Author's details

Name: Mitchell
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Mitchell Lewis: That We May Live Quiet Lives — September 23, 2013
  2. Mitchell Lewis: To Give You the Kingdom — August 11, 2013
  3. Mitchell Lewis: The Centrality of “The Land” in the Old Testament — July 26, 2013
  4. Mitchell Lewis: Beyond Self-Aware Faith — July 17, 2013
  5. Mitchell Lewis: Firstborn of Creation, Firstborn of the Dead — July 17, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Mitchell Lewis: Western Jurisdiction: Operate Outside the Discipline — 2 comments
  2. Mitchell Lewis: Chaplain Emil Kapaun, Medal of Honor — 1 comment
  3. Mitchell Lewis: Some Thoughts for Free Citizens — 1 comment
  4. Mitchell Lewis: United Methodism and Apostolic Succession — 1 comment
  5. Mitchell Lewis: Scott Jones on United Methodist Doctrine — 1 comment

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Sep 23 2013

Mitchell Lewis: That We May Live Quiet Lives

Original post at

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1-6a

Last month, I read two stories in quick succession.

First, I read about Kansas pastor Sandra Moore who took a group of United Methodists to visit the Islamic Center of Topeka in order to learn more about the Muslim faith. Imam Omar Hazim invited the group to visit the mosque and have lunch with Muslim congregation. The visit allowed the Christians in the group to better understand Islam, and the Muslims to better understand the Christian faith. It was a nice, neighborly thing to do, and it reminded me of my visits to Buddhist temples during my assignments in Korea.

Then I read about Asia Bibi, a poor Pakistani woman who is in prison and facing death because of her Christian faith. While harvesting fruit with a group of women in 2009, she committed the sin of daring to drink water from same well as her coworkers, and then offering the cup to a thirsty Muslim woman. “Don’t drink that, it’s haram,” another woman screamed. “This Christian has dirtied the water in the well. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!” Why is sharing a drinking fountain such a cause of concern for people dividers in this world? You see it in so many cultures – even our own 50 years ago.  Perhaps thinking of John 4 and the woman at the well in Samaria, Asia replied, “I think Jesus would see if differently from Mohammed.”

Asia’s adversary replied that Jesus was a “bastard” and that she should convert from her “filthy religion.” “I’m not going to convert,” Asia replied. “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?” The crowd erupted with anger, and Asia ran home. Within days, an even larger, angrier crowd appeared. They accused her of blasphemy and insulting the prophet. A religious leader told her, “If you don’t want to die you must convert to Islam. Are you willing to redeem yourself by becoming a good Muslim?” When she refused, the crowd beat her badly and screamed for her death. Before the beating was over, she was bloody and losing consciousness. Eventually, the police arrived and took her to jail. She now sits in jail under a sentence of death, awaiting her fate.

As Paul Harvey used to say, it’s not one world.

The apostle Paul’s world was much closer to that of Asia Bibi than to Sandra Moore. He faced angry mobs and violence wherever he turned. He had Jewish opponents, pagan Gentile opponents and even Christian opponents.  As you follow Paul’s journey through the book of Acts, each city presents a new threat: Damascus. Antioch. Iconium. Lystra. Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Corinth. Ephesus. Jerusalem. Rome. Paul’s life was in danger at every turn. It is said that “May you live in interesting times” is an ancient Chinese curse. Paul certainly did live in interesting times.

Pray for the Shalom of All

For all of that, Paul still wanted Christians to get along with their neighbors – to live a quiet and peaceful life with godliness and dignity. In Romans 12:18, he wrote, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Now I can’t imagine Paul leading a tour of the temples to Jupiter, but he did ask that the church offer prayers, petitions, intercessions, thanksgivings – every kind of prayer you can think of – for everyone, presumably, even for those who wanted him dead.

Paul asked the church to pray “for” all people, not just “about” them. That is, Paul asked the church to intercede on their behalf and seek God’s blessings for them. It’s one thing to pray, “Lord, let me tell you about my nasty neighbor. What are you going to do about him?” It’s quite another to pray, “Lord, I really do want you to bless my neighbors and to give us a community where we can all live in peace together.”

And did Paul really say “thanksgivings?” Really? Even for those who cause the church so much trouble and pain? I probably should remember that Jesus himself told us to pray for our enemies and to bless those who persecute us.

Paul even asked the church to pray for kings and all in authority. Sometimes Roman power threatened Paul, but at other times it rescued and protected him. Paul’s relationship with Roman power was rather complicated. Overall, Rome was more of a threat than a friend to Christians. Paul spent a good bit of time in Roman custody, and it just so happens that the king on the throne when Paul wrote this letter was the emperor Nero. When the city of Rome burned, Nero blamed the Christians and had them burned at the stake. Peter, it is said, was crucified by Nero, and Paul was beheaded.

When we pray for kings and those in high places, certainly we pray for good judgment and a good heart, but I think we pray for their overall well being as well. In A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit offers a toast wishing his stingy boss Scrooge a long and happy life. Similarly, Scrooge’s scorned nephew Fred drinks to the miser’s health. These two characters understand Paul’s intent. To pray “for” someone is ultimately to seek their good. Even evil leaders are among the “all people” that God wants to be saved and know the truth. Even with Nero sitting on the throne, Paul could wrote, “I implore (the word is quite forceful) … I implore you to pray for kings and all in high places so that we can lead a quiet and peaceful life.” How Paul himself must have longed for this peace and quiet.  It is just amazing to me that Paul could have such amicable aspirations for those who so often tormented God’s people.

One God, One Mediator

Paul is willing to pray for the kings and rulers of this age, but it is not peace at any price he seeks.

Let me put Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in a different context. Rome expected its subjects to offer sacrifices to the emperor as a god. Technically, Romans offered sacrifices to the genius of the emperor, but that sort of technicality tended to get lost in the eastern parts of the empire. To the Romans, the genius was a kind of a divine spirit. For the Jews, then there was no difference between offering a sacrifice to Caesar’s “genius” and Caesar himself. There was only one God, and it wasn’t Jupiter or Mars or Caesar or Caesar’s genius.

Because of the Jewish objection to all idolatry, Rome allowed the Judeans to offer sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple FOR the emperor instead of TO the emperor. There’s a big difference between “for” and “to.”

In 66 AD, as tensions with Rome escalated, the Judeans stopped offering the temple sacrifices on the emperor’s behalf. The Romans considered that event to be an act of open rebellion and thus began the First Jewish War with Rome. Jerusalem was razed and the temple was destroyed.

When Paul told Christians that they ought to pray for the emperor, that’s exactly what Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters were doing in the temple in Jerusalem prior to 66 AD.

As we have seen, Paul asked Christians to pray for the emperor despite the emperor’s misdeeds. Like all Jews, however, Paul refused to compromise with Rome on the uniqueness of Israel’s God. With God’s people throughout the ages, he confessed the great shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” If we continue reading in 1 Timothy 2, we quickly come to this affirmation in verse 5: There is one God and one mediator between God and man. In the light of Jewish experience with Rome, I can’t help but hear the unspoken words, “And it’s not Caesar.”

There is one God. Rome was filled with gods: household gods for every domus, invisible sprits in nature, patron deities of every place and activity, the classic gods of antiquity and the growing imperial cult. “Pray for the emperor,” Paul says, “but remember that there is only one God. And it’s not Caesar.”

Paul then adds that there is one mediator between God and humankind – the man Jesus Christ. Again, it’s not Caesar. One of Caesar’s titles was “Pontifex maximus,” which is usually translated “high priest.” One of Caesar’s duties was to offer sacrifices to the gods. The word pontifex is really “bridge builder” – one who builds a bridge between heaven and earth, between the gods and men. At least that’s how many Romans interpreted it. Every Roman coin bore the Caesar’s boast. Paul reminds his readers that there is only one bridge builder – one mediator – between God and humankind, and it’s not the emperor in Rome.

Pray for the emperor, Paul says, but don’t buy everything he’s selling. Our relationship to the world always entails good will and a desire for peace in the community, but it never entails compromising our faith.

To Serve God’s Purposes

We pray for the emperor not to serve his purposes – or even our own – but God’s. God wants all to be saved. God wants all to know the truth about his son who gave his life as a ransom for all. That’s what Paul says in verses 3 and 4. Whenever possible, the church lives a quiet and peaceful life with its neighbors. Our living a quiet and peaceful life in the world falls short if we use that peace and quiet as an opportunity to avoid responsibility. We don’t seek peace out of fear or laziness, but because God loves our neighbors. God wants to use the church as his instrument in the world. He wants all men and women to be saved – even his enemies – and the church is his instrument for that.

Brothers and sisters, I urge that you pray for everyone, so that the church of Jesus Christ may lead a quiet and peaceable and godly life. This is how God wants us to live, because desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And this is the truth. There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.

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Aug 11 2013

Mitchell Lewis: To Give You the Kingdom

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Reflections on Luke 12:32-40

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 (ESV)

Any Romans listening to Jesus say these words might have thought, “No thanks. We’ve already got one.” And what a kingdom it was. From the British Isles to North Africa to borders of Persia, Rome was an empire with magnificent cities, an amazing network of roads and ships for trade and travel, a sometimes brutally effective government and the most powerful army the world had ever seen. Rome made people rich – a few people, anyway.

The Romans thought their empire was so wonderful that the world should proclaim the good news – the gospel, that is – of Caesar’s birth. Caesar was the savior of the world, and when He conquered a new land, he brought peace. Consequently, the Senate declared Caesar to be the son of a god and a member of the Roman pantheon. “I don’t know what kind of kingdom you’re offering,” the Roman might have said to Jesus, “but we’ve got the biggest and best kingdom the world has ever seen.”

Now the people listening to Jesus by and large were not the cream of the crop of Greco-Roman society. Not many were rich or powerful, but naturally they wanted the same things that most people wanted: to feed their families and to build some sort of security for the future. They wanted to get ahead as best they could, and I’m sure that the Roman way looked pretty good to many. Those at the top of society were those most in bed with Rome. The fate of the poor, faithful people of Israel did not look so appealing by comparison.

Today, if you look for the empire that fancied itself the queen of the world in Jesus’ day, all that you will find are ruins, in Rome itself and throughout the Mediterranean world. There are even ruins as far away as England and Germany. On the old German frontier, all that you will find of Rome’s ancient power is a moss covered stone or two lying in a German forest. Rome is dead. The kingdom of which Jesus spoke is very much alive.

You don’t have to look back 2000 years to discover that humanity’s greatest accomplishments always crumble into dust.

In the 1950s, 4 of 5 cars worldwide were built in Detroit. The city had 296,000 manufacturing jobs in the automotive industry supporting a population of 1.8 million. It had the highest median income and highest home ownership of any major city. Today, the population is down to 710 thousand. There are 70 thousand abandoned buildings. The city is bankrupt and $18 billion in debt. Cutbacks in city services have made the high poverty rate and high crime rate even worse. Right now, the city is in a downward spiral. It’s sad to look at pictures of Detroit’s ruins.

Jesus is right. There is no treasure on earth that moths and rust can’t eat or thieves can’t steal. Nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. There is no security in any earthly treasure.

In the 1990s, the economy boomed on the backs of the computer revolution. In the 2000s, the markets came crashing down. Does anybody else own a property worth less than when you bought it? Did anyone’s retirement portfolio disappear in the last decade?

Well, at least I have my health. Unfortunately, even the body wears out. I am a part of the aging baby boomer generation and every new ache and pain makes us wonder, is there something wrong that won’t get better? Is that a symptom of something dreadful?

Sometimes you see the moth and the thief coming, and sometimes you don’t. Driving back from Atlanta I got into a little traffic accident. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but the big boom and sudden jolt that resulted when our cars collided emotionally took be back to the land where “sudden death” is not something that happens in a football game.

The people of Jesus’ day did not have nearly so much as we have, but they had many of the same concerns. What will tomorrow bring? How will I survive? Jesus gave them the greatest words of assurance ever. “Fear not, little flock. It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Now the kingdom, our text reminds us, is what Jesus will bring in all its fullness when he comes again. Jesus tells his listeners that the need to remain ever ready for the Son of Man’s return.

Jesus moves from talking about our daily food and drink in Luke 12:22-32 to talking about his return in glory in Luke 12:33-40. This seems like a strange combination. When you start talking about Jesus’ coming again, people tend to become frightened. Here, Jesus is trying to encourage and comfort his followers with the promise of the master’s coming.

Even stranger is the word picture that Jesus uses to describe the master’s return.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (Luke 12:35-37)

When the master returns, Jesus says, he will act like a servant and treat his servants like lords and ladies. And he will feed them. This kingdom is nothing like Rome or any kingdom that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

The kingdom Jesus promises fulfills a hope older than Rome itself. The scriptures tell the story of God’s call of Abraham, and God’s promise of the land of blessing. They tell the story of God’s call to Moses and the deliverance of God’s people from slavery. They tell the story of God’s covenants and the hope of living in happiness and peace under God’s law. They tell of God’s mighty power in defeating Israel’s enemies and establishing the throne of David. They recall the words of the prophets who looked for the coming of the day of justice. The kingdom Jesus promised brings this story to completion.

To be a part of this kingdom, you have to want it. Jesus talks about the kingdom being our treasure.

To those who had little, Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In its particulars, Jesus made a radical demand for a radical time. But even though Jesus no longer requires his followers to become penniless, wandering prophets, there are still kingdom principles evident in Jesus’ words.

Jesus still cares about the poor, and they have a special place in the kingdom Jesus promised – especially those who belong to the household of God. If you don’t understand that the poor, the needy and the suffering have a special place in God’s kingdom, you have not understood Jesus’ vision of the kingdom. The world’s kingdoms measure their success by success of the people at the top. In God’s kingdom, the well-being of everyone matters.

And Jesus still wants us to put our hopes and trust in God more than anything else. The love of material possessions will lead you astray. Having enough money to live is good, but money will not even guarantee that you will see tomorrow.

We put our trust in so many things, many of which are good in their own way. Economic vitality provides jobs, which in turn provides homes and food and clothing. Science gives us knowledge. Technology improves the quality of our lives. Medical care alleviates suffering and prolongs life. The arts provide us with beauty and wonder. Government maintains law and order. Armed forces defends the innocent. All of these things are good in their own way, but none of them will give us the kingdom. They will all fail in in one way or another. The goods they create are temporary at best and often accompanied by unintended consequences. They are all the products of fallible, ignorant and sinful human beings. Insofar as we look to them for our salvation, all the things of this world will disappoint us.

Fear not little flock, it is you Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

The Father’s kingdom is more enduring than any kingdom of this world, and certainly more just. It runs under a different set of values, and provides us a different way of looking at life.

The kingdom that never disappoints us is a gift from our heavenly father, not the product of human labor.

It is not something we have to earn; it is the Father’s pleasure to give it to us. It delights him. It makes him happy.

He gladly gives it to his little flock, that collection of faithful people from every corner of society who put their trust in Christ, who desire his kingdom more than anything else and who demonstrate their faith with their lives.

Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Jul 26 2013

Mitchell Lewis: The Centrality of “The Land” in the Old Testament

Original post at

Peter Enns on the centrality of the land in the Old Testament:

[It] may sound off a bit boring–maybe even not terribly spiritual–but land is a major idea the Bible keeps on the front burner. Actually, I may even be understating things bit.

The promise to receive land, getting it, how to hold on to it, losing it and getting it back, and how not to lost it again.

I’ve just described the main storyline of the OT.

I think Enns does in fact understate the matter. The land is to the Old Testament what the Kingdom of God is to the New Testament.


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Jul 17 2013

Mitchell Lewis: Beyond Self-Aware Faith

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If you ask someone if they have faith in Christ, they might reflect on how often they experience religious feelings or have religious thoughts. The more that Christian ideas and religious experiences fill your consciousness, one might think, the more faith you have. I think this is a wrong understanding of faith.

Is it possible to have faith in something without being consciously aware of your faith? Of course it is. I take “to have faith” in the sense of “to trust” or “to act with confidence.”

I have faith in the strength of a chair when I sit on it. I may not think about the chair at all. I usually don’t reflect on its engineering or the physical properties its materials. I ordinarily don’t consciously admire it, but neither do I quiver with fear, thinking, “This time, it might just fall apart.” I just sit down.

That’s not to say that thinking about God and the things of God isn’t important, or that conscious awareness of one’s place in the economy of God means nothing. In my tradition, we talk about the “means of grace” – those instruments through which God has chosen to work in our lives. There are both cognitive and non-cognitive elements to God’s means of grace. There is a difference, however, between means and ends. The goal is not to produce mental or emotional awareness, but confidence in action.

Photographer Ken Rockwell distinguishes hobbyists who spend a lot of time studying and thinking about photographic equipment from photographers, who take photographs with whatever camera they happen to have. Photographers know their equipment well enough to use it without thinking much about the camera itself. Their use of the camera is natural and instinctive. The end product is a good picture, not photographic knowledge.

The interior lives and devotional practices of Christians differ from person to person, and some Christians are surely fooling themselves about the detrimental impact of their lackadaisical approach to faith. The end product of faith, however, is not simply constant (or even frequent) religious awareness. On the contrary, faith results in unselfconscious confidence in the promises of God that demonstrates itself in Christian worship, community and faithfulness in the world.

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Jul 17 2013

Mitchell Lewis: Firstborn of Creation, Firstborn of the Dead

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Colossians 1:15-28

Jesus is the first born of creation. All things were created in him and through him and for him. He is before all things. Paul’s lofty language in Colossians 1:15-16 is not rooted in abstract speculation about the nature of Jesus’ pre-existence in heaven before the beginning of time or in reflecting on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Rather, Paul’s assertions are rooted in his confidence in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus was the agent of all creation because he is the agent of the new creation. He is the firstborn of creation because he is the firstborn of the dead. Paul sees Jesus’ resurrection as the vanguard of the resurrection of the faithful to eternal life in the age to come. In his death, Jesus reconciled all things in heaven and earth to himself by making peace through his blood on the cross. Through his death, Jesus has turned believers from their former evil deeds to a life of holiness and blamelessness.

In overcoming evil, estrangement and even death itself, Jesus has fulfilled God’s purpose in creating the world. In that sense, Jesus is the agent of all creation. Jesus brings into existence what God intended from the very beginning. All things are “through him” because creation is not complete without the effects of his death and resurrection. All things are “for him” (or “toward him,” Greek eis autou) because the world which he makes possible was the goal of God’s creative activity.

The Trinitarian Languange in Romans 5:1

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Jul 11 2013

Mitchell Lewis: This Year’s Copyright Rant

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Leroy Huizenga at First Things writes in opposition to the Catholic Church’s use of copyright laws to limit the distribution of its central texts. He links to the #FreetheWord campaign of Brandon Vogt. Vogt suggests that the Church publish its central texts under the Creative Commons License, which allows non-commercial distribution but also has provisions for maintaining the integrity of the text. Sounds like a great idea.

In January 2006 I complained about the United Methodist Church’s use of copyright. I haven’t changed my mind. The church’s ritual and worship resources, its Discipline  and Book of Resolutions, its doctrinal texts and judicial decisions should all be made available to duplicate at will. They are our church’s word to the world. Why would we keep them to ourselves? Moreover, our  prayers and liturgies should bless the world. To me, charging people to use our sacred texts is a form of simony. Are you listening, United Methodist Publishing House?

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