Trayvon Martin

3 Blind Men, An Elephant and “Big Theology”

ElephantPerhaps one of the biggest reoccurring blind spots we Christians deal with is the certainty we have about the part of God that we do understand. We sometimes insist on forcing the Scriptures to fit the worldview given to us by our “first” teachers. We end up reading what we believe instead of believing what we read in the Bible.

In my book “Roadkill Seminary” I state that we ironically have to be delivered from our commitment to our brand of the Christian religion in order to more fully discover the person of Jesus Christ. This realization often only comes through prolonged and difficult trials of the soul.

In my book “Working Together For Jesus” I have a chapter called “Anointed Self-Deception” where I detail this blindness to see things as they really are. Several biblical characters were infected with this short-sightedness. They were so sure the part they had from God was “THE” part that they ended up in “anointed self-deception”. The obvious ones were Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18; Peter in Matthew 17:4; and John in the book of Revelation 19:10 and 22:9. These all made incorrect statements and assumptions in the midst of awesome anointed events as they were serving the Lord.

Let’s look at some of the common areas where we get hung up.

Eschatology – Preterists, Amillennialists, Futurists and Dispensationalists work very hard to fit their view of the End-times into a systematic grid, but fair-minded observers note they can’t fit everything they believe into an error free narrative. I’m sorry if I am popping your theological bubble here but each point of view has to fill in certain passages of scripture with speculation, conjecture and hypothesis. Of course they are fine with doing that but they often won’t allow the other guys the same latitude with their narrative. See “Who’s Right About The End Times”.

Freewill – Calvinism and Arminianism represent the age-old Church debate about whether man truly has freewill or does God’s providence override it. Both points of view can be found in Scripture so what is a person to do? Well some people choose a camp and will mercilessly squash anybody who tries to tell them differently. Frank Viola brings some clarity to the debate with his article “Why Calvinists Live Like Arminians & Arminians Pray Like Calvinists” http://frankviola.org/2012/05/24/calvinismarminianism/

Law and Grace – Perhaps nothing has Christians arguing more today than how we should decide the correct application of God’s Law -judgment and His Grace-mercy. In my book “The Inner Journey” I attempt to remind us all of the Biblical illustration the Lord gives us in His Tabernacle. His Law is written in stone so no theologian can erase His holy standard; yet He keeps the stone tablets in a box covered with His own blood so no theologian can suggest any of us are unredeemable. I still see both Law and Grace alive and active in our day. Its in these in-between places where God speaks with us about everything. Sadly the old adage; “the devil is in the details” may never be more true than here. My article “In the Year 2023” may help the discussion between those who emphasize Law and those who emphasize Grace.

Politics – Conservatives and Liberals approach to the Scriptures from the opposite emphasis of righteousness and justice, see Psalm 89:14. One focuses on our vertical relationship with God and His righteousness, the other focuses on our horizontal relationship within society and His justice. In my book “A Better Way To Govern” I discuss how seeing the bigger picture here gives us the grace to overcome the caustic rhetoric that eats away at the solutions we all so desperately need. This doesn’t help television or talk radio ratings but it will change our world for the better.

The News – The George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin story that we here in Sanford were so involved with presents another illustration. Some of my liberal friends post only the articles that make George Zimmerman look like an untrustworthy racist and some of my conservative friends will only post articles that make Trayvon Martin look like a no good thug. They each seem incapable or unwilling to acknowledge the other point of view. Are we capable of a better way? My article on “Choosing Between Jesus or Barabbas” helps us recognize what spirit we are operating in when trying to address entrenched problems in our communities.

I’m not faulting anybody with a belief system they support. They are doing the best they know how from their point of view. However we forget that a point of view is just that, a view from a point. I do think we need to aware that when we are hell-bent on making things fit our point of view we can contort the heart of the Scriptures to make them fit our presuppositions. Some of us do so much Scripture twisting we make an Olympic Gymnast look arthritic.

In the end I keep noticing that each point of view falls short if left in isolation to the others. I like Psalm 119:160 where it says; the sum or the entirety of Your Word is truth. It’s when all the pieces are considered together, do we begin to see the big picture more accurately. Its not your way or my way, its Yahweh Who needs to be our focus.

Three Blind Men and An Elephant

I think many of us have heard some version of the story of the blind men and the elephant. One was holding his tail and described it as a rope. The other held its trunk and described it as a tree. The other held its ear said it was like a leaf. They were all partly right but totally wrong. Sometimes we do the same describing God. Our initial observations are correct but our conclusions often misrepresent the bigness of God and His purposes.

When people ask me what theological camp I embrace, I tell them I embrace a belief system that I call “Big Theology”.

What is Big Theology?

Big GodB – God is Big – This should go without saying but as we try to define God or a particular aspect of God we may inadvertently make God small. In an effort to be exact, we can become myopic. We exchange the micro for the macro. We miss the forest because of the trees. We end up making God smaller and easier to handle for our convenience. We forget He exists and works from several extra-dimensions and to make Him fit into our worldview is like explaining the internet to the ants in your back yard. A little perspective here may be just the dose of humility we all need.

I – God is Inviting – The apparent Biblical contradictions (called the principle of antinomy) between doctrines and groups within the Body of Christ are put there by divine providence. Dr Stephen Crosby points out in “Authority, Accountability and the Apostolic Movement” that it is the very polar opposite positions we spoke of earlier that creates a magnetic field that draws objects into its space. They make us look into the mystery. Neither the Scriptural contradictions nor the skeptics should discourage us from pressing in. The dichotomies and contradictions in Scripture and in our society should draw us in to find where God is in the mix. There should be a magnetic attraction moving our hearts to look deeper into the mystery before us. Jesus didn’t speak parables and mysteries to keep truth “from” us but to keep truth “for” us. It is only those who have a royal seekers heart that are deemed worthy of receiving these precious kingdom truths in the first place.

G – God is Glorious – If we study the Scriptures with an open and humble heart the fruit will be wonderment and amazement. God is like the ocean; you can play in the water ankle-deep but if you are willing to relinquish control you can go deep! When we see Emmanuel in the manual we are swept away in awe and beauty. The glorious revelation of Him causes us to worship. That is why Jesus said we worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Theology is the child of worship. Revelation of Him should transform us into His image, not into the image of our particular denomination outlet or network. God is dynamic. He never changes but He is always moving. Beware of religious rigor mortis. That which is static is often dead. He is not the scaffolding used to build the building. He is more than our doctrines and opinions. He is not the wrapping paper or the box the gift comes in. He is so much more than that. He is “BIG”.

Jesus or Barabbas – Which “Son of the Father” Are We Following?

BarabbasThe cyclical nature of human events still amazes me. The more things change, the more they remain the same. About 2000 years ago the Roman government gave the religious leaders in Jerusalem a choice between two men; Jesus or Barabbas. The Romans gave the Jews this choice because of a custom of releasing a prisoner every year around Passover to appease the Jews in an effort to keep the peace.

The choice between these two men came about because Jesus’ ministry was upsetting the status quo in this Roman province of Palestine. He was changing people’s hearts and therefore was changing the accepted order of things. No imperialistic power allows this for long. The religious leaders were afraid this intenerate minister was going to shake things up so much that it would cause them to lose their place of social status. Pilate, the Roman governor, was giving the people of God a choice that would determine the philosophical direction they and their nation would go.

Here in Sanford Florida, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy I have challenged both white and black leaders with this very question. “Are we going to follow the way of Barabbas or Jesus?” Will we try to resolve the racial conflict in our city by the strength of our flesh or by the Spirit of God? One way prolongs the division the other resolves it.

Both Choices are Sons of the Father

Everyone knows Jesus is the son of the Father, but did you know that Barabbas’ name ironically also means “son of father” (bar=son and abbas=father)? Here we see again how multilayered and insightful the Bible is as it illustrates the two natures we humans must choose from today. The struggle of the ages ironically isn’t about what is happening outside of us but with what is happening inside of us.

Choices are a central theme in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures highlights several scenarios where we have an opportunity to choose between good and evil, right and wrong and Spirit and flesh. There are choices between the Two Trees in the Garden, Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, David and Saul. Each of these choices illustrate this inward struggle we all face. (For more insight on this see Where God Speaks About Everything).

Sympathy for Barabbas

Barabbas was already in the custody of the Roman authorities for murder and insurrection (Mark 15:6; Matthew 27:15; and John 18:39). It’s not difficult to understand why Barabbas was responding the way he was. From a little boy he probably saw members of his family and friends suffering under the forced labor and taxation of a foreign nation. How much pain and humiliation had he experienced from the hands of these invaders? How many friends did he see crucified? It seems he was unwilling to sit back and do nothing while another “lynching” took place. He was going to fight these oppressors. The anger and bitterness he felt was justified. In the end he ended up in jail awaiting crucifixion.

Today we might see Barabbas in a right wing militia or in a Black Panther group. Sometimes you can see Barabbas in the Civil Rights movement or on Talk Radio. The Cable News shows give air time to Barabbas as political operatives. I think we all would agree we see Barabbas in the Islamic terrorist.

When We Chose the Way of Barabbas

When we choose Barabbas we get a short term rush from a sense of accomplishment. Our prideful, flesh/nature craves this kind of instant gratification. It gives us a small sense of control in a world where we seem out of control. However a “Barabbas spirit” results in us planting seeds that continue the war perpetually. It’s not that there isn’t a time to fight a just cause; it’s just very important we monitor what’s going on in our hearts while we do it. Jesus taught us to beware of a root of bitterness because it defiles many.

Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Hebrews 12:15 NKJV

When we harbor bitterness, unforgiveness and revenge in our hearts it’s like drinking poison but expecting the other guy to die. It affects every relationship we have. Jesus told two of His disciples who wanted to take action like Barabbas in Luke 9:55, 56; that they didn’t know what “spirit” they are of. The Lord doesn’t want us becoming the enemy while fighting the enemy.

I like what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during his “I have a dream speech” 50 years ago this month. “But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred”.

Many of Us Still Chose Barabbas Today

Our Religious Leaders – Some of our religious leaders still chose “Barabbas” today. They may have “reverend” in front of their name but they are not operating in the spirit of a peacemaker involved in the ministry of reconciliation. In fact they seem to relish the thought of stirring things up and instead of calming the situation down. It is a shame, but it is evident that these “spiritual leaders” haven’t experienced a genuine personal transformation that comes from an intimate encounter with Jesus Christ. Their serial combativeness and self-interests betrays their true condition and their real agenda as they agitate the very disputes they claim to want to solve.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.
Proverbs 15:18 NAS

This is when snake catchers sadly turn into snake breeders (For more information see our article “Keeping The Snakes Alive” ).

Our Corporations – The executives and producers of our television news networks and talk shows choose “Barabbas” by inviting him on their programs. The fireworks and heated rhetoric he uses raises their ratings and their revenues. These business leaders seem more focused on their company’s stock prices than meaningful solutions.

Our Politicians – Some of our political professionals never waste a political or a racial crisis as an opportunity to seek out a camera; not to foster dialogue in order to find solutions, but to advance their self interests. Since their power comes from the consent of a particular constituency they often don’t seek heaven’s point of view.

We The People – Let’s be honest. None of this happens in a vacuum. We as a nation often chose “Barabbas” each time we participate in the argumentative mudslinging as we watch television, as we talk to those at the water cooler at work, or with our family around the dinner table. We love the propaganda each sides spews forth and the drama it produces. We are like the people who go to hockey games for the fights. We are not unlike the crowds in Jesus’s day voting for the guy who looks more capable of busting some Roman heads. How many of us are working to advance the conversation towards heavenly solutions by doing things Jesus’ way?

When We Chose the Way of Jesus

When we chose to die to the “Barabbas way” of doing things and yield to the life of Jesus Christ, new life and new solutions emerge from another realm. What seemed like an impossible situation or conflict becomes an opportunity for the “Way-maker” to make a way through us. New relationships and perspectives develop between different groups of people as we submit to Him, not our entrenched ideological camps.

Choosing Jesus is not easy to do, especially if you live in a world like Barabbas did; where a dominate culture oppresses and withholds justice. There is a price to letting the Spirit of Christ rule the day in our lives. Just seeing Jesus suspended between heaven and earth testifies to the price of being part of the solution. The feeling of being alone in this process is often unavoidable. If you feel alone you may also be experiencing “The 3 Difficulties of Being From the Future”. You may get shot at by both sides of an issue; Jesus did. Ironically a godless empire conspired with right-wing fundamentalists to get rid of the greatest human who ever lived.

Yet Jesus overthrew the empires of Rome and Religion; better yet He also overthrew the satanic strongholds in the human heart that causes these oppressive institutions in the first place. Even Gandhi following the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount overthrew the greatest empire of his day.

It may not seem like you are accomplishing much when you choose the way of Jesus. It may seem like things are moving like a herd of turtles. However every time we choose Jesus we win. Victory is guaranteed. Regardless how it feels, the way of Jesus is actually the short-cut to fixing everything that needs fixing. I choose Jesus. I hope you will too.