When I got home last night I learned that the Untied States had fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria. This was of course a response to a chemical weapon attack that killed over 100 people. Was it the right response? I have no idea. What I do know is that violence always leads to more violence. As a Christian I believe that certain wars and military actions are justifiable, we are called to protect those who cannot protect themselves. However, they are never the ideal solution and whenever we talk of such things we must make sure that the world knows that a better solution is available.
You see, two thousand years ago Pilot entered into Jerusalem during Passover. He wasn’t coming to celebrate the Jewish festival; he was coming to make sure they didn’t riot. Each year thousands upon thousands of Jewish people would migrate into Jerusalem to partake in a festival celebrating that they worshiped a God that had freed them from foreign oppressors. Now, Rome is that foreign oppressor, and Pilot does not look favorably on such celebrations that threaten the peace of Caesars kingdom. So he wants to make sure that the boot of Rome is firmly upon the throats of the people.
Each year at Passover time, Pilot would come down from his home in Caesarea and enter into Jerusalem in a way that was designed to strike fear into the people. He had a large number of highly trained Roman soldiers carrying banners, swords and spears. Their sheer number made it sound like thunder was comning from miles away. Behind the solders and chariots, Pilot could be seen riding on his majestic white horse. It had to be an impressive yet, terrifying display of worldly might.
At the same time, scripture teaches us that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives with his band of fisherman riding on a donkey. People began to shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” There was already tension in the air, the faithful had been waiting for the Messiah to come and overthrow Rome. There is even a prophecy in Zechariah that says the King will come riding on a donkey, and a few verses later we are told that this King will destroy the chariots of the enemy. Jesus accepting the title of King, riding on a donkey, these are declarations of war and the Pharisees know it. They immediately tell Jesus to silence his followers, but they cannot be silenced.
What we see pictured in the story of Palm Sunday are the two great powers at war. Pilot, entering Jerusalem from the west with all the power and might of Rome; and Jesus, entering from the east, with his fisherman and a donkey. What happens next is at the very center of the gospel. If Jesus would have grabbed a sword and armed his disciples, he would have been no different than any other rebellious uprising. No, his way is different. Instead he absorbs all the wrathfulness and hatred the world could ever muster. There is no greater way to silence your enemy than to take his life, so they publicly humiliate Jesus and then nail him to a cross. The power of Rome is showing everyone else, this is what happens when you stand against us.
Those who opposed Jesus have a short-lived victory, he rises from the dead and their weapons become useless. What good is a sword against a man you cannot kill? Colossians tells us,“…having disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Jesus shows them what real power looks like. He doesn’t return violence with violence; He simply shows them that their power is no power at all.
The world has always been caught in the cycle of war. Violence will always lead to more violence. I’m not anti-war, it was good of us to defeat Hitler and the evil that he enabled. But wives still lost husbands; children still lost their fathers. The cost of such a war ripples through generations, and evil still exist all over the globe. That kind of war was a temporary solution but it is never THE solution. The only lasting solution that brings the peace we all so greatly desire is the Gospel. The gospel is the greatest power, held by the greatest King. Some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the real King and only then will we have peace.
After an intense confrontation with Pharaoh Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery into a new kind of life. It is not the life they are hoping for and because of their grumblings, it is going to be a long trip before they reach their destination. It is because of their sinfulness they do no quickly reach the promise land, but the promise remains that one day, they will arrive. This story is used in the New Testament to represent another kind of exodus; it is the exodus we find ourselves in today. Jesus has set us free but we are not yet at our destination. We now wander through our own wilderness as ambassadors for the true King.
It is the story of the old exodus that Paul alludes to as a way to instruct us on how to live during our current journey. Paul writes in Colossians “…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all POWER according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience”
The power that Paul is praying for them to have is not the power to conquer enemies or topple kingdoms; no, the power he wants them to have is power to endure the wandering with patience. He goes on to say in the next verse that our patience and endurance should be married with thanksgiving and Joy to the Father.
Very rarely do we consider the ability to endure patiently with joy and thankfulness a display of power. The kind of power the world chases is contrary to the kind of power that God provides. We want to overpower our enemies but God calls us to overcome our troubles by realizing that we are simply passing through on our way to the Promised Land. The world fights violently to hold onto territories and countries it has won through the force of armies, while we are recognize that no matter where we are, we are not citizens of some geographical location but are instead citizens of heaven.
The current political landscape is such that it exposes the many things wrong with the marriage of evangelical Christianity and it’s often unhealthy relationship with politics. When we fear we might be loosing worldly political power we often sacrifice our Christian integrity in hopes that a person with political prowess will rally to our cause. Woody Guthrie famously sang, “this land is your land, this land is my land.” But the opposite is true for a Christian. This land is not my land. I am an alien and an ambassador of a King and a kingdom that the world does not know.
This is why the power Paul speaks of is so important. He does not pray that they gain political power, influence, or safety from foreign oppressors. He prays that they learn to endure whatever their situation is with thankfulness and Joy. It is this example that we are to set. We are to show a world caught up in the storm of politics, that although some of the discussions are important, it does not define us nor does it cause us to loose our joy. This is a great opportunity to show others on both sides of the political spectrum that we are a patient and loving people who can endure good and bad times with a steadfast thankfulness. It is that kind of power that God gives, and it is far more powerful than any political position man could obtain.
In spite of countless attempts, I can honestly say that I have learned absolutely nothing from the current ideological wrestling match we find ourselves in. Like most of you my capacity for retaining political commentary has reached critical mass, and if I have to ingest one more article I am likely to spew my true feelings all over the dining room table. And yes, I recognize that I am adding to the noise with this blog, but my desire is to show that although the music has been briefly amplified, it’s still the same song that has been playing for generations.
In Philippians Paul writes,
“…make my joy complete by being of one mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose.”
As I was reading this I found it strange that he believed that his joy would not be complete unless there was unity among the believers. Was his joy not complete and found only in Christ? Surely he didn’t need other people to make him happy. Paul of all people should know that only God can meet our deepest needs. So why then did he use his own joy as a motivation for them to be united? I think an experience I recently had can shed some light on this.
I remember very clearly the first time I received my acceptance into the motorcycle community. My first bike wasn’t very big or fast, but it was mine. You might have noticed that when two motorcycles pass each other on the road they throw out a little hand signal to each other. It’s almost always the same gesture, your left arm shoots out and down towards the ground while holding two fingers out like a peace symbol. It was only a few days after I had my bike that I began riding down city streets. Early one cool spring morning I put on my helmet and riding gear and headed to work. As I was riding in the distance I saw a much bigger bike driven by a much bigger man. I could tell right away he was the real deal. He had a big grey beard and a leather vest covered in patches. As we passed each other I watched with great anticipation to see if he would give me the “sign.” I had my doubts, though, surely he wouldn’t recognize me on my little bike, I’m just a novice and I might as well have training wheels attached to the side. Then as we were about to pass, without even looking my way, he let go of his handlebar and threw me the sign.
The curse, that is where this all started. In the Garden, Adam was a provider. He worked the ground, cultivated it and made it his own. This is part of his design. He was supposed to use the work of his hands to provide for his family. But then he fell and the curse followed him. God said that he would work the field but it would never produce equal to the amount of work he invested. Ever since then man has tried to find his worth in what he could do with his hands, only to find that it never truly fulfills. This is why so many men are workaholics. We chase the temporary satisfaction of hard work like a drug.
Philosopher J.P Moreland once attended a gay pride lecture where a Lesbian woman was discussing the moral issues facing the LGBT community. During her lecture, she happened to look out into the audience and notice Mr. Moreland in the crowd. Apparently she recognized him which is not uncommon since he had been very vocal in defending the Christian views of morality to this community. She stopped her talk and began to tell a story aimed directly at this Christian apologist.
She told him, “I returned home after weeks of travel the other day. My girlfriend greeted me at the airport, and with great excitement, we ran towards each other and hugged in a loving embrace. On the ride home, I got to tell her of all the great stories of love and hope that I had experienced while on the road. When I got home, she surprised me by having my favorite meal ready to eat. After we finished, we sat around the table discussing with much hope and joy our plans for the future. Our love is so strong, it seems as though our hearts and minds are connected.” After recounting this experience, she turned and looked at Mr. Moreland and asked, “Who are you to deny me this love?”
I recently returned from a trip to Salt Lake City where I had the pleasure of speaking at a local Christian church that is comprised of many former Mormons. While there I was able to spend some time with one of my Mormon friends. After grabbing a quick bite[comma] he suggested we attend the priesthood conference. In Mormonism they have an annual gathering that is comprised of several different events. The main event is the general conference where the LDS Prophet speaks. There are events just for women and events just for the men. The men only meeting is called the Priesthood session, and we were able to score some tickets that had fantastic seats.
Some of you might know people who are a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also called Mormons. In casual conversation their faith can sound exactly like ours on many levels. However, the more you get to the foundations of their beliefs you begin to see their Jesus is not the same Jesus of scripture and their God is nothing more than a glorified man who had a god before him. They are some of the nicest people you will meet, but that does not negate the fact that they are polytheist who have a works based salvation.
The first speaker was Russell M. Nelson. He is one of the 12 apostles in Mormonism and a former heart surgeon. Early in his career, he lost two young girls during surgery who had heart conditions. He was always saddened by their loss and later learned that the family had some resentment towards him. As he began to speak, he told the story of how these two young girls, many years later, visited him in a vision one night. He said he heard their voices “spiritually,” and they cried out to him, “Brother Nelson, we are not sealed to anyone! Can you help us?”
A few days ago a few pictures of President Obama surfaced that put a spotlight on his interaction with kids. One of these pictures was especially powerful, the first Black president reaching out with compassion and touching the face of a young black boy. I'm not so politically driven that I think that these are fake, or that he doesn't really care about kids. My Bible tells me to respect my leaders and to pray for those in positions of authority. Despite all the areas where I differ with our president, I do not think he is a person full of hate, he is the President but also a husband and a father and it is safe to say that he loves his kids and those kids in the pictures. These pictures were so powerful that the hashtag #obamaandkids quickly went viral.
The day the photos circulated I found myself lying awake in bed, and the weight of my thoughts was physically evident to my wife. She asked me what was wrong, and the only way I knew how to respond was to simply say, “the world breaks my heart.” How could photos of our president being nice to kids break my heart you might ask? It's rather simple and difficult at the same time. I always try hard to see things through the eyes of others, especially when I might disagree with them. I'm not so closed off as to believe that I am always right on any given position. But when it comes to how liberals view children, I just can not make the dots connect.
A lot is expected of pastors these days. They are expected to teach several times a week while also doing hospital visits, house visitations of new guest, develop new strategies to grow their congregation, train and inspire their deacons and other leaders, handle finances and a multitude of other responsibilities and that’s just on a Monday. With all the different activates pulling for a pastors time and the added temptation of millions of sermons available online it can be a huge temptation to use what God has taught someone else and pass it off as your own. Yes, it’s crazy to think about but some pastors do steal sermons.
It is even encouraged by some mega church pastors who have a staff of writers helping form their sermons each Sunday. They then package those up and sell them online with PowerPoint and handouts all included. As Mega Church pastor Rick Warren says, “if my bullet fits your gun, then go ahead and shoot it.” And I’m certain that there are times when you have a bi-vocational pastor of a little country church who could really benefit from such material, but what about the full time pastor of a church who is hired with the expectation that his time would be spent first and foremost in the preaching of the word of God in such a way that he shepherds the specific flock he has been given.
When I became a pastor I had a choice to make of what kind of pastor I wanted to be. The very first time I was asked to speak I went to my father who is an excellent preacher and teacher and I questioned him on what topic or idea I should preach on. I’ll never forget his advice. He simply said, “Preach from the overflow of your heart.” What this means is that my job is to be so enriched by Gods word, such a student of it, that I can’t help but proclaim the goodness and mercy that God has for his people. I tend to be a very animated when I preach and my wife calls me the weeping pastor because I have been known to cry when I get moved while speaking. This merely comes from the fact that I have wrestled for weeks with a certain passage allowing God to use it to wreck my life, peeling off the scales from my eyes that I did not even know I had so that I could see more clearly who God is and what He desires.
I’m not sure if it is right or wrong to use another pastor’s sermons. But I know that even though there is a lot of things pulling for my time, my first priority is to feed the sheep God has given me. It would be easy to download a series, use the same bullet points and scripture, but then unless it was something that God had used to utterly destroy and rebuilt me in my own personal walk, I do not think I could preach it and feel like I did my job. If I was going to be so lazy as to just repeat what someone else said then why not just download the video and let that Pastor preach it for me?
I do know however, it is morally wrong to preach another pastors sermon without giving that person credit for their work either in the sermon or in the bulletin. And to do this week after week is an offense to God. Can you imagine getting a love letter from your wife only to learn that she had copied the kind words someone else wrote and passed them off as her own? Would they seem as sincere? Would her love for you seem less personal? Scripture is Gods love letter to his people and to steal from another Shepard and to con your congregation into thinking you labored over their hearts through prayer and study, that just seems horrific to me.
Whether you are a pastor or just someone who attends, God has put specific people in your life with specific needs, and there are specific ways that you can help them. I think we do more harm than good when we fail to answer them in a personal way. Let the scriptures speak and move you first so that you can effectively speak it to others.
Caleb is lead pastor at Logos Church and enjoys writing about pop culture, Star Wars, Jesus and what effective ministry might look like in Tulsa.