of my zeal for the Lord?”. Do you still find yourself enamored with Jesus and wanting others to know him? Or has the fire of your affection grown cold over time?

We also see the encounter that Jesus has with Simon once Andrew introduces them. In this encounter Jesus gives Simon a new name, Cephas in Aramaic. The Greek translation is Peter, or Petras which means rock. Jesus is letting Peter know that he is a different person now because of his encounter with Jesus and that difference is symbolized by a new name that speaks to his new character. Peter is going to be a rock of the faith. He isn’t that completely at the moment. In fact he will demonstrate anything but that surety before Christ is crucified. But eventually we will see Peter living out a strong and vibrant faith in Jesus. The new name is as much a prediction of the change Jesus promises to bring about in the life of Simon Peter.

When any of us come to faith in Jesus he promises to make us into new people. Giving Simon a new name is symbolic of that new identity. You may not be given a new name by Jesus but you are given a new identity as a daughter or son of God. You become a child of the king. Your identity is as a saint, a holy one, who is beloved of the Father. You may not yet be all that implies but neither was Simon when Jesus called him to a new identity and new life. Even though Peter stumbled often in the years ahead, he eventually became the Rock that Jesus declared he would be. He experienced the reality that Jesus already saw. You will eventually experience the reality of being a child of the Father, who is deeply loved, even if you do not feel much like it today. That will come not because of who you are, but because of who Jesus is and his promise to make you what he has already declared.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/7

39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. John 1:39

When Andrew and his companion asked Jesus where he was staying, Jesus understood it was not simply a question out of curiosity or to make conversation. They wanted to spend time with him. They wanted to get to know him because they were intrigued by John the Baptists description of Jesus as The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So instead of just saying where he was staying, Jesus invited them to come and see for themselves.

As a result of the invitation to come and see, the two men spent that day with Jesus. They had their desire fulfilled beyond their wildest imaginations. They got to know Jesus better than they could have ever dared hope. Andrew was so enthralled by Jesus after spending time with him that he went and found his brother Peter and declared that he had found the Messiah.

We see a few things in this brief encounter. First there is the openness on the part of Jesus to engage anyone who is curious about his. But he engages them on levels far deeper than they anticipated. Andrew could have never anticipated the way Jesus set aside his entire day and devoted it to Andrew and his friend. And this is what Jesus does. He doesn’t simply answer your request for information. He invites you into a relationship that is a journey beyond your dreams. He invites you to come and see who he is and what he is doing. He invites you to sit down to a meal and share life together.

Second, we see what a real encounter with Jesus can do to you. Andrew could not help but let others know about Jesus. When you encounter Jesus and have your life changed by him, you feel a compelling desire to let others know about this wonderful savior who has brought you freedom from guilt and shame, who has made you feel alive again, who has given you forgiveness and purpose.

That is as is should be. And yet we see little evidence of such a compelling story from followers of Jesus today. One recent study reports that 25% of all Americans identify as Evangelical. That means in part that they believe Jesus is the Messiah and their faith in him has brought them the freedom and forgiveness previously mentioned. That is one out of every four Americans. Yet we see very little of the kind of joy that drove Andrew to find Peter and share the good news with him. What is missing? Among so many things I have to believe that far too few of them have actually answered the call of Jesus to come and see, come and spend time, come be on the journey to change your life and your perspective. Rather, we have turned a relationship with Jesus into a quick prescription for forgiveness and a minor tweak of a life’s complication so we can move on feeling better about ourselves rather than enamored with and in love with Jesus.

Have you answered the call of Jesus to come and see, come and spend time, come and devote your life to him so that he can bring you what you really need, freedom, and forgiveness, and a new life?

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/6

38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” John 1:38

After defeating every temptation Satan threw his way, Jesus returned to where John was baptizing people and John pointed to Jesus declaring him to be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Two of the Baptists followers, one being Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, approach Jesus when he turns around and asks them a simple yet deeply profound and important question, “What are you seeking?”.

In that case of Andrew and his companion they were clearly seeking to get to know this Lamb of God that John spoke of. It shows in answer, “Where are you staying?. They were not asking just to be able to know the location of Jesus’ abode so that they had some bit of information. They wanted to know so they could actually accompany him and get to know him better. They were looking for something more, something significant. They had a yearning to fill and emptiness. What they were seeking was Jesus.

In 1987 the Irish rock band U2 came out with their Joshua Tree album which contained the hit song, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. The song is filled with images of a life spent searching high and low for something that mattered, that lasted, that made a real difference. The second half of the song focuses on the Kingdom Come and one who loosed the chains and took all our shame. Even with that realization the chorus still resounds, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. There is more yet to come when the Kingdom of God is finally and fully revealed. Then and only then will the yearning cease.

So the real question is, what are you seeking? What is it that you want out of life? Is it to be happy? Is it to be successful ? Is it power, or comfort, or security that you are really looking for? Is it pleasure or fame? Ultimately none of that will satisfy. Only a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus will do. Andrew and his friend somehow seemed to sense that. They saw something in Jesus that they had never seen nor experienced before and the wanted more of that. You will never have your yearnings fully satisfied until Jesus, and a deeper relationship with him is what you seek.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/5

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:10

We get to the third temptation faced by Jesus in the wilderness and Satan puts it all on the line. He will give Jesus all that he he surveys from the highest mountain peak if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. He is proposing blatant idolatry, the worship of something, anything, other than the Lord God. In this case it is the worship of Satan himself. That is ultimately what all of our temptations are really about; idolatry. Every temptation we give in to is a statement that we prize that temptation above the Lord. In that moment we place the experience of the sin above the experience of intimacy with and obedience to the Lord. All sin is the placing of something other than God in the center of our affections.

One of the tragedies of giving in to temptation is that it always gives us less than God wants to give us. Think of the temptation given to Jesus. Bow down and worship Satan and Jesus can be master over all that he surveys from the highest mountain peak. Yet, when he is obedient to the Father and fulfills his mission of laying down his life, Jesus is raised up to take his throne over all creation and every knee will bow down to him and declare that he is Lord. (Philippians 2:9-11) Satan offered him a few miles of a kingdom. The Father gave him all creation.

We so often settle for far less than what the Lord offers us. Sometimes because we don’t believe God really loves us. Sometimes because we believe the lie that God is trying to keep us from really enjoying life. Sometimes because, like little children, we can only think about the cookie in from of us and not the feast to come if we just don’t eat the cookie.

But there is still more in the passage. Jesus dismisses Satan by commanding that he be gone, and by rightly quoting scripture back to his face. That is authority. It is an authority that comes from the Word of God rightly understood and handled. There is a power in the Scriptures that goes far beyond the wisdom and inspiration of the words themselves. God attends to his word and by his word makes things happen. He spoke and there was light. He spoke and Lazarus came forth from the grave. He spoke and Satan fled.

The need to know and believe and apply the Word of God to everyday life situations is essential for a life that is blessed and flourishing. God wants you to have so much more than Satan offers. Will you trust God’s Word on that?

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/4

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:7

After Jesus resisted the first temptation, Satan came back at him with a second temptation. This time Satan changes tactics and actually quotes scripture to Jesus. After taking Jesus to the top of the Temple he proposes a challenge, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here”. Then quoting Psalm 91:11, 12 he says that angels will protect him.

The temptation strikes us as odd. What is so tempting about throwing yourself off the top of a building just so angels can rescue you? Actually the temptation has nothing to do with the thrill of base jumping. It is actually a temptation to doubt the word of God. It is Satan’s basic tactic that he uses time and again. Consider what Jesus has just gone through. When he was baptized by John the voice from heaven spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son”. Now Satan is trying to cast doubt in the mind of Jesus. “Are you really the Son of God?” “How can you be sure?” “Why don’t you jump off here and prove it since the Bible says he will protect his Son?”

In order to try to get Jesus to do something rash, Satan takes scripture out of context. Psalm 91 is about the protection of the Lord as you go about your regular, normal, daily life. It never considers that you might decide to take a flying leap of a building. So Jesus responds with a scripture quote of his own. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. There is a difference between faith and presumption. Faith is about trusting what the Lord has said. Presumption is expecting God to do what we want for our own ends and desires. The frightening thing is that our presumption is often based on a faulty understanding of God’s Word.

Jesus demonstrates his unswerving trust in the words of the Father. He knows that he is the Son of God. That has been made clear in the declaration at his baptism. There is no need to do something to make God prove what he has already declared. Jesus also demonstrates, once again, how important it is to be well versed in scripture and why context is so critical to knowing the will of God. A sound knowledge of scripture comes in very handy when facing temptation. There is power in the Word of God to protect us from falling into the snares of the Devil. But you must be a student of the Word because Satan will twist it and seek to knock you off course.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/2

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Matthew 3:15

In the blink of an eye twenty years have passed in the life of Jesus. We know nothing of his life after his encounter in the Temple at age twelve. We can assume some things. As the oldest son he would have worked with his father Joseph in construction. We know Joseph as a carpenter but in the first century that is a catch all for a contractor. He would have built houses, furniture, worked with wood and stone and would have taught his sons his trade. We don’t hear anything of Jospeh after the events when Jesus was twelve and can assume that he passed away at some point. Jesus would have stayed and run the family business until his younger brothers would take over. So with that he begins his public ministry by going to be baptized by John, his cousin.

We are told that John was the forerunner of the Messiah, one crying in the wilderness to make the path straight. He was baptizing people and calling for them to repent, turn from their sin and back to God. Thousands came out to the wilderness to hear him and many repented and were baptized as a public sign of that repentance. When Jesus presents himself to be baptized, John objects. Why would Jesus come to be baptized? He is the Messiah, the Unblemished Lamb. He has no need to repent. John is confused but Jesus insists that it is the right thing to do. He must do this to fulfill all righteousness and so John relents and Jesus is baptized.

But now we are left confused. What in the world did Jesus mean by this? We have the same questions John had, why does Jesus want to be baptized. That is supposed to be for sinners who need to repent. For centuries biblical commentators have wrestled with the same questions. But I think there is an answer that is actually very moving and compelling. It all has to do with Isaiah 53:11-12.

In Matthews Gospel, the word fulfill is typically used when talking about prophecy. Isaiah 53 is one of the most important prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. verse 11 & 12 we are told that the Messiah will be a righteous servant of the Lord and as such he will take on our iniquities. Jesus is telling John that he is the righteous one and this is the right thing to do in order to take on our sins. But it is verse 12 that drives the point home, “he will be numbered among the transgressors”. Jesus is being baptized as the opening act of his ministry in order to identify with you and me. By his baptism he is saying, “I am one of you, I am experiencing life with you in order to be the one who brings eternal life to you”. From the very beginning Jesus is saying, “I am here for you”.

I have to wonder if Jesus didn’t direct his gaze at the thousands who gathered to hear John. I wonder if there wasn’t a knowing look between the two of them. They shared an understanding in that moment that Jesus had come to be the one who would give himself for those thousands and many more. And in that moment, John relented and baptized the one person in all of history who didn’t need it, but who did it to let you an me know that he was here for us.

Why I Refuse to be Tolerant

It is all the rage today, the call to be tolerant. It has reached such a fevered pitch that one of the most brutal things you can say about someone is that they are intolerant. To be intolerant has become the worst of all possible character flaws. It immediately casts the intolerant person in the light of being a neanderthal, a brute, narrow minded, bigoted, and self righteous. It is taken as a given by many in our society that tolerance is the highest of virtues and to be intolerant it the greatest of social evils. Listening to the rhetoric will quickly convince you that anyone with half a brain would see that tolerance is what we need to save the world from all the evils that divide us. High on that list is the evil of people who are convinced they are right about something and others are wrong. According to the call for tolerance they are the epitome of intolerance and all that is wrong in the world.

Well count me among those who are responsible for all that is wrong in the world. I refuse to be tolerant. In fact I think we are being sold a bill of goods by all this talk of being tolerant. We are being told it will fix everything when in fact I think it is making everything worse. I will go so far as to say that if I am tolerant of you, I am actually treating you in a way that is demeaning and even condescending. How can I saw that? Let me give you a description of what tolerance is really about. Picture yourself as a child in the back seat of your parents car. Your younger sibling is next to you and he or she is just being a pain, bugging you, poking you. sticking their tongue out at you and doing all the little annoying things that younger siblings are so good at doing. You complain about it and your mother says something like, “Now, now, you are the older one, you need to learn to not get so upset by your younger brother or sister. Just don’t let it bother you.” Of course they keep doing what they do and actually ramp up the annoyance by a factor of ten because they know mom won’t do anything about it. You find it incredibly difficult to deal with and protest again. At which point mom has some harsh words for you about not being more understanding of your younger sibling. Suddenly you are the one who is wrong for not “tolerating” their behavior. If you figure out how to tolerate your younger sibling and not react to them I can predict what your relationship will be like over time. You will not be close to them. You will not want them around. You will mostly be annoyed by them and try to avoid interacting much with them. Why? because tolerance means to put up with someone by basically ignoring them. So much for tolerance helping us to care more about one another.

As a follower of Jesus I have to ask myself the question, “Does Jesus want me to be tolerant?” The answer is a loud and resounding NO! Jesus never said to be tolerant. Being tolerant is the least virtuose way to approach relationships and it does nothing to bring people together. Jesus never said, tolerate your neighbors. He never said tolerate your enemies and put up with them. Jesus called us to something higher and harder than tolerance. He called us to love our neighbors and our enemies. If Jesus was just tolerant of us then He would have never gone to the cross for us. He would have simply sat in heaven and said, well I disagree with what they are doing and what they think, but if I am going to be tolerant then I need to not say anything and must leave them to their own devices. Instead Jesus came into the world and engaged it, out of a deep and eternal love for us.

Jesus was unwilling to settle for tolerance. Instead He set the bar far higher. He made love for one another the highest ideal. This is where the world gets love and tolerance confused. Tolerance allows us to ignore others and not engage them. Love requires us to engage people even when we disagree with them. In fact, love at times requires us to disagree with people. Jesus disagreed with people on a regular basis. He told the Pharisees and other religious leaders how wrong they were on several occasions, even calling them whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. He once rebuked Simon Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan”. Jesus would fail the tolerance test today. And it is a good thing. Why? Because be understood that love is the higher calling and love sometimes requires disagreement. If I really love my sons and I think they are doing something that will ruin them, tolerance says I can’t disagree with them. Love says I do whatever is necessary to protect them and help them avoid disaster.

So for 2017 I refuse to be tolerant. What I commit to being is a follower of Christ who shoots higher than tolerance. I aim to demonstrate the higher calling of loving my neighbor not just tolerating them. I commit to loving enemies as Jesus would want me to, not just ignoring them out of an ethic of tolerance. I commit to having conversations with people who I vehemently disagree with and loving them with Christ’s love as best I can. Care to join me?

When Politics Divides Christians

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” A portion of Jesus prayer in John 17

For several years I have taught theology and leadership courses at International Leadership University in Burundi, Africa. Burundi is right next to Rwanda and is made up of the same Hutu and Tutsi tribes. The Rwandan Genocide was made infamous in America and Europe by the motion picture, Hotel Rwanda. The same thing was happening in Burundi at that time and in fact lasted much longer. It is estimated the in the mid 90s, close to 300,000 Burundians were killed in the violence that divided the country. The population at the time was about 7 million people. To give you a sense of the impact this had on the country, from a percentage of the population standpoint it is the same as if 16 million Americans were killed in just a few years of political and racial violence.

A few years ago I was teaching a class on leadership to 40 officers in the Burundian Army. They were several months away from a potentially divisive presidential election that could easily open old wounds and renew the bloodshed. I asked them to consider this question, To whom or what is their highest allegiance? Are they first a member of their tribe or of Burundi? Are they first a citizen of Burundi or a member of the Army? Are the first a follower of Christ or a follower of a political or tribal leader? This was a serious and difficult question for them. They knew that there was a high potential that they could be forced to make life and death decisions that depended on their answers.

When I see what is happening in the church in the current presidential election I have thought back many times to what I saw happening in Burundi. It was not only officers in the Army that I asked those questions, but also to more than 150 pastors who we trained in church planting. You see when the political clashes erupted into violence, the church was caught up in it. People who claimed to be followers of Christ, turned against their neighbors who were of the other tribe. In some cases, pastors turned against people in their own flocks. Countless numbers died because of that kind of tribalism that superseded unity in Christ.

Now before you dismiss this by saying, that’s Africa. This is America. Can’t happen in a “civilized, western, enlightened culture”. Let me remind you of Germany and Italy in the 1930’s. The atrocities of the Holocaust were born out of the cultures that gave us Mozart and Michelangelo. Human depravity is not limited by cultural boundaries. But let’s step back from the edge a bit. I don’t for a minute think America will erupt into a genocide over this presidential election. But what I do think can, and may already have happened, is that followers of Christ will abandon the oneness Jesus calls for in his prayer in favor of political tribalism in which we vilify people who support the other candidate.

I have already seen it from both sides of the aisle. People supporting one candidate question whether you can really be a Christian and support the other candidate. It doesn’t matter if it is the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, or any other candidate. All sides seem to be raising who you vote for as one of the marks of being a true Christ follower. I have read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I have never found any verse, or group of verses, that even taken out of context and twisted,  could possibly be used to justify who you vote for as a measure of your salvation.

What Jesus prays for is that all His followers would be united and one as He and the Father are united and one. What does that unity look like? Is it political, social, economic? No! It is a unity of love for one another, no matter what. That’s what Jesus is talking about at the end of the passage. Father, let the world see your love for them and me and our love for one another. That doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. That means honoring, serving, caring for, respecting one another, and even humbly admitting that the other person may have a point or two. That is what unity looks like. Jesus does not pray for uniformity in which we are all looking, talking, acting, and voting alike. He is praying that we love one another, even in the midst of our differences.

What concerns Jesus deeply in this prayer is that if His followers do not show that kind of love and unity then the world will never really believe us. If the world never believes us then it will never believe in Jesus and never believe that the Father sent Him into the world as the Savior. They will never believe that Jesus and the Father are one because we are not one. The very message of Jesus and the heart of the Gospel is at stake.

It’s not about who you vote for. That is actually of little concern to God by comparison. Yes you read that right. God has very little concern about who you vote for. If He did then Jesus would have made that the focus of His prayer. By the way He prayed this as He was only hours away from His death on a Cross so that should tell you something of the importance He placed on this. What Jesus prayed about was not who we vote for but how we behaved towards one another. That’s what He cares about. He cares that we are one in our love for one another, no matter what. We can discuss, disagree, argue, and do so passionately. But we must do so in the knowledge that at the core of it all followers of Christ share the indwelling of One Holy Spirit and are One in Christ. We also share being sinners saved by grace and not by works, political affiliation, how we vote, or our stance on immigration, taxes, or any other political issue.

Do you think this is the first time an election has been so heated and divisive? If your answer is yes then I know you slept during American History class. It may be the most divisive in our memory, but in the history of our country this is not unique. The election of 1860 ended up resulting in a Civil War and there was nothing Civil about the campaign leading up to that election. My point being, God is bigger than the election. Presidents come and go, every four or eight years. And the country keeps on. God is still sovereign. What He cares about is that in the midst of such vitriol and divisiveness, His people would be One, united in Christ, loving one another, loving God with all we have an all we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

 

More or Less Religious?

There is lots of hand wringing going on over the rise of the numbers of people in America who claim no religious affiliation. Tagged with the title “The Nones”, they tend to be younger which leads people to project the death of religion in the future. Among evangelicals it is easy to find people who fall in lockstep with the tales of woe. Far from being something that concerns me, I look at the rise of the Nones as a huge opportunity. The reason for that view is that people are less inclined to thoughtlessly align themselves to a religious group. That can only be good for Christianity which requires a dedication of one’s whole self and not just lip service.

Marcia Pally is a friend and fellow writer who focuses on issues of religion in culture and teaches at both NYU and Fordham. I had the privilege of being interviewed by her as she did research for her book The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision for the Common Good. In this blog post she does a wonderful job of pointing out what is really going on with religious affiliation in America.

The implications of what Marcia says are numerous for people who want to provocatively follow Christ. Perhaps on the top of the list is that people are looking for a faith experience that has power to it, real answers, and gives them purpose and meaning. Ideally that is what the life of every Christ-follower should look like.

Here is the link to Marcia’s blog post. Enjoy!

Are People More or Less Interested in Religion?