July 4th (America and the Church)


I wanted to post on this again, since today is the Fourth of July. I struggle with the idea that America is the nation of God. It doesn’t seems to make much sense to me. I have been looking at references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven in the New Testament and there are a few things that stand in the way of calling this nation the Nation of God.

1) America wasn’t around during the time that the Scriptures were written. If Jesus was representing the Kingdom of God, Heaven (which is defined as the place where God dwells), and America had not been born, then it would have to mean that there these two are not parallels. The events leading to America started much later in world history. Jesus also was speaking to the only political entity to ever be given such a title, which was Israel. The title has changed, since Israel is not necessarily the nation of God. That title has fallen to the Church, which has opened the membership to everyone across nations, kinships, races, etc. God has merely allowed America to gain much, but the frightening question is why He has done so.

2) The Kingdom in the times referred to in the Bible is ruled by God. There is nothing in the founding documents, or in current American law that gives God the ruling of President of the USA (God can actually only be totalitarian since His rule is conditioned on the complete obedience of those under him).

3) The Prophets, Jesus, and the writers of the letters continually mention or reference the kingdom coming. If the Church has fulfilled the messianic hope of the new kingdom, then it must follow that America can fall in line and recognize our commissioning by God (my apologies to the Republican platform). Although I am American, I must say that when it come to representing either this country or the nation of God, I choose God.

This is not a post of rebellion, but of perspective. I do not condone anyone seeking to use God as an excuse to defy what is not evil in itself. God has told us that governments are meant to promote order and peace (though they fail, and that is the exception) in Romans 13. Although it is assuming the correct actions of the governing, it still stands as a testament against fulfilling your selfish desire for anarchy or pointless liberation.

In Revelation 21:24, John shows us that God is not about destroying the nations, but having them follow him (and that would mean one world government ordained by God, to the ones who think one world government is evil). Also in 22:1-7 states that the end times are a time of healing the nations, which means that we should be about healing the nation with what we have to offer. If a nation is being heavily taxed, lets offer advice of mercy. When it is oppressing, let’s bring words of challenge. When the people are violent against their rulers, let’s offer creative consequences that teach and do not kill. And remember…

The Church, not America, is the Nation of God,

and the Church will see vindication and glory, not America.

So go out and live what the Gospel teaches to the world. I hope we see many great things in these end times (which, to clarify, has been the last 2000 years, give or take).

Grace and Peace.

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Avaritia


“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” BCP

Avaritia is the Latin word for Avarice or Greed. This concept seems very perceivable in our culture through commentary on government in movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. We are all constantly aware of greed, because it is a sin that is very evident in all people. How many times have we ignored more important matters in order to have more money and things.

What makes Greed so bad is relational trauma. Much like soldiers with PTSD, we can cause long-term effects on us and others by competing on the battlefield of material gain. There is nothing but death there, physical and spiritual. It does not bring life to the participant.

We were not made for this death, because it is final and without hope of a future. There is another death we take part in, one in covenant with God as we join in the death of Christ. But this death is a death of hope. Although it is found in sacrifice, not greed, it experiences the promise of resurrection. It is filled with eternal life, not just in the future, but immediately.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to. – Philippians 2:5-6

What are you desiring more the God’s grace and love? Do you find more happiness in material wealth or relationships that reflect Jesus? Are you willing to make Christ the center of your pursuit of satisfaction and the model for your life?

Symbol Series: Beginnings


We follow a very old faith. For over two thousand years we have seen many eras of meaning, symbol, and significance. These eras have paved the way for later movements. Despite the desire to completely abandon the old ways and pursue a completely new way of Christian, what remains a reality is that we have to learn from what has become the past in order to wisely approach the future. In the Christian faith, we have two millenniums to work with. We can learn from our predecessors what the ethos of our faith is and the direction our faith should go.

The focus for this series is certain symbols of the early church, within the first two hundred years. Christians began as a minority religion that was shunned by the majority in society. They were not liked and sometimes had lies spread about them by Jews and Gentiles alike. That led to much of their communication outside of gathering times to drawn symbols. These symbols indicated the presence of a Christian community that would meet in that location as well as communicated a core of what a disciple of Jesus was. They would draw their identities which would include themes such as community, evangelism, hope, resurrection, and the person of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

The value of these symbols for us is the reminder that we have had a mission for the last two thousand years. The Spirit of God has been informing us of our narrative. We are part of this same story and are part of this community that finds its identity in Christ. So everything that Jesus did or commanded us to do was put into a picture that everyone could understand. That is something we still are supposed to do today. Our presence needs to be communicated. We can use symbol to describe our purpose and to remind each other that we are part of a movement to change the world. We are the spearhead movement of the kingdom that will break down the walls that have been built by the world.

As we move from message to message, we will explore some symbols and the unique messages they communicated with the believers. We will also dive into their message for us today. Are we following Jesus like the early church was trying to do? Are we try to at least head in His direction.

(Series inspired by and some content taken from Early Christianity: In Their Own Words, by Eberhard Arnold.)

Out of Reach


Have you had a dream where you were trying to reach something but you could never reach it. It would always be just at your fingertips and out of reach. That feeling is very frustrating and is tiring. It leaves you tired in the morning and cranky until you get your first cup of coffee down. That feeling, if you recall the dream, sticks with you. That thing you can never reach. It can even hit you in the most spiritual contexts. Most of religion has a way trying to reach something and attain something. But what humanity has not been able to see is quite impossible to reach. How do you connect with a great reality that you cannot see and cannot explain fully?

People always try to reach God, or something out there that is real that would explain life and give meaning. That is why all throughout history we have seen religions try their hardest to reach out to the unknown and benefit from. If you look at the Old Testament, every other religion seems to be reaching out to with all the rules rituals and rules to get to God and be blessed by His presence. The only problem is that it has been just out of our reach. The moment we feel as if we are being blessed, moments turn for the worst. If we follow these efforts, we find ourselves in those nightmares where we cannot seem reach what we want to reach.

Ever since the fall, we have been stuck in a sick cycle of reaching out to God, but not being able to fully reach Him. But the great thing about God has always been reaching out to us. Even right after the fall, He was calling humanity to let Him change their lives for the better. One story that shows us the difference between being religious and letting God chase us. The story is of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of the mountain facing off. They were there to see who could summon their God to answer. The prophets of Baal commit to rituals of yelling louder and louder and then end up cutting themselves in order to get their god to answer them and give them what they need. They are never successful. Elijah, however, knows that God is present enough to just hear him as he prays for an answer. He gets a very powerful answer.

The great thing about the God who answered is that he was reaching out. He always reaches out. If He was not reaching out to us, we would have to yell and come up ways to grab His attention and hopefully getting Him to do things for us. But our God has come to us and can here us. He wants to be close to us in our history. And we don’t have to reach far. We do not even have to reach. He has already put His hand into our lives and is constantly calling us to a better purpose. That is what should amaze us, that a God that humanity rebelled against has decided to chase us and change our lives for good.

People trying to reach God creates two things, people frustrated at not feeling the spirit or people confident that they have completely experienced God with no need for more. Those are things God is out to stop. He wants us to be confident that His Spirit is here with us and that He is taking us on a journey. This is not an arbitrary journey that He is making us travel for His own amusement or to make us jump through the hoops to please Him. He really wants us to have a purpose towards greatness to create faith, hope, and love. He wants us to be the people He created us to be. What will we be? Are we going to keep reaching out to the things we will never reach? Or will we let God reach out to us and transform us and the world around us to be beautiful?

Heroic: 2 Kings 24-25


There are times when our communities can forget what we stand for and fall into something that we cannot get ourselves out of. The thing we fall into is that we try to become our own rulers instead following God’s will, something that we have been attempting for thousands upon thousands of years. That story always turns out with someone getting hurt or oppressed throughout Scripture. We have this tendency for trying to take over what God has given us. All through our history, we have been trying to take over God’s throne. This story repeats itself in over and over again and shows up in these two passages for today. The kings of Israel wanted to take control over the world and make it what they wanted to be. They wanted to fit in with the rest of the world. The only problem was that this was a world of of violence, oppression, and greed, much like todays world.

It is in this world that trouble is born. If we participate a world that is dog eat dog, we will try to be the top dog. We always tend to forget that at some point there will be a bigger dog ready to eat us. It’s a known fact that if we are alive long enough in the world, there will be someone else bigger and better than us. That reality makes this world end up in a cycle of having its own system turn on itself. The kings who did the oppressing in this story were attacked and oppressed by a bigger power called Babylon. The story ends up being a tug of war for power until Babylon finally places its own people in power and says we are not going to let a small country threaten our thirst for power again. Israel ends up having its land stolen from under her, just like she took it from the weak in her own community. It’s the ultimate ironic twist. People so good at taking from other end up having things taken away in the same way.

Does this not make us raise questions? If this system is going to continue to cannabalize itself, then why keep it? Is there a better system out there that would promote life for everyone instead of taking life from people? By the end of these two chapters, we see God begin to intervene for the people of Israel. As the last king of Israel is imprisoned by Babylon, one of the rulers sees him positively and begins to give him bigger and better things. This intervention stands in stark contrast of what Israel’s king did. The king, who came out of a reality of taking, is being subjected to reality of generosity and peace. God is trying to grab his attention and say that peace and love is supposed to overtake destruction and greed. The story ends with this. It’s the rhetorical ending asking if God’s people will take back what they were meant to be, a light for the nations.

What in our communities of faith is stopping us from being heroes of faith? Are we taking life from people? Do we offer peace, hope, and love? Not just spiritual talk, but real and tangible items of hope. Do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the orphans? Do we seek the betterment of the weak people in our society? To make it more applicable, do we try to take away what could be given to those in need? Some people would rather fight others with no second thought that those people could be ministered to. They look at taking care of those who have little as a sign of weakness. Even some Christians will say this. When you look back to the first century Christians, we see that we come from a people who would originally care selflessly for people and be a voice against violence. Today there are many believers who are standing between God and the world and are turning their back on what God has for them and the world. How long until some of the same things are done to us? Are we safe from being on the other end? There is no guarantee that we would not be the person in need. In the moment of need we become acutely aware of how being deprived of the necessities of life makes life hard and miserable. If we could only know what it means to need Jesus and need some hope, we could understand the command from Jesus to do for others what we would want done for us.

This is a call to thought. What does it mean to follow a Prince of Peace and to take seriously that he has come to bring life to the fullest? God is calling us towards a new reality. We have too long been chasing a reality of greed. We have for too long chased a reality that is not based on faith in Jesus, but is faith in our own ability to get what we need. We should put away those efforts and pursue the reality of heaven, where there will be no one dying, no lack of what we need, and no reason to mourn our present state. If the Church took up this reality, people would begin to wonder at us. People drop the world and come to Jesus, but we have to follow that calling. God has invited, but will we respond. That is where this story ended, but the question has hung in the air ever since the Fall.

Heroic: 2 Kings 22:1-18


Ever discovered a little peace of God’s heart and been so surprised at it’s direction? Every time I sense a new thing revealed by God, I am always surprised at where He is going or what I have been missing this whole time. God is always and has always had a plan and a path that He is carving. He also is continually inviting people to carve that path and help other people find this path.

King Josiah had one of these moments. Josiah understood that he was supposed to honor God and did everything he could to do just that. He even went as far as to remodel the temple. During the renovation, someone discovered that there was an old scroll that had not been read in ages. This ended up being the scroll of the covenant between God and Israel. After Josiah heard what was written in the scroll, he went into panic thinking that God could destroy them at any moment. He orders the leaders of the temple to speak to God for Israel.

This is the moment the story accelerates quickly. The leaders, since they just discovered the scroll, went to a prophet. This woman gave instructions from God to all the men concerning God’s mercy. What makes the story interesting is that it was not the finding of the scroll or following some ritual that made God show mercy. What God responded to was the humility and repentance of Josiaj. Josiah knew that God was over Him. Any indication that he was rebelling against God devastated him. The direction that Israel was going and the direction they were supposed to be going was not in sync.

Many churches end up at these crossroads and are faced with a decision. Will they keep the status quo rituals, even if God is heading in a direction that will call them to abandon those things? Or will they be so in tune with God’s direction that they will embrace the surprise of God’s plans with humility, patience, and perseverance? It’s a question that even the Israelites struggle with. They loved the way they did things. It made them feel safe and in control.

But God never asked what was safe for us. He actually asks for us to risk everything for Him.

He never asked for us to control everything. He asks us to follow him into the way of the suffering servant.

God’s plan always involves reaching out to rescue and serve, even to those who do not get Him. He wants us to carve that path and remind each other that servanthood defines the Kingdom. God is adamant through Jesus that all believers serve and love. That is a core if the DNA of faith. Jesus in Philippians showed us that servanthood and submission is what leads us towards true victory. The cross with the servant hanging on is mysterious because that ends up with the empty tomb.

God’s plans may surprise, but they will win. Not by force or by oppression, but through serving God and serving others. That is a plan worth following and worth seeing win.

Heroic: 2 Kings 20:1-20


One thing that heroes of faith always have practiced is the relationship with the God who has pursued them. This relationship leads to things that most people would miss when just pursuing religious ritual or status quo. Having a relationship with the God of heaven means learning what he sounds like and how His character affects the world. These kind of relationships are something  that are experienced by staying closely in contact with the one whom you’re connecting with. Hezekiah got to see this kind of relationship with God from prayer.

One of the things that some people expect to have happen is an automatic connection to God just because they read a prayer, but most of the time we need the communication with God. When we we connect with God in prayer or reflection we begin to know God’s voice and begin to recognize what his voice will direct us towards. But it takes connection. It’s not that God is not talking and reaching out to us, what is really happening is that when we do not communicate is that we do not hear what God is saying and do not see what He is doing. It is pretty much a practice of the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” The problem with the ignorance is that it is an ignorance that is chosen and is applied towards God. This is the story of the people of Israel over and over again. They know of God, but when it comes to it they did not practice the awareness of His presence. It was taken for granted, which meant that this project of faith was doomed to failure if the people did not switch their focus back to God.

Before one begins to say “Lets bring our country back to God,” I want to take us a different direction which Scriptures are more inclined to. When we look at this story, Hezekiah and Isaiah are promoted as faithful examples for us to look up to. The reason why they are examples is because of their connection to God. Note that it is not their commitment to Israel as a nation that makes them good. Many other Kings were invested in the survival and prosperity of this small country. It does not take a holy man to have national pride. What does define them is that they wanted direct connection to the God who saved them and were responding to Him by communicating with Him and reflecting on what he revealed to them. It’s very easy to make a building, institution, or even a nation the defining mark of what it looks like to be in relationship with God, but the Bible is very clear that relationship is directly between God and humanity and that God actually has His own nation and does not need a human one.

What we can say is that lets bring each other back to God. God desires us to be close to Him and to hear what He is telling us. All of the human race is able to experience this closeness and can see what he has no matter where they are from or how they originally define themselves. When God overtakes us, we are adopted into His family and become apart of His country. When Hezekiah has things revealed to Him, it almost seems like He is expecting God to reveal something to Him. His relationship and his spiritual awareness of God’s voice is so practiced that it seems like the one thing he is absolutely certain of is that God will speak, whether it be comforting or challenging. He experiences both in this passage.

One thing that always comes with things this connection is responsibility of response. When we receive good news from a friend or a friend tells us something important, we usually respond because of the relationship. God is the same way. Hezekiah receives great news that God is extending his life which definitely led to celebration and the foretelling of Babylonian invasion led to deep reflection and sorrow for his people. When we come close to God we learn to hear Him when he gives us good news along with possible bad news. The nature of a good relationship will lead us to respond to God and to the humanity that God loves.  But this responsibility comes with being part of a large movement to save the world. We have been given an opportunity to change the world together. All it takes is responding to a God who reaches out in love to heal the word. Communicating with God opens the doors of possibility and opportunity to experiencing what God has for us.

Will we allow God to speak to us and give us a chance to join the movement to heal the world? Will we open our ears to hear God’s plans? We will join into the plans he has?

Heroic: 2 Kings 19:1-37


Enacting change that shakes a certain ethos of a community can be difficult. Change is never easy. When we talk about change, the very subject leads most people to think that they will lose something valuable or that they will be forgotten as the change progresses. Others tend to love the dysfunction of the status quo and will do anything to keep it because they are reaping a temporary benefit from it. And there are also times that forces, spiritual and physical, will surround us and attack us. Change for the good is always being opposed by someone somewhere. But if we are able to stand within the confidence that God is doing something important in the world and for us, we will someday see God make His dream for humans come true.

This is the moment where we return to Hezekiah’s story. Israel is surrounded. Hezekiah is at the brink of losing His mind because of Jerusalem being seized by the most powerful military of His day. This was a military in which Israel stood no chance against. In the middle of this, God uses Isaiah to let the king know that there is something bigger happening here. When it is all said and done, the good will win. Violence will lose to peace. Love will triumph of oppression. Those who know they are powerful will find out that they are actually weak. What makes this story even more amazing is that God himself says that he is going to take care of things and make Assyria run for the hills.

This goes back and forth and we can be certain that the Hezekiah went from despair to faith over and over again. Note that the word is faith and not confidence or certainty. Hezekiah was far from certainty the whole time. There was no rational being that could even remotely fantasize that Israel was going to make it out of this. The story shows us how joining God’s movement will take moments where our fate is balanced between tragedy and success with most of the evidence saying we will have a tragic ending.

What makes this story simply astounding is that the act of God takes time to happen, but when it does happen, it is overnight results. The invincible army of the nation whose god had conquered all other gods and was ready to take the title of God over all gods home was reduced to barely the population of a small village by the God of the small and not so impressive Israel. The god of Assyria had lost to the God of Israel. It’s no small wonder that after all the taunting about how great his god was, the King of Assyria left the camp immediately and went straight back to his palace. Not long after that, he was killed by his owns sons, showing that his god was not protecting him.

As Christians we are not supposed to simply put people in separate categories of us and them, but the reality is that people who are not following seeking good, which comes from God, are in another category based on what they are pursuing. And have you ever noticed that people tend to take on the virtues of the group they are part of? If you hang out with athletes, you will likely try a sport. If you hang out with entrepreneurs, you will likely try to create a new line of business. If you hang out with artists, you likely try to make an work of art (and maybe complain about everyone else selling out). You take on the character of your investments. It’s not necessarily bad. For groups to move forward they have to accept at least a few main goals to chase together. Even some of the greatest movements were formed from groups accepting a common goal. These groups, however, can be either good or bad for humanity. They can choose to end violence, stop hunger, and create things that make people want to do good themselves, but they can also kill millions of people in concentration camps, steal money from weaker people, or do things that cause everyone else want to give up helping each other. Either way, we will reflect the group that we join, or we can change our settings.

What made Assyria bad was that their entire culture wanted power and control and they would stop at nothing to get it. It led them to do terrible things when they conquered other countries, but it also led their King’s own sons to kill him while he was worshipping their god. This god supposedly supported violence and when no one challenged the assumption towards violence, even the royal family was not safe.

Israel was different. Their God was one who wanted to take all of humanity out of violence, oppression, and fear and propel them towards love, peace, and joy. This meant that this people who were brought out of a culture based on violent assumptions were always interacting with figures like Hezekiah who would be led by God to change things for the better. And Hezekiah had to put much work into being a catalyst for change while trying to keep trusting God. Once again, he was not certain, but he had faith. And this God, who brought up this people to change the world, saved them in the end. And note that the ones he lead are not going out and taking over everybody and wiping out whole cities. They are actually praying to God to help them.

There are a few things to pull from this post. First, change takes work, but if it is change that God enacts, then it is worth pursuing because it makes the world better. Also, the values of your group or tribe are very powerful and can shape you if you do not choose to shape the values. Choose carefully which group you try to identify with and be someone who seeks to contribute to the group by allowing God work through your voice. Be open and warm to everyone, including those who want to make the world a terrible place. But always remember that we identify with Jesus who gave his life so that others could have their life made fuller in Him. And finally, remember Hezekiah’s story. It will try your faith to shift a community back to what God created it to be, but that is faith. It’s not when you have the sun shining on your face and the cool breeze hitting you that you learn what faith is. It is when you are in caves of doubt and feel like curling into a fetal position that you learn what faith in an unseen God is. It’s remembering that there is a promise of something better and moving towards it. Heroes are alway remembered for the changes they make in their story and the faith they have in the change they are enacting.

So how is it that you can enact a change in your community? Maybe there is some form of oppression or some assumption that is biblical bad for humanity. Maybe there is a lack of passion for Kingdom and Mission. Either way, once we see what God wants, we have a choice to ignore it or jump into it. We can take a safe status quo if we want, but jumping into God’s plans, though risky, can produce a beautiful movement if we only respond to the good wishes God has for us.