Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Today’s World: One size fits all doesn’t apply

If there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that we can’t agree upon anything. Take hamburgers for example. How many ways can there be to put a patty of ground beef between two pieces of bread? Yet we have McDonalds, Burger King, Whataburger, Five Guys, In and Out, Carl Jrs and Wendy’s- just to name a few- and then there are the people who (for whatever reason) choose not to eat meat, so we have to include veggie-burgers too. Suddenly, a patty of ground beef (or soy) between two pieces of bread just got very complicated.

If hamburgers are a multi-layered, not to mention regionally influences issue (Whataburger in Texas, In and Out on the West coast), why do we think that issues effecting the nation and world have simple, black-and-white resolutions? Why do we think that “one size fits all” when it comes to complicated and far-reaching issues?

As a person who sees himself as a moderate on almost every spectrum (religiously, politically, socially), I find it extremely hard in today’s environment to boldly put my opinion into one single camp. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t listen, read and try to understand the issues- it’s because I have and I do. It seems to me that it is just as naive to not know anything about the issues we face as it is to believe that there is a simple, one-off solution to those issues. We simply cannot continue to believe that single solutions fix multi-faceted problems. However, it appears that the only solutions given are the two extremes on any issue (either everyone has to eat veggie-burgers or everyone has to eat Burger King). This only feeds into the divide. Everything has to be all one way or all another and those with an opinion different than our become the enemy. This is not to say that we don’t hold our preference, but we choose to understand why someone might hold the opposite preference. And we choose to engage in the art of…gasp…compromise.

Compromise has been beaten up and left for dead recently. To compromise, in our world, means that we have given up on our convictions. We have surrendered. We have given in. The response (and the anti-thesis) to compromise has become the “double-down.” When presented with an alternative opinion, view, perspective or preference, instead of intelligently debating the similarities and differences in order to come to a compromised solution, we simply repeat our previous position louder and with more ferocity.

On every spectrum the left goes further left and the right goes further right, what is going to happen to the vacuum created in the middle? It will either be filled by those displaced from the far left and the far right or the extremes will tear the whole continuum apart.

What makes me particularly concerned is that it also seems like the two pillars of Christian social-gospel (for lack of a better phrase) are equally susceptible to the current climate of providing simple solutions to multi-faceted problems. For centuries Christians have held on to love and life as nonnegotiable when it comes to the social-gospel (social-gospel meaning the way that the message of Jesus interacts with social issues, economic issues, government issues, justice issues, etc).

These two pillars, love and life, are both firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second is like (equal) to it, love your neighbor as yourself. Then the story that Jesus tells immediately following that statement (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus links love and life together. In the story, love of neighbor takes the form of protecting life. Couple that with the Bible’s repeated calls to care for widows, orphans and strangers- it is a natural next step to see early Christians, as well as modern Christians, caring for the sick, opening hospitals, opening schools and building  orphanages.

Yet these pillars are susceptible to the same “simple solution to multi-faceted problems” issue that we have been talking about. Is it inconsistent to be pro-life (in the anti-abortion sense) and be pro death penalty, military expansion and involvement in the world, refugee ban and at the same time being anti poverty -reducing initiatives, access to birth control, paid maternity leave? Is it inconsistent to proclaim that Jesus loved me and gave himself to die for me (while I was a sinner separated from God) and then put qualifiers on those that I love?

There are those that say there is no inconsistency, that these are apples and oranges and that justice or security demand tough choices to be made. There are those who say these examples are the very definition of hypocrisy, that pro-life means supporting all life, in all forms and love, if it’s a reflection of the love of Jesus, means loving all people. Christians fall on both sides. But again, the way that love and life apply to current issues is multi-faceted. What promotes love and life: closing abortion clinics or/and combating poverty? Using military strength to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable around the world or/and promoting the sanctity of all human life? Is there a continuum where we can fall between responsible love and reckless love? Or a chart that shows which lives matter more than others? These may be uncomfortable conversations but having them forces us to think through our positions and evaluate if they conform to the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. And if we discover that something is out of step with either, it us our application of love and life that needs to change not the definition of the gospel or the meaning of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

I guess what I’m saying comes down to this: we must begin to see and understand that these issues are large, complicated and ever changing (solutions that might have worked a decade ago, may not work today). And the way that we approach issues must be large, multi-tiered, and ever changing. Most of all we, as Christians, must have the hard conversations of how love and life (shown and enacted in Jesus Christ) interact with these issues. To believe that there are single solutions to these problems and continuing to practice “double-down” debates won’t provide long term solutions, in fact they are just as likely to create further problems.

 

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A Fellowship of Holiness, Newness and Flourishing

9780310277675_1Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). Last time we looked at the first three of six traits that McKnight says should define a diverse church. Those three traits were: grace, love and table. In this final post on this topic, we’ll look at the final three traits: holiness, newness and flourishing.

Holiness

“There are three elements to holiness. First, we don’t make ourselves holy; holiness is the inner work of God. Second, holiness means learning to live a life that avoids sin. Third, holiness means learning to live a life devoted to God” (118-119).

McKnight notes what Christian author and minister A.W. Tozer said, “the Christian life begins right where the Bible says it does- with God- and that the only path to holiness is time in God’s presence” (118). Not only is the church a group of people committed to one Lord, it is also a group of people committed to one end: holiness. Holiness should be the result of putting our faith into application in our lives.

Newness

“Everything about this early-church life was new for everyone. including Paul. They were trying out a new kind of community under a new Lord with new people around them with all kinds of new ideas about how to live under the new Spirit with new assignments and new gifts and new morals” (147).

Newness: New freedom, new faithfulness, new politics. As people within the Kingdom of God, we have the freedom to live as people of the Kingdom. We have a new way to be faithful to God because of God’s love and God’s grace. We have a new way to look at the world, a new politic.

Flourishing

“Twenty centuries of dismal disunity and the witness of a fractured church ought to convince us of our raw inability to be the church God wants us to be. The hope of this book is that that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents” (191).

McKnight goes on the say that this flourishing can only take place through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Which means that we can only flourish through the work and power of God, as God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, transforms our hearts individually and collectively.

McKnight’s book is well written, challenging and encouraging. It made me want to be a part of and to lead a church of differents and to see God take people from different backgrounds, social and economic classes and be united under one Lord. Not that they would be melted together into a homogeneous mass but that, like McKnight’s picture of a salad, the best of individual identity and giftedness contributes to the beauty and flavor of the whole. I encourage you to pick up this book.

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 3

This is a series about the metaphors we used to describe the church- and if they are really helpful or if there are better metaphors that we could be using. So far we have examined if the church is like a gas station or a family and if the church is like a hospital or a Tough Mudder.

Is the church like a battleship?

Is the church like a battleship?

Perhaps you have heard this: The church is not like a cruise ship, it’s like a battleship. I’ve heard this metaphor several different times in sermons or in discussions on the role of the church. This metaphor tries to correct the spiritual consumerism that plagues Western Christianity- as that we talked about in Part 1. The cruise ship is equated with pleasure, consumption, entertainment, extravagance and a midnight buffet (wait, that really is only on a cruise ship). While the battleship is equated with mission, purpose, dedication and the whole being greater than it’s individual parts.

I know it sounds repetitive at this point, but I get where this metaphor comes from. It gives purpose and meaning to the Christian life and (again) combats the consumerism that plagues our churches and vision of Christianity. In part one of this series, I talked about how there are good metaphors and better metaphors. I believe the battleship metaphor is a good metaphor but there is a better metaphor. The reason we need a better metaphor is because, within the world in which we live, we must be careful using militaristic language to describe Christianity. What other metaphor could we use that expresses similar meaning as a battleship but without the militaristic undertones?

The US embassy in Brussels

The US embassy in Brussels

What if the church was like an embassy? An embassy expresses mission, purpose and a representative of something bigger. What makes an embassy unique is that an embassy is a piece of one nation inside of another nation. If I am in France and go to the United States embassy, as soon as I walked through the gates it is like walking in the US. The same is true for the French, Spanish or Dutch embassies in the United States.

The mission of the US embassy in France (or any country) is to look after the interests of the Unites States, to advocate for it’s interests within the government, to undertake diplomacy as the official representative of the US government. The embassy also exists to provide a resource to US citizens visiting, working or who have a problem in the country where the embassy is located. Additionally, the ambassador stands as the official representative of the US government- with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

What if the church was like the embassy for the Kingdom of God within the world? What if Christians were ambassadors? That is what Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians. What if the church acted like the official representative of the Kingdom of God on the earth? What if we advocated for the interests of King Jesus? What if the church was a resource and advocate, not just for our “citizens,” but for all people? What if we lived like ambassadors, believing that each one of us is an official representative of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Wouldn’t we be braver? An ambassador has the full weight and power of the government behind them, we have the full weight and power of God behind us and that’s even more powerful than a battleship.

What Do Salvation and Salary Have in Common?

saltWhat do the words “salvation” and “salary” have in common?

They both come from “salarium,” the Latin word for “salt.”

It comes from the ancient practices of using salt as a form of currency or payment (salary) and the use of salt in religious practices throughout the Greco-Roman world, including in Judaism (Leviticus 2:13). These are just two of the many uses of salt within the ancient world.

In Matthew 5, Jesus calls his followers “the salt of the earth.” When I have heard this verse taught, the implications were limited to two- flavor and preservation. While those are true, being and living as “salt of the earth” means so much more.

Could it be that just like being and living as salt of the earth means more than what many of us have heard, being and living as a Jesus follower means more than what we have heard?

Does the way of Jesus mean more than belief? Does the way of Jesus mean more than mere morality? Does the way of Jesus truly transfer the way in which we live? If it does, how do we live the way of Jesus?


Coming February 2016

The Way of Jesus Study


The Way of Jesus Study is a 8 week journey through Jesus’ most in depth teaching on what it means to follow Him: the Sermon on the Mount. I want to begin to get the word out.

It is open to any and everyone. This is not a typical Bible study but an exploration, through as many different means as possible, to discover what it looks like to live the way of Jesus in 2016.

Consider joining The Way of Jesus study:

Sunday nights at 6:00pm in room E-102.

8 Weeks beginning February 14, 2016.

Find more information here.

If you have any questions, pass them along. Or let me know you’re interested in joining the journey.

An Un-Advent-ful World: Joy

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'” Luke 2:10-11

In this Advent series, we are looking at the themes of Advent as they are represented in the tradition of lighting the Advent candles: hope, love, joy and peace.

Joy is one of those words that rarely sees use in everyday conversation. Joy isn’t the go-to word for most people talking at the coffee shop or chatting around the office. People use words like ‘happy,’ ‘excited,’ ‘ecstatic’ but rarely ‘joy.’

The word joy is used over 200 times in the Bible but just looking at the times it is used in the New Testament, we find joy attached to a variety of events/attitudes/things:

  • The good news of the gospel brings joy (Luke 2:10-11).
  • Finding the kingdom of God brings joy (Matthew 13:44).
  • Being hated, ostracized and scorned because of Jesus brings joy (Luke 6:22-23).
  • Doing the work of Jesus brings joy (Luke 10:17).
  • Having your name recorded in heaven brings joy (Luke 10:20).
  • Seeing a sinner repent brings joy (Luke 15:10).
  • One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
  • We should consider it joy when we face trials (James 1:22).
  • Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that would follow (Hebrews 12:2).

That is just a small sampling of how joy is used through the New Testament. When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, it announced news that was to bring great joy to all people- every person and every people group. This was to occur because Jesus, the Messiah, had been born. In an un-advent-ful world, we may still be able to find joy but we are going to find joy in different places than what the biblical writers tell us. In an un-advent-ful world we will find joy in the things that bring pleasure, in things that are temporary or in things that bring excitement.

We may catch glimpses of more in the joy of a child or the joy of a beautiful sunset or the joy seeing a great work of art but in Advent we are able to experience everything as joy because we have the person of joy. In the coming of Jesus joy become more than a feeling or an emotion, joy become a person. We are able to experience everything as joy because we have Jesus, the person of joy, with us in and through everything.

When we see Jesus and when we have Jesus, we have a joy that can never be taken away (John 16:22).

 

 

The Wild West and the Kingdom: Let’s Talk About the Kingdom, Part 4

Over the last month or so, we have been unpacking some of the ideas around the kingdom of God. You can review part one, part two and part three to catch up on the discussion so far, but basically my main idea is that the kingdom of God is here, Jesus is King, so the way we look at the world changes and how we live changes based on that idea.

The paradox of the kingdom of God rests in that the kingdom is here and yet the kingdom is not fully realized. It’s like the old Wild West where, although the US government was in control, people had a tendency to do whatever they saw fit. The Wild West did have representatives of “the law” in judges, sheriffs and marshals who attempted to remind people that there was someone in charge even if it wasn’t clearly seen. You can see the comparison.

The kingdom of God and the role of the Christian in the kingdom of God are similar to what I described above: God is in charge even if people don’t acknowledge it and our task is to be representatives of God and remind those around us that someone is, indeed, in charge. The Christian message goes further however. Not only do we proclaim that God is in charge and that people should acknowledge God’s rule but that God wants them to join God’s family. God isn’t interested in a kingdom of subjects but, rather, a kingdom of sons and daughters.

The main question for this post is how do we represent God to a world of people who don’t know, or don’t care, that God wants to invite them into God’s kingdom and God’s family?

This is the point in the post where I could list one thing, three things, ten things that we could do to represent God- and they probably would all be right. I might even be able to come up with one or two that were clever or unique. The amazing thing is that I don’t have to create some list or come up with anything clever because Jesus gave us everything we need.

Jesus tells us that the way we represent the kingdom of God to those in the world is two-fold: love God (with all your heart, soul, mind, strength) and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said everything we attempt to do must one of those as it’s foundation. This stands especially true when we talk about representing the kingdom of God.

If Jesus is king now then I should love him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

When I’m tempted to view the world through the lens of evilism, I should love my neighbor and the people who make up the world as I love myself.

How do I live the kingdom of God in my personal spiritually? I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

How do I represent God and God’s kingdom to those living in the world? I love God and I love my neighbor.

When Jesus said that everything else we do or say rests on these two things, maybe he was right after all.

Rhythm and Purpose: Let’s Talk About the Kingdom, Part 3

In this series of blogs we have been talking about the kingdom of God. In Part 1, I talked about how Christians cannot live with a “sky is falling” attitude while at the same time believing that Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords right now. In Part 2, I talked about how we can be heralds of the kingdom and challenged us to think of ways to present the message of the kingdom in sound bites instead of sermons.

In this post I want to look at the idea of living the kingdom. If the kingdom of God is supposed to change the way we live, not just what we believe, how should we live? How do we live the kingdom in the midst of day to day life?

At this point there is much we could say about how we live toward other people. We could talk about how we love others or how we are generous to others or extend grace to others. Those are all aspects of living the kingdom, and some of them will be discussed in the next post, but in this post I want to focus on each of us individually.

I think that when we talk about the kingdom of God changing the way we live, it focuses on two aspects: rhythm and purpose.

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of Christian writers and teachers (everyone from Catholic theologians to Rob Bell) talk about the importance of living in a rhythm. Living in rhythm provides an opportunity to have times of work, rest, play and spiritual reflection. There are daily rhythms, weekly rhythms, monthly rhythms and yearly rhythms.

I understand the importance of living in rhythm but I admit that I don’t live in rhythm well. The main reason I don’t live in rhythm well is because I haven’t let the full purpose sink into my life and into my soul. The purpose of living in rhythm isn’t to make sure all our tasks are accomplished during the day, week, month or year. The reason we live in rhythm is exactly the opposite. We live in rhythm to show that we trust God enough to spend time in rest, that we enjoy God enough to spend time in play and that love God enough to spend time in spiritual reflection and in spiritual disciplines. The rhythm of the months and the year remind us of the story of God and refresh us to our place within that story. Our king reigns and we are called to live as if that were true. As I try to live in rhythm myself, I am sure that I will explore this topic again in more depth.

Where does the idea of purpose enter into the discussion? As we live the kingdom, not only are we called to live in a kingdom rhythm but we are called to live with a purpose. Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy writes that as followers of Jesus we are called to be “apprentices of eternal living.” Let that sink in for a minute. Our purpose on earth is not to fulfill our desires for pleasure, money or power. Our purpose on earth is not to wait for heaven. Our purpose on earth is to spend our years, however many those may be, learning from and modeling the words and actions of Jesus. As Jesus did only what he saw the Father doing and in that Jesus did the Father’s will, our purpose is to do what Jesus did. In this way the kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven. For, as Willard also says, heaven is simply the space where the will of God is, “simply, done.”

When we think about living the kingdom on an individual basis we need to ask ourselves, what rhythm am I living and what purpose am I fulfilling? In the next post we’ll look at how we await the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom and what that means for how we live with others.