The Banqueting Table

]banquet table in heaven

When he (Jesus) noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Assemblies of God drafted a Constitutional Statement in 1914 that allowed for the ordination of women as Evangelists and Missionaries, but not as Elders.   This was reversed in 1935 by the General Council to allow women to be Elders and Pastors as well.  In a position paper, The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture (adopted by the General Presbytery in session August 9-11, 2010), support is provided by careful exegesis of scripture confirming that a woman’s call by the Holy Spirit not be restricted.

“We are aware that the ministry and leadership of women are not accepted by some individuals, both within and outside the Christian community.  We condemn all prejudice and self-promotion, by men or women.  The existence of bigotry against women in our world, and all too often in the church, cannot be denied.  But there is not such place for such an attitude in the body of Christ…A believer’s gifts and anointing should still today make a way for his or her ministry.  The Pentecostal ministry is not a profession to which men or women merely aspire; it must always be a divine calling, confirmed by the Spirit with a special gifting.”

And yet Assemblies of God statistics in 2014 show a lack of women in the ministry.  For credentialed ordained Pastors there is only 14% which are women.  The number drops significantly less for women being Lead Pastors as 5.1%.  Overall, the percentage of female Pastors in Assemblies of God churches is 22.9%.  Unfortunately, the statistics didn’t separate out the various types of Pastoral positions such as Associate Pastor, Teaching Pastor, or even how many of those women are allowed to preach.

Historically in mission work in the Assemblies of God church, women oftentimes took the most challenging and difficult placements because the men were given the more desirable mission assignments.  Many times in churches female Pastors are positioned to be the Women’s programs Pastor, or over the Children’s Christian Education department by male ministry leaders.  I had an interesting discussion with a male Pastor who stated that female Pastors will frequently be given the tasks of Nursing Home visitations, or other extraneous tasks that the male Pastors don’t particularly care about.  Amazingly, he was frustrated over his Christian brothers’ behavior towards women in the ministry.  He went on to tell me that he has seen many female Pastors who are gifted by the Holy Spirit, but not allowed to use those gifts as God intended because of the “Ole boys club” that still dominates in many churches.

Cultural Problem?

in the kitchen

Pentecostal women who are called to ministry walk a fine and often precarious line.  We, on the one hand, are not radical feminists who demand certain fights, suspicion patriarchal hierarchy as the greatest of all human evils, or refer to God, as “she” at every turn.  However, on the other hand, we are not simply passive about our call to ministry.  We do notice the ‘man’s world’ in which we must function, and we understand the ‘female,’ too, helps make up what we know about the image of God.  We are not women who wish to displace men, nor do we view women who are not called to ministry as being any way inferior.  We are women who simply and humbly ask that we be given room to be obedient to the Lord who has called us.  We are certainly not the first generation of Pentecostal women who have pursued such an opportunity” (Where Do We Go From Here? Sheri R. Benvenuti).

It is clear there is a cultural problem which blocks women from fulfilling their calling from God.  Sarah Sumner, PH.D writing in Men and Women in the Church states that when working as a consult for ministry leaders about the subject of Christian women in leadership she asks them, “Does a person’s view of women somehow correlate with a person’s level of Christlikeness and maturity?  If so, then does a person’s view of women somehow inform the way a person reads the Bible, especially the verses about women?” The consensus is that “spiritual formation” is correlated with a person’s interpretation of scripture.  “Racists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches racism.  Traditionalists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches traditionalism.  Chauvinists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches chauvinism.  Feminists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches feminism.  In every case prejudiced people produce prejudiced interpretations of God’s word.”

Christians must walk the way of discernment to truly align God’s Word with their behavior.  Obviously, prejudice against women is entrenched in our culture.  Just look at income statistics.  In 2013 the median income earnings for full time work was $39,157 for women compared to $50,033.  Almost half of these women were the primary providers, earning at least half of the overall family income.  In dual-earner couples, 71% of men out-earned their wives.  Even in spite of more women than ever obtaining college degrees, the men earned more at every education level (http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/womens-earnings-and-income).

If we look at the lives of most male Pastors there will be a majority of wives who didn’t work, but supported their husbands by taking care of the children and running the household so their husbands could focus on the ministry.  These same men have female secretaries who take care of all the extraneous needs in running a church office.  Subsequently, the male Pastors are surrounded by women who see to their various needs, and are in a submissive, supportive role.  Add to that the leadership staff and other Pastors being male such that communication, personal interaction, strategizing, and planning are done male to male with very little female input.  Men reinforce each other’s male bonding by their use of male oriented metaphors and activities.  As men primarily work with other men, the cultural influence of prejudice towards women grows stronger.  Sumner writes (p. 79), “As for men, prejudice often means not associating with women or not trusting women or dismissing them in a way that is difficult to describe, though not so difficult to discern.”

The average age of ordained AG Pastors is 59.  When these Pastors were children in the 1950’s only 23% of their mothers worked outside the home (http://www.pbs.org/fmc/book/2work8.htm).  So, it is quite evident there is a strong cultural influence that causes male Pastors to resist women in the ministry unless it is a pastoral role that does not allow for egalitarian interactions.

What does sex have to do with it?

woman's legs

I know of one woman who in her early thirties applied for a coveted position to work at an upstanding evangelical institution where she emerged as the leading candidate.  A few weeks into the job search, she received an invitation to visit privately with the chair of the hiring search committee, who told her that she brought ‘too much physical beauty’ into the work environment.  It wasn’t that she dressed immodestly.  It was rather that she dressed more fashionably than professionally, a problem that easily could have been corrected.  Even so, the Christian men found themselves unable to cope.  The chair of the search committee told her what the men had said behind her back.  In closed quarters, after her initial interview, he said that one man remarked to the others, ‘what are we going to do with that?”  She became a ‘that,’ an object of beauty, not a sister (Susan Sumner, Men and Women in the Church, p.299).

Our society objectifies women in various ways and when men primarily are together in the workplace the respect towards women decreases and the objectifying of women increases. Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997 report “…that many women are sexually objectified and treated as an object to be valued for its use by others.  SO occurs when a woman’s body or body parts is singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990).  Caroline Heldman, PHD, writing in a prominent blog about SO states: “The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up.  Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate” ((http://carolineheldman.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/).

The level of SO in Christian churches should be significantly less due to the moral teachings in the Bible, but SO research in 2003 states: “stress from SO stems from relatively stable underlying patriarchal social structures, institutions, and processes beyond the individual rather than from individual conditions or events that characterize generic stressors or biological characteristics of an individual.”  So, a church that has a patriarchal structure will experience more SO which maintains and reinforces men in leadership roles and women in subordinate roles regardless of what Scripture teaches regarding men and women in the church.

Additionally, research indicates that “hegemonic masculinity” (“the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees [or it taken to guarantee] the dominant position of men and the subordination of women” Connell, 2005, p.77), is directly related to hostility and aggression towards women.  Baron & Strauss, 1987; Brownmiller, 1975 explain that men who express hegemonic masculinity will expect women to submit to the roles as well.  In other words, this type of masculinity expects that women will remain in a subordinate role to men.

The studies go on to explain that when women step out of the expected subordinate roles, hegemonic men are more prone to experience “gender-relevant stress” which causes them to confront women in subtle or not so subtle ways to reduce the stress and maintain the status quo of male dominance.  All men will at some point experience gender-relevant stress, but the hegemonic male will have a higher risk of aggression towards women (Cowan & Mills, 2004; Malamuth et al., 1991; Malamuth et al, 1995).

Many women who have been called into the ministry including myself have been told by male pastors they are “strong.”  It goes something like this, “you know, you are really a strong woman.”  This is state with a subtle negative voice tone which infers they need to be more submissive.  And yet every time I think of an effective female leader that I have worked under, she would be considered “strong.”  To be an effective leader whether  a person is a man or a woman requires a personality that displays strength.

Loving one another

garden-of-prophet

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35)

What does “loving one another” really mean? In Luke 6:31: “do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” As men, you would honor a woman’s calling just as much as you want yours honored. And most of us know the well-known verse on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

A woman called by God, and gifted by the Holy Spirit is to be honored and appreciated as the gift God meant her to be to the church. God is not partial to men. He uses men or women as instruments of His perfect will. Love “…does not dishonor others.”

Mary and Martha

Martha, Mary & Jesus

The Jewish culture during ancient Israel times was extremely male controlled.  A woman could not participate in any of the ceremonies of the temple, and the only religious instruction they could receive would be from their husbands.  They were treated harshly in the Jewish culture based primarily on the Rabbi’s teachings that women were not to be spoken to in the street, not to be instructed in the law, nor could they receive an inheritance.  Also, she was required to walk six paces behind her husband and could not uncover her hair.  In the home, she had very little control, and the Mishnah taught that she was considered at the same value as a Gentile slave, and could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html.  Therefore, a Jewish woman was considered no more than property and was entirely dominated by her husband.  Her responsibilities were completely related to her domestic duties in the house and bearing children.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘ Martha,Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Let’s go deeper into the story.   Imagine the scene, the Rabbi Jesus is surrounded by followers as he is teaching, most likely all of them male. Remember the Jewish culture and its Rabbinic teaching that women are not allowed to learn from a Rabbi or be his disciple. Martha is fulfilling her role as a good Jewish woman by preparing food and serving the men. Meanwhile, Mary is listening entranced with wide eyes as Jesus teaches and slowly lowers herself to sit at his feet. Her heart is stirred, and her mind is awakened. All she can think about is learning from this amazing man. She doesn’t care that she is being given nasty looks by the men, or the pointed looks from her sister. Her heart fills with love for Jesus, and everything he teaches resonates in her soul like nothing has ever before. Martha, feeling resentful and frustrated with her sister blurts out her discontent. Jesus, our beloved radical Jesus, steps out of His culture and understands immediately the dynamic between the sisters, so comes to the defense of Mary who with a sincere, loving heart only wants to learn from this wise Rabbi.

My brothers in Christ, your sisters who have been called into the ministry are like Mary. We sit at the feet of Jesus daily, and our hearts are on fire for teaching the gospel. His Word shapes our very being, and we are being prepared to be His teachers. You see, God chooses His instruments, and those he calls to teach are learners who are continually being blessed by the Holy Spirit with wisdom and knowledge to share with His church. Jesus made a radical move out of the Jewish culture, and yet you have difficulty following God’s will by stepping out of our culture to allow the Holy Spirit to bless the church through His daughters. God never moves in a simple way. He sees the oppression of women, he sees their pain and their hurt. Most importantly, He sees their love, and their willingness to sacrifice all to follow Christ including their lives. He is raising women up to become leaders in the church so that their dignity may be restored, and they will be valued as equally as He values men. God’s incredible love shows no partiality between women and men, and His will is they work together in unity to build His Church. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

As I was sitting in my office praying about what God wanted me to teach on next, the phrase, The Banqueting Table came into my mind, and then I felt the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit creating the applicable context for this scripture. My brothers in Christ, this is a gentle, loving reminder from God; serve His daughters He has gifted, honor them as God’s beautiful gift to His church. When you position yourself higher than women, it is our loving Father in heaven who will place those women you have oppressed, and lowered in your own mind into a place of honor above yourself. As it states in Psalm 145:14, “The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.”

Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.

What does it mean to “respect the dignity of every human being?”  The Latin root of the word “dignity” is a noun, “dignus” which means “worth.”   We are created by God to be valued, we all have worth.  Any time we don’t love another person fully because they are a woman, another race, another social economic level, etc we are not loving at all.  Not loving fully is perceiving yourself as being better than another person.  Not loving fully is not being willing to lift that person up, to make sacrifices for them, to give all that you can to provide for a need they may have.  In the context of women being called to the ministry, loving fully means male Pastors will come alongside women to fulfill God’s calling on their life.

pink present

 

The Sanctity of Life

fetus

All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect. ~ Pope Francis

History of abortion

According to the Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, abortion became illegal beginning in the mid-1800’s and up to that time there were no laws restricting abortion.  In the 1960’s abortion was allowed with some restrictions that created a system whereby poor women did not have access to abortion due to the overall cost.  The number of illegal abortions in the 1950’s and 1960’s alone ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.  Data taken from North Carolina in 1967 estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions that year.  Illegal abortions produce a much higher death rate such that in 1930 abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women (18%) of maternal deaths for that year.  By 1965 the number of deaths had dramatically decreased to just 200.

Poor and minority women were disproportionately impacted due to not being able to afford the high fees for abortions.  In New York City in the early 1960’s 1 in 4 childbirth-related deaths among white women was due to abortions, and 1 in 2 for minority women.

Presently deaths from abortions are extremely rare.  If Roe is overturned then the options available to poor women would be limited such that the death rate of illegal or self-induced abortions would soar.  Subsequently, creating a law against abortion does not solve the problem of unwed pregnancies, nor a choice to have an abortion.

Pro-choice or Pro-life

Then God spoke all these words, saying . . . ‘You shall not murder'” (Exodus 20:1, 13, NASV).

Making abortion illegal does not prevent abortions and increases the maternal death rate due to illegal or self-induced abortions.  Many Christians are getting involved in the pro-life movement without having a deeper understanding of the spiritual or political issues.  Jesus’ teachings wisely remained separate from addressing the problems the Jews were having with the oppressive Roman government.  Many Jews thought the coming of the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom that would overthrow the Roman government.  Jesus’ purpose was not earthly, but heavenly.

The church’s responsibility should be focused on the spiritual and not being engaged in the ongoing debate over pro-choice versus pro-life.  The ideologies of the different political parties creates division in the church and has the added risk of presenting Christianity in a poor light to non-Christians.  When Christians begin over-identifying with a political party, and defining themselves by the parameters of that party’s dogma then Christianity becomes restricted with human limitations.  This decreases the chance of individuals from the opposing political party coming to a true understanding of Christ.

Instead, a Christian’s responsibility in advocating for the life of the unborn must focus on teaching Christian based sexual morality to both boys and girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and providing resources to help a woman in making the choice to carry the pregnancy to term.  This keeps the sanctity of life in the spiritual Christ-centered realm and out of the political realm.

Sanctity of Life?

capital punishment

Is the sanctity of life just about the unborn?  No, it is about all human life.  It is about reverencing all life as a creation of our heavenly Father.  According to Amnesty International U.S. since 1973 there have been 130 people released from death rows due to wrongful convictions.  Factors that contribute to wrongful convictions are inadequate legal representation, police and prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony, racial prejudice, jailhouse “snitch” testimony, suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence, and community/political pressure to solve a case.  A justice system that is an unfair and an ineffective system is not conducive to capital punishment.  From a spiritual viewpoint, capital punishment does not promote the sanctity of life.

Killing the innocents

hiroshima girl

On August 6th, 1945 a uranium gun-type atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  On August 9th, a plutonium implosion-type bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.  “The destruction and overwhelming chaos made orderly counting impossible.  It is not unlikely that the estimates of killed and wounded in Hiroshima (150,000) and Nagasaki (75,000) are over conservative.”  Additionally, 3000 U.S. civilians in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing were killed – about the same number of Americans killed in 911 (www.aasc.ucla.edu/cab/200708230009.html).

The atomic bombs exploding over two cities had long lasting physical and psychological effects.  Not only were there immediate sudden deaths from being vaporized:

vaporized child

Atomic shadow (vaporization) of child jump roping in Hiroshima caused by the intense heat near ground zero.

but many people were crushed in their homes, and others severely burned.  During the “injury phase,” after the initial bombing these horrific conditions occurred:

  • First two weeks: mainly burns from rays and flames, and wounds (trauma) from blast and falling structures.
  • 3rd week through 8th week: symptoms of damages by radioactive rays, e.g., loss of hair, anemia, loss of white cells, bleeding, diarrhea.  Approximately 10% of cases in this group were fatal.
  • 3rd and 4th months: “some improvement” in burn, trauma, and even radiation injuries.  But then came “secondary injuries” of disfiguration, sever scar formations (keloids), blood abnormalities, sterility (both sexes), and psychosomatic disorders.
  • Even now, after over half a century later, many aftereffects remain: Leukemia, A-bomb cataracts, and cancers of thyroid, breast, lungs, salivary glands, and birth defects, including mental retardation, including fears of birth defects in their children, plus, of course the disfiguring keloid scars.

From atomicbombmuseum.org/3_health.shtml

hiroshima montage

Many Americans believed the destruction of these Japanese cities, the subsequent deaths, injuries, radiation sickness, and cancers were acceptable to “save” the allied forces from significant mortalities.  The truth is, the Japanese were ready to surrender.  Comments by American Generals and other high ranking government officials confirm this.

Dwight Eisenhower stated in Mandate for Change; “…in July 1945…Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan.  I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act…the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.”

“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’.  The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”

“…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing” (Ike on Ike Newsweek, 11/11/63

And by Admiral William D. Leahy (Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman):

“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.  The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.  The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening.  My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

Ellis Zacharias, Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence:

“Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead for Russia to swarm over Eastern Asia.  Washington decided that Japan had been given its chance and now it was time to use the A-bomb.  I submit it was the wrong decision.  It was wrong on strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds.

Many other high ranking officials in the U.S. government during the time period the atomic bombs were dropped voiced the same opinions.  The sanctity of life?  The U.S. chose to kill innocent women and children, and harm unborn fetuses by the first use of a new weapon other than for testing purposes that devastated human life and property when the Japanese were almost ready to surrender.  Are we going to be consistent in our belief of the sanctity of life and speak out against atrocities that destroy human life so carelessly?

babies

Is the Japanese baby’s life less important to God than the American baby?


Killing the innocents: Agent Orange and Napalm in Vietnam

napalm baby

Napalm victim during Vietnam War.

Because gasoline burned out too quickly to be an effective weapon, Napalm was created by mixing naphthenic and palmitic acids with gasoline.  The first Napalm bomb was used in 1944 on Berlin.  Additionally, Napalm was used in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  On March 9, 1945, 690,000 pounds of Napalm were dropped within an hour which caused Tokyo to be bathed in a firestorm.

Due to Napalm’s success during World War II it was easily decided to use during the Vietnam War as well.  Napalm flamethrowers were used to clear bunkers because it sucked all the oxygen to suffocate those inside. Additionally, flamethrowers were used to destroy entire villages.  A flamethrower is an incendiary device which projects a long stream of controllable fire.  Later, the US dropped Napalm bombs which was much more devastating than flamethrowers. 2,500 square yards could be engulfed in flames by a single bomb.  Even though dropping the bombs from high speed aircraft could not accurately hit the target and innocent civilians were harmed, the bombing continued.

fire from boat

Flamethrower being used from boat.

Napalm wounds were horrific resulting in the melting of flesh.  When attempting to smother the burns, the Napalm would spread and create additional wounds.  Due to the deep wounds, and killing of innocent civilians, Napalm became a symbol of the brutality of the Vietnam War.

Napalm was used in Iraq (1980-88, 1991), Angola (1993) and Yugoslavia (1991-96).  The United Nations at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons banned its use against high density civilian populations in 1980 (http://thevietnamwar.info).

Agent Orange

agent orange deformities

Deformities caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975 (http://www.ffrd.org/AO/factsheet.htm).  A CRS Report for Congress, Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations, written by Michael F. Martin, a Specialist is Asian Affair (2012,) states that according to another source, there are up to 5 million Vietnamese spanning three generations who have had medical conditions related to the Dioxin that was released in Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

At the time the herbicides were used the U.S. military did not consider or research the long-term environmental and health effects of the widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Agent Orange is a chemical herbicide that was used from 1961 to 1971 in Vietnam to destroy foliage cover the “enemy” could hide under, and reduce the availability of food for the Vietnamese.  Initially the operation was called “Operation Hades” and then understandably changed to “Operation Ranch Hand.”  Dioxin is a by-product of Agent Orange and it has been determined Dioxin has severe environmental and health effects.

Due to various studies it has been determined that approximately 12 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam.  The Vietnam Red Cross has identified the following medical disorders as directly related to Dioxin exposure:

∙  Acute, chronic, and subacute peripheral neuropathy

∙  Chloracne

∙  Diabetes (Type 2)

∙  Hepatoma

∙  Hodgkins disease

∙  Lipid metabolism

∙  Malignant lymphoma

∙  Multiple Myeloma

∙  Porphyria cutanea tarda

∙  Prostrate cancer

∙  Reproductive abnormalities

∙  Respiratory cancers

∙  Sarcoma

∙  Spina bifida

Additionally, U.S. soldiers who were exposed to the use of Agent Orange had similar medical conditions as well as their children having numerous birth defects (Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations, p. 21-22). 

Agent Orange Consequences of War, Call to Conscience states; “Women living in sprayed regions have experienced high rates of premature birth, spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, molar pregnancy, uterine cancer, and sever birth defects.”

hanoi baby

Is this Vietnamese baby’s life less important to God than an American baby?


Killing the innocents: the use of Depleted and Enriched Uranium

uranium deformed baby

Children suffer the greatest risk from depleted uranium exposure, yet they have no voice in the DU debate. Those children, as well as the broader civilian and military population exposed to DU, deserve the utmost consideration when determining the scientific basis for assessing risk.”  ~Dr. Helen Caldicott 

Since the gulf war in 1991 there has been significant increases in “…congenital deformity, cancers, leukaemia, renal and hepatic failure, and other illnesses.”  Professor Guenther, a German doctor who had lived in the region for many years, noted increasing health problems among the Iraqi population.  These included “immune deficiency with an increase in infectious diseases, herpes and zoster afflictions, and AIDS like syndromes; a hitherto unknown syndrome causing renal and hepatic dysfunction; leukaemia; cancers, and congenital deformities in animals as well as humans.”

Additionally, research completed by Iraqi doctors and scientists in the 1990’s showed increases in “neural tube defects, Downs syndrome births, cancers and leukaemias.  Heightened radioactivity was found in the soil, water, and food chain (http://childvictimsofwar.org.uk/cvow/wp-content/uploads/2012/Summary-Iraq-Case-Study1.pdg).

Depleted Uranium weapons were not just used in Iraq, but in Bosnia in 1992-1995 and the NATO bombardment of Serbia/Kosova in 1999.  A Professor, who is a surgeon and former director of the urological clinic in Sarajevo reported “patients who were suffering from multiple, independent malignant tumors lived in immediate proximity to the bombing sites or were in these areas at the time the bombings occurred.”  Additionally, one study indicated a significant increase of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma among Italian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosovo.  Leukaemia in Kosovo has risen from 1 per 1000 to 1 per 100 (Fallout of Serbia Bombing ‘Continues to Kill’ http://www.globalresearch.ca/PrintArticle.php?articleld=12883).

Slightly enriched (as opposed to depleted) uranium weapons:

“This extraordinary discovery of a new uranium weapon should serve as a wake-up call to the entire world.  It is as if the military were at war with humanity, secretly winning their battles with what is effectively a kind of delayed-action radioactive poison gas.  They cannot keep denying that these radioactive weapons can discriminate in their effects between military and non-military targets.  Because of this, enormous number of innocent people have died and will die in the future.  Countless parents will watch their children with horror and pity as for several generations of children will continue to be born with congenital anomalies as a result of the genetic heritable effects induced by this exposure to uranium dust.” Malak Hamden

 Congenital birth defect rates in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital within less than 10 years has increased by 17-fold.  A recent study using mass spectrometry on the parents of those born with anomalies showed significant levels of enriched uranium.  Many other studies show uranium and other contaminants in the hair of parents with congenital abnormalities in Fallujah, Iraq.  Also, cancer, infant mortality and a change in the birth sex ratio in Fallujah shows a significant increase (Uranium and other contaminants in hair from the parents of children with congenital anomalies in Fallujah, Iraq, http://www.conflictandhealth.com/content/pdf/1752-1505-5-15.pdf. Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Irag 2005-2009, http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/7/7/2828/pdf).

In “Uranium Contamination of Afganistan”, referring to the use of enriched uranium, found:  “After the bombing of Afghanistan in 2002, a team from the Uranium Medical Research Center in Canada, took urine samples from civilians suffering symptoms of ‘fatigue, fever, musculoskeletal neurological alterations, headaches and respiratory impairment’.  Soil and water samples were also taken from the bombed sites.  The mass spectrometry results showed no DU, but high levels of un-depleted uranium, 100 times that of the normal range.  7 residents of Kabul were also contaminated with U-236 which meant although the uranium had a similar isotopic ratio to natural uranium, it could not have come from a natural source.”

Many of the findings indicate a “novel and undeclared use of uranium in weapon systems.  Cancers and congenital anomalies have increased significantly since 2003 (http://childvictimsofwar.org.uk/get-informed/uranium-weapons/).

iraq baby

Is this Afghanistan baby less important to God than an American baby?

If you Google “the sanctity of life” you will find numerous articles on abortion and the right to life.  The “sanctity of life” has become extremely political such that the phrase’s meaning has changed to an abortion issue focus.  In a true spiritual sense, this phrase focuses on that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) such that human life is sacred and should be safeguarded at all times, and according to Genesis 9:6 murder is explicitly prohibited.

The issue with making abortion the rallying call for Christians to battle is they forget the true meaning of the phrase.  I wonder how many unborn fetuses were killed when the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how many unborn fetuses were killed when Agent Orange and Napalm was used in Vietnam, how many unborn fetuses were killed when Depleted Uranium and Enriched Uranium were used in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan?  How many more will be killed?  The effects of radioactive and chemical weapons is still horrifyingly apparent in these countries today as the genetic mutation effects go on and on.  Deformed babies are still being born, and cancer due to radioactive and chemical exposure is still killing those whom God made in His image.  There are still contaminated areas in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  There are many poor in these countries who are struggling with taking care of deformed and disabled babies and children.

Whenever America is engaged in a war the “us” and “them” syndrome is created as mentioned in my blog, A Slow Burn. Whoever our country is engaged with, whether it is called a “war” or not is perceived as our enemies.  Somehow in our minds the killing of our enemies is acceptable because when we view them as our “enemies” their lives are perceived as less valuable than our lives.  Incredibly our heads go in the sand when reports come out of these countries of the large number of civilians that were killed.  Not just civilians, but women, pregnant women, and children.

God created all human life on our planet, he didn’t make Americans lives the most sacred.  All over this beautiful planet are different cultures and varieties of skin colors that God created in His image.  His beautiful children created in human flesh and formed souls, laughing and dancing with His breath of life.  Sacred.  Holy. Sanctified.  Every….last…one…of…them.

When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, one of Jesus’ disciple’s immediately goes into violent defense mode by cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant even though Jesus had explained to the disciples what was going to happen in advance.  Jesus responds by telling him to put his sword “back in its place.”  “…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26: 52-43)

The disciple goes directly into a “fight or flight” response.  Jesus intentionally submits Himself to God’s will, and doesn’t just tell the disciple to put his sword back, but lovingly heals the servant’s ear.  According to an article in Changing Minds about the flight or fight response there are three other responses that can occur when we are suddenly put in a stressful situation.  Those are “freezing” which is like the deer in the headlights response, “shielding” which is cowering down in self-protection mode, and then most importantly, “sacrifice”.  The author of the article states, “When people are praised for being heroes, a common response is to say that they ‘didn’t think about it’.  In other words, it was an automatic reaction to help others, even at the potential cost of one’s own life. This willingness to sacrifice is an essential element of humanity and society, even if we never have to take this action.”  In many of Jesus’ teachings there is emphasis on the importance of sacrifice which is God’s love in action.

If we behave violently towards others, they most likely will respond in violence to us.  Don’t be surprised by the hatred of some countries towards America.  Our military tactics and denials don’t leave much discussion for reconciliation.

Jesus beautifully teaches on loving your enemies:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)

There is a relationship between loving others and respecting the sanctity of life.  When we love we automatically understand God’s creative image in others and have a sense of reverence.  Subsequently, the initial understanding and wisdom of the sanctity of life begins with love for all humankind.  When I was 17 years old I wrote this: We are all on the same planet, there are no strangers to the morning sun. In other words, we are all part of God’s creation.  He didn’t create some of us better than others, but expects us to love others as He loves us.

One of my favorite poets when I was in High School, Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) writes of war:

The Illusion of War

War I abhor, and yet how sweet

The sound along the marching street

Of drum and fife, and I forget

Wet eyes of widows, and forget

Broken old mothers, and the whole

Dark butchery without a soul.

Without a soul, save this bright drink

Of heady music, sweet as hell;

And even my peace-abiding feet

Go marching with the marching street—

For yonder, yonder goes the fife,

And what care I for human life!

The tears fill my astonished eyes,

And my full heart is like to break;

And yet ‘tis all embannered lies,

A dream those little drummers make.

O, it is wickedness to clothe

Yon hideous grinning thing that stalks,

Hidden in music, like a queen,

That in a garden of glory walks,

Till good men love the thing they loathe.

Art, thou hast many infamies,

But not an infamy like this—

Oh, snap the fife, and still the drum,

And show the monster as she is!

 ticker tape parade

The victory parade where we celebrate winning over our enemies.  Gallienne reminds us to not focus on celebration, but mourn the lives that were lost.  Mourn the horrifying effects of war, and the emotional devastation.  Don’t forget the innocent lives that were so carelessly lost.  Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”  In our society those who promote peace are stereotypically called “Liberals,” but in reality Jesus relates “peacemakers” and “children of God” together:  “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, get out of your compartmentalized political thinking patterns that hides the truth so well, and move with the heart of Christ.  “…Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at their face in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, goes away and immediately forgets what they look like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25).

Advocate for all human life and thereby lift up God’s love for His creation in praise.

Philemon: Power Dynamics

Fotosearch_k13307283

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing. 


The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

maya

Maya Angelou

Dangers of Power Imbalance

Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. ~ John Adams

police brutality

In Philemon, Paul addresses the relationship between Masters and slaves which is probably one of the riskiest relationships for an abuse of power.  When one person has complete control over another person, it creates the psychological dynamic of dominator and helpless victim.  Obviously, power equals control and control equals abuse of power.

In the United States before the civil rights movement, the abuses of power were overt and horrific towards slaves.  Slaves were beaten, mutilated, raped, tortured, and killed by whites who were considered fine upstanding Christians in their communities.

Of course, the behavior of the SS during the Holocaust was even more horrendous towards the Jews.  We so often read the statistics of the Jewish extermination, but don’t quite understand the Jews were not just exterminated, but were tortured including women, children and infants before being killed.  One horrific example of thousands of stories:

A railway man named Zabecki observed “One of the SS men who had arrived at the station that day – he was Kurt Franz, deputy commandant of the camp – came out with his dog along the road.  The dog, scenting something, pulled the SS man after it into the thicket.  A Jewess was lying there with a baby; probably she was already dead.  The baby, a few months old, was crying, and nestling against its mother’s bosom.  The dog, let off the lead, tracked them down, but at a certain distance it crouched on the ground.  It looked as if it was getting ready to jump, to bite them and tear them to pieces.  However, after a time it began to cringe and whimper dolefully, and approached the people lying on the ground; crouching, it licked the baby on its hands, face and head.  The SS man came up to the scene with his gun in his hand.  He sensed the dog’s weakness.  The dog began to wag its tail, turning its head toward the boots of the SS man.  The German swore violently and flogged the dog with his stick.  The dog looked up and fled.  Several times the German kicked the dead woman, and then began to kick the baby and trample on its head.  Later, he walked through the bushes, whistling for his dog.  The dog did not seem to hear, although it was not far away; it ran through the bushes whimpering softly; it appeared to be looking for the people.  After a time the SS man came out on the road, and the dog ran up to its ‘master’.  The German then began to beat it mercilessly with a whip.  The dog howled, barked, even jumped up on the German’s chest as if it were rabid, but the blows with the whip got the better of it.  On the ‘master’s’ command it lay down. The German went a few paces away, and ordered the dog to stand.  The dog obeyed the order perfectly.  It carefully licked the boots, undoubtedly splattered with the baby’s blood, under its muzzle.  Satisfied, the SS man began to shoot and set the dog on other Jews who were still escaping from the wagons standing in the station” (The Holocaust, Martin Gilbert).

     The SS man’s dog even had some sort of elementary understanding that the baby needed help, and displayed more empathy than its master.  Some of the criteria of “Antisocial Personality Disorder” in the DSM-V:  “Self-esteem derived from personal gain, power or pleasure.  …absence of prosocial internal standards associated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior.  Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another.  …exploitation as a primary means of relating to others…use of dominance to intimidation to control others.”

This wasn’t the behavior of just one man, but hundreds of SS officers and German civilians.  How does such a horrific mindset happen to such a large number of people at the same time such that they could ALL be identified as having “Antisocial Personality Disorder?”

There is a well-known research study that demonstrates what happens to personalities when the power balance becomes extremely unequal.  In the Stanford Prison Experiment in August of 1971, 70 applicants answered an ad and were given diagnostic interviews and personality tests to screen out those with psychological problems, disabilities or criminal or drug activity.  Out of those 70 applicants 24 were chosen to be subjects.  The boys were divided into two groups, one group to play guards, the other group to play prisoners.  The experimenters used consultants to set up the closest approximation to a prison as they could in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Building.  All interactions were videotaped, cells were secretly bugged, and an intercom system was set-up to create a realistic prison environment.  The prisoners were picked up by police, brought to the “prison,” made to strip naked, wore uniforms and were referred to by their “I.D. numbers.”

Initially, what the experimenters observed is that the guards began punishing the prisoners by having them do push-ups.  Later research revealed that in Nazi concentration camps the same behavior occurred using push-ups as punishment and then escalating to standing on the prisoners backs while they did push-ups.  This same escalation was observed in this study.  The prisoners rebelled as a result and subsequently the guards became stressed, began cursing, placing prisoners in “solitary confinement” and escalated their intimidation techniques to the prisoners.  The aggression towards the prisoners increasingly became worse such that some of the prisoners began suffering from extreme emotional health issues.  The psychological conditions due to escalating aggression, humiliation, intimidation, and other negative behaviors from the guards became so bad the experiment had to be shut down after 6 days.  “At this point it became clear we had to end the study.  We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation – a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some guards were behaving sadistically.  Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress.  Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came in late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work” (Zimbardo, Phillip; The Stanford Prison Experiment).  An inference can be made from this last statement from Zimbardo that the guards were receiving reinforcement and/or reward from having power over other people.

Zimbardo concludes that prison conditions have worsened and there are more Americans in prisons than ever before with over 2 million people imprisoned indicated in a 2005 study.  “The worsening conditions has been a result of the politicization of corrections, with politicians vying for who is toughest on crime, along with racialization of arrests and sentencing, with African-Americans and Hispanics overrepresented.  The media have also contributed to the problem by generating heightened fear of violent crimes even as statistics show that violent crimes have decreased.”

Excessive Use of Force

when did this become that 

There is a worsening problem in our society with the excessive use of force by police officers.  According to the ACLU report released June 2014 there is increasing militarization of police forces all over the country.  Military equipment began streaming into police departments due to the 1033 program which was implemented in the 1989 as a tool in the “War on Drugs.”  There are few limitations and in fact the Federal government compels that those departments that receive military equipment use it within one year of receiving the equipment.  Since September 11, 2001 the use of military weapons, tactics and equipment has substantially increased.

There is no oversight, and the use of military style SWAT teams is significantly used more in minority neighborhoods when serving warrants and drug searches.  The major problem is that officers are using the SWAT techniques when there hasn’t been any reliable evidence of weapons or threat of violence.

“Militarization of policing encourage officers to adopt a “warrior” mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies.”  Dr. Peter Kraska, Professor of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University determined in a survey that “…the number of SWAT teams in small towns grew from 20 percent in the 1980’s to 80 percent in the mid-2000’s, and that as of the late 1990’s, almost 90 percent of larger cities had them.  He also estimates that the number of SWAT raids per year grew from 3,000 in the 1980’s to 45,000 in the mid-2000’s” (ACLU, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing).

A typical SWAT team response: A battering ram or “flashbang grenade” is used to enter the house with SWAT teams wearing combat helmets and “battle dress uniforms,” a bulletproof vest with “POLICE” emblazoned on both sides, and armed with high-tech weaponry.  The ACLU research indicates in over 50 percent of the SWAT entries weapons were not found in the houses that were forcefully entered.  There have been many unnecessary injuries and deaths due to the use of excessive force by SWAT teams.  One example of many:

            “After the Phonesavanh family’s home in Wisconsin burned down, they drove their minivan to stay with relatives in a small town just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  On the back windshield, the family pasted six stick figures: a dad, a mom, three young girls, and one baby boy.  This van, containing several car seats, was parked in the driveway of the home where they were staying when, just before 3:00 am on a night in May of 2014, a team of SWAT officers armed with assault rifles burst into the room where the family was sleeping.  Some of the kids toys were in the front yard, but the Habersham County and Cornelia police officers claimed they no way of knowing children might be present.  One of the officers threw a flashbang grenade into the room.  It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib.  It took several hours before Alecia and Bounkahm, the baby’s parents, were able to see their son.  The 19 month old had been taken to an intensive burn unit and placed into a medically induced coma.  When the flashbang grenade exploded, it blew a hole in 19 month old Bou Bou’s face and chest.  The chest wound was so deep it exposed his ribs.  The blast covered Bou Bou’s body in third degree burns.  At the time of this report’s publication, three weeks after the raid, it was still unclear whether Baby Bou Bou would live….The SWAT team was executing a “no knock” warrant to search for someone who did not live in the home that was raided: Bounkahm’s nephew, who was suspected of making a $50 drug sale. ‘After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers-armed with M16’s-filed through the house like they were playing war,’ said Alecia. The officers did not find any guns or drugs in the house and no arrests were made.”

ACLU reports in another case a 26-year-old woman holding her 14 month old son was killed when a SWAT team entered her home while opening fire.  They were looking for her boyfriend on suspicion of drug dealing. The ACLU emphasizes many times in their June 2014 report that there has been NO oversight regarding the extreme militarization of American policing.  It is also indicative in many of the cases reported there is a lack of empathy by the officers for the property that was destroyed, or the innocent people who were injured.

flashbang killing of girl

2010 Aiyana Stanley-Jones died when a flashbang grenade was thrown into the room where she was sleeping.

What is developing is the more military equipment and training the officers receive the more the balance of power shifts to the police.  When police officers feel they are almost invincible due to the military equipment protection they have, the more likely they are to use excessive force and abuse their position of power.  More and more police departments are using SWAT teams with search warrants and drug suspicion primarily in minority neighborhoods.  Typically, the SWAT team goes to white neighborhoods only for suspected terrorist or kidnapping activities.

police in sc

Police in South Carolina pose with their Bearcat

The need for Power 

Why is the need for power so strong?  Why does a person after achieving some semblance of power crave more and more, and become less and less empathetic towards those they consider powerless?  Nayef Al-Rodhan in Fragile and Post Conflict States, International Relations, Political Science states that dopamine plays a significant role in the need for power.  According to Al-Rodhan power creates a high that is expressed in much the same way addiction does in the brain with the subsequent increase in dopamine levels.  If power is withheld cravings occur at the cellular level such that an individual will resist giving up their power.

The brain is neurochemically motivated to seek pleasure regardless of social acceptability, hence the strong behavior of addiction.  Dopamine in moderate amounts increases cognitive function, impulsivity, risky behavior, and creates diminished empathy.

Also, research has found that a person who gains power has less ability to perceive the emotions of those with less power.  Psychology research literature “…suggests that people in positions of power tend to act in a self-interested manner and display reduced interpersonal sensitivity to their powerless counterparts” (Hogeveen, Inzlicht, and Obhi, Power Changes How the Brain Responds to Others, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2013). Hogeveen, Inzlicht and Obhi conducted research that measures resonance (an automatic response when observing the reactions of others) in high and low power essay scenarios.  They found that motor resonance indeed is related in high and low power individuals in a linear association.  Meaning that the more powerful a person is, the less amount of resonance in their interactions with low power individuals.

     It is easy to understand how power develops, is maintained and reinforced  by the neurochemicals in the brain, and additionally strengthened in the dynamics of social interactions.  Therein lies the danger.  Power creates dangerous complex structures in interpersonal ways and socially that maintain oppression of the less powerful.  For example, once a leader achieves high power in a dictatorship, the well-being and needs of the those he governs no longer are important such that the ethical, moral and social effectiveness of a culture are significantly diminished. Subsequently, the oppression of the people is successfully accomplished by taking away their religion and other rights.

Testosterone and Dominance 

The increase in power behavior isn’t just reinforced by brain chemicals and social behavior, but also by the role of the hormone of testosterone in the brain at not only a chemical level but also a cellular level.   Pamela Smith with co-researchers at Radboud University in Nijmegen, in 2008 discovered that when subjects posed in “expansive power poses” they had a significant increase in their testosterone levels with a subsequent decrease in cortisol levels.  Inversely those subjects who were told to pose in “contracted poses” or low power poses had a decrease in testosterone and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

high power pose

High power poses

low power pose

Low power poses

The effects of testosterone in power behavior is significant. Ronay, R and Galinsky, A.D. determined in their research that: “Maintaining a high status position requires an increased sensitivity for aversive events and impending social threats, particularly those that challenge the high social status of an individual. … testosterone appears to be able to influence such processes; in particular, it appears to confer high motivational drive, low fearfulness and high stress-resilience, either directly or via interactions with other hormones and neurotransmitter systems” (Lex talionis: testosterone and the law of retaliation. (2011) J. Exp. Soc. Psychol).  Dr. James Dabbs Jr., Psychologist at Georgia State University states in his research that social dominance is closely related to testosterone when competing for status.  In other words, the higher in status a person obtains by competing for dominance, the higher the testosterone levels which can lead to aggression and risk taking behavior.

It can be determined from the indicated research that police officers dressed in military gear, carrying high power automatic weapons such as the M-16, driving military armored vehicles, and receiving military combat style training will most likely have elevated levels of testosterone and dopamine.  Having increased levels of dopamine will feed the desire to maintain the feeling of power and decrease empathy.  The officers begin seeing themselves as the “good guys” and the minority neighborhoods they enter into as the enemies due to lack of proper understanding.  In their minds, their tactics are necessary and if there are unnecessary injuries and deaths even among children then that is acceptable collateral damage.

Increasing understanding: Police Officers 

     When I was a Juvenile Corrections Supervisor we were having a group discussion with 13 male juveniles and a couple of male Correction Officers.  One of the kids, looking at one of more popular Correction Officers who was a previous college football player said: “I bet if we had someone like you to mentor us, and help us we probably wouldn’t have ended up here.”  He then turned to the other boys and asked how many of them were raised without a father.  All of the boys raised their hands except for one boy.  That particular boy had a father, but he was alcoholic and abusive.

Once the kids were settled into the structure of the Detention Center with caring adults around them, they acted like any other kid.  Most of the time they responded to positive adult interaction in a positive manner.  Many of them had their grades go from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s in the Detention Center classroom.  If an adult has a mindset that these kids are bad, and/or criminals and not worth rehabilitating, then the kids won’t have a chance to become successful adults.

In poor and minority neighborhoods there are many adverse variables that come into play to create and maintain social economic problems.  The problem of crime in poorer neighborhoods is not solved by demonizing the residents of such neighborhoods by perceiving them as the “enemies” and creating barriers to understanding to improving conditions.

    In Social Class and Power by Heather E. Bullock and Bernice Lott report that “classist stereotypes” create reinforcement of the stereotype by a, “coherent set of socially accepted attitudes, beliefs, values, and opinions that provide moral and intellectual legitimacy to the unequal distribution of social value: (Sidanius, Devereux & Pratto, 1992, pp 380-381).  In the United States there is a belief that class boundaries are liquid such that hard work and success is rewarded by upward mobility.  Americans believe they have control over financial success more so than many other countries (Sawhill & Morton, 2008).  However, Sawhill & Morton’s research has determined that indeed it is  parents earnings that is the best predictor of children’s upward mobility.  The researchers go on to report that the U.S. lags behind “Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France in rates of social mobility.”  Many Americans believe their country is a “land of opportunity” but as mentioned reality does not uphold this belief.

     Unfortunately, this leads to stereotyped thinking about the poor being the cause of the their own circumstances.  The consequence of this stereotyped thinking leads to reduced support for welfare programs, and greater support for tax breaks for the wealthy.  “Stereotyping, devaluing, and discrimination of poor and low-income groups by those with greater power may be particularly likely to occur in these settings due to convergence of context and culturally reinforced beliefs shared by authority figures (e.g., teachers, health care providers).  Dominant groups benefit from the negative stereotyping of those with lesser power, because stereotypes serve to “normalize” and justify social and economic inequality by ascribing “bad” and “good” traits, respectively, to low-power (low-income) and high-power (middle-and upper-class) persons and groups” (Bullock & Lott, 2010).

Due to the increasing abuse of power by police officers in minority and poor neighborhoods, it is evident stereotyping by police officers towards minorities (commonly referred to as racial profiling) and lack of empathy towards the poor is creating a negative, dangerous dynamic that is going to get worse unless there is intervention that creates understanding and compassion.

Police Officers using military type equipment while inappropriately targeting minorities is creating anger and fear in these communities.  Subsequently, this has created increased anger among minorities in the targeted neighborhoods which is causing police to be even more aggressive.  As the police become more aggressive, the risk of injury or death increases.

Columnist Charles M. Blow of the New York Times reported his son was held at gunpoint by a Yale police officer who said he resembled a burglary suspect.  The son is black and a Yale student.  Stephen Carter at Bloomberg News wrote an editorial in response to Blow’s outrage describing an incident with his own African-American son attending Yale: “In the summer of 2007, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was filming at Yale.  Our son was an extra in the film, and, following instructions from the producers, arrived on the set with no personal belongings.  After the second day of filming, he was entering one of the residential colleges to visit a friend.  A Yale police officer stopped him and questioned him.  He told the officer that he was a Yale student, but of course he was carrying no identification.  Our son told the officer his name, which residential college he was in, and what his mobile phone number was.  He explained why he was not carrying any identification.  The officer openly disbelieved him – but that wasn’t the end of the story.  At this point, the obvious course for the officer to follow would have been to check to determine whether a student of that name was in the college our son identifies, and to either ask the master of the college or look at his photograph.  The officer did neither.  Instead, the officer, a couple of days later, called the mobile phone number, evidently to get further information.  As it happened, our son was in Paris, where he was preparing for a summer of study abroad.  The officer asked if our son could come in.  He answered that he was in Paris.  The officer was openly incredulous, demanding to know how it was that his phone worked abroad.  Evidently, an international calling plan was somehow impossible to imagine.”

     Carter concludes his editorial by writing: “I won’t deny that policing is more an art than science, and that those who do that difficult work often don’t get the credit and support that they deserve.  But police officers are trapped in the same web of racial history and complexity as everyone else, and as long as the web survives, these incident will continue to arise. As a parent you do what you can to teach and train, you provide an education, you launch your children on what you hope will be a successful and ethical life.  But the moments of interaction between black men and the police remain always fraught, and no demonstration or television specials, or reassurances from college administrators are going to change that any time soon.”

In both of these cases, the police officers had trouble accepting that a young black man would be a student at Yale.  These cases are not out of the norm, but there are hundreds of cases of young black males being harassed by police officers just because of their skin color.  As mentioned earlier in this blog, there is a disproportionate number of minority males incarcerated in the United States.

There is danger in stereotyping, and danger in lack of empathy and understanding.  There is danger in a response of anger, and danger in the subsequent aggression.

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

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).

Now is the time for deeper understanding. Now is the time to come together in peace. Now is the time for the police to put away their military weapons, and give up their power to give grace to the powerless.  There are young men hungering for positive male role models.  There are poor neighborhoods who need a helping hand, there are minorities who yearn for acceptance and understanding.  The time is crucial as there is a turning in civilization that can’t be turned back again.  Once the threshold is crossed into detached killing by police operated drones, there will be no turning back, and the way to peace and understanding will be much more difficult.

Jesus, The Lion of Judah

lion

Jesus is called the Lion of Judah and yet he was so tender he wept frequently.  He was strong, but he was loving.  He was sometimes angry, but only at injustice.  He advocated for the poor, widows, and the oppressed and stood up against the Jewish leaders who didn’t believe He was the Messiah.  Jesus exemplifies the perfect leader; powerful and yet never abused His power.

It is extremely difficult to overcome the siren call of power.  But, oh, how dangerous that call is…it is built into our psyche, dwells underground in our unconscious mind, and rears its ugly head when we least expect it.  And once it appears, it is almost impossible to control, reinforced by what goes on it our brains chemically and at the cellular level.

The only way to control the negative effect of power is to give up your power.  The act of giving up power allows love, compassion and empathy to grow.  It doesn’t mean that if you give up your power you become powerless.  You maintain your strength and the integrity of your personality. You allow the light to fill up your soul, and save your soul.  Study the leadership of Jesus.  Over and over He teaches us to give up our power and how to do it.

In Matthew 20:20-28 we read Salome, the mother of “Zebedee’s sons” goes to Jesus to request that one of her sons be allowed to sit at Jesus right hand in the Kingdom of heaven, and the other son at his left side.  She clearly shows her lack of understanding of heaven, thinking she is advocating for her sons to have status and power alongside of Jesus.  When the other disciples heard what she had asked, they became angry.  Jesus responded by teaching the disciples that they must be willing to give up their need for status and power to enter into the Kingdom of heaven; “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In Luke 14, Jesus teaches his listeners not to take the place of honor at the banquet table because the host may ask them to move down the table to place another guest in their place, but if that person takes the least honorable place, then they may be asked to move up to a more honorable position closer to the host.  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).  Do not take the status and power for yourselves in pride, but humble yourselves – give up your power, and God will raise you up due to your sincere humility and love.

Again, in Philippians, Paul teaches the same concept.  “Jesus, being in his very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death – even death on a cross!”  God’s son gave up his power, the very power Satan attempted to tempt Jesus with when he was in the wilderness, to become a servant of all.  The power Satan tempts us with is used to destroy others, and destroys our own souls.  “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthews 5:5).  Meekness is humility and gentleness.  If we live in humility and are willing to give up one’s rights for the benefit of someone else, then we are exemplifying Christ.

     “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’  Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’  ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’  ‘Then Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’  Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.’  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them.  ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:6-17).

The disciples are sitting around a low table with Jesus where their feet are easily seen at the table.  Typically, they would be wearing sandals and their feet would be dusty.  It was common practice to have the feet washed by a servant before sitting down to a meal.  Most likely there wasn’t a servant present, so the disciples sat at the table without having their feet washed.  Jesus notices that in spite all of His teachings about being a servant, not one of them has offered to wash the others feet.  It would be beneath them to lower themselves to the level of a servant and wash feet.  Jesus strips his robe off, and tells Peter he is going to wash his feet.  Peter initially refuses, probably in great embarrassment, watching Jesus, their Master take the place of a servant.  Jesus tells Peter that he has no part in the Kingdom if he doesn’t understand what he is attempting to teach him.  Shortly before this event, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.  Status and power rears its ugly head again, but Jesus again demonstrates His love by giving up His power and status and places Himself in the role of a servant.

The Love that Produces Peace 

Recently, I was in downtown Denver, Colorado and observed a demonstration of people holding signs that said: “F— the Pigs!”   Behind them, in an enormous show of force from the Police Department were about 30 police vehicles following behind about 20 demonstrators. The demonstrators were showing their support of the victims of the many recent cases of excessive use of force by police officers.

During Jesus’ time Roman soldiers utilized the practice of impressment, where they could command a Jewish man or boy to carry his gear for one mile.  Typically, the Jewish men would not carry the gear even an inch further than one mile, and most likely grumbled the entire time in anger.  But Jesus taught: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41).  The Jews were resentful of the Roman soldiers, and felt oppressed and powerless against what they perceived as an unfair law.  But by telling the Jews to carry the packs two miles, Jesus is placing the power back into their own hands.  The second mile is their willingness to carry the soldier’s gear.  It is their choice, and places their hearts into the set of a beautiful service of a servant.  And not just a servant, but a servant of God.  Imagine the look on the Roman soldiers faces as they are told by these Jewish men, that not only will they carry their gear one mile, but they would like to carry it two miles.  Imagine the exchange of power during this second mile.  Can you see the power unbalance begin to balance, as the soldier’s heart softens a little toward the Jewish man.  Can you see the Jewish man begin to soften as well as the soldier smiles at him?

Put away your anger, your malice, and walk the second mile.  Those in minority or poor neighborhoods, have a potluck cook-out and invite your local police department.   As you drive by the station, stop and leave some home cooked cookies with a note of thanks.  Whenever you see a police officer, smile and wave.  Invite some officers to a community meeting with a meal, and attempt to dialogue without anger, but with a motive of increasing understanding.  Trust me, the next time a SWAT team arrives in your neighborhood, there will certainly be more restraint in throwing a flashbang grenade into a house.  Treat others like your neighbors and not like your enemies and you will see some amazing changes take place.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, our mind, and our soul, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  This is how we follow Jesus.  We must give up our power, our status, or anything else that hinders the flow of love.  It is a hard path to follow and just when we think we are doing a great job by going to church regularly, tithing, and volunteering, Jesus appears and tells us to look twice.  He reveals to us we are still in our comfort zones, and we are not on the path to Him like we think we are.  My Christian brothers and sisters who are police officers, follow the harder path to Jesus no matter the cost.  Be the advocates and leaders who make decisions to create peace and not violence.  My brothers and sisters in Christ who live in these minority or poor neighborhoods that are being targeted by the police, take a hard look at yourselves, and take the harder path to Jesus.  It is the path of love that sacrifices our egos, and our power.  It is the way of love that creates peace and understanding.  It is the path where we walk the extra mile because we know that is where Jesus can change hearts.  It is the extra mile where witnessing can occur, and where love flows where no one thought it could ever flow.  NOW is the time to walk that path, no matter how difficult, no matter how much you have to sacrifice, NOW is the time to follow Jesus.

 

 

The Prison Epistles: Philemon

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“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

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The letter written to Philemon while Paul is on house arrest in Rome has an interesting tone. It sounds as if Paul is placating Philemon while giving subtle admonishment at the same time. It is obvious Paul has been very careful in how he has worded this letter, but there are many underlying currents to explore.

Philemon’s slave, Onesimus has ran away to Rome possibly stealing money from his Master to fund his trip. Onesimus meets up with Paul on house arrest, is converted, and becomes a great help to Paul such that Paul states to Philemon in his letter, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart,” (1:12 NASB). The Greek for “very heart” is splachna, in this context meaning “compassion.” The purpose of Paul’s letter is to appeal to Philemon to take back his slave without punishment, and to do even more; a release from slavery.

Paul is not making a request that was common during this time period, but very unusual. Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem, The Clash of Ancient Civilizations writes regarding slavery: “The life of a slave was envisaged in Roman law as equivalent to that of an animal put to work by its owner, sometimes as a pet, or for display, more often simply for the benefit of its physical labor. When the novelist Apuleius imagined the life of his hero changed into an ass, with no control over his own person, he was describing what it was like to be a slave who could be beaten, raped or moved from one place to another whenever his master desired. As we have seen, a slave was property in the same sense that animals were property.” Goodman goes on to explain that the Stoics appealed to treat slaves humanely in a culture that wasn’t interested in perceiving slaves as anything other than property. In fact, some Roman slaves wore identification collars in case they ran away. “All slaves could expect appalling punishment if they tried to escape, from beating to crucifixion or being sold to fight as a gladiator, which meant almost certain death” (p. 238).

So asking Philemon to not punish his slave for running away required Paul to be as diplomatic as possible in his letter. Interestingly Paul seems to repeatedly remind Philemon of his authority over Philemon (some scholars state Apostolic authority), yet defers using his authority by allowing Philemon to make a choice. However, the threat still hangs in the air. In other words if Philemon doesn’t make the right choice, then Paul will use his authority to make sure Philemon does what is right in accordance with following Christ.

roman slaves

A good example is found in 1:8,9: “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you-since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” The old Paul, sitting in prison with little power is appealing to Philemon, after making sure Philemon understands Paul could “order” Philemon. There is subtle manipulation in this passage. Paul is making sure Philemon understands Paul’s authority even though Paul is in prison.

There is so little information overtly disclosed in this letter, but much hidden intent. An investigative reporter would ask the following questions:

  1. Why did Onesimus run away from Philemon?
  2. Why did he go to Rome?
  3. Why did he run to Paul?
  4. Why didn’t Paul send Onesimus immediately back to Philemon?
  5. How much contact did Onesimus have with Paul in Philemon’s house church before Paul was placed on house arrest in Rome?
  6. Did Onesimus hear Paul discussing how Masters are to treat their slaves?

By answering these questions we could deduct that Philemon did not treat Onesimus well. Also, we could conclude Onesimus most likely had contact with Paul in Philemon’s house and knew his views on Masters and slaves. This would explain why Onesimus ran to Paul in Rome. This would also explain why Paul did not send Onesimus directly back to Philemon. This explains why Paul is making clear to Philemon that he could “order” Philemon to do “what is proper.” If Onesimus was a rebellious slave and entirely to blame, then the tone of this letter would have been much different.

We know Philemon is a Gentile and Paul a Jew. The Jews during this time period treated their slaves much better than the Gentiles. Biblical law prevented the maltreatment of a slave. If a slave were beat so badly that they had permanent scars, then by law they were to release the slave. “The Bible urged that, in treating slaves well, and in particular in giving them their freedom, ‘you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Rome and Jerusalem, The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, Martin Goodman, p. 239). Subsequently, maltreatment of a slave would have been much more of an issue for Paul than Philemon. However, they were both followers of Christ, but we must remember culture often battles with our spiritual intention.

Another clue to Paul’s thinking is in Colossians 4:1 where Paul exhorts Masters to treat their slaves with “justice and fairness, know that you too have a Master in heaven.” Onesimus was with Paul when this letter was written and was sent with Tychicus to deliver the letter to the church in Colossae.

Paul emphasizes welcoming Onesimus as a brother, receiving treatment as an equal. It isn’t difficult to imagine the shock of Philemon being confronted by his brother in Christ, Paul. Paul is asking Philemon to step completely out of his cultural conditioning and into the upside down spiritual life of Christ. Meaning, “For those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, and those who humble themselves shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 NIV).

Paul closes by telling Philemon he will be visiting him when he is released from house arrest. Again, there is intent that is hidden; Paul is letting Philemon know he will be checking to make sure that Philemon was “obedient.”  What needs to be emphasized as exemplified in the letter from Paul to Philemon is our responsibility to hold each other accountable. We must constantly be reminding each other of Christ’s teachings, and admonishing when necessary to bring a believer back into the truth.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). 

In a culture such as what Paul taught in, it was extremely subversive to present equality in these relationships.   However, there is a high risk for abuse of power in these relationships which is reduced by understanding the spiritual need for equal respect and love.

It certain cases the Jews had difficulty transitioning from their Jewish culture into full Christianity. The Jews called Gentiles “dogs,” so struggled with giving up their superiority over the Gentiles. One of the first conflicts in the early Christian church was when men from Judea came and told the Gentiles they would not be saved if they weren’t circumcised due to the Law of Moses.

“Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’ Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:3-12).

The Jews attempted to assert authority in a power move that would have corrupted the true message of Christ. But Paul and Barnabas clarify Christ’s teaching in such a way that the Gentiles are seen as equal to the Jews by Christ’s intent. Additionally, they point out the works of the Spirit that were occurring among the Gentiles as well as the Jews to establish the Gentile’s equal standing before God.

Status of Women

In the Jewish religion during this time period women had little authority, were restricted to their father’s or husband’s home, and were considered to be lesser than men. “From the second Temple Period, women were not allowed to testify in court trials. They could not go out in public, or talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they were to be doubly veiled. ‘They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God” (B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, “The Oxford Companion to the Bible).

Inherent within a marriage relationship where one person has no authority is the abuse of power. Therein lies the spiritual risk. Where women are concerned, Jesus revealed the spiritual need for equality. It is difficult to love when there is an unequal distribution of power. Regarding women, Jesus ignored the ritual impurity laws (Mark 5:25-34), spoke to foreign women (John 4:7–5:30), and taught female students. Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century CE: “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman…Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” However, in Luke 10:38-42 Jesus states that Mary who sat at this feet to learn had the better part than her sister Martha who insisted Mary help her prepare food. Jesus had many female followers, and appeared to women after his resurrection. Additionally, Jesus taught parables that related to both women and men.

Power relationships

Paul carries on this teaching by emphasizing the equality between women and men who are in Christ Jesus. There are many more power relationships that could be added such as whites and blacks, or any minority, between the rich and poor, bosses and employees, parents and children, etc. That doesn’t mean to say there isn’t authority within relationships, but it is the way the person in authority uses their power that is the crux of the matter such as the Master/slave relationship that Paul addresses in his Epistle to Philemon.

There can be abuses by the use of physical power, societal power, governmental power, and economic power. One of the most extreme abuses of power is human trafficking and some others are domestic abuse, child abuse, elderly abuse, and discrimination (which is an abuse of power) against minorities and gays.

Some abuse of power is very subtle and difficult to address such as refusing to hire an applicant because they are a minority or gay, giving a woman less of a salary as a man in the same position, subtle power plays in a marriage, dysfunctional control of a parent over a child, or a boss over an employee. As followers of Christ through prayer and supplication it is important to ask God to reveal our own weaknesses when it comes to abuses of power, subtle or not. It is God’s will that all His children be treated with love and respect so that all may grow in the light.

Oppression is a terrible force in our world that stunts emotional and spiritual growth. It is a darkness that dims the light.

oppression

Oppression, by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Is a question of strength,

Of unshed tears,

Of being trampled under,

and always, always,

remembering you are human.

Look deep to find the grains of hope and strength,

and sing, my brothers and sisters,

and sing. The sun will share

your birthdays with you behind bars,

the new spring grass

like fiery spears will count your years,

and you start into the next year;

endure my brothers, endure my sisters.

Oppressed by Sheryl Martin

When the price to pay

Is higher than my soul,

I am a slug in the mud

will I ever see the sun?

I will rise up,

but will it take forever?

The ladder always breaks,

the feet are always tripped.

The silent consent of denial

the careless cold hearts

the looking away

forgotten

invisible

telling me I don’t belong.

 

A Slow Burn

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A Slow Burn

He said, “Go and tell this people:

‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;

Keep on looking, but do not understand.”

“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,

Their ears are dull,

And their eyes dim,

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

Hear with their ears,

Understand with their hearts,

And return and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:9-10

It begins with noticing the differences between “us” and “them, and it grows, and grows, and grows until “they” no longer exist. They no longer exist as humans, but are so despised and de-valued their lives are worth nothing. As “they” are pushed away, first by stereotyping, then by name calling, then by subtle abuse, then by more overt abuse, then by taking away their dignity, then by taking away their rights, then by taking away their belongings, then by separating them from their families, then by treating them like dogs. Then, then the senseless death, the horrific torture. “Us?” First, we perceive our differences, then we judge them in the ways they are not like us, then we attach dirty names to those perceptions, then we begin hating, and hating, and hating until our hearts become little stones. We have lost our love, our empathy, our compassion, and finally, our humanity. We have become monsters. It is a slow, slow burn.

holocause

“…from the moment Hitler had come to power in Germany in 1933, the devastating process had begun. It was a process which depended upon the rousing of historic hatreds and ancient prejudice, and upon the cooperation of acquiescence of many different forces: of industry, science and medicine, of the Civil Service and bureaucracy, and of the most modern mechanisms and channels of communication. It depended also upon collaborators from countries far beyond the German border; and it depended most of all, one survivor has remarked, ‘upon the indifference of bystanders in every land (The Holocaust, A History of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War, Martin Gilbert).”

Prejudice and discrimination begins slowly, and when not checked by those who are willing to stand up and speak out against the hatred, will grow until there isn’t any essence of humanity revealed in human eyes.  Anything that makes us good, that makes us honorable, will shrink in the terrible darkness. There were Christians present during the Holocaust, and much later during America’s own battle with the demons of racism that contributed to the horror of senseless killing, and growing the beast of evil that creates inhumane monsters.

Well known German Theologian of the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote: “First…their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it (Von den Juden and ihren Lugen [ ‘On the Jews and their Lies’], Wittenberg, 1543). Luther was vehemently opposed to Jews being on equal footing with Germans, and overtly expressed a racist attitude that influenced many Germans against Jews.

In America, before the Civil Rights Movement, the same type of racism was displayed towards Blacks such that Blacks were denied many legal rights, and were subjected to beatings, killings, rapes, torturing, and a racist justice system that allowed Whites to break the law against Blacks without consequence. There were hundreds of Christian churches in the South that were against integration, and believed Blacks were an inferior race. And yet, in Matthew 25:45,46 Jesus strongly warns against treating others with less the love and respect we would give Him: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

black women hanging

Lynchings of Blacks that occurred in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries is estimated to be 2,500 – over 3,400 (Leader, Mullen & Abrams, 2007). 

The Hating Tree

by Sheryl Martin

The big green tree

figures like ornaments hanging,

dangling feet.

Looks like a Christmas tree

“Christ” mas tree,

the baby son of God,

who sacrificed His life

so we could live.

Light of the world

shine your light

on those who hate.

Three black faces

the noose around their necks

their only problem being

they are different.

Shining in heaven

they look like Christ.

Why is there such a disconnect between our understanding of morality, scripture and behavior? Humans are wired to classify people into social groups and sub-social groups to simplify their environment based on various characteristics (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000).   Our brains categorize people into groups and then based upon our judgments create homogeneous traits within the group so we can neatly, simply identify the group. In the outgroup homogeneity effect people easily see the differences between people within their own group (ingroup), but have difficulty seeing the differences among the outgroup (Linville, Fischer, & Salovery, 1989; Park & Judd, 1990). By grouping similar characteristics of a social group together, it is easy to see how stereotypes are formed. The ingroup no longer is able to distinguish differences within the outgroup, so use various linguistic ideas to categorize the outgroup. Some of the labels may be positive, but usually the majority of the labels are negative. Using negative labels which leads to negative perceptions reinforces the ingroup’s cohesiveness, status and power.

Our society reinforces many of the stereotypes that are formed by use of media, etc. For example, the commercials during televised profession football games display women as sex objects and servants to men. Football is a power game, and players are seen as aggressive and powerful. So the stereotype is positive for men, but portrays women as weak.

    Another aspect of stereotypes is the development of specific emotions to certain perceptions.   According to Catherine Cottrell and Steven Neuberg (2005), if an outgroup threatens the ingroups economic stability, then the associated emotions are anger, fear, and disgust.  The possible action stemming from the emotion is aggression. Peter Glick (2002) explains that if an outgroup is seen as having low power, is visible, disliked, stereotyped, and is seen as a threat and the ingroup suffers a deprivation, the outgroup will be blamed or scapegoated for the deprivation with subsequent reinforcement of the negative stereotypes with the outcome of “ideologically motivated action.” Martin Gilbert in The Holocaust: “Hatred of the Jews, which permeated all Hitler’s speeches to his members, was echoed in the actions of his followers. Individual Jews were attacked in the street, and at public meetings and street-corner rallies Jews were blamed, often in the crudest language, for every facet of Germany’s problems including the military defeat of 1918, the subsequent economic hardship, and sudden, spiraling inflation.”

   Shortly after 911 I was working at a YMCA as a Swim Lesson Supervisor. I noticed a Muslim woman in full Burqa, and her four girls that were taking swim lessons. The girls were easily identifiable as their swim suits were nylon long pants, and a long sleeved dress with a high neckline over the pants. I walked over to the mother and began talking to her about her girls swim lessons. During our conversation we both discovered we grew up with four brothers and before we knew it we were laughing and recalling stories of our brother’s behavior towards us which was very similar. In getting to know each other, we discovered our sameness and subsequently the differences became unnoticeable.

“Abomination”: Language creating negative stereotypes

Noun: abomination; plural noun: abominations

A thing that causes disgust or hatred.

“this bill is an abomination to all mankind”

Synonyms: atrocity, disgrace, horror, obscenity, outrage, evil, crime, monstrosity, anathema, bane

  • a feeling of hatred

“their abomination of indulgence”

Synonyms: detestation, loathing, hatred, aversion, antipathy, revulsion, repugnance, abhorrence, odium, execration, disgust, horror, hostility

Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female, it is an abomination.

Introduction to Hermaneutics: “The correct interpretation of a passage must relate well to the historical-cultural background of the passage.” “A verse taken out of context is a dangerous weapon.”

The word used for abomination in Leviticus is, “to’ebah” which refers to the breaking of ritual law, “ritually improper”, or “involves foreign religious cult practice.” Many of the prohibitions in the Mosaic Law are not followed today such as “heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (Leviticus 18:19). Another frequently quoted verse against homosexuality; Romans 1:27-28, Paul uses the Greek word “arsenokoitai” instead of the more standard Greek word for homosexuality, “paiderasste.” The word, “arsenkotai” meaning has been lost, but biblical scholars in studying the root of the word, and other uses in Greek manuscripts has determined the most likely (not conclusive) use of this word meant sexual aggression towards another person, possibly the rape of a young male prostitute. This passage refers more to the extreme sexual immorality that was part of idol worship. This is indicated in Romans 1:25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

In the Old Testament, the prohibitions dealt primarily with keeping the Israelites from engaging in the extreme sexual immorality idol practices of the Canaanites (worship of Ba’al). Dennis Bratcher in Speaking the Language of Canaan: The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception of the Physical World states:

“The Israelites never abandoned the worship of Yahweh. They simply added the worship of Ba’al to their worship of Yahweh. They had one God for crisis and another god for everyday life. The actual worship of Ba’al was carried out in terms of imitative magic whereby sexual acts by both male and female temple prostitutes were understood to arouse Ba’al who then brought rain to make Mother Earth fertile (in some forms of the myth, represented by a female consort, Asherah or Astarte).”

Hence, if the historical-cultural background is considered in the Leviticus passage, then using the Old Testament prohibition against homosexuality in the context of idol worship is not a relevant scriptural basis against the monogamous homosexual relationships of today. The same is true of the passage in Romans that is consistently used as a scriptural bias against homosexuality.

According to the application of Hermeneutics a passage should be interpreted in the local context, the book context, and then the Bible context. The broader context of Leviticus 18:22 that provides a key for interpreting the prohibitions listed in Leviticus is found in 18:1-5: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep my statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.   So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

God is instructing the Israelites to abstain from the idol worship that was prevalent in Egypt and Canaan. The Israelites are to worship God only, evident by separating themselves from the extreme sexual immorality that characterized the pagan practices of the culture the Israelites left, and the culture the Israelites were moving to in Canaan.

The “dangerous” aspect of using the verse in Leviticus as a scriptural basis against all homosexuals (eisegesis – taking a verse out of context to make it fit a personal point) is the use of the word, “abomination.” It is easy to see how stereotyped perceptions can be formed from a word with such negative connotations: obscenity, horror, evil, hatred, and aversion to name a few. When the perceptions of an outgroup are this negative there is little chance of interaction between the ingroup and the outgroup. In this case, the Christians (ingroup) who hold the view that gays (outgroup) are abominations have very little interactions with the LGBT population. The less interaction, the less understanding, and subsequently the greater risk of the negative stereotypes turning into aggression.

Most importantly, the negative treatment of homosexuals is not consistent with Jesus’ behavior in the Gospels.  For example, in Leviticus 13: 2-3, 45-46, lepers were considered unclean, physically and spiritually, and were forced to live alone outside of community and stay six feet away from any person.  And, yet in Matthew 8:2-4 Jesus touches a leper which according to the law would make Jesus unclean, but yet Jesus understands the deeper need for love and compassion and heals him of his leprosy. Obviously, we know now that leprosy had nothing to do with sin, but is entirely a physical condition.

“…’What commandment is the foremost of them all?”   Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Matthew 12: 28-31). 

One can’t call a gay person an abomination and say they are loving at the same time. Anything or anyone we call monstrous, obscene, loathsome or abhorrent we automatically alienate from ourselves.  This creates the “us” and “them” barrier.

The use of language as illustrated easily creates discrimination which can be displayed in numerous ways such as permitting barriers to equal treatment under the law, and equal access to economic resources. This is not only evident in the treatment of the LGBT population, but minorities and the poor as well.

The Poor: Language Barriers to Loving

poor man

There has been a political movement in our society in the last ten years against assisting the poor personally or with government assistance. The author, Ayn Rand is often quoted with an emphasis on “survival of the fittest.” The rhetoric incorrectly infers that all of the poor created their condition and have had the same baseline opportunities as everyone else. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism argues that God is not necessary, but the individual who deals with reality by understanding they alone have the ability to create their own happiness will be successful. According to Rand, this happiness is achieved by harnessing economic power.

Susan Fiske, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, who researched people’s attitudes towards the poor using neuroimaging, states: “It’s the most negative of prejudices that people report, greater even than racism.”   The language used to describe the poor is primarily extremely derogatory; lazy, irresponsible, wants to live off the government, takes advantage of welfare, useless, manipulative to obtain free handouts, etc. This type of stereotyping clearly indicates the outgroup homogeneity effect whereby the ingroup is unable to see differences among the outgroup and subsequently categorizes all the poor into similar negative descriptions.

When I was in my early twenties God blessed me with a vision that showed me the world the way He wanted it to be. It was a vision of modern day cities but with a feeling of love, caring and compassion. It was difficult for me to put the feelings into words. Recently, a Teaching Pastor at the church I attend gave a sermon from a series on Wisdom. This particular message was about “work.” The Pastor discussed Simon working in the temple day after day until old age, and then being blessed with seeing the long awaited for Messiah as Mary and Joseph with Jesus entered the Temple for the ceremony of consecration for the firstborn son. This was the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;

Your word has been fulfilled.

My eyes have seen the salvation

You have prepared in the sight of every people,

A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel. 

Simon was created for the very moment he laid eyes on the Messiah. All of the hard, tedious work in the Temple was his path towards a moment in time where God’s glory and purpose would be revealed. The Pastor went on to explain God has created and wired us for individual talents and gifts that are to be considered when we decide what work we choose. If making money or creating profit is our motivation we will never fully express the divine design He created in us. If we are not driven by money and profit, then the spiritual result is everyone will be provided for and be allowed to express their own divine spark. While I was listening, the light went on and I realized the Pastor was putting an aspect of the vision I had into words. Yes! This is God’s will.

Lyrics

Why you wanna fly, Blackbird?  You ain’t ever gonna fly

No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry

‘Cause your mama’s name was lonely and your daddy’s name was

pain

And they call you little sorrow ’cause you’ll never love again.

So, why you wanna fly, Blackbird?  You ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t got no one to hold you, you ain’t got no one to care

If you’d only understand, dear, nobody wants you anywhere

So, why you wanna fly, Blackbird?  You ain’t ever gonna fly.

This song clearly reveals the pain of a minority child who grew up with parents who were oppressed and trapped. Her father most likely expressed his pain in anger, and her mother was “lonely” because her husband couldn’t really express the feelings of being black, disenfranchised, put down, limited, broken, shut out, demoralized, persecuted… The sadness aches in this song; how is she going to fly, she’s not going to fly…there is no way out. The song cries out the voice of the oppressed.

The Path to the Holocaust 

The Holocaust survivors constantly attempt to keep the horrific memory alive so that this monstrous act will never be repeated. There are Holocaust memorials, books, and movies about the events that happened during Germany’s darkest hours.   The path to the Holocaust began slowly and then picked up speed such that the Jews had no way of stopping the tidal wave that was rolling over them.

But for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. 23 Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. 24 Why do You hide Your face And forget our affliction and our oppression? 25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. 26 Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness. ~ Psalm 44

There have been numerous Genocides since the Holocaust, and horrific ways of killing innocent civilians during various conflicts around the world. Soon there will be armed drones in the skies operated by police officers in remote control centers. Most of the officers grew up playing violent video games and when using a joystick to kill, the killing becomes detached and most likely the most “accidental” drone shooting injuries and fatalities will occur in poor minority areas. We don’t really understand the dark nature of own hearts. We don’t see how easily it is to be pulled into the monster of the dark. The monster is just not under our beds as children, but even as children it hides in our hearts.

There is well known research on prejudice and discrimination by Jane Elliott Brown where 3rd grade children were told that blue eyes were the best, and that brown eyed children were not as good as the blue eyed children. Elliott remarks that she watched “marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating, little third graders.”

Anytime there is stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination there will be hatred. When there is hatred against a targeted group of people, there is a high risk for another Holocaust. The first thing we must do is look in the mirror and see the monster in our eyes. Then we must let the light in to our souls.

Jesus reached out to the “least of these” in love and compassion. Jesus teaches not to have partiality to any person because of wealth or status. Jesus emphasized helping the poor and the widows. Jesus brings us all together in oneness, erasing the illusion of our differences. The depth of Jesus’ love and compassion is so difficult for us to grasp in today’s world. If He came today would we understand better how to love? It seems at times we grasp it with hearts full of God’s bliss and truly feel what it means to “reach the prize that is in Christ Jesus.” Other times, it is beyond our understanding. The flash of light disappears quickly as we struggle with our “selves” and the busyness of our lives.

We must move out of our homogenous bubbles if we are to fully know Christ. We must intentionally move towards fully knowing those we consider the “least of us.” We must move into the lives of those we call “abominations” and allow ourselves to know their hopes, dreams, frustrations, their pain and the strong need to be loved unconditionally. Only then can we bring them into the light of Christ. Because you see, if we have allowed ourselves to get to know their hearts, then we can love like Christ. But if we lack Godly understanding, they will never feel love, but only feel the rejection that comes from our judgment.

pulling in the nets

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.… Matthew 4:18-20

So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. John 21: 5,6

Most of the time we put our nets down in the same place over and over and wonder why we don’t catch any fish. Jesus knows where the fish are, but we don’t ask. We are afraid to go into the unknown to catch different kinds of fish. We must cast our nets out further and weave our nets with love, compassion and understanding and then ask Jesus; “Lord, where should I cast my nets?” When we ask with a will fully aligned with God’s will, our nets will be so full we will barely be able to pull it in.

After we pull the fish in, we must move out of our place of comfort in our churches, and make changes so all our differences work together in unity.   Because those fish will come from different backgrounds and different cultures, we must allow the full expression of God’s beautiful design to be a kaleidoscope of His light.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will [i]rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6,7

A Light in the Dark: The Prison Epistles (Colossians)

Fotosearch_k13307283

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was.  It was ruinous advice.  It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all.  I know that would be equally fatal.   It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy.  To regret one’s own experience is to arrest one’s own development.  To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lip’s of one’s own life.  It is no less than a denial of the soul.

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Paul is in Rome on house arrest, but is still able to receive visitors.  It is evident from all of the Prison epistles, that even while Paul is on house arrest, he is praying diligently for individuals and churches that have been planted by himself and some of his converts.  It must be noted Paul’s relationship and great leadership skills.  During that time period, relationship skills were the utmost importance.   Having great verbal memory and negotiation skills enabled a person to navigate the social milieu effectively.

The love and support of friends is another proof of Paul’s relationship skills.  In Acts 20:22-24, 36-38 (NIV):

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

When Paul has finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.  They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.  What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.  Then they accompanied him to the ship.

While Paul was on house arrest, Epaphroditus journeyed to Rome to bring financial support to Paul from the Philippian congregation (Philippians 2:25; 4:18).    Epaphroditus stays in Rome to assist Paul and becomes so ill he almost dies (2:26-27, 30).  Other visitors and helpers were Luke and Aristarchus who accompanied Paul to Rome.  Timothy went to Rome to assist Paul, and in fact, when Paul knew he was to die by execution, he called for Timothy to come to him quickly (2 Timothy 4:9).  This indicates a deep love and appreciation for Timothy’s support.  Tychicus carried letters back and forth for Paul and Paul calls Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant of the Lord” (Colossians 4:7-8).  Of course, there is the converted runaway slave, Onesimus who helps Paul while in Rome such that Paul writes a letter to his owner requesting that he welcome him back into the household and perhaps set him free (Colossians 4:9, 16).  Additionally, Mark visits Paul in Rome as a “fellow-worker” (Philemon 24).  There is a brief mention of a Jesus Justus who Paul considers a valued Jewish co-worker and a comforter (Colossians 4:10-11).  Epaphras is mentioned by Paul as a “fellow-prisoner.”  Epaphras may have willingly submitted to imprisonment to help Paul.  Most importantly, it is Epaphras’ report of the church in Colossae that motivates Paul to write to the church (Colossians 1:7-8).  Demas is mentioned in Paul’s salutation to Philemon as “fellow-worker” (v 24), but later is barely mentioned, and certainly not with the praise Paul gives Luke.  Later Demas falls away from the faith.  As Paul teaches, exhorts and loves his “fellow-workers” in the Lord, they in return love, and support him with respect, honor and acknowledgment of his authority.

 Paul is continuing to clarify his teachings on Christ by responding to reports of difficulties in various churches, some he was responsible for planting, others planted by converts.  What is brought to light by reading his epistles is the influence Paul has on the churches.  Not only are the leaders of various churches reporting to Paul the issues and difficulties they are having with the congregants, but there is an unspoken understanding that a letter delivered to the church and read from Paul will have an impact in positive change.  Obviously, Paul’s authority is unquestionable.

What makes Paul such an outstanding leader?  First, his advanced knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and intelligence gives Paul an authority that some of the other apostles didn’t have due to lack of education.  Secondly, like any excellent leader, Paul is willing to sacrifice all for the cause of following and leading others to Jesus.  Thirdly, Paul exemplifies integrity in his words and actions.  He not only speaks about the character of Christ, but instills the words of Jesus into his actions.  In other words, his actions are consistent with what he teaches.  Finally, and most importantly, Paul consistently displays love, compassion and kindness. This is quite apparent in the salutations and prayers Paul begins each of his epistles with before addressing the major issues that need to be corrected in the church.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.  Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.

John Stotts

John Stott

 Colossae was built on a major trade route in the Lycus River Valley.  Colossae was well known for the cyclamen flower they grew to provide a purple-red dye for wool.  When Laodicea was established Colossae diminished in size as Laodicea grew in size and commercial development (Background on Colossae and the Colossians – Theology of Work Project).  Colossae during Paul’s life had a variety of different cultural and religious aspects (https://bible.org/seriespage/background-colossians).  Paul didn’t plant this church in Colossae, but Epaphras while on a visit to Ephesus where Paul was teaching, was taught by Paul in the lecture room of the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).  There was a fairly large Jewish population in Colossae, but the church itself was mostly Gentiles.  Luke mentioned Jews in Colossae, Hierapolis, and Ladocea in Acts 2:10 when he discussed the Phrygians in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. Also, a common Talmudist saying during this time period: “The wines and baths of Phrygia have separated the ten tribes of Israel”(Lightfoot, J.B.,D.D., Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Revised Text, pg. 22).  As seen by the map, Loadicea and Hierapolis were within 10 miles of Colossae and most likely had churches established by Epaphras and Philemon there as well (Col. 4:12,13).

colossae 2

Epaphras

Paul mentions three followers, Aristarchus, John Mark, and Yeshua are of the “circumcision,” and then mentions Epaphras, Dr. Luke, and Demas (4:10, 11).  So, it is safe to assume Epaphras is a Gentile since Paul did not include Epaphras when mentioning those of the “circumcision.”  In 4:12 Paul states that Epaphras is “one of you.”  This relates that Epaphras was from Colossae.  Epaphras is called “our dear fellow servant,” and “a faithful minister of Christ” (1:7).  In 4:12 he is referred to as “a bondservant of Christ and then “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 23).  It is not known who was responsible for Epaphras’ conversion, but it is conjectured it may have been Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Feast of Shavuot (Pentacost) in AD 30.   Or, it could have been Peter and Silas going to Jewish communities in the Lycus valley to evangelize in AD 42 (Epaphras: A Man of Fervent Prayer, Franz, Gordon).

Approximatey five years after Epaphras and Philemon begin planting churches, Epaphras takes a journey to Rome to visit with Paul regarding theological problems occurring in the church in Colossae known as the “Colossian Heresy.”  Paul responds to Epaphras’ concerns by sending three letters via Tychicus and Onesimus.  One letter was written to Laodicea (Col 4:16),  and the other two were for the Church at Colossae and a letter for Epaphras’ fellow worker and friend, Philemon.

The Epistle to Colossae

After Paul’s salutation and prayer, he immediately reinforces to the reading/listening audience the supremacy of Christ.  Additionally, Paul mentions the “mystery” three times as previously revealed in Ephesians and Philippians.  It is obvious he wants to place emphasis on the “mystery” because this was the revealing of God to humans His divine purpose in His son, Jesus Christ.  Paul is attempting to increase the understanding of the followers in Colossae that they don’t need other religions, philosophies, angels as intercessors, or legalistic rules to obtain knowledge and wisdom.  All is to be found in Christ.

Paul educates the believers that Christ “…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (1:15, NASB)  He goes on to say that all things were created through Him and for Him.  Christ is before all things, and through Him all things are held together.  Paul explains that God revealed all things through Christ, and Christ will be first in all things as well as reconciling all through His death on the cross (1:16-20).  The goal should be for these believers to become “complete in Christ” (1:28), fully spiritually mature so they may be presented holy and blameless.  In 2:3 Paul states that “…all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are to be found in Christ.  Why then are these believers being led astray by every other religious influence in their culture infiltrating the churches in Laodicea and Colossae?  What led to the extreme syncretism such that it is called the “Colossian Heresy?”

The Heresy

a-fork-in-the-road

One path to God

Phrygia was a kingdom that was located in the west central part of Anatolia which is now present day Turkey.  The kingdom was established by Indo-Europeans who came from the Balkans after about 1450 BC (www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsMidd East/AnatoliaPhrygia.htm).  The cult of Cybele had been in existence for hundreds of years before being adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor.  The cult is surmised to be one of the oldest religions.  In fact, there are stone age sculptures and an idol 6000 years old that depicted Cybele in the form that was later worshiped in Phrygia.  When the cult arrived in Rome the name changed to Magna Mater, or The Great Mother (http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/churchhistory220/lectureone/MagnaMater.htm).  In the 6th century BCE the cult had spread from mainland Greece to the western colonies. (www.sacred-texts.com/cla/orrp07.htm, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism: III, Asia Minor).  However, some of the practices were detestable to the Romans, so cult celebrations were banned.   Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) changed the Roman restrictions and allowed celebration of the Phrygian deities all across Italy.  Additionally, he created new dates for holidays in March so that “new life” could be celebrated (p. 56).  The celebrations consisted of mutilations so they would be saved from their fleshly desires as well as the intention to raise the soul up from their base instincts (p. 50-51).  After the Phrygian cult religion was transformed in the need to adapt to the influence of other cultures and religions, a new belief system arose whereby they believed that the soul lived forever.  They believed they would be born again after their death.  A line from one of the religion’s hymns: “Take courage, oh mystics, because god is saved; and for you also will come salvation from your trials” (p. 59).

A second strong religious influence that affected the Colossian believers was that of Gnosticism which had also infiltrated Judaism.  It is possible some of the characteristics and practices of Gnosticism may have been an adaptation from the Phrygian cult as some scholars believe that Gnosticism had its beginnings in pre-Christian religions instead of an outgrowth of Christianity (www.earlychristianwritings.com/gnostics.html).

Paul may have been addressing the converted Jewish followers when he mentioned “philosophy and empty deception” as a problem in the Colossae church.  Jewish writings during Paul’s time were referred by the philosopher Philo (10 B.C – A.D. 50) as “the philosophy of Moses.”  Additionally, Philo mentions Judaism as “the philosophy of our fathers” and “Judaic philosophy.”  Likewise, Josephus refers to the three Jewish sects as “three philosophies” (www.gci.org/bible.col/heresy, p.3).

The worship of angels seems to have penetrated Judaism from early Gnostic doctrine.  It was believed that God had to be approached in humility by using angels as intermediaries.  Paul mentions in 2:23 that this was not true humility but just an “appearance of wisdom.”  After discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, much came to light regarding the Essenes religious practices. The Essenes were restricted from touching oil, meat, or wine.  There was a strong, extreme adherence to Sabbath keeping (p. 6,7).  Many Gnostic practices were evident in the expression of the Essenes religion.  Paul admonishes in 2:16-17 to let “no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink…or Sabbath day.”   The external practices of the Essenes that led to false spirituality and the associated pride was similar to the behavior of the Pharisees.

Shepherd-and-sheep-2

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).

The impact of various religions influencing the congregants at Colossae was so severe there was a mixing of Christian practices with pagan rituals and beliefs (syncretism). There was strong enmeshment of culture with religion in this area of Asia Minor including Rome. The cult of Cybele had been in existence for hundreds of years before being adapted by Greek Colonists of Asia Minor. In the 6th century BCE the cult had spread from mainland Greece to Western Colonies (www.sacred-texts.com/cla/orrp07.html, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism: III. Asia Minor).

A strong component of the cult was its worship of animals and plant life. A short description from Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism:

“The sacred ecstasy, the voluntary mutilations and the eagerly sought sufferings manifested an ardent longing for deliverance from subjection to carnal instincts, and a fervent desire to free the soul from the bonds of matter” (pg.50-51). It is possible the self-mutilation Paul mentions in his letter may have been an influence from this cult religion (2:18,23).

In The Colossian Heresy from Grace Communion International:

“In searching the broader roots of Gnosticism, one finds isolated but relevant ideas in apocryphal works, both Jewish, and early Christian. The Jewish-Christian work of the second century A.D., Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, lists seven orders of angels and uses the same terminology as was used by the Colossian heretics. The two highest ranks of angels are in the seventh heaven, and are known as “thrones” and “powers” (compare Paul’s reference in Colossians 2:15). Similarly, the Book of Enoch, the best source of information for the development of Judaism (written by Chassidic or Pharisaic Jews around 163-63 B.C.), speaks of “angels of power and angels of principality” (Enoch 51:10).”

So, it appears many of the heretical practices Paul spoke of could be directly related the Gnostic influence among the Jewish Christians.   Lewis R. Rambo in Understanding Religious Conversion states: “…as a general rule, most scholars of conversion agree that few conversions take place in areas with well-organized, literate religions supported by the economic, political, and cultural powers of the region.” This would partly explain the difficulty with sustaining the conversions that occurred in Colossae.   The strong pull of a culture enmeshed with a religion that may have had its roots in the Phrygian cult worship, which was in existence hundreds of years before Christ came on the scene would affect the new convert’s ability to completely become indoctrinated into a new religion unless there were gifted, knowledgeable leaders to keep the focus on Christ, maintain conversion, and lead the believers into complete transformation.

Culture and Conversion

If we look at the conversion experiences of Native Americans to Christianity, there are similar patterns but more extreme, long lasting syncretism. In the 19th century the U.S. government assigned the natives into various reservations and then designated certain Christian missions to oversee the assigned reservation. In many instances, it was a somewhat forced conversion. However, there was some degree of consonance with some of the native’s existing beliefs.   There are stories of Corn Mother or White Buffalo Calf Woman who sacrificed herself for the good of her tribe (http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/nm/julia/history.html).   According to Lewis Rambo (p 42), “The more consonant the cultural systems – in the context of cultural contact – the more likely it is that conversion will transpire. The more dissonant, the less likely it is that conversion will occur.” When Christianity was first introduced either the natives incorporated some of the features of the new religion into their existing beliefs, or completely rejected Christianity (http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1992/issue35/3520.html). The culture of the Native Americans was so enmeshed with their religious beliefs, that for many accepting a new religion was treated like a rejection of their culture and identity even with some similarities in native culture/religion and Christianity. There was a greater degree of dissonance than consonance which made conversion difficult.

In fact, the syncretism in some Native American Christian churches still occur today. 3% of American Indians combine practices from both their native religious beliefs and Christianity. In All Saints’ Episcopal Indian Mission, the Rev. Robert Two Bulls incorporates various tribal practices in Christian worship. Scripture is read in native languages, there is no proselytizing, a beaded cross is used, and native drum music is used during the service. A church member, who is of the Blackfoot tribe, states:

“Yes, the disciplines have different origins in the human world, but spirit is spirit. I don’t care what tradition it is. If there’s anything that helps to heal people, then it’s important” (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2013/arts/native-spirituality-christianity).  Subsequently, some of the Christian tenets are followed, others are cast aside. Christianity suffers with any dilution of the gospel message. The visible image of our invisible God becomes distorted. As mentioned previously, when culture is extremely enmeshed with religion it is seen as a betrayal of one’s culture when all evidence of the original religion is transformed by the new religion.

indian mission church

In the church at Colossae there were various Greek pagan influences, but the most detrimental impact came from Judaism infected with Gnosticism, which then influenced the Christian believers. Culture creates strong resistance to complete conversion to a new religion. When speaking about the effectiveness of an individual’s conversion, Lewis Rambo states it succinctly: “Yet at the same time that a potential convert may be attracted to Jesus Christ and the new religious community, he or she may still be enmeshed in old ways of life” (p 126).

Conversion Maintenance

An important variable in preventing heresy in a church is constant maintenance of the member’s conversion. According to Rambo, there is initial excitement when converting and then when the honeymoon period is over the new convert may become depressed, or abandon the new religion altogether (p. 136).  An important aspect of maintaining conversion is ritual and testimony.  In Christianity there is emphasis on baptism to symbolize the new life in Christ, and then communion as remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. Additionally, giving personal testimony before a group causes the speaker’s beliefs to become strengthened, as well as motivating any unbelievers who are listening. One negative affect on the believers in Colossae not becoming fully converted to Christianity is the stronger effect of ritualistic self-mutilation as opposed to baptism. Self-mutilation creates a more intense experience which has stronger effect on brain response and reinforcement of the behavior. Subsequently, there would be a more intense conversion experience compared to that of baptism. Another effect on maintenance of conversion is the influence of social environment which can support conversion or weaken conversion.   If there are stronger relationships within the new group (microcontext) as opposed to the macrocontext then conversion is easier to support (ch 9).

To summarize, the problems that may have led to the heresy in the Colossian church was the strong influence of a culture that was interwoven tightly with the existing religious milieu, and Evangelists/Deacons, (Epaphras and Philemon) as Gentiles, did not have the excellent education and leadership qualities of Paul. Paul was a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. It is interesting to note the Colossae church, which was fairly small, seemed to have the most severe issues with heresy and syncretism compared to the other churches that received Paul’s Epistles. Paul established the church in Ephesus, as well as Philippi. In fact, Paul visited the church in Philippi three times and would have had time to develop strong relationships within the church and build a strong Christ-centered foundation (Acts 16:12, 20:1-2,6, 28:16). The best teacher during this time period would have studied, listened to lectures, read and been able to interpret Torah. Epaphras and Philemon would not have had the knowledge, experience, influence, and spiritual maturity of Paul.

The early church was structured in such a way that there was not one central leader, but it was the elders who were the keepers of the doctrine. The church gradually progressed into a greater degree of hierarchy and organization, but during the time Paul wrote his Epistle it was primarily the Deacons and the Elders who maintained the faith. If Epaphras and Philemon planted the Church at Colossae as most Biblical scholars believe, then as Evangelists and Deacons the two men likely had the greatest influence over the congregation. In The Logic of Evangelism, by William Abraham, the Evangelist is described as someone who leads the congregation into the practices of Christianity, establishing and maintaining the Christian ordinances of baptism and communion, as well as role modeling Christ like behavior.

Heresy in the Modern Day Church

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Unlike the early church, we have both the Old and New Testament to guide us, yet there is a growing liberal theology that is attempting to undermine Scripture and lead Christian believers into moral relativity. For example, Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church has written several books such as Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and The Sins of Scripture. The titles give a good indication of his heretical thinking. Spong’s 12 Theses:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak to God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is a pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is.  Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

http://www.adherents.com/largecom/epis_12theses.html

Spong’s theology is so far removed from the gospel message that it sounds ridiculous, and yet he has a fairly large following.  It is not surprising that his heresy has allowed to take root in the Episcopal church as the Episcopal church membership is predominantly made up of above average incomes, and higher education with an emphasis on the intellect.  Sometimes placing the intellect and extreme logical reasoning to the forefront will cause spiritual stumbling due to arrogance and superiority blinding the so called follower of Christ.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Timothy 4:3)

My sheep hear my voice…

We have a responsibility to “…ask God to fill you (us) with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way;” (Colossians 1:9,10). “He is the head over every power and authority” (2:10). As followers of Christ we must intentionally listen for His voice by praying for discernment in scripture as well as what we read and hear in biblical teachings.

The Shepherds have a responsibility to make sure wolves are not scattering his or her sheep by doing everything possible to nurture and grow new converts:

  1. Making sure new converts are discipled by spiritually mature Christians.
  2. Emphasizing the conversion transformation by meaningful rituals; baptism, testimony, and communion.
  3. Strong maintenance of conversion by making sure there are social structures in place in their churches to foster strong, healthy emotional relationships which leads to spiritual fellowship.
  4. Prayer for empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Sermons which directly relate to relationship building in Christ.
  6. Not allowing new believers to lead including small group leadership. A strong Christ centered foundation must be built first with good understanding of scripture.
  7. Deacons and Pastors constantly monitoring the spiritual well-being of their flock.

The Kingdom of Light

…giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the holy people in the kingdom of light.  Colossians 1:12

I love the visual of a “kingdom of light.”  Scripture is our lamp lighting up the path to the source of all light.  We must be alert  as it is easy to be led into the darkness and immediately become blinded.  Sometimes it is our own desires that blind us, or most often those things we place before Christ.  Paul is quite clear in his letter to the church at Colossae; Christ is everything, He is to be our center, He is the way to the kingdom of light.  Follow His light in this dark and confusing world, and let your light lead others to Christ.  We are on a journey following light trails that lead us to Him just as the three wise men followed the comet’s light trail to that little baby in the manger who became our Messiah; who calls to us from the kingdom of light:  Come, and I will give you rest…

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A Light in the Dark: The Prison Epistles (Philippians)

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“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life.  For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 

The letter to the church in Philippi written by Paul while on house arrest in Rome has a tone of joy even though he is addressing conflict between two women, and other issues.  Paul mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” twelve times during his Epistle.  It is evident Paul has had a relationship with the believers in the church in Philippi and writes with fondness.  This foundation was laid during his first visit to Philippi while on his second missionary journey.  Paul journeys with Silas and Luke during the second missionary journey to Derbe and Lystra.  While there they meet the disciple Timothy and take him with them.  The Holy Spirit directs them away from Asia, and again when attempting to go into Bithynia.  They arrive in Troas where Paul receives a vision of a man telling him to help them in Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10 NASB).

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They arrive in Philippi via the port, Neapolis. Philippi was initially named Datos, and then in 360 BC Greeks colonized it and changed the name to Krenides (“with many springs”).  It was well known for a fertile plain nearby as well as the Orbelos mountain range to the east.  On the mountains were gold and silver mines which Philip II, the king of Macedonia takes over, enlarges the city and renames the city after himself.  The conquering Romans came along in 168 BC and divided the city into four parts.  The Romans build the Egnation Way , a major thoroughfare that goes across northern Greece. After the battle in 44 BC, the city of Philippi becomes a Roman colony.  Soldiers who were discharged were given land to farm while living in the city (Gods, Gold and the Glory of Philippi, http://www.biblearcheology.org).

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Via Egnatia or Egnatian Way

Paul and his fellow disciples don’t find a synagogue in the city, but on the Sabbath go to a place near the river where they hope to find people praying.  They find a group of women who are God fearing Gentiles.  “God fearing” Gentiles were those who believed in the one true God, and sought knowledge from the Jewish faith.  They meet a woman named Lydia who is a seller of purple cloth.  This fabric was typically used by the wealthy and the royal so Lydia evidently made a good living.  After listening to Paul speak, Lydia’s heart is stirred and she makes the decision to commit her life to Christ by becoming baptized along with her household.  Lydia then invites Paul and the disciples to stay in her home which they make their base of operations (Acts 16:13-15).

Paul, Silas and Timothy begin preaching and making converts until Paul and Silas are imprisoned because they cast the demons out of a slave girl with the “spirit of divination” which caused loss of income for her owner.  It must be understood that Philippi was a Roman colony with very few Jews, so the slave master is very successful before the magistrates by vehemently exclaiming; “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs to which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”  In other words, the slave master is emphasizing the “outsider” status of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-21).  Also, it didn’t help their case that Emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome for being agitators months before Paul and Silas arriving in Philippi (Gods, Gold, and the Glory of Philippi, http://www.biblearcheology.org).

Paul and Silas are released from imprisonment at midnight due to an earthquake loosening their chains and opening the doors of their cells.  The jailer becomes extremely frightened knowing that he would be disciplined for allowing the prisoners to escape.  Paul calms him down, and subsequently the jailer and his household are baptized.  Paul and Silas are released where they go to the home of Lydia and depart for Thessalonica leaving Luke behind in Philippi.

Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to Philippi seems to be one of encouragement and love with an emphasis on being like-minded or of the same mind.  Paul uses the dyadic form that is common throughout the New Testament.  He contrasts preaching Christ with “envy and rivalry” versus “out of goodwill” in 1:15.  Moving on towards the next verse Paul expands this thought by comparing “do so out of love” with “out of selfish ambition.”  We see the same form in 1:20: “to live is Christ” versus “to die is gain.”  In verse 28 Paul emphasizes that “they will be destroyed” contrasting with “you will be saved.”  And again in 3:2-3: “the evildoers” with “we who serve God by his Spirit.”  Finally, in verse 19 Paul contrasts, “Their destiny is destruction” with “our citizenship is in heaven” (v.20).

Prior to the point in his Epistle where he addresses the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2-3, Paul seems to have this conflict in his mind as he repeatedly exhorts the believers in the church at Philippi to be united.  In 1:27 he is attempting to help the believers understand that they are to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” no matter the opposition they face.  Pau continues in chapter 2, again speaking to unity by telling the believers “…if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (v. 1-2).  In verse 5 he concludes that in their relationships with one another they should “have the same mindset as Christ.”  This last statement is a clarification of what he has already stated.  The believers are to have the same mind, but they must understand that this is having the same “mindset” as Christ.

Paul counsels the believers to follow his example, and remember that their destiny is “citizenship in heaven” (3:17-20).   However, in the paragraph before these verses, Paul explains in humility that he is not perfect like Jesus, but is constantly working towards that perfection (v. 12-14).

Paul closes with a request to his “true companion” to assist with helping Euodia and Syntyche with their disagreement.  He asks Euodia and Syntyche to be of the “same mind.”  This letter would have been read to the believers in the church with Euodia and Syntyche present (4:2-3).  A disagreement between two people usually doesn’t just stay between two people.  Since this was a small church, everyone most likely knew of the conflict between the two, and because of human nature others would have been told in an attempt to draw as many people as they could to their side of the matter.  Division is not having the mindset of Christ and in fact causes damage to the body of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul warns the believers: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among  you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” when they showed favoritism to one leader over another.

Constantly Paul declares to the believers to “rejoice.”  Additionally, he admonishes the believers not to complain or be angry with one another, and to look out for the interests of others in Christ and not just your own interests.  What happens when there is division in a church?  The witness of Christians is weakened, their love and joy disappears, and Christ is put in second place due to congregants seeking their own interests. So, it stands to reason, if we are rejoicing in the Lord, then it can become rather difficult to be angry with someone in the body of Christ.  Likewise, if a purpose driven group doesn’t have the same mind, then the purpose of the group will be thwarted.  The strength of the purpose grows when people are united.

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Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

When you have people together who believe in something very strongly – whether it is religion or politics or unions – things happen.

Cesar Chavez began the United Farm Workers movement in California in 1962 to address poor working conditions and minimal wages for migrant workers.  “In six months, he took a distinctly regional movement and blasted in into national, and then international, fame” (Flanagan, Caitlyn, The Atlantic, The Madness of Cesar Chavez, June 13, 2011).  He used non-violence to achieve his purpose and when there were some violent outbursts from his followers, he fasted for 25 days to bring his followers focus back to non-violence.  It was a brilliant move on Chavez’s part because the division would have only weakened and possibly destroyed Chavez’s non-violent objectives.  Additionally, the movement would have lost supporters, and subsequently may not have had a successful outcome.

The followers must be united in their purpose, and Paul intuitively realizes he must bring the believers focus back to Christ again and again.  When the believers are focused on Christ’s teachings, and follow the model of Christ-centered believers, then their interactions will create unity.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.

Mahatma Gandhi

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1869 -1948

Mahatma Ghandi was another leader of a non-violent movement that changed the “course of history.”  Ghandi conceived the non-violent resistance known as Satyagraha (steadfastness in truth).  After a massacre of hundreds of demonstrators by the British, Ghandi increased his resistance movement to British occupation of India.  He was imprisoned numerous times, and used hunger strikes as well to achieve his objectives.

This is not a blind following of a gifted leader, but an understanding among the followers of the importance of reaching the goal for the betterment of the humankind.  It is the leader who provides the vision, and the way.  It is the leader who fires up the motivation of his followers when they begin losing interest.  It is the leader who teaches the followers the significance of sacrificing their own well being in the face of opposition.  It is the leader who makes the greatest sacrifice for the cause.   Just as Paul does with his letters from house arrest in Rome.  He is lighting a fire of excitement and courage within the believers in the church in Philippi so they may effectively go out and witness to Christ.  He is emphasizing unity to address the conflict and discord within the church.

Many churches in the United States have lost unity due to the political polarization in our culture.  The polarization of the two major political parties has moved into the church causing division within the Christian body of believers.  This is worshiping an idol.  Anything that contradicts the teachings of Christ, and is placed in importance above Christ is an idol.

There is a lack of emphasis on the dangers of worshiping idols in church teachings by the Shepherds.  Typically when idols are mentioned, it is mentioned in a general manner.  It must be specific.  The idols  I am referring to are following rhetoric that is contradictory to the teachings of Christ.  Seeking our own self interests is allowing any type of conflict to create divisions in the church is putting Christ second in our lives.  We must quit acting like adulterers, and go back to our first love.  Any and all disagreements, conflict, gossip, and negative attitudes will be overcome by the light of Christ if we rejoice in the Lord.  Additionally, if we focus on having the same mind; the beautiful, incredible, loving mind of Christ, our churches, with the help of the Holy Spirit, would be on fire in it’s purpose of reaching the lost.  Love doesn’t grow in the dark, but we must let our love be lights in a dark world.  If internally we are weak in unity and like-mindedness, our lights become dimmer and dimmer.  Our witness to Christ becomes weaker and weaker.  Most importantly, if we as believers are not obedient to Christ, then we will not be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The action Christians must take is to constantly be studying the word of God.  We must put into action what we learn. The sheep who stray and who are teaching others to do the same must be admonished by the Shepherds.  The Shepherds must not have fear of opposition.  They mustn’t let the fear of loss of congregants, with the subsequent loss of church funding, to guide their ability to lead and keep their sheep safe.  Christ was subversive within the Jewish culture he taught in, and yet he walked the increasingly harder path to the cross and didn’t waver from His purpose.  Christ is the supreme model, and His apostles were and are models for us today as well.  We must be united, we must have courage in the face of opposition, we must have discernment!  Walk in the path of Jesus my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Keep your eyes focused on Christ lest you be led astray.  Satan is subtle, and before we know it we have been led away from the light into the dark and don’t even realize it because we don’t “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:14).

Our purpose leads us to God, and enables us to lead others to Christ.  Everything else in our lives is secondary.  That is how important our witness to Christ is in our lives, and in our church communities.  When conflict arises, and it will,  bring the focus back to being of the same mind in Christ.  We are to be lights in the dark, a beacon to the brokenhearted and the lost.

A Light in the Dark: Ephesians

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In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.

Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place

Biblical scholars have suggested different reasons for the purpose of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.  Some scholars believe that Paul wrote the letter to Ephesus to address doctrinal errors that were occurring throughout the churches in the Lycus Valley.  This is based on concerns Paul has after hearing reports from Epaphras regarding the church in Colossae.  Colossae was a small city one hundred miles east of Ephesus on the banks of the Lycus river in what is known today as Turkey.  During Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus, Epaphras is converted and subsequently starts the church in Colossae (1:7-8, Acts 19:10).  Due to the church’s dangerous move away from Christ centered theology, Epaphras visits Rome to discuss the doctrinal issues with Paul which leads to Paul writing the letter to Colossae.  Other small churches, and “house churches” are established along the valley.  These scholars believe the same doctrinal errors that were infecting the church in Colossae was spreading to the other churches.  Hence, they believe Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to Ephesus was to address the errors in more than one church as it is believed the letter to Ephesus was circulated to many churches.  This is evidenced by the letter being written as if the readers were not well known to it’s authors.  Also, there is confusion regarding the destination of this letter as Marcion writes in the middle of the second century referring to the letter as “to the Laodiceans” (Foulkes, p.23-24, Ephesians).

Francis Foulkes in his commentary writes;

“Thus we imagine Colossians written, then Ephesians  Then the apostle penned the conclusion to Colossians, and immediately turned from writing that to address his closing personal message to the wider group of churches: ‘that you also may know how I am…Tychicus…will tell you everything.’  So Tychicus went off as bearer of the two letters and also of the personal letter to Philemon.  He would have received explicit instructions concerning the churches of Asia to which he should take it.  No one name was put in the address of our letter; the messenger could put in the relevant name at each place.  In the years that followed several churches might have been found in possession of a copy.  Perhaps only that in Ephesus had a name on it, and as Ephesus was the most famous church the letter would be copied most frequently from there, and so come to be named as we have it, ‘The letter of Paul to the Ephesians.”

Other biblical scholars believe Paul was not addressing any doctrinal errors, but that this Epistle writes more like a sermon as opposed to a letter.  This suggests to  scholars that Paul is expanding  his theology, evidenced by this particular letter being the most supreme expression of Pauline theology (NASB p. 1717, Introduction to Ephesians).

“I have been away from my writing too long.  Maybe this is not so much a prison as an office from which I can reach the world with Christ’s message.”  Paul Bunyan in a Bedford, England prison in 1675 for preaching publicly without a license.

I propose the purpose of the letter to the Ephesians was written because Paul didn’t think he was going to survive his imprisonment.  Ephesus was a large commercial center, and Paul expected his letter to be spread to other churches.  Imagine being on house arrest, or in prison like Bunyan and knowing you weren’t going to make it out alive.  Your goal in writing a letter would be to clarify theological points, and provide the most articulate, effective explanation of Christ Jesus and the believer’s relationship in Christ.  Or as Bunyan simply puts it; “…I can reach the world with Christ’s message.”  It is Paul’s most cohesive explanation of the theology of the gospels.  Paul certainly is not a perfect man, but in his epistles, especially in Ephesians, we see most clearly how to be a perfect servant follower of Christ.

The story of Paul’s arrival in Rome begins with a trip Paul is taking to Jerusalem with an attempt to arrive by the Day of Pentacost:

“17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:

 25 And now I know none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again.  Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.  Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.  I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease day or night to warn everyone with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the message of His grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing.  You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions.  In all this I have given you an example that by such good work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.  There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again.  Then they brought him to the ship.”  Acts 20:17, 25-38 (NRSV)

Many times Paul is warned not to go to Jerusalem.  In Acts12:4:

“After looking up, the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

In Acts 21:8-14 a Prophet named Agabus tells Paul that the Jews in Jerusalem will bind him and deliver him to the Gentiles.  Paul responds; “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of our Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13   Again and again Paul receives warnings about going to Jerusalem.  Paul himself  believes that he will not see the Ephesians again and infers he will die.

In Jerusalem, Paul is falsely accused of bringing an Ephesian gentile, Trophimus, into the bounds of the court of Israel.  Subsequently, Paul is arrested and his appeals take him to Caesar in Rome as a Roman citizen (Acts 21-27).  Paul is placed on house arrest chained to a guard.  In Ephesians 3:1 Paul states; “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…”  And again in Ephesians 4:1; “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…”  I can’t help but think Paul was smiling when he wrote he was a “prisoner of the Lord.”  In a previous imprisonment for casting a demon out of a slave girl,  Paul and Silas are miraculously released by the prison doors opening and their chains becoming unfastened by an earthquake.  Paul stops the jailer from killing himself and subsequently the jailer and his household are baptized and saved (Acts 16:25-34).

Obviously Paul understands without any doubt that he is to stay on house arrest in Rome, because his Lord is sovereign and could release him at any time.  Hence, he is literally a prisoner for Christ and not really of Caesar.

The structure of Paul’s Epistle is well organized beginning with his greeting; “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” and then moving on to all of the spiritual blessings we receive by being in Christ.  Paul emphasizes reconciliation by mentioning the Gentile’s adoption as children through the redemption of Christ’s blood,  that it is an inheritance sealed by the Holy Spirit, and most importantly the reconcilation was a mystery revealed in the “fullness of time.”  Paul mentions the “mystery” several times throughout the Epistle.  The mystery is understood as a revealing of God’s purpose that has been progressive through all of time to God’s perfect point in time of full revelation in Christ.

Paul then gives thanks and prays the Ephesians are given the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” and  “…the eyes of your heart are enlightened.”  It must be noted that Paul doesn’t refer to an understanding of their minds, but focuses instead on the heart.  There were many different philosophies during this time period that were human knowledge based so it is significant that Paul speaks to the eyes of their hearts.  This infers a deeper, spiritual understanding of the nature of Christ, and God’s will.  Paul speaks about Christ having greatness of power and being the head over all the church.

Paul speaks of being in disobedience, but by the gift of God by grace we are being created in “…Christ Jesus for good works.”  In the next section Paul uses metaphors to express how Gentiles were once outsiders of God’s chosen people, but are now chosen as well.  He states that without Christ, Gentiles were aliens, but are now citizens.  We are members of the household of God.  In comparing the spiritual with the earthly Paul speaks to Jesus being the cornerstone, and believers being built together spiritually with Christ as a dwelling place for God. This is in contrast to the earthly temple in Jerusalem where God resided in the innermost sanctum of the temple.  Jesus Christ has made God accessible to all believers, not just Jews.

The discussion of Gentiles naturally flows into an expanded look at the unity of Gentiles and Jews in the next section after another prayer.  Paul’s prays for his readers to be strengthened through the Spirit, and in a passionate manner Paul pleads with God for his readers to understand “…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (3:17-18, NIV).  There is a feeling in reading this passage that Paul is attempting to express this love, but can’t quite find the words other than to use units of measurement that are more readily understood but don’t fully express Christ’s love.

In discussing the unity between the Jews and Gentiles, Paul reveals how this unity is grown into a mature church.  Paul talks of unity of the spirit, meaning we are all unified in Christ as believers.  Paul explores the gifts of the Spirit, and how important the Spirit is in building up the body of Christ in love.  Again Paul uses a metaphor, referring to the “body.”  Christ is the head, and the different parts of the body are the different gifts believers are blessed with by the Holy Spirit.  One gift is not better than another, but all are used together in unity and love to mature spiritually.

Paul compares and contrasts the “dark” and the “light” to give clear understanding of what it is to live in the flesh or sin, and clarity regarding the “fruit of the light…”  Paul emphasizes the believers must put away the behaviors they had while living a pagan lifestyle, and replace those with kindness, being tenderhearted, forgiving one another, and “imitators of God as beloved children.”

The structure of Paul’s letter becomes recognizable as he moves from the most important information he needs to pass on to the church, to expanding outward towards the relationship between husband and wife, parent and children, masters and slaves.  In all of these relationships Paul brings Christ to the center; we are be in submission to each other in humility and love.  Wives are to respect husbands, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, children are to honor parents, and parents are not to cause discouragement in their children by displaying inappropriate anger.  Slaves are to respect their masters, and masters are to treat their slaves with dignity and respect.

Paul closes using the metaphor of a soldier who is prepared for battle.  We are to understand that there is spiritual warfare, and if we are to stand firm we need to put on the full armor of God; The helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and our feet readied with the gospel of peace.  Additionally, he warns us to “be alert.”

Living as Children of the Light

In order to “be alert” we need to be grounded in scripture, and praying constantly.  It is easy to slip away from the truth and place other things or people as idols before God.  Why do we lose our self awareness of our own spiritual state so easily?  Many believers attend church and listen to sermons, and possibly are involved in small group bible studies, but still have difficulty applying what they hear and learn to their own lives.  This was clearly in evidence during the Civil War when many Christians were against the abolishment of slavery.  Also, during the Civil Rights Movement many churches fought against desegregation.  In Religion and Race, the author, Joel L. Alvis, Jr. describes numerous instances of Ministers and Pastors losing their pulpit if they demonstrated any sympathy towards blacks and desegregation.  Of course, this was due to pressure from congregants as well as church governing bodies.

Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. describes the same behaviors in Episcopalians & Race; Civil War to Civil Rights.  Even though there were many discussions regarding the gospel message of love, and all being one in Christ Jesus, the deeper understanding found in the heart to create change was long in coming, and even today racism can be found among some Christians. And not only racism against minorities, but discrimination against people of other countries, economic levels, etc.

A good example of falling away from the truth in America today is following the rhetoric of a certain political party that espouses not helping the poor, but letting them figure things out for themselves.  After all, it is “survival of the fittest” that matters.  Those lazy, irresponsible poor people taking advantage of welfare.  They are not worth helping because they bring it all upon themselves.  So, all people obtaining government assistance are placed in the same category; lazy and irresponsible.  And forget raising minimum wage to create a livable wage.  They are to blame for their own situation.  Slowly and in a subtle manner the Christians hearts are becoming harder.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus states numerous times in the New Testament to help the poor.  David R. Henson states in Criminalizing Christ, The Love Wins Incident and the Nationwide Targeting of Homeless:

“A popular praise song-among my favorites-pleads, “Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord.  I want to see you.”  Do we really?  Apparently the hearts of may Americans are darkened, making them unable to see.  That appears t0 be the find of a Princeton University study.

Well the study actually didn’t have to do with hearts and it wasn’t expressly about seeing God.  It had to do with the working of brains.  The study revealed how the poor are seen…or not seen.  More precisely, using neuroimaging researchers found that the very poor are viewed with such disdain that they were dehumanized in the eyes of the beholders.  Brain activity suggested that the very poor were viewed more like repugnant piles of garbage than people.

“Americans react to the poor with disgust,” said Susan Fiske, professor of Psychology and public affairs at Princeton University and the originator of the neuroimaging tests.  She has studied attitudes toward the poor for a dozen years.  “It’s the most negative prejudice people report, greater even than racism,” Fiske stated.

No doubt part of that response is aesthetic.  Some of those who are very poor – especially those living on the streets – smell bad and are unkempt and shabbily dressed.  But a deeper part of the response is moral.  The poor are stripped of value in the eyes of many.  They are seen as useless, and not just useless, but an actual drain on the more productive an affluent members of society.  Not only do they fail to add anything positive to the world, they actually subtract value, like trash piled on a lawn.

How can we love God while despairing the needy among us?  Scripture declares that it is impossible.  “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).  Spiritual blindness is the inevitable consequence of hating the poor.

Some sheep are being slowly led to their destruction.  C.S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters:

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.

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How does it happen that so many Christians begin placing a political party’s ideals before the teachings of Christ and the Apostles?

“Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall.  Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk.  Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.  The findings show that in all cases, the ‘informed individuals’ were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organizing, snake-like structure.  ‘We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd,’ says Professor Krause. ‘But what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realize they were being led by others” (Herd Mentality Explained, Rick Nauert, PhD).

Friedrich Nietzsche, a well known philosopher from the late 19th century who is most known for his views on fatalism and nihilism writes, “The highest and strongest drives, when they break out passionately and drive the individual far above the average and the flats of the herd conscience, wreck the self-confidence of the community, its faith in itself, and it is as if its spine snapped.  Hence, these drives are branded and slandered most.” I believe one of the contributions to lack of awareness is herd mentality.  If a group forms by allying itself with a leader, political party, etc. whose rhetoric leans away from scriptural truth in subtle ways, the group obtains confirmation from other group members regarding the direction they are taking and individuals slowly stop thinking for themselves.  In other words, they don’t use scripture to filter the doctrinal errors.  Also, in the quote above, Nietzsche is explaining that when an individual moves away from the group in the right or progressive direction, the group will attack the individual to maintain it’s status quo.  Some psychological research has found that when the individual members of a group stop thinking for themselves, there are actual brain changes occurring that reinforce the behavior.

“The neurochemical Oxytocin triggers a ‘bliss response’ in the brain whenever we are engaging in social behavior.  The brain is an incredibly effective survival machine.  One of our most successful survival techniques is our desire to find safety in numbers.  When we belong to a group, this bliss response makes us feel warm, safe, and content” (The Brain and the Herd Mentality, 2013, Meacham, Margie).

However, according to Meacham, the herd mentality can be broken by making conscious choices.  In other words, if a Christian makes a conscious choice to look honestly at their own beliefs, and begin filtering their beliefs through scripture, their ability to follow Christ will increase. Remember, “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)  Paul states:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, NIV).

We run to obtain the prize in Christ Jesus.  We do this by keeping our eyes on the goal, and the only way to keep our eyes on the goal is to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” – Matthew 5:5).  We are to live as “children of the light” (3:8, NIV).  Paul tells us in Ephesians to “be alert.”  Because when we let our guard down and are not focusing on Christ, we can easily be led astray away from the light.

A Light in the Dark: The Prison Epistles (overview)

 

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“You may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the processes of your own mind and feelings.  In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial to assessing one’s development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow humans – qualities within the reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.”  Nelson Mandela, 1975, written to his wife, Winnie from Kroonstad Prison

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“…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.  Just as the prophets of the eight century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.  Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonia call for aid.

Morever, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963, A Letter From a Birmingham Jail

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Paul is on house arrest in Rome chained to a guard in Caesar’s household.  Other possible locations may have been Caesarea or Ephesus, but the consensus among biblical scholars is that the Epistles were most likely written in Rome due to references to the praetorian guard (Philippians 1:13) and to Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22).

Imagine being a purpose driven person halted in your actions.  The physical body can be stopped, or limited in its movement in a small area, but the mind cannot be completely inactive.  When action is stilled, the mind focuses and expands.  When a person is highly focused on a goal, nothing can stop movement toward that goal except death.  Especially when the goal is fulfilling God’s purpose.  When God stops all external action, the mind becomes stilled.  Be still and know that I am God!  (Psalm 46:10)  God speaks through the aware, listening mind.  We reach higher potential and a deeper understanding through the calm.

As we can see from Mandela’s letter, imprisonment served to refine his soul such that his motives for fighting against apartheid became spiritually pure.  This was evident shortly after being released from prison during a media event.  Mandela emphasized his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the white minority.

We can feel the passion in Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed in his letter from jail.  He references Paul, and speaks to carrying the “gospel of freedom” outwards.  He speaks to our interrelatedness, and a shared destiny.  A purpose driven man, led by Christ, articulating a letter that still gives goose bumps and enflames passion for social justice every time it is read.

In both men, we see action towards their focused goal is not stopped by imprisonment, but continues to  impact and influence others with the words of their minds.

Paul who is also called Saul (his Hebrew name) was a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.  Saul zealously arrested Christians to protect the Law.  He applied to the authorities for letters to Damascus so that he could arrest Christians in that city and take them bound to Jerusalem.  When he was near Damascus a bright light shone all around him, and a voice asks from the light why Saul was persecuting Him.  The voice told him it was Jesus, and told Saul to go to Damascus for further instructions.  Saul was blinded and had to be led by the hand by his companions.  Meanwhile, the disciple Ananias was told in a vision that Saul would be at Judas’ house where he would be praying.  Ananias was reluctant as he had heard of Saul’s persecution of followers of Christ.  The voice in the vision told Ananias that Saul would be His chosen instrument to carry His name before Kings, Gentiles and the people of Israel (Acts 9:1-8, Acts 22:1-16).

Paul then becomes a strong force in spreading the gospel and establishing churches.  The zeal he previously had for protecting the Law is transferred to spreading the important mystery that Jesus is the awaited for Messiah.

Paul has previously been imprisoned, shipwrecked and stoned before arriving in Rome awaiting trial. From the position of arrest, he writes three Epistles to churches in Colosse, Ephesus, and Philippi.  Additionally, he writes a letter to a friend, Philemon, whose slave had ran away.  Paul meets the slave, Onesimus in Rome where Onesimus is converted and becomes a great help to Paul.  Paul encourages Philemon to forgive Onesimus, and more subtly hints at Onesimus’ release.

Colosse was a small city in ancient Asia about 100 miles east of Ephesus.  In the letter to Colosse, Paul addresses doctrines that were dangerous to the congregation that led to pride in their spiritual experiences and false teachings.  Paul addresses the concerns by emphasizing the all-encompassing ability of Christ to meet all their needs.

Also, in Colossians Paul addresses the relationships between husband and wives, parents and children, master and slaves.  Paul’s purpose in addressing these relationships is almost subversive in this culture, but it is to make the relationships centered on Christ.  For example, marriage in this culture was one of practicality.  It was never based on love, or choice between the marriage couple.  It was an arrangement to serve the purpose of each respective family.  Paul emphasizes mutual love and submission so the man and the woman serve each other out of love, not out of any other type of extraneous need.  This entails respect and an approach to the other in humility.  This is addressed in all the other relationships mentioned; respect, submission, and love.

Writing from house arrest Paul clearly explains the importance of what it means to be fully committed to Christ in Ephesians.  Many churches in the Lycus Valley were having doctrinal errors, and biblical scholars believe that it wasn’t just one letter that was sent to Ephesus, but copies were sent to several churches.

The church in Philippi was very special to Paul as he had personal relationships with the congregants due to spending a significant amount of time planting the church.  Philippi was located in ancient Macedonia northeast of Greece.  Paul planted the church around 49 CE during his second missionary journey.  The purpose in writing the letter was to let the church know how he was doing, address discord and division by emphasizing humility and unity (2:1-18), false teaching (3:2-3), and information about Epaphroditus.  Epaphroditus was sent by the church to see how Paul was doing and to take care of his needs.

As we study each Epistle, it is important to remember the significance of Paul’s imprisonment.  Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I am referring to be in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The goal of spreading the news of Christ is Paul’s purpose and his raison de vivre.  He is completely emptied of self, and filled with the Holy Spirit being empowered to reach the nations with the news of the Messiah.

In the next blog, I will be focusing entirely on Ephesians.  A question to think about and dialogue:  If there were designated leaders and elders of these churches, why didn’t the leaders address the doctrinal errors and manage conflict within the churches they were leading?  Does this happen in today’s churches?  Let’s discuss!  Post comments to get the discussion going.