Monday, September 29, 2008

My Wife In Wikipedia


Daniel Markoya thought this would be funny. And it is!

I looked, and it is true, Wikipedia really does have an article on "nitpicking".
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A Frightening Picture


This photo of myself and Jon Yoder was placed on the cover of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference directory. Although I think it accuratly portrays my likeness-- wild eyed, hair mussed, in the middle of an intense discussion (or possibly making a sardonic statement)-- I can't believe they would put this photo on the cover. I don't think I make a good Mennonite poster child!
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The Apocrypha

This was originally posted on MennoDiscuss.

The apocrypha are a collection of very important ancient books. As has been mentioned before, some are quoted in the NT and they definatly fill a conceptial gap between the OT and the NT.

I think that we should be reading some of them not just because they are historically significant, but they are great spiritual books. Some are spiritual novels-- like Bel and the Dragon and Tobit-- but they easily compare to the best of any modern Christian novel, and are better than some "classics" such as "In His Steps". I and II Macabees-- as well as III and IV-- are important works historically, but tough to slog through. Ecclesiasticus is wonderful widsom.

We should also be reading some of the post NT literature for spiritual insight. I especially liked the Shepherd of Hermas (kind of Revelation crossed with the parables of Jesus, all focused on repentance). I also enjoyed the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas as fictional stories-- I found them hillarious. II Clement is an excellent sermon and the letters of Ignatius are gentle and wise.

Are they inspired? No, but neither is C.S. Lewis-- and we recommend his books all the time. Why would we want to miss out on reading the books that Jesus himself read (the apocrypha) or reading the spiritual classics of the second century?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seven Letters for Seven Churches

This is in response to a question on MennoDiscuss: "What is the significance of the letters to the churches in Revelation"

The seven churches represent seven kinds of churches that could exist in any age:
Ephesus-- The doctrinally orthodox church that has lost it's love for the needy
Symrna-- The persecuted church
Pergamum-- The church that upholds the name of Jesus but has compromised its purity from the world
Thyratia-- The church that has been divided by heresy


Also, John intended this section to be a very significant section in his book. One of the purposes of the book, according to chapter one, is that one would be blessed because they "keep the words in this book", in other words, obey it. But the only section that really has stuff to "obey" is the letters section.

Thus, the letters are just as significant as the rest of the book. Sure, 4-20 talks about what happens to those who obey or disobey, but the meat of the book-- what IS the obedience he's talking about-- is found in 2-3.

If we put these churches in a historical box, we will miss the point of what the letters are saying to us.

Will The Real Satan Please Stand Up?

This is a comment I made on MennoDiscuss about the use of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 being about Satan, or about the Kings of Babylon and Tyre, as stated in the texts.

I believe that the Ezekiel passage and the Isaiah passage do NOT speak about Satan. At most, they speak about two individual spiritual powers behind the thrones of Tyre and Babylon, but not Satan himself. But they might also just be using poetic language for the kings themselves, but I personally think spiritual powers, such as Daniel speaks of when he talks about the Prince of Persia. Each nation has its own power/angel leading it, and God holds them responsible for the actions of their people.

I think that Satan is not spoken of here, not only because there is inadequate evidence, but because in Revelation 12 Satan is spoken of as fallen after the birth of Jesus and in Luke 10 Satan is spoken of as falling at that time (although I think that the "falling" in Luke 10 is speaking of a defeat in battle, while Rev 12 is speaking of a more ultimate defeat after Jesus' death and resurrection).

Another point about Satan that is often not made: "Satan" is not a name, but a title of a position. It means "accuser" and it speaks of one who is a prosecutor in the court of law. This is how it is clearly used in Zechariah 2, but also in Job 1-2. He is also the judge who sends his evil spirits to attack the guilty. All this is done with God's permission. But Satan finally stepped over the line when he attacked and judged Jesus, an innocent man and God's Son. So he was thrown out of heaven, having lost his approval from God.

The Two Swords

This is a comment I made on a discussion on Luke 22:36-38 in MennoDiscuss, as follows:
"And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, 'AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS'; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."

It is notable that two swords were carried around by the apostles, in that they just had them available.

But they were clearly misunderstanding what Jesus was talking about. He was "applying" the Scripture saying, "If I'm supposed to be hanging with robbers, then we need some swords." The apostles repled, "We've got two swords, should we get some more?" Jesus replies, "Enough"-- which was probably a note of irritation, telling them to shut up, but they understood it as two swords being sufficient.

But when the time came to use the swords later on, Jesus commanded them not to.

The whole point is: Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures by any means. It doesn't have anything to do with weapons.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hangin' With Our Enemies

This is in response to someone who opposed Mennonite Central Committee meeting with the President of Iran because he threatened Israel and because he is a "liar". Posted in the Anabaptist Network Group in Facebook:

If the Iranian president was a follower of Jesus, then we would be right to cut him off, according to I Corinthians 5. However, I Corinthians 5 has other instructions for the Iranian president-- that we are not to cut ourselves off from the world, no matter what they claim or threaten or do.

Spreading the gospel means to keep lines open with those we do not agree with, and this means listening to those whose views we find repugnant. If we do not listen, then we have no right to speak. If we are to be like Jesus, we must provide an open context, even for those we disagree with, so that we can talk about Jesus.

This is exactly what Jimmy Carter did when he invited Began and Sadat to Camp David. He remained humble (as President of the U.S!) and passed messages between them until they were ready to speak to each other. And he shared the good news of Jesus to both of them. And in that context, Anwar Sadat decided to follow Jesus as best he understood. And so he pursued peace with Israel.

To share the gospel means that we get put in uncomfortable circumstances, talking to people we might find difficult or even distasteful. My ministry is to the homeless, some of whom are theives, liars, drug dealers, etc. I have been stolen from and lied to and threatened. But that doesn't stop my relentless pursuit to love those who have harmed me.

It's just what Jesus has called us to do.

Steve K

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Example of a New Economy

God's economy is to grant to other's what they need and they in turn would grant what we need.

There is a coffee shop in Seattle that is a step between captialism and God's ideal: The no-price coffee shop.

Check it out:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Church Tradition and Jesus

This was posted in MennoDiscuss under "How To Avoid The Slow Fade".

The Question: How can the Mennonite tradition make necessary changes to the tradition without harming the core values?

One answer: We shouldn't be following Mennonite tradition, but Jesus.

I agree that we need to be a part of Jesus' church, rather than a particular tradition. And the Spirit is essential. However, I think that there is also a place for different traditions. Menno's tradition is not the only viable tradition out there, and for many (including myself) the plain tradition isn't right for our context or the calling God gave us. However, should the plain tradition disappear, the loss to the Christian church at large would be felt. Menno's and the plain traditions are interpretations of what Jesus said-- and without them, the church at large would look so much more like the rest of the world. The Menno tradition is a constant reminder to the church that we aren't supposed to look or act like the rest of the world. That we have to constantly be comparing worldly things and ideas to the light of the gospel to see it for what it really is. And that the church as a whole often accepts without thought that which they should be examining and possibly rejecting.

I have chosen to do this examination on my own instead of buying one particular tradition. Many of us post-boomers are doing that-- not because we just want to do things in a new way, but because we distrust any tradition without solid evidence that we should buy into that tradition.

However, I deeply respect those who hold to a conviction of a tradition because they believe that they are following Jesus in it. Following Jesus is the key, no matter what tradition one is a part of. And following Jesus will look differently to different people. For me, it is giving up all semblance of middle class lifestyle, quitting my job and having my family live among and minister to the homeless and mentally ill. That's our calling and that's the way we need to follow Jesus. Plain folks can't do what I do, and they shouldn't. I can't do what plain folks do and I shouldn't. But we are all necessary to make up the full spectrum of colors in the rainbow of following Jesus, including Charismatics and Catholics and Orthodox and even conservative evangelicals.

A tradition is preserved for as long as God wants it preserved. And a tradition will fade when God wants it to fade. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away-- blessed be the name of the Lord.

Various Thoughts About the Law

Originally posted in the thread "Christians and the Law" in MennoDiscuss.

Three questions-- a. Why did Paul make such a fuss about circumcision in Galatians and then turn around and circumcise Timothy in Acts?
b. Did Jesus abolish the Mosaic Law or not? Jesus said he didn't but Paul seems to indicate He did?
c. What does it mean to be Jewish?

a. I believe that Paul circumcised Timothy NOT because Timothy was Jewish, but because he was going to minister to Jews as well as Gentiles, and Paul didn't want to offend the Jewish listeners unnecessarily. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for ministry that we wouldn't have to otherwise.

b. There are commitments that we are entered into from birth, and we have no choice about. I am an American whether I like it or not, and unless I "convert" and become joined to another nationality, I am limited by American laws no matter where I go around the world.

This is the issue with "law" in the first century. Those who were born Jews were required to fulfill the law throughout their lives. They were born under Moses' law and so needed to fulfill it as best they could, whether they were Christian or not.

Paul's argument in Galatians (as well as the argument in Acts 15)had nothing to do with Jews, but with Gentiles-- with those who were not born Jewish. The question was not "should Jews still act Jewish?" but was "should Gentiles convert to Judaism to be real Christians?" Since Jesus himself was a full Jew, this was a serious question, but the church wisely affirmed God's choice that the Gentiles don't have to live as Jews, but simply follow the law of Jesus-- which Jesus himself said is summarized by loving God and one's neighbor.

c. We need to remember that to be "Jewish" in the first century (pre-Temple destruction) was very different than being "Jewish" today. To be Jewish is to commit oneself to the government and service of Yahweh, which included the Temple cult, the law of Moses, obedience to the priesthood and the Sanhedrien and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once a year. To be a religious Jew today is not to be a Mosaic Jew, because it is impossible to obey the Mosaic law without a temple or a priesthood. They make do with the Rabbinic teachings because the Mosaic law must be re-applied to a post-Temple context.

This is why Judaism and Christianity are actually sister religions-- they are both responses to the question "How do we honor the one true God without a Temple?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Commands of Jesus we have a hard time obeying

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. (Luke 12:33)

Lend to those in need and expect nothing back. (Luke 6 34-35)

Take care with every word you say. (Matthew 12

Pray persistently for justice. (Luke 18:1-7)

Pray for the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:9-13)

Don’t worry about your basic needs. (Matthew 6:31)

Don’t worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:34)

Don’t serve money. (Matthew 6:24)

Be at peace with your brothers and sisters. (Mark 9:50)

Renounce all of your possessions. (Luke 14:33)

Do not insult another. (Matthew 5:22)

Don’t look at someone to desire them sexually. (Matthew 5:28)

Keep all of your promises. (Matthew 5:37)

Don’t do evil to those who do evil to you, but do good. (Luke 6:27)

Give to those who are in need and ask for help. (Luke 6:30)

Don’t collect earthly treasures. (Matthew 6:19)

Don’t determine the final destination of another. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Repent of your sins before you accuse another of sin. (Matthew 7:5)

Do good to everyone, without exception. (Matthew 7:12)

Be prepared for testing and persecution, especially with prayer. (Luke 14:26-27;
Mark 14:38)

Strive to be the least of all the church. (Luke 9:46-48)

Do good and give to both the righteous and the wicked. (Luke 6:35)

If a brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3)

Give in secrecy. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Evangelize with nothing but the clothes on your back. (Matthew 10:9-10)

Celebrate the Sabbath by doing mercy on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:7, 11-12)

Feed the hungry. (Mark 6:37; 8:2-3)

Be rid of your wealth. (Mark 10:21)

Forgive sins. (John 20:23)

Make disciples of Jesus. Teach them to obey Jesus. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Justice and Prayer

Originally posted on Young Anabaptist Radicals, under "2nd Anniversary Post":

ST got me into your website and I read many articles with great interest. I wish there was this much dialog about “things that matter” in my Asian constituency. Many young people in Asia are busy building their careers, doing well at school, putting up an image and conforming to norms of society—to the point that it prevents them from speaking up and sharing things that really matter. Although, I’m not sure if this issue is specifically Asian …

However, in reading the articles, I don’t see a lot on prayer. Yes, prayer. It’s the one thing that Jesus did every single morning before he did anything else. The one thing that every great person in the Bible did throughout their journeys.

Some of us may think that just praying is not “practical” enough in this world of inequality and injustice.

I have been there, said that.

Or maybe because praying is seen as “too easy an action to do” for us, young people full of energy, willing to sacrifice our lives for a cause that really matters.

Been there, said that too.

But all the problems of the world, the things that bug us in our sleep and stir up our compassion, are too big for us to bear. And God knows this – that’s why God said, “Come to me, ye who are weary …”
In prayer, we surrender the things that we cannot solve into God’s hands, allowing God to work in our midst. On God’s terms and in God’s ways. We surrender the matter into THE hand that is bigger than all our thoughts and efforts combined.

Maybe it’s easier for me to say, being an Asian. I have been attacked by an army of evil spirits sent by people who hated me. I have seen my friend eat a box of intentionally poisoned lunch and not be harmed by it because before every meal he prayed that God would cleanse his food. I have a colleague whose autistic child got healed upon a year of prayer and refusing to take medication. I have seen an evil-possessed young man launched himself like an attacking tiger to a 60-year old lady who prayed for his deliverance, and saw him fell to the ground just a few inches before whacking her head … as if there was an invisible wall created by angels protecting her from harm.

And maybe it is easier for Asians to pray because … many of us simply don’t know what else to do. Many don’t have access to a doctor or even clean water, let alone mental illness experts. Is North American privilege and decadence working to diminish your faith?

And maybe it’s easy for me to say that prayer works, because it has worked throughout my life, without fail. I grew up with God continuously speaking to me in dreams, visions, Bible verses, prophecies and just by making strangers bump into me and say something out of the blue. I asked God for a partner, and God gave me a great husband. I dreamed of living in a community where the people come from all over the world, and I do live in a global melting pot now. My (then) fiancĂ© and I prayed that we would own a home before our wedding day, despite a cash crunch that year, and we now live in the apartment that we dreamed of getting.

So this is just a little poke and encouragement from halfway across the world. Our great God desires for us to speak to Him in prayer so He can show His ways to us. I am not saying just pray and do nothing, but let’s combine the supernatural power of prayer and the natural power of compassion and will.

And you will see your energy not going to waste. And that’s a promise, not from me but from God.

Elina, I think you offer a realistic critique of us Western Christians. I don't think that it is simply Asian youth that only deal with the material world, alas those of us in the West are often superficial and materialistic-- not just striving after "stuff" but also denying the reality of the spirit world in practice.

The writer of Ephesians noted that we, as Christians, do not need to practice warfare on the human realm, because we do so on the spiritual realm. In II Corinthians Paul also said that we do not use worldly weapons, but weapons of the Spirit.

But modern Anabaptists seem to be neglecting both.

I have a Mennonite pastor friend who says that if it were not for God's power and God's kingdom, then the pacifist stance is idiotic. I agree. I think that the world can only be changed by some kind of power, and we are neglecting our duty as people aware of the injustices of this world if we do not pray.

This is why I am so pleased with the Micah Challenge. Their first (but not only) action against worldwide poverty is prayer. They understand that prayer is our first line of attack against injustice.

After being challenged by a businesswoman in Bangladesh, me and my family right now are praying for God's justice and blessing on every Muslim country in the world, one by one. After this, we will be praying for the poorest nations in the world. It is only if we-- and everyone else who knows these issues-- pray that God will take action. And only if God takes action will things change.

Because humanity, on its own, has really screwed things up.

Steve K