Anthems, Flags, Sports & Jesus

Much of our politics don’t look like Jesus or Heaven at all. It’s for reasons like this that I stopped saying the pledge of allegiance some time ago. All of those years in elementary school I stood up every day and rambled off those words with my hand over my heart to a red, white and blue idol in the corner of the room. It was as visible as patriotic worship could be. I was being indoctrinated ever since kindergarten to always agree with my country and treat them with reverence and respect, whether they looked anything like Jesus or not—and I was told to do it, because somehow when I pledged allegiance to a flag, I was pledging allegiance to Jesus, simply because the word “God” was name-dropped.

I remember going to a monster truck rally in town once. I was excited to see some trucks hit some ramps, but then I felt that awkwardness set in. Before the show got started, all gentlemen were to remove their caps and sing the worship songs of the country and gaze upon the flag. I’m not sure what any of this has to do with a monster truck show. Or baseball. Or football. Or any sport for that matter.

And that’s why I felt the pain of football player, Colin Kaepernick, when the world took note of how he sat through the national anthem as a sign of protest. I can feel every eye on me when I don’t say the pledge or sing the song. I’ll often stand or take my hat off without saying the words, but even that I do because I don’t want to have attention called to me.

My allegiance is with America in the places where they align with Heaven, but my full allegiance is to Jesus and my life is always to be crucified with him and for him.

I had a dream many years ago in which I was approached by an adult who pointed at the stars and said, “That’s you.” I laughed, having no idea as to what the person was talking about, but then later in the dream I found myself in a field, looking at the stars with some kid. The kid pointed at a star and said, “That’s you.”

“Why do people keep saying that?” I asked the kid.

“Because you’re from another land,” he answered.

Do you live in that reality?

Adapted Excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.

Physical. Kindle. Audiobook.


Pine Needles Fall…

Pine needles fall as the wind sets foot
On the evergreen towers.
The sound of her silence fills the air
Though she’s not as quiet as I often think.

For her breath reverberates off what it touches:
Branches, streams and eardrums;
I am audibly and visibly aware of her presence.

For even a faint breeze is filled
With peace and serenity—
Joy to those who labor,
But pain to those who bury themselves
Under the apathy of snow-filled wastelands.

Wind. Breath. Spirit. Pneuma.
She boldly eviscerates landscapes
In the mildest ways,
Whether in the torrent of a hurricane
Or in the slow waves that hardly touch shore,
Though they edge closer and closer each day.

A whisper:
That’s what she is.
Incomparable to a forest fire
Though she burns ever-hotter.
A fire caught up in our bones.
Shining. Raging.
Fuel for the quivering prophets
But a furnace for the shy.

My New Audiobook Just Released!

Thanks for all your support over the last month with the release of, A Taste of Jesus! Now for those of you who really enjoy audiobooks (like myself), you can listen to me read the whole thing to you for over 13 hours ^_^ Grab it on Audible here!

A Taste of Jesus is an in-depth look at the characteristics that are meant to make up the Christian’s life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Bradley explains just how radical and counter-cultural these fruits are when they are grown in fullness. These are the characteristics of the upside-down, backwards Kingdom of Heaven and when we live like we’re residents there, we begin to give people a real taste of Jesus, who is living inside of us via the Holy Spirit. This is by no means meant to be an easy audiobook to absorb, for the fruit of the spirit constantly butts heads with our flesh – but if you feel uncomfortable, maybe that’s okay. Embrace it and see what God does.

In some ways, the original book was built to be an audiobook. Background sounds illuminate the opening allegorical story. Intermissions break up the chapters fluidly. You can actually hear the original music at the end of the audiobook rather than just read the lyrics.

Charlottesville and Seeing the Racism in Ourselves

Many of us who are white grew up with a blindfold over our eyes. We were taught that slavery was done away with years ago and that equality was eventually found sometime later.

Yet here we are today with Charlottesville and race riots unlike anything our generation has seen. The Black Lives Matter movement has made it clear that those with darker skin are still being treated unjustly today and if we have the eyes to see, we will agree—for those of us who are white know nothing of what it’s like to prepare ahead of time for a cop to approach our car by putting our wallet on the dashboard and by keeping both our hands on the steering wheel so that we don’t raise any suspicion.

We have seen the tension at play over the years and have witnessed the death of many of our black brothers and sisters to trigger-happy and irrationally scared policemen who were on edge because the person they were dealing with had a different skin color than them. The events are no longer isolated, the stories are no longer on the down-low, and the injustice is visible. I shouldn’t feel like I keep seeing black people pulled over on the highway for a drug search outside of a primarily white country town—especially when the white kids of that town seemed to talk more about smoking weed than any mixed school I ever attended.

By this point in history, we have to understand that God loves everyone and that we are called to love who he loves, serve who he serves, and go to the ends of the earth with his name. He loves no person more than the other and he views no race as greater or lesser. We are all the same in God’s eyes and so we shouldn’t be seeing racial issues like these.

This, of course, isn’t to say that all cops are bad or anything—that would be reverse stereotyping and another kind of injustice—but we have to face the facts that racism is happening. It’s seen in police cases, the evil white supremacy nazi movement of Charlottesville and the Flint water crisis (you can’t disconnect the fact that one of the worst American drinking water stories happened to a town primarily full of poor black kids).

It’s time we be honest and admit to the racism that we find inside ourselves so that we may expose it for what it is and begin to turn away from it, for that exposure has power. For example, when a good friend of mine was trying to tell me that there was no inherent racism in many of the violent police cases that came to light over the years, they abruptly stopped talking when I pointed to the racism in myself. “Why is it that I am more apt to want to lock my doors when a black man walks down the road than when a white man does?” I asked. “If I can begin to recognize the racist tendencies in myself, I can begin to see the stories in the light that black people do.”

This confession flew out of my mouth so quick that I was unable to stop it and I might have been more affected by it than the person I was talking to. I had just admitted to the great crime of the 21st century, but in doing so I had set myself free. I had put myself in a place where I would now have to recognize those thoughts when they came up. If I could recognize them in me, I could recognize them in others—and if I could recognize them in others, I could begin to more truly sympathize with those that racial injustice affected. I find that I can’t always necessarily stop a racist thought from happening, but I can “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). I can grab it, interrogate it, and stop it from materializing in my actions.

This is an adapted excerpt from “A Taste of Jesus.” Physical. Kindle.

Should We Embrace Emotion in Worship?

I don’t really remember seeing anyone even raise their hands in worship until middle school. It wasn’t until I graduated out of Vacation Bible School and moved into the teen tent at camp one summer that I finally saw emotion exhibited in the church. As the teen tent began to sing, I was confused to see people raise their hands and belt out notes as loud as they could.

What were they doing? And why were they doing it? I eventually joined with them to find out and was quickly overwhelmed with both emotion and embarrassment. Breaking this emotional wall was so powerful that I then began to engage in all the other things people were doing: raising my hands, closing my eyes, kneeling, clapping along, even getting a little bit of a dance on. That summer became what was probably the first mountaintop experience of my life.

The fire in me grew as new retreats and giant conferences brought about new mountaintop experiences. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Holy Spirit felt like, but it seemed like I was feeling him when I expressed my love for him physically—and I loved it.

But then one day, a pastor questioned a bunch of us about what it was we were really feeling. Was it really God we were coming in contact with or were we just being swept up in emotion? This question, along with some other drama in my life, ruined me for years. As the question sank in I soon found that I couldn’t even raise my hands in worship anymore. I couldn’t focus on God because I was too busy analyzing myself. Am I just just trying to look spiritual to everyone else when I do this? Am I really experiencing God or are these tingles just my body responding to these acts? Is it wrong to have emotion in worship? Is it wrong to react physically like I’ve been doing?

I was ruined. I started overanalyzing every single emotion that came my way in worship. My joy turned into confusion and anxiety.

I was battling the enlightenment period. Everything became intellectual, scientific and rational. My engagement with the Holy Spirit was left to science. Soon I didn’t care if it really had just been my body reacting to physical movement in worship—I wanted my joy back! I wanted to be able to lead others in worship from the stage without wondering if I was authentic or not the whole time.

John Wesley had a similar fight back in his time. As people heard about the odd outdoor services he held and the things that happened in them, they decided to go check it out. They were in for quite a surprise, because these Methodists were being pushed to the ground by God and convulsing around on the floor.

Just as these kinds of acts of the Spirit offend people now, so it did back then. Many outsiders didn’t believe God had anything to do with any of this and that these Methodists were crazy or psychotic. But even some of these outsiders were eventually convinced. Wesley writes in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came: among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘“strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

A few days later, a Quaker in attendance at one of Wesley’s meetings, was growing angry with the craziness he saw going on around him. Wesley describes him as, “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by knocking him down to the ground like he had done to so many others in Wesley’s ministry.

Wesley could have easily been accused of stirring up people’s emotions just as people still accuse the church of doing today. But that wasn’t what was going on. He was bringing people into the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit and letting God do whatever he wanted with them.

At my time of struggling with emotion in worship, I didn’t know any of Wesley’s experiences. I didn’t know the debate between emotion and spirituality had been around for so long. And I also didn’t know what to do.

So eventually, I just turned my brain off. And it worked! Yes, surely there had been times in worship where I was responding to emotion—but surely there had been times where I was also responding to God. I decided that  the ambiguity was okay. Having emotions and being the way God made me was much better than trying to analyze it all and live life as an unemotional Vulcan. It was incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to find joy when I was in a state of constantly questioning my emotions, so I stopped. Finding myself mostly free from this torment, I was able to engage in worship again.

Sometimes I respond to emotion, sometimes I respond to God. Sometimes God will give me emotion to respond to and sometimes I’ll be caught up in the way I was made. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to discern these experiences, not by overanalyzing them, but by allowing them to come. Joy and other emotions can hardly be analyzed. They must be felt. For what are emotions if they aren’t felt?

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “A Taste of Jesus.” Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.


What Forgiveness Isn’t

Forgiveness is not in any way saying something is okay or acceptable, nor is it saying that you deny appropriate justice. It's not even pretending something didn't happen—it totally happened and it definitely sucked.

What forgiveness is, is simply releasing someone from their debt. It's saying that the sin they committed is no longer held over them, for you have freed them from what was owed you.

Forgiveness and peace are not some masochistic way of embracing violence or seeking it out. This is a common misconception of Christian pacifism. People think we're somehow advocating that you should go get beat up by others and be all lovey-dovey and subject yourself to horrible situations without even trying to avoid them. But to quote Derek Flood, "The goal of enemy love is not to subject oneself to violence, but to act to break the cycle of violence" (Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, p 191).

Jesus never said, "If someone molests you, forgive them and pretend it didn't happen and stick around." Absolutely not! Jesus came to set the captives free, not subject them to a theology of repetitive violence. Pacifism means embracing peace, love, and forgiveness over violence, hatred, and bitterness and it means doing it as many times as a sin is committed against you.

Pacifism and forgiveness still seek justice. The judgment and ruling of courts and judges and juries are completely acceptable—so long as a death sentence is not the answer, for Christians are to be pro-life in all ways, knowing redemption is always possible. Prison is still a possibility. Creative ways of making amends are still a possibility. God is a God of justice just as he is a God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a way of allowing us to get away with things.

We often misunderstand what justice is as well, because we usually turn it into revenge. For example, I once felt that some injustice had been done to a friend of mine and I wanted to raise awareness so that those who had committed the injustice would have to face themselves. I called my friend looking for their opinion as to how far I should go to find that justice.

“Well, how bad do you want to get back at them?” they asked.

“I’m not trying to get back at anyone!" I laughed. "I’m just trying to find justice.”

“Right," they paused. "So how much justice do you want?”

I laughed again. We use the words so interchangeably and think of them as the same thing, but they're not. Justice is done in love, revenge is done in hatred. Justice is done in righteousness, revenge is done in unrighteousness. Justice is done in peace, revenge is done in violence. Justice is what's right in God's eyes, revenge is what's right in ours. We must be people of justice, not of vengeance, for Christians are to have nothing to do with vengeance (Ro 12:19).

This is an excerpt from my new book, "A Taste of Jesus." Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.

New Book: A Taste of Jesus

Thanks for all your support over the years in reading my blog! When I look back at my earliest posts, I kind of want to throw up a little bit as my writing was so bad! But today it has perhaps paid off a little bit in helping me write this 516 page book: A Taste of Jesus: Growing the Fruit of the Spirit. You can purchase it now at Seattle Book Company. You can also read an excerpt on Relevant Magazine. Thanks for your support!