Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Loving God

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [The Apostle Paul; Galatians 2:20]

Here’s a happy thought – when you become a Christ-follower you die! Not literally of course but in a very real sense by surrendering our will to the will of God Christ-followers are dead to their own lives and their own desires. We’re dead men walking. We live a life of complete surrender to the will of God. The first century Christ-followers knew this so thoroughly and talked about it so much that some outsiders considered them a death cult.

Jesus’ own words about following him couldn’t have been clearer; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Mark 8:34] This is well before His crucifixion but even so in a first century context the image of carrying one’s cross would have given people a vivid image of death.

As a salesmen it’s funny to me that this is how Jesus pitched what it meant to be his disciple. It’s as if he was saying “If you want to follow me, get ready to die.” Sign me up!

To the early followers however, and even today in some countries, converting to Christianity could very well have been a death sentence. In a first century context this death imagery was very appropriate but what does it all mean to a modern day western Christ-follower?

Of course surrendering your will to the will of God is not an exclusively Christian concept. Many major world religions talk about self denial and surrender as a path to righteousness. The Arabic root word of Islam means to give up, to desert or to surrender to God. Hinduism encourages adherents to commit themselves to a life detached from worldly concerns in order to fully surrender their will to understanding the will of God. Popular self-help author Eckhart Tolle calls it releasing your ego.

All of these worldviews hold in common the notion that it is holy to somehow detach from yourself and others in order to attain peace. But instead it leads to personal isolationism or worse, a form of tribalism that seeks to protect the followers understanding of, and access to, God at all costs. But to a Christ-follower it’s more than that. It’s not just surrendering to God, it’s submitting to one another as well. Many people miss the fact that when Jesus was asked to define the greatest commandment he actually refused to reduce it just one:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]
He could have stopped at the first point, but he didn’t. The Pharisee asked him for ONE command but he gave TWO. The implication of that is huge; Jesus is saying that you can’t love God alone without also loving everyone else. You cannot love God in isolation. Becoming isolated from God’s people, indeed the whole of creation is NOT an act of love toward God.

So how do you love God? By surrendering your will to God and allowing Jesus to live through you to serve the needs of mankind.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Defence of SPAM

Let’s face it – I spam people. A Lot!

Each and every one of my readers has, at one time or another received an unsolicited email from me. It’s how I introduce myself and my writing and invite people to join this conversation. As much as the branding people at Hormel Foods might beg to differ, that’s spam. Although dressing up really cheap canned ham and tripling the price is marketing genius!

For the most part nobody complains and many, if not all of you who are reading this have taken the time to write back, become followers and even add your two cents from time to time. I really appreciate that. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, I don’t write this blog to stroke my ego or to spread my opinion. I sincerely and humbly just want to learn how the world works and hearing from my readers helps me to broaden my understanding.

But let’s call a spade a spade; I’m a spammer and a lot of people hate that.

When I send out emails inviting new readers I usually get one negative response for every twenty or so positive ones. Not a bad ratio when you think about it but one response this past week got me thinking. It wasn’t that it was a particularly well thought out argument or anything, it was just a simple statement;


But the fact that it was in all caps, bold, and italics made it seem as if I had gently tapped a stranger on the shoulder and he had spun around and punched me full in the face.

WOW – Who sneezed in your corn flakes buddy?

After the initial shock wore off I had another thought. What’s so bad about spam anyway? Personally I love it. (Not the canned ham, the advertising technique)

I’ve been in business for myself in one way or another for nearly 30 years now. I’ve tried every form of advertising going, commercials, direct mail, telemarketing, newspapers, you name it. Honestly, spam get’s a bad rap. Not only does it taste great on toast, there are three things that immediately come to mind which make spam a great form of advertising.

1) It’s far less intrusive than telemarketing. Studies have shown that it takes less than 10 seconds to determine if something you’re reading is of interest to you or not. If it’s not the delete button is an extremely effective tool for getting rid of unwanted messages. When was the last time you got a telemarketer off the phone that quickly? Not to mention the fact that spam never interrupts your dinner.

2) It’s more environmentally friendly than any print based media. No trees were harmed in the writing of this blog post or any of the emails that I may have sent you in the past. If you feel the need to print everything that comes in to your email box it’s you who’s killing the trees, not me.

3) Dollar for dollar, spam is the most cost effective form of advertising going. In fact, other than time, sending (and receiving) spam is free and if you’re offended by the time it takes you to receive it, see point one above.

Bottom line, as a business person and budding author, spam is my promotional tool of choice and I’m not going to stop using it any time soon. If that offends you the delete button is in the top right corner of every computer keyboard, learn to use it, I promise I won’t be offended, I won’t even know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Pacifist Reading of Romans 13 – It’s Still All About Love

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my attempt to remove the teachings of Jesus and the early church from any kind of political debate. Many of my readers have taken offense, or at least questioned my understanding of the role of the church in politics. They site passages such as Romans 13 that emphasis the centrality of God over all things, including government, and state that Christians must therefore become more involved in the political process in order to ensure that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Nice thought but that leads to a whole other debate over how well we understand what God’s will is in any given situation. Perhaps I’ll get into that one day but for now let’s stay focussed on one debate at a time, shall we?

I maintain that Jesus teaching on the centrality of brotherly love [Matthew 22:35-40] and enemy love [Matthew 5:43-47] transcend all politics and therefore must be held above any partisan debate over such trivial things as personal freedom, border security, economic policy and even the rule of law. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our political affiliation.

Indeed, even in the aforementioned Romans 13, Paul reiterates brotherly love as the central theme of Jesus teaching.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Romans 13:8-10]
But I’m jumping ahead; my critics never get that far, they fixate on the first half of the chapter and miss the broader context. Romans 13 begins with this;

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]
Interesting stuff no doubt but to fully understand what Paul is saying here we need to understand a bit of historical context. Read that passage again but this time, think about who were the “governing authorities” that Paul was referring to.

Paul is not talking about a democratically elected government. The “governing authorities” to which he is referring were agents of a Roman despot who held on to power through brutal oppression and coercion. It is impossible to read this passage and apply it to our western, democratic, capitalist values system that includes personal freedom and the rule of law, those things simply did not exist in Paul’s day.

No; this passage is a pragmatic call to pacifism in the face of brutal oppression and a reminder that no matter how evil and oppressive the governing authorities get, it is ultimately God who is in control. Paul reminds his readers to do what is right, not to rebel and God will take care of them. He goes on to remind them that there is no law against brotherly love, even going so far as to say that loving your fellow man is the fulfillment of all the laws [Romans 13:8-10].

But it’s also important to note what Paul does not say in this passage.

He does not say that Christians have a role to play in government. Yes the rulers are God’s servants but that does not mean that they need to be Christians too. Again, you have to remember the historical context. The Roman authorities that Paul is referring to were not Christians. They weren’t even Jews. The very notion that a breakaway Jewish sect would have a snowball’s chance in hell of significantly influencing the Roman government is simply ludicrous and the thought would never have crossed Paul’s mind. What Paul knew was that God could and often did use pagans to further his purpose here on earth, as He still does today.

This of course leads to another question, whether or not it’s possible for non-believers to be considered good. While I’m sure that would be a fun debate too, I’m not prepared to go down that road right now, as I said earlier, one thing at a time.

Finally Romans 13 ends with what is a familiar refrain in Paul’s teaching –

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. [Romans 13:12-14]
When in doubt, act like Jesus.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Canadian Music Week

The Earworm is taking a break. My day job in the Canadian Music and Entertainment industry has me working 12 hour days in the conference hall at Toronto’s famed Fairmount Royal York Hotel for Canadian Music Week.

The Earworm will return next week. I’ve begun formulating a doozie of a post on a pacifist response to Romans 13. It’s sure to be a challenge a few of my more conservative readers.

So until next week....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Screw Politics! It’s about Love

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.[Jesus, John 13:35]

I`ve spent a lot of time lately talking about Jesus and how following Him fits within the political spectrum, or more to the point, how it doesn`t. It`s a difficult question and the answers are difficult to articulate. Many people feel that the all encompassing message of Jesus necessarily incorporates politics but I maintain that all forms of politics and government are human inventions that serve to separate us from God, not bring us closer. God`s Kingdom is not of this world and any attempt to manipulate it through earthly means is quite simply sin.

The children of Israel where warned of this when they rejected Samuel’s sons as judges and demanded a king over them. God’s warning was clear, a king would not provide the security they were looking for, or be a just judge; rather, he would oppress the people and ultimately create a barrier between them and God.

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”[1 Samuel 8:10-18]
And that’s what a political system does. It creates walls, both physical and metaphorical, between people and God and most obviously amongst the people themselves.

Politics is divisive. It has created hierarchy through concentration and manipulation of power and perpetuated the myth that some people are worth more than others. It has created an elite class to rule over the lesser citizens and has drawn lines between peoples. Politics is more concerned with keeping certain groups out than allowing anyone who looks different or thinks differently in. God’s design, evident in the Garden of Eden was for man to commune directly with Him, each other and with nature but we continually reject God and have created a political system that is indicative of our fallen world.

In order to commune directly with the almighty there cannot be any division among us. Over and over again we find in scripture plain instructions on what to do to get closer to God. These instructions have one fundamental thing in common. Screw the Politics, get together and do something meaningful.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. [Jesus, Matthew 18:20]
And what are we told is meaningful? Follow the Abrahamic law? Draw borders on a map? Live in communities of exclusion, elitism and hierarchy?

No – We are plainly told that a meaningful life is a life of love and service to others. A life with no political division or hierarchy where Christ is the centre and our only mission is to love and serve one another.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. [The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3:11-14]
I sincerely believe that God is grieved by our many divisions. The first step to unity is to recognize that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. All people are made in the image and likeness of God. All people deserve love and compassion. All means all.

This has nothing to do with politics. The sooner we recognize that the sooner we can get on with it and really start loving our neighbours as ourselves.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[Matthew 22:35-40]
All We Need is Love – John Lennon, Paul McCartney