In this scripture just before Jesus says, “My peace I give you,” He implores us to obey His teaching. Obedience is the road God’s love and presence travel upon. Pastor Adam gives us a spiritual equation that exponentially multiplies peace in our lives: Holy Spirit Guidance + Obedience = Peace. Have you ever experienced the rush of comfort, peace and blessing that comes with obedience?
We love to imagine Jesus on the stump and us as his stump speech writer, sitting somewhere joyfully behind the scenes as Christ blast away at political opponents. Few people though, when thinking about how Christ would weigh in on a certain political hot-button topic stop to think about the actual politics of the place and time Jesus existed. Instead, we extricate Jesus from any historical context, put him in a blue blazer with a copy of the Federalist papers in his hand and espouse what his views on a host of political topics would be based on our own highly biased and tightly corralled modern opinions.
The context of Jesus’ social and political world must be considered if one views context of value. And we must. Jesus a first century Jew, was from a failed theocracy, a political system meant to have God as its sovereign and its priest and judges acting as mediators of that supreme hierarchy. Instead, Israel demanded a king and got one. Check that, they got many and most all gave them the same results, oppression and more loss of inherited territory. By the time Jesus hits the scene, Kings David, Solomon and Joash are long gone and the nation had been upended and conquered by one of the most dominant societies of all time, the Romans. (Say it again, and this time with the Monty Python accent “The Romans”.)
At the same time, as you will see throughout the book of Acts, a secondary shadow government, run by the Jewish ruling elite and council were also trying to carry on with a government within a government and implementing Jewish laws under the very watchful eyes of the Romans. This is something that Rome allowed as they had become masters of the art of conquering and knew that some form of self-rule must be allowed to stem revolt.
Like the church today, Jesus found himself on the razor’s edge of being part of two political systems, both vying for hearts, minds and territory.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when trying to descend into the wormhole and assume the understanding of Jesus politics is to remember that Jesus was not running for office.
The temptation to make Christ a political figure for one’s purposes is a strong potion. It is as true today as it was back in Jesus day. In trying to damn Jesus to the cross, the Jewish leaders protested to Pilate that Jesus was declaring himself a king trying to overthrow Roman rule. On another occasion, the Jewish people, so enamored by Christ’ power tried to make him king by force. Many believe that Judas, Peter and the other disciples followed Jesus at first not for the kingdom he was offering, but for the earthly one that they imagined. This illusion would be dismantled on the night Jesus allowed himself to be led away for conviction.
Thus, before we get into messianic policy making, we must come to a reckoning with the fact that while Jesus actions and words cataclysmically rocked the political world of its day, Jesus himself was not political, at least not in the way that we understand politics. Here again we come to another question. If Jesus was not intentionally political, than what would the politics of Jesus be?
As I am getting ready to embark on a new sermon series called, The Politics of Jesus, I am wanting to use my social media platform to test some of my thoughts before I take them to the pulpit.
Spoiler Alert: Before we start, let me state that when we talk about the politics of Jesus, we need to make sure not to box Christ into our conceptions and political ideals. Meaning, we must extricate ourselves and our minds from the American, British or whatever political system you happen to be a citizen of.
If we are going to ask ourselves about Jesus particular political positions, we must try and comprehend it from a multivariate analysis and with fresh baby skin. How would you answer the question if you lived in Spain in the fifteenth century or were a field worker in Brazil sixty years ago or a first century Egyptian?
Until we can do that, becoming as unbiased as possible, we have little chance of escaping the bondage and perhaps tyranny of our own isolated conclusions. This is the bubble that so many people live in today. Here, in this ideological space, there is only one reality, your reality and to hell with the rest. When we lack the ability to identify and empathize with someone other than ourselves, we have little chance of ever defining, defending or even finding truth. In the words of Francis of Assisi, “Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.” Freeing ourselves from our own ideologies and intentionally seeking to take on another person’s reality and or social space as best we can for the sake of truth is perhaps one of the greatest charities of all.
Bringing it closer to home. Can you imagine yourself as a lesbian who is deeply in love with another woman and is being told that this is an abhorrence to God? Can you feel the pain of perhaps losing the relationship to follow a different path? Or, if you are black and lived in the South during the Confederacy, can you picture yourself as a white slave owner who was truly trying to follow God, perhaps in ignorance to the truth of freedom, but legitimately seeking to be a “good” person? Or, perhaps you are Chinese and were witness to the Rape of Nanking, one of the least known and most devastating genocides of our time. Can you frame yourself a young enthusiastic Japanese soldier, who entered into his countries service with joy and naivete, not knowing that he would soon be hoisting Chinese babies on his bayonet in a macabre game of keep away?
Jordan Peterson, the Canadian firebrand, clinical psychologist whom I saw two nights ago at the Balboa Theater in San Diego has an interesting challenge. He encourages people to imagine the worst you. “Imagine yourself as a Nazi” he says. You protest. I would never be a Nazi. Ha! And that is the first step in becoming one he says. Do you think that the fresh faced seventeen year old German youth ever pictured him or herself at the death camps of Auschwitz gassing a Jew. No, most did not. Rather they got their incrementally, step by step.
Back to our starting place for understanding the political views of Jesus. When we demonize those we disagree with, we put a robe of virtue upon ourselves that is self-vindicating, and can lead to immense horrors. By imagining the worst you that you could be and defining the steps on how you might get there, we become a little less stable, perhaps a bit more contrite, can we even say more human. To know your weakness is perhaps your greatest strength.
For our own purposes of comprehending the politics of Jesus, we must realize that Jesus was not an American, having self-limited his divine knowledge (Philippians 2) he probably had no conceptualization of it. No Constitution, no free speech, no Bill of Rights. None of it. Rather, Jesus was a Jew, living under Roman tyranny in an occupied territory. Here, slavery was law, healthcare was non-existent, pedophilia was legally regulated and religious corruption was rife. Now, put yourself there, in that place. A place filled with poverty and misery, a place where public executions happened almost daily and widows suffered in the streets, and ask yourself. What are the politics of Jesus?
One of my favorite things to do is watch Christian church culture morph and change. I’m not talking about the core stuff like evangelism, mission or our views on the atonement, but rather the not so important stuff, the stuff we like, until we don’t. Here are some of our current favorites. If your church scores at least 5 of these 10 you can consider yourself #BLESSED.
10. Fair Trade Coffee Coffee Sourced From Indigenous People Groups:
It started in the 80s with Folgers and a styrofoam cup. In the 90’s it was all about the in-church coffee shops like “Holy Grounds”, “HeBrews” and “Jehova Java”. Today we have gone missional with our coffee and are fighting global injustice with every drop.
9.The Episodic Sermon Series:
Who wants to spend 68 weeks in the book of Numbers. Not me. Rather, give me short punchy 6-8 week sermons filled with challenge and invitation. And by the way, keep um under 28 minutes and make sure that I’m the star.
8. Beards and Hair:
You would have to imagine that any man who aspires to be a pastor but cannot grow a full beard or is thinning is definitely questioning his calling at this point in the game.
7. Motion Graphics:
Nothing says “Building Campaign” like rolling out the motion graphics video. We love simple, animation with smooth voice overs to get that ground breaking event kick-started.
No big church holiday event is complete without livestock. Give us our petting zoos and full blown Christmas extravaganzas complete with live elephants. While ceremonial livestock was also true for Isrealites in the time of Moses, it seems that a sacrificial bull might have the children running for the exits and PETA at our door.
5. Smoke And Fog
I recently heard at a church conference that we don’t want to give them church, we want to give them an experience. Unfortunately a few weekends ago a local toddler experienced emotional trauma after not being able to find his parents in the service for 26 minutes.
4. Found Wood Backdrops:
Pretty sure that we are nearing the end of the pallet wood backdrop trend. After 10 years or so of making our cold warehouse churches feel like warm Alpine lodges, it won’t be long until the youth group is burning them down at the beach this summer.
3. The Edison Light:
Ok, I like these, but you need 126 of them to produce enough ambient light to read a book by at night. I wonder when really sterile white LED lights will become in and we think that having churches that look like operating rooms will be cool? #HeIsTheLight
2. Gold Rush Era Worship Leaders:
I’m pretty sure that most worship leader job descriptions these day include smithing, biscuit making and proficiency in playing the saw.
While the church loves its trends and chasing the next fad, most of all I still find that churches love Jesus and he will put up with all of our shenanigans if we keep the first thing first.
Civilization has a very thin veil. I have always known that we are one event away from mass hysteria. This is the human condition. When push comes to shove and the human protectionism instinct kicks in, watch out. This is why I have never trusted a crowd.
Lately the veneer of peace seems thinner than ever. In an age of angst, protest and discontent, we tend to focus on the maladies of culture and sometimes fail to miss the hope.
Last night, I saw something that demonstrated our humanity beyond the headlines. If you missed it, last night, during the much anticipated Celtics vs. Cleveland NBA match-up, Gordon Hayward went up for an alley oop dunk only to land awkwardly, his foot finishing the play in a direction that is anatomically opposite of what is intended. Absolutely gruesome.
Before many of the players on the court even knew what happened, you could tell by the reaction of the Cavaliers bench and the crowd that Hayward was in serious trouble. People literally backed up a few feet, many covering their eyes.
What happened next was reverent and something that a spiritually discerning person might call divine. Time seemed to slow, Kyrie buried his head in a teammates breast and cried, others gathered together and prayed and Dwyane Wade took a knee with head bowed. Unity, true empathy and concern prevailed.
Here on a national stage, white and black came together and showed a compassion for one another rarely seen in the midst of all the social chaos we live amongst. Issues were humanized. If you don’t know Hayward, he is one of the whitest guys in the NBA, not only is he pasty white, he played in Utah for years, a state considered by some to be very intolerant. To top it off, he wears a hairstyle akin to white nationalist. He is not. He is actually anything but that. Hayward is actually one of the most respected and loved players in the NBA; a league that is majority black. Gordon goes about his business with an old school attitude and a lunch pail in hand. He walks with a dignified humility that speaks well of the game, but might not be deserving of his talent.
After setting Hayward’s leg on the court and loading him on the stretcher, Lebron James came over to wish him well. The King was shook. Kyrie’s emotion filled comments after the game showed how much he truly cares for Hayward and for one night, tragedy brought us together.
Last night’s moment of solidarity is not going to fix what ails us in the human condition, but for a moment, if only brief, we saw behind the headlines. We saw hope and witnessed a microcosm of what might be possible in the world if we begin to live beyond the headlines and truly share in each others struggle.
While it is debatable whether America was ever a truly Christian nation, what is not up for discussion is whether or not secularism has become the faith of the day. Religion is the organization of faith-based belief on either a personal or communal level. Many people today like to hide behind the illusion that they don’t practice “religion”, but are spiritual or even atheist. Even Christ-followers today would rather talk of a relationship than religion. All of this is fine, but it does not change the fact that if you have an organized and acted upon system of belief, that you can’t prove, then you are acting in faith and practicing religion. No matter where you stand on the universe, God or man’s search for meaning, none of us can prove it. This includes the scientific atheist, who have a strong faith that there is no God. The only way to void this is to change the meaning of the word itself.
I would argue that American and perhaps Western civilization as a whole is more “religious” than it has ever been, it’s just that the actors have changed. Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying that “God has not been disproved, but Science has made him unnecessary.”
Secular humanism replaces the idea of God with man, and puts man’s will, as long as it benefits the whole of humanity and is scientifically “proved” for the moment as its theology and “ever changing” truth. Science only offers its absolutes until they are disproved. I would argue that today’s science is at the beck and call of man’s will.
The problem with secular religion is that it offers no solid answer and nothing unmovable to tether itself to. When we butt up against some of the more complex issues in society, especially the problem of evil in the world, again a religious word still used by secular modernists, we come to an impasse.
Last night many of secular humanism pastors used their late night pulpits to decry injustice, sooth a nation’s emotions and answer tough questions. Jimmy Kimmel tried to make sense of it all in a tear-filled and emotional sermon which stated that it seems as if “A window into hell has been opened.” and he may be right. Down the dial, Miley Cyrus and Adam Sandler took to Fallon’s stage to sing Dido’s hymn of freedom. All of this meant to unify and heal a national church service of sorts.
But, how do you heal in a half-staff nation where much of the time, many of us have no idea why the flag has bowed to that sacred position and children find it odd when they see Old Glory rise to its standard.
Secular religion tells us that LOVE is the answer, but currently has no idea where love comes from beyond a chemical reaction in the brain. The God of secular religion has become slave to love, but I would suggest that while God is love, love is not God and it is impossible to understand love without knowing the source of love.
Much like our faith-based predecessors of previous centuries, Secular religion attempts to regulate morality through law, failing to learn the lessons of our faith-based past. This historicity has taught us that morality can never be foisted upon a human soul. Even God knows this, yet here we go again, policing people’s souls. Today’s political activism is the jungle mission field of the secular religious and social media it’s machete. And much like our faith-based religious past, stated belief in a popular idea equals membership into our pews.
C.S. Lewis says that we will never be truly human until we stand before God. This is the idea behind his epic work, Till We Have Faces. This is again where secular humanistic religion often fails. In trying to raise individual man to the highest platform it dehumanizes to achieve it’s self-fulfilling goals. So when Jimmy Fallon, during the campaign rubbed Trump’s head, he was scorned for having “humanized Trump”. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/may/17/jimmy-fallon-trump-interview-tonight-show
Today a female lawyer for CBS was fired after tweeting “If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”
This is classic Cain vs. Abel humanism where anything is permissible if those being eradicated don’t fit the current zeitgeist. This dehumanization is something that the Nazi’s perfected and seems in synchronicity with our society today.
Of course, this woman knelt in confession to the social media God’s with the required apology about how this does not reflect who she is, but is it not true that the mouth speaks the overflow of the heart and once she suffers the appropriate flagellation, she will be welcomed back. Eventually, this wash rinse and repeat will no longer be a necessity.
The scriptures say that when the end times come, you will know it because people’s love grows cold. While the media gods of our day speak about a red hot love that vanquishes hate, I would argue that our nation’s love tank is running on empty and depleted by empathy fatigue, finding it incapable in our limited human frailty to process degradation on a continually connected and global scale.
Perhaps, our new priest and faith will find a way out of all of this. Maybe love is the answer and they are right in believing that old time religion is a bondage machine meant for mind control. But if they are wrong, and I believe they are, the answer remains the same. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will heal their land.” May it be so…
Roseto, Pennsylvania is the type of classic small town that moviemakers look for as a setting for scenes of quintessential Americana. Its population has fluctuated by only a couple hundred people over the last century. From all appearances, things have frozen in time.
Bat utility belt? Check! Cape? Check! Gray tights and bat mask? Double check!
I was close to eight when my parents got me the full batman costume. It was not like today’s flimsy outfits whose inferior quality regularly reminds you that you are anything but transcendent. No, this was circa 1970s American made livery. It had the weight and texture of a Roman centurion’s tunic. More importantly, it had soul. The moment you put it on, imagination became reality, mortality became superhuman and the world that is was transformed into the world that could be. It was awesome, but more importantly, you had become awesome!
There’s nothing quite like the magic of being a child. Here in the shadowlands between birth and reclamation by earth and way before you had to figure out what your purpose was, you could busy yourself in just being the awesome and fascinated you.
Childlike awesomeness is nothing like the adult version. Adult awesomeness lacks the ability to separate itself from comparison. Its value is often tethered to an emotional algorithm of me vs. them. It repeatedly asks, “Am I more awesome then they?” Nothing about this question is awesome. It’s a question asked from a platform of insecurity.
Adult awesomeness also fails at being able to run around the backyard for an hour by yourself dressed like Batman or Super Girl and fully entranced in the wonder of living beyond the margins of reality.
Adult awesomeness continually pings you with thoughts of your own meaninglessness, worthlessness and a host of other “nesses” that scream, Wake up, you dreamer, and get back to your treadmill of fear worry, guilt and concern. Stop this whimsy!”
Adult awesomeness fails to live in the grandeur of its prefix “Awe”. Awe, the ancient Nordic word whose root means something akin to running into battle against a stone dragon yelling “Aarghhh!”
Awe is so awesome that it is practically indescribable. It is a poultice of wonder, beauty, hope, power, love and imagination so blended together that each of its individual components has been lost to an even higher manifestation.
Awe is experienced by the newborn baby’s unfused brain that cannot discern the difference between taste, sight, touch, smell or feel, but rather harvest them in one dynamic and awesome sensation.
I believe living in awe is not only part of the human experience, but core to its fulfillment. Today’s world peddles a cheap form of awe. Awe in the form of fame, money, power, sexual experience or distraction beg you to accept the minimal returns that they offer and call them awe.
I believe that God has more for you than that. God offers you the whole of life and asks you to dive in deeply and experience it all in one passionate non-discernable experience that is better known as abundant life. He calls you to live a life of transcendence rather that one which is transactional. He is inviting you into the awe-filled and awesome life.
For the last few days of 2015, I want to take a journey with you to explore the space of what it means to be awesome. No, this is not a trek into self-aggrandizement; that’s what Facebook is for. Rather, this is an exploration into learning how to radically experience life and all that God’s creative world has on offer. It is a chance to reclaim our wonder, our hopes, our joy. More importantly it is a time to come a bit closer to the God who looks at you and thinks, Wow! How absolutely awesome is this child of mine!
Check out other books by Adam Stadtmiller
A few weeks ago I was sitting with a friend and asked him what his hopes and dreams were for his spiritual life. He said, with the utmost authenticity, “I just want to be awesome!” It got me thinking about what it means to be awesome. Thus, I’ll be exploring how to be awesome for 10 days before the end of this year. I hope you will join me for the ride in learning how to be Awesome!
There are two ways to dispose of a bomb. You can detonate it and check for damages after the charge goes off. Or, you can patiently dismantle it with zero body count. In twenty plus years of pastoral leadership, I have learned a couple of things. Organizational culture change is a minefield. Read on at christianitytoday.com