Monday, January 23, 2017

Divided Loyalties

I received the following comment from last Saturday’s blog:

Speaking of and on EARTHLY things? As an American? I am absolutely all about America 1st.

Below is my response.

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Thank you for reading, Friend. I think I understand your sentiment.

That being said, it's difficult to see how one can be "absolutely all about America 1st" and also be "absolutely all about the kingdom of God and His righteousness 1st."

A few things come to mind...

First, you and I have only one life to live, one worldview. So, which kingdom (America's or God's) will be "absolutely 1st" in our beliefs and behaviors?

Second, Jesus' kingdom is earthly. That is, His kingdom is right here on earth. He rules and reigns where we are. He rules and reigns in our hearts (unless our hearts belong to something or someone else—another kingdom).

Yes, Jesus teaches us that His kingdom is not of the world (meaning His kingdom does not originate from the world like other kingdoms) but He is quite clear that His kingdom is indeed in the world—here, now. (This is good news!)

Third and finally, Jesus fully understands the problem of divided loyalties. He teaches us that we cannot "serve two masters." (That is, we cannot be "absolutely all about" two—sometimes antithetical—kingdoms.) The fact is, many times the American kingdom is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.

Thus, it is my sincere prayer that I and all others who would follow Jesus do so with hearts and minds given wholly to Him.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other;
you will be devoted to one and despise the other.
(Matthew 6:24)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Twilight Of Evangelicalism

We have a new President. I pray God influences President Trump to be honest, wise, and humble; to be a true servant-leader.

I pray and I think.

I reflect on the deleterious effects the election of 2016 had—and continues to have—on evangelicalism within the United States and perhaps beyond.

For far too many, following Donald trumped following Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong.

The overwhelming majority of evangelicals, in my personal acquaintance, voted for President Trump simply because they—rightly or wrongly—believed him to be the “lesser of two evils.” 

Nevertheless, vote for him they did. And so, they’re understandably perceived and portrayed by the world as being aligned with President Trump: his ways, his views.  

Is it any wonder that some are longing for a new Christian movement altogether, one not married to the Republican Party or sullied with identity politics?  

Evangelicalism was closely associated with the campaign of Donald J. Trump . . . As a result, much of the good that went by the name “evangelicalism” has been clouded over; now a new movement is needed to replace it. . . . Jesus-centered faith needs a new name. . . . Perhaps we need a new reformation — one that invites Christians to return to the teachings of Jesus and offers our neighbors a truer vision of how He lived and moved in the world.

In other words, “cultural-Christianity” isn’t working.

As Keith Giles observes: "You can't convert a culture that has already converted you."

But as the sun sets on some, it rises upon others...

Thus, just as I pray for President Trump and hope for the best, I also pray for Christianity in the USA and hope for the best; that lessons are being learned and allegiances to Christ and His kingdom are being clarified and strengthened—yes, a new reformation, a brighter tomorrow.

Make no mistake. I’m not talking about "America first."

"America first" isn't the message of Jesus. He calls us to an entirely different Way. 
Jesus tells His followers to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). 

What if evangelicals were actually committed to doing what Jesus says to do in the way He says to do it? 

Asked another way: What if we were more Christian than American? 

Can we show a better Way to disoriented cultures? Can we model for them a more Jesus-looking God?

They’re watching, dear reader. So is the Lord.

For you who fear My name,
the Sun of Righteousness will rise
with healing in His wings.
~Malachi 4:2

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For a follow-up piece, see here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Avoiding God

Here are some time-honored tips for avoiding God.

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.

Ah, the inimitable C.S. Lewis!

We’ve been God-dodgers from our genesis it seems. But there’s a problem. The great difficulty in avoiding God is namely this: He’s terribly conspicuous.

Probably no one has ignored Him altogether but it’s certainly not from lack of trying. (Did you ever try really hard to not think about something or someone?)

Lewis himself gave atheism his best shot; but in the end, his faith in no-God couldn’t withstand Love’s relentless pursuit.

You must picture me alone in that room . . . night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? (Surpised By Joy, p. 125)

God’s neither lost nor hiding. He’s clearly seen in the beautiful face of Jesus Christ. Wherever you are, God is there. Open your eyes and bask in the view. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 In The Books

 My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. . . . In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see.
~C.S. Lewis

I’d like to share a list of influential books I read in 2016—one for each month and in no particular order.

The list isn’t an affirmation of all the things contained in the works; but simply an enumeration of writings which shaped, enlivened, informed, challenged, or reinforced my thinking in the past year.

1. “The Great and Holy War: How WWI Became A Religious Crusade,” Philip Jenkins

2. “Renovation of the Heart,” Dallas Willard

3. “C.S. Lewis On Scripture,” Michael J. Christensen

4. “Two Views On Women In Ministry,” various contributors

5. “Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views,” Boyd, Hunt, Craig, and Helm

6. “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” Jim Cymbala

7. “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens,” Larry Alex Taunton

8. “Is God To Blame?” Greg Boyd

9. “The Jesus Way,” Eugene H. Peterson

10. “The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind,” Mark A. Noll

11. “The Sin of Certainty,” Peter Enns

12. “American Nations,” Colin Woodard

The above books, and all books, should be read in conjunction with and through the lens of God’s holy word, The Bible. As I like to advise: Eat the meat and spit out the bones. 

Read carefully, my friends.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christ-less Conservatism

*I originally published these thoughts July 10, 2012. They seem just as appropriate—perhaps even more so—today.*


We must remember that although there are tremendous discrepancies between conservatives and liberals in the political arena, if they are both operating on a humanistic base there will really be no final difference between them. As Christians we must stand absolutely and totally opposed to the whole humanist system, whether it is controlled by conservative or liberal elements. Thus Christians must not become officially aligned with either group just on the basis of the name it uses. (Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, p. 77-78)

The above quote reveals the hypocrisy and futility of Christ-less conservatism. Taking the path of social or economic conservatism, without regard to God and His word, is but a fool’s errand. Rather, the hope of our nation, or any nation, rests upon the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ.

This is a serious discussion which merits our contemplation, and sometimes humor can facilitate such dialogue. A couple of weeks ago [now several years ago], a Facebook friend posted this status: “Signs you’re a conservative but not a Christian.” Below is my contribution to that conversation.

May the Lord bless our thoughtful laughter and may our worldview be Christ-like, not merely conservative.

Signs You’re a Conservative But Not a Christian

You like "In God We Trust" on money but think more of money than God.

You scream bloody murder for removing the 10 Commandments from the public eye but can't name more than 3.

You want your kids to recite the Pledge every morning at school but never considered teaching them the Lord's Prayer.

The Constitution is your “Bible.”

You haven't been to church in years but the separation of church and state makes your blood boil.

You speak of bearing arms more than carrying crosses.

You’re constantly offended by the sex and violence coming over your DVD.

You tell liberals to “go to hell” because you don’t wanna be with them in heaven.

You’re more excited about Ron Paul than Apostle Paul.

You support troops on foreign soil but not missionaries.

You’ve never heard “Be Thou My Vision” but “O say can you see” always brings a tear to your eye.

You think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is a catchy, Christian tune.

You think “retaking” the Whitehouse is America’s only hope.

You always “stand with Israel” but never sit in church. 

You believe the spread of democracy—not the Gospel—is the key to world peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas According to Jesus

Christmas. What’s it all about?

Imagine you’re observing Christmas from the outside—say you’re a space alien or a Jehovah’s Witness. What would you conclude?

You’d most likely think it has to do with economics: spending money, making money, giving and receiving things.

It’s possible you would surmise it has to do with religion: symbols, decorations, songs, and rituals about the birth of a holy Child.

You may come to believe it’s about relationships: friends and family fellowshipping.

You could decide it’s primarily about children and magic.

Obviously, most of us don’t have an outsider’s view of Christmas. Rather, we’ve experienced it from the inside for as long as we can remember.

What’s it about really?
                       
Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of the above answers, per se. And it may be that there’s no definitive answer to our query because Christmas means different things to different people.

So let’s be more specific. What about the birth of God’s Son?

There’s no need to speculate when we can go straight to the source. The Son of God says,

The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me. ~John 18:37

Christmas, according to Jesus, is about His bearing witness to the truth. He reveals the truth in all He is, says, and does. It’s why He was born. What truth is He speaking of?

The truth of who God is.

The truth of who we are.

The truth of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We celebrate Christmas according to Jesus when we listen to Him and bear witness to the same truth that He bears witness to; when we believe and purposefully live His truth as His intimate followers.

There’s been much “concern” and, of course, conflict over the commercialization and secularization of Christmas.

I get it.

But maybe we’ll truly have more Christ in our Christmas as we put more Christ in our Christianity. At least think about it, won’t you? 

And while you’re ruminating…have a Merry Christmas, dear reader. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Divine Disappointment

A dear friend asked me, “Is God disappointed in me?” He answered his own query by saying (basically): I don’t think so, but how can I know?

Below is my response.

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Is God disappointed in you?

I think you're right to think He isn't.

Disappointment comes when reality fails to meet expectations—you expect to open a box of St. Louis Cardinals season tickets but in reality open a box of Arizona Cardinals trading cards. Disappointment.

I doubt that God gets disappointed like this—at least not often.

I think we begin to ponder God's being disappointed with us when we are in fact disappointed with ourselves. The perceived reality of our lives is not what we expected. Hence the disappointment is ours not His.

It is here, in the throes of disappointment, that we can begin learning to receive all of our identity, self-worth, and value from Jesus. Rather than getting these things from what we think we are doing (which is where we are conditioned to get such things), we begin to understand and love ourselves and others based upon what He did and does for us and within us.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20

True spiritual progress (accompanied by love, joy, and peace) comes to the one who centers upon Jesus Christ, not the self. This is undoubtedly something that most of us can only begin to do and only accomplish in fits and starts. 

It's a long journey but we've a long time—an eternity—to enjoy it.