Archives For Politics

Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity either in locality or in speech or in customs. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians…the constitution of their citizenship is nevertheless quite amazing and admittedly paradoxical. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners…Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is a foreign country. -Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus from the 2nd century


At the Highland Church, we are coming to the close of our series of the Gospel of Mark. For the final three weeks of this series, we’re releasing several different videos we made earlier this year created from different locations in Jerusalem, in the places where Jesus spent His final hours.  Each week’s video will be a supplemental resource for that week’s upcoming sermon, and If you’re interested in watching the rest of these videos they’ll be posted weekly to the Highland Facebook page.

Antonia Fortress – Am I Leading a Rebellion? from Highland Church on Vimeo.

I like showing these kinds of videos because it’s important for Jesus followers to remember, this really happened, and it happened in a world much like ours.

Jesus didn’t just leave home and travel to a far county, he was born under Ceasar Augustus, and sentenced to die by Pontius Pilate. His life is the myth become fact, the God become man, the King who become a carpenter, and who steps into the calendar around 4 A.D.

This particular video is filmed in the Antonio Fortress, the place where the Praetorium Guard was assembled and where Jesus would have met Pilate. I think this video is an appropriate reminder on this election week for Christians to be reminded of this scene.

In a world where everyone seems to think they know who Jesus was and what His movement is about, but strangely seem to have lives similar to people who have no intention of following him, maybe it’s time to look again at the man who turned the world upside down.

Shooting this video here was a good reminder of how Jesus chose to serve and change the world. In his three years of ministry Jesus wasn’t very interested in politics, but after his three years of ministry the politicians sure were interested in Him.

Just a little historical background for those interested, The Antonia was a tower built by Herod for his soldiers to watch over the Jews during their festivals…especially Passover. During the entire time that Rome ruled over Israel there were six different revolts. And five of them happened during the Jewish festival of Passover.

This is why Jesus’ actions during his final week were so dangerous. When Jesus rides into town like a King, and start throwing tables around in the Temple courts, the rulers know that they have to stop this as soon as possible.

But they don’t know how.

Here’s Your King

I’ve heard people say before that the Jewish people didn’t have the authority to enforce capital punishment and kill Jesus, historically speaking that’s not true. The Jewish people were given authority by Rome to enforce justice and keep the peace (see Acts 8 where the first Christian martyr Stephen is stoned) The only hard and fast rule that Rome had given both Herod and Pilate is “no revolts”

As long as everyone just smiles and politely goes about their religion business than Rome is content to look the other way as you talk all you want about “freedom” and a “God who delivers”

But Jesus intends on being more than polite.

And so on the final day of Jesus’ life the Roman and Jewish authorities have to find a way not just to execute Jesus but to turn the people against Him. To this end, Jesus was taken to the Jewish courts and convicted of blasphemy, a charge  they didn’t kill him, instead they send Him to Pilate. But Pilate knows when someone is passing the buck, after all the business of the Jewish religion had nothing to do with him, so Pilate passes him off to Herod Agrippa, only to get him back from Agrippa a few hours later…without any sentence.

In a scene that is eerily familiar to modern day politics, nobody wanted to make themselves vulnerable by taking the blame…but Mark is writing in a way to tell us that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.

In a season of political unrest and power-grabs, Jesus is largely silent, quietly laying down his life. When He’s beaten and accused, He responds with grace and forgiveness and blood.

He may be like a King, but Kings are not like Him.

He’s leading a rebellion, it’s called the Kingdom of God and you can’t vote that in, but everyone can be a part of it.

On February 11, 2014

Civil Religion: Whose Future?

Screen-shot-2011-01-25-at-7.52.40-AMThis past week, I sat down with my friend Luke Norsworthy for his podcast to talk about this blog series. Luke is a great interviewer and I highly recommend subscribing to his podcast. He has interviewed Scot Mcknight, Shane Hipps, Ian Cron, and every week has a great new podcast.

For those of you who don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, there’s a couple of stories from it, I’d like to share with you.

In his great book, FutureVille, Skye Jethani tells about participating, a few years back, in two days of talks with religious leaders around country and leaders in the LGBT community. The meeting was off the books and so people were able to talk candidly with their feelings toward each other and their perceptions. One side envisioned a future of traditional marriages and re-inforced traditional values, and the other side envisioned a future where the idea of marriage expanded to include same-sex couples.

And here’s what he said about those two days:

The anger and wounds displayed by both sides at the off-the-record gathering were not merely a result of holding different convictions on a complicated issue. The worst damage was the result of seeing the other group as the barrier to creating the “right” future for the country. It was never said explicitly, but the message was clear: the future of our society would be brighter if you were not a part of it….Words like bigot, ungodly, depraved, and homophobic were mentioned as leaving deep and lasting wounds by both sides. Decades of anger and scars came out into the open… The name-calling and dismissive labels used by each side were deemed justifiable because those on the other side were the “enemy”; they were to be defeated with overwhelming political, cultural, and economic force to achieve a “greater good.” After all, if the other side won, progress (however each side defined it) would be lost. What both sides of the culture war forget is that when we label another person or group as the “enemy” because they oppose our vision of the future, we also reduce their value. We diminish, at least in our eyes, some of their God-given worth by viewing them as objects to be removed rather than people to be loved. Whenever we diminish the value of people created in God’s image, we cannot be moving closer to Shalom.

The most heartbreaking sentence in there is “Both sides believed that the future would be brighter if the other group wasn’t a part of it.”

But there is another way.

People of Reconciliation

Remember last year when the Chick-Fil-A “event” happened? The founder and C.E.O. of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Kathy, had made a comment in an interview supporting the traditional definition of marriage. In a matter of a few hours, the world had been divided up into people who were for love and people who ate at Chick-Fil-A, or we carved it up as people who stood for truth and wouldn’t eat there.

We carved up the world into the question, “Which side of the Chicken biscuit are you on?”

But that didn’t work for Dan Kathy or Shane Windmeyer.

In the middle of all the controversy, Windmeyer received a phone call from Dan Kathy. He took the call very cautiously, sure it was going to be some tactic to escalate the situation. Windmeyer, an openly gay man and founder of the LGBT program “Campus Pride” found himself talking to a man who was kind and curious about his perspective.

Before the phone call, they each were enemies, and a few weeks later they both found themselves as friends. Both men, at great risk to their reputation in their respective communities, reached past the talking points and sound bytes and found a way to re-humanize each other. They found a way to realize how much they have in common, without pretending like they didn’t have significant differences.

Windmeyer wound up saying that he started to see Dan Kathy the way he does his own uncle, the Pentecostal Preacher. He knows his religious views aren’t supportive of his lifestyle, but in all his years he’s never doubted his uncle loved him. And so when Dan Kathy invited Shane to the Chick-fil-a bowl a few weeks later, he went.

And a few weeks later, he came out of the closet as Dan Kathy’s friend.

In his wonderful article at Huffington Post, Windmeyer says this:

[We were] sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue. Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency…

I would call it being like Jesus.

On August 20, 2013

Good and Evil: Crazy Right


Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. -St. Paul in 1st Corinthians

One of the more interesting moments in the Gospels is when Jesus is teaching and his mother and brothers interrupt Him because they think he’s gone crazy.

Now if you are new to Biblical criticism, it might surprise you to know that this is actually something that helps to prove the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus. Most scholars think that whenever the Bible includes the negative stuff that people thought about Jesus, it lends more credibility to the idea that they are telling the truth about Him in other places.

But I think this little story adds credibility in other ways as well.

The Sanity of Evil

When I was a junior in college, I toured the concentration camp Auschwitz with a few other friends. It was one of the most profound and heavy days of my life. It was looking at evil in its purest form.

Several decades ago, Thomas Merton (a Catholic Mystic from Kentucky) wrote about one of the most disturbing things I’ve read about the Holocaust. It was about Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the death camps and who was ultimately responsible for the efficiency of the murder of millions and millions of Jews.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, according to Merton, is that when Eichmann was on trial for his crimes against humanity, they did extensive psychological testing on him. They wanted to see what was broken inside of his mind to make him doing such heinous things like this. But one of the most disturbing things about his trial is that when they examined him to see just how crazy he was, they discovered….


Eichmann was perfectly sane.

Which is so much worse isn’t it?

Because Eichmann, wasn’t just a crazy man going around killing people. He was an organized businessman/leader who had a desk job. He didn’t have trouble sleeping at night, or problems eating. He was in fact a real family man, a community oriented civic leader. He was proud of his job and loved kids. He was someone we would have considered normal. Maybe we would have even been an elder in our churches.

He wasn’t crazy, and that is the problem.

Here’s what Merton says:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

Which brings me back to Jesus. I would think that if Jesus is who Christians think he is, then we would constantly think he sounded crazy. Since the beginning of history, we have developed ways to justify our sin and call it normal. If the world really is upside down, than if Jesus is revealing the way God created the world to be, he is always going to sound a bit…crazy.

So back to Thomas Merton. Here’s what he says about a world that calls genocide sane:

What is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all. It is a religious notion, a spiritual notion, a Christian notion What business have we to equate “sanity” with “Christianity”? None at all, obviously. The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else,”

Every culture puts immense pressure on the individuals within that culture. We are taught to think of the world in certain kinds of ways. We are constantly being tempted to think succumb to group think. The problem is just how unaware we are of this.

Have you ever noticed just how easy it is for us to think that Jesus endorses the same wars, every politician, every tax cut, or tax increase that the news shows you watch endorse. Jesus tends to care about the same things that we do.

And that Jesus is perfectly sane.

I’ve noticed over the years, that we religious people have the imagination to call anything Christian that fits with the world we need to exist.

Unless we read the Gospels. In which case we begin to have uneasy realization that Jesus is crazy.

No mater how we try to spin the story, the Bible is filled with dozens of irrational people. From Moses to David to Abraham to Mary and Paul, people who see what God sees don’t act like everyone else. They are the ones who think differently about the world. And they tell stories about talking donkeys and pregnant virgins and people raising from the dead.

They are insane, but they have a faith about the way the world will one day be.

They believe that one day their crazy will be right. 

Today I want to start a series for the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. We are in a season that Christians have, for over a thousand year, called “Advent.” And I’d like to start this Advent series with a blog about war.

I’m obviously way too sentimental.

I don’t know what my favorite Christmas tradition is. Maybe it’s putting up the tree with the family, or maybe it’s reading the Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. But I know what it’s not. Every year, around this time almost like clockwork, we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

I’m tired of culture wars in general, but I’m specifically tired of this piece of it. And not for the reasons you might think. Sometimes the ways that Jesus followers get involved in the public sphere hurt the reputation of Churches. I don’t think that’s true here. I just think it hurts the Churches.

I think it hurts Christmas.

Because if we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a stable? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? It’s because Herod, the King of the day, heard the rumors of a this new baby king, and as the sitting ruler, he didn’t like Christmas either. So he tricks some wise men to go fetch Jesus for him so that he might “worship” the baby. And when the wise men see Jesus, when they realize that God is doing something through this little baby, they sneak off and never return to Herod. And when the sitting King realizes this, we finally understand what he meant by “worship.”

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

That’s what a war on Christmas looks like.

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On November 5, 2012

An Election Week Prayer

I had the opportunity yesterday at the Highland Church of Christ to share this brief word of encouragement for how Jesus followers might enter this election week. I hope this breathes a fresh word of peace into your life. May we not be fearful.

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On May 23, 2012

The Great Affair

So it’s an election year. And along with that comes a lot of highly charged emotions and goals for Jesus people all across the country. We have all these hopes and dreams for the country we live in and we have an opportunity to speak our mind and vote our conscience. That is one of the great things about American in particular, what we think actually matters. However, over the course of the past few years, Americans have gotten increasingly uncivil with one other. We are angry, and sometimes hostile, many times among other people who are followers of Jesus.

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On March 15, 2012

The Victory of the Lamb

In High School when I read Revelation, I remember being struck by how violent it all was. But Revelation is doing war against violence itself. It is subverting the very thing that our human condition is built upon. Might makes right, Power is Victory. Revelation tells us the Gospel doesn’t agree, and it’s subverts violence itself.

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On January 25, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

As we read through the book of Revelation, we would do good to remind ourselves that this letter isn’t written to us, at least not directly they way we think about it. It was first written to Jesus followers who lived in the world ruled by Rome. They were misunderstood, for the most part they lived in poverty and on the margins, they were beginning to be hated and persecuted, and so God gives John a vision for them.

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On January 16, 2012

More Than Civil

What stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was.

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On September 6, 2011

Separation for Church and State

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but lately it seems like the amount of scandals among politicians and public leaders have gone up exponentially. We tweet dirty pictures, or have sex with pages, or leave our wives for women in Southern America, or yell “You lie” at the President. It’s getting ugly out there.
We don’t just need a particular kind of ideology in politics. We need a particular kind of person.

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