Monthly Archives: September 2012

Unity of Mind, Heart and Hand…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? ’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.(Matthew 7:21-23, NRSV)

I read on Facebook that there is a movement called the RAOK Nation. RAOK stands for Random Acts of Kindness. Likewise there are churches who have started this ‘fad’ entitled ‘Radical Hospitality’. In the former example, the Facebook based movement appears to be designed to promote good deeds (are you ready) without the desire for recognition. Go figure. In the latter example, the practice of Radical Hospitality is the attempt of some churches to ‘aggressively’ reach out to visitors, guests and random persons to make them feel a part of the community. Another way to attract people to their worshipping community.

In both of the above examples, you get the emphasis on good practice, with horrible motives. They show Christian behavior without a Christian motive. The basic conundrum is that these movements take what is principally Christian normative behavior, something we are to be, and make it to a goal or motive toward an end. Hospitality is a fundamental sign of Christian belief, Christians are to be hospitable to all they come across. To turn that state of being into mere behavior for the purposes of growing your church is to violate the message that hospitality is communicating. To take a random act of kindness and make it a movement of recognition is just…….stupid. It ceases to be both random and a genuine act of kindness when you target someone for an act in order to receive credit.

These movement, (and others like them) exemplify the failure of effective teaching and shepherding of the 21st century church. Misunderstandings abound about everything from Halloween to “turn-the-other-cheek.” Church ministries, pastors and Christian communities have failed to do their part in educating and challenging societal and theological misconceptions about the work, word and worth of Christian living. What results are disciples who spend more time focusing on the minutia of litmus tests around doctrine, behavior and political ideology instead of reading the Bible, questioning our traditions, and challenging the status quo.

Apparently this is not the first time that disciples have focused on the wrong thing. Nor is this the first time the teacher has been concerned about the student going astray. The above passage from Matthew 7 comes from a long passage of instruction by Jesus after the initial statement of the Beatitudes. In this corpus of instruction to the disciples and the gathered throng, Jesus spends time teaching on prayer, forgiveness, the Law and a whole host of other topics. Towards the end of this teaching, Jesus makes a qualifying statement about all who has already stated. In verse 21 he makes a dire warning to those with false motives saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Essentially, there has to be some purity of motives and unity of behavior for the one who seeks entry into heaven.

Of greater significance to me in the passage is Jesus’ statement of the self-deception that many persons (including the disciples) will engage in, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’” This is a profound statement about our motives and the intention of our actions. We spend so much time looking for a particular behavior and/or response from believers and Christ is saying behavior is not enough. Likewise, confession is not enough (Lord, Lord). Jesus statement should force us all to constantly check our motives and actions.


Jesus is asking each one of us to examine why we do a thing. We are not called to be duplicitous or manipulative in our behavior. This includes performing a RAoK just to be seen doing good, or performing hospitable acts in order to be remembered for them. Jesus calls ones that perform such behavior “evildoers”. Our churches should be about more than merely good behavior. Our church members should be known for more than trying to grow the church. Our faith is about being Christ in the world today. Christians should be known for being what they want in the world, instead manipulating the world for their own ends. Manipulation, even for the kingdom, is still manipulation and the motives are not genuine.

We follow Christ because of who Christ is and not just because of what he does. Every miracle, every teaching, every pronouncement of Jesus was predicated or precipitated by a belief in his work as the Christ, the son of God. If we in the 21st century have become so focused on feigning acts and measuring belief, then we have ceased to believe in the work and being of the Christ. Remembering that Christ was/is in order that he be all God intended is fundamental to being a Christian, period. Being the Christ as he was in the world is the only way this world can get a vision of truth in a crazy, mixed up world.

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Not Against Us, Then for Us!

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, NRSV)

Many of us were shocked and appalled to awaken to the news of the death of a US Ambassador this past week. Further, many of were still shocked to see violent eruptions of protest at our embassies in the Middle East and other countries. Both the death of four diplomats and the destruction of diplomatic missions remind us of the dangers and hostilities that often are part of this world in which we live. However, I was much more disturbed at the root of all the chaos….

A video had been produced in Los Angeles back in June by a man calling himself Sam Bacile. The video purports to be a feature film that ‘exposes’ the true Islam and its revered Prophet Muhammad.  The video in actuality is a poorly produced vile insult to everything that is religious and decent in the world. I have not dignified the creators by watching any part of the video, but many reports portray it as everything from “pornographic to absurd.” The fact that this movie was made in the US (and seized by fundamentalist Islamic clerics) serve to many in the Islamic world to be further evidence of the US’s vile hatred for Islam.

On first account, I am still stunned that such a video (and let’s be clear it is an internet video) is able to produce such a backlash in certain parts of the world. My shock quickly fades when I contextualize my understanding of the Islamic faith with traditional values of the sacred religion. Respect, honor and dignity are of extreme importance in public discourse and are highly valued in the Islamic religious culture. Violations of this code can be treated as gross negligence worthy of retaliation. That explanation not withstanding, the violence and death of last week us not at all justified by the majority of Muslim throughout the world.

At issue for me is the level of our own intolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ in the world. Many in the United States are still deeply suspicious of Islam as a religion and some are outright hostile to what they perceive as a threat to our national security. Many communities deny the construction of new mosques and undermine the work of Muslim groups through openly questioning the motives and their presence. Many professed Christians openly commit to violently “protecting” their native land against a 21st century infidel that looks nothing like the average Muslim adherent in America (or the world for that matter.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery that Mr. Sam Bacile is actually an alias (one of more than a dozen) of an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who is seeking to air his own Islamophobic views. So here, you have a Christian (in the same vein as Terry Jones last year burning a Quran on Sept 11) exposing their deep fear and hatred in the name of truth and free speech. Our fears, our hatred, our hurt and our pain being used to inflict others with hurt pain and injury.

Jesus in the above passage is answering a query from one of his disciples who sees someone operating from a different understanding than the disciples have. The man is casting out demons in the name of Jesus but does not belong to the twelve. He is outside of their experience and from what the disciples can tell, has no experience of Jesus personally. He makes all of the right moves (as testament to his ability to actually cast out demons), but is not in line with the disciples’s understanding of belief and behavior.

Jesus says one of the most profound things in the New Testament. He says, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me. Whoever is not against us is with us.” I love this statement from Jesus about the ‘other’. What he is saying, is that “a person who operates as I operate will not turn away from me.” Anyone who is not overt in their opposition to our message, our actions, our hope, and our love as Christians is still with us. Jesus’ statement makes the world a little less complicated than we have made it. Their are only those who are against us, and with them, we can see who they are in that they oppose us.


The bigger lesson from Jesus is that we need to acknowledge where we see Him at work in the other and celebrate that as a manifestation of the work of Christ. We are so easily led to acknowledge the difference and separation and the negative points in anything opposite our own perspective. Our conservative  ideologies define the norms for both sides: The Muslims who protest violently are the “true Islam” while the Christians who foment anger and hatred are the “the real views of all Christians”. These limited and narrow minded views are minorities within religions that are much more alike in their views of humanity, God and the service to one another. (To be clear, Muslims and Christians are very different in belief and practice, but we are not so different as to not recognize the oneness of God working in both of our traditions.)


Jesus’ statement calls into question our own proclamation of “if you are not for me, you are against.” In fact in turns it on its head, for His statement is literally, “if you are not against me, you are for me.” The only way this idea can be lived out is through a reaffirmation of goodness of our God in the world working through many of our traditions. Seeing someone doing good work in the world (regardless of the tradition) is a reason to celebrate the goodness of our God working in them. Seeing the Muslim feed the hungry or take care of the sick is to see God use them in the same way God uses every one of else.

Places of division and discord are ready and always apparent. It takes a vision of truth to view your ‘other’ brother or sister as a co-worker with God…..and with you.


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