Change The World

change the world

Change the world.   Isn’t that really what we want to do?   Don’t we see so much evil, so much wrong in the world?  There really is so much we would want to change.


Jesus referred to James and John as the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).   Why?  Because maybe more than any other disciples, these two brothers believed that the way to power, the way for Jesus to overthrow Caesar and establish his throne forever, was through the taking of the sword of Caesar.  They believed, as we still do, that political and military power was true power.

cross of glory

This is what we see here in Mark chapter 10 as these brothers begin jockeying for position in the new kingdom they believe Jesus is bringing in.   And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”   Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem.   They all expected something great was about to happen.  They expected Jesus to be crowned King (which, indeed, he was).    “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,” Mark 10:32 ESV.   They are headed to Jerusalem, to the coronation of the True King, and his followers are both amazed and afraid.  Amazed that they are about to change history (This is really happening!).   Afraid because they knew that this crown would not be won without a fight.  Some of them might very well lose their lives.  The only one who could not lose his life would be Jesus….


Jesus was about to come into his glory, and the Sons of Thunder wanted in.  Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.   They have imagined Christ as Caesar, and they want to be vice-Caesar and Secretary of the Treasury.  They see the endgame in sight, they are willing to fight for the revolution, and they expect to enjoy the fruits of the last 3 years of walking with Messiah.  They expected, they wanted, to fight fire with fire.  They expect to fight political power with political power.  They are willing to die for the cause if need be.  They expect their Messiah to overthrow the military might of Rome with the power of God.  Jesus is about to lead the revolution into Jerusalem and finally set things right!!!


Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”   Only Jesus knew what was coming.  He tried repeatedly to explain it to them, but they just could not hear.   They could not imagine any other way.  They could only understand the world as it was, not as it could be.   But Jesus was doing something new and truly beautiful.  He was not imitating the ways and means of Caesar, but bringing in the Kingdom of God.

not to serve

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.   Jesus came to change the world.   But he did not, he does not, imitate the ugly ways of Caesar fighting over power and dominance.   Instead, we work in His kingdom by the countercultural means if humility, service, and sacrificial love.  These things are truly beautiful.


When we follow Christ, we are choosing the path of humility, service and love, not political dominance.  Political dominance is not the way of His kingdom – You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.   We have forgotten, or simply ignored, that Jesus brings in His kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms.  He did NOT fight political power with political power.   As He was submitting to His state-sponsored execution he tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…” John 18:36 ESV.  We share a beautiful Gospel.  Part of that beauty is that the Kingdom of God comes not by the sword of political power, but the cross of self-sacrificing love (Take up your cross and follow me).  Jesus didn’t ride the war horse into Jerusalem, he didn’t swing the sword for political power (All who take the sword will perish by the sword), instead he absorbed the blow of the injustice brought upon him, and committed his fate to God.


In the words of Pastor Brian Zahnd, we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world!

white house

We live in a broken world.  But what is most wrong in the world is not our politics or who runs Congress or lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  What is most wrong with the world is the distorted face of humanity brought about by the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed and pride.   We are not called to protest, or campaign for political solutions, but to live an authentic Christian alternative.  We advocate another way.  We do participate in the political process, but we do this mostly as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, teaching and showing the virtues of that Kingdom.  We show what it means to be Christ-like in what is still a Caesar-like world.  But, this requires us to take up our cross, put down our sword, follow Jesus, and trust in God.  It’s not meant to be practical.

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

Mark 10:35-45 ESV

John Lewis


Denial University


Human pain is the great unifier.  We all have pain in common.  It’s a part of our solidarity.  To be human is to hurt.   But in our pain, we always look to find our way to Jesus, because if you can get to Jesus everything is going to be alright, amen!!


God in Christ is “Emmanuel“.  GOD WITH US.  God with us in the solidarity of human suffering.  Beginning at Bethlehem, Jesus entered the world of the wounded, and was himself wounded.   But here’s a beautiful and sacred mystery, “By his wounds we are healed“.  If we can bring our own wounds to the wounds of Christ, it does not multiply woundednes but produces healing.  But first we must acknowledge our own woundedness.  This is hard for us as American Christians.  We are raised on John Wayne, Bruce Willis, and pick yourself by the bootstraps.  We are very slow to acknowledge our woundedness and pain.  In many cases, we never actually do.  In the words of Walter Brueggemann, we are schooled in denial.


The wounded in our society are everywhere.  The hardest task is to break through denial so people can get in touch with their own pain.  Our zeal for certitude and absolutism is an anxious, frightened response to the reality of pain.  We think we can not bear the pain, so we protect ourselves by pretending we don’t know about our own pain.  What we discover is that if we can get access to our pain within our community which we trust, then our pain is almost always bearable because the trustworthiness of our brothers and sisters will hold and not let us fall through.  Sometimes we need to be helped to see or hear that our certitudes are mostly phony, that life does not conform to our certitudes, and our absolutes are much less than absolute.

So what do we do about a people schooled in denial?


Lamentations, that little book between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, was composed in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  It was end of world for the Jewish people.  Imagine  September 11 times 1000, that’s 587 BC for the Jewish people.  It was a great national humanitarian and economic crisis.  But it was also a great theological crisis.  It caused them to question everything thought they knew and believed about themselves.  Are we the people of God or not?  We’ve not been rescued, we’ve not been delivered.  This pagan nation has destroyed our great city and burned our temple.  Everyone but the poorest of the poor have been carried off into captivity and exile.  We don’t even have a land to call home anymore.  That’s context for the book of Lamentation.   It’s the Jewish hymn book of grief and sorrow.  And the Jewish people have had plenty of opportunities to lament.


Lament brings pain, sorrow, and anguish out into the open where it can be acknowledged, shared, and eventually healed.  What the book of Lamentations does is make it possible for the Jewish people after the destruction of the temple to be able to get past their certainties and absolutism and allow God to come in and bring true comfort.

Look at how the Lamentations opens.

lonely sits the city

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.” Lamentations 1:1-4 ESV

Now look at how the book closes.

how long

“Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.”

Lamentations 5:20-22 ESV


Always, always, the question we want answered is “How long, Lord?”  Notice how Lamentation reaches no nice resolution.  There is no happily ever after.  It hangs there in ambiguity.  Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.   Restore us Lord, renew our days as of old…unless you are just going to be angry with us forever.   No certitudes or absolutes to be found, even inspired by the spirit as this was.  There is no happily ever after.

everything's going to be alright

Leading up to the great catastrophe, all the prophets in Jerusalem said everything is gonna be alright.  We have the temple, we have the promises of god, God is on our side.  God is our defender.   There will be peace.  We have the covenant of god and the promises of God.  This city will not, can not fall, because after all we have the temple of the lord!!  All the prophets, that is, except for Jeremiah.  “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” Jeremiah 7:4 ESV.  Jeremiah brought a minority report.  Jeremiah said there is idolatry in that temple.  He said the city and temple will be destroyed.  The people will be carried into Babylon   Jeremiah warned, as all the other nations in the area fell, that they would fall too.  Jeremiah warned them Do not trust in these deceptive words. “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” Jeremiah 7:4, 12 ESV.  Jeremiah warned them to remember Shiloh, the place where the ark of the covenant itself had been kept.  The original dwelling place of the lord had been wiped off the map, what makes us think we won’t be is the warning.

jeremiah in the well

Jeremiah’s message was not very well received (go figure).  He was arrested, censored, his prophesies were burned, he was even thrown into a well.  At least they didn’t kill him…

587 bc

All the other prophets said everything’s going to be alright, but it was Jeremiah’s prophecy that came to pass.  In 587 BC, the city fell, the temple was burned, and the people were carried into captivity and slavery.  The moon was red as blood, the sun refused to shine, all the stars fell from the sky.  It was the end of the world as they knew it.  And they could no longer take comfort in false promises of what turned out to be the false prophets.


Lamentations is about preparing a place for comfort to come by doing work of lamentation.  It is a primer in overcoming our denial and false certitudes.  What is meant by false certitudes?   Isaiah 54:17 says that ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper…”.   There is a time and a setting, a context, where that is the word of the lord.  But we grab hold of that verse (and others like it) and carry it around with as our own personal badge of bravado, we tell everyone who will listen how no weapon formed against me shall prosper, we carry on in our certitude and absolutism.  Until the day comes when it seems every single weapon being formed against you is totally prospering.   Then what do you do??  Just keep denying, keep on the brave face, never let ’em see you sweat, never show weakness, amen?


When the diagnosis is grim, the bankruptcy is filed, the divorce is final, our loved on has died, our certitudes go out the window.  Lamentations was born at this point, at the pain point of 587 BC. Even the book of psalms, which we mostly see as the praise songs of the Bible, is full of lament.  One-third of the psalms at psalms of lament.  Israel is famous for its psalms of lament.


We need to really understand where Lamentations fits into the Bible.  If you look at the book of Isaiah, it is divided into two parts. The first 39 chapters are warnings and prophecies of dire consequences which are coming.  This part is pre-587, before the destruction of the temple.  Chapters 40-66, that is all after the destruction of the temple.  This us where most of our liturgies from Isaiah are actually from, from chapter 40 on.  So we have Isaiah 1-39, warnings and prophecies of what is to come.   Then August 587 BC comes, and the destruction of the city of God, the burning and destruction of God’s temple, and God’s people being carried off into exile.

none to comfort

This is where Jeremiah’s (we believe) lamentations come in.  There is phrase that appears 5 times in the Lamentations,  she has none to comfort her.  There are none comfort, there is no comfort, this is said five times during the book of Lamentations.   Bu5 what happens in Isaiah 40?   “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1 ESV.  It’s no longer none to comfort, it’s comfort, comfort my people.  The work of Lamentation that’s been done has opened the people up to real comfort, the comfort of God given by others.

Blessed are those who mourn

Jesus himself says what about this?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 ESV.   Mourning, laying down our false certitudes, being vulnerable, opening yourself up to the comfort of a God carried by another.  Grief is not a reality to be denied, but work to be attended to – Pastor Brian Zahnd.  The work of grief and lamentation must be done if we are to allow true comfort into our lives.  But we would rather anesthetize ourselves with entertainment…


We so crave happiness.  You might say we are a happiness obsessed culture.  We’ve even got a constitutional right to pursue it!!  (I know, it’s not actually in the constitution.  But we believe it is…).   We think we can just whistle past the graveyard and forget that death is the very backdrop of human existence.  We actually believe we can get out of this alive.  We are so like the great whore of revelation – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV.  We think mourning we will never see, we can just whistle past those graveyards, but it’s all just a lie.  It’s propaganda we so want to believe and live our lives based upon.

stay miserable

But when we are schooled in denial, we earn our degree in just staying miserable.  We have become a people addicted to entertainment, and we earn degrees from Denial University.   When we experience loss and the grief and pain that accompanies it but will not acknowledge it, it us simply internalized and begins to poison our soul.  The effects of the poison can be seen in things like depression, anger, addiction, physical disease, other types of things.  When we go off to Denial U, we earn our degree in how to stay miserable.


This is what is so powerful about our 12 step programs like AA, NA, SA, or my favorite Celebrate Recovery.  It is through these programs and living the 12 steps that we can be unschooled in denial and begin road real recovery.


School of denial belongs to the empire that can not bear to face reality of death.  You know someone’s been schooled in denial when they refuse to attend funerals.   “I don’t do funerals“.   Some say this like it’s  a virtuous thing.   We are so selfish, are we not?   But what this really is just someone so schooled in their own denial that what they’ve told themselves is some virtuous decision not to attend funerals is really just away for them to face the reality of the one funeral they will be required to attend.   Because we are all required to attend at least one funeral in our lives, are we not?    We’ve turned funerals these days into an exercise of trying to cheer someone else up when the real purpose of a funeral is grief and lament as a community.   We grieve together, we share in the loss with those closest loved ones.   Because lament purges the soul.  It does not add to the problem, it is a part of the healing process


One last bit here.  Consider this prayer, tucked away right in the middle of the book of Lamentations, starting with verse 3:16.

“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:16-26 ESV

love of christ

When we are honest enough about our pain and grief to share it with our brothers and sister, we can then be opened up the love of God carried to us by another.  Because, really, how are we to receive the love of God in this world except through another made in his image?  God almost always works through people, does he not?   So the beginning of healing and recovery comes through sharing that pain, sorrow and grief, not covering it up.  Become a Denial University dropout and experience the love of Christ the only way we know how – by being opened up to receive it through another human being.

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

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!


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.

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.

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+.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


Losing our Souls

Losing our Souls

losing our souls

The genealogy of Jesus.  You can’t even begin the New Testament without at least skimming it, putting our best speed reading glasses on and plowing straight through.  At least we might pretend to plow through.  If you’re like me, you might read through, get to the end of it, then wonder if you even read it at all.


But plow through it we do.  Because you can’t read the Bible without occasionally going through various genealogies.  And you can’t even begin to read the New Testament without starting, immediately, with the genealogy of Jesus.


And what a genealogy it is!!  If we were doing our own genealogy on the many internet websites making millions by providing this service, how many of the characters in Jesus’ family tree would we pretend didn’t exist??   If Jesus were alive today, running even for mayor of one our major cities, how much gossip would he endure?


Right from the beginning, Jacob.  He would have needed an ankle bracelet for us to keep tabs on him today.   Judah and Tamar are there, Tamar the widowed daughter-in-law of Judah who tricked her father in law into thinking she was a prostitute so he would sleep with her.  Or maybe she didn’t try to trick him at all, maybe he just assumed that’s what she was because that’s what he wanted her to be.  I don’t know, go read Genesis 3, it’s really some story.

judah and tamar

How about David, the giant killer?  One minute, killing Goliath, chopping odd his head and carrying it to Jerusalem.  Writing psalms, giving praise to the lord.  Sparing Saul’s life when he could have killed him and claimed the crown by force.  But on the other hand, sleeping with his captains wife, then plotting to have him killed in battle to cover up his sin.

king david

All these named have a story, and the story is not always clean.  Really, this is the bloodline of the Messiah?  We often wonder and comment on the rag tag band Jesus called his disciples.  We marvel at how he uses simple fisherman to help bring about his kingdom.  We know that if Jesus can use a thug tax collector like Matthew, then there must be something we might be useful for.  If Jesus didn’t reject Judas, knowing he would betray him, then he certainly will welcome us.

follow me

But what about the other side of this.  What did the disciples see in Jesus?  Look at this family tree.  This is the ancestry of the Messiah?  We are going to follow who??  We’re not even sure who who his real father is, are we?


Yet follow they do.   Jesus gives the call, and they never turn back.  “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22 ESV.   Seriously, what were these guys following?   Jesus, by his own account, was homeless.  “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”” Matthew 8:18-20 ESV.  He even came from Nazareth, and we know how that one horse town was viewed –  ““Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.” John 1:46 NIV.


What were these guys thinking?  What did they see?  Peter and Andrew, James and John, these guys at least had their fishing business.  We know Peter, at least, was married.  Matthew, like Zacchaus later on, was one of the wealthiest guys in town.  None of these men, we assume, was homeless.

counting the cost

But they all walked away to follow Jesus.  And Jesus made no secret of the cost.  “Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”” Matthew 8:21-22 ESV.  Right from the start, the cost was high.  The pay was low.  What a group they had, beginning with their leader.  We wonder how he chose them.  But – how in the world did they choose Him?


How are we still choosing him?  2000 years later, we are still waiting for his return.  A crucified Galilean carpenter, we barely comprehend his death and resurrection anymore.  We believe he was raised on the third day, but we can’t quantify it.  We can’t explain it.  And as much as anything, we want to be able to explain it all, tie it in a nice pretty package, put a bow on it, give it to our neighbors as a Christmas gift.

betrayed by the church

We’ve been disillusioned and sometimes betrayed by his church.  We have nice soft pillows to lay our heads on.  We have big homes, we have nice cars.   We have the world, almost literally, at our fingertips.  What do we need him for?

losing my soul

Yet we still seek Him.  Because we know, outside of him it’s all meaningless.  Because we know, instinctively, like it or not, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 ESV.

having it all

We have it all.  Big houses, nice cars, beautiful wife.  But every day, we come to know this truth discovered long ago – ““Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”” Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV.  Without Him it’s all meaningless.  We’ve gained the whole world, but we lie awake at night, heads on our soft pillows in our comfortable beds in our big houses, not even able to sleep.  We’ve become so addicted to our stuff, to getting more stuff, to keeping all the stuff we have, we can’t even sleep at night thinking about what we might lose, or might not be able to get if things don’t go just as we want them to.


We are addicted to stuff.  We are addicted to drugs.  We are addicted to alcohol.  We are addicted to gambling.  We are addicted to food.  We are addicted to sex.  We are addicted to watching other people have sex.


We have the whole world, but we are losing our souls.


So, we still seek the crucified carpenter with the questionable family tree.  Just as his original disciples heard the call, we hear the call.   His disciples left all they had to follow him, and they spent the rest of their lives convincing people He was (and is) the King.


He spent his life dying for people like Peter.  Dying for people like John.  Dying for people like Matthew.  So that we might know, if he had a place for people like Matthew, like Peter, like a woman caught in adultery, he just might have a place for us.

waiting for his return

We might not know what He sees in us.  We barely remember what we saw in Him.  But we do remember he gave His life dying to save us.  Save us from our sin.  Save us from our addiction.  Save us from our fear.  Save us from our tears.  Save us from our pain.


Save us He did.  If we will only accept his salvation.  If we will only choose Him.

Will we choose Him.  Or will we choose our big house, fast car, and soft pillow?   Will we choose our stuff and lose our souls??

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

John Lewis

Let It Burn??

Let It Burn??

let it burn

Looking at a prayer of discipleship to Jesus from the Psalms. On trusting in the Lord as our teacher…

trust in god
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Do we trust Him enough to believe this?? Or are we the ones who feel shame for openly professing faith in Christ? Do we profess our faith but secretly wish we could just be more like the world?? After all, it seems like they have no worries, doesn’t it?? Don’t they laugh at us in their glee, joyfully thumbing their nose at God and mocking his people.


They tell us they have a better way, and that we can do it with them, without God. Sometimes our own doubt creeps in and we start, just a little bit, to believe them. But then we open our eyes. We look around, and we can see the lie. The lie hidden behind the hustle. The lie behind the smiles and laughter. We see the world as it is, not as we would have it. We see the sub machine guns patrolling the concourse at the concerts. We see the suicide rates. We see the lost war on drugs, we see the addiction epidemic. We hear the guns firing over the busy-ness of our bustled life. We see the funerals, more now for those 18-45 than for those over 65. And we are reminded that Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Indeed.

teach me your paths
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. So we wait for Him. We sit with Him and His word. We pray to Him. We trust Him for our salvation, we know it’s only through Him that we are saved. He is the way, the truth and the life. We therefore trust that He best knows how to live that life. Because we believe Him when He tells us “…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

remember your mercy
Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! We trust in His love, because we know God is Love. He is love, has always been love, even when we didn’t believe in His love, even when we sometimes still don’t believe in His love. He’s been love ever since In the beginning… We ask him to forgive our sins, and we know He is faithful to do that, because He is love eternal, love that was, love that is, love that is to come. Our sins are only temporary, no matter how egregious they may be. We have faith in the love of God expressed in the Son who stayed faithful to the Father and his brothers all the way through forgiving them even during the act of dying on the cross. So in our sin, we run. We run. And we run. But we can never outrun or outlast the love of God. Because love never ends. Love never fails.

instructs sinners
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Do unto others as you would have the do unto you. Love your enemies. Forgive them not seven times, but seventy times seven. Turn the other cheek. We trust Jesus for our salvation. Seriously, who else are you hoping to trust for that?? So we trust Him to carry us off to the heaven we dream and fantasize about. A place with streets of gold, the brightest sun and bluest sky, the greenest grass, the prettiest girls, the most handsome men. We trust that he has power over our souls to take us out of the lake of fire and into paradise the day we die.

in the lake of fire
But – do would we rather be in the lake of fire while we are on earth? We trust Jesus with our souls, but do we trust Him with our lives??  Do we believe that the Jesus way will give us a better life in the here and now??  I have a serious question. What in the world makes us think we can spend our lives creating hell on earth, but that’s ok because we trust Jesus to take us out of the hell of our own creation when we die? Jesus promises us heaven, and we trust Him for that. But he also promises the abundant life, the good life. He doesn’t just promise to give us life abundantly, he teaches us how to have that abundant life.

But do we love our enemies? No…we watch CNN over and over so we can see that Mother Of All Bombs kill as many as possible as quickly as possible. We secretly cheer in our hearts when we hear of another war in the Middle East, kill-em-all and maybe our world will feel a little more comfy tonight. We curse our enemies during rush hour, giving them the one finger salute at 80 MPH…maybe slightly encouraging them to find the guardrail with a swerve in the road on the way.
Jesus taught you to forgive others their trespasses, but we hold onto anger, bitterness, and malice in our hearts because we don’t like the way they apologized to us. Or we are mad on top of mad because they have not apologized at all. We’d rather keep our anger and bitterness than the relationship we’re angry and bitter is gone. But in our minds that’s better than forgiving them, and it doesn’t matter, because Jesus has forgiven me, right?  We’d just as soon hang on to our anger and pride than follow the Jesus way of forgiveness.

turn the other cheek
Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, if someone slapped us on one, we should be the kind to turn the other. If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat too. Don’t look at people as objects to be used. Give to the poor, just because they need it.

he is coming
Yeah, all this discipleship stuff, all the things Jesus taught us about how to live this life, are all optional. Because when Jesus talks about the eternal, abundant life, he’s only talking about that far away luxury resort we call heaven.  The world’s on fire, but that’s ok. Let it burn. In fact, make sure to throw more gasoline into the lake of fire. Hate and curse your enemies, that enemy love is no way to live. Let the poor be hungry, what’s that got to do with me, I gotta feed my kids! I’m not forgiving that guy, he didn’t even say he was sorry. Even if he did, I still ain’t letting go if that grudge. What he did was unforgivable!!

Why bother with the teachings of Jesus. He’s coming back to set all things right. Besides, I know he’s taking me out of this lake of fire when I die, because I said my sinners prayer. Everybody else might be stuck, but I’m going to heaven when I die. Piss on ’em!!
But no, Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. We don’t throw gasoline on the lake of fire. We smother it with love, grace and forgiveness. We teach others to do the same. And maybe, just maybe, when we’ve made disciples of all the nations, when we’ve achieved peace on earth, when the bride of Christ is fully adorned and has defeated all the dragons of empire, the New Jerusalem will be realized and Christ will return triumphant.

Because the great Christian hope is not that we are going, but that he is coming. He taught us how to live here to bring his kingdom and do his will, on earth as it is in heaven. Maybe it’s time we stopped throwing gasoline into the fire, stopped contributing to hell on earth, and starting working to bring the kingdom of God into fullness of glory.
One believer at a time.

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭25:1-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

Audience of One

Audience of One

audience of one

No messages the past two days, these two days have possibly been my two worst since beginning my walk with the Lord about 2 1/2 years ago. I began to write this particular message Tuesday morning, and the passage was just screaming at me. I could not write. My spirit was (and really still is) twisted. I certainly could not write the next passage in the sermon on the mount, actually turning the page from Matthew Chapter 5 to chapter 6, a real feeling of moving on to the next larger portion of Jesus talk.


Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. So I was ready to move on, but when I turned the page, I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t think. I wanted to write, because that’s what I do. But this passage just hit me, because in my soul I was angry (I still am, but it’s now hopefully a more controlled anger and not a burning rage). I read this, actually began to write something, but had to stop. I had to stop because really what I write, I write for me, and then I share with those who would read it. But to write on Tuesday morning would have been doing the very opposite of what I’m writing, Jesus telling us all not to practice our religion, our righteousness, for the approval and opinion of others.

This isn’t the only place where Jesus teaches this. During his passion week, Jesus lays out seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees, and during this he tells his followers “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” Matthew‬ ‭23:5-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. I hope I don’t do this to be seen by others. If I had written anything the last two days, it definitely would have been for the wrong reasons. So I didn’t write. I’ve spent the last two days sorting out issues inside myself, and confronting others. I have not been prayerfully doing anything. I have reached out to my brothers, and have unloaded and shared some of my burdens. I have also been making many spirited accusations and assumptions, and when I say spirited I don’t mean the Holy Spirit. I’ve been driven by the unholy spirit, the satan, the spirit of shame, blame and accusation. I was caught up in the spiritual warfare my pastor talks about regularly, and I was getting my ass kicked. The devil was running my life.
But this morning, I can say that I am casting out the devil. Again. I am not going to play his game anymore. I’m sure I will have more battles with that unholy spirit, but for today, I am casting out the devil by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

cast out the devil.png
So now I can write about what Jesus is telling us here as we start Mathew chapter 6. I can write as part of my spiritual discipline of journaling which I just happen to share with others. Jesus is talking here in chapter about traps which can block us from truly entering the kingdom of God breaking into not the world, and the first team he warns of is the respectability trap. We don’t pray in order to be seen praying. We don’t read the Bible in order to be seen praying. We don’t give to the church to be seen giving, like we don’t give to the poor to be seen giving. We do all we do for an audience of one.
You want to be honored by others? You want people to say good things about you? That’s great, go right ahead. God will not stand in your way. He will simply step aside and let us have our way. Your approval by others, the honors you might receive, the glory that might come your way, He will not stop you from pursuing them. If that is what is important to you, He will quite courteously step aside by your wish, and let you pursue that which is important to you.

best seat
God is not present where He is not wanted. He knows where He is wanted, and where He is not. If we are looking for the response and approval of others, he usually does not step on our wishes. He usually will let us carry out our own plans. If our goal is to impress others with our piety, our righteousness, our “devotion to God”, he will let us pursue that. But never forget, he will have the final say.

But – if we play to the audience of one, God alone, he will also give us what we seek. “”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew‬ ‭7:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. I know, that’s from later in the sermon, but it just fit. Seek first the kingdom of God. These are not rules but guides for the heart. You don’t have to purposefully hide the good things you do to be right with God. If you are doing what you do for the audience if one, He doesn’t mind if others see. There may be a situation where you keep it hidden, there may also be situations when you can inspire others to follow your lead and multiply the goodness and change other hearts. Just be sure you are seeking first the kingdom of God.
Last night and this morning I did return to my regular times of prayer. I am using a liturgy of prayer I came across. I do believe prayer changes things, I also believe the number one thing in my life I need to change is “me”. So I am praying several time tested prayers during my prayer time, praying these prayers in the expectation that over time, they will help form me to be more like Christ. Here is part of my morning liturgy that I prayed this morning.


A prayer for grace.
“Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall unto sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Feel free to pray this prayer on my behalf today, I need all I can get.

My name is John, faithful believer in Jesus Christ, thanks for letting me share.

“”Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis