The Fall of “Fear Not”

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That’s a true saying, think. Fear is the path to the dark side. Followers of Jesus have long held a negative view of fear. The Bible acknowledges the reality of the emotion, but rejects its power. “God did not give us a spirit of fear”. The command “Do not be afraid” occurs more than 70 times in the Bible, even though the recipients of the message often had exceptionally good reasons to fear. “Perfect love drives out fear”. From the beginning, Jesus followers have confronted fear with love, faith, and encouragement.

And yet there is a troubling trend in modern Christianity, especially in America. We do not confront fear, we fertilize it. We are not just insecure, we are fearful. Full of fear. Fear, risk, safety have become staples of American Christian conversation. I’m not sure what caused this shift. I suspect that the rise of mass media based on fear, greed, and sex may have played a role.

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Frequency of words in print over time (by Google N-gram)

How many times have you heard someone talk about fear this week? A quick search using Google N-gram shows us that people are talking about fear more today than they were during World War II! “Danger” is the only fear-word that is showing decreased usage. This makes sense! Americans and their families have never been as safe as they are now. The rate of violent crime in America is lower today than it was when “Leave it to Beaver” was first aired in 1957. (Yes, these statistics include kidnapping, murder, rape, child molestation, and the like. It is a general trend that seems unrelated to our overreactions to over-publicized crimes.)

But that is not how Americans feel. We feel scared, insecure. Almost inevitably, fear leads to anger and anger leads to hate. That is what I’m hearing today from Christians. Fear. Anger. Hate.

This is inconceivable for those who have dedicated their lives to the God who IS love. Christians fear Muslims and immigrants, and so deny them shelter. In doing so, they ignore the Bible’s teaching on caring for the exile and foreigner just as Israel did. Their lack of compassion was a primary cause of God’s destructive judgment of Israel. Don’t believe me? Read Isaiah and Jeremiah. Will the American lack of compassion lead to different results?

Christians are fearful of political parties. Whether it is Democrats or Republicans, we are afraid of what will happen if they get elected. We say terrible (and often untrue) things about their leaders. We ignore clear commands to honor our leaders written by apostles whose leaders were far, far worse than ours.

Christians are afraid of military weakness. We seem to have forgotten how God prepares armies. Goliath and five small stones. The walls of Jericho and a bunch of trumpets. Sending the majority of Gideon’s army home.

N.B. To put our military spending in perspective: President Obama spent 1,000 BILLION more dollars on the military over his 8 year presidency than George W. Bush did . In 2015, the United States spent more on the military than the next 7 largest military spenders combined (Russia, China, Saudia Arabia, the UK, France, India, and Germany).

Let’s reject fear and the politics of fear and remember Jesus, who conquered his fear through prayer in the Garden. Who submitted to his execution out of love. Who was respectful and forgiving in the midst of unjust treatment by Herod, Pilate, and the Pharisees. Jesus is our example.

Let’s remember Peter and Paul, who rejoiced when they were unjustly beaten and imprisoned. They both wrote letters after their ill-treatment reminding us to honor the government (Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2).

Let’s remember the apostle John who was was made a political prisoner. He then wrote a letter encouraging the faithful to persevere in the face of persecution because of God’s ultimate victory. He denounced the cruelty and corruption of the Roman empire. (For more info, check out Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful: Perspectives on Wealth in the Second Temple Period and the Apocalypse of John by my friend Mark Mathews. )

Let’s remember Hebrews 11 and the early Christian martyrs. Lit as candles to light the Roman night, thrown in the pit with wild beasts, torn apart by horses. “The world was not worthy of them”.

Let’s remember the struggle against apartheid. “[The black South African church] know that the odds against them are (humanly speaking) enormous. But they have a deep and simple confidence in God. They are never going to make terms with apartheid. They will not rest until this evil thing is removed from South Africa. And if this means that they must suffer, they will suffer to the limit. And therefore they are hopeful and joyful.” (Lesslie Newbigin, South Africa: A Fabric of Fear and Hope, 1980:13)

Doesn’t that sound better? To be hopeful and joyful because of our deep and simple confidence in God? Is the American situation anywhere near the difficulty of the situation of the black South African church?

There is only one kind of fear that is appropriate for the Christian: fear of God. I’m still not exactly sure it means to be afraid of a loving, merciful, and just God. Trying to explain it will just expose my ignorance and make this post even longer. But we can affirm that “fear God” means “be afraid of opposing God” and “be afraid of God alone and nothing else”. God is going to win every confrontation, period. So don’t confront God, don’t defy God, and don’t be afraid of those who choose to. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31).

“‘honoring the governing authorities’ … and submitting oneself to the authorities was not to acquiesce to the demands of the state. Following the example of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, Peter and John affirmed that obedience to the command of God superseded the orders of the state: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29; 4:19). With this seemingly simple declaration, the apostles exposed the true nature of the conflict and identified every other authority, secular or religious, as subordinate to God.” (Kalantzis, Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service, p.34)

Where is the room for these other fears, of politics, of war, of refugees, of people? There isn’t any! We cannot be faithful to God and committed to fear. Or, to put it another way, “One cannot serve both God and … ” anything else, including fear.

Let’s encourage one another to boldness. Let’s nurture the kind of deep, godly love that drives out fear. Let’s rejoice that we have the chance to witness to the superiority of Christ. Let’s reject the fearful and hateful narratives which dominate American news and politics. They are unworthy of us. We are children of the King.

Write-In for President

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There has never been a better time for a revolution in American politics than right now. I have heard hundreds of people say something to the effect of “Well, I hate Trump, but at least he is better than lying Clinton” or “Well, I hate Clinton but at least she is better than that hate-filled bigot Trump”. People feel trapped in a terrible choice between two people they would prefer not to invite over for dinner, much less trust to become the leader of the country. People are tired of business as usual, but they go looking in the usual places for a solution. Everyone knows that our two-party system creates deadlock, and yet the common wisdom is that voting for a third party is throwing your vote away. We are trapped in a sea of bad choices, aren’t we?

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But are we really trapped? Really? We live in the age of the internet! The age of social media, alternative media, Youtube. We are should be as dependent on political parties and mainstream media as we are on horse and buggy for transportation! How long would it take, really, to get another viable candidate if people got active? A week? Two weeks?

 

What are the functions of political parties that make them so irreplaceable?

  1. Select candidates (Trump and Clinton? I think we can do better)
  2. Mobilize and inform voters (A dancing cockatoo video can get 300 million likes on YouTube in a month, can Democrats or Republicans?)
  3. Facilitate governance (Deadlock anyone?)
  4. Monitor the opposing party (I think Twitter and Social Media have this one handled)

We aren’t trapped, except in our own minds. Let’s get on social media, let’s get active and start a campaign (s). Start your own party of like-minded people. Nominate your favorite governor or senator or CEO of a successful business or President of your favorite NGO. Whoever! Start campaigning for them via the web. Get involved! If we don’t like the system, let’s change it. We have to take accountability for our problems, and try to solve them. That’s what it means to live in a democracy. “There is no other choice” is just an excuse for inaction. Why on earth are we trying to ride a horse and buggy to work and complaining about the speed (and smell)?

#writeinforpresident

 

Church Spending vs Giving

I’d like to talk a bit about spending versus giving in the church. This will be quick. I’m going to present 3 facts and a belief. So indulge me.

Fact 1: The average church attender in America spends about as much on church as they would on a monthly gym membership.

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Did anything about that sentence make you feel a little weird? Perhaps you felt weird because gyms and church are receiving the same amount of value. That’s important too, but not the point I’m getting at. I used the word “spend” as if church were a consumer good that is purchased. But we don’t spend on church, we give to church.

Or do we?

Fact 2: The average church donates around 2% of its income to those outside the walls, e.g. serving the poor, missions, outreach, etc.

Interestingly enough, UPS, Bank of America, State Farm Insurance all give more than double that percentage. Even Wal-Mart manages to squeeze out 1.3%. But we spend money at UPS, Bank of America and the rest to get their services. Why is it giving when it goes to the church?

Fact 3: My old church in Jakarta gives 40% of its income away.

It supports orphanages, widows, refugees, the poor, evangelists. You can’t spend money there, you’ve got to give money to Jakarta International Christian Fellowship. It’s going out the door. And they have made sacrifices to do that.

Now which model do you think is more in line with the biblical model of the church? The average church, which gives away a couple of percent, or JICF which blesses the world with almost half of its income? The one in which the church council said to Paul “All they asked was that I should continue to remember the poor, which was the very thing I was eager to do.” ? (Galatians 2:10) Which is more in line with the “blessed to be a blessing” philosophy of both the Old and New Testaments? How about the Great Commission? The Great Commandment? With the Misio Dei?

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Galaxy 24-Hour Fitness or United Methodist Church?

Have we been selling church memberships? Look how good our programs are! We’ve got incredible worship! Our speaker is amazing! I would say that you can answer that question fairly easily by looking at your church budget. If there are for-profit corporations giving away more of their income than your church does (Bank of America is giving away 5.4%) …. well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The solution: Be generous. Really generous. Start calling people to the Mission of God. That means that those of us in professional ministry have to die to ourselves. That shiny new project / building sure does look like success! As does getting those new instruments / screens / sound system that we need.

But real generosity is impossible if your church is committed to constantly updating and upgrading its facilities or building new ones. (N.B. The church has been around 2,000 years. Why are we still paying mortgages?) Real generosity is impossible if you have a pastoral staff of 12 for a church of 600.  You can’t have a full-time, paid Senior, Junior, Administrative, Youth, College, Worship, Executive, and Small Groups pastoral team and still be generous. (Unless you are Presbyterian😀 Just kidding.) To be generous, you have to “insource” ministry. The average church member has to engage and take up their mantle as a priest. These are tough sacrifices to make in a consumerist culture.

But I believe that if your church will publicly commit to giving a significant portion of its money away, it will thrive. I believe the reason why more individuals are giving to Christian NGOs is because more churches are not. But an NGO has great difficulty partnering with a person, but can relatively easily partner with a church.

I believe that if you paint the vision of the Misio Dei, the mission of God, that people will want to be a part. People want to be a part of something amazing, something significant. People want to be generous! And Christians have been generous since the book of Acts whose richest member wouldn’t be as rich as the poorest of us who can read this blog on our magic computers. Give the members of your church a chance to be part of God’s people. Invest in your community, partner with churches in poorer countries, invest in the poor and in the mission of God. Don’t sell your congregation a church membership.

Over-simplified, but far less than a thousand words. Let me know what you think? Where does your church stand?

Worship and the Mission of God

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Worship through song is a powerful part of our experience of God in this life. We are rightly attached to our favorite worship music. I love Bethel, Hillsong, John Mark McMillan, Jesus Culture. I also love Jesus Paid It All, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art. They are different genres, and I don’t think one genre is better musically or theologically. But God has spoken to me through those songs and I connect with them. Everybody has different tastes in music. It is inevitable that there will be different preferences in worship music in a congregation. The problem is that these preferences have caused serious disagreements in churches, hurt feelings, harsh words, even church splits.

Statement: If you have made worship preference a cause of disunity in the church, you have hindered the mission of God.

This is bigger than just musical style. This is about the mission of God. The reason that the church exists on this earth is to spread the Good News that God loves the people of this world and wants to be reconciled with them. Anything that interferes with that has to be taken very seriously. So let’s look at Jesus’s words.

John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 17:22-23 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

In other words, unity is a requirement for proclaiming the Gospel. It is, in fact, a way of sharing the gospel. Unity. Agreement. Love. When the world can see the church’s unity and love, then they will know that God has sent Jesus and God loves us. When anything hinders unity, especially something as trivial as musical preference, the mission of God loses momentum. It loses its authenticity. Why? Because people outside the faith look at the church and see nothing special. Those Christians are just like everybody else, standing up for their preferences, arguing, backbiting.

1 Corinthians 3:3 For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Paul made the same point 2,000 years ago. Let me ask you a further question and bring love in. Have you ever divorced your spouse because (s)he likes different music than you? Have you ever put your kids up for adoption because of music? No? That’s because you love your family, no matter how dumb and bad their music sounds. You come to a compromise. Why don’t you extend that same love to your spiritual family?

Unity is not an option for the church, I don’t care how many denominations we have inherited. The mission of God is dependent on it. So let’s start building some.

Romans 15:5-9 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.  For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

The Principal’s Principles #2 – Student Government

Real student government is a key to never again having to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a presidential election. Although this is a topic for another day, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the only possible candidates for this American presidential candidates … given the choices that Americans have made over the last 100 years or so. It is cause and effect, the law of reaping and sowing, the principle of the path, karma, whatever. Each decision, even a decision to avoid making a decision, is a step towards somewhere. Every once in a while you arrive at a landmark. America is at one such landmark. We have followed a path has lead to today, and now we see that our path could only have lead us here. If we don’t like where we have ended up, then we need to change the direction that we are walking.

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The current doctrine is that education and politics don’t mix. The intent is noble. Parents want to prevent their children from being browbeaten by some liberal/conservative teacher with an axe to grind. But the path has lead, inevitably, to Hillary v Donald. Politics must be a central theme of education. Not political commentary, but political theory, political activism, and practical experience in a small-scale working democracy. Or else Trump.

The modern American is easily confused and upset by politics. “I voted for Obama. Obama didn’t do XYZ. He did ABC, therefore Obama failed / lied.” The modern American struggles to understand why the big face on the screen doesn’t get everything done. They vote for a president / Speaker / whatever, but expect a dictator.  An electorate that doesn’t understand how politics in a democracy work tends to react poorly when its representatives make compromises.  Then they elect people who promise not to compromise. And here we are today: yearly standoffs on the budget, RINO’s and DINO’s, Trump v. Hillary. It is not too hard to see how we got here or where this path is headed. It is our politically ignorant citizenry that drives the demand for simplistic, hate-based media coverage.   However, I believe there is a fairly easy solution to this problem. Practice.

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Don’t worry, comrade. If I say it, I will get it done! No matter what.

 Real student government

(SIDE NOTE: Is it really a surprise that presidential elections look more and more like student elections as time passes and not the other way around? No.)

53cba75b77460e39f1fa23f52e5b8bf8Real student government is the answer. At least, it is part of the answer. I’m not talking about the typical meaningless popularity contest which we call student council. I’m proposing a student government which has real power. It has equal authority with the school board. In other words, the student government is the House of Representatives to the school board’s Senate. These students will make real decisions concerning the school budget, policy, hiring and firing, as well as strategy.

A meaningful political experience requires a political ecosystem. The superintendent and the principal will function as the executive branch. A student press will be necessary to keep everyone honest. Special interest groups will lobby for advantage. The school is no longer the “factory” producing identical minds which perform exactly on standardized tests. Instead, the school is like a democratic republic and a bazaar, in which the students have a voice in their own school and everything is negotiable.

The whole environment will embody the separation of powers and checks and balances. The system will grind to a halt on occasion. It will require a significant amount of time. Given our current situation, I think it’s a wise investment. Why?

Because in education, the process is more important than the product.

It is not just what you learn in your 12 short years as a student. It’s how you learn it, and why.

This political practicum would be a part of a larger educational experience. Teachers would be involved in coaching students on how to do politics: mobilize, construct a platform, understand their constituency, negotiate, etc. Students would also be learning political theory: the role of the media, checks and balances, legislation, corruption, law enforcement, etc. Teachers would regularly be pointing out the political consequences and implications of actions.

The process would start in middle school.  Kids would learn that if you vote for the popular kids, and they cut the band budget to spend more on football, tough luck. They would also learn (with a bit of guidance) what happens when you start running smear campaigns and calling that politics. (Short answer: Trump and Hillary) There would be occasional object lessons on the power of an overactive executive. A million different lessons, and real decisions followed by real consequences will ensure that students are learning the process. They will learn that true democracy requires every citizen and every elected official to play an active role.

As a side benefit, how about producing experienced politicians who are forced to directly experience the consequences of their decisions? How often does that happen? (<cough> Nobody in the House of Representatives or Senate uses Obamacare or lives on Social Security. <cough>)

Not many of you should

The other day, a friend of mine in church said, “I love reading your blog.” Which, of course, inspired two simultaneous reactions. The thought “People read my blog?” and a big smile. The smile faded relatively quickly, but the thought lingered on, inspiring a train of others. “Umm … have I written anything awesome lately?” “Have I written with wisdom and love?” “Do I still agree with the stuff that I have written?”

The answer to all those questions is no, of course. With a single statement, my friend gave my little digital thoughts weight. A real person is reading these letters that I type on my computer screen. Lord help me, they may even have been influenced by what I write.

James 3 starts out with this stern reminder.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

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If only perfect teachers are allowed, well, then there would only be one teacher.

Of course we all stumble in many ways. But when we set ourselves up as teachers, preachers, writers, our “stumbles” become contagious. Our false beliefs will hurt people. Not “might”, not “may”, will. That doesn’t diminish the responsibility of the hearer / reader to use their own judgment. It’s just the way things work. The false beliefs of the teacher intersect with and strengthen sinful or false tendencies in their hearer and sin grows.

There is a lesson to be drawn from this. The lesson is NOT that only perfect people should teach. Instead, it means that those of us who choose to teach, whether in the academy, in the church, through our writing, or with our children, must remain conscious of the  great responsibility inherent in that role. We must strive for wisdom, must live out our words as best we may. And we must approach this role also in faith. In the end, the true teacher becomes a teacher, not because they feel worthy, but because they believe that spreading truth will heal people. Not “might”, not “may”, will.

For those of you who read this blog, thank you for your patience with my imperfections (including, but not limited to: overuse of italics, bold, and ALL CAPS, inclusion of jokes which are funnier to me than to anybody else, infatuation with puns and wordplays, and an 20160501_191135884 - Josh Meares - Bali Officeabsolute refusal to follow traditional rules of punctuation with regard to direct speech). I’m sorry for where I have fallen short or been flat out wrong. I hope those pieces of truth that I have shared have brought some healing. I hope that you will continue to read, add your comments to the discussion, and most of all, tell me when I’m wrong.

Peace.

Persuasive Writing Explained in 350 words

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The persuasive essay is the bread, the butter, the meat, and the potatoes of academic writing. If you master the persuasive essay, you will do well on every paper you write for the rest of your academic life. Sound good? Great! Now, I’m going to explain the 5-paragraph version to you in 350 words.

Paragraph 1 – A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

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BAM! Introduction! This should always have an explanation point because you are telling the reader the cool stuff about your topic that will get their attention and make them care. If you fail to make them care, none of your amazing arguments will matter. At all. Give your readers a road map to your essay (the thesis statement) at the end of the introduction. But don’t use blue font.

Paragraph 2 – Opening Jabs

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A jab is a short, quick punch meant to establish the rhythm and pace of a fight and to set your opponent up for a knockout punch. That is what you do in this paragraph. Make the main points for your argument. Be concise. Keep it quick and short, just like a jab.

Paragraph 3 – I Don’t Think I Know Everything …

List all the really great arguments for the other side. This is the “Hey, I could be wrong” part of the essay. Don’t be one of those people that only includes the dumb arguments (straw men). It’s called integrity, people. Do some research on the inter-webs, find the best arguments and include those. You should feel like Captain America in this picture.

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Paragraph 4 – … But I’m Still Right

Drop the hammer. Take those amazing counter-arguments and crush them (respectfully) with your giant brains. Remember, nobody likes a troll. So be nice. If you can’t crush the counter-arguments, then you may have “backed the wrong horse”, so to speak. it’s not too late! Bail out now and rewrite your paper from the other perspective.

Paragraph 5 – Wrap it Up, Blow it Up

Summarize what’s happened. That’s called wrapping it up. Most people stop there. Don’t be most people. Take just a sentence or two to explain why your conclusion is important. That’s called blowing it up.

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If you can make people care in the beginning, make sense in the middle, and make people care at the end, you are on the verge of greatness.

Shout out to Mrs. Karon Jones of Palmer High School and Paula LaRocque for teaching me everything I know about writing.

Side note: If you use a computer to type a paper and don’t use spell check, you deserve a failing grade. I would give you a 0. In fact, if I saw a single word in that dumb paper that doesn’t exist in a dictionary, failure. Mixing up “to” and “too” a couple of times … sure, I’ll forgive that. But if your paper has even one word like “stretagy”, that shows me you don’t care. You have also diminished my ability to spell correctly. Fail.