Kingdom Posts

The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.

Christ and Culture

There is a great need in these days for followers of Christ to think more deeply about how to effectively engage culture as we join God in the renewal of all things. Richard Neibhur was arguably the most important Christian theological-ethicist in the 20th Century. For several decades he taught at Yale Divinity School and in 1951 he wrote his classic work, “Christ and Culture”- which is still used today to help frame the Christian’s cultural engagement.

Neibhur’s five typologies (or categories) offer a helpful framework as we consider how followers of Christ relate to culture at large. Below is a (far too simplified, but perhaps helpful) explanation of how Neibhur’s categories allow us think more deeply about our role in culture. One way to understand and apply his categories is to think of a more widely known principle: Christians are to be “in the world but not of the world” (actually based on Jesus’ words in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17).  Each of the five approaches is essentially a variation on the application of that often-referenced phrase. Here they are:

  • Christ against Culture – This is the “exclusive Christian” who sees history as the story of a rising church up against a dying pagan civilization. This approach, ultimately leads to an “us against them” approach- it’s the Church against the world.
  • Christ of Culture – This is the “cultural Christian” who sees history as the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature and culture. Taken too far this could be described as “in the world and of the world” where there is no real distinction between the believer and the non-believer.
  • Christ above Culture – This approach might lead some to think we are to be in the world and over the world. That is, us over culture. This approach would say,  “We better get our man in the White House or we’re doomed (God is not going to know what to do) and the Gospel will cease to advance.” History proves otherwise.
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox – This is “the dualist” approach in which history is a struggle between church and culture and the constant tension that will only be lifted when Christ comes again. Taken to extremes this approach can lead to disinterest and apathy regarding cultural renewal, believing that God will make all things right in the end. The tendency is to disengage- to not be in the world.
  • Christ Transforming Culture – This is “the conversionist” who says, history is the story of God’s work in the world and humanity’s response to Him. Conversionists live more in the divine “now” than the followers listed above. This approach focuses more on the presence of God in time and would say it is Christ in us- in the world but not of the world. Christ brings about the transformation of culture through us, as we live as a “faithful presence” in our particular sphere of influence. This is the belief that there is a divine possibility of a present renewal, while at the same time, we prepare for what will take place in a final redemption and restoration of all creation.

Niebuhr doesn’t “land” on any one approach- as his work is more descriptive than prescriptive. I believe that Scripture (and experience) points us to the last one: Christ transforming culture through His followers as we live incarnational lives in every domain of culture. Is this God’s plan to change the world? If so, are you allowing his Spirit to live in and through you in your particular domain or sphere of influence? Are you practicing the faithful presence of Jesus in your life?  What do you think?

The Separation of Church & Hate

Every four years Christians in America are challenged again to rediscover the incomparable power of the Gospel. Oh, most don’t realize that’s what is happening but it really is. It happens every four years. We claim that Christ alone is the hope of our nation and our world, that it is only the power of the Gospel that brings real transformation, but during the presidential race we seem to forget that. Our language, our argumentative spirits, our anger, and often hateful speech, betrays our hearts and the true nature of our belief.

As I’ve watched this season approaching, I’ve grown increasingly disappointed with how Christ followers are more passionate about politics than the Gospel. And I know, already the questions surface, “But don’t politics matter? Shouldn’t we be engaged in every sphere of culture, including the political domain? Don’t we have a God-given right and responsibility to engage, inform, and enter the public discourse of politics?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But we are to enter into public discourse like Jesus (our perfect Model in all things) or we do more damage than good. To remain silent is not an option but to be ill-informed or to have a spirit that does not represent our Savior is unacceptable. Authors Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, in their book unChristian, point out that most young (18-29) non-Christians in America see the primary witness of the Church as a political witness.  We simply do not find this in the teachings of Jesus or anywhere else in the New Testament. Many believe this younger generation just “don’t get it” (like former generations thought of them), but I see a generation of young believers who are tired of the culture wars and they see another way. Young Christians are ready for peace.  As one young Christian said, “We are ready to lay down our arms. We are ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.” The Jesus way is a different way.

How do we enter the political fray in a way that honors Jesus and keeps the Gospel central?

Too often believers seem to get a pass for their political indiscretions. Often they are applauded for what the Bible calls “slander.”  We slander others in order to win an argument, disguising it all behind “righteous anger.” What is more, other believers applaud our passion and “conviction”, all the while losing the battle but feeling good they were able to “speak our mind.” Rather than simply engaging in political discourse (which is rarely “discourse” in the end), Christians should actually elevate the process.  We are called to stand with Jesus, above the great partisan divide and demonstrate a better way.  I heard one speaker remind us that, “Jesus did not come to take sides but to take over.” If He is Lord of our lives, others will see a better way. Remember:

1. Simply because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Imagine that. Believers should approach political discourse with a humble posture. We should enter in (like any conversation) first to understand, and then to be understood. Understanding, of course, means I enter in loving my neighbor, eager to learn, and willing to express the love of Jesus. When I disagree, I do so in a humble, clear yet loving way.

2. People from both political parties are followers of Jesus (and thus, your brothers and sisters). On the weekend just prior to the election, churches will gather together and pray towards the outcome. Some will pray for God’s “will to be done”, but most will be praying for their candidate to win. That’s an appropriate prayer but the point is that sincere Christians on both sides of the political aisle will be praying equal and opposite prayers. And I doubt God is wringing His hands over the conflicting prayers of His people. He is sovereign over all things.

3. Some people like to argue more than others.  Simply because someone is more passionate than you are about politics doesn’t mean they’re more committed to Christ than you are. You are probably more passionate than they are about other matters of faith and culture. In fact, the Bible teaches us that those who cause strife and are prone to quarrel are weak in their faith, not stronger (James 4:1-2). Consider the biblical strategy up against what we see most of the time in the public discourse of our day:

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:23-25

4. Thinking any one political party’s platform is altogether right, is wrong.  Any government, nation, or political party is only as good as those who make it up. All politicians (like each of us) are imperfect people and many (not all) are driven by sinful ambition. The policies of your political party are not altogether biblical or Spirit-led.

5. Broaden your perspective by listening to opposing views.  Many people narrow in on one political perspective and then listen only to those who affirm and confirm what they already believe, right or wrong. Remember that political talk radio and cable news channels are in it for the ratings; it’s what keeps them afloat.

Many who obsess over one political perspective become paranoid because the message heard is that the world will end if “our” political agenda is not established. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Our identity, worth, perspective, hope and focus is found in Jesus Christ.

6. Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders and to respect those in authority.  We are told to pray for those whom God has allowed to be placed over us (2 Timothy 2:1-4).  We are to give honor to our leaders and to show them respect as well because, “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1-7). Instead of vilifying our political leaders, we should pray for them.  I’ve often wondered what God would do if we prayed for our political leaders for as much time as we spend talking about them, and often maligning them.

You’re Invited to a Party

In the final week of His life, Jesus invites everyone into the Kingdom.

“Come to the wedding feast.” Matthew 22:4

I once heard Billy Graham say, “Jesus has two verbs in His vocabulary: Come and Go.” Our God is an inviting God. He says, “Come.” “Come let us reason. Come and drink. Come to me all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, I will give you rest. Come and I will make you fishers of men.” And, “Come to the wedding feast”, He says on the last Tuesday of His life. His invitation is to life eternal with Him. His invitation is to come eat at His banquet table. Who can come? Whoever wishes. The invitation is both universal and personal. But you must decide.

Have you ever had a personal invitation ignored? If so, then you know a fraction of how Jesus must feel. It’s amazing that He leaves this choice to us. You can’t choose the weather, or your parents, or whether you’re born with a little nose or blond hair – or born at all. But you can choose to attend the wedding feast. You can choose to “come”, but you can also choose to “go”. The other side of this story, told with great urgency, is that we have a choice to go as well. This Holy Week many people are thinking about Christ’s death. Many more are not and have no idea what Easter is about. Will you go to them? Look for opportunities to tell others about the wedding feast. Invite someone to church this Sunday!

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14

Pray: Lord, I praise You for putting me on Your guest list for the big wedding feast. I praise You that You have made a way for me to have eternal life. This week I’m especially mindful of what it cost You for me to come. Today I will watch for others I can invite to the party.

Palm Sunday- Entering the Holy City

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:8-9

At first glance this looks like the biggest celebration Jerusalem had ever seen. No doubt, it was an incredible day, enough to cause quite a stir among the enemies of Jesus. But think about it. What the people desired was a mock procession of a conquering king. Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, imagines a Roman soldier riding up to check out the disturbance. He had seen processions done right. The conquering general sits in a chariot of gold, with stallions straining at the reins and wheel spikes flashing in the sunlight. Following him would be officers in polished armor displaying the banners from the vanquished armies. Following that was often a procession of captured slaves and prisoners in chains, showing just what Rome does to those who are against her.

The soldier peers through the crowd to catch the object of the crowd’s attention. He can hardly believe his eyes. He sees a solitary, forlorn figure, weeping, riding on no stallion or chariot, but on the back of a baby donkey with a borrowed blanket across its back. There may have been a bit of triumph in the air on Palm Sunday, but nothing that would have impressed Rome. Not for long anyway. This same crowd would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” just a few days later. And yet, this solitary man seems to be directing the entire process of events…

“…but made Himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7-8

Pray: Lord, I humble myself before You. You could have come as a conquering king and held on to all the rights and privileges that were Yours as God. But You humbled Yourself and took on the form of a servant and died for me. I will do the same for You today.