Changing the world from below

th-15In his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory A. Boyd argues that legislative power and the kingdom of God operate on two completely different levels. One exerts a power over people as it seeks to amass public opinion, gain votes and change structures of government, but the kingdom of God works on a power under basis — it is based on serving and lifting people up.

That power under form of bringing change to the world is best exemplified by the teachings of Jesus summed up here in these Beatitudes we have been studying. Blessed are the poor in Spirit; those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who show mercy because they need mercy; those who quietly make peace; and those who are persecuted, misunderstood and falsely accused, for these people walk in the kingdom of God. These are all power under attitudes and attributes that are God’s way of changing the world. We change the world by connecting our own need to the needs of others and helping them before we help ourselves.

By the way, the kingdom of God — sometimes referred to as the kingdom of heaven — is not the same as heaven. The promises made in these Beatitudes are not fulfilled some day far off somewhere; they are fulfilled now. Jesus already proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come. He brought it; and through His Spirit, we can walk in it.

Jesus didn’t come as a political king to set up His rule and change the world by decree; He humbled Himself, became a servant and suffered and died, and that power under is now loosed in our lives by the Holy Spirit. He changed the world by example. We change the world by following Him.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Washing His disciples’ feet was the ultimate display of a power under way of changing the world. And Jesus commanded His disciples to do the same. We are His disciples too if we do what He has asked us to do.

This is the way the Gospel of Welcome advances in the world — through each one of us as we serve the needs of those around us. The gospel is not spread by decree or by mass media (power over), it is spread by coming alongside and lifting people up, one by one (power under).

Think of some ways you can exert some power under today. Whose needs can you connect to today, and how can you serve them? When we use whatever resources we have to better someone else’s life, we are stepping into the kingdom of God. When we connect our need to the needs of others, we become a part of God’s solution. This is how we change the world.

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Blessed are the needy

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

th-12These last of the “Blesseds” have to do with bad things that happen to you because you are following Christ. These apply to us, but not to the degree that they did to the early Christians, many of whom were martyred for their belief. Nor do they apply to us as they do right now in parts of the world where people are suffering intense persecution — some losing their lives — because of their faith in Christ.

Sometimes Christians try to apply this blessing to themselves when it is not because of Christ they are suffering, but because they are being fanatical, or they have to be 100% right all the time, or they are pushing their values on society and getting “persecuted” as a result. That doesn’t count. This doesn’t say, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for being insensitive.” It has to be because of Jesus, not because of us.

It’s really justice Jesus is talking about here. Blessed are you when you are unjustly treated because of me. I notice. I will set that straight. Leave your case with me.

Here’s the thing you can’t help but notice about all these “Beatitudes” or blessings Jesus lays out in this, His earliest teaching. They are not — any one of them — anything we would naturally consider a blessing. The poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the unrighteous, the merciful, the innocent, the maligned and misunderstood … these are those who are blessed. Oh really? Doesn’t look like it on the surface.

Jesus is evening the score. He is raising up the lowly and bringing down the proud. It is for us to realize this and focus on our need, because that will always lead us to our inheritance in the kingdom of God.

What is Jesus doing here, if He’s not turning our value system on its head? We tend to set aside the successful, the popular, and the wealthy as those who are blessed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The teachings of Jesus necessitate a new way of thinking.

Let’s just say, generally, that the needy are those who are blessed, and that means needy in every sense of the word. Are you sensing your need today? Are you needing mercy, righteousness, comfort, peace, innocence, and justice? Consider yourself blessed. It is our need that tethers us to Christ. That’s when He becomes our only resource, and that’s why we end up blessed: We end up with Jesus.

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What God did

IMG_3856Yesterday, in the hospital where she works as a Physician’s Assistant in orthopedic trauma, my daughter was repairing a tendon in the finger of a man when she found out he was a guitar-playing pastor. So she asked him if he had heard of me. “YOU’RE DAD IS JOHN FISCHER?” he exclaimed, a little too loudly for anyone’s comfort – his enthusiasm undoubtedly bolstered by the morphine she had administered. “I’M A CHRISTIAN TODAY BECAUSE OF YOUR DAD!”

Now, how cool is that? Not that I did anything, but that I got to find out about it. That’s what’s unusual about this story. Getting to find out about what God did.

Actually I didn’t do anything here specifically in relation to this guy. I just did what I do. Had this encounter never happened, I would not have known anything about this. That’s because God did this; it’s His secret formula for spreading His truth and getting things done eternally.

This is true for every one of us. There are people whose lives have been touched forever in some way by you, and you don’t know anything about it. That’s because the affecting of a life is not because of what we do; it’s what God does through us while we are doing everything else, that will change the world.

I know I can say with confidence that whoever you are, whatever you do, God has and will touch someone through you. I know this because this is what God does. He uses all of us, and it seems to be mostly when we don’t even know it, or aren’t even trying. We are all pieces of the puzzle that, when fit together, tells the story of God’s redemption of the human race. Someday you might find out what God did because of you, but that’s not important. What’s important is that God did it.

And now I know of a man who can still worship God with his guitar today because of my daughter, and that’s pretty cool, too.

Following is a piece by Marti that gives a window into the mystery of how God works. This is how we see ourselves as God uses us in the world.

So what is true prayer? 

by Marti Fischer

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)

The tax collector’s prayer incorporates little; he recognizes himself as the lowest, worse kind of being – a sinner, and, as a sinner, he realizes he will never be any better in and of himself.

There is no account of him adding: “But … a sinner of merit, or a sorry sinner, or a reformed sinner because I am going to be different from now on, or an honest sinner because I am willing to tell you the whole thing, or a praying sinner as I humble myself before you.”

He proposes no joint ventures: “Lord, I have a part that I can contribute which you desperately need, and I am willing to invest my two cents in this enterprise if you will do the rest.”

Rather he recognizes that he has absolutely nothing to contribute to God’s cause. He is praying out of utter bankruptcy.

He begs, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He is not prideful, trusting in his own abilities rather than trusting God, nor is he regarding other people with contempt and disrespect, nor is he praying to himself about himself, nor is he laying before God his faithful service or casting himself wholly upon God during emergencies only, nor suggesting that he is a marvelous blessing to God as the Pharisee did, “I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector, nor does he point out what he has done for God as did the Pharisee, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

The tax collector understands, as we must, that he has no abilities in himself. We, like the tax collector, never feel adequate to meet any situation apart from Jesus Christ. Prayer, therefore, is an expression of an awareness of helpless need that can only be met by God.

The tax collector comes from a place of apprehensiveness with a humble heart and simply begs for mercy before a holy God. He is aware that the only way he has access to God is through divine mercy (Daniel 9:18-19). Such access is not earned; it is the product of God’s grace.

Therefore, join other members of our Catch community, and me, as we beg, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
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Child of God

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

th-11When I went looking for a picture to go along with yesterday’s Catch, I typed “peacemaker” in the image search engine, and got an array of pictures of a gun. Not quite what I expected. Apparently “peacemaker” is the name of a popular gun collector’s item, a Colt 45 that was the U.S. Army official service revolver from 1873-1892. I also found pictures of a very large aircraft — the Convair B-36 bomber — the largest mass-produced piston-engine aircraft ever made, and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. It was designed specifically to carry nuclear th-8weapons long distances and could travel almost halfway around the world without refueling.

In both of these instances, “peace” was maintained by way of the threat of destructive force. You will be peaceful because I’ve got the gun and I can blow you away. Or, Your country will be at peace with us because you know we have the capability of wiping your entire nation off the face of the earth.

Not the kind of peacemaker Jesus was talking about, and yet it is the kind of “peace” many Christians have taken up in the last few decades. There is a militant strain of Christianity that has evidenced itself ever since Christians gained power socially and politically in America. Under the guise of a culture war, Christians have taken to trying to win back lost values by force, as if a Colt 45 in hand would make the country a more Christian nation.

When Jesus talks about making peace, He means to come from a humble, sacrificial place, not a place of superior firepower. Our weapons are not protected by the NRA; they are weapons of righteousness and the power of love.

We’re not going to set back global conflicts or generations-old hatred, but we can bring peace to our sphere of influence. We can return good for evil, and pray for those who set themselves up as some kind of personal enemies. We can spread goodwill everywhere we go, and treat everyone with respect — no exceptions. We can take the lower place and lift up the fallen and the downcast. We can be peaceful and make peace with everyone who will accept it.

We have the most powerful weapons in the world at our disposal: they are the fruits of the Spirit, and they are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

This is the way we change the world as followers of Christ and representatives of the Gospel of Welcome, and as children of God.

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Be a peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

th-10When our firstborn son, Christopher, was about six months old, I wrote a song about his toes. “Christopher knows Christopher’s toes,” was the opening line, and it was inspired by watching him sit in his little infant seat and grab his feet with such delight, as if he had just discovered them: “stuck in the air at the end of his chair/ten little toes just waiting to play.”

“It’s hard to believe that these little feet will walk into the next generation,” goes one of the verses. “May they be feet that bring the gospel of peace to every situation.”

It has turned out to be one of the most prophetic things I have ever written. Not only did Christopher grow up to be a peacemaker by nature, he is now paid by the City of Los Angeles to keep the peace, because he is so good at it.

I’d never known a peacemaker until I met Christopher. Even as a child, he performed this function in our family. It starts with a calm attitude. Christopher is not easily riled. And when everyone else is flying off the handle, his mere presence has a calming effect. Somehow he is able to transfer this calm over to you, and you suddenly realize that whatever it is you were fighting over just isn’t that important. Everyone takes a deep breath, and remembers the important things — why you love each other, and what are the things that really count.

I’m telling you this because I’m trying to figure out how he does it. I’m trying to find something in what he does that I can pass on to you, because I believe the world needs peacemakers right now, perhaps more than ever.

There is such a strong spirit of contention going on in the world right now. I’m sure it’s always been this way to a degree (with wars and rumors of wars), but lately it seems someone turned up the burner on the melting pot. Certainly there are global conflicts — there always will be — but even in our own country there is bitter rivalry and no love lost between political parties and the conservative and liberal elements in society that have become so polarized. We have an election coming up and everyone knows it’s going to get ugly.

Into this environment we come as followers of Christ representing the Gospel of Welcome. There’s nothing welcoming about being hit upside the head. We need to take a couple of lessons from Christopher: calm down and remember what’s important. We are here to lead people to Christ, not win an election. We are not taking sides. There are no sides to take except to come alongside everyone. We are ambassadors of reconciliation announcing that God isn’t mad anymore, so there is no need for any of us to be.

There are enough of us here at the Catch to make a difference. Take it from Christopher: may your feet carry the gospel of peace to every situation. Calm everyone down. Welcome everyone. Whatever it takes, be a peacemaker today. Be a child of God. Be blessed. Believe me, the world really needs you.

PEACEMAKERS, MARK YOUR CALENDARS!

Rob Stutzman, Political PR expert, will join me next Tuesday, September 16, 2014, to discuss the upcoming elections through the lens of the Gospel of Welcome.

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Seeing God: Seeing good

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15)

Whoever seeks good finds good will, but evil comes to one who searches for it. (Proverbs 11:27)

th-8The world doesn’t look the same to everybody. What you see is determined by who you are and what you look for.

What you see is a function of who you are, up to and including the fact that the pure in heart will see God. And “seeing God” is not set at some future date. The pure in heart will see God now. They will see God in the things that he has made; they will see God in the faces of those in His image; they will see God in the good that people try to do; they will see God in the love that people have for one another.

The argument that the world is bad and getting worse is a popular one among Christians today. It’s a perspective that has been exploited by some churches and Christian organizations bent on using fear as a motivator for involvement, fundraising, and even political action.

It’s a powerful argument because it’s true. The argument that the world is bad and getting worse is true because it is self-fulfilling. If that’s the way you believe the world to be, it will cooperate with you. The scripture even says that if you look for evil, evil will come to you.

But the converse is also true, that if you are looking for good, you will find that, too, and if you are pure in heart, you will be seeing God everywhere.

So which is it? Which world do you want to live in? Is it time for the Gospel of Welcome or the Gospel of Doom and Gloom?

It’s up to you and me.

Keep your heart pure and look for good, and you will find God at work in the world. Fear the worst, look for evil, and you will not only find it, it will find you.

Fearing the worst may be a good way to raise money, but it’s a rotten way to live. Be a part of change. Be a part of God’s will and work in the world. Look for God, and look for good, and be rewarded with finding both.

This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair.
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass
He speaks to me everywhere.

Postscript: Much to the delight of Los Angeles Angels fans like myself, the Oakland Athletics, who have led the Western Division of the American League all season, have gone through a major collapse in the last few weeks to where they now trail the Angels by eight games. Just a few short weeks ago, it was the other way around. In the midst of a critical 4-game series with the Angels, after the A’s had lost the first two games, their manager called a special meeting and among other things, it was reported he called their play, “pathetic.” Well, I guess his players have gone on to prove him right. So goes the power of perception.

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Pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

This one eludes me. I can get the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungering and thirsting for righteousness, even the merciful; I get all these, and can identify to a certain degree with them all. But the pure in heart seems way beyond my grasp. Is it really saying: “Blessed are those who know they are not pure in heart and who come to me to be made pure”? I do think that’s part of it, but somehow that seems a little too easy.

When I think of pure in heart, I think of people who are one with themselves on the inside. I think of someone with no guile, no secrets — someone the same on the outside as on the inside … someone turned inside out. Doesn’t mean it’s all good either; it’s just that it’s true. When I think of pure in heart, I think of someone without any mixed motives. And I think of someone who is definitely not me.

I am well trained at being deceptively righteous. I am not blaming anyone for this — I would like to blame my hypocritical Christian background — but that would be a cop out, because I am self-taught. I became this way all by myself, and I’m so good at it, I can even fool myself.

For years I’ve rested my case with Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

There you go: even Paul refuses to judge his own motives. As comforting as this is, that still leaves me short of “pure in heart.”

I do know my wife has this down much more than I do. Her character is such that she can’t hide. When she speaks of the Lord, it comes from a pure heart. When I ask her what that’s like — where it comes from — she tells me it’s an attitude; an attitude of obedience. It’s a decision in the heart to obey; to do the right thing. It’s a choice devoid of belligerence or disobedience. It’s not a reluctant, “Well, you leave me no choice…” but a real, born-of-the-Spirit desire to please God. And I know she’s right because I know she sees God.

I will leave the final word this morning to one of my mentors, the late Ray C. Stedman, who wrote about this: “The word pure does not mean someone who has never been exposed to evil. It means literally “the purged” in heart. Blessed are those who have been cleansed, those who know the grace of forgiveness. As David put it so beautifully in the 32nd Psalm: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute iniquity,”
(cf, Psalm 32:2).

So if you talk about the grace of forgiveness, I know I qualify for that. The pure in heart would be those who trust in that forgiveness and nothing else. No religious pedigree, no hiding, no hypocrisy. The pure in heart is that grace turned inside out.

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