Be a Good Neighbor

October 21, 2019, Just Thinking

“He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:26–29).

In the twenty-first century, with the aid of modern technology, media, business, and commerce, I can have neighbors that live all around the world, and not just next-door. The world that once seemed so vast and remote has become a global village. Below is a quote by Brian D. McLaren in his book ‘Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.’

Global poverty is on the increase

“More and more reflective Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who dropped out of their churches in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the Christian religion appears to be a failed religion. And for a reason not unlike the one expressed by the young healthcare worker from Khayelitsha: it has specialized in dealing with “spiritual needs” to the exclusion of physical and social needs. It has specialized in people’s destination in the afterlife but has failed to address significant cant social injustices in this life. It has focused on “me” and “my soul” and “my spiritual life” and “my eternal destiny,” I would add to that the theology of exclusivity and triumphalism.

Brian goes on to say, “but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.”

The gospel isn’t just words; Jesus reminds us that the gospel is practical too. “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:44–46).

Now, being a good neighbor means thinking about the gospel on a global level. Join the conversation on the Asheville Progressive College’s Facebook page.

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The Real Deal

So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. Col 2:20-23

It has always amazed me how those preachers and priests cannot walk out of their houses without putting on a suit or clerical clothing.  It’s almost as if, like Superman or Batman, the clothing gives them special powers. Somehow I get the impression that the Apostle Paul would have been a big disappointment to them, more concerned about the words he preached than the clothes he wore. Elbert Hubbard once said, “God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”

So often, a suit, clerical collar, rhetoric, empty words,or a position gained through family ties is meaningless. I want to hear from those that have been through and still going through life’s battles. 

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Do Christian hold others in contempt?

Contempt shows on your face

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income. Luke 18:9-12

The Pharisee saw prayer and his spiritual life as a way to be exalted, but the tax collector approached God in humility.  

Are we any better? Our triumphal language, our hymns, and our attitude can unconsciously speak the language of contempt.  We can’t be a good neighbor if we hold those different to us in contempt.  The problem is, we may be the last to know.  We need to listen to ourselves.

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Listening to God

Dear God, what does the future hold?

Then the man said to me, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel, because, from the day you first set your mind to understand things and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I’ve come because of your words!  For twenty-one days, the leader of the Persian kingdom blocked my way. But then Michael, one of the highest leaders, came to help me. I left Michael there with the leader of the Persian kingdom.  But I’ve come to help you understand what will happen to your people in the future because there is another vision concerning that time.” Danial 10:12-14

I just came back from two weeks in the UK, visiting family.  During that time, I tried to write, think, and meditate but found myself feeling like I was being pushed back, as if there was a different atmosphere and yet many similarities.  There were those with a passion for unification without losing identification.  There were those passionate about the environment, and there are those longing for what they perceived were the ‘good ole days.’ The common thread was their concern for the future.

In the text, Danial nemesis was the Prince of Persia, but can I interject that it could easily have been hatred, obsession, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, racism, nationalism,  jealousy, all these attitudes can block us from receiving God’s best.  That can be on a personal, local, or even national level.

God knows the future, and I, for one, would be wise to stop second-guessing God. Perhaps that’s why the Apostle John tells us to use both ears and listen to the Spirit

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Extinction Rebellion, a Christian Response.

Last year, Dan Tomberlin wrote, “The sociopolitical tribalism promoted by postmodern social justice warriors is just as insidious as the racism & sexism of the modern era. Both are born of anger and hate. The Christian vision of New Creation is all tribes & tongues as one new humanity in Christ bound together in love. There can be no justice without love. Love transcends tribalism.”

Extinction Rebellion Logo

Let me start by saying how much I love and appreciate the theological contribution Dan brings to the table. However, as a postmodern social justice warrior, I don’t hate or get angry with anyone. I do find it frustrating when a Christians motto is ‘don’t know, don’t care, and don’t tell me.’ The kingdom is about love, yes! But its also a love for the things that God loves.

Recently, in various places around the world, you may have heard about a group called ‘Extinction Rebellion.’ They probably fit into Dan’s concept of a sociopolitical tribe, yet, upon closer scrutiny, they are not hateful or angry and seem to have values that a Christian could adhere to.

Extinction Rebellion has 10 principles:

  1. They have a shared vision of change. Creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
  2. They set their mission on what is necessary. Seeking to mobilize 3.5% of the population to achieve a system change – using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organizing” to achieve this.
  3. They seek to create a regenerative culture. Creating a culture that is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
  4. They openly challenge themselves and the toxic system. Leaving behind comfort zones to take action for change.
  5. They value reflection and learning. Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as their own experiences.
  6. They welcome everyone and every part of everyone. Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
  7. They avoid power structures, breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
  8. They avoid blaming and shaming, we live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
  9. They are a non-violent network, using a non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
  10. They are based on autonomy and decentralization to collectively create structures needed to challenge power.

Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of the Extinction Rebellion.

As Christians, can we say amen to these values? Do we have a shared vision of change? – Do we want to see Love winning overall, to see all people committing to loving one another and knowing they are loved (as Jesus commanded)?  Do we want life for all people in the generations to come? To we care about the environment, the future, and future generations?

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Small Minded People

Gulliver’s Travels

For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape from the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face, and see him eye to eye. (jer 23:3-4)

Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD. (Je 1:7–8).

In the story of Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver is shipwrecked and finds himself on the shores of Lilliput.  The little people there (six inches tall) tie him down with ropes. After giving assurances of his good behavior, he is given a residence in Lilliput and becomes a favorite of the Lilliput Royal Court. He is also given permission by the King of Lilliput to go around the city on condition that he must not hurt their subjects. The people of Lilliput spend most of their time focusing on trivial matters. Eventually, Gulliver is convicted for putting out a fire by urinating on the flames.  He is sentenced to being blinded, but escapes.

A children’s story? Yes! But, it is also a political satire against the royal court of King George III, and against the current teachings of philosophers like Thomas Hobbs, who wrote about the need for a population to be submissive to the King.

Like Jeremiah, the people will go along with a majority view, even when it flies in the face of the word of God.  The prophets are bound, imprisoned, and killed. We too can be guilty of focusing on the small things, rather than seeing God’s bigger picture.

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Holy Discontent!

“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is!” (Isa 43:19)

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor 13:11-12)

Holy discontent! That’s what you feel when you know that God is up to something, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it.  The Apostle Paul talks about, ‘looking in a mirror that gives only a dim, blurred reflection of reality as in a riddle or enigma.’ I know in my case, God will give me a clue by exposing me to an article, a book, a thought, or a scripture, but my frustration will build as I desire to see the whole.

The Isaiah text is part of a bigger paragraph where God talks about doing something tremendous that goes beyond just another exodus.  Israel is stuck in a religion of past miracles, past events, and faith that has got old. Claus Westermann, in a commentary on Isaiah by Walter Brueggemann, says of the new things:

“Israel requires to be shaken out of a faith that has nothing to learn about God’s activity, and therefore nothing to learn about what is possible with him, the greater danger which threatens any faith that is hidebound in dogmatism, faith that has ceased to be able to expect anything really new from God.”

Holy discontent is just God’s way of shaking us up, keeping us fresh and always expecting something new.  Beware, the ‘new’ might challenge the old, requiring us to change.

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Holy Envy

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. (Ro 11:11–14)

Paul is talking about Israel and how he wants to ‘provoke them to jealousy,’ that they may seek more of what God has for them.  It’s that phrase that I want to focus on in this morning’s devotion.  Is God provoking you to jealousy or ‘holy envy’?

When we think that we’ve arrived, know everything, or have exclusivity in our faith, we are in danger of missing out on the ‘more’ that God has for us. I have always been part of a Pentecostal denomination;  and for the past twenty years, my particular flavor of Pentecostalism has been Wesleyan holiness. In the past ten years, however, I have found myself looking at some of the other practices within the Christian family and yes, wishing I had some of what they have in my life, and why not?

Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to know that ‘more’ in their lives too.  He wrote, “God would grant you, according to the riches of glory, to be strengthened with might through the Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height (God). (Eph 3:16–18)

If we think that God is one-dimensional, then we can missout on so much. So, in my Christian life, I have incorporated the eucharist of the Anglicans, the liturgy of the Lutherans, the Lexicon of the Methodists, the prayer and contemplation of the Christian mystics, the prayer-life of the Celtic Christians and the Spirit of the Pentecostals.  If God wants to create ‘holy envy’ in me, then I’m all in.  It doesn’t make me any less of a Pentecostal; in fact, it has only added to my experience.

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Blank Canvas

Given a blank canvas, what would I be?

Gay, straight, female, or male?

Would I be black, white, brown

Or some shade in between?

Would I be spiritual, seeking out God

Or would I a loner, just me and my dog.

Would I be English or American no less,

Or a displaced Palestinian, or even a Kerd?”

Would I be poor, wealthy, or rich?

Or would I be homeless and left in the ditch.

A prisoner, a slave, they’re one and the same.

The government don’t care,

To them, it’s a game.

Given a blank canvas, what would I be?

Given that choice, I’d rather be me.

Written by Terry Threadwell.

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Hi, My Name is Doubt!

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying,  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Matt 11:2-7

“Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared that even doubt to be a sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! — Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality.

Fredrich Nietzche lived in a time when Christianity became fundamentalist, tieing everything up so that there was no room for doubt.  The Christian wasn’t allowed to doubt, such expressions were sinful, and showed a complete lack of faith.

No doubt is not sin! Faith in our minds battles with a thousand and one emotions.  In religion and philosophy, we call it doubt, but in real life, we might call it depression, anxiety, or anyone of the many diagnoses that make up our mental health.  When God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, God wasn’t joking—we are complex.

John the Baptist had been out there in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.  Confronting demons both spiritual and physical, but know he was in prison. Alone, with only his thoughts and doubts to keep him company, he begins to question. Jesus responds to John’s question by telling him all the miracles that were happening and about to happen—‘John, you did your bit, preparing the way for God to move,’ doubt not!

You might be in that place of doubt this morning, and God would tell you this morning, ‘I AM is walking with you and has a plan for your life.’

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