Jesus and Swords

 

if-you-dont-own-an-ar-15-sell-your-cloak-and-buy-one-luke-2236
Filed under “Thing Jesus Never Said.”

Earlier today I was involved in a discussion about gun policy and then it happened: Someone said, “Jesus would be in favor of guns, he told his followers to buy a sword! SEE! LOOK!” They then quoted Luke 22:36: “‘But now,’ he said, ‘take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!'” This was something I expected, as many Christians have used this one verse to try and state that Jesus would be against gun control. There’s just one problem with this line of thinking: That is not what Jesus meant. As Dr. Ben Witherington III is fond of saying:

 

A text without a context is merely a pretext for a proof text and it can be whatever you want it to be.

The problem with employing an ultra-literal interpretation of scripture and a hermeneutic of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is that such interpretations ignore important items such as context, cultural considerations, and good old-fashioned common sense. Using so-called “gotcha” texts to make a point that goes beyond any reasonable context for scripture is a poor witness for Christ. Further, while scholars believe that literal interpretation of scripture is considered a high view of scripture, I believe that such is actually a low view because an ultra-literal interpretation does a great disservice to the authors and intended ultimate message of scripture: The story of God’s love for us.

Simply stated: Jesus is not telling his followers to arm themselves. He is not calling for any sort of armed insurrection, revolution, or otherwise telling Christians that employing violent tactics is the way of a disciple. Here is what noted new testament theologian – and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary – Craig Keener said about this passage in the IVP Bible Background: New Testament.

By mentioning the “sword” here Jesus is not inviting revolution like the Zealots did (cf. Pseudo-Phocylides 32–34). Instead, Jesus calls for a temporary and symbolic act—two are sufficient (v. 38)—so he may be charged as a revolutionary and hence “reckoned among transgressors” in accordance with Isaiah 53:12… To be without one’s outer cloak at night would leave one cold; yet Jesus suggests that it is better than being unprepared for the conflict these disciples are about to face.

So, no, Luke 22:36 is not a call for Christians to arm themselves. It’s about the fulfillment of prophecy, specifically a prophecy that said that the messiah must be charged as a criminal. More proof of this comes from verse 37: “For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” Being with people who were armed with swords would certainly give the Romans cause to allege that Jesus was planning an armed revolution against the Roman Empire, therefore fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 55.

To think that Luke 22 calls Christians to arm themselves is just plain wrong. Such a notion also flies in the face of the other teachings of Jesus where he encourages peace, non-violence, and to put down their weapons (remember the scene where Jesus stops a stoning?). Further, one taking scripture completely out of context in order to fit their own belief is tantamount to re-constructing God into their own image. Let us remember that the will of God is not violence, but peace. I close with the words of the prophet Isaiah, and also long for the day when this prophecy is fulfilled. May it be during our lifetime.

“They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Advertisements

“Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?”

26220101_10159794806340147_6943418189534145442_nIn the summer of 2016, I had the honor of attending the Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Along with seeing sites significant to the history of Methodism and learning from some of the greatest Wesley scholars available, I also had the opportunity to meet people from many different places and from many different backgrounds. Two of my fellow pilgrims hail from nations in Africa. Ande (“Andy”) is an ordained Elder from Nigeria and Julu is a lay leader in Liberia. Both are two of the most committed Christians and United Methodists I have ever met, not to mention that both are just extremely nice men. Both are working hard to make their homes better by taking seriously the call to discipleship and mission.

Both were also among the people President Trump insulted with his “shithole countries” remark.

The words that President Trump used to degrade immigrants from third world nations – many of whom are refugees escaping extreme poverty and war – are the most reprehensible words that I have ever seen or heard attributed to the president. I realize that our political leaders are just as human as you and I but, simply, they can’t say things like that and not expect to be held accountable. The President of the United States wields much power with their words and the words that President Trump used to demonize human beings who are of sacred worth in God’s eyes are beyond comprehension. I join the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops in denouncing the president’s statement and I, too, call it what it is: It is racist. It is evil. It simply can not be tolerated.

I refuse to be complicit in his unbiblical and unchristian statement through silence.

Like many pastors, I follow the Revised Common Lectionary most weeks. I know some view this as “quenching the work of the Spirit” but I disagree, especially when the readings are so prophetic and timely to what is happening in our world today. Sunday’s Old Testament reading is from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 where God calls out to Samuel and declares a judgment upon his own father Eli for not heeding God’s word. The Gospel reading is from John 1:43-51 and the part that strikes me so much as far as this week’s big news is concerned is found in verse 46 where Nathaniel says, “‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” Nathaniel is soon converted as he realizes that, yes, something good has come out of the s***hole Nazareth – the Lord Jesus Christ.

God is still speaking. Are we still listening? Even more so, are we ready to actually heed his word and do what we are expected to do as Christians? Can we stop judging and hating people who look different than us and who are from different places? Can we stop condoning and even defending evil words and actions from our elected officials and our clergy? When will God’s people stand up and shout “no more!” and then actually rise up to do something about it?

All people are made in God’s image. All people are of sacred worth.

All means all.

Worship leader and songwriter Matthew West has a song called “Do Something.” The man in the story names several ills of the world and shouts to God, “Why don’t you do something?!” In the song, God responds: “I did, I created you!”

So, I say again: When will God’s people stand up and say “no more?” I don’t know about you but this one is choosing to respond.

No more!

Pension Reform At What Cost?

Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s governor, has been riling the dander of many people as of late with his proposed pension reform plan. Under the plan, public employees – including teachers, police offers, firefighters, road department employees, many EMS providers, and much more – would be moved from the current pension plan to a defined-contribution plan that would work like a 401(k) retirement plan. Governor Bevin and supporters say that this will end Kentucky’s considerable debt and underfunding that has occurred under the current pension plan. Opponents, of which I am one, argue that this bill breaks promises made to the Commonwealth’s public employees and will reduce retirement benefits. I will take it a step further.

Governor Bevin’s proposal is immoral.

Nevermind the fact that the proposal being passed around Frankfort includes language that ends the legal requirement of school districts to provide any paid sick days per year for our educators. Nevermind the fact that current language also takes away line of duty death benefits from a significant portion of Kentucky’s current law enforcement personnel and all new hires. Nevermind the fact that such defined contribution plans have limits on contributions and are tied to a volatile stock market. This plan is immoral because it breaks promises made to generations of employees who have filled our schools, government offices, ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, and road crews with the best and the brightest to serve the citizens of Kentucky. The message being conveyed is that the short-term and long-term well being of Kentucky’s public workers does not matter and that the governor seems them as expendable.

This is immoral.

And let’s not forget that Governor Bevin thinks that you and I, Joe Q. Public, are not smart enough to get how such things work and what needs to be done. Governor Bevin stated:

The people who do not have the sophistication to understand what’s at stake, but will bear the brunt of it, are the ones that are going to suffer if people like us who get it, who are willing to fight for it, don’t step up.

Governor Bevin would do well to know that we are smart enough to understand what’s going on. Here’s what else we are sophisticated enough to know: We understand that promises should be kept. We understand that the people who are the ones who will shape the future of this state, who provide for the safety of all of us, and who ensure that our infrastructure is maintained at the best possible levels matter and should be looked after. We are smart enough to know that something much be done in order to shore up the state’s retirement fund but we also are smart enough to know that gutting the pension plan and replacing it with something that simply is not in the best interest of the people is what should be done.

Perhaps Governor Bevin lacks the sophistication to understand that the people elected him and the people can also vote him out.

For my wife and I, this is personal. She is an educator who wants to have a secure future. I am a former paramedic who ministers to those who continue to work on the streets every day to ensure that the best out-of-hospital healthcare is provided to Powell County, Kentucky. We are also taxpayers who want our money to be used wisely and in ways that will benefit the employees that our taxes go to the pay the salaries and other benefits of.

But perhaps more importantly as Christians, we have a responsibility to see that people are cared for. Taking away their retirement and other vital benefits is not getting that job done. As a disciple and especially as a pastor I have a responsibility to name and fight that which is an injustice. If this does not fit the nature of an injustice that is repugnant to anyone’s morals, I don’t know what does.

One early sign we see of this being a bad idea is the sheer number of teachers, school administration, and other public employees who either have retired or will before the end of the year. We are about to see a crisis in our classrooms the likes of which no one has ever imagined. If you don’t believe me, ask any school employee. They will tell you of people within their districts who either have retired or will very soon. In other words, Kentucky’s teacher shortage is about to grow exponentially. And that’s just in our schools. This does not include the firefighters, police officers, and others who are taking the same action.

Kentucky is about to be in a real mess.

I call upon our representatives in Frankfort to work against this bill. I would also love for our clergy in Kentucky to fight against this injustice and to pray for its defeat. We must stand with our public employees, especially our teachers and public safety workers. This is simply not in the best interest of the Commonwealth.

It’s Time For Some Tough Love

widetableFriends, it’s time for a dose of reality and some tough love. First of all, I am sick and tired of all the bruhaha over NFL players kneeling, standing, not standing, staying in the tunnel, staying in the locker room, or whatever they choose to do. My social media feeds have been filled with nothing but reactions for and against the actions that NFL players, coaches, and owners took or did not take in response to President Trump’s remarks calling for the firing of NFL players who protest during the national anthem (the fact that he used language that I would rather he didnt is another story). There has been great passion displayed by people arguing on both sides of the issue, a passion that I admire and find very commendable.

I just wish we would show this much passion about things that actually matter.

One thing I have noticed during my existence in this world is that we tend to display lots of passion about sports, politics, and which celebrity is pregnant this week. However, that same passion is rarely placed where it is actually needed. Our priorities are all messed up. We care about things that have absolutely no bearing on the greater good of the world and care little to none about suffering, oppression, and the other things that we really should be so passionate about. While we (collectively) have been pouring our energy into what an athlete does or does not do during the national anthem, here’s what I did not hear much about.

  • The entire island of Puerto Rico – very much part of the United States as they are a territory – is without electricity or communication. Most of their houses have been severely damaged or destroyed. Their supply lines are all but completely shut off. They are in desperate need of aid and it may take years for the Puerto Ricans to recover. The damage has been described as “apocalyptic.” On top of all of that, a dam was heavily damaged and is likely to completely fail.
  • A mass shooting in Antioch, Tennessee at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ killed one and wounded six others, mostly older people who had gathered for worship. The local media reports say that if an usher had not intervened to fight the shooter, the situation could have been much worse. One of the wounded is their pastor, Rev. Joey Spann, and he remains in critical condition. It’s unknown what the motive of the shooting is.
  • People in Florida, Texas, and other places impacted by recent hurricanes are continuing to recover from the damage sustained during those storms. People are still living in shelters and many have no homes to go to.
  • Homelessness still exists, children are still going hungry, people are still addicted to drugs and alcohol, and families are still being torn apart due to these addictions and much more.

As long as these things are in existence, I simply don’t have time to worry about what someone does or does not do when the national anthem is played. And, frankly, if you’re a Christian… Neither do you.

The Old and New Testaments are rife with teachings about caring for the poor, seeking justice for the oppressed, loving our neighbors, and being kind but it seems like we ignore those things. We expend so much time and energy on petty political differences when we could be putting our energy into much more productive endeavors. If we used that energy toward ending hunger and homelessness, those issues would be gone tomorrow. If we used all that energy to working to end drug and alcohol addiction, the number of lives changed for the better would be astounding.

If you are a Christian and spend more time behind a keyboard or holding a smartphone using it to argue political ideology than you do working on things that break God’s heart, you’re not in line with the teachings of Jesus (I include myself in this rebuke). Does that sting? Good, it should.

We need to do better by using our passion and energy toward things that actually matter. In ten years, I can promise you that what an athlete or a team choose to do during the national anthem will not have one bit of bearing on anyone’s’ life. In ten years, we likely won’t even remember that this was a debate. But in ten years, someone could have a better life or even be alive in the first place because you put the phone down and invested in your energy into something – or someone – that actually matters.

And if you’re a Christian, that’s your duty as a disciple.

The Journey to Perfection

92aba00b06181159f052f909ec08e648-john-wesley-gospelI came to Mississippi to have my yearly meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) where my ordination candidacy resides. On my way down from Kentucky, my car started having some trouble and it’s currently undergoing automotive surgery, therefore I have been spending some extra time down south. As I obviously was not going to be preaching at Shiloh today, I decided to worship at First UMC in my hometown of Philadelphia, MS. Their associate pastor, Rev. Ryan McGough, preached on the account of Nicodemus’ journey of faith as described in John’s gospel. One of the points Rev. McGough made was that, like Nicodemus, our faith journey is much more than a moment in time, it’s a life-long process of being perfected in the image of Christ.

When I was in paramedic school I was in the midst of my field internship shifts. I was so ready to be finished and to finally be a medic. I was riding with a crew from a rural service one day and I expressed these sentiments to my preceptor. He said, “Paramedic school gets you ready to pass the written test and to pass the skills check off. Getting through paramedic doesn’t make you a paramedic. When you get your gold patch, you are then a paramedic. But that’s all you are. From there, the real education begins. You will have a choice to make: Do you want to be a paramedic or a good paramedic? One will get you a job but the other will make you a better provider every shift and you will advance. Maybe you will go on to be a critical care medic or maybe even an instructor. But know this: The journey to being a paramedic doesn’t take long. The journey to being a great paramedic is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve said such a few times myself and I will maintain this forever: The process of sanctification is a lifetime process, it does not occur overnight. Salvation is much more than a moment in time in front of an altar rail at a church or tent revival, it’s a journey with Jesus that we all take together as one body of Christ. Salvation is not as simple as punching our fire insurance card, it’s something we have to be invested in for the long haul. It takes faith in God to work in our lives, patience, and persistence.

Perfection in Christ has no express lane.

Persons who are being ordained as Deacons and Elders in the United Methodist Church are asked a series of traditional questions that John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and every bishop since have asked ordinands. One of them is this: “Are you going on to perfection?” Saying that one is “going on” to Christian perfection indicates that this is no one-time thing. This is a process. If you think that one sin too many is going to keep God from loving you, that’s just not true. As Rev. McGough said today, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Persist! Go on! You can do this through the strength of Christ!

Hugh Freeze and Christian Hero Worship

 

di3ucyvaw1ladvtwc7fs
Photo Credit: Deadspin

If you are in tune with the college football world and have been anywhere near a TV, computer, or smartphone then you already know what happened to Hugh Freeze. Coach Freeze is now the former head football coach at Ole Miss. So, there really is not any need to rehash the events because you probably already know all about it. Commenters from all corners were quick to pounce on Freeze. I do feel that we should remember that Coach Freeze is a broken human being just like any of the rest of us and he is as much in need of a savior as you and me. He is a child of God and we should absolutely be praying for him and his family right now. While I made my share my snarky comments (one of my weaknesses is getting too caught up in the Mississippi State – Ole Miss rivalry), I do feel that we should all remember that prayer is the most appropriate response from any of us right now.

I also feel that this points to a major weakness within the Christian church, especially in the more evangelical realm. We tend to celebrate Christians who are famous and we put them on a pedestal. More often than not, it’s the ones who are put on a pedestal who take a major fall. There are exceptions to this rule (at least as far as we can tell) but many who we tend to lift higher than others in the kingdom have been set up for a major moral failure or even worse. Unfortunately for Hugh Freeze, he is just the latest in a long line of famous Christians who have been celebrated and next thing we know we are left asking questions about their integrity and whether they were even faithful disciples in the first place.

Here’s what I know about people like Hugh Freeze, Tim Tebow, and other people who are famous and Christian: They are human, they are broken, they are in need of a savior. In other words, they are just like me and you. We run the risk of being profoundly disappointed when we hold human beings to such high standards that we tend to do in these situations and then a fall from grace occurs. The pressure of being held to such high standards alone can be enough to make someone vulnerable to temptation.

The fact that they are famous does not make them special in the eyes of God. They do not have special standing with the Father due to the fact that a lot of people know who they are. Yes, a famous person can be used of God to spread the good news of Jesus Christ but here’s the thing: So can any one of us. You and I have the same capability, in the ways that the Spirit has gifted us, to do some major work for Jesus Christ. Just imagine how much would be accomplished for the Kingdom if we stopped expecting others to do the work of God and instead allowed ourselves to be used.

We don’t have to be someone like Hugh Freeze or Tim Tebow to be effective for Christ.

We also face a profound danger when we lift famous Christians so high up: We run the risk of idolatry. Whether we are talking about a person or a cell phone, we can be so in awe that we can end up toeing the line between profound respect and worship of that person or thing. This is not something that we set out to do but this trap is an easy one to fall into. We must be careful when we hold people in such high esteem to not cross the line into idolatry.

I believe that God does smile when someone uses their platform to bring glory to His name. I believe that it’s right to be proud that a brother or sister who has a powerful voice willingly uses their position to tell people about Christ. But we must remember that all people have the unfortunate common trait of being imperfect and in need of Christ. We also should remember that while such people may be of God, they are not God. We must be careful to keep the Main Thing the main thing.

And when one of the famous among us in the church has a fall, let us be quick to offer the love of Christ rather than ridicule. I include myself on the receiving end of this advice.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 (NLT)

#CurrentUnitedMethodism Is Alive

currentunitedmethodism-300x200
Photo Credit: Joe Iovino

Another week, another UMC-related hashtag, but this is one that I can get behind with full force.

The rumors of the UMC’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Last summer when I went on my Wesleyan Pilgrimage with the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries, I met Joe Iovino. Joe is a web content manager with United Methodist Communications (UMCOM), which means he oversees and contributes a lot of the articles and other electronic publications of the UMC and UMCOM. Joe has felt a lot of the same frustration I have in the seeming obsession of so many of the church’s best and brightest in what a new Methodist movement may look like in the #NextMethodism discussion. Like me, Joe feels that the church needs to be about God’s business now instead of pining away for something new, and he feels that there is need to highlight the good things that UMs are doing right now. Also, like me, Joe disagrees with those who have seemed to give up on the church and are ready to throw it all away as dead and useless.

Joe has begun a conversation that I feel is an important one to have, much more important than giving in to the distractions that the enemy can use to derail the work that we should be doing now. I want to contribute to that conversation in hopes that several others will join in and that we will help the world and our well-meaning colleagues to see that there is work to be done now, there is much more to be done now, and that we are wasting our time and potentially giving in to a trap set by Satan to keep us from doing that work.

One of the tenants of any Wesleyan, but especially United Methodists, is putting our faith into action. I want to share stories from two churches: My own and one pastored by my friend and mentor Rev. Phil Bradley.

Shiloh United Methodist Church is the church that I am appointed to. Shiloh is located just outside of the city of Stanton in Powell County, Kentucky. Powell County has one of the highest rates of poverty and drug use in the Commonwealth and arguably in the nation. Powell County can be a tough place to do ministry but there is also so much greatness everywhere and, at the risk of being biased, among the people called United Methodist. Shiloh participates in the county’s ministerial association and we were the host church for this month’s Praise in the Park, an ecumenical community worship service held in a city park. 200ish people enjoyed some great food, heard some amazing music, and heard of how we are all united in the one gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Backpack Blessings backpack and school supply drive is underway which will culminate in the donated backpacks, donated supplies, and school items of Shiloh’s students and school staffers being prayed over at an upcoming worship service. The donated supplies will be taken to the schools throughout the county to be given to students in need. Additionally, we are in the midst of a heatwave and Shiloh is opening its fellowship hall as a cooling station and offering water, fellowship, and the love of Christ.

This is faith in action. This is #CurrentUnitedMethodism.

My friend and mentor, Phil Bradley, is wrapping up his first month as the new pastor of Bardstown (KY) United Methodist Church. Last weekend, a young man named Tariq Armour drowned in a tragic accident. Tariq was a beloved member of the community and the death was devastating to many, especially his friends at Bardstown High School. Bardstown UMC opened their doors to the student body and to the community for a grief counseling session facilitated by professional counselors, as well as teachers and administration from Bardstown High School. Bardstown UMC showed the community that they were loved and that they were grieving along with them. Most importantly, Bardstown UMC shined the light of Christ into the darkness of grief and showed one and all the love of Christ.

This is faith in action. This is #CurrentUnitedMethodism.

These are just two examples of how United Methodists are ministering and moving right now. There is much work to be done. I say again, the enemy can use our denominational struggles to distract us from the vital work that we have to do now. I simply will not allow myself to give in to that trap and to concentrate on a future that may or may not even materialize.

#CurrentUnitedMethodism is strong, alive, and being used of God for his work. Our church will be even stronger if we resist the temptation to throw it away and instead work as we have been commanded to do.

Are We Almost or Altogether Christian?

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” – Brennen Manning

For the last few weeks, we have been doing a sermon series called The Words of Wesley. I am preaching a few of John Wesley’s sermons but they are somewhat shortened and are in modern language as opposed to the “King James” English that Wesley used. Today’s sermon was “The Almost Christian” where Wesley discussed the attributes of one who is an “Almost Christian” and one who is an “Altogether Christian.” Wesley’s message can be boiled down to say that the Almost Christian seems to be doing everything that a Christian ought to do – going to worship, appearing to reject sin, even praying, etc. – but they lack a sincere faith. A sincere faith and desire to truly serve God are what separate the Almost Christian from the Altogether Christian. In other words, Almost Christian looks and even sounds Christian but they are merely going through the motions for nothing because they lack faith.

In preparing for this sermon, I began to think of cultural Christianity. I have written about this before and how I long for the day when cultural Christianity is dead. I still long for that day. It was not that long ago – and somewhat this is still the case – that churches were filled with people who were only there out of expectation or as a means of material or political gain. Using the name of God for personal gain is nothing new but, as I wrote in my previous article, there was a time when one could suffer in business and politics if they did not attend any church or even the right church. If we take a good, hard, and honest look at why so many people attended worship services in the so-called “good old days,” we find that personal gain was a major motivation.

‘Merica.

Wesley’s sermon makes one take a good, hard, and honest look at their spiritual life to decide if they are truly an Altogether Christian. Toward the end, Wesley asked the congregation gathered at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, England that day a series of questions. For me, this one is the one that really strikes to the heart of whether or not one is an Altogether Christian.

The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?

So much of what certain people who proclaim Christ engage in can be perceived that the answer to the question above is a resounding “no.” There are so many among us who are using the name of Christ as a means to gain political points. We have church choirs singing political propaganda songs under the guise of a worship anthem. We have an extreme end of a certain political party who insist that they are the only ones who are the true Christians in the political realm.

They may say this but the way they treat the poor and the marginalized say otherwise.

I don’t intend to go off on a political tangent but I do want us to think about whether we are truly part of the church and claim the name of Christ strictly as a means of personal or political gain. If we do the right things, say the right words, and have no motivation other than looking good than we are maybe an Almost Christian (if we are anywhere close to Christian at all). But if our motivation is nothing but the glory of God and we desire nothing but Christ, if we can truly ask ourselves the question above and shout a resounding “yes!” then we are an Altogether Christian.

So are you Almost a Christian or are you Altogether a Christian?

Lessons From The Hunger Games

panem
A map of Panem from the Hunger Games books, as seen at the Hunger Games Exhibition in Louisville, KY.

Jessica and I spent some time in Louisville, KY for a short get away. Wednesday before we came home, we went to see an exhibit of The Hunger Games movies at the Frazier History Museum. If you didn’t know, Jennifer Lawrence is from Louisville so it makes sense that this exhibition is right up the road from us. Some of the background information told of how the author, Suzanne Collins, came up with the idea for the books. It began when she was watching coverage of the Iraqi military action and she began to ponder how media coverage of violence desensitizes people to the true suffering involved in a war. For the storyline, she incorporated elements of Roman history, specifically the oligarchy and the violence of the battles to the death of the gladiators.

An argument could be made that this is also a reflection of modern society.

We simply can not deny that much of our current society reflects that of ancient Rome. Much of the political power is held by the wealthy, who are in the minority. We only care about our own comfort, our own well-being and as long as we are comfortable nothing else matters. We are oblivious to the suffering of those who are in poverty (and even having the audacity to say it’s entirely their fault), who are marginalized, and who are embattled in addiction. We have reality shows that keep us sedated, news coverage that exposes us to so much violence that we learn to tune it out, which crosses over into real life. We pout over our first world problems like not having the latest phone and forget that people in places like North Korea and Iraq are in fear of their lives on a constant basis. We indulge in excess of all sorts and waste enough food to feed many small countries while children all over the world hope for a bowl of rice. We also do all of this with a straight face while many of us claim to love Jesus and what he teaches, yet we would turn someone away from our churches because their sin is different than ours or because they are not dressed “appropriately.”

We are Panem.

In Revelation 3, we read the words of Jesus to the Church of Sardis:

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again.” Revelation 3:1-3a (NLT)

The American church claims that it is strong and, in many ways, this is correct. However, the American church is also very weak in its witness. We have equated our faith to God to the level of our patriotism. We have equated our relationship with God to how large our houses, bank accounts, and SUVs are. We have forgotten/ignored that Jesus was not a caucasian with perfectly maintained brown hair and blue eyes but rather was a Middle Eastern Jew who looks nothing like us. Many of us still look at Christianity as simply doing what is expected and going through the motions of being in a pew on Sunday morning rather than truly having a life of reconciliation and transformation. We treat our neighbors as sub-human while demanding respect for ourselves (and count any perceived disrespect as “persecution.” We also do not truly acknowledge the cruelty and brutality of his death and instead look at it as something “dignified” if we even truly believe it at all.

The question could be asked if it’s too late for the American church to make a turnaround. In small ways, it already is.  We do have devoted disciples who truly live out their faith and who do more than simply go through the motions. They believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaim it not just with their words but also their Christ-like love. Jesus provided such encouragement later in Revelation 3.

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” Revelation 3:4 (NLT)

I believe there is much good in the American church but we definitely need to do better. The worst thing one who claims to love Christ can do is to simply go through the motions. Let us not be so desensitized and self-absorbed that we are oblivious to the reality right outside our front doors and beyond the walls of our church buildings. Let us also not be arrogant enough to think that the level of our discipleship is tied to material wealth. Let us not call ourselves Christians unless we are actually prepared to live out our faith, instead of simply wanting our fire insurance.

The people of the Capitol in The Hunger Games were so sedated by excess that they had no idea of the suffering in the outlying districts. Hypothetically, if they were aware they likely did not care. The American church is, unfortunately, the same in some ways. A lot of churches do amazing things but there are others that are so wrapped up in “doing” church that they have no interest in being the church. Where does your congregation fall? What are you doing – what are we doing – to not only proclaim Jesus with words but also with our living?

Are we the church or are we just playing church?