Chasing Waterfalls 


When I first started writing and sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my own faith journey, my search for spiritual progress, I was in full recovery mode.  Recovery from my own addictions, recovery from the consequences of my own sin. Most of my writing and thought was focused on recovery and hope found in the Bible.

As I’ve gone on, I have gotten away from the recovery focus. It has been nothing intentional, no conscious decision has been made, but the farther I go into the words of God and the discovery of who God is, the farther my own spiritual and faith journey has gotten away from the recovery focus I once had. Because, simply, I’m just not in the same place anymore.  


But today, I am going back to my roots, so to speak. Back into my recovery and the message of the hope and love that only comes through Jesus Christ.



Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
Sometimes, it feels like life is just a waterfall. A waterfall of pain, washing over us. As in this song from the Sons of Korah, which we know as Psalm 42, we are just caught in the waterfall of pain, those waves just keep washing over us. Can we ever stop the waterfall?? The power of the waterfall as a metaphor is that it Just. Keeps. Coming. Sometimes it feels to us that this is how life is. It just keeps coming, one pain, one hurt cascading upon us after another, a never ending waterfall of pain, hurt, and emotion. We can stand under the waterfall for a time, a period, but eventually, the waterfall will always beat you down if you can’t find a way to stop it.


How then, do we stop this waterfall of pain? As much as we would like to, we can’t just stop all the painful experiences. But there are two things, two secrets, I have found about the pain in our life.


First, MOST of the pain in our life us either retrieved from the past or borrowed from the future. Most of our pain resides in our memory or our imagination. It either comes from recalling some bad thing that happened in the past, or it is borrowed from a future which we have not even realized or attained yet. A future, by the way, which is totally out of our control. Our pain mostly comes from our memory or our imagination, not from our present.


Second, and maybe more importantly, we STOP the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment. We stop the cascading waves from rolling over us by living not in the past, not in the future, but in the present. Or, as we in recovery like to say, by living one day at a time.


This is not exclusive to Christianity. Many of the wisdom traditions had discovered this, which makes sense, because before there was wisdom, there was human pain from which that wisdom could be hard won. But the important thing for us is that Jesus confirms our discovery. “”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  


Jesus confirms the wisdom that we should live in the present moment, and he takes us further in. As always, he pulls back the curtain to reveal more. He teaches us that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us. He is not an angry or retributive God, but has one stance toward us and that is love.


Jesus suggests to us that the rest of creation enjoys the peace of being present in the moment with God. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  


The birds of the heavens, the lilies of the field, they aren’t anxious, worried, or troubled. They live in the present moment. They are not retrieving pain from the past or borrowing imagined fears of what could happen in the future. But we humans, we are always a special case.  


We need to learn that we stop the waterfall of pain by being open to the love of God in the present moment. There is great wisdom in that statement. In fact, it’s the only thing that I know that works. It’s the only way.


Most other ways of dealing with our pain are simply trying to distract ourselves from the pain or numb ourselves to it. Both of these are destructive. In psalm 42 verses 7 and 8, the sons of Korah use the metaphor of the waterfall. But they find a way to stop the waterfall. “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalms‬ ‭42:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Each day the lord pours out his steadfast love upon me…they discover how to live in the love of God in the present moment.


If we can stop the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment, good things can happen for us. And we can stop the waterfall from cascading upon us, if we can open ourselves in the present moment to the love of God.  
Our future is absolutely unknown. But that doesn’t stop us from our prognosticating. As the Danish physicist Niles Bohr once said, “Prediction us very difficult. Especially about the future.” We waste time and emotional energy, and cause our very own pain, worrying about the future.  


How do we stop? You stop by opening yourself to the pervasive love of God. Here’s a truth we all want to hear – you are loved right now. Don’t forget what Paul tells us – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. No mater what happened in the past, no matter what might happen in the future (What if I stumble?), God loves you. The only REAL truth you need to know is that God is loving you right now. The love of God is the OTHER waterfall, even more ceaseless and relentless than the pain in our lives.


The love of God is not a waterfall of pain, it’s a waterfall of love and peace. The trinity is eternally generating self giving love. God is Love. Not self-centered, selfish love, but self-giving love. By this I mean, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, the Holy Spirit is that love. BUT – primitive concepts of God, bad theologies of an angry God, can dam up that waterfall of love.


God us pouring out love into you, your life, right now, but bad theologies can act as a dam to block the flow of love into your experience. IF we can remove those dams of wrong thinking about God, it’s then only a matter of being present to God’s unfailing love and never-ending song.


Blow up the dam, restore the river to its natural course, then it’s just a matter of learning to be open to that love in the present moment, right now. Just imagine, knowing that God is loving you, right now. Just imagine basking in the love of God.


What about the past? What about tomorrow? I don’t  know, I’m just here, right now, just being. Being watched over by God, knowing everything is gonna be alright.


Well, ok. HOW??? This is a chief value of using formative (aka liturgical) prayer, that it can lead to a God-filled present. Without the help of a liturgy of prayer, I CAN NOT ever get my mind quiet enough to live in the present moment and thus be open to God’s love. In fact, it’s what I struggle with more than anything right now. I have victory over many problems, many addictions, but what I struggle with most right now is 1) fear and 2) anxiety. Or vice versa. I don’t know about you (but probably I do), but I know it is only with the formation of a good liturgy, the practice of a formative, well crafted liturgy of prayer that I can get my mind quiet and find myself in the present moment. Not in the past, or always in the future, which is where we always tend to live. This is why we need to be formed in prayer, to have a consistent liturgy of prayer.


If we try to be still (Be still and know that I am God…) in prayer in order to experience God’s love without a liturgy of formative prayer, we generally fail to be present in the moment. It doesn’t work, not much happens, so we generally get discouraged and give up altogether.


In other words, it’s not something you’re going to be able to figure out on your own. We all need help (like anything else). We need teaching. We need someone to help form us in prayer. Learning to be present to God in the present moment does NOT come naturally to most of us. There are rare examples, those natural born mystics. These are those who’ve been used by God throughout history to teach the rest if us. You are not one of them.
For the rest of us, this is a skill, kind of like riding a bike, learning to swim, or learning a new language. When you start, it is not a natural thing. Once you have the skill, once you learn it, it becomes super-natural for you. It just becomes a part of you. You never forget how to swim, how to ride a bike. Once you achieve fluency in a new language, and you are just speaking and not translating, it just begins to flow. You’re not thinking about it anymore. But you have to learn first.


You have to deal with fear, pain and confusion. Learn to ride a bike you might skin your knee a few times. You have to ivercome fear to learn to swim, overcome confusion to learn a new language. But you can do all if these things. We can also learn to be present to God in the present moment. No longer retrieving from the past or borrowing from the future, but present in the moment and aware of God’s love for you.


Learning to be present to God in His love in the present moment, present enough to stop the waterfall of pain from the past and future, is a spiritual skill that takes time to develop. Impatience only increases the delay. Take a breath, take time, be patient, learn how to do this. Stop the waterfall.


But I remind you, most of your pain is retrieved or borrowed. What you will find, if you can be still enough to find the present moment, is not the waterfall of pain and anxiety, but the ocean of God’s endless love.


“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭42:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/psa.42.7-8.esv

“”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.6.34.esv

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Making Clean…

Making Clean…

white as snow

A follow up to my last 2 messages, and also to my previous message regarding theology in the revelation of the Jesus Christ (the only perfect theology as the Word made flesh). If, when we put together our puzzle of who God is and what God is like, we end up with a picture that does not look like Jesus, it’s time to start over, to be born-again (again), because we’ve gone wrong somewhere and we are not seeing the Kingdom of God.

First World War
A question asked in that message was “Does God take our side in our hostilities?” Again, and this one is not an answer many will like, but the answer is “No“. This is the point Jesus makes in showing us the real purpose behind two famous Old Testament stories revealing God’s healing power. These stories, the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow at Zarepath, and the story of Elisha the prophet healing Naaman the Syrian, are great stories of healing in the Old Testament revealing the power of God to intervene in our lives for our good, and the power of faith in being willing to trust in him for our healing. To which the people of God have been singing “Amen” and “Hallelujah” for millennia.

jesus-cross-and-sun
But Jesus, the full revelation of God, the Lamb who is worthy to unlock the scroll, shines His light of revelation on these stories in ways those listening do not always want to hear. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭ESV

loved the darkness

‬‬
When Jesus tells us about the widow at Zarepath – But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. – as I said previously, this one does not cut too deep. After all this woman was a poor widow, even though she was not one of “us”, she was no danger to the people of God, and God always has commanded the care of widows. It may be a little bit of a problem that she was one of “them“, but we can still appreciate the love and care of God in this case.

leper
But the story of Namaan – And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. – this is the story that throws us off center, makes us uncomfortable. This makes us uncomfortable because it cuts right to that most uncomfortable of all the commands of Jesus – the command to love your enemies.

Chinese Soldiers
Naaman was not just a Syrian, not just one of the hated “them“, he was one of “them” who had gone to war and even killed some of “us“. We might be talking about him as a great terrorist, as part of a “rogue nation“, a threat to our “security“. And – if there is anything we know in 21st century America – we must “eliminate” any and all threats to our “security“.   What we really believe is “Do unto them BEFORE they do unto us

nuke
But Jesus, the sinless Son of God, shines his light on our systemic, deeply held conviction (sin) that we must maintain our security at all costs.  He shines his light into our deeply held conviction that it is always us or them, us vs. them, and them are wrong and us is right, and we can prove it because we have more and bigger nuclear weapons with which to blow them to bits.

enemies
Jesus, at the bare minimum, makes it plain that, whether we are right or not, God does not choose sides in our conflicts with other nations. He does not love US more than he loves any other nation. As Jesus tells us, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.

jesus making the leper clean
We wonder why the world is trying to shut Jesus up. We think it is because of all the things we are against. But, I think, it is much more because of what Jesus is for. Because Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  Because we prefer eye for an eye.  Because Jesus is for our enemies, just like he is for us. Because, for Jesus, there is no “them“, there’s only “us“.

2013030420unknown_northwestern_france_jesus_driven_from_nazareth_koninklijke_bibliotheek_the_hague_c
This throws us off balance, upsets our understanding of the world, upsets our understanding of God. When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. This is why they wanted to throw him off the cliff. It wasn’t just a few, it was all in the synagogue. When you take away our God of vengeance, we tend to get very upset. I mean, somebody’s got to PAY!!! They did me wrong, they hurt US!! You’re telling me God does NOT hate everyone that I hate??

Jesus-Cliff
This is why we would look for a cliff to throw him off. Again. We don’t believe in public crucifixions (thanks to our Christ) anymore, so we wouldn’t specifically do that again, but we do have our enemies, and enemies need to be dealt with as enemies. We have a lot of people and things we are against. We have a lot of things and people we believe God is against. (These are mostly people and groups who, in whatever way, are not like US). Because we may not have crucifixes anymore, but we do like to keep our lepers around.
Just not too close, lest we be made unclean.

unclean
Funny how Jesus was never made unclean, no matter who He came into contact with. But whoever was touched by him, was instantly made clean. White as snow….

Nice_white_snow_over_mountains

“But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:25-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.25-30.esv

 
John Lewis

Loving Enemies

dtloveenemies

Bringing a message that should have come days ago, nearly had this finished Thursday, opened my email on Friday and it was gone, so writing this for the second time now. Maybe I just didn’t have it right the first time, that’s the way it goes sometimes…

Naaman-08-600x600

The story of Naaman the Syrian, as recorded in the Old Testament and referenced by Christ himself, resulting in those listening trying to throw him off a cliff. Just a harmless fairy tale I suppose…

man of valor
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Naaman was a mighty man of valor, a great warrior, victorious in battle and therefore celebrated as a great man by his king and country. Not everything was well with Naaman though, he had contracted the disease of leprosy, so his days of victory and valor were pretty well numbered.

naaman servant girl
Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” One minor detail here – Naaman was a great warrior and mighty man of valor in battle against Israel, against God’s chosen people. If God is for us, who can be against us?? Naaman the Syrian, that’s who!!  Naaman had led Syria in battle against Israel, and one of those captured into servitude happened to be a young girl who was brought back to Naaman’s own household in the service of his wife. This young girl, instead of holding anger toward her captors, has genuine concern for his well being. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy. She thinks she knows how Naaman can be healed, and tells his wife so.

naamna and the king
So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” I love that this says Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel…the writer here has no idea what was said in the meeting, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. He (or she) just knows the result of the meeting. The king of Syria sends a letter to the king of Israel, whom he has been at war with, asking for help in curing his best general. So Naaman takes the king’s letter and a whole lot of cash (ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, think millions) and heads off to the king of Israel.

gold
And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” Can you blame the king for his anxiety? Naaman has been killing his soldiers and capturing his people, now he comes to be cured of his leprosy?? He’s minding his own business, Naaman and the king of Syria won’t leave him be. These guys are asking me to do the impossible to justify another battle with me!!

love your enemies
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Oh king, you of little faith!! If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move this mountain.

naaman at the house of elisha

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. Remember, Naaman is a mighty man of valor, he’s been kicking Israel’s tail all over the desert. In spite of his current position, he commands and demands respect, which is one thing not coming from the prophet Elisha. Elisha can not even be bothered to come out and give him a face to face meeting, he flippantly sends out a servant with an easy cure – wash in the Jordan River, that muddy, nasty, dirty river, seven times, and you will be healed!!

River_Jordan
But rather than joy at the ease of the cure offered, Naaman is insulted that the prophet does not come out himself, and (I am guessing here) that the cure is not more elaborate and sophisticated. Who needs a prophet to wash in the Jordan River?? And why that dirty river – we have much better water right at home!! So, in a rage – Naaman turns back to head home and do things his way.

clean-hands
But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Seriously boss, wash and be clean!! Leprosy was the great, dreaded disease of ancient times. This is a great word spoken by the prophet, just wash and be clean, be cured of this disease. Naaman came prepared to spend millions of his fortune to be cured, yet he is not willing to give up his pride.

naaman-was-healed-from-leprosy-after-dipping-in-the-jordan-river-7-times
So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And so we have one of the great miracle stories in the Old Testament, Naaman coming to be washed in the river Jordan in the land of Israel, a land blessed by God. A story of faith, the faith of the prophet Elisha, the king of Syria, and a little girl caught into slavery. Notice here that Naaman (and the king of Israel) was not operating on faith (he was trusting in his fortune to convince the prophet and God), but his servants believed in the prophet. Reminds me of a certain healing story of Jesus where a man was healed due to the faith of his friends – “And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:18-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We never know what effects our prayers may have for another, despite even their own attitudes…

elisha
As I said, a great healing story from a great prophet of God. We can leave it right here, we don’t need “the rest of the story” to make this a great story of faith in God and the healing of the sick, but Jesus gives it to us anyway. “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”” Luke‬ ‭4:27‬ ‭ESV‬‬. First, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬. First, the widow, now Jesus goes for Naaman the leper. There were lots of lepers in Israel, but God chose to heal not an Israelite, but a Syrian.

widow
The first story is itself a great example of God caring not just for Israel, but all people. But that one doesn’t really make the point, doesn’t cut to the heart. After all, the woman being helped was a poor widow and her son, we all know God tells us to provide especially for such people, widows have special and specific care and instructions from Yahweh, the God of Israel.  She was no harm to anyone, and the people of God are commanded to give care to widows especially.

matthew_5_44-45_nkjv_wallpaper-750x375
But the story of Naaman the Syrian, that’s a little edgier. As Jesus says, there were plenty of lepers in Israel, but God sent Naaman to Elisha to be cured to his glory. But the problem is, Naaman is no harmless, helpless widow waiting to die. Naaman is the general of the army of the enemy of Israel. He’s been at war with Israel, on the battlefields against God’s chosen people, killing their soldiers, capturing their women and children. Naaman is the problem Israel needs to get rid of. If Naaman has leprosy, that is an act of God against him to the glory of God’s name, Amen! If Naaman has leprosy, it is a just and deserved punishment against an enemy of the God of Israel. We are not to heal our enemies so they can bring more terror against us, if he is sick, we let him die. If he is not sick, we are to bomb him until he be dead, dead, dead.

kim jong un
But that’s not what the God of Israel says, is it? No, the God of Israel sends Naaman the Syrian (aka Usama Bin Laden, aka Kim Jung Un) the the prophet of God to be cured of his leprosy. We think we know who deserves punishment from God, or at least we think we know the punishment of God when we see it. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus here – “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John‬ ‭9:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

The four lepers looting the camp of the Syrians
Naaman the Syrian “deserved” his leprosy, didn’t he?? But, that’s not why he contracted his disease. The disease was not because he sinned, but so the works of God could be done through him. His cure, not his sickness, was the work of God. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.

blind-man-healing
The works of God are not just for God’s chosen people. God (Jesus) tells us to love and pray for our enemies, because that is exactly what he does. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:45‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the truth of the matter, as revealed to us through Jesus Christ, the true, full revelation of God. But as usual, this is no part of any truth we want to hear. “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Take away our justification of vengeance and hate, the first thing we do is stone the prophet or find a cliff to throw Jesus off of. And he just passes through our midst, and goes away.

jesus passed through their midst

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭5:1-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/2ki.5.1-14.esv

John Lewis

Worthy Is the Lamb

Worthy Is the Lamb

lamb-of-god.jpg

Switching gears this morning. Looking at a story of the prophet of Elijah, a story important enough to be used by Jesus centuries later, with enough power that it almost got Jesus killed.

ELIJAH-AND-THE-WIDOW-OF-ZAREPHATH
Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. Apparently this woman had been recently widowed, because she was immediately known and recognized, presumably by her mourning garment. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” The quick background of this story is that a severe famine had come upon the land, a famine which Elijah himself had prophesied. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”” ‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭17:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Just as Elijah said to Arab, there was no rain for three years, resulting in a severe famine (these people had very little fresh water suitable for irrigation).

pot-of-oil-and-flour
So when this woman says she and her son were about to share their last meal together, that really was her expectation. Food production had ceased because of massive crop failure. I’m sure, however, this is not the response Elijah was expecting. He had the word of the Lord that this widow was going to feed him. What we have now, then, is a huge test of faith for Elijah. Will he faith in God to trust in his provision?

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.'” Do you see the near ridiculous, audacious faith at work here? “Ok, I hear that you and your son are about to starve to death. But go ahead and bring me your last meal anyway, and the God of Israel (a God this gentile woman did NOT believe in) will feed you.” Both the prophet of God and this gentile woman are walking on crazy faith here. They are running on faith, trusting in God, and does God let them down? Of course not! And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. Didn’t Jesus tell us something about a prophets reward? “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:41-42‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And so the widow of Zarephath received her reward from God, she and her son survived through the great famine. She might even be in Paradise right now, I think.

scroll

This teaching was straight out of the Hebrew Scriptures. But does that mean the Hebrew people really understood what it meant. No…after all, no one had been worthy to unlock the scroll!! “And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Revelation‬ ‭5:3-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. But, worthy is the Lamb who was slain, amen!! “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. So, Jesus does unlock this scroll for us, to see the true, hidden meaning of the story which was locked away for centuries. “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Luke‬ ‭4:25-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus unlocks the scroll and shows us that the point of this story is  is not simply a miracle showing the power of God (amen and hallelujah!), but that this is a story showing God’s people (Israel) that the love of God is not just for them, but also for the Gentiles. God had many widows in Israel he could have chosen, but he chose this woman, a foreigner, an outsider, an unworthy recipient, to receive sustenance through the prophet.

lamb who opens the scroll
We have many groups ourselves whom we think are not worthy to receive the blessing of God, do we not? We think the love of God is for us only, we forget that “…he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew‬ ‭5:45‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Sometimes, we don’t actually want to see the truth of Christ. These people from his hometown of Nazareth did not want the scroll to be opened in such a way – “And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:29-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬. They didn’t want to hear his word, so he simply passes through their midst and goes away. Much as I think, when we pull all the promises of the Bible to ourselves and throw it’s curses upon everyone else, he might just pass through our midst and go away. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Jesus to pass through our midst and go away.

worthy is the lamb

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is amazing grace!! Can we stand it?

 

“Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.'” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”

‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭17:8-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/1ki.17.8-16.esv

John Lewis

What We Need


So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.

What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.  


I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.

Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.


But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.


And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.  


And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.


“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:30-44‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.6.30-44.esv

“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)


So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?


Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.esv

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!

Cäsar

Looking at Romans 13, which is really a continuation of Romans chapter 12 with a very unfortunate chapter break thrown in. Very unfortunate because it leaves Romans 13 on an island by itself, with no context, when clearly the context for chapter 13 is chapter 12, which we looked at the other day, Paul distilling for us Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount.

MLK-Love-enemies
Paul goes directly from giving us Jesus teachings in his great sermon, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, into what we know as chapter 13, but is really a continuation of Paul’s take on the sermon on the mount.

love of enemy

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

caesars sword
Paul here in Romans 13 is writing about Caesar, and this passage is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of scripture, very often with tragic consequences. Beginning a little after the Emperor Constantine, all the way through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and even, unfortunately, to this very day, Christians have been using (misusing) this passage, which in the writing of Paul is an extension of the Sermon in the Mount.  Many have used this not as an extension of the sermon but instead as a rebuttal to the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever we want to disagree and rebut someone using the teachings Sermon on the Mount to argue for peace and love of enemies, we turn to this writing of Paul for our rebuttal, claiming our New Testament sanction for the war and violence we so firmly believe in. But the question is, who are we rebutting when we do this? Are we rebutting the one using Jesus’ teaching, or are we rebutting Jesus?

st paul.jpg
Why do we interpret Jesus in light of what Paul has written? If we are Christians, who believe in Christ, should we not then be interpreting the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus? After all, isn’t Jesus the one who was resurrected and vindicated by God on the third day? I am reminded here of what God himself had to say at the transfiguration of Christ. “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. To which God the Father had something to say. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And when the disciples could open their eyes, the only one before them was Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus, not Paul, is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him. Paul does not get a tent.

PP-JesusTransfiguration_JS_0037
So when we think we see Paul overruling something we know Jesus taught us, we need to try to figure out where it is we are getting it wrong with Paul. In other words, we need to default to Jesus until we understand how and why are we misinterpreting Paul.
First of all, notice the pronoun change from chapter 12 into 13. Chapter 12 is all about “you”, chapter 13 Paul is writing about “he”. Put simply, chapter 12 is written for “you”, it’s an admonition for you. Chapter 13 is an observation upon “he”, Caesar. It is not an admonition to you as a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus are called renounce vengeance and love their enemies ALWAYS, as taught by Jesus in his great sermon and explained by Paul in Romans 12.
Paul is, I believe, doing two things here in Romans 13. Number 1, he is endorsing the police function of the pagan empire of Rome to maintain a civil society. Make no mistake, Rome was a pagan empire, but even a pagan empire in rebellion to Christ can arrest bank robbers and keep the streets safe.

violent revolution
Number 2, more importantly, Paul is calling these Christians in Rome away from violent revolution. Violence is off the table. Violent revolution against the empire had long been a temptation of the Jewish people, don’t forget that this the time between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Paul here is giving the new Christians in Rome basically the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples in his Olivet discourse. The very warning against violent insurrection most of the Jews in Jerusalem did not take heed of, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and deaths of 600,000+.

nazi-germany
As Paul said, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Caesar does not carry that sword in vain. If we embrace violence because we feel our cause is right and “just”, Caesar just may use that sword and you will suffer. Then you will be talking about the wrath of God which comes upon us, inevitably, for not following the Jesus way and instead seeking vengeance on those who have harmed us. The wrath of God which is the divine consent to our own choice to follow or not follow the path laid out for us, and the consequences thereof. Sin always carries its own punishment.

moses-and-rameses-were-raised-as-brothers-but-took-different-paths-to-become-great-leaders
Why do we hold up Romans 13 as the only place in the Bible that talks about the government? The Bible talks about the principalities and powers all the time, and it’s almost always in a dark light. Pharaoh during the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah. The parade of beastly empires in Daniel. Most clearly, Babylon, aka the Roman Empire, in the book of Revelation. These governments and empires are most often depicted as agents of the satan, not agents of God.

beheading-of-paul
And we need a little context here for what Paul is writing to these Roman Christians. Never, ever forget that Paul, the man who wrote Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God to the Romans, was himself executed by the government, in Rome, for not submitting to Roman authorities out of fidelity to Jesus Christ.

Kingdom-Not-World-AD
Jesus himself was subject to the governing authority of Pontius Pilate, but that does not mean Pilate acted justly. On Good Friday the Roman government was not acting as a servant of God but a servant of Satan. Jesus even explains to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John‬ ‭18:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus was subject to the governing authorities in that he did not violently resist them, which is exactly what Peter and the other disciples wanted him to do. BUT – in being subject to the governing authorities Jesus shamed these principalities and powers in his crucifixion and was vindicated by God in his resurrection. This is the posture towards evil that followers of Christ are called to imitate.

easterwallpaper1
To pit Paul against Jesus, and Romans 13 against the sermon on the mount, is bad interpretation and worse Christianity. We are followers of the slaughtered and victorious lamb called (by Jesus AND Paul) to overcome evil with good.

 

John Lewis