Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Christian militias - an oxymoron?

Most of the major news organizations are reporting about the arrest of nine people in Michigan accused of a plot to kill police officers. Amazingly, these men (+ one woman) belong to a group that advocates such violence in the name of Jesus Christ - calling themselves a "Christian warrior" militia who follow "General Jesus."

The irony of these arrests during Holy Week is pretty remarkable. While Jesus never feared standing up to earthly leaders that needed to be challenged (see John 19:11) he always did so through nonviolent means. Throughout his ministry and especially during the last week of his life, Jesus' shunned all forms of violent resistence and instead chose to change the world through self sacrifice even to the point of giving himself over to a pagan and oppressive government in order to be crucified. It was through sacrificial love, not the violence of revenge, that Jesus upended the powers of this world (see Colossians 2:15).

Not only that, but repeatedly Jesus and his early followers remind us that while Christians are engaged against oppressive forces in this world, we are to do so in the ways of Christ.
  • "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." - Jesus in John 18:36
  • "Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world." - Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4.

Because of the apocalyptic language used by this militia group, I assume they justify their violence by looking to the book of Revelation. The imagery there is, indeed, violent. But a close reading reveals that none of the violence is carried out by God's people, the church. The church is described as faithful witnesses, as martyrs, but never as soldiers. Yes, the images include the violent overthrow of the oppressive regimes of this world, but this is carried out by heavenly agents, not earthly ones.

Which leads me to believe that our role as followers of Jesus is to do just that - to follow him both where he led us and in the manner he led us. We are to go into the lives of those who are hurting and in darkness. We are to do so by taking up our own crosses and serving others, even our enemies, through sacrificial love. We are to resist the urge to strike out in violence at those with whom we disagree.

Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple - Luke 14:27.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Food Programs gaining traction across the state and in San Angelo

Good news on the hunger front both in San Angelo and statewide (see links below) It's encouraging to see the momentum feeding programs are gaining across the state. All of this fits in quite nicely with the Texas Hunger Initiative.
  • Todd Staples of the Texas Department of Agriculture recently challenged Texas mayors to increase participation in Summer feeding programs. This is exactly what the San Angelo Food Planning Association is committed to this summer. Southland Baptist Church is a major participant in this effort.

  • Our own mayor, Alvin New, has been very supportive of the initiative here in San Angelo. There's a great article in today's paper about his involvement with Meals for the Elderly. Check it out here: Meal cause gets mayor's aid.

Ready for Holy Week?

This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Are you ready? Are we ever? Do you think the disciples were ready when the events of that week unfolded? How could they have understood what was about to happen? Jesus had warned them on multiple occasions that his road would have a tragic end. “You’ll have the light just a little longer” Jesus cautioned, “[So] put your trust in the light while you have it, so you may become children of light” (John 12:35, 36) I’m convinced, thought, that they had no way of comprehending all that Jesus meant with such predictions.

For one thing, their eyes, much like our own, remained on themselves far more than they focused upon the Christ. The closer they moved towards Golgotha, the more intent they became upon self-preservation. When Jesus announced that one of them would betray him, far from being concerned that their leader might be handed over to those who wished to kill him, the disciples each worried about their own guilt - “Is it me?” When Jesus asked them to pray in the garden, they couldn’t overcome their own sense of fatigue long enough to care for the one who’d cared for them so well over the last three years. When the arrest finally came, these men who’d promised to go to Jerusalem and die by his side (John 11:16; 13:37) scattered into the night.

They weren’t ready for the cross. They weren’t ready for its unyielding brutality or its apparent finality. They weren’t ready to give in and give up in that way. They hadn’t yet grasped Jesus teaching that a seed must first fall to the ground and die before it can ever grow into a plant and produce much fruit. They couldn’t yet understand how the last could really end up the first; how losing one’s life could result in finding life everlasting. They weren’t ready. I wonder, “Are we?”

Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be – John 12:25-26.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When did I start looking like my Dad?

I admit that I am a fan of Facebook. It’s such a great way to keep up with people. One of my favorite things to do is check out old friends’ photos. You know, friends from high school that you haven’t seen in ages. Time and time again I find myself saying things like, “Man, they look just like their dad” or “Wow, she’s turned into her mother.” I’m pretty sure someone’s thought the same thing when looking at my pictures, as well. It’s funny, as teenagers most of us dressed in ways that distinguished us from our parents. We didn’t realize then that doing so was just delaying the inevitable. Time and genetics would eventually get each of us whether we wanted it to or not.

For those of us who are believers, we trust that something more powerful than genetics is at work within us transforming us into the image of our heavenly Father. We are confident that the Holy Spirit is bringing about a change in us that will cause us to look like God (2 Cor 3:18). But what does that involve? What does it mean to favor our Father in heaven? Does God have graying hair or a double chin? Is getting thicker around the middle making me more like the Almighty? Obviously, that’s not what we’re going for here.

No, we look more like God as we take on his nature and practice his ways. Jesus gave us an example of what I’m getting at in Matthew 5, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” In other words, learn to love your enemies instead of hating them. Practice praying for them instead of cursing them. Commit to forgiving them, instead of plotting their demise. Hope for their redemption instead of secretly desiring their condemnation. Do this, and you’ll start to look a lot like your Father in heaven. How can we be sure of that? For one thing, we know that God our Father has already done all those things for us.

God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – Romans 5:8.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I've been everywhere, Man

Larry McMurtry, the author of Lonesome Dove, also once wrote a book about all the roads he had explored in this vast country of America. At the end of the book he returns via memory to the little spot in East Texas where he had grown up. McMurtry realizes that in contrast to his own travels, his father had rarely travelled farther than the few dirt roads near his farm. Far from thinking his father less accomplished, McMurtry admits with great respect, “I have looked at many places quickly. My father looked at one place deeply.” (Thanks to Leighton Ford and his book The Attentive Life for this story)

Most of us are probably more like the younger of the McMurtrys than the older. After all, we live in a world of quick glances. Oh, we may not all be turning over our car’s odometer, but thanks to the internet, most of us travel to the ends of the earth almost every day. We drop in on a distant acquaintance via Facebook, comment on how cute their kids are, and then quickly move on. We hear about a massive earthquake in Chile and pull up that country’s article on Wikipedia discovering that it is one of South America’s most prosperous nations. We catch the days’ headlines through 140 character snippets on Twitter and consider ourselves informed. We flit and we fly; we hardly ever land.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities provided by this greater access to knowledge and information are tremendous. But there is an insidious temptation, nonetheless, the temptation to think that all things in life can be learned or experienced through quick glances. The world may have changed tremendously, but some things remain the same. The knowledge of self, of another person, of a people, of God, these things require slow, deep looks. The question remains, though, does our travel happy world even remember how to sit still long enough to truly know? An even better question, do I?

Be still, and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

Texas version of the song in honor of yesterday's Texas Independence Day. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good things running wild, again!

For the last few months, my good friend Patrick has been on a baby induced Sabbatical from his blog Where Good Things Run Wild. Well, no more. He's back at it again with a terrific series on the Sermon on the Mount. Check it out here.