Prayer School Conclusion


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter Nine: Conclusion

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise [Keith Green]

I grew up in a religious home.  It seems funny to me to say that because I never felt like church was an obligation.  It was just what we did.

My parents weren’t overtly religious. We lived our lives simply.  My sisters and I were taught to live with integrity, give when appropriate, be generous with our time and to go out of our way to be considerate of others and welcoming to strangers.  It was obvious to anyone that we were “church going folks” but we didn’t wear our faith on our sleeve, pound the Bible at every turn or try to convert anyone to our way of life.  When it came to evangelism especially we believed that God touches the hearts of mankind in his own time.  It is our job to make friends with people from all walks of life to be ready to disciple new seekers only when they were ready to hear what we had to say.

We called it Friendship Evangelism.

I remember my mother once confronting my father about his apparent lack of a structured prayer life.  She had always followed structured prayer and devotional time herself, working through various devotional books and guides but my father did not.  It was during a time when our community was going through some difficulty and we where being encouraged to make specific prayer request on behalf of the church.  So, my mother asked him one day why it never seemed like he prayed to God for anything.

His response was to quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”.

At the end of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul lays out a list of final instructions to the church meant to keep them faithful to the teaching they have received.  To pray without ceasing in this list is not to be considered a continual conversation with God, that your whole life is to be about prayer but that your life should reflect your relationship with our father in heaven.

To pray without ceasing is to make your whole life a kind of prayer.  The list Paul gives here also includes things like teaching and warning others of the consequences for poor behavior, a version of the golden rule, rejoicing, testing prophesies and rejecting evil.  Prayer is just one piece of a much bigger discipleship puzzle.

My goal in writing this guidebook has been two-fold.  First off, I wanted to help my readers to begin to pray like Jesus.  Jesus gave his followers this prayer in part as a lesson in communal discipleship.  I have tried to show throughout this work aspects of both personal and intercessory prayer, praise, thanksgiving, submission, personal requests, confession, forgiveness and temptation.  Second, I wanted to lay the foundation for a life of teaching and discipleship.  The role of a Christ-follower in the broader community of believers and seekers is to be both teacher and student.

Though I rarely saw my father stop what he was doing and pray on his own he would often lead others in prayer.  His prayers were always careful to point out that he was doing so because Jesus tells us to and would almost always began in a similar fashion, “Father God, we come to you today as your son Jesus instructed us, to humbly acknowledge your presence in our midst and ask that you…”

I hope that I have been able to show even just a little of that spirit in the proceeding pages.  Jesus taught us to pray directly to the father with equal parts praise, submission, boldness, humility, conviction, and intercession.  As part of my on-going commitment to discipleship my prayer is that each of my readers will take from these pages a sense of God’s presence in their lives, a new understanding of prayer and the way in which God communicates with his creation and a commitment to “pray without ceasing” through the way they live out their lives.

The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for how we are to pray.  I have given you a structure to follow that if you use it will enrich your prayer life.  I personally have prayed this way for 15 minutes every morning for the better part of two years and I can say that it has changed me in ways I can’t even begin to explain.  Some mornings have been easier than others.  Some days I have a hard time thinking of anything to add and I’m done in less than 5 minutes, other days I keep praying well beyond the 15 minutes mark without getting past the first few phrases.  It’s not the time that counts, nor it is always necessary to get all the way through.  Most importantly, it’s about opening your heart to God to both listen and petition his spirit.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try it.  Jesus taught his followers to pray this way because it covers everything we should be praying for, both in our personal lives and through interceding on behalf of our fellow believers.

Happy praying – Amen!

 

 

If God is For Us…


Pacifist Lamentations Volume 4

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pacifist Lament.  This one has been on my mind for a few weeks.  I stems from some bad preaching I heard recently on Romans 8:31.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Taken out of context, as this verse often is, it could seem that Paul is saying that with God on our side we are invincible.  And while that may be true, it leads to a violent interpretation of what we are capable of when God is “for” us.  Sadly, Romans 8:31 has been mis-quoted in this way from the barricades of revolution and war for hundreds of years.

“God is on our side!  Therefore; let us go and slay our enemies!”

But taken in context of the entirety of Romans 8, we begin to form a very different picture of what it means to have God “for” us.

In the first half of Romans 8, Paul lays out a detailed analysis of what happens to us when we believe that Jesus dwells in us and is transforming us from the inside out. Put simply, we have become so deeply like Jesus that we have become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself and co-heirs to the kingdom.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:16-17]

Provided we suffer with him, not provided we go out and fight for him!  Paul goes on to talk about how all believers will be treated and “glorified” with Christ.  We will suffer in this world, but we can count it all as nothing in comparison to what awaits us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Romans 8:18-19]

And then we get to the big question that is so often taken out of context – If God is for us, who can be against us?

God for us is an expression of love.  Deepest, most profound and all-encompassing LOVE.

If God is for us.  If God, who in his very nature is love, expresses that love toward us.  If God has made us part of his family.  Who can do or say anything that will negate or make any negative impact on that?

No one can stand against that!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

More than a conqueror!  This is not a violent image.  This is not about dominance.  This is about transcendence.

We can remain above and outside of violence!  Nothing that is done too us can have any impact on our salvation.  We therefore transcend violence and remain passive, continuing to love our enemies and work toward reconciliation even in the face of our own death.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is for us!

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

 

The First Christmas Carol


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

The early church didn’t celebrate Christmas.  At least not as a special feast day or as the modern-day retail orgy of capitalistic idolatry that we call Christ’s birthday today.  But the early church did recognize that the event of Christ’s birth was a significant event in human history and they celebrated it regularly with the reverent awe and jubilation that it deserves.

Last week, as I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas I had a chance encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness co-worker of mine.  The office Holiday Luncheon as we call it so as not to offend anyone, was held at the restaurant across the street and after I’d had my fill and stayed a respectful amount of time I decided to return to the office to finish up a bit of work before heading home for the night.  As I came back in I noticed that this individual was sitting at the reception desk.  It’s not unusually to see certain admin staff taking a turn at reception when the regular people are away, and I immediately recognized that she must be covering while most of us were at lunch.  As I walked past I casually asked if she had had a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of time with the rest of us.

“I don’t celebrate Christmas”, was her immediate and matter of fact response.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to encounter people who do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.  We live in a multi-cultural society.  At the last census only 67.3% Canadians self- identified as Christians with less than half of those attending services more than 3 times per month.  But a large percentage of people who do not identify as Christians still celebrate Christmas in one form or another.  My next-door neighbour is a Hindu, born and raised in India.  His seven-year-old son knows all about Santa Claus and was all too happy to explain to my wife in detail everything he had put into his letter to the North Pole.  Apparently, Santa doesn’t care if you know anything about Jesus, only if you’re good.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time.

So, when my co-worker, who is descended from Irish protestants and married to a man French Roman Catholic origin stated flatly that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas I was a bit taken aback.  But then I remembered why.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other pseudo-Christian groups do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because there is no historically credible way of pinpointing the exact moment of Christ’s birth.

December 25 was chosen as the date by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D. in part, to combat the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  Prior to Constantine some Christians had estimated the date to fall any where between December 6 and January 6 (the day many Coptic and Orthodox Christians still recognize today), citing historical records of the Roman census and, the reason why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place.

Still others, notably the Jehovah’s Witness and a few other fringe groups, contend that the day was more likely in the spring or summer since Shepherds would not have been tending flocks out in the fields in the winter.  Personally, I think that argument is weak, winter in the middle east is still warm enough to tend flocks outside even if it might have been rare.

Anyway, the fact is, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 6th or some other time the historical event is still the fulcrum on which history turns.  The earliest Christians knew that and celebrated it just as much as we do today.

Which brings me back to the earliest Christmas Carol.

Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse opens with a poem that could have easily been set to music.  To our modern eyes it might not look much like a poem because when it is translated to English it loses much of it’s poetic feeling, but I assure you was originally a poem and likely a song.

This poem tells us four things about the birth of Jesus.  What it accomplished and how it changes history.

1 – Jesus brings God to us

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Colossians 1:15]

He is God incarnate!  If you want to see God and understand what he is like look to Jesus.  If you want to follow God and do his will do what Jesus taught.  Everything up to this point, all the laws and the prophets are mere shadows of what has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus.  Put another way, if the Old Testament conflicts with anything Jesus taught, throw it out, Jesus is the true image of God.

Jesus brings us to life

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1:16]

All things were created through him.  We exist because he made us for himself and all things were created through him.  The law brings death and condemnation.  We have life because of Jesus.

Jesus brings life to us

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:17]

He sustains us.  He breaths life into us.  There is a popular contemporary Gospel song that I hear on the radio from time to time that repeats the refrain, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”

Jesus brings us to God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:19-20]

The ministry of reconciliation brings us back into perfect unity with God.  This unity is a common theme in Paul’s writing.  It comes up again in 2 Corinthians 5 where he says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Ever since Genesis 3 and the so called, fall of man the path of history is a story of mankind’s failed attempts through rules and regulations to reconcile with God.  It wasn’t until God came in human form and showed us his love for us, a father’s unfailing love, that reconciliation became possible.

It is a Christmas, or when ever you choose to acknowledge the historical reality of Christ’s birth, that we can truly celebrate that Jesus came to bring God to us, bring us to life, bring life to us and to bring us to God.  That is the gospel, and that is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

On Faith, Democracy and The Kingdom of Heaven


Last year, during the Canadian federal election campaign I started thinking about my place in the grand scheme of politics and democracy. This week, as the final days and hours of the US election campaign began to point to a Trump presidency those questions started creeping into my conscience again. Of course this time around I didn’t get a vote but as the world’s biggest economy the decisions of the US electorate have a significant impact on us all.

The gospel in just three words is “Jesus is Lord”. I don’t know any Christians who would disagree with that statement. In fact it is as close to a universal statement of faith that exists in the Christian church. No matter your denomination, Catholic, Protestant, Conservative Evangelical or Progressive, we can all agree that Jesus is Lord.

But in our hyper individualized culture this whole concept of lordship is problematic. Wikipedia defines lord as an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power over others acting like a master, a chief, or a ruler.  By making the statement Jesus is Lord, we are simultaneously submitting ourselves to his authority and rejecting all other individuals and institutions that would seek authority over us.

The democratic process is at its core a game of pick your lord. Every four years the American public is given the opportunity to decide who their lord will be but if Jesus is Lord, then your government is not. The question becomes then, what to do when government and social norms do not align with the Lordship of Christ?

Two Kingdoms Doctrine

churchandstate

Martin Luther was one of the first reformers to champion the separation of church and state and so was also one of the first church leaders since Constantine to wrestle with this question. Before Luther the church was the state so any question of lordship was moot. So when faced with difficult questions about how a Christian should behave as a citizen under the lordship of both a secular government and the lordship of Jesus Luther had to make a compromise. Luther’s compromise made it possible for reformers to retain citizenship in their home countries but would eventually prove to be fatal to the true Lordship of Christ.

What Luther said has become known as the doctrine of the two kingdoms. Again, according to Wikipedia the doctrine states that, God rules the worldly or left-hand kingdom through secular government, by means of law [i.e., the sword or compulsion] and in the heavenly or right-hand kingdom through the gospel of grace. The fatal flaw in this argument should be obvious to anyone who has felt the law of the land precludes them from living out their faith. If God rules the world through secular government what happens when that government contradicts your understanding of the Lordship of Christ?

Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms was developed under a feudal government system and worked well for the kings and lords of the middle-ages. They were able to use it to claim divine authority over vast realms of humanity while functioning in ways that directly contradicted gospel teaching. Romans 13 became a favourite passage of the ruling class as a way to remind the peasants of their place in the world and prevented large scale rebellion.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

But Romans 13 was not written as an instruction manual for how the faithful should live under a “Christian” government. The entire book of Romans, and most of the New Testament for that matter, was written from a prison cell and directed to a minority people without any political power or authority. The New Testament gives no advice to Christians on how to hold on to political power. The doctrine of the two kingdoms therefore is flawed from the beginning. Any biblical instruction on ruler ship is found in the Old Testament and under the old covenant that has been made obsolete by the reign of Jesus.

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. [Hebrews 8:13]

To say therefore that God holds authority over the worldly, left-hand kingdom through law and compulsion assumes that the rulers are godly and returns the Christian to the authority of the Old Testament. We know that is simply not the case but as if that weren’t enough to discredit the doctrine of the two kingdoms it completely falls apart when it is applied to a democratic society.

The Authority of God

freewill

In His infinite love for humankind God has given us the ability to say no to Him. It’s called free will and it is the bed rock of God’s relationship with us. For love to exist there must be the possibility of rejection. No one knows this better than God. The entire story of humanity is the story of love and rejection.

Democracy hands the power of ruler ship, through the free will of the people, to whomever appeals to the broadest segment of society. God’s will is therefore lovingly submitted to the will of the people and God’s authority over the worldly kingdom is muted. Humans do as they please and God is pushed to the margins of society. How then is God’s sovereignty manifest in the world?

Hans Beck was a Swiss Brethen Anabaptist who wrote in response to Luther, his own version of two kingdoms doctrine in 1541.

There are two different kingdoms on earth—namely, the kingdom of this world and the peaceful kingdom of Christ. These two kingdoms cannot share or have communion with each other.

While Luther tried to develop the two kingdoms doctrine as a way appease the church as the primary governing authority of the day, Beck immediately saw the flaw in Luther’s logic and destroyed it by saying simply that the two kingdoms could never coexist. Beck went on to state:

The people in the kingdom of this world are born of the flesh, are earthly and carnally minded. The people in the kingdom of Christ are reborn of the Holy Spirit, live according to the Spirit, and are spiritually minded. The people in the kingdom of the world are equipped for fighting with carnal weapons—spear, sword, armor, guns and powder. The people in Christ’s kingdom are equipped with spiritual weapons—the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit to fight against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, together with all that arises against God and his Word.

According to Beck, the people of the kingdom of Christ stand apart from the kingdoms of the world. While Luther was trying to appease the authorities in order to retain his German citizenship, Beck was renouncing his Swiss citizenship in order to remain loyal to Christ.

Citizens and Ambassadors

citizensSo the question now is where do Christians fit in a democratic society? Is there a moral obligation for the church to seek political power, or at least attempt to influence those in authority for the good of mankind? Or as Beck would have it, do we write civil society off as inherently evil and withdraw completely?

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church that was immersed in a wealthy culture of excess. A culture predicated on power, money and sex.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Paul appears to be saying that the kingdom of heaven can only be achieved through reconciliation with God and His will that this reconciliation comes through Christ. It is therefore the job of the church to be ambassadors of His kingdom in the world. By using the imagery and terminology of ambassadorship Paul at once implies that our citizenship is not of this world. An ambassador is not a citizen of the country or member of the society in which he resides.

When Christ-followers take on the identity of an ambassador the two kingdoms doctrine takes on a new and more plausible meaning for our modern democratic society. As a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom we reside in the world as ambassadors of a spiritual kingdom. The job of an ambassador is to lobby on behalf of their home country, and to a limited degree even participate in without conforming to the culture in which they are placed. This worldly kingdom is not our home, living here is our job.

Jesus laid out the parameters of our job at the end of his time on earth.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Ambassadors are not part of the society in which they reside they do not make policy and the do not enforce laws. They lobby and promote the interests of their king. As Christ’s ambassadors we are called to lobby on behalf of Jesus and the things he cares about. He opened His earthly ministry by proclaiming “good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed”. [Luke 4:18].   He preached love for enemies, healed the sick, and gave dignity to foreigners. And then he gave his life in the ultimate act of submission and sacrifice.

Conclusion

On November 8, 2016 the world held its breath while the United States, the world’s largest economy, strongest army and most culturally influential society democratically elected a man and a party whose policies and rhetoric threaten to set social policy back to the 1950s. This man openly opposes immigration, social security, health care, environmental protectionism, and banking regulations aimed at protecting the interests of the working poor. By some accounts four out of five evangelical Christians voted for him. They felt that his stance on certain moral issues like abortion and gay rights was in line enough with their faith that they could look the other way on the ones that clearly aren’t. They felt that to vote for the other candidate would have been to compromise their convictions too much. What they failed to recognize is that as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven their job is not to make decisions in the worldly kingdom but to lobby for change.

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have voted, (although that is one option open to ambassadors). The sad fact is that no matter who they voted for they had to make a compromise because as ambassadors we have failed in our duty to lobby on behalf of our king.

Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine fails to translate in a modern democracy. Beck’s version is an isolationist fantasy that only works for the Amish or a survivalist cult. In order to be “in the world but not of the world” [John 17:16] we must become better lobbyists and better ambassadors. We must learn to speak truth to power on behalf of our king. We must influence culture without conforming to it. We cannot be afraid to call our brothers and sisters out on their hypocrisy and their compromise. That is our job as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven. If Christ-followers do our job well there is no telling how our influence might grow.

Jesus is Lord!

Save

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The Blasphemy of Earthly Government


…but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights. [1 Samuel 8:7-9]

kingonthroneThe first thing we must recognize is that human government is not part of God’s original design. When the Israelites requested a King, “such that all the other nations have” [1 Samuel 8:5] it greatly grieved God. God’s chosen people were to be set apart from all the other nations, not conformed to their ways. God’s design involved priests and temple attendants but not a king. God was and still is the ultimate ruler. In this way the Israelites were to show submission to His rule and act as stewards of His creation. It is clear to me from a careful reading of 1 Samuel 8 that God granted Israel at King reluctantly and not without issuing a strong warning about what that could potentially mean for their future.

As Christ-followers and “new Kingdom” theists part of our mission is to help establish God’s Kingdom on earth. In many ways that would be a return to his original design where God is the King and we are his subjects. But because we are suspended here in the world of “promised but not yet”, how are we to live under the rule of a worldly government that does things we may not agree with, and how are we to influence the decisions of that government in a way that reflects God’s will for our lives and our society?

That’s the million dollar question, the answer to which I have come to call the “two kingdoms” mindset. We live in one kingdom, the worldly government and society we are a part of while serving another kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus said we cannot server two masters, we have to pick one and we should obviously pick his.

But how do we live that out?  It’s certainly not going to be easy.  Part of how we can start to do it is explained in Roman’s 13.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

tanksI have to admit, this passage has given me more than one sleepless night. Taken out of context it appears as though Paul is saying that no matter what the governing authorities do they are doing so with God’s tacit approval and any type of civil disobedience or protest is sinful. It also appears as though Paul is giving God’s blessing to all sorts of violence and war mongering and oppression as long it is done by the government, they are his servants after all, right? But nothing could be further from the truth.

Thankfully, because I can count, I know that Romans 13 comes after Romans 12. So if we are reading scripture in its own context this passage follows in the heels of this:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:9-20]

Did you see it? Romans 12: 19, “leave room for God’s wrath, it is mine to avenge; I will repay.” After concluding his thought on what our role is, to live peacefully with everyone, Paul goes on in Romans 13 to talk about how God can use worldly governments and institutions to punish those who do wrong.

feedinghungrypeopleIn short, according to Romans 12, it is the role of the Christ-follower to sincerely Love one another, serve the Lord, share with those in need, bless those who persecute you, be willing to associate with those of low position, be careful to do what is right, live at peace with everyone, serve even your enemy and over-come evil with good. God’s role is to use whatever human construct he has at his disposal to exact punishment on the evil doer, he can even use worldly governments that do not serve him in any meaningful way.

The danger in reading Romans 13 in isolation is that we may begin to think that it is somehow our job to help God by working for or influencing the government for his purposes. Nowhere in Romans 13 does it say that Christ-followers are to be involved in government and serve the earthly kingdom in any way. On the contrary we are to be submitted to it, no matter how evil, because God may decided to use it for his purposes, but if we are doing what is right, as spelled out in Romans 12, we will have more than enough work to do without being involved in the earthly government and nothing to fear from what any evil or neutral government may do. That’s their business and God’s job.

In the end earthly kingdoms are in a sense blasphemy. Setting anyone or any system up as ruler in place of God is nothing more than blasphemy.

Right from the start, God made it clear to the Israelites that by asking for a king they were rejecting Him as their ruler. The first century Christians knew that in order to bring about the promised Kingdom of Heaven, all earthly kingdoms would one day have to pass away. There is no point in working for a dying institution. If you want to influence the world for God’s purposes and the Kingdom of Heaven, you don’t do it from within the early kingdom, you work to establish a new kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what the church, at her best is called to be.  And that’s just one more reason why I believe the only true calling of the Christ-follower is the calling to live a life of pacifism.

 

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The Problem of Evil


I wrote this post on Thursday, and was about to post it this afternoon when I heard of the horrible attacks in Paris.  I debated whether or not I should wait and post it later, in honor of the dead but I feel the best way to honor them is to call for an end of violence in the physical realm.  Here is what I wrote.

Usually in any discussion of pacifism, after I’ve laid out my reasoning about the image of God in all of us and our role as care-taker I get my first real objection. It starts out with some crazy scenario about, what I would do if a man had a gun to my wife’s head and said if I didn’t kill him or somebody else he would kill her and then me. What do we do with the truly evil people in the world?

evilhappyfaceIn order to answer that question we first must understand the origins of evil.

Evil entered the world in Genesis 3.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [Genesis 3:1]

Satan, (Hebrew for The Adversary) represented here as a snake begins by asking questions, seeding doubt and leading astray. So the first thing you must understand about evil is that it lies. The answer to the serpent’s question should quite simply have been no. No, God did not say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, he warned not to eat from a specific tree. And that specific tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It’s the one word and that very important distinction that many people miss. Good and evil exist there is nothing we can do about that. So, why is it that God does not want us to have any knowledge of good and evil?

Because we can’t handle it!

God is Love. He created us out of love. What parent wants their child to know anything other than pure love? To know good and evil is to know pain, shame and judgement. God didn’t want us to know any of that so out of love he forbade it. Satan came along and made it seem like Eve was missing out on some great mystery of life, that by learning about good and evil she would someone be greater and have a fuller life. That was a heinous lie.

Think back to your childhood, before you knew the world could be a harsh and nasty place. Life was a great idyllic utopia of perfection. You were safe in the knowledge that your parents loved you and only wanted the best for you. Then something happened, maybe you discovered a friend who didn’t have the same kind of you life you had, they couldn’t afford the after school program or didn’t have a dad at home. How did that make you feel? Shocked, confused, sad, betrayed somehow? I remember when it happened to me, and those were just some of the emotions I remember feeling.

nofairAs you went through school you eventually learned that life isn’t fair and the sooner you figured out how to deal with that the better off you were. The sooner you learned to play the game, and perpetrate a little evil of you own, the easier it got to live in this often cruel and unfair world of ours. Satan won a great victory the day you accepted his lies and decided that the world was full of evil people that you needed protection from. You started to isolate yourself and build walls to keep the bad people away.

We were created to have no knowledge of good or evil. We were created to know only God and gain our living and being solely from him. When we learned otherwise we lost everything, we lost our life in the garden and nothing has been the same since.

The apostle Paul once said that his goal was to know nothing except Christ. [1 Corinthians 2:2] Dietrich Bonehoeffer said:

Man, at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with his origin.

But we do know that evil exists. The genie is out of the bottle. So what are we now to do with this knowledge?

If we accept it at face value Satan wins. We become afraid. Afraid of what could be lurking “out there” in strangers half way around the world or just up the block. We isolate ourselves from people who aren’t just like us we create segregated communities, spend thousands of dollars on security measures and buy guns for production. All because we know about evil.

But what if we didn’t know evil? How can we eradicate the damage it has done to our society? How can we rebuild our lost community with those who are just a little different from us?

Evil cannot exist, where love prevails. God is love and He cannot co-exist with evil.

Fear is mostly fear of the unknown. The best way to combat our knowledge of evil is with knowledge of another kind, knowledge of facts over rumors conjecture and innuendo, knowledge of individuals over people groups, community over cultures, specific teaching over long held and outdated tradition and knowledge of community over isolation.

The problem of evil is a problem of knowledge. What we know and what don’t know and even more sinister, what we think we know that is false.

Therefore a pacifist and a Christ-follower must confront the problem of evil people bent on violence with learning. First learn the truth, and then combat the lies that surround it. In this way we can avoid unnecessary conflict based on nothing more than misunderstanding, misrepresentation and distorted lies.

hijabwomanWhen we see ethnic minorities moving into our communities and influencing our culture don’t be afraid, get educated. Reach out, learn their stories and welcome them into our community. Those people, the ones we might consider evil people are just one conversation away from become our people. At the end of the day, we are all image bearers of God (see part 1).

But what about the really evil people, the ones bent on destruction. Shouldn’t we try to stop them by any means necessary? Yes – and No.

Yes, try to stop them by educating them in a different path, but no do not try to destroy them in kind, you are not fighting physical humans but deceptive practices and the lies of Satan. Satan wants us to destroy one another, that is one of his favourite weapons to use against God. If we kill each other, he wins and when one deceived person dies there are a thousand more ready to take his place. Violence is a no win situation for humanity.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on all around us in the spiritual realm, but we can’t fight it with physical weapons. Some may die; it is a war after all. But dying for a cause is admirable. Killing for one only plays into the enemies hands. Far fewer die when we confront evil with truth than weapons of mass destruction. Pacifists know that and practice it while they actively pursue peace in the physical realm.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and Pacifist Lamentations write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

Chill – It’s a God Thing


I am a person visionwith big vision a strong sense of purpose and almost boundless energy. In my mind The Meekonomics Project is a part of a multi-national ministry teaching people the core principles of Godly living, debt elimination, wealth building and legacy planning. It’s not just about money either, it goes way beyond that and is about how we live as disciples and ambassadors of Christ.

That’s a big vision! And I strongly believe it to be God breathed and Holy Spirit directed. But being a man of vision sometimes causes me to run ahead of God and when things don’t go as planned I get depressed.

It was in one of those recent bouts of depression that I happened to read Ephesians 4.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. [Ephesians 4:1]

acorn

Right from the opening verse Paul had my attention. I realize that Paul was literally in prison when he wrote these words but sometimes I feel trapped and imprisoned by my calling. I don’t know how to do anything else.   I’m a spiritual entrepreneur.   God blessed me with a mind to see mighty oak trees in acorns. Once seen I can no more look away from the vision than a child who learns to run can stop and crawl; I become, in a way a prisoner of the vision.

Living a life worthy of the calling is in many ways learning to live in submission to it. The vision is bigger than me, bigger than anything I can hope to accomplish on my own, God’s going to have to do it. He gave the acorn to me to plant and water but beyond that what can I do? It takes over a hundred years to grow an oak tree to maturity, how long will my vision take?

In Matthew 13 Jesus gives three examples of planting that require a time of waiting before the final vision is realized. The farmer plants the seed and goes to sleep, and both the mustard seed and the yeast do their work and grow into their final form without any help from anyone, God does it all.

I’ve been listening to the podcast from Willowcreek Community Church in Chicago for the past few weeks. Pastor Bill Hybels has been taking a decade by decade historical look at the growth of their ministry leading up to the 40ths anniversary this weekend. Through all the twists and turns, new challenges and new opportunities one thing has been perfectly clear in Hybel’s teaching over that last few weeks: when God sets out to do something, it’s going to happen.

So even in my depression and frustration I can rejoice and relax. He’s got this.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [Ephesians 4:4-6] emphasis mine

 

Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and The Rules Aren’t Enough? – Book Release!


MeekoethicsCoverAfter almost a year of writing and editing my second full length book hit the virtual shelves last week! Get yours today here or directly from me here.

I think this is my best book yet!  But of course I am biased.

I originally started writing it as an extended tangent to my first book “Meekonomics”. I thought I was writing a commentary on the current state of the North American Church. But as often happens when I write, what I set out to do and what the final product ultimately becomes are two completely different things. This time was no different.  Instead of writing about the church I ended up on a journey of discovery around the intersection of faith, culture and the will of God. At times it got messy, as the sub-title of the book suggests but at other times the way in which I see the world, and indeed the way in which I understand God’s role in it, achieved a startling clarity.

Here is an excerpt from the book on that type of understanding:

 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. [Revelation 22:13]

Christianity came to prominence in the west under the guidance of a Hellenistic world view. Greek philosophers have always been obsessed with essence. How far can we boil a concept down before we get at the core of the teaching? For centuries, that line of thinking has driven our understanding of God.

Don’t get me wrong. By trying to find the essence of Christianity and of God in this way, we have to a large degree discovered some profoundly beautiful truths about him.

God is Love, [1 John 4:8] was the main point on which I based my last book and remains a major theme of all my writing. We have been taught, through centuries of Hellenic thinking, that this is the essence of God. But in getting at His essence, we have missed the beauty that also lives on the outer edges of our understanding.

The word “understand” was not originally a word that meant we had all the answers. “To understand” is better described as to stand under something, to stand in submission to a truth that you don’t fully grasp. I stand under and submit to the truth that God is Love but I wrestle daily with how that resonates throughout society and touches my life. I stand under it but I don’t understand it, so to speak.

Even though our society has now largely taken on the Hellenic worldview of essence and perfection, the Bible was not written primarily by Greeks who lived out of a worldview of essence. It was written by Hebrews who live out of a completely different worldview. The Hebrew worldview is one that seeks to define the edges of the target instead of the centre of the bull’s-eye. Understood from a Hebraic point of view we read passages like Revelation 22 in a completely different way.

What God is saying to John at the end of Revelation is not “this is my essence.“ No, what he is saying is “This is what I encompass”. Any discussion of ethics therefore needs to be a discussion of the circumference of the target. God is defined by the edges, but life happens in between.

And as I have discovered, life is messy.

For more information on “life in between”, the Meekonomics Project or any of my writing and work in the area of Christian-ethics and financial planning write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com and save the date for our official book launch and Financial Seminar on Oct 7, 2015.

Solomon vs Paul, Meaningless vs Hope


hope2“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun? [Ecclesiastes 1:2-3]

 

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. [Romans 8: 9-11]

If you are looking for a mind bending experience I highly recommend reading the book of Ecclesiastes in parallel with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

I read the Bible every day. About four years ago I decided that I would try and read one chapter from the old testament one day followed by a chapter from the new testament the next. So on January 1 I read Genesis 1, on the 2nd I read Matthew 1 etc. The result has been that while I am still on my first pass through the Old Testament, I am on my third or fourth pass through the New Testament. A few weeks ago I started in on Ecclesiastes followed the next day by Romans. What I have discovered, in part, is that the two authors could not have a more opposite outlook on life!

King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes at a low point in his spiritual life. He had every physical thing the heart could desire, money, power, sex, you name it, but he didn’t have inner peace and satisfaction. Paul on the other hand wrote Romans from a prison cell, awaiting trial for blasphemy and disturbing the peace. He had nothing and was facing the very real possibility of his own imminent death.

But where Solomon is full of despair and hopelessness, Paul is full of joy and hope. Why? Because Paul knew something Solomon didn’t. Paul new that this life is not the end and that by remaining alive we are given an opportunity through Jesus to live a full and righteous existence no matter our circumstances. Where Solomon saw meaninglessness, Paul saw opportunities to serve and make life better even though he might not reap the benefits of his labor himself. Solomon saw life as a vain pursuit of personal gain, Paul saw himself as already dead and continuing to live out the mission started by Jesus so many years before.

Elsewhere in Paul’s writings we find this (my personal life verse);

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:20]

Solomon concludes at the end of Ecclesiastes that the only thing left to do in order to make sense of this meaningless existence is to fear God and keep his commandments. In an Old Testament context that’s as good as it gets, follow the rules and maybe, just maybe God will bless you in the next life, there isn’t really much hope in that. Hope comes from knowing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law – it’s already done so that living this life in him is freedom and perfection.

That is the promise of a life well lived, “in Christ” and that my friend is far from meaningless.

 

Carry Each Others Burdens


moving

So last week I had the opportunity to experience first-hand one of the things I preach about on a regular basis here on this blog. Namely – the world is a better place when humanity comes together…

As I’ve mentioned here a number of times, back in 20011 I was faced with a profoundly difficult decision. My business was struggling and my father-in-law had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my wife strongly felt we needed to be closer to her family and I was worried about what the future held for my career.

It was on July 1, 2011, while walking through a quite park, with the celebratory Canada Day fireworks going off in the back ground that I came to the conclusion that my life was at a cross-roads, I could clearly see both paths laid out before me, both led to uncertain futures, one involved staying put and dealing with reinventing my business for a new generation of consumers, the other involved moving 500 km away and starting over in an entirely new city away from everyone and everything I had spend nearly 20 years building.

I chose to move.

In a word, that move was hell. There were several promises made, plans started and assurances given that never materialized. The new career was slow to gain traction and my father-in-laws condition deteriorated faster than anticipated. We were forced to live in a basement, surrounded boxes containing all of our worldly possessions, without windows or proper ventilation for almost four years.

As my sister has often said; “We plan while God laughs.” But He also puts in place a better alternative if we just have to patience to wait for it. Within weeks of moving I had found a great community of Christ-followers motivated by mutual respect, compassion and a sense of family. God’s plan was in motion.

The word compassion comes from Latin “compati” which means “to suffer with” or “to suffer along-side”.  Compassion leads to a community focused understanding and coming together to work with people in need, find solutions to problems and alleviate suffering. But it’s more than that, it’s also a willingness to get down in the dirt and experience the suffering first hand in order to understand it before trying to fix anything.

That’s what my new church family did with me.

While my wife and I struggled to help my father-in-law, deal with the consequences of the broken promises and slow growth in my new career our friends never once tried to “fix” us with platitudes or superficial band-aids. They instead came along side us, joined in our pain and provided support in ways that showed understanding, respect and love far more deeply than any quick fix or pat on the back could ever have accomplished.

And then, after almost four years of broken promises and delayed dreams we were finally able to move into our new home. That’s when the real coming together happened. No fewer than 8 members of our new church family stepped up to help. It was the smoothest, least stressful move of my entire life. In less than 3 hours we had loaded the truck, driven to the new place and unloaded.

I’m still a bit sore from all the heavy lifting and we still have a number of boxes to open and go through but the bulk of the work is done and I personally only lifted a fraction of my own possessions. Because that’s what a compassionate community does. They come along-side, suffer with and in my case quite literally carry each others burdens.

While all this was going on one friend of mine couldn’t help because he was on his way to Africa to be part of a learning team. Their mission is to see how best we can come along-side our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe fighting AIDS and poverty in the sub-Sahara region. My personal example of community compassion seems trivial when compared to the suffering of so many world-wide. But it stems from the same place. The apostle Paul said it best;

Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.  Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. [Galatians 6:2-6]

The law of Christ is simply to love God, and love your neighbor. It doesn’t matter if your neighbor lives next door, up the street or on the other side of the world. Love is compassion and compassion is coming along-side and bearing each others burdens.

Whose burden can you carry today?