Thursday, October 2, 2008

Called to Be Set Apart, Part 2

****Today we will continue with the talk. Much of the talk today, and tomorrow's as well was inspired by/taken from Scripture and a very dangerous book called "Jesus for President." I don't like the title of the book, but found the teaching to be very challenging and in line with Scripture. It tends to go against cultural teaching and cultural norms, which tends to ruffle feathers. But does it line up with the Word of God? That is the question to be asked.****

In Africa there is a tribe called the Maasai. They are generally located in southwestern Kenya into Tanzania, but you can find patches of them spread out all over those regions. When we were in Africa, I always loved seeing a group of Maasai men because they stand out so incredibly as such a beautiful people with a rich heritage that they are proud of.

They are easily identified wherever they go by their characteristic Maasai clothing, which is typically a bright red and blue checkered cloth wrapped around them, with brightly colored beads around their necks. Their earlobes are typically pierced, with large, LARGE holes left in their lobes so that they hang low. They are typically shepherds or herdsmen, so I usually see them with a large wooden walking stick.

They are characterized with loyalty and honesty. Everyone that I have talked to about the Maasai, simply say, “Ah, good men. You can trust a Maasai.” They are indeed warriors of old, and one can see that they are proud of their heritage, but they are known by their integrity, among each other, and outside their tribe as well. They stand out wherever they are as they cling to their identity as a tribe. It is easy to pick a Maasai out of a group; it is easy to know who they are. They cling to who they are, regardless of where they are, staying true to the nature and the legacy that has been created for them.

Every time I would see one, I was left wondering, ‘What would this world be like if we as Christ followers had such a reputation?’ What if others were to say of us as Christ followers, “Ah, those Christians. Good people. Men and women of integrity. You can always trust a Christian.” What if we were that easy to pick out of a crowd? Instead, I hear often that the Church is classified as angry, judgmental, hypocritical, harsh. It’s not really appealing or attractive to an on looking world.

We talk about reclaiming America for God, all the while I am wondering if America is what God wants us to reclaim, an empire just like Rome in Jesus’ time, with the ideas of consumerism, greed, and lust almost overwhelming us as a people. I wonder if God doesn’t want to reclaim us alone, outside of the empire of America, followers of the Way who look to Him as King, president, decision maker, provider, protector.

I wonder if we as a body of believers shouldn’t be looking to redefine the Church as a nation set apart, united from one congregation to the next, rather than divided by party lines or worldly labels like “liberal” and “conservative”, driving the empire and its values out of us as a united body, rather than us launching an offensive to drive the wrongs out of the empire. But rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God’s kingdom, we assume America is God’s hope for the world, even when it doesn’t look like Christ.

In order for us to think about what it looks like to be set apart from the nations around us, I want us to look at the teachings of Jesus and the formation and life of the early Church. I am hoping that by looking at this, we can draw out a better picture of what it is that we as a people have strayed from. There came a point in our history that we said, “We want to be like all the other nations.” It was not God’s way. It was not the Way of Jesus. It’s time that we as a body explore, question, and struggle with what we are doing so that we might once again be truly set apart. It’s time for a revolution.

Jesus came at such a time in history when there was a powerful empire ruling over most of the world. It was a superpower, not too different from out own today. It was a violent time in history, as the word of Caesar was: Submit to Rome or die. Jesus, as the Messiah, became the hope of Israel to overtake the Roman government and reclaim their nation for God. Many of the messages and teachings that Jesus gave in His time here on earth were directly subversive to the Roman government, hijacking their words and terminology and redeeming them for Kingdom glory.

Even the Christmas story itself, penned by Luke, was inspiring to the Jews of that day who were looking for hope from the ruling empire, as it talked about a Savior being born, a Messiah, the Lord. These were words that the Jews knew quite well, but had heard them in relation to Caesar. Caesar was called Savior, even Son of God, and Messiah. So, according to Rome, they already had a Savior. His name was Caesar. And Caesar had a gospel; it was “Submit to the empire or die.” But now in Jesus a different kind of Savior was being proclaimed, and he had a different kind of gospel and a different kind of Kingdom.

Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, peculiar, and set-apart people that began with Abraham being called to the wilderness. He was calling them to reject the ways of the empire, the values of the dominant and militant, and return to a simple Way. He didn’t pray for the world in order to make governments more religious and have their laws reflect more religious values; He wasn’t hoping to redeem the government and nation of Rome.

He called Israel to be the light of the world – to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world. This sort of political language doesn’t exactly harmonize with the contemporary church language of “reclaiming America for God.”

What Jesus taught for us as His followers was this: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39). He taught us sacrificial love, humble and submissive. He taught enemy love with imagination. Jesus teaches us to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms. He invites us to transcend both passivity and violence through a third way. He teaches us that indeed freedom is actually free, that it is a reflection of the state of the heart.

For instance, look with me in Matthew 5, starting at verse 38:

You have heard that it as said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”

(This command was given to the Jewish people back in Exodus 21:24, and it too was meant to set the people apart. This was a limitation on evil done, so that violence would not escalate in retaliation. For instance, if someone cut off your finger, you could not turn around and cut off their arm for revenge. This was a limiting factor of justice to set the people of Israel apart from the warring, violent nations around them. And now here, Jesus takes it one step further.)

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. (Well, now that’s new.)

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

(Now, what Jesus is describing here is a slap. In orderly Jewish culture, a person would hit someone only with the right hand. If you hit someone with the left hand, you could be banished for ten days. So a person would have to use a backslap to hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand, like an abusive husband to a wife, or a master to a slave. It was a slap to insult, degrade, and humiliate, a slap meant for an inferior. By turning the cheek, the person made the abuser look them in the eye, and the abuser could now only hit them with a fist, as an equal. By turning the cheek, the other person said, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” Do not cower and do not punch back. Make sure the person looks into your eyes and sees your sacred humanity, and it will become increasingly harder for that person to hurt you.

And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Take off all of your clothes and hand them over, exposing the sickness of their greed. Nakedness was taboo for Jews, but the shame fell less on the naked party and more on the person who look on or cause the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27) (93). Following Jesus’ suggestion would be a way of saying, “You want my coat. You can have it. You can even have my undies. But you cannot have my soul or my dignity.”

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

For a first-century Jew, it was common to be asked to walk a mile with a soldier to carry their supplies. Jesus was saying to walk it with them willingly, even further than asked. Get to know them, not as an enemy but as a person. Talk with them and woo them into our movement by your love.

As Jesus taught such things, no doubt that He angered and upset a number of people. The people were looking for a conqueror. They were looking for someone to overthrow the empire of Herod once and for all and reclaim Israel for God. Reclaim Israel for God. Sound familiar?

We'll finish it up tomorrow. Grace and peace in all things, y'all.


  1. I'm so glad you are posting all of this! I have already tried to digest all this in talking with others but it is hard withhout them having heard it all... I don't want certain things taken out of the context in which you presented them. I so appreciated that you were willing to "ruffle" us up as it is some awesomely challenging things for me to pray about and discuss. In this sanctification process we are all in being "set apart" can seem quite confusing. But God is not the author of confusion so i do believe as we seek Him he will give us truth and clarity for our lives. Thanks again!

  2. "I wonder if God doesn’t want to reclaim us alone, outside of the empire of America, followers of the Way who look to Him as King."

    yes yes yes yes yes!

    what a thoughtful post. a book that may interest you is called the shaping of things to come--it's about why "christendom"--when christianity was the church of the empire and which is only rather recently in its waning days--was NOT such a great thing for the Church, and what it looks like to BE the church in the world.

    glad to find your blog!


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