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Disciple-Making Life

Tax Collectors, Zealots, and Jesus

I have heard from people twice my age that this is the most politically divided the United States has ever been in their lifetime. I believe it. There are probably lots of reasons for this outside of actual issues. Media outlets like CNN and Fox and social media push the envelope in an unprecedented way. Whatever the reason, this nation is divided. Yet division is one thing. In a free nation, division, or I should say difference is welcome and necessary. Intense animosity for the opponent, is altogether another. The beauty of this country is that you are free to disagree with any one of my views and not be imprisoned or executed for it. The tragedy of this country is that you are also free to call me a bigot, narrow-minded, or hateful for disagreeing with your view. That’s where we find ourselves today.

In the Church, however, the story is quite different. Jesus brings a diverse multitude of people into his new people, a new nation. Not a geopolitical nation with physical borders. But a spiritual nation united over time and despite any differences in skin color, language, nationality, and yes, even political opinion. In the Church, Jesus unites what was divided. In the Church, Jesus creates a community of love, grace, and humility.

When Jesus was on the earth, he chose twelve men to follow him around and learn from him. Every one of those men (including Judas who betrayed him) are unique and integral to the gospel story. But two men whom Jesus chose especially stand out in light of our current political climate: Matthew and Simon (not Peter).

Matthew, a Jew, was a tax collector (Matt. 10:3), a Roman government employee. An IRS collection agent, if you will. But a corrupt one. Tax collectors not only demanded you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but that you also give to Matthew what is Matthew’s. He stole from people. Tax collectors were hated by the general Jewish population.

Simon, also a Jew, was called “the Zealot” (Matt. 10:4)—a fanatical, anti-Rome activist. He was perhaps a violent protestor, militantly opposed to big government. Zealots concealed and carried. They snarled at centurions and were always ready for a brawl. The freedom of Judea was worth it.

Can you imagine having these two men in your small group…this year?

Jesus didn’t accidentally include these two extreme political opposites in his discipleship group. He knew what he was doing. Jesus knew that in his new community, starting with this small band, he would display for the world that allegiance to him and his mission superseded and overshadowed all other allegiances and missions, political or otherwise.

In the community of Jesus, tax collectors and zealots come together in miraculous unity. Only God could do this. Here, tax collectors and zealots learn to appreciate each other’s views, experiences, and passions. Here, they seek to do each other good, not evil. Here, they fight for each other, not against each other. Here, they humble themselves and build each other up. Here, they learn that if you love father or mother or Red or Blue more than him, you are not worthy of him (see Matt. 10:39).

So the Matthews and the Simons are united, but not uniform, of course—they don’t agree on every single issue. Matthew might keep his job and pension. Simon might keep his sword (with a permit, of course). However, their views will, by God’s grace over time, be put in perspective and become balanced. Christ’s glory, not political ideology, becomes supreme. The spread of the gospel becomes their joint venture. Their views are put in check to Jesus’ word and where there is error in one or both views, repentance and conforming to Jesus is required. Where Jesus is silent, there is room for respectful debate, gracious compromise, and the pursuit of just practice for the common good.

The world sees this and shakes its head in disbelief. But this is the way of Jesus. He simultaneously offends and comforts the conservatives and the liberals, calling them to himself. It’s as if he’s saying, Where is your ultimate allegiance? Who is your true love? I am your king. Come find in me what you have always been looking for. 

Categories
Reviews Theology

The Reason for God (Chapter 2)

These are direct quotes from the book. If it is my paraphrase, it will marked by an asterisk (*) after the page number.

Chapter 2: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be [a God]. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order. (23-24)

If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways. (25)

From C.S. Lewis:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. (26)

Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. (28)

Jesus, the God-man, underwent more evil and suffering than we could ever imagine, and he bore the agony of death on the cross. Therefore, we truly know God is Immanuel (God with us) even in our worst sufferings. (31*)

For the one who suffers, the Christian faith provides as a resource not just its teaching on the Cross but also the fact of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that the future is not an immaterial “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21, we do not see human beings being taken out of this world into heaven, but rather heaven coming down and cleansing, renewing, and perfecting this material world….Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with  a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation. (32, 33)

From C.S. Lewis:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. (34)

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Theology

The Cockiness of Conservatives

I have been looking for a way to express this for some time now. Thanks, again, to John Piper, for his articulate, weighty, passionate, biblical explanation.  The quote below comes from a sermon in 2004 called “Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage.”

Piper’s words are targeted at the conservative Evangelical movement. He is calling Christians to be radical and stand out and apart from that movement. As a Christian, with Christ-centered, biblical values, I find myself in tension here in America.  As I grow older and more mature (in my faith and in life in general) I notice that I distance myself from both the mainstream conservatives and liberals. Neither of them hold to radical, Christ-centered values. I can’t be a cocky, conservative, political cynic and then try to identify with Jesus. There’s no room for both.

This paragraph helps me. I hope, if you are a Christian, it helps you too.

We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Know any good conservative talk show hosts that weep? Name one. Being pilgrims does not mean being cynical. That’s the name of the game. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. It tries to preserve, savor, and when it can’t it weeps. Being Christian pilgrims in American culture does not end our influence, it takes the swagger out of it. There’s so many strutting conservatives! Including our President [Bush]. And strutting democrats. “Can say no wrong, can make no mistake, I’ve got all the answers.” STRUT, STRUT, STRUT!  That is not the demeanor of an evangelical pilgrim who knows he’s fallen, knows he’s broken…We don’t get cranky when evil triumphs, we don’t whine when things don’t go the way we want them to in our culture. It isn’t our culture, heaven is our culture. We’re not hardened with anger. We understand what’s happening now. Why? Because we saw it happen 2,000 years ago. We hear, just like they heard…the imperial words of the Lord Jesus, “If they hated me, they will hate you. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what do you do more than others? Even the tax collectors do that. If you greet only your brothers, what do you do more than others? Even the Gentiles do that. You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  His way was so different than the seeming pervasive Evangelical, conservative, strutting, swaggering, cocky, cynical way.

Read or watch the whole thing.

Categories
Theology

Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens is the author of The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.  He is also the brother of Christopher Hitchens, the outspoken atheist who appeared in the documentary Collision with Pastor Douglas Wilson.   He tells his story here.

HT: Justin Taylor

Categories
Life

You Can’t Make Science to Mean Something it Doesn’t Mean

I’m not a scientist.  My science classes in college were geology, meteorology, and food science.  The best I did in high school was a B in honors physics at a public school.  And even that grade should be investigated.

So allow my non-scientific mind to think through something with you.

Often in debates about evolution and creation, I hear people argue for evolution (that is, the origin of the universe via big-bang) by saying, “Science proves it.  Science is not faith, it’s fact.”   They do this by talking about carbon dating, fossils, and the fact that Noah couldn’t really have had all those animals in the ark.

Well, science is “fact” if you are talking about how a tree grows, how a car moves, or how my heart works.  You can prove those things.  But science cannot prove the origin of the universe.  “Yes it can!” people tell me.

No.  It can’t.

Why?  When we refer to science, we usually mean “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.”  We come to this knowledge of the physical world by using the scientific method, which Merriam-Webster defines as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

You cannot re-create a universe as vast, complex, organized, and beautiful as ours in a test tube in order to collect data about how it began.  It just can’t happen.

So if you hold that the origin of the universe is due to a randomized explosion of atomic particles, that’s fine by me.  Just don’t call it science.  Call it what it is: faith, belief, and religion.