Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Kingdom of God (Page 2 of 4)

Non-violence in the face of ISIS?

Once again, Sojourners are one of the very few Christian movements to put forward a credible, intelligent alternative to the violence of Empire in the face of the brutality of ISIS. This article by Micah Bales should be compulsory reading for every Christian wanting to articulate a Christian response to ISIS.

The way of the cross is indeed foolishness to many. As a believer, it is even foolishness to me at times. That just shows how entrenched in the way of the world I am.

Check out some of these quotes from the article above:

  • “When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.”
  • “The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  • “We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.”
  • “This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers…But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.”

When we are willing to die for the way of Christ, to be martyrs for the kingdom of non-violence, we show that we would rather die than cooperate with the way of death that Empire tells us is right. That is the foolishness of the cross. We would rather follow a Messiah who gets himself killed than one who overthrows Empire and conquers all.

Yet the irony is that in following the Messiah who gets himself killed, we become those very conquerors. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That is the way of Christ that overcomes the world. In the end it is this way, and not the violent way of Empire, that wins. To quote Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Instead of mega-church, micro-church!

What a wonderful example of what biblical church is all about!

My debut on Red Letter Christians

The People of God as a Positive Social Epidemic

Plague_victims_blessed_by_priestDaniel Clendenin at Journey with Jesus just wrote a magnificent article on the people of God as a positive influence in culture. It reminds me of Jesus talking about the yeast spreading among the dough. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the article:

  • Celebrate a unity beyond uniformity, and a diversity beyond divisions.
  • [Jesus] provokes us to move beyond outward ritual to inward transformation, to live with interior compassion for people instead of exterior compliance to a law. When that happens, he says, the people of God reflect the character of God. They spread all sorts of positive social pathogens that build a healthy community that’s nothing short of “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And it’s perfect not because we always reach the ideal, but because above all things we seek to be “merciful” (Luke 6:36).


If the poor are always with us, why bother trying to alleviate poverty?

Sight Magazine just posted my recent piece on Jesus’ oft misunderstood words when the woman anointed him with perfume.

A gust of wind on the subway platform

subwayOne of the many great paradoxes of Christian faith is he fact that we simultaneously live in the ‘now and the not yet.’ In Jesus, God’s future world has come into the present. Through his life, death and resurrection, and through the continuing acts of faith lived out throughout history, preparation for the final act of a totally transformed existence has begun.

Explaining this in terms that are understandable to the layperson however is not easy. The best analogies I can think of have come from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. But I recently came across another excellent description of it in the December 2012 edition of the Uniting Church’s Crosslight magazine. In this issue, Chris Mostert, recently retired Professor of Systematic Theology in the MCD University of Divinity, wrote a reflection about Advent. He says Christianity is fundamentally an eschatological faith: we ultimately live with the great hope of Revelation 21:1-5, the complete renewal of all relationships in the universe. I was so impressed by Mostert’s article that I want to quote all of it here, but I will stick to the most salient parts.

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Where is home?

first-home-project1-406x303“‘Where is home? Where is my home?’ I hear my spirit cry” – Midnight Oil, Home

“Still gotta let you know, a house doesn’t make a home” – U2, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

Every human needs a sense of place. Everyone needs a sense of belonging. We need a place we can call home. That’s why the issue of land rights is so important for Australia’s indigenous people. It goes right to the core of their identity. The land is about who they are. It’s also why children in foster care are so disadvantaged. From the first years of their life they are moved around from place to place, and they may even receive lots of love. But the more they are shunted around, the more they will have building up inside them the nagging question, ‘where do I belong?’ This question nags away at their fragile souls, and it’s no wonder so many become so restless in so many ways later in life.

Bono’s profound statement in the line above about a house not necessarily making a home strikes at the heart of identity. We need a safe place in our lives, a place of refuge, a place we can come to and know it’s ok. That’s why Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is just more and more shameful. It speaks volumes that the Gillard Government’s decision this week to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone didn’t receive howls of protest from the Opposition, because they totally agree with it.

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What is God’s Work?

I’ve just had an article on God and work posted over at Jeremy Myers’ Till He Comes blog. The article looks at what God’s work really is (IMHO!) and the fact that our work doesn’t have to be in a Christian setting to be godly. Check out the article here.

The day the mining magnate met Jesus

Here is a modern Australian reading of Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Western Australia and was passing through. A man was there who was a very wealthy mining magnate. He had heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.

When Jesus saw him he said to him, I must stay at your house today. The mining magnate couldn’t believe his ears and welcomed him gladly.

All the people, especially those who were strong social justice activists, saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a mega-rich mining magnate. If he really cared about the little people, he would know what sort of character this person was.”

But the mining magnate stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my wealth and earnings from my mines to the poor, and if my mines have been detrimental to the lives of people or to the environment, I will close them and pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too has a high place in my kingdom. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus always surprises us. My wife and I have spent the last 12 years in a poor inner-suburban church which is doing well if it has $1,000 in the bank. We are social justice types who also have a passionate concern for the environment. Call us hippie lefties if you like, but I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus who struggles and many times fails to live up to the life that he calls us to.

I get angry when the mega-rich whinge about their rights and how they’ve got it so difficult. When I hear them say such things, I wish they would get a dose of reality. But then I read the story of Zacchaeus and see my own reverse snobbery. We love to pin the rich up against the wall – and most of the time they deserve it – but we have no right to judge them as if we are somehow better.

Jesus never does this. He always pulls the rug out from underneath us and exposes our character flaws. That’s why you can never put Jesus in a box. If you try to paint him as someone who is more left-leaning than most, he reminds you of how he related to Zacchaeus. And if you try to place him amongst the moral majority who decry the declining values of our culture, he reminds you of the woman who knelt at his feet and poured expensive perfume on him whilst those standing around condemned her for not spending the money on the poor.

You see, Jesus is never about issues; he is always about relationship. The kingdom is never about values; it is about relationship. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, has spent 30 years working amongst the poor of that vast land, and he says that the thing he sees the most is that the gospel is about relationships. It is not about causes or values or issues; it is personal in every way, including in its take on social justice. Real justice is personal, it is never separate from relationship.

One of the reasons I love Jesus – and one of the reasons I sometimes want to avoid him – is because he can never be pinned down. Whenever we think we know what he is on about, he surprises us. But in doing so he never condemns us, never condemns anyone. That’s why I can trust him, and that when I am challenged by him. I don’t have to run away, because all he wants to do is show me what is best, show me that his ways are not my ways, and that he is ultimately trustworthy. We can read the gospels a hundred times over and still be shocked by the outrageous, counter-cultural, unconditional, life-affirming, comfort-shattering love of Jesus. Our response to such actions of Jesus as is seen in the story of Zacchaeus or its modern equivalent of a mega-rich mining magnate says more about us than it does of Jesus or the mining magnate, or whoever else you want to put in the story.

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, also makes the crucial point that in offering to spend such intimate time with Zacchaeus, a hated Roman collaborator, Jesus turns the hatred of the crowd from Zacchaeus onto himself. This is one of the real points of this story. Jesus always shows his love and grace at his own expense.

Bailey also points out that, once again, the transformation Jesus gives is complete. It is not just about the transformation of Zacchaeus from a wealthy money-grubbing hoarder into a beautifully generous human being; the transformation also has wider implications for the village he lived in. The people there would no longer be oppressed and ripped off by this former Roman collaborator. God’s grace came to everyone that day, not just to Zacchaeus’ house.

Jesus’ love is real; it is costly and it is sacrificial, as real love always is. By calling out to a hated tax collector, Jesus took the crowd’s hatred of this despised person onto himself. In the process, both Zacchaeus and the villagers are all freed. How would we respond today if Jesus wanted to share an evening in the lavish home of a wealthy mining magnate, enjoying their company over a nice meal and a few red wines? Would the social justice types among us question whether or not this was the real Jesus – friend of the poor – or just an impostor? Would others of us be smug in our seeming affirmation that God really is about prosperity? Or would we question ourselves instead, suddenly realising that we assumed we had Jesus all to ourselves?

Jesus caused a crisis everywhere he went. Just when we think we have him right where we want him, he shocks us, and reminds us again that we can never paint him into a corner. If a well-known multimillionaire walked into your church, how would they be received? Would we welcome them with open arms, or would we think, “what are those rich *&%^/*%&%^ doing here?” Jesus loves the mega-rich just as much as he loves you and me and the poorest people on the planet. God help me to be the same.

Album Review – Rumours of Hope

Eden Parris is a friend of mine who I have known for a few years now. He has always impressed me as a man who is genuine in his friendship and desire to be a good person. I spent some time with him on a men’s camp last year and we ended up having quite a deep conversation about our lives and about our view of Christian faith. It turned out that we share similar views. So when, as he left the camp, he gave me a copy of his album Rumours of Hope, I looked forward to listening to it, not really knowing what to expect in terms of the type of music and what he would be singing about.

After listening to a few songs I was hooked. This is a special album, and Eden is a special songwriter. Of all the Christian music going around today, you don’t hear alot about the biblical message of the kingdom of God and about the good news of who Jesus really is and the new creation that he has inaugurated. Much Christian music is about feeling good, and unlike most of the old hymns, does not contain much good theology, and therefore doesn’t bring us close to the God we worship. As far as great theology goes, Eden’s songs are alot closer to the old hymns than much of today’s Christian music.

To paraphrase Walter Brueggemann, this is an album of prophetic imagination. Throughout the songs, Parris inspires us to dream of a better world, a world that is not just a pipe dream, but a world that, if we dare to believe it, has already been inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of the lyrics from the first song, A Deeper Magic, say it all:

Have you heard on the wind
Distant murmurs of Spring
They say Aslan is on the move
And the people in caves are beginning to pray
They say that he will be here soon
To banish the night and to make all things right
To colour the earth with his song
But the most precious thing is it’s already Spring
It was hidden right here all along


This is just a sample of the quality of lyric (more of which can be seen in the video of the whole song above) and inspiration that we see on this album. But it is not just dreaming that we are called to in these songs. They also draw us out of our fears and natural cynicisms to be a part of something bigger, something worthwhile, rather than be caught up in the treadmill of a life that is on its way out.

Clearly influenced by Jesus’ message of the kingdom that is both now and not yet, as well as by such geniuses as C.S. Lewis, this is an album that is easy to relate to. It not only draws you out of yourself, but Parris also gets quite personal and sings of issues that resonate with the astute listener, be they about the relationship struggles that we all go through if we want to make them work, or about the encouragement that we all need on the often trudging road to our destiny of love.

It is not just the lyrics that make this album so enjoyable though. It is the musical style that evokes a certain simple joy in the midst of struggle and pain. The lyrics and the music complement each other to bring out the sure and certain hope of the kingdom despite what  too many people experience in our world of injustice and inhumanity.

This is an album that leaves you wanting more. It inspires a desire to live the dream, but not the dream that our society talks of. This album speaks of a dream that is just so much better and complete that it doesn’t bear comparing to anything that we think is special in this world’s way of thinking.

This album has lyrics and music that more people need to be made aware of. I recently watched Eden play live with one of his band members, during which he played a song that will be on a forthcoming album. I’ll be keeping an eye on Eden’s Facebook page for the details. If it is anything like Rumours of Hope, it will be well worth the wait.

If you would like to book Eden Parris and his band The Second Chance, email

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