Jesus Got A Gun

This post is a response to an article written by Reverend John Armstrong that rebutted my original post entitled Should We Arm Our Churches? 


Over the last couple of months, I have been told by Christians that I had “better watch out” with what I am saying, that I need to “be careful” or that I “need to be more sensitive.” Even more, I have had Christians tell me that I am “dangerous,” and that my positions on nonviolence, in general, and guns in churches, specifically are “dangerous” and “divisive.”

Let me first say that just because I hold a different view on Christian nonviolence and guns in the church, and have initiated a conversation about the issue, does not make me insensitive, dangerous, or divisive. Conversations such as these are absolutely necessary, lest the Church become a self-reinforcing, homogeneous, echo-chamber, which I am afraid is largely becoming the case.

I do find it curious though, that the one who is taking the words and life of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and the pre-Constantinian Early Church seriously and at face-value around the issue of nonviolence, is the one regarded as out-of-line and divisive. One might think that those who stray from, or explain away, the words of Jesus, the New Testament writings, and the Early Church ought to be regarded as the unorthodox position. For the weight of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence far outweighs the opposing, unorthodox position of Christian violence.

When the actual words of Jesus implores his followers to “love [their] enemies,” that ought to be sufficient. For there is no greater enemy than oneattempting to kill or inflict harm. And it is exactly that enemy the follower of Jesus is instructed to love.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says the word enemy, which is the Greek word exthrós, is “a person resolved to inflict harm.”  In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are instructed to be of such heart that we will love a person who is resolved to inflict harm upon us.

When one chooses to find gray areas in this, I wonder how one then determines who is one’s enemy and who is not. Even more, what words of Jesus, the author and perfecter of this faith, specify who is to be regarded as an enemy and who isn’t? There are not any distinctions to be made. An enemy is an enemy. And Jesus told his followers to love them. That certainly does not mean one ought not try to escape or think of other creative ways to preempt or diffuse the situation, but a follower of Jesus ought to love the enemy.

Even more, when Jesus tells his followers to not resist an evil-doer, which in Greek is mé anthistémi hé ponéros, it literally means “do not take a stand against, oppose, resist an evil man who injures you.” Jesus understands quite clearly what he is asking of his followers. And the Early Church understood quite clearly what Jesus meant. When violence comes upon a gathering of those who follow Jesus, it quite literally means for us to not stand up against it or oppose it or resist it.

So when one says that a Christian should “speak where Scripture speaks,” there then is no other choice than to say boldly that a follower of Jesus must love his enemy. Hard stop. And by virtue of this single declaration of Christ, one need not labor to recite all the other words of Jesus that support this one single verse.

Additionally, the argument that a Christian ought only “speak where Scripture speaks” misses the entire heart of the Gospel. For if that is the basis by which a follower of Jesus must move forth in the world, then one must be pro-slavery, pro-human cloning, pro-pornography, pro-illegal drugs and so forth.

But of course this is ludicrous.

The Spirit of God births within us a love that allows us to speak to contemporary issues and work toward peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restorative (not retributive) means of justice. So while guns did not exist in the first century, one need only ask, “Since we share the same Spirit as Jesus Christ, would Jesus carry a gun to kill an enemy, even if it is done in self-defense or on behalf of another?” From the words and life of Jesus, I only find that we ought not kill an enemy. But you, as a follower of Jesus, can read his words in the Gospels and answer that for yourself.

Many Christians take the peaceable non-violence and enemy-love of Jesus to be only his divine calling and something divorced from his followers in the present. However, we never read Jesus saying, “This is my calling alone. It is not for you.”

Every single word of Jesus indicates that we, as his followers, have the exact same calling as Christ. So where would one find evidence of Jesus making peaceable non-violence and enemy-love his unique calling and something separate from the calling of his followers? There is absolutely no evidence for it. In fact, the evidence points significantly to the opposite. To follow Jesus is to follow the narrow way. To follow Jesus is to pick up one’s own cross daily. To follow Jesus means to turn away from all supposed worldly wisdom. To follow Jesus means one will be reviled and hated for their radical love and grace. To follow Jesus will mean one’s life because we no longer live in enmity with others, we no longer repay evil for evil. As followers of Jesus, our only disposition is love. And that may make me naive, stupid, crazy, radical, and divisive, but I take the enemy-loving words of Jesus at face value, just like his disciples and the Early Church.

Because when one considers that eleven of the twelve disciples died at the hands of an enemy, one must wonder why they did not self-defend. Or, when the Apostle Paul was killed at the hands of an enemy, why he did not self-defend. Or, why the Early Church was killed regularly at the hands of their enemies, but did not self-defend. The answer is that they practiced a peaceful non-violence rooted in the radical, enemy-love of Christ. And they believed others would see this radical love of Christ and be drawn to it.

Peace always…

Brandon

Read More

Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 1
Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2

When Words Kill

I was reflecting recently about a time a few years ago when I completely blew it.

I was picking my daughter up from a late evening practice. It was dark outside as we drove and talked about her day. I was heading south on Taylor Road in Columbus, Indiana and approaching a stoplight where there were cars already stopped three-wide.

All of a sudden, mid-sentence, a man and a woman wearing dark clothes walked out from between the vehicles and directly in my path. I slammed on the brakes and was able to avoid a disaster. The only problem is that the guy gave me a dirty look, as if I had done something wrong.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I yelled, “Watch where you are going! You idiot!”

It absolutely kills me to write that story. I never call people names. Never. I rarely get worked up enough to get angry at anyone. That is why it kills me to write that down and share it with you. You may be thinking, “Lighten up Brandon. Everyone is entitled to a little road rage now and then. Besides, that guy deserved it, right?!”

I get it.

But man, ever since that happened the Spirit had been sitting on me like an elephant. There had been a disturbance in the Force, if you will. So much so that the next day I wanted to find some time with my daughter so I could apologize to her.
She was doing her homework the next evening at the dining room table. I asked her if she had a second.

“Hey, I want to apologize to you for the way I acted and what I yelled at that guy last night.”

“Uh ok. I don’t see why you have to apologize to me though for something you did to someone else.”

She had a good point, but I couldn’t get off the hook that easily.

“The reason I have to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness is because I have been entrusted by God and given the awesome responsibility to teach you guys by my words and actions how Jesus would be toward people… and I completely failed at that last night. Do you forgive me?”

Still thinking of ways to help me get off the hook, Anna said, “You know dad, I am not sure that the guy even heard you.”

To which I responded, “Anna, whether he heard me or not is inconsequential. It is what was in my heart, not the words I used, that was the problem. I am really sorry about that. Will you forgive me?”

Of course she did.

So why do I tell you this story?

Well, first, I want to be honest and let all of you know that just because I write a nice blog and have a cool podcast, I am still a work in progress. And that should give each of us a tremendous amount of hope.

No matter where you are in your life and no matter how close or far from God you might think you are, God always unconditionally forgives and works moment by moment to transform you into something exceedingly more beautiful and loving than you ever thought possible. It’s only by the power of God that I can see my sin clearly and ask for a new heart.

But even more, Jesus equates name-calling to murder. I know you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out. If any one of us calls our fellow human being a fool, or an idiot, we suffer the same judgment as one who commits murder.

But how can the words we use even begin to be as bad as murdering someone?

As with murder, our verbal insult or attack dehumanizes our victim. Our careless, hurtful, negative words are like daggers that penetrate deeply and then severely wound that person at the soul level.

That is how seriously we should take the words we use, because they really matter, they have a deep and lasting impact, and they can kill a person in ways we may never know or understand.

So this isn’t just Jesus creating a new law or new commandment that we ought to follow, but rather it is Jesus showing us that our words significantly matter in the lives of others and they emanate, or spring forth, from what we have in our hearts.

And from a heart that ought to work toward the healing and restoration of people, for the lifting up and edification of our brothers and sisters, for the value and dignity of every human life, and for the blessing and reconciliation of people and relationships, I significantly failed.

In the tenuous and divided country in which we live right now, where dehumanizing others and name-calling are our primary modes of operation in dealing with those whom we disagree, let us not forget that the words we use have value and power, for good or evil.

For every kid in school who is battling through bullying and harassment, contemplating his or her worth and value, and teetering on the edge of killing him or her self, let us not forget that the words we use can be the difference between life and death for others.

For every person who has been torn apart and ripped to shreds their entire life and just can’t handle another hostile and demeaning word, let us not forget that our every word can be the fatal blow or that which brings a person back to life.

Let us not forget that our divisive and hateful words are as lethal as a weapon used to murder. Let us not forget that the words we use are indicative of a deeper heart problem and the place in which our words are ultimately rooted. And let us be individuals who are cut to the core when we use careless language to hurt, wound, or dehumanize another person and then let us look inwardly to see what healing we need at the heart-level.

For the words we use can be powerful weapons that wound, kill, and destroy, or instruments of blessing, healing, and life.

Peace…

Brandon

If Death is Not the End

My grandma died when she was 62 and that was way too early.

Our rides in her beat up old red car that we lovingly referred to as “the Klunker,” our hot summer evenings talking on her front porch, and our quick trips to the local restaurant with the best milkshakes in town… were all cut short by an insidious and dreadful disease called Alzheimer’s.

She would never get a chance to meet my beautiful wife or hold my kids in her arms.

Neither would my grandpa who died of cancer when he was 80.

When I held his hand as he lie asleep in his hospital bed just a couple of days before he passed, I thought about the countless nights I spent at his house, the smell of breakfast and pipe smoke each morning, his flat top haircut, and either a Bible on his lap or Andy Griffith on the television.

Some memories never fade.

But while there is immense joy in being able to remember all of the time we spent together, it is coupled with the haunting reminder that our lives have absolutely no power over death. Whether it is my grandma, my grandpa, me, or even you, our end is certain.

And that reality, our powerlessness to death, is one of utter sadness and despair, because death is our final ending.

So much for family and friends and relationships.
So much for our pursuits and endeavors.
So much for parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner.
So much for art and music and creativity.
So much for sunsets and mountains and shooting stars.
So much for the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer.

It all comes to a crushing, brutal, and inconsequential end in death.

And you can’t help but feel as if we have been short-changed somehow, like it all should have meant something.

All of this time on earth for absolutely nothing in the end… except for the assurance of death.

But if death is our end and our end is meaningless and inconsequential… then wouldn’t all things leading to that end be meaningless and inconsequential as well?

Said another way- if death is the end toward which all life is moving… then why does anything in our lives matter at all?  Why ascribe any purpose to it whatsoever? It is all death in the end anyway.  

Yet we live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance.  We ironically fight for life as if it is worth something, like it has meaning and value. We grieve when loved ones die. We treat cancer and search for the cure for AIDS and go to the family doctor and try to eat healthy… because we prefer life over death. We spend our time, energy, and resources protecting and defending life and standing for those who cannot defend themselves.

But why do this if it is all death in the end… and life is of no consequence?  Why do we even have a preference for life over death?  Why involve ourselves in any pursuit or endeavor while we are alive?  Why waste our time on anything at all?

Why should we paint and design and build? Why should we continue to create and imagine and dream?  Why play music and write stories and cry when there are happy endings in movies and plays if it all just tragically ends?

Why?

I think the answer is simple:  Death is not our end.  

And if death is not our end, and if there is actually a purpose toward which we are moving, then all things leading toward that purpose is full of meaning and is well worth our time.

That is precisely why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important for humanity… because it gives us hope and assurance that, while we were powerless against death, only God has the power to defeat it.  Therefore life, not death, is the purpose toward which we are moving and everything we do to that end is valuable.

That is the very foundation of faith.  It is the belief that God is working toward the renewal of all things, and by virtue of asking God to be the active and present center of our lives,  we begin participating in that renewal right now.  It is a life that looks like Jesus in everything we do.

And it is that reality, God’s power and victory over death demonstrated in Jesus Christ, which is the pinnacle of human happiness and joy… because life prevails and gives us meaning and purpose today.

Family and friends and relationships all matter.
Parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner is a foretaste of how life will be one day.
Art and music and creativity is a reflection of what we were made to do and what we will continue to do at the renewal of all things.
Sunsets and mountains and shooting stars are a present glimpse of new creation when death is finally exhausted.
And yes, the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer with everyone we love is just the beginning of how good life will be when Christ returns.

No more pain. No more tears. No more death. No more decay.

So live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance… because it does!

For in Christ’s resurrection… all things are made new…. even and especially you.