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My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.
Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?
Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.
Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.
Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).
Gotta love the Church /S.
Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.
Good theology is essential when bad things go down. So, to start with some theological preciseness, the question in the title would be better phrased: Is Scott Westerhuis hell-bound? The reason for that clarification is because it isn’t until after the Great White Throne Judgment that the books are opened and each one judged. It is then both Death and Hades are gathered up and together thrown into the Eternal Lake of Fire (aka Hell). The temporary abode for the unredeemed dead is Hades, not Hell. So no, no one is presently burning in hell.
The question was posed yesterday on Facebook by a seasoned journalist friend in South Dakota who, since last September, has been covering the horrible unfoldings in Platte, South Dakota. He took some criticism for even posting the question. Understandably this is still a very tender topic in our small home state.
Scott Westerhuis was husband and father of four, an active member of First Reformed Church and an involved member of a close knit small town community. Made aware he was soon to be in serious trouble for plundering a million dollars from a fund set up to help young Native Americans, late that night he took his shotgun and killed his wife and their four children all in their beds, and then set fire to their house and taking his own life.
For the benefit of others in our state, here were my contributions in the midst of a most interesting string of comments to the question.
Me: One doesn’t spend eternity separated from God for anything they did or didn’t do. The way you end up there is rejecting what Jesus did to make possible eternity with God.
A reply to me: Can someone profess Jesus is their Lord and Savior and then commit multiple murders? Were they lying when they made the profession or did they change their mind? Or did they not even think about it? (a subconscious decision)
Me: People profess Jesus as Lord and then commit adultery or break any of the other Ten Commandments. Our various traditions differ a bit on whether some sin is worse than other sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said if we are angry it’s the same as murder. A lawyer friend in Sioux Falls who has/is defended some of those facing the death penalty in South Dakota told me once that every murderer he’s ever met felt justified from their vantage point at that time to do what they did, and he and I agree that includes the State when we kill killers. We do what they do and then have our rationalisations for it. Psychologically suicide and killing occur in when we aren’t thinking clearly and rationally. Killing is irrational. Unless a person decidedly rejects Christ and then kills, I’m not sure we can say they go to hell– at least not for killing. I’m grateful I’m not judged according to the worse thing I’ve done. The Gospel is about what Jesus did, not about what we’ve done. Did he do enough on the Cross to pay the price for all our sin or do we need to add to his finished work by doing more right and less wrong? Reject him and we are on our own to stand before God on our own good merit.
This is pure speculation: perhaps this guy dearly loved his family and couldn’t imagine life without them or imagine ruining their lives and shaming them all so horribly with his crimes and to spare them that greater pain, in a colossal act of misguided mercy, and moment of irrational panic- hardly thinking clearly about anything – believing in Christ and heaven- reasoned to himself that they could all go together and be together and that God would understand.
Good people in society concoct all sorts of justifications for killing to save themselves and others.
I’ll wrap up here with some Gospel basics: Salvation is not genetic or hereditary any more than marriage is– your grandparents being married doesn’t mean you are– your parents being Christians doesn’t automatically make you one– a individual choice to receive what Jesus did for you appropriates salvation to an individual. Salvation is not by ritual or ceremony. Salvation is not by addition– doing more right. It is not by subtraction– doing less wrong. It is not second hand– not mediated by anyone other than Jesus. Salvation is not by comparison– we are less bad than those people down the street – those gays or Muslims or compared to that guy on death-row. It is not universal– you can decidedly reject what Jesus did for you and many do. He doesn’t force people to spend eternity with him when they make it clear they don’t want him part of their lives here. Salvation is not by showing up to church. It can’t be bought or sold. Salvation is not by sincerity. The 9/11 hi-jackers were sincere, sincerely wrong. You get the idea. And, by the way, our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Hell-bound people chose that course themselves by rejecting the only way God set forth for salvation. If all religious paths were viable options, he wouldn’t have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to atone for our sin. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
As hard as it is to accept, I’m doubtful Westerhuis is hell-bound. The reason is because salvation isn’t based on what he did. It is based on what Jesus did. From what I can tell, he was a believing Christian. And yes we aren’t to judge or try to read hearts, but people in my line of work get asked these hard questions– and usually people like me have 2-3 days max to think of something to say at a funeral. It’s not a time to give false assurances. It’s a time to be clear about how it is that Jesus defeats death for us all. God has an amazing way to bring life from death and draw out good from bad. The possibility of salvation for Scott Westerhuis will hopefully result in the assurance of salvation of many others.
Retraction and Correction – Page 228
Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.
Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.
Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount; “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.
There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]
On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________
Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?
Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.
In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.
And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?
And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.
As I write this I’m getting angry notes from friends for my op-ed in today’s Argus Leader which was a call for empathy and accommodation for transgenders and for us as state leaders to not be selective and misdirected in our morale outrage. You can read that here. Please do as it will help you make sense of what follows here.
I’ll use this space here to drop some of my follow-up comments which give additional insight into my thought process on the matter…
HICKEY: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence (40% transgender suicide rate), are we complicit and does Jesus say to us “Well done”? I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
HICKEY: I have zero energy or interest to get all flustered about this bathroom issue. Obviously. This is a hurting population and I’m tired of Christians being so loveless and this is a bizzaro fixation for our legislature going on now for two years.
HICKEY: Do we really need bathroom laws too? This notion of limited government is so selective for many Republicans. Our idolatry/fixation on sports in high school is more unhealthy than a transgender kid in the wrong bathroom. It’s just sports. Why are they part of education anyway? My view is there is no problem with this in SD and it’s sucking up all the moral outrage from Republican Christians who have not a drip of moral outrage for the real immoralities in our state – a key point in my article . Instead we conjure up exaggerated hypothetical scenarios and produce multiple bills and effectually kill any opportunity for real Christian witness and compassion. All for what? For a problem we haven’t had yet in our state?
HICKEY: Why is our moral outrage so limited? I never hear our likes get riled about racial injustice in SD or economic injustice – the two issues I mentioned in the article. It’s not you (name). It’s Republican Christians in general.
HICKEY: Transgender people have been using the bathroom of choice for how long? Why is this such a stinking big deal in the SD legislature? Leave the laws alone. I’m not advocating indecency . Focus on real problems. Figure out how to have the broken people of the world come to us like they came to Jesus. As is, they hate us and ours sons and daughters are suicidal, including some here who will read this on my Facebook page.
HICKEY: I’m trying to make a point with our sport-centric culture and I’m not advocating for it to be out of schools. I know it teaches much to young people. But we take it too seriously. We already have girls playing football and wrestling. When your dad and I were bantering around this issue, and he – my very close friend- doesn’t agree with me either, we were talking about wrestling and a guy doing some manuver where he grabs the crotch of the other. I joked I think its wrong for guys to be grabbing crotches of anyone in high school and college.
HICKEY: Is there any example in America of a boy showering with a girl at school or are these just exaggerated hypotheticals?
HICKEY: If we are going to make laws, let’s bring back some modesty legislation where it’s illegal to show off too much regardless of who you are – pants below the crack, skirts up to the top of the bottom, skin-tight anything – and make the law apply everywhere public, including restrooms… illegal to be undressed in front of others. Period. And maybe we need to rethink locker rooms and group showers. I don’t want my kid naked in front of anyone at school. Maybe it should be illegal for the department stores to push soft core porn and the exploitation of women in glossy advertisements that I used to have to remove before my kid saw the newspaper. Modest is hottest no matter what gender flavour you are today. The rest of us don’t want to see it whatever it is you have.
The West doesn’t want to admit it but we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal holy war. As the sun comes up in Paris this morning the world is reeling from last night’s attack on Paris by the Islamic State. Media outlets are still unsure the exact body count. Muslim radicals are engaged in a full-on holy war against the West. The leaders of this holy war aren’t military generals, they are imams. What if the religious leaders of the West took the lead in responding?
The President of France immediately announced France will respond mercilessly. Haven’t we learned since 9/11 this (a merciless response) isn’t working? We’ve mortgaged our future spending trillions on the sword. Selectively fiscal conservatives still think additional trillions in defence spending and ongoing war will make us safer and depopulate the world of bad guys. It has done the opposite. Maybe it’s time we push the leaders espousing those failed solutions aside. Where is the radical leadership of those who hold to the values of Jesus? Is it really nutso to say if they bomb our children we will only work harder to feed their refugees until they can be screened and relocated? There is a demonic spirit in radical Islam. You don’t disarm a demonic spirit with more bloodshed. That feeds it. You dislodge a demonic spirit by moving in the opposite spirit. My pushback here is fuelled by my concern that in Christian circles in America the same spirit of violence in radical Islam is also operating increasingly in us.
My weariness is in all the creative rationales Christians concoct to avoid the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, turn the other cheek only applies here or there but not every where?!? What is left is that we live none of it because we’ve wiggled out from under all of it. These are questions I raise in my Sermon on the Mount book: What does turn the other cheek mean to a Christian leader the morning after a 9/11? I’m not suggestion police officers or soldiers turn the other cheek. I’m saying what if our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals effectually and strategically did? If something is God’s strategy on a small scale, why will it not work on a larger scale? Where has it be tried? Is a bomb really the only thing in our arsenal? The more we kill them, the more they kill us. And who wins? They kill our children and we kill theirs. And Christian leaders essentially baptise all this with their silence and lack of leadership. Baloney that our role is to only comfort the grieving and pray blessing on our soldiers.
Time for some radical alternatives. We need some holy leaders for this holy war. Wouldn’t it be something if 100 Paris imams held a press conference with 100 Paris rabbis and Christian ministers and said – Stop, both sides, this isn’t the way forward and call for a total renouncement of violence from all sides? I’d like to see religious leaders take the helm from the national leaders and navigate our way out of these times. The time for peacemakers is now. A peacemaker is one who stands in the middle of conflict and sets both sides back. National leaders don’t have the tools or the anointing for peacemaking. That’s our job.
Every bomb we drop has proven to be a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. Closing borders is step one. Slowing down the welcome of refugees is step two to vet them properly so radicals aren’t waltzing right in among them. A military response here is more of the same and produces more of the same. We need to use our values not our bombs. Certainly there is a Sermon on the Mount response that will effectually heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies
If you’ve never read Mark Twain’s short War Prayer I commend it to you today. If you think these ideas are worth considering, please forward the link to this post on to others. Maybe it’ll resonate and gain some traction.
There is black smoke coming out the chimney of Pastor John MacArthur’s church again. It’s not the pure white plume that tells us they’ve heard the heart of God on a matter. The black smoke is rising from the believers MacArthur continues to burn at the stake because they don’t fit his version of doctrinal correctness. MacArthur’s Bible does not contain Romans 14:1 which we all can easily find in our Bibles. This missing verse in his Bible says don’t pass judgment on disputable matters.
Rather than reach the lost world with the Good News, he’s spending the widow’s mite on a Strange Fire Conference to call out those in the charismatic movement who are having experiences with the Holy Spirit that are different from his own. As the self-appointed arbiter of all that is true, MacArthur continues to base his theology on his experience or the lack there of.
MacArthur says he’ll call out distorted worship and false worship in the charismatic movement. I’m not God, but if I was I’d be more inclined to accept the worship of people who break a sweat and cry out in desperation more than I would the icy cold intellectual stoicism MacArthur thinks God wants. But who am I to judge?
MacArthur should dub his conference “Friendly Fire” instead of “Strange Fire” because that name is more fitting. On the list of things Christians should be doing today, near the very murky bottom is this: beating up the Bride of Christ and exposing her inadequacies and blemishes. Here’s what I know about grooms and brides: if you want to release the wrath of the groom, take after his Bride, rip off her garments and expose her inadequacies to the world. If you want to release the favor of the Groom, I’d suggest to you bless his Bride and serve her and keep no record of wrongs.
A few years ago the church of a pastor friend of mine was picketed on Easter Sunday morning by another pastor in town who dubbed my friend a heretic. We talked about it and my friends comment was: Easter is such a huge opportunity for the Kingdom of God, I can’t imagine punting my Easter service to point fingers at anyone but Jesus.
My sentiments exactly. That MacArthur’s church is called Grace Community Church is humorous to me – – he has zero grace for others in the Christian community. God bless him.
One hundred and twenty men at Church at the Gate have committed to a year long process we are calling Tailgate Jesus!! More on all that here, and here. You can follow it here on Facebook, and Twitter.
The basic idea is that we are called to follow him and many guys today are having trouble following him closely – we let many things get between us. It’s not too late to jump on board, we start book one now. The next segment starts mid-July and that is another on-ramp for men wanting to join in. Every 5-6 weeks we will open the door to additional guys.
I’ve been in Greece these last three weeks and was bummed to have missed the Tailgate Jesus kickoff last Saturday. However, I did a little eleven minute video message for the guys back home. Here it is:
One hundred men, nine books, three track options, one year, no excuses.
Jesus picked some men and said “Follow me.” This is exactly what we intend to do as men this next year at Church at the Gate and that is what TAILGATE JESUS is all about… following him more closely. Manhood and Christlikeness are synonymous. Too many men today are not following Christ very closely. They are letting many things cut in and get between them and the Lord.
Men, we know you’re busy. We also know you’re up for a challenge. We know we need to be Godly men who are mature in the Lord.
Three Track Options to Fit Your Schedule:
☐ WEEKLY huddles: Thursdays from 7-8:30 PM starting June 6
☐ Bi-Weekly huddles: Every other Saturday from 8-9:30 AM starting June 8
☐ Monthly Rally: Actually every 5-6 weeks on a Sunday night 5-6:30 PM
The monthly rally track is a self-study track and you’ll miss out on a key aspect of the process, connecting with other men and being accountable. However, we know schedules will only permit some guys to meet up once during each book study.
The guys in the weekly and bi-weekly huddle tracks will also participate in the monthly rallies.
There are nine books and nine corresponding workbooks by Ed Cole. The cost is $155 and that is 30% off available only if you buy all nine and sign up now. Do not let money be a reason you don’t participate as we have options for those who need time and help to pay for it. It will be the best investment you ever make. And your commitment to nine books and one year is critical and that is why we are not giving the option to just buy one book at a time. We don’t want to be men who don’t follow through to the finish line. Though all books are paid for up front, we will only give out one book at a time. Fill-in-the-blank completion of the workbook is required to move into the next book. The stack of nine books and workbooks is daunting but one at a time is easier lifting.
We will complete a book and corresponding workbook every five or six weeks and celebrate that at the monthly rally. Rallies will include guest speakers and food to follow.
The course concludes May 2014 with an anointing and commissioning ceremony where each man is presented an engraved sword.
Every six weeks with each new book, new men visiting our church can join the program as we expect it to be ongoing.
We have secured tailgatejesus.com and @tailgateJC on both twitter and facebook and we will launch a blog later this month. Also later this month we will put out order forms for some shirt options.
LEAD TEAM: Our point man is Bill Boyd (cell 496-3978). Our lead team will certainly expand but presently Brad Bomhoff, Spence Kittelson and Pastors Dennis and Steve are hands-on involved in TAILGATE JESUS.
We need you to sign up immediately so materials can be ordered.
You can sign up at the Information Center or by calling the church office or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Checks for $155 payable to CATG: Tailgate Jesus. Please indicate which track you will commit to attend.
Here is another chart from me relating to the theme of persecution and martyrdom. These realities have been my focus this season of Lent in my Martyrs Guide to Life message series. Earlier charts included The Skyrocketing Cost of Discipleship and the Degrees of Persecution.
To be in the clutches of something is to be in the grip or hold of something; a strong clasp, tight and sudden. This word describes the last week in the earthly life of Jesus… “the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Matthew 17:22).
Reading the last week of the earthly life of Jesus, an analogy occurred to me to help illustrate Jesus in the clutches of persecution. For three years he had slipped through various clutches but the last week he succumbed to them. Think of the chuck of a typical household power drill. The chuck is basically a clutching mechanism comprised of three hardened steel jaws held by a tightening sleeve or collar. When you turn and tighten the collar/sleeve, teeth turn a spiral scrolling gear which self center each jaw together equally and mercilessly around a drill bit.
The three jaws which gripped Jesus were; 1) the whims of people, 2) the religists or religious rulers of the day, and 3) the secular authorities. Knowing that ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood, the surrounding sleeve or tightening collar relates to evil principalities in heavenly places which were orchestrating all these hostilities toward Jesus.
Here’s a key point: as intense as the clutches of persecution are, notice the entire tool is in the hands of the Lord and he is using it for his purposes. He is building something even when it seems the adversary is tearing it all down.
When I read the last week of the life of Jesus I don’t read any panic at what the devil is doing. I get a strong sense of resolve in what God is doing. The persecuted derive stamina from the perspective of sovereignty. It may feel like and appear that we have been snatched into the merciless hands of others. However, even in persecution, God does not let hold of us.
Amidst the flurry of hysterics coming my way after my recent comments on cage fighting I received some forthright letters from Christians involved in the sport. One in particular is from Seth Falvo, a young fighter and writer for the website CagePotato. Apparently he wrote this lovely piece on me – MMA Is The ‘Child Porn of Sports’, According to South Dakota Porn Expert/State Rep. Steve Hickey [HATE]. Seth wrote me a stinging note and in particular called me out on my insensitivity to the death of a MMA fighter. Here is part of his letter:
I’m here to tell you that as a Christian, I have never been more disgusted to read THIS coming from a pastor’s own blog:”I have to bite my tongue because instead of the passages that comfort the grieving I feel like quoting the great philosopher Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.”
I was hoping this was just a sick, sick parody account, but upon confirming that this is, in fact, your own blog, I’m at a loss for words. Where do I even begin here? Do I quote the Bible and write “Judge not lest you be judged, For in the way you judge, you will be judged?” Do I quote “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” Or do I simply point out that you are a self-proclaimed pastor – a man of God – who essentially writes that a fictional character from a Hollywood movie knows more about how one should live than Jesus Christ, the Man whose message he is supposed to be teaching others. I’ll go with the latter. Wow. A self-proclaimed Man of God decides that God isn’t as smart as a dim-witted Hollywood character, and that he, oh wise and powerful pastor, is perfectly right in judging how law-abiding, church going people spend their spare time. If you’ve ever wondered why people my age have quit going to church, well, do I really need to explain why?
Here’s my reply and I’ll post it here as an open letter to all Christian MMA fans and fighters:
Thanks for your honest note. For starters I’ll say I have a whole lot more experience with death than you do. I’ve been a police chaplain and pastor for years. There have been times when my pager goes off three times a week and I get to go tell people their loved one has died or been killed. I never quote Forrest Gump in those moments. What you read on my blog was the inner life of a pastor who has to sit with grieving people who are sometimes furious at their lost loved ones for doing stupid, reckless things that result in the wasting of their lives and causing such pain to their families and friends. Both my parents are dead and my father died a very violent death at the negligence of another… meaning it was entirely preventable if only one person had not been so reckless. If you don’t like my Forrest Gump thought I can quote you many passages on foolishness resulting in death and destruction. It is foolish for someone to get into an unsanctioned cage and fight in our state. That was my point.
And not for a moment do I receive your judgmental comment that I’m the type of person who is keeping a generation from Christ/Church. I have started and am leading large church with a ministry school and a substantial ministry to young adults. Also I’ve been planting churches around the world and we lead people to Christ all the time. I’m friends with significant church leaders in your state and we may even have mutual friends. The stream I minister within is aggressively evangelistic and fruitful.
I regret my MMA/child porn comment because it was too shocking and people have entirely lost the point I was making. Forgive me for that but I was simply trying to shine a light on something those in the sport don’t want us to see.
It was interesting to me you jumped right to the “judge not” passage in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve been a student of that passage of Scripture for twenty five years and have written a 400 page book on the topic. Do you know the Sermon on the Mount also trumpets the non-violence, non-retaliation, turn the other cheek message? Why do you pick and choose verses in that sermon and ignore it’s main point? Do you not agree that we have a problem with violence in society? Do you honestly, before God, think your sport isn’t feeding a blood lust in our culture?
As a Christian let me ask you, if the next guy you kick in the head or choke with some guillotine maneuver passes out and doesn’t wake up— who killed him? Let me ask you Seth, who would Jesus elbow in the face? I won’t judge you or the other athletes here and make some blanket statement that you are full of bloodlust but I WILL say that about your fans and the crowds that flock to your sport. The Bible speaks about bloodlust. Greed and bloodlust make the MMA today a multi-billion dollar violent entertainment industry.
I’ll be happy to send you a free copy of my Sermon on the Mount book if you want to study that text fully. There is more than “Judge Not” in that sermon. And, by the way, judge not does not mean we turn off all discernment and stop calling good, good and bad, bad. My calling is certainly not to just smile and say nothing. My calling as a minister of the Gospel is to tell the truth even when it’s unpopular. I was elected in my state to push red and green YES or NO buttons and make decisions everyday about things our state should say YES to and things our state should say NO to. Sometimes I fail in that I don’t do all that in love but I figured your crowd was a tough crowd and strong words would be fine. I was wrong, you all are hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned and full of self-justification for what the average person can see with a naked eye is extreme violence. All these claims that I’m ignorant of the sport are simply smokescreens to mask what is obvious.
I’ll paste below some additional comments that I made in the committee and want to point out to you that my comment on a “seared conscience” is a term from the Bible.
All the best to you.
Rev/Rep Steve Hickey
Here are those additional comments:
They say I’m ignorant of this sport and they make a case that it only looks dangerous. I even had a cage fighter/PhD write me and tell me “elbows are used primarily to cause superficial damage and an elbow doesn’t produce a concussive blow.” That’s ridiculous. My response it that it is what it is – too violent and that is evident to the naked eye and the casual observer. I’ll quickly concede I am no expert on MMA. But as I told one of the fighters this weekend… “just maybe a guy like me can see what you don’t see.” Violence is addictive and people in addiction (including codependents) don’t see or acknowledge any problem until there is a tragedy, or an intervention. I’m intervening here and asking you to join me.
I’ll speak briefly from an area that I do have professional expertise: there is such a thing as a seared conscience which refers to a person who has lost a capacity of innocence whereby they no longer wince. We don’t want to become a society that can’t wince. Ben Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” I submit to you that society is reaching that point and more masters means more laws like this amendment.
I don’t deny the good that is going on in MMA – giving young people confidence and discipline. But MMA is not the only vehicle to accomplish those ends. It doesn’t take that level of violence to develop character, fortitude, confidence, strength and discipline. Any of the other sports overseen by this commission can do all those good things. MMA feeds something in society that we don’t want to feed.
Society was just fine before they figured out to do this and it will be just fine without it again. We aren’t losing ground with my amendment. Actually, we might even be gaining ground that we’ve lost.