Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Monday, April 30, 2012

My journey as the "Rich" Young Ruler

By Dan Sidey

From my first days as a Bible-reading Christian I have been both haunted and inspired by the encounter of Jesus and the rich young ruler. Reading the story set in motion a great desire within me to make the decision the rich young ruler couldn't. I can't honestly say how much success I've had. Much of the journey has led to failure, but in it I discovered things about myself and God. Other times it has led to some degree of success, I suspect. Still every time I read it I'm haunted by it, but also inspired.

There are a variety of interpretations of the rich young ruler encounter that have spread throughout the church in the US. These interpretations often have the effect of absolving the one communicating (and the ones listening to) it of responsibility for following Jesus' command to sell your possessions, give them to the poor and come follow him.

I have tried to be faithful in allowing the text to speak to me. I have no doubt I am that rich young man. I feel how dependent I am on my things. About a week ago my iPod got wet and I was crawling in my skin waiting to see if I'd have to drop another $200 on my technology dependency. I like my comfortable bed, my refrigerator full of food, my two cars and my house that I "own". I'm deeply affected by consumerism. It runs in my blood.

Now you may think you are not the rich person in the story or you may have a suspicion you are and want to absolve yourself. You may say you follow a gospel of grace not of works or that this and that person in the New Testament was called by Jesus to remain rich and experience eternal life. It's ok. I'm not going to whip out a mirror and talk about you. Nobody pulled a mirror on me and I don't think it would have helped. Somehow I've always felt I was that rich man. No human showed it to me. I've just known it.

As hard as it may sound to have carried this knowledge, I'm thankful for it. It's set me on a path of great discovery and surprising intimacy. In fact, I want to better know how I'm that rich man. I want to come to Jesus again and again if I have to, even if I have to walk away more sad every time. As morbid as this may sound it simply is not to me, because I'm captured by a greater vision of a more radical possibility.

The disciples were staggered. "Then who has any chance at all?" Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it."(The Message)

That is my highest and best aspiration in a nutshell. I desperately long to trust God to do something miraculous and I believe there is "every chance in the world" he will do something right here, right now. Like in Zacchaeus' moment, the Son of God and his lowly followers may dine at my family table and I will have a gift for those who happen to have less, not out of my plenty, but instead a gift that asks "Jesus, May I suffer with you just a little?"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Law is for the Lawless, Not for You!

By Mark Drake

1 Tim 1:8-9- “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless…”

If you have received God’s free gift of righteousness by Christ coming to live inside of you, then you are the “righteous”, not the “lawless”. Therefore, the Law is not made for you. You have something far better than the letter of the Law. You have the Lawgiver, Himself, living inside of you!

Why the New Covenant is Better than Law

The miracle of the New Covenant is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (Col. 1:26-27) The New Covenant enables us to live the “Inside Out” life rather than the vastly inferior life of “Outside In”. When the Lawgiver is living in us, we are empowered by Him from the inside out.

We Must Always Start at the Right Starting Point

We must always start with the reality that we have already been made righteous by putting our faith in the work Christ did for us on the cross. Then, as we learn to allow Him to live His life in and through us, His righteousness nature begins to live through us, affecting our actions. Our goal now becomes to cooperate with Him for inner transformation; not to become “right with God” because we are already “right with God”.

Though we will not learn to cooperate with Him perfectly in this life, we are on a progressing journey into righteous behavior which culminates in our physical death, when we will be completely changed and fully transformed into His perfect image. (Rom. 8:29) The journey does not make us “right with God”. We are already right with God because of what Christ has done, once and for all! But traveling on this life journey is dramatically “easier and lighter” (Matt. 11:28) when we understand the true New Covenant.

When the Lawgiver is living inside of you, you do not have to live struggling to outwardly obey a list of laws, by your own power and by making more sincere promises to God. Instead, He will empower and guide you from within. This is what makes the New Covenant…New! Living in the true New Covenant is intended to give us the successful life of Inside Out, instead of the failure of Outside In.

Example of Lawlessness – Traffic Laws

In civil society we must have traffic laws, because our lawless human nature is motivated by selfishness and the fear of punishment. If I drive through your neighborhood thinking only about myself and how fast I want to get to my destination, then my lawlessness (not being motivated by love) makes me a danger to others.

But if I am being motivated inwardly by agape love, I will be more careful than the traffic signs demand because my concern will be the safety of others rather my selfish desires. I won’t need the threat of punishment or the outward restriction of law because I am being controlled by a higher inner law. I will be even more careful than the law requires because I am being controlled by God’s love for the well-being of others.

True grace empowers us to live beyond the letter of the Law. True grace produces a better life than Law ever could. This is why Paul could confidently say “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:10)

This is the power of true biblical grace; Christ’s life inside you, controlling you from within, as a free gift from a loving Father. And this is THE Good News!

Mirrored with permission from

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I Wore a Hoodie for Jesus

By Dan Sidey

In light of Trayvon Martin's death and the fact that his killer remained free I, for a time, wore a hoodie as many in the black community have.

Why was I wearing a hoodie? I’m doing my best as a white man to practice Christian racial reconciliation. I believe that the only way the Gospel can be fully lived out is if whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native-Americans and people in the Body of Christ are willing to share life together, empathize with one another and love one another. When injustice arises loving my brothers and sisters of color also means standing in solidarity with them against injustice. I wore a hoodie as a reminder to all who saw me that justice was failing Trayvon and his family. For me it isn't some liberal agenda with a Christian twist, but the very Gospel of Christ. My life has been deeply enriched by my friends from other cultures and races. When I say "enriched" I'm not referring to trying new ethnic foods or learning a little Spanish. I'm talking about my entire life being changed and my view of the world transformed. I look at US history with much greater desire to see God's kingdom come instead of the American dream. I see who the true heroes of our country are. The Christianity I practice is so much more grounded because I can see how God stands with the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus, our Lord and God, is misunderstood, oppressed and marginalized with them.

Sadly, the most racially segregated day and time every week in the US is Sunday mornings, but the calling of God for all white people is to experience understanding, empathy, friendship, and ultimately what Martin Luther King Jr. called the "Beloved Community." I don't believe this kind of understanding and intimacy between our races was just MLK Jr.'s idea but Christ's dream for us from the beginning of time. I've seen the Beloved Community with my own eyes, touched it with my hands and listened to its utterly holy music. I wouldn't return to my old way of living even if you pulled a billy-stick on me. I'm gripped with fascination and I'm hoping I've said something to pique your interest, to help you risk understanding what I believe Christians of a different race experience. I want you to know Christ better and your true identity as a white person.

Below are the steps I'm humbly offering as a way toward God's dream of Beloved Community. The first step is the way in the door and each following it requires more taking up of the cross, but results in more resurrection as you discover more of yourself in Christ. I haven't found this road to be linear. I constantly find myself returning to each of the steps and with each pass through them I'm more fascinated and changed.

Here is the road I suggest and a few stories to illustrate what I mean:

1. Read books about Christian racial reconciliation. Here are two great places to start. Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp and Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Reading is an excellent way to help you wrestle with the stories of people of color and the falsehood of the dominant white narrative. The books I’ve suggested are written by white people who have learned to see the world with Jesus’ eyes. This exploration gets much deeper as you read books by people of color about race. John Perkins’ honest memoir Let Justice Roll Down is an excellent entry point.

2. Attend gatherings where people of color are encouraged to speak freely about race. Try to believe what you hear, even if you find it unbelievable and painful. People of color experience many insults, acts of violence and injustices that we will very rarely (if ever )experience as whites.

One example of a place where you can hear these perspectives was the Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon that happened in February 2012. There are Christian conferences and gatherings like this happening frequently. This could include attending an African-American or Asian-American church regularly.

Note: Statistical evidence has shown that both black and white folks are interested in racial reconciliation. White folks prefer to practice this in an informal format, but interestingly black folks, at a much higher rate, prefer to experience interracial dialogue in a formal setting or have white folks attend formal gatherings that address racial issues before they meet informally to talk about race. In light of this don't underestimate the value of the first two steps.

3. Make meaningful friendships with people of color. Eric Law in The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community suggests that white folks learn to embrace the cross in their relationships with people of color. Our relationship with them must include searching out honest ways to serve them, to lift them up instead of ourselves. A meaningful friendship also includes allowing people of color serve us.

Some years ago I made friends with Raj, who is an Indian-American. While I was teaching on race at the university I asked him to come and share about his experience in the US as an Indian-American. As we listened I was amazed and shocked at the tragic and optimistic story of Raj embracing an identity that is marginalized. I could only see him as a hero and a trailblazer after he shared with us. He also appreciated the chance to articulate his journey. Our relationship only grew after this experience.

4. Work to listen deeply to your friends of a different race.

By listening deeply I mean that we must learn to not just hear the ideas that people of color are sharing, but work our hardest to imagine ourselves in their shoes. Listening so it affects us in such a way that we let it demand change and action of us.

Years ago I had a Palestinian friend named Fatima. She is a fiery beautiful Muslim whose faith is both zealous and humble. At the time one of my classes in seminary discussed how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was oppressing her people. The next time I met with her I asked her to tell me about the suppression of her people. She told me about the poverty, harassment, terrorism and marginalization that the Palestinian people feel down in their very being, because of the massive power and oppressive methods of the Israeli army. At first I couldn't believe it was true. Luckily she was willing to tell me again and again and soon it took hold of me how oppressed the Palestinian people feel. Later in class I was asked to share about "Why are Muslims angry at the US?" I shared her story as well as the story of a Palestinian Christian at our seminary who told me that if he had lost his family by the Israeli army's oppressive methods he would seriously consider giving his life for the cause of Palestinian freedom. I never could have understood the magnitude of these stories if I wouldn't have learned to listen deeply.

I offer these four steps to you. My longing to know Christ deeper is drawing me down this road. I really hope you choose to take this journey with me in loving people of all colors. It’s time white folks wake up to our need to humbly and empathetically cross the racial lines. Jesus is waiting there for us.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Was Jesus a fundamentalist?

By Aaron D. Taylor

When I was in my early 20’s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: “If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?”

That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.

Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.

1. Jesus preached nonviolence.

2. Jesus was a faith healer

3. Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day

Take any of these three statements, declare that followers of Jesus should do the same thing today, and somebody’s going to get pissed.

Preaching nonviolence may win you accolades in certain circles, but there are an equal number of people that will hate you for it. And who in their right mind would want to attempt a ministry that revolves around the miraculous today? With the exception of people that watch TBN, everybody despises faith-healers—at least here in America.

It’s rare enough to find a person that embodies the values of 1 (preaching nonviolence) and 2 (faith-healing) simultaneously, but the real contradiction seems to be between 2 (faith-healing) and 3 (challenging religious fundamentalism), because the kind of certainty that it takes to say to a crippled man “rise up and walk” doesn’t lend itself to the kind of nuance that it takes to challenge religious fundamentalism.

Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did…

Take this story for example:

When Jesus was about to be received up (into heaven), he set out for Jerusalem, bound and determined to get there. So he sent some messengers before him, and the messengers entered a Samaritan village to make things ready for him. But the Samaritans did not receive Jesus, because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw what the Samaritans had done, they said to Jesus,

“Lord, would you like us to call down fire from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?”

But Jesus turned to them and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. The Son of Man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives. He came to save them!” (Luke 9:51-56, rephrased from the King James Version)

Some background information is in order.

Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Jesus’ day. Jews said that the proper place to worship was in Jerusalem. Samaritans disagreed. Which is why they weren’t jumping for joy at the opportunity of hosting a Jewish rabbi on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans had a fundamentalism of their own, which said that if you don’t worship at the right holy place, you can’t be a true messenger of God.

So they rejected Jesus.

Then there’s James and John. Not only were the Samaritans of the wrong people (strike one), and the wrong religion (strike two), they had flat-out rejected Jesus (major strike three). James and John knew that rejecting Jesus is a big no-no, so they must have assumed that Jesus felt the same way about the Samaritans as they did, otherwise why would they imagine that Jesus might go along with their plan to call down fire from heaven and incinerate them?

And notice the way they asked the question, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven….As Elijah did?”

In the Bible that they read—what Jews today call the Hebrew Scriptures, and what Christians call the Old Testament—Elijah really did call fire down from heaven to consume his enemies.They weren't making that up. The Bible really does say that! (For the curious, the story is found in 2 Kings Chapter 1). But the disciples took the story literally, meaning they believed that the story applied to them in their day in the same way that it applied to another people at another time and place.

And Jesus nailed them for it.

Jesus said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.”

We see many rejections in this story. The Samaritans rejected Jesus because he worshiped in the “wrong” holy place. The disciples rejected the Samaritans because they rejected Jesus. And Jesus rejected the way his disciples used the Bible to shore up their rejection of the Samaritans.

The disciples read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit. As Jesus said, “The Son of man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.” Is it possible to read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit?

How might people do that today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

A man finds peace

By PJ Meduri

I had just gotten out of our car after arriving in a village in Southern India. I had barely started walking when a man, about 30 years old came up to me and began speaking feverishly with words. I couldn’t understand. The Pastor/Interpreter relayed to me what this man was saying.

“He’s saying that his father has just died, his mother is ill, and he’s afraid of death.”

I asked the Pastor to encourage the man to have a seat in our meeting as I would be talking about that tonight. Later that evening in that village in India, I spoke to around 200 people regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. That as the Son of God who died in our place and rose from the dead, Jesus offers the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life to those who will trust in Him. That evening, this man indicated that he too wanted to trust and follow Jesus Christ.

Before leaving two days later for my flight back to America I was able to give this man a pocket-sized card with a picture on it. The picture was that of a man who had just died and was being embraced by Jesus as the man entered into eternity. A reality now awaiting this man from India.

In reflecting on this I’m reminded of what’s written in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes which says “..God has set eternity into the hearts of men.” (Eccl. 3:11) I’m sure that’s why it doesn’t matter where we live, or what our background is, somewhere in the quietness of every heart there’s a reminder that this world isn’t the final stop in our existence. It also brings to mind the words I once read of a famous skeptic who summarized his life by saying, “I don’t know where I came from. And I don’t know what I’m doing here. And worst of all, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me when I punch out of here.” I’m so thankful that the answer to each of those questions can be found by trusting totally in the Lord Jesus to give us eternal life. For Jesus has promised, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (John 10:28)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kind atheists or hateful Christians? Which does God prefer?

Pastor Shawn Craig of Crosspoint Church, also a member of the famous Christian group Philips, Craig, and Dean wrote a thoughtful post the other day about whether God prefers kind atheists or hateful Christians. When I lived in Missouri, I attended Crosspoint, which at the time was called South County Christian Center. My parents remain faithful members, and for good reason. Pastor Shawn is a Bible teacher par excellence!

In this particular post, (see the link below) I found Pastor Shawn's take on the parable of the Good Samaritan to be worth reading, although it doesn't appear that he has grappled too much with the fact that Jesus made the heretic the hero of the story, and what that might mean in terms of how Christians today should view people of different faiths. The closest parallel to the way Jews thought of Samaritans in their day is the way Christians think of Muslims today.

How would the average Christian feel today if they heard a Sunday morning sermon about a guy getting beat up, left for dead, and while the worship leader and the youth pastor pass him by, the person that actually helps the man is a Muslim named Ahmed. This is how the Jews would have heard Jesus' story. The guy that was supposed to be the "bad guy" turned out to be the one who actually fulfilled the great commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Contrary to what Pastor Shawn seems to be saying in this post,(and I do emphasize the word seems, since I very well could have misread the post) I do think that the parable of the Good Samaritan lends itself to the question of which is more important: orthodoxy (right believing) or orthopraxy (right living)? I don't agree that it's inappropriate to ask the question of who might God prefer: kind atheists (or Muslims, Jews, gays, insert the standard evangelical heretic here) or Christians who have their theological ducts in order--that is to say, they believe all the right things--but despise outsiders.

Having said that......

Pastor Shawn makes an excellent point when he says that God prefers people that believe in Jesus.

Can't argue with that.

And, of course, I agree that the Old Testament law, as well as many of the next-to-impossible demands that Jesus sets in the Sermon on the Mount, are meant to frustrate us to the point of acknowledging that it's only by grace that we can be saved, not by any works of righteousness or merit on our own part. I just don't think that's the point that Jesus is making in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I could be wrong.

It wouldn't be the first time.

Read the article here.

What say you?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Removing Son of God from the Bible?

Yet another thought-provoking article from Carl Medearis--Aaron

By Carl Medearis

There’s an interesting debate going on within Christian missions circles these days. Wycliffe Bible Translators have taken out the term “Son of God” in the New Testament when referring to Jesus in their Arabic Bible translations. They’ve done this because (they say) it does not represent what the words originally meant to a Jewish audience when a modern Muslim is reading them in Arabic. As you might guess, there’s been a huge backlash from the Christian community.

And as is typical, there’s been little room for nuance. If our answers can’t fit on bumper stickers, most aren’t interested. So the simplified version of both sides are: It makes sense….and….Heresy.

(Although I’m not really writing about this point – my opinion would be to leave those words in since they are the words used, and footnote the phrase each time it’s used with an explanation at the bottom of the page).

But here’s the real issue – it’s communication. Language. Semantics. Here’s how the conversation often goes with a Muslim. They ask the Christian this “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Because, we don’t.”

The Christian, thinking he’s answering honestly and with integrity say, “Of course. Jesus is called that in the Bible.” The Muslim shakes his head and cries out to God to protect him from this awful heresy of the Christians. The Christian is offended and gets even more defensive about Jesus being “the Son of God” and round and round it goes…

Here’s what the Muslim is thinking when he asks the question:

To continue reading this entry, click here

Monday, April 02, 2012

Welcoming the stranger

By Adam Maarschalk

“I’ve seen the bumper stickers in Dade County in Miami, even in church parking lots, where they say, ‘Will the last American to leave Miami please bring the flag?’ I’ve seen the propositions in California that want us to build a wall to keep the world out. But they haven’t read—obviously—Psalm 24 which says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s.’ This country is not ours. It is the Lord’s.”

These are the words of Ray Bakke, chancellor and professor of Global Urban Studies at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington. Ray shared these and many other thoughts in a 23-minute Moody Radio address given on November 24, 2011. Titled “Compassion: The Drama of Urban Evangelization, Part 2,” it’s a thought-provoking message very much worth listening to (audio available here).

Ray provides many fascinating statistics demonstrating what God is doing, particularly in US cities, to bring the nations of the world to our doorstep. Ray also brings a probing challenge to the body of Christ to respond accordingly. I’d like to summarize his address here.

Ray begins his address by speaking of Onesimus, the Biblical slave of Philemon who became so dear to the apostle Paul that most of the book of Philemon is made up of Paul’s appeal for Onesimus’ freedom. Ray refers to Onesimus as “a refugee who became the Bishop of Ephesus,” as it is believed. He suggests that it was Onesimus who first gathered together the Pauline letters of the New Testament, a point that Eric Sammons of the Diocese of Venice in Florida also emphasizes. Later in his address, Ray reminds us that Jesus was born in Asia in a borrowed barn, before He and His family became refugees in Africa.

“The Lord is spreading the world out, and the frontier of world missions has shifted,” Ray adds at one point. “No longer is it across the ocean only.

God has a history of taking care of refugees and immigrants, and calling His people to love and show hospitality to the strangers He sovereignly brings to live among them. A reading of the Law given through Moses to ancient Israel will confirm this. How is God granting such opportunities to the body of Christ in America today? Ray shares these highlights:

A. There are more Jews living in New York City than in Israel, more in Miami than in Tel Aviv.

B. The United States is the second largest African nation, after Nigeria.

C. The US is the third largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

D. Pittsburg has more than 50,000 Serbs.

E. There are more than 250,000 Arabs, Chaldeans, and Iraqis living in the Dearborn, Michigan area.

F. Representatives of 123 nations (i.e. 2/3 of the world) live in just one New York City zip code, in the Flushing neighborhood in North Central Queens, home of the World’s Fair in 1964-65.

G. Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other cities have become “catch basins of the world.”

Ray goes on to describe what God is doing in other parts of the West and elsewhere (Yes, despite strong rhetoric in certain Evangelical circles to the contrary, I do believe God is behind these things):

A. London: The east side of the city is largely Asian, the west side is largely Arab, and the south features a large number of black and Caribbean peoples. “There were 52 nations in the British empire. Now all 52 nations live in London,” but “the British church is not ready for this.”

B. France: “There are 46 countries in the world on 5 continents that speak French, and 26 of them are in west Africa… The French, for 150 years, were messing up those countries in many interesting ways. Now those people are coming back to France, and the people in France don’t like that one bit.” (Does the body of Christ there have a different stance?)

C. The Chinese people: “God has scattered about 80 million Chinese into all the major cities in the world,” Ray adds, and many of the believers among them are “linked up by fax machines and email and a common mailing list of the Chinese Coordinating Committee for World Evangelism in Hong Kong [this is the first I’ve heard about this]… Could God be scattering the Chinese through the cities of the world to prepare for an Asian Pentecost in the 21st century?” In Birmingham, Alabama, there were 6 Chinese restaurants in 1990. Six years later there were 66.

D. Rapid urbanization: In 1900, only 9% of the world’s population lived in cities. Now over 50% do. Presently there are some 400 cities with 1 million people or more, 100 cities with more than 2 million, and 23 cities with at least 10 million people.

Ray believes that there are at least five specializations in urban ministry:

1. Working with at-risk people who have come to our cities

2. Community organizing and church-based development (Ray says, “Christians can actually adopt the last, least, and lost in the worst neighborhoods in our cities, and move into those cities, and establish a beachhead of the gospel, and then rebuild those neighborhoods.”)

3. Multi-lingual (Ray cites 1st Baptist Church in Flushing, NY, with 63 nations in membership)

4. Laity (many are also called into professions to take personal faith into public places)

5. Pastors (they can learn how to enable congregations to worship beyond our own limited cultural experience)

On a sobering note, Ray adds that gated communities in the US are growing faster than ghettos at this time. “Middle-class Americans, including Christians, flee the cities, just when the Lord sent the world to the cities.” May it be that this trend does not hold true among God’s people, and that we engage with the lost, the hurting, and the needy instead of retreating from them. May God open our eyes to see the incredible open door He has given us to minister the gospel to growing numbers of unreached people just down the street, a few blocks away, or in the nearest city.

“Just when it was expensive to send missionaries over the ocean, they [the nations] are coming here at their own expense. It’s the great bargain in world missions. But will the church be there for them?”

This is a condensed form of an article that originally appeared here. Used with permission