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Making Room in Church for Your Ideological Enemies

Image: Ryan McGuire

Image: Ryan McGuire

If I had to put together 12 men who would follow me throughout my ministry, I would have chosen differently. I would have picked guys who had my back, who were respected, and most of all, who were on the same page.

Not only does Jesus pick untried, untested, and mostly uneducated blue color workers, he intentionally picks guys who would have been at each other’s throats.

Simon: the zealot

It makes sense that Simon, a zealot, decided to follow Jesus.  The zealots were tired of the status quo, too. They wanted something dramatic and powerful to happen; they wanted to overthrow Rome. In their minds, a savior was coming to deliver Israel from Roman oppression. And they were prepared to help administer some good old-fashioned, Old Testament wrath.

Matthew: the tax gatherer

Jesus goes out of his way to sweep Matthew, the tax collector into the group (Matt. 9:9). He wanders by Matthew’s tax booth and recruits him—and Matthew follows.

Tax gatherers had a different view of Rome. To them, Roman rule was the way it was and they just needed to make the best of it. They saddled up to Rome and allowed the oppressors to use them to collect money from their people. Jews hated them because they extorted extra taxes for themselves, and because they were traitors. Zealots hated them even more.

One problem. Two solutions.

You could not find two more diametrically opposed view in how to deal with oppression. Tax gatherers looked at Rome as something outside of their control and decided it was better to go along and get along. If this was the way it had to be, they might as well use it to their advantage.

Zealots we constantly considering ways they could bring Rome down. They were whispering in ears and causing dissension and unrest in people around them. They wanted an uprising and they wanted it soon.

From the many people following him, Jesus intentionally picks these two ideological enemies for apostles (Luke 6:13–15). He deliberately sows potential conflict into those closest to him.

Jesus doesn’t care about resolving our squabbles

What’s funny is that this conflict is never brought up—ever. It’s not an issue. Simon’s life as a zealot was a defining characteristic; he was THE zealot. Matthew’s job may not have defined him, but his willingness to work for Rome by squeezing money out of his countrymen did.

Maybe Matthew and Simon would sit by the fire bickering deep into the night about which of them was wrong.

Did Jesus have an opinion about which of them was closer to being correct? Probably, but we don’t know. It never says. Because, when all was said and done, neither of them was right. The kingdom Jesus intended on bringing wasn’t of this world and would not be ushered in by the world’s typical political posturing.

At some point their proximity and closeness with Christ changed everything for them and gave them a new perspective, a new vision, and a new hope.

More important than our idealism

Prior to Jesus, I wonder how Matthew and Simon would justify their positions based on their religious views. Maybe Simon would look at all of the times that God used Hebrew champions to overthrow their oppressors. Maybe he’d appeal to Scripture as proof that a just war was right.

Maybe Matthew would fall back on the logic that at least it was a fellow Jew collecting money for the Romans and not an outsider who would take even more liberties with the finances of Jewish families. In Matthew’s mind, he was doing Israel a favor. As long as Rome collected taxes from the Jews, there was no reason for more violence.

Their relationship with Jesus changed everything. These two dogmatic ideologues were united by a common vision.

Maybe that’s something we need to think about more often. I want the people around me to agree. I want them to have the same values and ideals. It could be that the answer to many of the issues dividing the church won’t be fixed by more rancor and bickering. Perhaps they’ll change when we all start drawing closer to Christ and stop finding our identity in our ideals.

We want the people around us to think like we do.

Maybe that’s our problem.

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Can You Drink This Cup? A Good Friday Responsive Reading


I had to write a responsive reading for our Good Friday service. I thought I’d upload it in case anyone else wanted to use it.

Speaker: Jesus came to destroy the devil’s works and redeem the world to himself. Will you join him in his mission?

Congregation: We will join him.

Speaker: Christ’s victory came at significant personal sacrifice and cost. Will you join him in his mission? Continue reading

An Open Letter to the church from the Church on Tithing

TitheDear church,

You want us to tithe, and we can appreciate that. We’ve listened to your sermons, read your books, and understand all of the arguments for tithing as both a principle and a discipline.

But there are a couple of things we feel the need to talk about:

Tithing is hard for a lot of people, often for reasons you don’t completely know about. That’s okay. The fact that it’s difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. In fact, sacrifice matters because it’s difficult. So in spite of hardship, many of us still give. Continue reading

Integrating Our Culturally Divided Churches


I can’t quite remember how Juan Lopez and I got to know each other. We were just suddenly online friends, and I’m pretty thankful. He’s a sincere and humble guy, a youth pastor in Bell Gardens, CA, a writer, an avid  runner, and a family man.

We were talking about the challenges English and Spanish churches have integrating, and Juan said, “Yeah, I could definitely write a post about that.” So I convinced him to do it here. 

You can follow him at Running the Race.

Continue reading

What Should We Do with Caesar Obama?

800px-Barack_Obama_addresses_LULAC_7-8-08It was shaping up to be a normal Labor Day barbecue—until I made the tragic mistake of opening my mouth. People were busy cooking, cleaning, and setting up and I overheard a discussion about one political issue or another, ” . . . I can’t wait to get Obama out of office; he’s so evil.”

Now, I’m not a huge Obama supporter, so I don’t know why I felt I need to speak up. I casually said, “Oh come on, he’s not evil.”

In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea. Continue reading

Why the Sermon on the Mount Is Absurd and Impractical

039-039-The-Sermon-On-The-MountWe Americans judge an idea or principle based on one, primary criteria: does it work? We’re simple pragmatists and something that’s true will also be useful. If it’s true but not practical, it’s hard for us to value it.

I was thinking about this recently when I was reading the Sermon on the Mount.

Struggling with Christ’s most famous sermon

First-century listeners

To first-century Jewish ears, Christ’s sermon would have been a frustrating puzzle. They’d waited for hundreds of years for their deliverer to come and save them from oppressors. In place of a rebel-rousing, William-Wallace-styled diatribe, the Jews were told that mourning and meekness were dear to God’s heart. Continue reading

The Church at Pooh Corner

Pooh_Shepard1928No one knows it, but I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which beloved A. A. Milne character is most like various friends. If you aren’t familiar with world of Winnie the Pooh (the actual Milne stories and not the Disney version), you’re missing out on some of the best literature—ever.

Long before I read The Tao of Pooh, which idealized Pooh as the most Zen-like creature in the Hundred Acre Wood, I was silently categorizing the people around me as Owls, Poohs, Piglets, and the rest. Lately, I’ve been thinking of them in regards to Christians and churches I’ve known.


“Piglet”, said Rabbit, taking out a pencil, and licking the end of it, “you haven’t any pluck.”
“It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffling slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

Continue reading

Not Every Pastor’s a Teacher—Not Every Service Needs a Sermon

Billy_Sunday_preachesBy the time I was finished pastoring, I’d had enough. I’d spent five years writing and delivering a weekly 10–12-page theological paper in the form of a sermon—on top of my regular pastoral expectations.

There was a portion of my mind chewing on ideas all the time. I know it sounds silly to say, but a lot of that time I didn’t really feel present to more important things around me. I was always writing and re-writing in my head, and the urgency of next week’s message drowned out the importance of other things. On top of that, I was constantly strip mining my experiences for future use as sermon illustrations.

I’ll bet I’m not the only pastor who constantly woke from the same nightmare of showing up for a service completely unprepared. Continue reading

4 Lessons I’ve Learned from the (Hateful) Ministry of Fred Phelps

fred-phelps-400x240Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church patriarch, is dying. It’s been revealed that he’d been excommunicated from the church he had pastored for 59 years in August, 2013, and is living out his final days in hospice care.

It’s strange to think that Phelps, a lawyer and founder of a Topeka, KS law firm in 1964, was a huge advocate for civil rights. In fact, Phelps’ small law firm made up 1/3 of the state’s federal docket of 60′s era civil rights cases.

Being Fred Phelps eventually caught up with him. He was disbarred, on both the state and federal level for unethical behavior. Both times it was for aggressive behavior and speech toward witnesses and justices. Continue reading

Wrestling with Universal Truth and Christian Certainty

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

I had an atheist friend ask me an interesting question after reading one of my blog posts. He asked me, “How much does your Christianity allow for pluralism?”

It was an intriguing question and, after spending the evening thinking about it, I replied in a private message.

But, after giving it some thought, I decided to turn my response into a post.

Die-hard exclusivist (sort-of)

I believe that the universe is governed by one overarching, universal truth—we’re all just trying to figure out what it is. Continue reading


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