Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Hopeful Kingdom


Not long ago I heard a gentleman speaking of his conviction that the USA is in somewhat of a death spiral; that its fragmentation is deep and irreversible.

I think he may be right.

He primarily spoke of two things essential for all healthy republics: 1) A source of information trusted by the general public, and 2) Foundational government trusted by the general public.

His position is that the USA has neither.

One would be hard-pressed to argue the contrary. Never in my lifetime has the general public’s trust been lower with regards to information and government. I suppose we can thank, in part, what I call “niche news” and rabid partisanship for this.

The bottom line, folks: The American Empire is sick.

But though I’m pessimistic, I’m not despairing.

Why?

Because in the midst of the diseased empire there resides a hopeful Kingdom. This glorious Kingdom of Light has outshined every dark empire and it always will. There will be no end to Jesus’ Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7).

I’m not talking about religion. I’m not talking about the institutional church. I’m talking about Jesus’ ruling and reigning in the hearts and minds of His people—God’s Kingdom of love, joy, and peace (Luke 17:21-22).

Christ’s Kingdom is in the world but not of or from it.

The Kingdom of Heaven enjoys a source of information trusted by all who reside in it. We have a Teacher—Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven flourishes upon its foundational government. We have a trustworthy King—Jesus.

Dear reader, I pray you’ll build your life on the Rock of Jesus Christ. Nothing else is safe or secure. 
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand

~William B. Bradbury

Monday, April 9, 2018

Jesus & A Road Less Traveled


Zealotry continues. It continues to be admired by many. It is hard to eradicate it from the human spirit, especially the religious human spirit. When we believe that God is on our side, that we have a mission to perform sanctioned by God, it is easy to do anything that we think will be effective—using force, pushing, bullying, manipulating, and, yes, killing—to bring victory to God. It is virtually irresistible when the opposition is identified as Evil. . . .
(Eugene H. Peterson, “The Jesus Way,” p. 259)

Eugene Peterson wrote the above words in 2007. Their truth still rings.

As I think of America’s past (nonstop violence, genocide, slavery, etc.) and present (ceaseless warring, “us vs. them” thinking, demonizing others, etc.), I wrestle with discouragement.

This is the way of empire.

America’s empire may be worse or better than other empires, but this is only a matter of degree. It’s not a matter of kind.

But this isn’t the source of my discouragement.

What’s disheartening is the sightlessness plaguing many of those who raise their voices loudly, “was bliiind but now I seeee…”

These folks quote Jesus and then give to Caesar what is God’s and to God what amounts to Caesar’s scraps. I call this syncretistic religion, Americianity (the combining of Americanism with Constantinian Christianity).

Is there any help for the blind who think they see? There is.

But it probably won’t come from debate. Or cable TV. Or Facebook. Or Sunday morning church.

My own journey out of Americianity began (in my perception) as I started focusing—and I mean focusing—on the teachings and life of Jesus, His Way. It was unnerving.

How odd that the teachings of Jesus should unsettle one who for 30 years believed in Him!

The Lord (I believe it was the Lord, others may think otherwise) then began to bring authors, teachers, pastors, and others into my awareness that challenged me in nearly all things historical, political, and theological.

A fog was lifting.

(Again, some would allege a haze was settling. But what cannot be denied is the level and constancy of love, joy, and peace—the fruit of intimacy with Jesus—which I now possess that I didn’t before.)

It was not fast or sudden; but the world appeared differently to me. So did the Kingdom.

I’ve come to realize that while this weird path I’m on is currently a road less traveled, it is nevertheless a road well-traveled. One thing’s for sure: Christ-followers never walk alone.

So, yeah…I get discouraged but never hopeless. 

I’m no expert and I speak only of my own experience. The fog may have lifted but it’s still a bit cloudy.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Superior Love


But God is up in heaven
And he doesn’t do a thing,
With a million angels watching,
And they never move a wing. . . .
It’s God they ought to crucify
Instead of you and me,
I said to this Carpenter
A-hanging on the tree.

~Sidney Carter

Last week I happened upon a written discussion I had, 6 years ago, with an atheist. Her name is Anna.

My impression now is similar I’m sure, to what it was then: I won this debate hands down.

But 6 years later there is also something quite dissimilar…a sense of profound disappointment.

I won (in my own mind) an on-line debate. So what?

What is actually gained by winning an argument but losing an Anna?

You know the answer.

I see now what I should’ve seen then. What this and every Anna needs to confront, more than anything, is a superior love not a superior argument.

Think about it. God does not come to us with air-tight argumentation. He comes with unsurpassable love. This indescribable love is presented to us not in a principle but in a Person—a Person on a cross.  

God on a Cross enters our suffering. He takes the blame. All our violence, hate and ugliness converge and crash down upon Him. He absorbs it. And it kills Him.

But not even death can conquer Love. Love never fails.

So death cannot vanquish Christ and neither can Anna. But He—the God of 
love—can redeem both.

Christ is risen and Love is alive. Happy Easter!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jesus, Billy, & The American Way

I have gone back to the Bible to restudy what it says about the responsibilities we have as peacemakers. I have seen that we must seek the good of the whole human race, and not just the good of any one nation or race.

There have been times in the past when I have, I suppose, confused the kingdom of God with the American way of life. Now I am grateful for the heritage of our country, and I am thankful for many of its institutions and ideals, in spite of its many faults. But the kingdom of God is not the same as America . . .1
~Billy Graham

Rev. Graham uttered those humble, honest words in August of 1979.

I too have changed my way of thinking since the summer of ’79. Back then I didn’t give much thought to peace-making or Christ’s kingdom. Yes, I believed in Jesus but I never considered the tension between Americana and Christ’s claims on my life. No, I didn’t hurt others but neither did I love them like I loved me.

I was selfish and I was seven.

Things change.

Yet Billy’s sentiments are as timely as ever.

Listen to our national conversations. What do you hear?

My way! My rights! My happiness!

Not all that dissimilar to the playground banter of ’79…

Things remain the same.

It’s been a long time coming, but like Billy, I too am finally beginning to see the disparities between the “American way” and the Way of Jesus.

Jesus’ way is the way of agape—sacrificial love. This is not the way of America or any other kingdom of the world.

I wish I could tell you I’ve always followed Jesus and never Americianity. I haven’t.

I wish I could tell you I’m selfless. I’m not.

But I’m changing because I’m growing. And I’d like to do better. How about you?

A final word from Billy:

Christ calls us to love, and that is the critical test of discipleship. Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be.2

_____________________


2 Ibid.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gun Fights

A Facebook friend remarked that some Americans won’t give up guns to save children. The response she received was as swift as it was predictable.

Does that mean you also have to let go of your political party that supports partial birth abortions . . . ? Also you’re gonna have to get rid of wine, beer and spirits since it’s the alcohol . . . that kills kids in unfashionable manners. Also sell your car since most child deaths are caused by cars - not the drivers. Give it all up. Don’t be a hypocrite. Save our children.

Like just about everything these days, emotions are raw on both sides. Still, this brief exchange quickens several thoughts.

First, I’d recommend “letting go” of any political party that supports killing children via abortion or bombing. So, yes, let’s be pro-life from womb to tomb—let go of both major political parties.

Second, guns are lethal by design. A gun’s purpose is sheer force (whether used offensively or defensively). Cars and alcohol are not lethal by design. Thus there are no mass murders by way of Coors and the woods don’t teem with hopeful hunters armed with Hondas.  

Third, I don’t know how anyone can deny that the US has a serious problem with gun violence. And I don’t see how anyone can say—with a straight face—that gun violence has little or nothing to do with guns.

Fourth, admitting gun violence is a problem in no way suggests that politicians can solve it. (I’m not at all convinced they even want to.)

Contra the gun lobbies, I don’t think politicians want our guns. Politicians are interested in one thing: Preserving and furthering their personal power. Our guns are no threat to them.

They do everything they want to do. They take as much of our money as they like. They fight every war they want. They make laws they don’t live by…on and on. Our guns do not deter them in the least.

So why take our guns? They’ve got a good thing going!

Maybe I’m wrong. If so, I suspect a “war on guns” would be every bit as effective as the “war on drugs.” Know what I mean?

So, no, I don’t think they’ll take our 300,000,000 guns and I don’t think they want to.

What they do want is for “gun rights” people to fear them. Why?

Follow the money.

Every year millions and millions of dollars pour into gun lobbies. And guess where millions of those millions end up? Yeah…in the pockets of politicians.

There’s no money in the taking. It’s all in the fearing.

Fifth—speaking of unnecessary fear—the overwhelming majority of gun owners are decent, peaceful, law-abiding people who are in no way a threat to anyone. They shouldn’t be feared or demonized.

Correlatively, how would taking guns from harmless people make the world a safer place?

Sixth and finally, there’s this:

I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. ~Jesus

He’s offering to rid our hearts of fear and violence. He’s talking to gun owners and gun grabbers alike. 

But who in the world is listening? 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jesus & White American Youth

With all the talk of "White Nationalism in America," I read Christian Picciolini’s disturbing—yet hopeful—memoir of his descent into and eventual escape from racist ideology entitled, White American Youth.

He reflects,

I’d blamed everyone but myself for what I believed had been taken away from me . . . I took my misplaced aggression out on the world, blaming those whom I failed to make an effort to understand, rather than take responsibility for my own feelings and actions. . . .

I ended up blaming others—blacks, gays, Jews, and anyone else who I thought wasn’t like me—for problems in my own life they couldn’t possibly have contributed to. My unfounded panic quickly, and unjustly, manifested itself as venomous hatred.1

Blame.

Panic.

Hatred.

These are the words that leap at me.

But surely, dear reader, you know such things are not confined to White supremacists. How much of our national/international conversation squabbling centers upon these very issues?

To what end?

Blame, panic, and hatred inexorably lead to scapegoating.

All social groups, however large or small, would inevitably implode under the force of their own violence and guilt were they not able to find an alternative way of channeling their violence . . . the group avoids self-destruction and alleviates their shared guilt by identifying a common enemy against which they can channel their violence and on which they can place their guilt. . . .This scapegoat is . . . typically selected because it is vulnerable and/or is atypical within the social group in question. Hence, children, the disabled, minorities, foreigners, and people who are otherwise “different” (e.g., left-handed people, homosexuals) have been the most common scapegoats.

Once selected, the guilt of the group is transferred to the scapegoat by placing on him or her all the blame for whatever challenges and shortcomings the social group is experiencing. The scapegoat is then sacrificed . . . thereby restoring harmony within the social group.2

Notice the first three words in the quote above: all social groups.

Would this include the church? Sadly, it does.

Many churches and Christians mirror the blame, panic, and hatred of the cultures around them.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

On Good Friday we see that our violent system of blame and ritual killing is so evil that it is capable of the murder of God. And once we see it, we can repent of it, be forgiven for it, and be freed from it. This is how the cross saves the world.3

Jesus shows us a Way antithetical to the ways of the world. To follow Jesus is to leave blame, panic, and hatred behind; and walk in forgiveness, peace, and love.

We have a Lamb. We don’t need scapegoats. 

___________________________

1Christian Picciolini, “White American Youth,” p. 240

2Greg Boyd, “Crucifixion Of The Warrior God,” p. 694, 695 

3Brian Zahnd, “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God,” p. 114

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Pro-life" v. "Anti-abortion"

I worry about the recent surge of power among U.S. Christians, who seem to be focusing more and more on political means. . . . When I ask a stranger, “What is an evangelical Christian?” I get an answer something like this: “Someone who supports family values and opposes homosexual rights and abortion.”

If a century from now all that historians can say about evangelicals of the 1990s is that they stood for family values, then we will have failed in the mission Jesus gave us to accomplish: to communicate God’s reconciling love to sinners.1

Philip Yancey penned those poignant words in 1995.

Well, it ain’t the 1990s but one thing is certain: nobody—with a straight face—associates evangelicals with “family values” today. That ship has sailed. Or sank.

That being said, the Christian Right still opposes gay rights and abortion.

With “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday 2018” in our rearview mirror, I’d like for you to think with me about evangelicals and abortion.

Consider.

My dad told me something that has always stayed with me. He said that there was no money in finding a cure for cancer [etc.] . . . “There’s only money in looking for a cure,” he said. And he is right. There are billions of dollars raised every year for research and billions more in the sale of medicines which treat the symptoms of these diseases. Why would anyone be so foolish as to dry up the endless stream of revenues?

It’s no different with the abortion issue.

Simply put, the abortion issue is nothing more than a means to manipulate the evangelical Christians in America to vote for Republican candidates.2

Without being conspiratorial, it is true that Republicans have controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government several times over the years. Yet, abortion on demand remains the law of the land. Nevertheless, the anti-abortion crowd keeps voting for them and their empty promises.

In other words, the abortion issue is the Republican Party’s golden goose.

To be clear: I use the term “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life” because it is my opinion that “anti-abortion” is the more accurate term. That is, most evangelicals, in my experience, are “pro-life” only as it pertains to abortion. They are unabashedly not “pro-life” when it comes to the State’s wars and executions.

Such was not the case with Jesus’ earliest followers.
[U]nlike the Romans, Christians did not hold human life to be cheap and expendable. It was to be honored and protected at all costs, regardless of its form or quality [emphasis mine]. . . .

The intrinsic worth of each individual man and woman as a child of God and an immortal soul was introduced by Christianity.3

From time-to-time we need to be reintroduced to the intrinsic worth—the sanctity—of every human being.

So here goes…

Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, or where we’re from; we’re loved by God. We know this because He sent us His Son. What more could He possibly do?

Jesus is the highest and clearest expression of God’s heart for us.

So make no mistake: following Jesus leads to more than (but never less than) being anti-abortion. He leads us in the Way of life and love—womb to tomb…and then some.   

_____________________

1Philip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” p. 246

2Keith Giles, “Jesus Untangled,” p. 110 

3Alvin J. Schmidt, “Under The Influence,” p.p. 49, 60