The Group Affiliations the Apostles Had and What It Might Mean for Us

When I look at American expressions of Christianity today, I wonder if we demonstrate the right way to follow Jesus.

Oil painting illustrating Jesus Christ and his disciples on a meadow

I have spent some time lately considering the various influential groups of people in the time of Jesus and the orientation of those groups toward Jesus. I have wondered why Jesus seemed to pick on the Pharisees more than the other, groups, especially since they seemed most aligned with him and had most in common with him.

As I researched and thought about the various groups of Jewish influencers in the First Century in relation to Jesus, I began to think about the apostles, and their connections to these groups. I am always mining for insight as I read Scripture, and today my mind turns toward the relationship of the twelve apostles to those same groups of First Century, Jewish influencers.

We don’t know much about the background of the twelve disciples, except that most of them were “common” men of humble means and many were of uncertain group identity. One disciple was identified with the Zealots (Simon, the Zealot, also known as Simon the Canaanite). Matthew, the tax collector, might have been Herodian (or may have been viewed as one).

We really don’t know about the group affiliation of the other disciples, at least not from the explicit text. They seem to have been more ordinary people with no distinct association with particular groups. They did not seem to be closely associated with any of the five groups Jewish leadership groups in First Century Judea.

Even Simon, who is known as the Zealot, would have left his group behind to follow Jesus. Just as Matthew left behind his livelihood (tax collection) to follow Jesus and Simon (Peter) and Andrew dropped their fishing nets to follow Jesus. It’s no stretch, therefore, to imagine that Simon, the Zealot, would have similarly “dropped” or left behind his affiliation with the Zealots to follow Jesus.

In fact, the theme of leaving behind your group seems to run throughout the teaching and example of Jesus. Jesus said, “[E]veryone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29)

He called Peter and Andrew and James and John away from their profession of fishing. He called Matthew, the tax collector, away from his profession. I think it’s fair to assume that Jesus called Simon, the Zealot, away from the Zealots to follow him.

The theme of leaving behind family, livelihood and group identity runs deep in Scripture, all the way back to Abram (as Abraham was known) when God called Abram to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to the land God would show him. (Gen. 12:1)

Hebrews 11 commends Abraham for the example of faith demonstrated in leaving behind the familiarity of all the things that typically identify people and their place in the world at God’s call. Abraham and all the people of faith commended in Hebrews 11 demonstrated that kind of faith that made them “aliens and strangers on earth”.

Jesus called the rich young ruler to walk away from his wealth. (Matt. 19:16-30) Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisees, that he would have to be born again to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

The kingdom of God is something I have been mulling over for many weeks, and months. It’s a theme I have written about often lately, as it has occupied a prominent place in my meditations lately.

The five main groups of Jewish influencers in the First Century had one thing in common – they were operating on a spectrum of relationship to the political structures and religious structures in their world. They were invested and embedded and entrenched into their positions, and identities, people with whom they affiliated.

Along comes Jesus, and he calls people “out of the world”. (John 15:18-19) Jesus calls people to leave their lives, and identities, and associations behind to follow him.

We don’t know much about the backgrounds and affiliations of the twelve disciples, perhaps, because they did just that. They left those things behind to follow Jesus. They became known, simply, as disciples of Jesus, Christ followers.

I am interested in these things because of what it means for us. If we would be disciples of Jesus and Christ followers, how do these things translate to our lives in the 21s Century?

Continue reading “The Group Affiliations the Apostles Had and What It Might Mean for Us”

A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle

The political and social atmosphere in America is playing into the hands of the radical fringe.

The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.

Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.

I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.

They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.

We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.

Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.

The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.

The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.

I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.

The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.

We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.

Continue reading “A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle”

Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot

The views of Christians around the world provide a counterbalance to the unique bent of American Christianity.


I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts college I attended. One that had roots in the Methodist Church, but the current tree had all but separated from those roots in favor of more modern fertilizer. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college.

I compartmentalized some of the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.

I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.

I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong.

During my time there, the Moral Majority was on the rise and gaining influence. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the NH motto, and people were proud of it.

Politics crept into my faith and into the church. I rubbed shoulders with sometime churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society. As I look back, though, they were infrequent participants, but they left their mark.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this dynamic church with a storied local history was about to implode. I was there about six years, got married there and had two children. I left in 1988 to go to law school and pursue a new path. (Not long after I left NH, the church splintered into many pieces and is, now, only a distant memory.)

That path brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. I have wandered through much wilderness and have been challenged in my faith since then. Law school sharpened my thinking, but it dulled my spiritual edge.

I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law.

It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and the academic standing of second in my graduating class. This was in keeping with a vision a wise and spiritual woman had for me that was part of the confirmation from God that I should go.

The certainty with which I left to go, similar to the certainty I had when I left for New Hampshire, gave way to uncertainty in how I should reconcile the political and cultural influences that bore down on me under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law.

I kept that jealous mistress at bay, but it would be years before I reached a point of resolution.  My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage I brought with me from New Hampshire did not.

The dynamic church I attended there a long ago now disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises during my sojourn away. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.

Continue reading “Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot”

Hearing the Voice of God for Today

Our focus should be on God, and our direction should be inspired by scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit to discern God’s heart, intention and direction for us in these modern times.


I recall a sermon preached back in the 1980’s in the church I attended at the time in New Hampshire. I don’t remember the scriptural passage or references, but I remember the gist of the message, and it has stuck with me ever since.

The gist goes something like this: As God’s people, we need to be informed and take our direction primarily from God and God’s will as revealed to us in the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are in the world, but we are not of the world, and we should be careful not to be influenced by the world in our thinking.

The key point that I remember, however, is that we can focus so much on trying not to be influenced by the world that we become reactionary to it. If the world goes right, we go left. If the world goes left, we go right. If all we are doing is being reactionary to the world, we lose our focus on God. In the process of trying not to be like the world, we allow ourselves to be defined by the world nevertheless.

If our direction is dictated by nothing more than going in the opposite direction of the world, we are no more directed by God than if we are going in exactly the same direction as the world. Either way, we are focusing on the world and allowing the world to influence our direction, rather than God.

Continue reading “Hearing the Voice of God for Today”