Kingdom of God


The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.  The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:13-15 NIV). ”

One commentary says, “[ruined, plunder] Normally refers to that taken by violence, but this is probably Isaiah’s way of condemning a social order which allowed the powerful to grow rich at the expense of the weak, even though this might be done by legal means…all the more appropriate that Yahweh is here depicted as bringing the powerful to trial”

I find it interesting that this passage is probably on the verge of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the Northern Kingdom.  More liberal scholars would place the date perhaps after the exile.  Either way it is apparent here that although it would seem that the Assyrians are in control of history and the fate of Israel and Judah—it is actually Yahweh who calls the shots and is at work.   For instance, in Jeremiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is viewed as the Lord’s “servant.”  That is, Yahweh uses him to bring judgment upon his people.  Not a very comforting thought, huh? As a side note:  I don’t think God deals with his people like this anymore, even if he does have to chastise/discipline us at times.  I will not get into it here in this article but let me put it this way…EVERYTHING changes within the life, death, and resurrection, especially the way God deals with his people and all people of the world.

I suppose that the invasion and exile caused many to blame the evil of Assyria or perhaps Yahweh.  Yet this passage here paints a different picture.  It is because of the evil of the leaders of Israel and Judah that terror came upon the region as judgment.  Yahweh is envisioned as The Judge in the court room delivering the accusations and verdict.  It is intimidating and fearful.  He is the defender of the poor and an ever watchful protector of them.  When those leaders whose essential role was to provide for and defend the poor instead exploit and rape them economically, socially, and emotionally, Yahweh intervenes on their behalf.

Although I am discomforted by this image of a forceful god, I am comforted by the thought that he is on my side—or rather I hope I am on his.  He is a god who is involved, and even though there are times where it seems as though he is silent, he is fully aware, attentive, and watchful–especially for the vulnerable.  Leaders should serve with fear because it is apparent from this passage alone that they will be held accountable for the way they lead.  Are they ethical and honest?  Are they egocentric and self-serving?  Are they mindful of the people or are they more mindful of their wealth, power and careers?

This is an important thought not only for leaders to consider but for those of us who live in a quasi-democratic society that “chooses” our leaders.  Who will you vote for for president of this nation?  What is our accountability when we choose leaders?  Are we aware that some of them may be getting rich or making this nation rich at the expense of the poor or third-world countries?  Do we care? What about the abortion issue?  If we vote for a president who supports abortion, is the blood of millions of innocent children on our hands too (an issue for many Democrats)?  If we vote for a presidential candidate whose answer to most foreign conflicts is war, is the blood of all those young men and women who are fighting for oil or our “influence” around the world on our hands (not to mention foreigners blood)?  That’s a typical issue for Republicans.  Or ignoring the poor or making fun of those on food stamps or government assistance.

These are big issues with a lot of consequences.  We must vote prayerfully.  I may even suggest not voting if you don’t have a peace of mind about who you vote for.  Don’t fall for these comments that people make that you are irresponsible if you don’t vote and have no reason to complain then.  That is a lie!  We have every reason to complain when what we are offered for candidates I wouldn’t trust them with cutting the grass in my backyard nonetheless running the government.  And frankly, I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.  I vote for Christ because in the kingdom of God he is king and commander-in-chief and is such over this world if they recognize it or not.  My allegiance is the Christ first and foremost and the state is at best secondary.

Let’s also not vote for people just because they say they are a Christian.  I don’t want to hear they are a Christian, I want to see it.  I want to see the fruit of it.  And sadly enough, the Republican candidate who appears to be most Christian of the four stooges is a Mormon.  Then there is another who touts Christian values but has cheated on his wives more than my brother cheats in monopoly.  And that’s just the Republican field.  My point is, God is watching and is fully aware of their ploys and our votes.  Let’s not vote for who we want but for who God wants.  And if we don’t have a peace about anyone…vote for no one.  I believe that when it is our turn to give an account…God will understand that we trust in him and in good conscience could not vote for anyone.

Lord, help me to defend the poor and out of my substance and ability serve them.  I pray for the leaders of our nation that tend to hide behind the rhetorical veil of “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” and yet either do or are tempted to be drawn by the lust of wealth and power.  May they serve the people like Christ serves and loves his Church.  In Christ name, Amen.

The older I get and the more time I reflect on things, the more I become a pacifist.  I see no need for violence and war, even though many argue with me that we have the right to defend ourselves or protect the innocent.

I am usually accused of being a coward or a traitor for not seeing the romanticism behind being a pawn of the state to be sent off to do the state’s bidding.   I am not fooled by the nationalism of a so-called Christian nation.  I have seen what it is like to be on the receiving end of capitalism and economic imperialism in a third-world country.

I think many Christians in America have fallen prey to the ambiguous axioms of “duty” and “allegiance” to the state.

Perhaps all this nationalistic romanticism would not be as appealing to Christians if they lived in another country.  It’s a different ball game when you live under a Stalin or a Gaddafi.  The romanticism of patriotism shows its flimsiness then.  I don’t buy the “just war” package.  It should be returned to sender, marked “Middle Ages!”

I believe that Christ’s life, death and resurrection changed everything.  He ushered in a new kingdom that I believe has the power to end the cycle of violence in the world and usher in Isaiah 2:1-5.  But it starts with the Church.  We have to turn the other cheek, leave the sword to the state, allow vengeance to be God’s, and not return evil for evil.  We are to give our lives to end the cycle of violence if need be…but not by storming the beaches of Normandy, dropping a bomb on Nagasaki, or sending an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz to see what kind of response we are going to get.

I find it awkward that I have actually lost close friends because I have these convictions and that I was grieved for days after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Not that I didn’t believe he should’ve been brought to justice, but because as a spokesperson for the Vatican stated, “Catholics rejoice at the death of no man.”  I grieve for the wasted life of a man created in the image of God and a continued cycle of violence.  Did America decrease the numbers of her enemies that day?  Some would laugh and say yes…one.  I believe we created dozens more.  And I pity the Christians locked into this mindset of cyclical violence that they subscribe to.

Christians ought to be the first people to see the reality of the kingdom present in the world, the true governance is God, that the real king who sits on his real throne is Christ.  Our allegiance is to him first and only.  If that makes us good citizens, that’s terrific.  If not, then we conform to Christ and not Uncle Sam.

Let us therefore be the first to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Call me naïve, but Christians have no business being in a military, under the whims of the state, and being dehumanized by putting bullet holes into other humans, beating infants heads upon stones, or urinating on the corpses of people God loves.

Some say I am extreme, radical or too loving and peaceful and that I live in a fantasy world.  Well, I trust that standing before the Judge in roughly six decades (give or take a few) I will rather be accused of being too loving and peaceful than not enough.

I mentioned earlier that I am quite tired of the bad press the Church is always getting.  Of course there are issues that need to be addressed and changes that need to be made to have a more effective Church, not only in America but around the world.  Yet I wonder if one of the things that need to be addressed and changed is the constant complaining about ourselves.  For one thing the world does not think a whole lot about the Church these days, does it?  And I am not entirely sure they are going to want to have much to do with us when we are constantly publicizing how horrible we actually are as well.  The world says we stink (to put it very mildly) and then we respond, “Yup we do stink.”  Clever!

Like anything it is always easier to point out the negative instead of finding the positive.  So here is one reason why I love the Church…the people.  Now I will be the first to admit that church people aren’t perfect, in fact they are far from it.  But that is exactly what I love.  They are humans, just like me.  They are full of flaws, mistakes, mixed emotions and faulty reactions.  But they are people and I love them for it.  The problem is we expect too much of our brothers and sisters in Christ…we expect them to be perfect.  Really?  Are you perfect?  So we bicker sometimes and often about little stupid things.  Have you been married for more than a year?  Have you lived in the same house with a family member for more than a week?  Then you would know that it is often the people we love the most and that we are the closest to that we find it easiest and most comfortable to bicker with over stupid things.

We are a family!  We are brothers and sisters in Christ in the household of God as Paul says in Timothy.  If you want to find a church where everyone is perfect and always get’s along…then stop looking for a church because you will not find one like that.  Why?  Because even though we are Christians, we are still humans in the process of being sanctified.  It is a process that isn’t immediately completed the moment you say the sinner’s prayer.  In fact, it is a process that will last a lifetime.

So get used to that brother who always makes sure he is the first in line for food at the church banquet; the sister who bellows out every note and lyric of every hymn or praise song above everyone else; the guy who sits behind you every service sniffing in your right ear when all you want to do is turn around, hand him a kleenex and say “blow your frickin’ nose!”; the kid who double dips his communion bread in the cup of grape juice we use for communion leaving bread crumbs floating  for the next victim who is going to dip the body of our Lord in Christ’s blood–thanks kid!; the elderly lady who takes 3 minutes to dig for the loose change at the bottom of her purse while the patient usher holds the plate under her nose; the pastor who tells the same life stories each Sunday to illustrate non related points and the list goes on endlessly.

But these are the people we are commanded to love because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why are they goofy?  Because they are people.  They are broken.  They come with baggage and in constant need of healing and a warm friend to say, “Peace be with you…I love you.”  Your hug may be the only hug they get all week.  Your smile may be the only smile that warms their heart.  And we all need each other.  What annoys people about me?  I get quiet and short-tempered when I am tired or hungry and I can tend to be a private person on many things.  I love to talk about theology and scripture and can tend to share more than someone asks for and can thus come acrossed as a theological know it all.  I don’t mean to be that way but I have to be purposeful in not coming acrossed that way.

I love to sit around a table with my church family over good to not so good crock-pot meals and cheap church coffee and for a brief moment in our lives shut out the cares of the world and laugh together.  I love when I am feeling down or things aren’t going so well, to hear the old church lady say in her simple faith “Jeremy, it will all work out for those who love God…he is in control.”  And even if I don’t agree with their premise, I hear and receive the love and care those words carry from their hearts.  I know those old church ladies love me and will be proud of me even if I turned out to be the world’s biggest failure.

I love the hymns I have song a million times and the ability they have to bring tears to my eyes when I hear the small voice of my daughter sing them next to a 90-year-old woman who used to be my daughter’s age.  I love the lipstick marks on my sports coat or dress shirt from the elderly women who gave me hugs.  The smell of Old Spice on the old ushers.  I love the sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a charismatic contemporary church or in a reserved liturgical service.  I have found him just as strong in both but in different ways.  Why?  Because the human hearts in a 150 year old church hunger for him just as much as the human hearts in the youthful modern church.

I once attended a church that was very old.  I remarked to one of the lay leaders that the building was very beautiful.  It had a gorgeous chandelier, beautiful architecture, a balcony overlooking the sanctuary, a spectacular painting of Christ behind the platform, and the pews were rather ornate.  After the third time of mentioning to this man how beautiful and historical the building was he interrupted me and said, “It is the people inside that are beautiful.”  He was right.  Those people in that small congregation are beautiful.  They are all unique and they all have different and very special life stories.

I believe that if we would pause and listen to each other we would learn to love and appreciate each other.  I have heard all of the gimmicks of how to fix the Church today, how to start revival and how to make our churches grow.  I have read the countless books and heard the many lectures and sermons.  Yet I believe that what the world wants now more than anything, is a family that will love them unconditionally.  That’s the Church folks.  I find the love of Christ more and sense his presence greatest sitting around a table of brothers and sisters in Christ fellowshipping like a family than I do in loud technological churches with fine-tuned theologies and theatrics.  Each has its place but being a family must be at the center of it all.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength.  The second greatest commandment is like the first…love you neighbor as yourselves. What’s that mean?   Well the second is LIKE the first.  I think it is impossible to do the first without also being able to do the second.  At least, obeying the first will cause the second.  Loving God will cause us to love each other.

I love being a Christian and I love Christ’s Church.  Although there is always work and reform to be done in the Church there is so much that blesses me and that I am thankful for.  The Church has never been perfect and if we think the early church had it all together…think again.  The Church has always been filled with humans and humans have always been imperfect, opinionated, silly, childish, passionate and yet lovable.  If God can love us…than we can love us too!

Life is busy!  Right?  I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Fall always seems to be a busy time of year and just when I feel like I am starting to get a routine going and settling into the semester a bit…WHAAM!!! The Holidays Hit!  That’s right folks…Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. is almost a week away.  Insane isn’t it?  Well that has nothing to do with my post but I thought I would just reach out for some support here:) Misery loves company.

Anyhow, what I really want to think about  is how the world sees us Christians.  I feel like I have this issue on my heart a lot.

The other night I was sitting on the couch and my wife had one of those “girly” flicks on.  You know, those movies that are oozing with sappiness.  They have more sap than a Maple tree in February.  But here’s my confession–the other night as I was sitting on the couch reading, my man-eyes found themselves watching the ooey gooeyness.  I found myself being entertained.  I know…AHHHH!

The movie was based on a novel where this young Christian couple move out west in the 1870’s to settle a ranch.  They hire some farm-hands to help them keep up with the work.  This couple is unlike most ranch owners in that they genuinely care about the farm-hands.  They invite them for dinner in their home, give them gifts, and even have them in their home for a Sunday morning gathering in which they read scripture and pray.

What caught my attention most was how one of the farm hands turns to another worker and says, “If what they believe makes them the way that they are, then I want to know what it is that they believe.”  I thought immediately, “Well that’s Jesus’ vision of true evangelism in a nut-shell.”  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds pretty close huh?

If the world could see the love of Christ in the Church in how we act towards and treat each other they will know that we are the disciples of Christ.  A few chapters later in John 17:23 Jesus states that if we are one in relationship the world will believe in the reality of Christ and God’s love.  Sounds a lot different than what Ghandi said about Christians, “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Christians.”  You know, I don’t blame him.  I listen and watch what the Church is often up to today and I see so much division and self-righteousness that I know that it is the reason why the spirit of Ghandi lives in many unbelievers.

Want proof?  Turn on Christian radio and listen to the right-wing conservative Christains demonizing and bashing so called “liberal Christians.”  The term that usually get’s thrown around is “Pharisees” and “heretics.”  I hear a lot more “Rushian” (that’s my word for followers of Rush Limbaugh) and “Beckian” then Christian coming out of many of their mouths.  Their rhetoric is twenty-first century, capitalistic, republican jargon that often high-jacks verses of scripture to support their preconceived ideology.  They make Christ look like…well Rush Limbaugh.  If other Christians do not conform to this type of Christianity then they question the “other’s” committment to Christ and wonder if they are really saved.

In addition, I am in seminary and I hear plenty of moderate to liberal voices that dismiss the right.  They call them “fundalmentalist lunatics” who would burn everyone else at the stake if they got the chance.  They often view the right as uneducated and uninformed cavemen.  They feel that the right interprets the Bible way to literally and at times are offended if they actually accept scripture at face value.  Oh my gosh how horrible, wouldn’t want that!  Oh yeah…they call the people on the right “Pharisees” too.

Yet I can hear the voices of those Christians on the fringes of the Church bashing everything that is orthodox, doctrinal, dogma, creedal, patristic, traditional, ritualistic, theological, ecumenical etc. as nothing but traps put in place by mean authoritarian monsters who just want to control the nice and good-intentioned masses.  These people feel that they have been specially ordained by God to set the record straight and teach us all what Jesus REALLY meant that the Church has gotten completely wrong over the last two-thousand years.  Oh and by the way…they call the two groups above “Pharisees.”  Yet the two groups above call these people “heretics” and even “Pharisees” at times.

So will the real Pharisees please stand up???  I’m confused.  Yet I know that all of us usually fit into one of these categories and I probably just upset most everyone who read those descriptions.  I think I offended myself too actually:)

I wonder however, if there is a golden mean…that is, is there something in common we all have?  UHHMMM YEAHHH!  Probably 85 to 90% of what we believe if not more.  Yet we major in the minors and demonize each other.  We allow our differences to become divisive.  WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?  My guess: because we all think Jesus favors our point of view over everyone else’s and would be on our team in the arguments.  But I think we are getting it wrong.  I think scripture teaches that God is aware of the differences and that often times they are gifts and not reasons for division.  Scripture teaches unity and “one-ness” in the midst of differences.  Relationship in the face of disagreements.  Disagreements and differences are good.  The challenge is not letting them become divisive.

Paul in Galatians 5 says that in this new kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.  He is not saying that ethnicity ceases or cultural heritage is obsolete.  He is not saying that women stop being women and men stop being men.  That is mere foolishness.  What he is saying is that those things are no longer reasons for division and that we all look upon each other as equals…”one in Christ.”  The love of Christ is all-embracing and requires us to “love one another.”  NO EXCEPTIONS.

I admit, I am guilty of my own prejudice against a certain group of believers that I find rude and abrasive.  It may be okay for me to address this concern with my brothers and sisters but it is not okay for me to get on the radio and attack them in front of the whole world.  It is not right to name drop and attack like vicious wolves.  Whatever happened to correcting your brother in secret and in love?  I think we think it makes us seem more right  when  we boldly and abrasively demean each other.  If this is how we continue to act I am sure the world is not going to witness the reality of Christ and God’s love among us.  We are being a disobedient Church.  Ghandi said, “You Christians don’t act like your Christ.” (paraphrase).  He is usually right.  Not because we can’t but because we choose to ignore his command.  Yet Christ says in John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Loving Relationship in the midst of differences is what I am encouraging here.  As the world becomes more pluralistic and more violent toward Christianity we need to recoginize those precious things we have in common and embrace each other as family.  This is what our Christ commands.  We would do well to heed his words.  Let’s look past the differences and see Christ in us all.

Now don’t run off on me!:) I am aware that terms like “morality”, “virtues” and “ethics” seem quite dry and archaic.  But I think that some of my readers that would initially tune me out here will find this post very encouraging and invigorating.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a classical historical work by Edward Gibbon that was been a foundational authority on the Roman Empire for the past few centuries.  It is certainly not an easy read, but it is full of priceless information about the long period of time that the Empire existed.  This work is important to Christians because it is during the reign of this empire that Christ lived, died and rose again.  It was during this empire that the early church grew rapidly and thrived.  It was eventually this empire that would adopt Christianity as the state religion under Constatine.  And when this empire collapsed in the West, it was Christainity that remained as the leader of the West in its institutionalized form as well as in its pastoral role.

In one part of this great work, Gibbon addresses the phenomenon of how the Church grew so rapidly in the first several centuries.  Gibbon gives five solid reasons.  For the sake of this post we will examine one, and address the others in later posts.  The one I want to focus on in this post is that the Church grew rapidly because of “The pure and austere morals of the Church” or as he puts it later on “The virtues of the first Christians.”

Gibbon points out that the early Christians “demonstrated their faith by his virtues.”  That is to say, someone outside the Church could pick out a Christian based upon their virtues, moral and ethical behavior.  Imagine that.  In a contemporary society when pastors are divorcing their husbands or wives; ministers are having adulterous affairs or skimming off the top of ministries to buy a Rolls Royce or expensive clothing; Christians are suing Christians at the drop of a hat and so on.  Yet, these early Christians put strong emphasis on the transforming power of God to cause a change in their behavior that they committed to maintaining.

When they repented, they expected a “reformation of manners.”  Good ethical and moral behavior was expected of them.  We see this taking place even in Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.  In the words of one of my professors, Paul was basically saying in those letters, “Stop acting like that…true Christians don’t behave that way!”  A life of vice was not acceptable.  So much so, that when the “most abandoned sinners” observed this lifestyle, many were attracted to the faith and the possibility that they too could be changed into the image of Christ.  They observed that the “driving passion” of these Christians was a “perfect life”, that is a virtuous lifestyle free from malice and vice.  In fact, they were so concerned with living holy lives, that if they were guilty of anything they were “guilty of an excess of virtue.”  Some of those early Christians would read scripture and take things very literally and at times perhaps legalistically.

The pagan world looked at that early Church and although they might not understand why there was a change in their ethical behavior, they were amazed by it and often drawn to it.  This is recognized by historians like Gibbons, who often states that he as a historian is not interested in establishing theological truths but understanding and stating history.  Yet it is also recognized by external evidence by secular officials of Rome like Pliny the Younger.  While emperor Trajan was in power, Pliny wrote to him asking how he should deal with the people known as Christians in the mid to late second century.  It is a priceless document because in it Pliny states that besides the fact that the Christians refuse to worship Caeser as a god, they are law abiding, loving, and good citizens.  He attests to their moral fortitude.  In fact, the early Christians thought it very important to be blameless citizens, unless the laws interfered with the laws of God.

Further on in the Roman Empire, Justin the Apostate came to power.  Under his reign he attempted to reestablish paganism as the state religion.  However, he admitted that he had an enormous struggle.  The struggle was that even though he had estabished a pretty efficient system of bishops and officials to oversee the practices of this pagan religion, the Christians’ moral and ethical behaviors, as well as their endless acts of charity far outweighed anything the pagans could do.

Gibbon and many other scholars point to this as one of the main reasons why Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Church today needs to return to this.  The Church needs a moral, ethical, love revival.  The Church needs to stop apologizing for its high moral standards found in scripture and tradition and begin to live it out.  Part of why we do and don’t do the things we do is because God expects us to be holy and different than the world.  There should be a contrast that is markedly different about us.  So that when it comes to issues like pre-marital sex, drunkeness, violence, gossiping, bickering, oppressing, ridiculing etc–the Church should be pure and blameless.

Many unbelievers argue that they can be moral and ethical too without Christianity.  I argue that they do not have the longevity, pure motives, and complete ability to do so.  I argue that all you have to do is walk into a mall and see just how well they live out those so called morals by the way they treat each other.  I also argue that the morals and ethics they have are not solely intrinsic but they are running on the fumes of morality taught to our culture by Judeo-Christian inheritance.  Lastly, I argue that any ability they have to give the appearance of morality is based upon what the patristic fathers saw as a mere imprint of the image of God that they were originally created in.  That is to say, that their morality is based upon an inward conviction that God has installed to warn them of what is wrong and right.

The problem today is that the world looks at the Church and doesn’t see much of a difference.  People are not dumb, they know when we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  I argue that Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to live moral and ethically pleasing lives before the Lord.  However, most Christians don’t even try.  We join churches (which are basically social clubs for many) take on the title of Christians, carry our Bibles, act special on Sundays and then lead worldly lives the rest of the week.  This is not good enough.  Paul would say, “That is not how Christians behave.”

 

I will start with a question: During the days of the early Christian Church, who was responsible for the advancement of the Gospel message to all the nations?  The most common answer would probably be…the apostles, evangelists, missionaries etc.  Afterall, we think of Paul and his three great missionary trips into Asia Minor, Macedonia, Rome, and perhaps as far west as Spain (if we are to believe some early traditions).  Or maybe we think of Barnabas and Mark splitting off from Paul and going into Cyprus or Philip in Samaria.  Or perhaps we have heard that Thomas witnessed in India and there became a martyr as did James in Spain. 

These great men and women of God are usually the ones that pop into our minds when we think of the spreading of the Gospel in those early decades and centuries.  Yet in my readings and research, I have found that although these anointed folks impacted the Christian Church and its message for all time, they were not the main thrust of the advancement of the Gospel.  In fact, perhaps our greatest gratitude should go first to the Holy Spirit, but secondly to the countless Christian men and women whose names we will never know until we join them after this life. 

These people were what we may call the “everyday person” or “the little guy.” They held no titles, no airs, no fame, no glory and no credit.  They were not bishops, elders, pastors, missionaries, evangelists, or apostles (and I do not mean to take anything away from those individuals).  They did not write any theological treatises, epistles, hymns, psalms, sermons, apologies, or rhetorical speeches.  No.   Instead they were slaves, servants, merchants, shop-keepers, black-smiths, sailors, fisherman, masons, carpenters, shepherds, farmers, peasants, and tax collectors.  They were masters, wealthy business owners, aristocrats, scribes, teachers, soldiers, jailers and patrons.  They were men, women, and children from all different walks of life, in various regions of the empire and beyond.  It is to these folks that the spread of the Gospel may be attributed to. 

One great man said, “the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs.”  I agree.  But I must add, it was built on the average joe Christian who shared the Gospel wherever they went.  They shared in at their jobs, in the market place, at the port, in the court room, at school, in the field, on the ship, or walking down the road.  They shared it with their friends, their family, their acquaintances and their enemies.  They shared the Gospel in fair weather and under intense persecution. 

The men and women we know by name such as Tertullian, Ignatius, Polycarp, Perpetua, Cyprian, John Chrysostom, and Augustine are but a mere sliver of Christians that boldly lived and died proclaiming the message of Christ and Him crucified.  We thank God for the voices of those named above whose echoes we may still hear in their faithful writings.  Yet we also thank God for those nameless servants of Christ who bore the Gospel in their daily lives and who died without leaving a single letter on a page.  However, their simple lives combined to form a powerful force that invaded the Roman Empire for the glory of God and is felt by us two thousand years later. 

I am encouraged by this thought.  We live in an age and culture of celebrities.  In fact, I am quite fatigued by the pretty faces of people who litter our Christian networks with perfect hair, makeup and polished rhetoric.  My eyes sometime hurt from the shimmering gold and silver decor that fancies their stages and backdrops.  We are almost fooled into believing that it is because of them that the Gospel is still going forward and the Church survives.  But I will not be counted among the fooled.  I believe that the Church would be better off without our television programs and slushy networks.  I believe that it is not the minister on T.V. with his tailored made suits and extravagant cars that is the beating heart of the Church and Gospel.  No friend.  I believe the Church today is built on the backs of the local pastor in his small church who is pouring out his heart and prayers everyday for his seemingly insignificant flock.  It is built on the Christian worker who gets up early everyday to go to a job he is not entirely fond of to provide for his family, all the while sharing the Gospel day-to-day with his co-workers.  Or the mother who never gets to turn off the “mommy switch” because she loves her family endlessly and will give all of her time so that her children can grow to be godly men and women for the kingdom of God.

They may never preach a sermon, write a book, go to Bible school or seminary, chase after Christian speakers and conferences, or go down in the Hollywood Hall of Fame of T.V. evangelists you will never meet or know if they are legit.  These celebrities will never wipe your noses or dry your tears.  They will never sacrifice time with their family so you can have a shoulder to cry on.  No, that will be your local pastor who may be living paycheck to paycheck and will never darker the lens of a T.V. camera.  Or it will be the Christian friend, family member, or co-worker who is there because they simply love you.  I thank God for those people in my life.  In my book…those are the Christian heroes and heroines of our day; those whose names may never be spoken in Hollywood or even the next town. If you are one of those people…I thank God for you.  And I thank you. 

(Note: I do believe that SOME, okay a select few, on T.V. are worth their salt.  However, one must be very selective and modest about who and how much time is spent listening to these folks.  What is more valuable is the time you spend with strong Christians you can look at face to face.  Secondly, spend more time with Christ in prayer than with Pastor Pretty Teeth on TBN).

We live in a culture of busy-ness.  Anyone who has spent more than two seconds in this country will come to understand that.  In Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, he says, “our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry,and crowds.”   We are often caught up in this whirlwind of doing that we neglect the state of just being.  When we allow ourselves and our time to be filled up with stuffwe leave very little room if any for listening for the voice of God.  This is an issue I have addressed before in another post called  “Listening For Silence In A Blaring World: For God and Self.” 

I bring this point up again because I believe this is one of the main challenges of why most Christians are not being led by the voice of God and lack a deep, meaningful relationship with him…because they are frankly, just too BUSY.  And when they do get a moment to hear from God, they fall asleep because they are worn out from always being in a HURRY to get things done.  But in the words of Carl Jung, “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.”  Why?  Because all of this HURRY and BUSY-NESS keeps us away from God.  It blurs our understanding of God.  It blocks our ability to hear and listen for God. 

I call this the “Martha Syndrome.”  In Luke 10:38-42 I see Martha as the American in this narrative. 

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her (NRSV; italics is mine for emphasis).’

I want to point out a few things from this passage.  1) Martha “welcomed” Jesus into her home.  The world is filled with Christians who have welcomed Jesus into their home.  They invite him into their hearts and then go around telling everyone they “know Christ as their Savior.”  But then like many Christians do today, Martha got BUSY “work[ing]”  or for Jesus.  Slaving in the kitchen, keeping the grounds, being part of Church committees, pastoring, and all sorts of other ministries should never replace the time needed to spend listening for God. 

So we come to my second point.  2) Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”  Mary wanted to HEAR from Jesus.  She wanted to KNOW him and his teaching.  She took the time to FIRST listen to Jesus before she began DOING.  What was she doing?  She was putting KNOWING God above DOING for God.  Why?  Because only when we KNOW God will we ever be able to effectively and powerfully DO for God. 

You see, the passage says that Martha was “distracted.”  She was BUSY DOING.  Jesus even tells her that she was “anxious and troubled about many things.”  I believe that this is where most Christians in our culture are at.  Their anxiety to keep up with the Joneses causes them to be troubled with trying to obtain the American dream.  They feel that they have to be busy little bees because that is what everyone else does and a good work ethic means you never stop.  Arthur G. Gish says, “We buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t like.”  Does that make any sense to anyone?

We have been sucked into our culture but not the kingdom of God.  In the kingdom of God, relationship is everything.   We need to be Mary-like Christians intent on LISTENING to Jesus and less Martha-like Christians being distracted by DOING.  DOING most certainly has a place, but it is never to replace LISTENING and KNOWING Jesus.  Christians that mainly DO but LISTEN little are shallow.  Yet Christians that LISTEN to and KNOW God and THEN DO are deep, fruitful, and effective.  

Which brings me to my final point.  We need to ALWAYS be in the state of LISTENING for God.  Even in the midst of the DOING, we need to be able to silence ourselves, to stop and LISTEN throughout the day to what the Lord is speaking to us.  If you are at school, block out the noise as you walk down the hallway and LISTEN.  As you are driving to and from work, turn off the radio and LISTEN.  If you are laying in bed early in the morning, instead of plotting out the day, LISTEN. 

I know many people who always do all the talking and hardly ever listen.  If I begin to interject a thought, they quickly interrupt and continue talking.  I can even tell by their body language and facial expressions if they are listening or not.  I have a feeling that those who have trouble listening to their brothers and sisters, probably are not listening to God either.  There are many people who are more impressed with the words that come out of their mouths than the words that come from the mouth of God.  Jesus said that humans live by “every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”  Notice that he does not say, “humans live by doing all of the talking.” 

Therefore in the words of James 1:19: “Be slow to speak and quick to listen.”

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