Crying Foul

It’s no newsflash that our country is in the midst of a culture war. Christendom is a thing of the past and we are moving towards a more pluralistic society. I suppose it might surprise some of you that I think that’s a good thing, considering I’m a minister in a Christian church, but it’s true. (You can read my reasons for thinking that here.)

Today, Christians in America are faced with the fact that Christianity no longer holds hegemony over our culture. As America continues to embrace pluralism, the Church no longer enjoys a seat at the head table. And apparently, for a lot of Christians, that really ticks them off and they want the whole world to know it. We read it on Facebook and we hear about it in church. Our country’s going in the wrong direction and we need Jesus to come back and make things right.

But let me ask you this; what did Jesus do the first time he came to make things right?

When Jesus arrived on the scene in Israel, things were not going well. The Roman Empire had come in and taken over. They were oppressing the Jews and showing little concern for their religion or traditions. The Temple and priests were losing power and influence and they didn’t like it one bit. Everyone had been praying for the Messiah to come and make things right, so when Jesus finally arrived, the people got all excited. They assumed their Messiah would lead them in a military coup to overthrow the Romans and restore their country back to its original God-fearing ways.

But Jesus didn’t do that, did he? He didn’t plan an insurgency or organize a “bring-out-the-vote” campaign. He didn’t preach against the Roman Empire or blame their oppression on the Samaritans for intermarrying pagans. No, instead, he criticized the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and addiction to power and prestige. He didn’t make friends with the rising religious stars; but instead, hung out with the outcasts and misfits. As a result, he got labeled “friend of sinners” from the religious leaders who seemed more concerned with keeping the rules rather than loving their neighbor.

So Louie Giglio, a popular evangelical preacher, got invited to pray the benediction at a presidential inauguration. I’m sure he deserved it, because I know he has done some incredible things in ending modern-day slavery. But then, some watchdog group digs up a twenty-year-old sermon where he preached on the sins of homosexuality and because of the controversy surrounding it; he withdrew from the invitation to pray at the inauguration. My guess is he was hoping to avoid a major publicity scandal, which would have happened had he forced the issue. But instead of avoiding publicity, other well-known evangelical preachers have, in fact, stirred up the scandal, writing blogs and crying foul because one of our own was wrongly persecuted. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe Jesus would have been too concerned about whether or not he or any of his disciples had been invited to pray at Caesar’s inauguration.

 

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
 for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
 for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
 for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.     Matthew 5:1-12

 

 

Christendom Must Die!

You may have heard it said we live in a “post-Christian” era. That term used to make me a little sad. It was as if we were admitting the church had lost its ability to influence our culture. But in reality, as I gained a better understanding of what post-Christian really meant, I actually began to appreciate the idea of living and ministering in a post-Christian era.

I believe post-Christian really means post-Christendom.

As I studied church history, I came to realize that Christianity was forever altered in 313 A.D. under Emperor Constantine in his Edict of Milan. After that point, the Church became involved in politics and power, thus turning Christendom into a sociopolitical polity. Whole countries “converted” to Christianity. Clergy gained enormous social and political power. The Church began to gradually look less like the early church movement we read about in the New Testament, and instead grew to look more like the powerful Temple of Jesus’s day, which fought against him his entire ministry.

Under the rule of Christendom, the Church began flexing her muscles, intimidating converts into submission through fear, demanding conversion through shame, condemning dissonant voices through inquisition and fighting wars all in the name of Christ. While these practices were most prevalent in the Middle Ages, I think we can still see remnants of Christendom attitudes in 21st century America.

But I don’t believe Christianity was ever meant to rule over nations through power. Instead it was meant to infiltrate through love. John Stott said, “The essence of love is self-sacrifice.”  Christians are called to take up our crosses, not our swords. We are called to wash one another’s feet, not use ours to step all over one another. We are called to serve, not be served. We are to live in peace as peacemakers. While governments keep the peace by enforcing laws, the church is called to make peace, by promoting love.

So what kind of Christian are you? Are you one who dreams of going back to the day when Christendom ruled over the empire or one who envisions living forward in the Kingdom of God. The beautiful thing about living in the Kingdom of God is it doesn’t depend on a specific location or set of laws. It doesn’t matter who the president is, because there is no president, only a King. The Kingdom is not a location, past, present or future, nor is it an ideology; It’s a reality. It’s wherever Christ-followers live in love and truth. And that can be anywhere in the world, under any form of government.

I desire to be a Kingdom Christian, living in a post-Christendom world, understanding that:

Christendom was a temporal man-made empire, while Christianity is a God-gifted movement of the Holy Spirit.

Christendom has always sought power and position, while Christianity seeks humility and service.

Christendom demanded everyone to conform to the law, while Christianity encourages everyone to be transformed through freedom in Christ.

Christendom started wars in the name of God, while Christianity seeks to end wars in the name of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

Christendom birthed powerful churches guilty of persecution, while Christianity births powerful churches in the midst of persecution.

Christendom sought to change nations through majority rule, while Christianity seeks to change nations, one heart at a time.

Rest in peace, Christendom. Long live King Jesus!

Worshiping Ourselves

I just downloaded a cool new app on my phone. It’s called MindReader*. Basically what you do is take a picture of someone or a group of people and then when you click on their faces, it will read their minds. I recently tried it out on my church.

Here’s a picture of one of our church services. Everyone looks like they are deep in prayer don’t they?

But then I clicked on this guys face and look what he was thinking about:

I did this a number of times, and each time it appeared the person in the picture had something on his or her mind other than worship.

Or did they?

What does it mean to “worship”?

I believe it is in our DNA as humans to be worshipers. We all worship something. I’ve heard it said, we all have a God-shaped vacuum we are trying to fill. Whatever we create to fill that vacuum, whatever we place as our supreme worth or highest priority is what we worship. The English word for worship is rooted in the word “Worth”. To “worth-ship” is to ascribe worth to something or someone.

It might be another person, a girlfriend or a boyfriend, a parent or a child. It might be a hobby that takes up all our free time and extra income. It might be a sports team. It might be our career or our salary. It could be our country. Patriotism is wonderful, but if we put all our hope in tomorrow’s election, could we actually be worshiping our government as our supreme worth? Whatever we place as our supreme worth is what we worship. Now, please hear me. I’m not saying any of these things are necessarily bad or evil and some of these things need to be priorities in our lives, but if they get elevated to our highest priority, they can become an idol.

On the other hand, our idol could be something bad or unhealthy like an addiction. Whatever it is that we become preoccupied with, that is our object of worship. Food can become an object of worship for me. I can be sitting down for a meal and start wondering what my next meal will be. Comfort is another idol I wrestle with. I want to be comfortable at all times and anything that gets between me and my comfort is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why I sometimes shun confrontation, because it makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I can talk myself out of exercising or going for a walk, because it disrupts my comfort. Any of these things, good or bad, if they are elevated to our highest priority are our objects of worship.

So answer honestly for yourself, what is it you place as supreme worth in your life? What is your object of worship? Your idol? What gets priority in your time and money? Could it be your family or your country citizenship or ethnicity, or perhaps your church? Could it be an addiction to comfort or some substance like food or alcohol?

Whatever it is that we elevate as our highest priority, good or bad, I believe when we boil it all down, it really comes down to one common idol – Ourselves. When we choose our own comfort, pleasure, or our own preferences, we’re actually worshiping ourselves.

So what’s it going to take for us to reprioritize our lives and elevate Christ as our Utmost and Highest Priority? We need to come to the place where we can say, just as John the Baptist did, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

 

 

 

*Obviously this is a fictitious app. Or is it? Bwahahahaha!

Politics: Going on the Offensive

Am I the only one who has really close personal friends in both political parties? Or maybe I should ask it this way, am I the only person who  doesn’t like offending some of my really close personal friends who vote differently than me? I recognize my tendency to be a people-pleaser and that I often come across as milquetoast in my comments because of it, (I am seriously working on this issue through a 12-Step program), but for the life of me, I don’t know what someone, who posts strongly worded hateful jabs at a group of fellow citizens, hopes to accomplish.

When I see the volleying back and forth of insults and verbal violence on Facebook, I just say to myself, I’m so glad I have dual-citizenship. Yes, I’m a grateful American, and I’m glad that we have the freedom to speak our position and our beliefs, but I’m also a citizen of the Kingdom and I believe that citizenship should trump the former.

I believe being a Christian means that I show grace and humility to others. I am to love my neighbor as myself. Maybe that’s part of our problem; maybe we don’t love ourselves enough. Our maybe we think loving ourselves means self-entitlement or self-assertion. Jesus said it this way, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

When I come across some of these hateful comments, I think, where’s the love? The humility? There’s so much venom and hatred in some of these statements. One of the things I realized I needed to give up in my 12-Step program was “talk” radio. I used to listen to it all the time, but then I became aware that it was triggering bad behavior in me. When I listened to the venom coming from the radio, it would bring the venom out in me. It would generate anger in me. Why? Because, for one thing, listening to this stuff all the time was making me afraid for our country’s future. I had gotten caught up in all the fear mongering. I was becoming fearful, and that fear was making me angry at those people and policies the radio commentators were convinced were the cause of the problem. But here’s the thing, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

So, like I stated earlier, I’m glad I have dual-citizenship. My hope does not lie in a political party or in talk radio or even in the American government. My pursuit of happiness is not limited to my American citizenship. I have met many Christians in other countries who appear to be much happier than us. And I’m talking about countries like China, Kenya, Cambodia and Russia. As an American and a Christ-follower, I am called to be aware and active in both citizenships, but I am called to put my hope in Christ alone.

The King of Clubs

The deafening music churned the dancers into a stew of testosterone and sweat. Rhythmic pulsations of the sub-bass reverberated inside their bare chests as they gyrated to the music, all the while looking over each other’s shoulders in case someone better came along. Flashing strobe lights created a living film noir in the crowded bar.

Bruce was the bouncer on duty that night. It was his job to keep the crowd in line and the fire marshal in sight. A line had begun to form behind the velvet rope around 9:00, so he knew it was going to be a long night. He held a clip board that included a list of names and faces of trouble makers; violent activists with homophobic tendencies. He called it his “No Fly” list.

“Please keep the line against the wall, people,” Bruce demanded.

The next two men in line were deep in conversation and laughing. They hadn’t noticed the line had moved and that they were next.

“Okay, fellas, I need to see your IDs if you want in.”

The first guy handed Bruce his driver’s license. It read, “Johnson of Zebedee.” Bruce raised one eyebrow and gave him the once-over, then reached for the other guy’s ID.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have a driver’s license,” he said.

Bruce had heard every excuse before, so he wasn’t buying it. “I know you’re type, buddy. You think you’re king of the universe and don’t have to play by the rules. Is that right; are you the king of the universe?”

“I AM,” he answered. “I’m Jesus of Nazareth, and John and I are in town and were hoping to party with you tonight.”

Bruce dropped his clipboard and fell back against the wall as if smitten with a bad case of vertigo. As he tried to compose himself, he picked up the clipboard and checked his “No Fly” list. Surely, Jesus’ name would be on that list. But after checking it three times and consulting his manager, he pulled the velvet rope back and allowed Jesus and his friend John to join the party.

Has Paul’s Letters Become the Letter of the Law?

Facebook, like many other sources of media, can be used for good or evil. Having to endure the unending  requests to join FarmVille and MyCalendar has caused me to suspect that they might be the very spawn of Beelzebub himself.

Recently, I posted a somewhat controversial article on my Facebook page. Several of my friends “liked” it and even commented on it. As a matter of fact, one of my friends liked it so much she “shared” it on her Facebook page as well. But unfortunately she did not like what happened next. Within a matter of minutes she started receiving some harsh, and even snarky comments. Then some of her friends started sparring back and forth on her page arguing over theology and doctrinal issues that weren’t even related to the original intent of the post. It became so upsetting to her that she had to pull down her Facebook page so everyone could cool off. It was bizarre and pretty discouraging.

I say it was discouraging because, as a Christian, I want so much for my unbelieving friends to open up to the love of Christ. But I’m afraid when they see how his followers treat each other on Facebook or in person, all in the name of who’s got the best argument, they will reject what we stand for and want nothing to do with the church. Facebook, I think, feeds this problem because people tend to be bolder and less gracious when commenting on religion or politics online. There seems to be some false sense of anonymity, along with a lack of accountability that feeds this “lack of filter” problem.

When I read confrontational comments that are mixed with sarcasm and accusations of heresy, I wonder what is driving this person’s emotional reaction. Is it motivated out of love or anger? Is this person actually overreacting because maybe somewhere deep down inside they are trying to deny their own doubts or lack of faith? Or maybe it’s caused by fear that what they have believed all their lives might not be completely accurate. But then again, perhaps it is motivated out of love, tough love. I just wish they would consider adjusting the tone of their delivery.

Much of the controversy centers around various interpretations of scripture and/or how each person believes the Bible should be interpreted. Maybe I’m wrong here, but why does the Apostle Paul seem to be in the middle of many of these controversies today? We all tend to find direct quotes from his many letters to prove that our viewpoint or interpretation on scripture and doctrine is, in fact, the correct one.

Here’s what I find so fascinating and ironic about all this; most of what Paul was trying to do in his letters was to bring peace and reconciliation to believers who were in disagreement with one another. Many of these disagreements were over law or tradition versus faith and grace.

In Galatians 3:23-25, Paul explains, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

So here’s what I find so ironic; Paul spent his ministry guiding the new church into accepting freedom in Christ through faith. He strove to help free the new converts from being bound by the law. Yet today, it seems that many in the church have now turned Paul’s very words into a new law. And this new law must only be interpreted a certain way if the person wants to be considered a Christian in good standing. We must all believe everything with a uniformity of interpretation or we will be accused of being a heretic, the one word no Christian wants to be accused of.

So, my prayer is that the church will become a refuge of love and acceptance where every person can feel safe to grapple with their faith instead of an atmosphere of rules and suspicion where no one feels they can honestly admit they struggle with doubt or sin.

What do you think? Have we turned Paul’s letters into law that must be followed to the letter of the law?