“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #3)

[Response #3 from SEATTLE – Part 7 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Dear M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Melissa:  (Hey, correct spelling and alliteration!)

Hahahaha!!   Now shouldn’t you have been listening or praying or singing at the church service the other day, not writing emails in your head!  LOL.  You crack me up.  You are a theology junkie!  Maybe we both need a 12-step recovery program…LOL

Now on to your response . . . I think we might be going around in circles here a bit.  I don’t totally disagree with what you are saying.  In fact, I find myself nodding my head as I read.   These are my only clarifications:

Clarification #1:

I definitely think that part of what Jesus is saying here includes non-believers.  My point was simply that Jesus said that the world would hate us as it hated him, and the majority of those that hated Jesus were the religious crowd.  I think that idea is definitely implied in Jesus’ statement here (that would have been who the disciples thought of instantly), although his use of the word “world” certainly encompasses more than that.

And, though admittedly there are some differences in Jewish religion of the 1st century and Christianity today (though I don’t agree with all the differences that you propose), I definitely think it still applies to us in both ways today.   While I agree that the religious leaders didn’t approve of or follow Jesus as the Messiah, they DID claim to follow God.  And there are many, I believe, that claim to follow God today that when it comes right down to it are a bit uncomfortable with the radical life and teachings of Jesus.  At least they live that way.  The difference may be that the Pharisees never claimed to follow Jesus and many today do, but obviously saying you follow Jesus and actually following Him are very different things.   In that way, there may be many more similarities than you might think.

In fact, I don’t think it takes much imagination to say there are many today that could be described by your words:  “Pious and self-righteous, pure blood [Christians] who had always been in charge” offended by “sinners with equal access to eternal life” . . . “because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.”   (arrangement mine)

Now, I’m not trying to label anyone into that category, because really it is a matter of the heart.  I simply think there are certain parallels.  Certainly there are people, like me, that often get caught up in religion rather than following Christ.   It is as much a struggle for me as any Pharisee of old.  Religion is dangerous at all times.  In Jesus’ time.  And in our time.

What concerns me is that some people read that statement of Jesus and take it not as a caution of the logical outcome of His radical message (of course many will reject it), but as a mandate for their methodology.  So you hear things like, “Well, Jesus said we would be hated, so we’ll do whatever it takes for them to hate us the most.”  And while those sentiments carry the noble feeling of doing our “religious duty,” I’m afraid they are a very poor way of understanding Jesus’ final prayer for his people, which ends with his desire that the “world” may know Him because of their “LOVE” for each other.   (John 17)

I believe Jesus is saying that the natural conclusion is that so-called believers and unbelievers will hate us if we truly follow him, not that we should do everything in our power TO BE hated by people.   It isn’t a badge of honor or a litmus test of some kind, it is simply a reality of living a radical Jesus life.

And so in this clarification, I totally agree with your last line of that point, “Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves ‘religious.’”

Clarification #2:

Look, I’m not saying we should agree with pop culture that says sin isn’t sin.  Taking a stance on what we believe to be sin is important.  And while I’m for critically thinking and making sure we are labeling sin correctly, I don’t think we should just tell people that whatever they do is ok by God.

For instance, there are many people who don’t choose to believe in Christ that also don’t appreciate my stance on the nature of homosexuality.  And I’m sure I’m not popular in those circles either.

You see, I know the “world” is going to at times hate me.  And that is ok.  I just want to make sure that they hate me not because of my attitude but because of the radical message of Jesus.   The truth does divide people.  I get that.  I just want to make sure it is the truth that is doing the dividing and not me.

Again, my problem with [megapastor] is not his truth, but his methods.   Do people need truth?  Absolutely.  But I think most people need relationship to really experience truth.  Remember, Jesus said he was Truth.  But he wasn’t some cold, philosophical concept of truth.  He wasn’t truth on a sign.  He wasn’t truth in a government’s law.

He was Incarnational Truth.  Relational Truth.

Truth, as defined by the life of Jesus, is more than “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”.   It is Truth that becomes flesh and lives in our mess and dies for people who will never deserve it and many that will never accept it.   It is Truth in relationship.   It doesn’t compromise, but it doesn’t demean or coerce either.   It is a Truth that woos like a lover, not compels like a tyrant.

And so in the end, I may love people, fight for people and invest in people, but they may still choose to hate the message of Jesus that I believe in.  And maybe me because of it.   I’m totally ok with that.  Wide path, narrow path.   I just don’t want any of my actions to unnecessarily cause rejection.  If they reject Jesus, fine.   I just don’t want my methods to be why.  If any part of the message of life being accepted by them relies on me as the messenger, I want to err on the side of love not protest.

Now, should churches be doing more than a carwash and food drives?  Of course!  I’m a preacher!  I think people need God’s word.  But, I think we have divorced the social components of the gospel from the propositional truth components.   We tend to break down into camps of either one or the other, when Jesus seemed to hold on to both.   And it is the extremism (of either side) that I think becomes dangerous and leads to lazy spirituality or capricious elitism.

And so, in my mind, I feel as though we agree a great deal here.  Hopefully you agree! ☺  I’m all for calling sin what it is.  Humanity needs to know where it is broken, so it can be healed.  And, I’m for staying the course on those convictions through cultural pressure.

My only clarifications here are that we think very carefully about the methods we use in offering these truths to people who are free to choose to ignore them.   And then be OK to live in a world where many will not agree with us though we give our own lives to show them.   That we would be so committed to bringing Truth to people that we would sacrifice even our own rights or lives to bring them to Him, not simply take the easy way out (from my perspective) and protest them.

Power-under.  Not power-over.

As far as your last line about being united, I agree with that as well.  I don’t hate [megapastor].  I don’t even know him personally.  And I hope I don’t come off that way.    In reality, I’ve thought a lot about that and I do choose to love him.   To be a consistent lover of people, like Jesus, I’m called to love the brothers and sisters I disagree with as much as I love the people I think they often turn off.   Like it or not, right or wrong, they are my family.  And you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.  ☺

However, while I love them, I will still question their methods, their theology and their understanding of God’s grace.  For it was within these ranks that Jesus reserves his challenges and questions.   And beyond the pattern of His life, it is those letters to the churches in Revelation and the words in 1 Corinthians (among others) that compel me to do so.  For these are words directed towards believers and the correction we are to make within the community of Christ.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . [but] with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)

Apparently, Paul saved his moral criticism for the believers as well, rather than outsiders.

Okey, doke….

Now, I gotta go cause my wife is making dinner and I told her that I would be home 30 minutes ago.   And yes, I probably could stand to miss a meal here and there, but if I get home in time I’ll be able to watch my daughter put banana chunks in her hair while she eats and who would wanna miss that?

Grace and Peace,

SEATTLE

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Who Would Jesus Bomb?

I see the bumper sticker all time. In fact, i’ve thought about getting one myself. It’s just that i can’t afford the gasoline to actually drive my car anymore and display it. And i think it would look a little ridiculous on my bike.

A few weeks ago, it became more than a bumper stick for me though. You see, i’ve been hanging out with this guy named Rick. And in my adventures with him, i’ve found myself experiencing a lot and re-thinking a lot more. [see my last three blogs for the whole enchilada].

But, i was recounting my experiences at the bath house with a few friends of mine the other night. And as we sat around, i told them of life at the bath house, of the men who came in compelled by their addiction, and of the two of us who sat there patiently handing out an imperfect solution because it was the only thing we knew to do.

And as i shared these experiences, one of my older friends was obviously getting agitated. She squirmed in her chair. I could see by the look on her face that she wasn’t completely approving of my choice of Thursday night activity.

I should have known she would be skeptical. Of course, i already know her and if i had thought back, i would have realized that this type of conversation would really stretch her theologically and spiritually. But, she is my friend. And she is a bit of a hero for me. She has been involved in missions work across the world for many years. She knows what it means to love and meet people where they are in their life and to nurture them to faith in Christ.

So, i was surprised when after hearing the whole story she asked this question: “Are there any mosques in town?”

“Like Muslim Mosques?” I replied. “I know there is at least one in Seattle that i’m familiar with.”

“Great,” she said. “Here’s what we are gonna do. We are all gonna write letters to the mosque and tell them about this gay bath house. And i guarantee you, in two weeks they’ll have bombed the place.”

WHAT??? I’m not sure if i actually was able to get out any intelligible words at this point. I was completely dumbfounded. I wasn’t even sure i had heard her right. Maybe i had just misunderstood.

“But…that isn’t the only bath house,” I offered, hoping that somehow she would clarify.

“Well, then we’ll tell them about all of them. Trust me. They’ll deal with the problem.”

Now, i’d like to stop here for a second and explain a few things. First of all, i don’t really think that if we wrote any letters of the sort to the local mosque in Seattle that this kind of “solution” would actually happen. Not every Muslim, and certainly not the ones i have been around in this area, actually consider “bombing” a legitimate solution to anything. And i’m fairly certain that a large portion, if not all of them, may be very offended by even the suggestion being offered here. And in that sense, i’m offended with them.

Secondly, i find it very ironic that people who justify the use of war against Muslim extremists who employ this sort of tactic, would then find it in some way divinely acceptable to use these same terrorist tactics to promote their own agenda or sense of moral decency. In a very scary way, the lines between militant Islam and militant Christianity become about the same thing.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Be careful in pursuing the monster that you do not become the monster yourself.”

Sadly, I think a lot the “Christian” world could be accused of this latter atrocity today. We have become too blood-thirsty. Too eager for the fight. The intense (and almost naive) backing of the United States war in Iraq and Afghanistan by many “Christians,” alone, suggests that this danger is alive and well.

And as all this is going on in my head, i realize that i have to say something. Although no physical bombs have actually gone off, a large verbal bomb has just been detonated in the room.

“But, i don’t want anybody to blow up the bath house . . . and besides, i don’t think Jesus is going to allow me to do that.”

After a lot more discussion, my friend seemed to settle down. In fact, at one point she even retreated to a position of “oh, i was just joking.” The reason i’m writing this, though, is because i don’t think she was.

And so, what do you do? What do you do when your friend, that has made of life of loving people not like her, displays that type of bigotry and hate? What do you do when mega-church pastors around you seem to demonstrate the exact opposite of the love of Christ they say they represent?

You see, i learned in the bath house that i am called to love everyone. I’m called even to love the most diabolically oppressed men who throw away their lives to an addiction. I’m called to love even the people that everyone else (religious or otherwise) write off as garbage or as a social disease. I’m called to love the people that go to the gay bath house. I’m even called to love the people that own it and make me most angry by feeding these hopeless people’s addiction and even making money off of it.

But, would Jesus bomb the bath house? Absolutely not. He calls me to love the people there, not to destroy them.

But, here’s what i learned from my friend that night. Not only does Jesus call me to love the guys at the bathhouse. He calls me to love my friend too.

You see, i believe she is dead wrong. I believe the Mega-pastor is dead wrong. But, if I’m to be a consistent lover of God, I’m called to love them too. And in some ways, it is easier for me to extend my love to those in the bath house than to those in God’s house.

So, I may call them to conviction. I may be critical of their response to others. I may even have to challenge their assumptions of how big God’s grace really is. But, i am not allowed to treat them with any less love than God does.

My friend may not be right. She may not be living a lifestyle (without ultimate love) that i condone. But, in those ways, is she really so different than my new friends at the bath house? And if i’m called to love them, certainly i am called to love her.

I think i’ve written about all i can on this topic for now. It is interesting to me that many more people have read this blog and left comments about this particular topic than any i have written. Obviously, this is a sensitive and important issue for many of us.

But, i have been encouraged this past week as i have read your comments and responses. If nothing else, it reminds me that there are many people that follow Christ today that are desiring to show love to ALL people. And if that is the case, then maybe there is a great deal of hope for the world.

So here is my prayer…

God, bless my friends at the bath house. May they be free from sexual oppression and may they find ultimate peace and fulfillment in You.

God, bless my Christians friends that don’t show love like they should. May they experience Your love to an even greater degree and may that love shape them into greater lovers of You and Your people.

Amen.