Thursday, March 23, 2017

Something's Missing

As I catch snippets of news, Facebook fights, and sometimes actually talk to people; I’m finding that lots of folks primarily think of evangelicals as people who: 1) hate abortion, 2) hate gay marriage, 3) love guns, and 4) vote Republican.

Dear reader, what do any of these things have to do with Jesus?

Now, we can debate over who is more to blame for how evangelicalism in America is perceived—the media or evangelicals themselves—but what seems beyond dispute is that this perception is very real and widespread. (Personally, I believe it is real, widespread, and deserved.)

A philosophical question: Is evangelicalism—divorced from Christ—a meaningful or logically consistent term? 

I don’t think it is.

Evangel is defined as “the Christian gospel (good news).” When evangelicalism is no longer rightly or truly associated with Jesus—the only Evangel—it’s simply another failing “ism.”

We [evangelicals] proclaim to follow a man who chose to affiliate himself with the poor and dispossessed, who called the political and religious leaders of his day to account, who saw and loved people whom others had discarded. . . . When “evangelical” starts to sound like very bad news for very many Americans, it has drifted far from its roots. . . . I can’t defend my people [evangelicals]. I barely recognize them.

Perhaps when Jesus says, “apart from Me you can do nothing” He means it.

The culture needs more Jesus. So does the church.

Maybe you and I can work on that. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick, The Humble & Fearless

Once again, St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. While we commemorate the patron saint of the Emerald Isle, we should pause for a moment to thoughtfully consider: Who was this man?

Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.

Details of his life are uncertain. Current research places his dates of birth and death a little later than earlier accounts. Patrick may have been born in Dunbarton, Scotland, Cumberland, England, or in northern Wales. He called himself both a Roman and a Briton. At 16, he and a large number of his father’s slaves and vassals were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold.

After six years, Patrick escaped, probably to France, and later returned to Britain at the age of 22. His captivity had meant spiritual conversion. . . . His great desire was to proclaim the Good News to the Irish.

In a dream vision it seemed “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He understood the vision to be a call to do mission work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition from those who felt his education had been defective, he was sent to carry out the task. He went to the west and north, where the faith had never been preached, obtained the protection of local kings and made numerous converts.

He suffered much opposition from pagan druids and was criticized in both England and Ireland for the way he conducted his mission.

In a relatively short time, the island had experienced deeply the Christian spirit, and was prepared to send out missionaries whose efforts were greatly responsible for Christianizing Europe.1

I like the opening observation that he had two “solid qualities,” viz. humility and courage. Oh, that we would have such solid qualities of heart and soul!

It is further observed,

Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man, whose love and total devotion to and trust in God should be a shining example to each of us. So complete was his trust in God, and of the importance of his mission, he feared nothing -not even death.2

Here we discover the bedrock of his exemplary character: love for, total devotion to, and complete confidence in God. This is not the way of the world—and look at the rotting fruits of godless living and thinking!

But Jesus calls us to a different Way than that of the world. He says, Follow Me.

Will we do this? Will we trust Him and His Way in every aspect of our lives? I assure you, following Jesus and His Way is the greatest privilege we will ever have in this life or in the life to come.

I leave you with a prayerful verse penned by St. Patrick.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________

1http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1325

2http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jesus & Other Emperors

I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him. ~attributed to Napoleon 

Jesus is a different sort of king with a different sort of kingdom. Even Napoleon (Bonaparte not Dynamite) could see this.


Not only does he acknowledge that Christ is incomparable to all others, but he readily concedes that all emperors—himself included—and all empires are inferior to Jesus and His Way.

Napoleon can see it. Can we?

David Gornoski thinks we cannot.

We believe in the way Karl Marx and other counterfeit Jesuses in history have offered: violent power is the highest good we should desire. Might makes right. Majority rules. The Public Will can sacrifice a misfit who objects. All those crusty, stinky, stupid barbaric mantras are shortcuts to heaven that lead to hell.

Did you notice how Napoleon and Gornoski speak of force and violent power? These are the ways of the kingdoms of the world. Everyone is striving for power over others.

Our King—King Jesus—shows us the way of power under. His is not the way of coercion but of persuasion; not of sacrificing others but of laying down our own lives for the sake of others.

Jesus invites us to come and die—not go and kill.  

“Take up your cross and follow Me,” He says.

Thus, an early follower of His writes: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [i.e. their sinful nature] with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

We are called to love. This is the highest ethic of Christ’s kingdom.

Will you join me in taking a quick look inside?

Our motives, desires and aspirations; the way we think about and interact with others: Who do we truly emulate—Jesus or other emperors?

I wonder if the folks who know us best would agree with our assessment. I wonder if Jesus does.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Americianity

I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. . . . Rather than focusing our understanding of God’s kingdom on the person of Jesus—who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day—I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.

Greg Boyd published the above words in his book, “The Myth Of A Christian Nation,” back in 2005. This book and other experiences have served and continue to serve in opening my eyes to my own long-held blind spots.

My thesis is this: While evangelicals strove with secularism, they succumbed to syncretism.

Syncretism is defined thus:

A combination, or coalescence of varying, often mutually opposed beliefs, principles, or practices, esp. those of various religions, into a new conglomerate whole typically marked by internal inconsistencies.

Specifically, I believe a large portion of evangelicals are fusing Christianity with American civil religion.

American civil religion espouses ideas such as material prosperity, American exceptionalism, the spread of democracy, militaristic superiority, and so on. Its hallowed texts are The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence. Its confession of faith is the Pledge of Allegiance. Its songs of worship are “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America The Beautiful.” Its holy symbol is the US Flag.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things per se, or with patriotism in general, the conflating of Americanism with Christianity is detrimental to those within evangelicalism and confusing to those without it.

For example, last week I saw a T-shirt with a Cross painted in stars and stripes. It read: “STAND FOR THE FLAG, KNEEL FOR THE CROSS.”  Talk about a mixed message!

You see, dear reader, Americianity is not the good news of scripture.

You may think I’m wrong. You may sincerely believe that many, if not most, evangelicals do not hold to a form of Americianity; that they are not syncretistic in their beliefs.

But I would simply ask you to reread the definition of syncretism above and then think about how evangelicals commonly react when someone “sins” against the Pledge of Allegiance, the Flag, or the National Anthem.

Think about how evangelicals relentlessly beat the drums of war, persecuting any and all “heretics” who are pro-life when it comes to foreign policy.

How many evangelicals do you know “excommunicate” folks for daring to question their sacred political opinions? (How many of you are angry with me right now, just for asking you to think about these things?)

Jesus is clear.

He says His kingdom is in the world but not of it. He says to give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to Him. He asks His followers to pursue His kingdom with all that we are and to never confuse it with the kingdoms of this world—including the American one. 

Evangelicals and everybody else would be better off if they’d do things His Way, don’t you think? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Good Life

Beware of these teachers of religion! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. They love to sit in the best seats in the synagogues and at the places of honor at banquets—but they shamelessly cheat widows out of their homes and then, to cover up the kind of men they really are, they pretend to be pious by praying long prayers in public.
~Jesus   

A couple of weeks ago we thought about Jesus’ warning against the sinful influences of politics and religion (read here). 

Now we see what He thinks of people who use God as a manipulative means to political, social, or economic ends (Luke 20:46). 

Many of the religious teachers around Jesus were quite enamored with special clothes, special greetings, special seats in church, and special places at parties.


Rich and powerful scribes—their protracted and pretentious public prayers notwithstanding—don’t impress Jesus. He fully understands the kind of people they truly are.

And He doesn’t want us to be anything like them.

Accordingly, He teaches us that we cannot follow Him and pursue prestige, power, and popularity. If we decide to follow Him it will be in the Way of the Cross. He says,

If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me (Matthew 16:24).

This isn’t to say that a follower of Jesus can never experience fame or fortune; but to insist that such things—if they come—will not be the focus or goal of the Christ-follower’s life. The wealthy and/or admired Christian will seek to use these things to further the kingdom of God as humbly as she can. Enjoying God now and forever will be her highest end or good.

So why trade a full life with Jesus for an empty one without Him?

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world,
and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
~Luke 9:25

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Love, Marriage, and CS Lewis

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (CS Lewis, The Four Loves)

The Four Loves is a marvelous study on the various types or kinds of love within human experience. Lewis examines our “loves” in light of four Greek terms: storgephilia (also phileo), eros, and agape.

I’d like to consider eros

Eros, in Hollywood, is the end all and be all of all things between a man a woman. Hollywood knows only one sort of love and it knows it wrongly.

Hollywood, more often than not, simplistically equates eros with sexual desire (from eros comes erotic). But eros is more than sexual desire and sexual desire is often less than eros. Human sexuality may operate within eros or without it. (When it operates without it, it is little more than—in fact it may properly be thought of as less than—animalistic.)

Eros, as conceived by Lewis, is the state of “being in love.” Healthy marriages certainly enjoy romantic love. But eros in marriage cannot simply be enjoyed. It must be encouraged. Godly spouses will seek to stir eros in their covenant lover’s heart, as well as in their own heart.

Yet, as vitally important as eros is to marriage, it is but one aspect of it. We dare not elevate eros too highly. We must not make a god of him as Hollywood has done.

As Lewis observes,

Eros, honored without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon . . . what costlier offering can be laid on love’s altar than one’s conscience?

How many homes have been decimated, honor betrayed, and hearts vitiated in the name of “love”? Eros must be submitted to Christ and His word. And when it is, it is glorious.

Rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love (Proverbs 5:18b-19).


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Jesus & Other Ways

Early Christianity was known as the Way—a clear reference to Jesus’ claim of being “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). To be sure, there were many ways then as there are now, but Jesus eschews them all and invites us to do the same.

However, we sometimes con ourselves into believing that we can somehow hang onto Jesus while following other ways. But how does one simultaneously travel north and south and live to tell about it?

Quite often we are so enculturated by the ways of world that we are oblivious to our wandering. Indoctrination can be imperceptible.

Thus, Jesus warned His earliest disciples: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15).

Jesus uses leaven as a metaphor of sin’s invisible or unnoticeable, spreading or increasing influence in our lives. We may imagine that we needn’t heed the Lord’s “Watch out!” because—the last time we checked—the Pharisees and Herod are long gone.  

Yes, but their ways are with us still.

The Pharisees walked the way of religion; Herod the path of politics.

Dear reader, please beware of the leaven of politics and religion. These coercive ways are not the Way of Christ and they can never advance the kingdom of God.

Those who dismiss the Lord’s warning against the ungodliness of politics and religion should remember this one important thing: Jesus reads Facebook.

I think He knows what He’s talking about. Don’t you?

Pharisees, Herods, Zealots, Essenes
Caesars, gods, and philosopher kings
So many ways, so many means
Ends never to bring
Apart, above, below and beyond
Power’s thirst allayed
Quenched on a Cross, love displayed
The Way of a crucified God