Friday, February 22, 2008

Respect, Trust, Love

Does the requirement to love also require us to respect others? What about to trust them?

Of course we are all called to love. And love is connected to respect.

In the ancient world, “honor” was a very important concept, even as it is to those who we see as being “macho” today. Many people—men, especially—are sensitive about their dignity, that they be treated with the proper amount of respect. In the ancient world, all men were concerned about that. Being treated with dignity was a basic human requirement, unless you were a slave or a woman.

In the church, slaves and women began to be treated with dignity as well. Poor people, who were treated at times as little better than slaves, were to be treated with dignity as well. James makes the connection between love and respect very clear in his second chapter. Poor people were being ignore by the church, who focused all their lavish attention on the wealthy. James says that the church was disrespecting the poor man, whom God blesses because of their faith. Then he gives his Scriptural proof—“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even as we do not wish to be disrespected, to be treated without dignity, even so we should treat others with dignity, with basic respect.

What does this respect mean? Does it mean to praise everyone? Does it mean that we have to say nice things about all people no matter what they do? Does it mean that we need to give everyone the “red carpet treatment”? No. We do not have to treat everyone like a Nobel Lauriat.

Respect means the following things:
a. We speak politely to everyone
b. We don’t look down on anyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done
c. We listen to what people are saying
d. We do not treat another person as a bad person unless we have proof that they are, and even then, we let people know that any cautions we take are not personal.
e. We apologize for any slight we might have given to others, whether intentional or unintentional
f. We should thank and praise people for the work they have done for us or for the Lord

We can give some people more respect than others, but this should be for how they have lived before the Lord, not because of worldly standards. We shouldn’t respect one person above another because they have more money, more fame, more status than others. If a person is an authority, such as a police officer or a governor, then we should give the respect that is due to the office—but that is more of a formal politeness (Paul said to “give respect to whom respect is due” in speaking of government officials).

But if someone like Jean Vanier comes by, then we should give him more respect than others. Not because of his fame, but because of his faithfulness to the Lord. Because he started a great work and has built up God’s kingdom. We should see the Mother Theresas of the world, and give them great respect. Not because others are giving them respect. But because God has respect for them. And we should open our eyes to those whom God respects that the world does not, such as Byron, and give them the respect that the world does not give. We should go out of our way to thank them for their life of faithfulness.

The saying goes, “Trust isn’t given, it is earned.” I would say that a certain amount of trust IS given. If someone walks in our house, we don’t assume that they will steal anything. We will not leave someone with our guest to make sure that they don’t make off with the silver. If we did, we would be treating them as a thief and that would be a sign of disrespect.

But when trust is broken, that is when it must be earned back. And it usually must be earned twice as much to establish the trust that is given freely to anyone.
But I think you were asking about the trust we should give.

First of all, do not give or withhold basic trust based on appearances or life circumstance. Just because someone is impoverished doesn’t mean that they are less trustworthy in money matters. Just because someone is mentally ill doesn’t mean they are dangerous (less so, statistically). We need to give everyone the same amount of trust or lack of trust unless we see that their actions don’t support that trust.

If someone breaks our trust, we should not use that as an excuse to break our relationship with them. We must give them an opportunity to repent.

If the person does repent, we must forgive them and accept them back into our good graces. But does this mean we trust them? Well, yes, but with reservations. Gordon, I trust you completely, but I don’t trust you enough to bring you into a bar and to put a drink in front of you. That’s because I know your weaknesses and I don’t want to trip you up. Even so, when someone breaks our trust and they repent, then we know their weaknesses better. And we are able to take better care for them, by helping them avoid situations in which their weaknesses will be vulnerable.

That’s Romans 14. We don’t judge people because they hold different standards than us, but we don’t make them vulnerable to their weaknesses, either.

So trust unless you have reason not to.
Forgive and then take responsibility to help the trust breaker not to break trust again.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Red Letter Christians

A Discussion on MennoDiscuss:

Do the forgoing comments require that the red letters be more important than the black ones? If they are all inspired, they should all coincide. Most of what Christ taught as is recorded for us, was before the sacrifice that He made, the rest comes afterward, in definition of His work of redemption.

While Paul is certainly more "theological" in his presentation, is he less inspired? Perhaps he was only 80% inspired, while Christ was 100% inspired? This seems to be the outworking of the lines of reasoning that you all are suggesting, a carving up of the NT with a pen knife.

As I recall, the early Anabaptists used all of the NT to define their faith. The concept of body dynamics is found in Paul, more completely defined than in the gospels (ie, community of goods, etc). Can we have one without the other? How would you know how the early church practiced except for the book of Acts? Can you separate Acts from Luke?

I don't find a principle in the NT writers that elevates the gospels above the rest, it seems to be an invention, though perhaps well intended, but an invention of humans, non the less. Remember, the gospels themselves are the observations of humans, and not the writings of Jesus, just like the rest of the NT. IF one part is inspired by the Holy Spirit, then all of it is, and bears the same stamp of authority and approval of YHWH.

The fact is that most of what Christ taught is eschatalogical, and how many of us ignore the real implications of that, and either ignore it, or try to explain it away as being irrelevant or unfulfilled? Why indeed should it be so hard to understand why so much more of His teachings are handled in similar fashion? We hold to the traditions of man contrary to the teachings of Jesus, but will major on some favorite passages. Let's put them together, and allow all of them to speak to us cohesively.
-G Donner

The principle of being "red letter focused" is not, as far as I follow it, a question of having one part of Scripture being "more inspired" than others, but recognizing that Scripture as a whole is not consistent, nor can we take all of it's commands and princples to be of equal weight. As Jesus pointed out, sometimes keeping the Sabbath holy isn't consistant with having mercy on the needy and we have to make choices. And we have to make decisions about the law of having a rail on our roof. And we have to make a determination as to whether we will listen to James' or Paul's understanding of how faith and works connect.

The "red letter" approach is to say that we begin our interpretation of the whole inspired Scripture with Jesus to help us understand what God really wants from us. Jesus not only is our Saviour and God, but He is also our Teacher, and the Scripture can only be truly understood through Him. He teaches us not only the fulfillment of the Law, and the meaning of the Prophets, but He also teaches us how to understand Paul and the significace of Hebrews. In my understanding, the OT is the text that Jesus uses to expound His principles, but they have no coherance apart from His teaching. The NT is the act of Jesus followers attempting to apply Jesus to their lives. But Jesus' teaching and life is the center of our existance. If we have nothing other than Jesus' words, then we have enough. Because we have more than just Jesus words, but also the books on which he expounded and the commentaries on his teaching, then we are richly blessed with great knowledge.

However, if we put our limited interpretation of Paul above Jesus (as some do when they say that Paul's teaching allows us to ignore the principles of the Sermon on the Mount), then we are putting Paul, not Jesus as our Teacher (even though they rightly never disagree with each other). If we place Moses or David above Jesus (as some do when they hold the principles of the warrior to be above Jesus' teachng on loving one's enemies) then we have Moses or David as our Teacher, not Jesus.

Jesus said that we are not to call each other Teacher, for only ONE would be our teacher, the Messiah (Matthew 23). So if Jesus is our Messiah, then He alone is our teacher, and Paul and James and John and Moses and David and Solomon and Isaiah etc, are only helpful as teachers if they point us to the teaching of Jesus. Sure, they can give us some good help that Jesus didn't actually say, but it is Jesus who is our doctrine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Is Truth?

When, Pilate, asked the question, 'what is truth?', what did he really mean? What is truth for everybody? What is truth in general?

Since Pilate turned away, I don’t think he expected an answer. His was a rhetorical question, assuming the answer was relative. In the book of John, the meaning is deeper. Jesus had just told his disciples that He was the truth and that the Spirit would lead them into all truth. So truth for Jesus is what God gives us that leads us to Himself.

So, what IS truth? Well, truth is what is real. It is affirming that what is in a person’s head is just in their head and reality is reality. Truth is what really happens, what really happened and what will really happen. Truth is not only an accurate present, but also an accurate history and an accurate prediction of what will occur. Truth is also affirming proper cause and effect. This kind of truth is objective, but it can be difficult to discover and it is small compared to the overall reality in which we live.

Truth does get muddled a bit because it is so hard to discover. What is “true” for one person is their ideology, that which they act on. And these ideological truths—these worldviews on which we base our lives and hopes and relationships—are as subjective as they are based on reality. They are the interpretation we use to see al things, without which we would never act, but with them we cause all disagreements and conflicts. Ideological truths are what are being talked about when some say that “all truth is relative” because there seem to be as many truths in this way as there are people. Even if people agree on ideology, they disagree on the details.

There is another kind of truth which is significant truth. Reality is so vast, the past so detailed, the future so obscure, ideologies so varied, that it is difficult for any human to understand it all, let alone act on it. So we must determine not only what is true—what is accurate—but also what is significant. Not all reality, all truth, is important to us, for how we live. Some is and some is not, and making the decision of what is significant is important.

Jesus focused on one aspect of significance—that of the house being set aflame. If you are living on a fault, and it is true that an earthquake was happening tomorrow, that is the most significant truth in your life. This becomes your most significant doctrine, your ideology, the basis of your action. This requires correct prediction, but Jesus was confident that he had that ability.

Jesus said that the current regime of priests and elders that ruled God’s people was just about over, and that the most important thing is to get in line with Jesus’ way of thinking, the up and coming ruler. Pilate didn’t want to understand this, and just ignored it by saying that ideology is impossible to determine. Jesus, however, knew what he was talking about. Pilate was to suffer for killing Jesus, and for his oppressive actions, for he would be sent back to Rome and then die in a shipwreck. The priests and elders were about to be destroyed by the Romans in less than 40 years, never to emerge as a power again. Their future was about to crash. If they had paid attention to Jesus and not killed this innocent man, perhaps God would have made a different decision. And so they killed Jesus. And Jesus’ truth came to haunt them—to destroy them, actually.

And this same choice of killing the innocent and being destroyed is a significant truth that catches up to every government, even this administration that is in office now. They torture gladly for their own “truth” but ignore Jesus’ truth that the ones who exalt themselves will be humbled and the ones who humble themselves will be exalted. Jesus’ truth inevitably catches up with everyone.

Life-Changing Books

What Books Have Changed Your Life? -Post on MennoDiscuss

I read a LOT of books, so it is difficult to decide. There have been some books that focus on concepts that have been very significant for me-- Perspectives On The World Christian Movement, My Utmost For His Highest, Christ and the Bible by John Wenham...

But the books that I think have changed my life are those that gave examples of people who I could be like. The most significant ones are:

The Mirror of Perfection-- This is a lesser-known life of Francis of Assisi that gives all of Francis, his qwerks and foibles and his eccentric nature, but also his unbelievable, radical devotion to the gospel of Jesus.

Speaker For the Dead-- This is actually a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, a mormon author. But his character of Andrew Wiggin (known in Ender's Game as "ender") is a mature, self-sacrificing, rational person who steps into conflict and creates peace.

Radical Faith-- This is a history by John Driver. It is an alternative church history that speaks about many individuals who have been considered heretics, mostly because they took the side of the poor and oppressed and took the gospel of Jesus seriously. All of them stood against the world, and the world was changed because of their stand.

Books for Peace

There are three books that I have found to be most important in my quest to be a peacemaker in this world of hatred and separation:

a. The Peacemaker by Ken Sande
This is a Biblical exposition of what it means to forgive and to reconcile. Its reading of the pertanent biblical texts is straightforward and its application is practical

b. The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute
This is not only a fantastic book on peacemaking, but it is also the most entertaining, well-written book on peace, probably ever. Although written from a secular viewpoint, it talks about basic principles in seeing others not as objects or stereotypes, but as human beings.

c. The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
This is a recent book by the psycologist of the Stanford Prision Experiment. It speaks about the social context in which good people could do very evil things, including torture and kill human beings. It also talks about how one can create a context in which to encourage heroism.

What are your most important books promoting peace (besides a Bible book, I suppose)?

Steve K

Should Christians Vote?

Should we as Christians, vote? Should we be involved in politics, on any level? -Gordon

Whether we vote or not is up to our own faith. Some insist that we must vote in order to be good citizens. I deeply question that on a number of levels, but I just want to talk about what the Bible says.

When we commit to the Lord, we commit to Jesus as our Lord, meaning, we are citizens of His kingdom and He is our only emperor, our only King (Phil 1). But the fact is, we have dual citizenship, just as Paul was able to use his rights as a Roman citizen, a Jewish citizen (member of the Temple) and a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom (Acts). He used all of these responsibilities to build up the kingdom of Jesus—remaining completely focused on who his real Lord was, and his secondary citizenships took a back seat to what the demands of the kingdom were. In fact, one could easily say that he abused his privileges as a citizen of Rome and of Judea in order to accomplish his goals in Jesus. Thus, we could use the privileges we have in the kingdoms of this age, which are soon passing away, to build up God’s kingdom.

However, I question the idea that voting is a good way to build up the kingdom. First of all, we vote on what others propose, the candidates that are pushed forward to us. There is not a single candidate that lives up to Jesus’ standard of leadership—a person who does not promote himself or his agenda, but only serves others. Every proposition is a form of the world’s answers to problems, not God’s, whether we are talking about preventing gay marriage or the latest bond. This doesn’t mean that we can’t vote, I am just saying that it doesn’t do anything for God’s kingdom if we do or if we don’t.

But politics, that is a different situation.

Jesus was deeply involved in politics. Entering Jerusalem on a colt was a political move. “Cleansing the temple” was a political move. His quote of Psalm 110 was a political love. The early church was deeply political. Even healings done in Jesus’ name was political.

We need to be political by warning the world, including the governments, that they will be judged according to their mercy and their merciless judging (James 2:13). They need to know that they will be destroyed if they don’t give justice to the poor (Psalm 82). They need to be informed that Jesus is Lord and they had better submit to Him (Psalm 2), thus not persecute the church.

And the church needs to be an example of what the kingdom of God will look like. A new kind of administration that emphasizes service. A new kind of economy that emphasizes charity. A new kind of sentencing that encourages repentance. A new kind of militia that emphasizes spiritual warfare. If we demonstrate God’s way, and we proclaim that this is how the whole world will soon be living, we will be clearly political. And clearly revolutionary. And just as clearly rejected.

Because martyrdom is the most powerful form of biblical political force. If we—innocents who have just said what the government doesn’t like— are killed by the government, then God will set aside that government. To be persecuted is the strongest spiritual and political statement. It is the primary one that God listens to.

Besides prayer, which is another political act. To pray the Lord’s prayer is a revolutionary prayer. To pray for God’s will changes the political landscape.

So, yes, we are certainly to be involved in politics. But voting? That’s a weak form of political action—the weakest in my opinion. I think that the government and media focuses on voting because it is easy, and makes everyone feel involved without actually making any changes. In my opinion.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dangers of the Christian Life

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

Soren Kierkegaard, “Kill the Commentators” in Provocations (Orbis, 2003)