Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Poor Among Us

It's no secret that God has called us, as His people, to care for one another. He has called us specifically to care for the poor among us, the orphans and the widows, those without as significant a means of provision as we have. And the world looks at this and says that clearly, the answer is socialism - the redistribution of wealth. 

But that would not be what Jesus said.  

Yes, Jesus told us to care for the poor, but He also told us that we will always have the poor among us. Since we know that Jesus only said what He meant, it should jump out at all of us that not once did He tell us that our role in the world was to eradicate poverty. Not once did He tell us that we should make sure that no one is ever poor in any place ever again. 

In fact, what we see is that Jesus (and God, throughout the entirety of His Word) places honor and dignity on the poor. The Bible is full of the stories of the impoverished...and how the wealthy should respond to them. 

The Old Testament tells us that we should not keep a neighbor's garment as security for a loan overnight. Anyone who needs a loan is poorer than his life demands, so we know this is commentary on poverty. If we keep his coat, that might be the only thing that he has to keep warm overnight; thus, we should return it before the sun sets so that he can protect himself from the elements. Notice that God does not say, "Give the man whatever will satisfy his needs so that he never has to offer his coat again." 

The Old Testament also tells us that we should leave the edges of our fields unharvested and that we should not go back and pick up the ripened crop that we have dropped. Why? So that the poor can come and have the dignity of gathering their own food, even if they do not have the means of land to grow it. Notice that God does not say that we should give the poor a portion of our land to use for themselves. No, that's not the point. 

In the Gospels, we have two striking examples of generosity in poverty on display - the widow's two mites and the woman of ill-repute's perfume. The widow, Jesus tells us, gave more than anyone else, despite having less to start with. And the woman of ill-repute was more gracious in receiving Him than the richer man who owned the home into which she so boldly walked. Notice that Jesus does not say that the church should give the widow the entire contents of the offering box or that someone should replace the woman's perfume. 

For Jesus, for God, this world has never been about its financial economy. Not once does He tell us that we are to eliminate poverty. 

That sounds harsh. It sounds particularly harsh in a world so bent toward something it calls "equality." And we could talk about that for a minute, but let's not run down that rabbit hole. Let's just say that it is distasteful to our world that we, as Christians, would have an ethic that doesn't eliminate poverty at its very core, that isn't called to "fix" this "injustice." But poverty is the world's injustice, not God's. 

God has always seen poverty as an opportunity. 

It's an opportunity for us to demonstrate that God is sovereign, no matter our circumstances. It's an opportunity for us to say that God alone satisfies our souls. Paul says that he has learned to live with a lot and with a little, and this is the kind of call that God places on our lives - to look beyond our means and our measures and discover the richness of His mercy and love. The poor among us are not only praised, but held up as a testimony, when they get this right (as with the widow and the woman of ill-repute). And the rich among us? The rich among us are testified against, that we might do better with what God has given us. That we might remember that we are not the only ones on His planet. Poverty teaches us something essential about God and faith that we simply could not learn without it, no matter what angle we experience it from.  

That's why God isn't interested in eliminating poverty. But there is more even than this, and we'll start breaking that down tomorrow. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Kingdom Economics

This week, we're looking at the world's criticism that more Christians should be (and therefore, should vote) socialists. After all, isn't that what Jesus stood for? We will respond to this criticism by forming a robust definition of Christian community, but first, we need to get one thing fundamentally clear:

Jesus was neither political nor economic. And...intentionally so. 

Everyone thought that Jesus was coming as king, but Jesus resisted this at every turn. He refused to let the people make Him their political leader. And the fact that the religious leaders were far more intimidated by Him than the political leaders just shows us how well He separated Himself from this notion of the people. The people might have wanted Him to be King, but the Romans were not particularly scared of that happening. They weren't the ones coming after Him.

What complicates this is that God does give us instructions about government, and Jesus Himself shows us how to live under the governance of others. The most famous of all of these lines is, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." And when His own taxes come due and His disciples seem overly concerned about it, Jesus simply responds by telling them to go catch a fish and give that coin to the government. So at the same time, He is both very laisse-faire about the whole thing and also intentional - we are to submit ourselves to our governments and live as good citizens, but we must also recognize what small and futile things our government truly controls for us. Certainly, it is not the government's job to run our lives or to determine our provision; we are the ones who provide for it. 

Neither was Jesus particularly economic. He paid His taxes and, in fact, this is the only money we ever see change hands in His Gospel - the money He gives to the government. He provides many other things for the people, but not financially. He feeds them. We assume He clothes them (I just can't imagine Jesus sending a naked woman caught in adultery away naked). He heals them. He makes every provision possible for them, but He doesn't give anyone money. Nor does He imply that they should expect money that they have not worked for. 

The economy of Christ is one of grace, generously given. What He keeps showing us, again and again, is that provision is not always, or even fundamentally, financial. He is always looking for the greater thing that someone needs - healing, forgiveness - and offering that. He doesn't simply make a way for them to buy themselves out of whatever situation they are in. Rather, He restores them so that they are able to provide for themselves. 

Does that mean that Jesus wouldn't give someone money? I don't think so. I think if it came down to it and that was the best way for them to take another step toward whatever God had created them for, He would give a little financial cushion to help them bridge that gap. I just think He recognized that money is not everything that we make it out to be, and I think that led Him to live a deliberate example of true economy - one that doesn't run on coins, but on change. 

Even in His greatest example of going the extra mile, He doesn't mention money. If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. If someone makes you give him your coat, give him your shirt, too. If someone makes you go one mile, go two. Not once does He say, if someone exacts payment from you, give him more than he asked for. 

And when the widow gives her two mites into the collection box, Jesus never says that someone should go and give her the whole collection box so that she has enough to live on. He never says that someone should go cut her a check so that she has more to give the next time. He never says that someone should be eliminating her poverty. In fact, Jesus plainly says that we will always have the poor among us, which means that Jesus was at no point envisioning a socialist economy (of course, we could argue that under socialism, everyone is poor, but I don't think that's what He meant, either). Jesus didn't have in mind an equal distribution of wealth. 

If He did, then every servant would have received ten talents. 

Are you getting the point here? Our world wants to tell us that everything is politics and money - even Christianity - and yet, these are two things that Jesus just didn't care that much about. In the grand scheme of grace, they weren't even on His radar. He knew they were important to us, and that they were going to become even more important to us generations later, and He felt the pressure of even His disciples to step into these arenas. He had every opportunity to say something about them, to create for us a working definition of "Christian" politics and economy...and He didn't. He deliberately chose not to. 

So I think it's fair to say that we shouldn't, either. We should stop letting the world tell us that our faith boils down to the same things it's interested in. We should stop letting the world push us toward something that Jesus deliberately stepped away from. 

Does Jesus call us to socialism? He does not. And honestly, the kind of community He does call us to is far, far different (and so much better). 

Jesus and Socialism

If you spend much time on social media, you've probably seen at least a few persons calling out Christians for being so conservative, "especially for a people who follow a Christ who was all for the redistribution of wealth" (among other things). The argument - usually from those on the left and usually from those outside of the church - is that Jesus was a socialist, so His people should be, too. 

Because, you know, everything has always been about politics and economics.

First, we should note that most of the time, these persons are citing principles espoused by Paul, not Jesus. Jesus spoke about giving freely, about not being stingy, about helping others with what you have been given. Paul spoke more about how giving was a communal activity, how it was meant to help the poor among us, and that sort of thing. So the notion of socialism, if it can be tied to the New Testament, probably ties more closely to Paul than to Jesus. 

The question, then, is whether socialism should be tied to New Testament Christianity at all. 

To answer this question, we first have to define our terms. Socialism is an economic system, not a political one; its political counterpart is Communism, although there is still some difference between the two. Socialism, as an economic system, depends upon the 'equal' distribution of wealth. That is, everyone should be given a relatively secure amount of financing in order to be able to provide for their needs, regardless of their contribution to work for it. Under socialism in its purest form, the garbage man makes the same amount of money as the neurosurgeon. 

Here, too, is a point where those arguing this point want to make a tie-in to Christianity. This is the story of the many parts of the body, right? Every part of the body has its function, and we would not be who we are without any single one of them. So the guy who changes the light bulbs in the church or the girl who teaches the children or the pastor who preaches from the pulpit are all exactly equal. Under this theory, they say, we should not pay our pastors at all, for they are just part of our body like any other part of our body and deserve no special treatment (i.e. a salary). Isn't this socialism? they ask. Doesn't this prove what Jesus had in mind?

Again, Paul. Not Jesus. But I digress. 

And certainly, there is wisdom given to us that those who have more should give freely to those who have less so that no one within our body is in need. And isn't that socialism? Doesn't that prove that that's what Jesus wants? 

Again, not Jesus. A lot of this is in Acts. So, Luke. But again, I digress. 

You can start to see, though, the argument that is shaping up. If Christians are called to care for one another, even financially, and to make sure that the poor among them are provided for out of the wealth of the rich among them and if Christians are called to not honor one person over another, regardless of social status or economic status or education or ability or whatever, then, these persons say, Christians are called to be socialist and therefore, they should start voting as such. (That is the end goal, isn't it? To convince Christians to be voting a certain way. Christians remain one of the largest voting demographics in American culture, so this is vitally important to those who care so much about politics.) 

That's the argument, and for those who have only a surface reading of Scripture, it sounds pretty convincing. But...it shouldn't be. Because the way this argument has been shaped by those using it is a far cry from the way that Jesus (or Paul or Luke) have actually presented it in our Scriptures. It's a far cry from what God actually requires of us and the way He has actually called us to live in community with one another (and even with the world). 

Was Jesus a socialist? No. Was Paul a socialist? No. Was Luke a socialist? No. Have Christians been called to socialism? No. And this week, we're going to break this down further and look at why not, while building a more robust definition of Christian community along the way. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Wayward Prophets

So what's the point? The point is that even though it very often seems that we would jump at the opportunity to have Jonah's calling - to go into the world and tell them how wrong they are - the truth is that Jonah's story betrays our own insecurities. We are more like the prophet than we care to admit. 

And the reason we don't care to admit it is because it reveals a fundamental flaw in our contemporary theology. Namely, we are not as close to God as we would like to pretend. Most of us have never authentically encountered God; we are living our lives by proxy through those that we hope have (and by the way, many of them are lying to us because they haven't authoritatively encountered God, either). And even in cases where we are absolutely convinced of the nature and character of God, we still struggle with His story; it is so often not the story that we would be writing (or sometimes, that we think He would be writing). 

What, then, is the answer to our plight? It is, quite simply, a big fish. 

We all need the kind of experience that Jonah had on his way to Tarshish. We all need to have that moment when God is so undeniably big, undeniably real, and undeniably good that we beg Him for another opportunity to get in on His story. We need to have an authentic encounter with God. 

We need revival. 

Our churches used to do this all the time. Revival was a huge movement for a long time. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of persons would show up at a certain place and a certain time, certain that they would encounter the living, active, loving God there. Knowing that He was going to show up. Expecting nothing less than the fullness of the Holy Spirit in that place. In them. 

The sad truth is that the overwhelming majority of us don't even show up to church with that expectation. We don't think on a Sunday morning that God is going to join us. We expect to see three songs, a prayer, a sermon, and an invitation; we don't expect to see the Holy Spirit. In many cases, God is the last person we'd expect to see in our assemblies; we'd be more surprised if He showed up than if that neighbor with the "get off my lawn" sign walked in. 

That's why we run for Tarshish. 

But maybe...maybe running for Tarshish is what we need sometimes. Maybe that's the thing that's going to turn this around for us. Maybe, while we're busy running away, we'll finally find that God is, as He always has been, running toward us. Maybe what we need more of in our lives is a big fish. A fish so big that we can't possibly deny it. Maybe we all need to be covered in a little fish snot. Maybe that would wake us up. 

We're more like Jonah than we think. We really are. We like to think that we wouldn't be, but our faith testifies against us. We simply don't have a theology that turns us toward Nineveh right away. Most of us, that is. We are a people running for Tarshish. That's just the truth. 

So, then, may we be a people who discover God on the way there. Who find Him in the storms. Who throw ourselves with wild abandon into His seas. Determined, if nothing else, not to die wayward, but to die Godward, if we must die. And then, perhaps, to live. By nothing but His grace. 

Which, by the way, He's been giving us all along. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Strange Narrative

Maybe our trouble is not that we have not had convincing, authoritative personal experiences with God, but maybe our trouble is that we are too certain of who we think God is...or who He is supposed to be. 

Jonah knew God. He heard God's voice. He knew, or at least, he was very convinced, that it was God's voice. He knew the Word that the Lord had given him. And He knew that the Word that God had given him was true.  Jonah knew without a doubt that if he went and preached to Nineveh, God was going to show up and do what God had promised to do. 

See, Jonah took the encounter he had with God and he held it up against everything he knew and believed about God, and he found it to be convincing. He knew it was authoritative. It lined up perfectly with God's character, so far as Jonah knew it. 

What Jonah could not reconcile, however, was God's Word with God's narrative. 

Nineveh was a foreign peoples. They were not God's chosen people. They were not Israelites. They were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. These were the kind of peoples that Israel was supposed to force out, that God was supposed to defeat. He wasn't supposed to redeem them. He wasn't supposed to send a word of repentance to them. They were not His people, so Jonah believed they should not have been his problem. 

And this is another place where we get hung up, too. 

Maybe we know God. Maybe we are certain of God's character. Maybe we take a Word that is put on our hearts and we evaluate it and we know that it is from God. Maybe it is so full of love and grace and mercy that we know that it couldn't be anything but Him. Maybe we know exactly what it is that God is calling us to do. 

But maybe what we don't get is how He is writing it into His story. Maybe what we don't understand is how it fits into the bigger picture. This is especially true when we think we've figured out what God is doing in our lives and in our world. Some of us have grand ideas and we've got our feet on a certain path and we are pretty sure we know exactly where that path is leading and what rocks we're going to have to climb over along the way. 

Then, we get a word that this path detours through Nineveh, and we can't comprehend it. We don't understand how that is possible, let alone how that is good. It sounds like the God we know, but the setting is all wrong. The scene is wrong. The story was moving along quite nicely, but this? This seems like a scene from another book altogether. And we're not interested in detours. 

So we turn toward Tarshish. 

Now, on the surface, this seems like the very kind of detour we were trying to avoid, but the thing about Tarshish is that we take our God with us. We take His story with us. We know exactly who He is when we carry Him on our shoulders into places we determine for ourselves to go. There are no surprises about God in Tarshish (so we think), whereas Nineveh....Nineveh could throw a wrench in this whole thing. 

And, well, we'd rather have our small version of God that we comprehend than to have a bigger view of Him that gets a little messy.

Nineveh, God? Really? Nineveh? God's story doesn't run through Nineveh

Which is precisely how it comes to run through Tarshish.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

A Measure of Doubt

We left yesterday with a question - are we a generation of doubters? 

It seems that our experience of ourselves is more convincing to us than our experience of God, and the sad truth is that most Christians today have not experienced God in a way that makes Him worthy of their worship. But the question that we've posed is not so simple. 

It's one thing to say that perhaps we have doubts, and that wouldn't be particularly a bad thing. Doubts are simply questions, and questions are how we grow. Every single Christian, all the way back to the disciples themselves, has had doubts. Every single person who has ever believed in Jesus has needed Him to show Himself to them.  Every single believer from the very beginning of time has asked God if He is for real. Our doubts are the very things that lead us to faith. 

The trouble with this generation seems to be that we no longer consider that God might be the answer to our questions. Even when we have questions specifically about God, we don't seem to go to Him asking for the answer. We don't seem to want Him to chime in on these things that are most aching to our souls. 

We go to the world. We ask culture what it thinks about God. We ask our friends what they think about God. We ask our pastors what they think about God. We read books that tell us what others think about God. And we are left unsatisfied by the answers. 

It's because this way that we ask, this group that we ask, still leaves this disconnect between us and God. It still keeps us one step away from Him. There is still a distance between God and His people. Because we know what everyone else thinks about God, and we assume they probably have good reason for thinking that, but we still haven't experienced Him ourselves. 

So we're right back where we started - a people who have valid, reasonable questions about God who have not had an authentic experience with Him that would satisfy our aching souls. We're left in the very same place - with a God who is not authoritative enough in our life to make any difference. 

This is what a culture of relative truth has done to us. It has left us with questions to which we can never get a satisfactory answer because we believe the best way to answer any question is to gather a bunch of diverse data and weight it out and make our own conclusions based on what truth is to everyone else. 

Think about a restaurant you are considering trying. You look at the menu, and maybe the Facebook page, to see if it's even a kind of food that you might like. Then you start asking around. You ask your friends and members of your community what they think about it. Maybe you search for the health department's inspection records or a site listing a bunch of reviews. You take all of this data and decide that this is a good restaurant, so you go eat there. But you don't like it. This crowd-sourcing of truth has told you that something is good, but it wasn't good in your opinion - how are you ever supposed to trust that anything is good ever again?

Or maybe you decide that you don't want to eat at this restaurant. So you don't. For years, you avoid this restaurant because, based on the opinions of your friends and community, you know you won't like it. Then, your boss calls a business meeting, and you're forced to eat there with your coworkers and managers. And guess what - you like it! Actually, it might be your favorite new place. You just wasted years missing out on this because everyone else convinced you that you might not like it. 

This is what happens when truth is relative; we develop a whole bunch of expectations in a world where we cannot just go out and determine truth for ourselves. If you just decided, hey, I want to try this restaurant and went and tried it, you could have avoided ALL of this mess...but that's not how we operate any more. 

And it's killing our relationship with God. 

We are a people who don't just go to God. We don't just seek Him out. We don't ask Him the questions that we have, even the questions that we have about Him because we've been taught that that's not how you discover truth any more. You can't possibly understand the wholeness of something by just experiencing it for yourself. And yet, it is this personal experience that is the very thing that we depend on to guide our lives by its authority (and, ironically, it is this personal experience that we are counting on others to have had to guide us in our own questions - we don't ask someone to recommend a restaurant they've never been to). 

Do you see how stuck we are? It's insane. 

No wonder we're headed for Tarshish. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Experiencing God

The fact that most of us are far-too-willing to tell everyone else when they're wrong, according to our personal beliefs, but that we would hesitate (if not run the opposite direction) when God tells us to tell them they are wrong should cause us a little bit of pause. 

What this means more than anything is that we put more authority in our own experience than we do in God's word and perspective.

And what this means more than anything is that many of us are living lives - even lives of faith - where we have not had a convincing experience of God. 

That's a problem. 

If the threshold for our action and our opinion is that we have considered an idea, weighed it out, measured it, and found it substantial - and not just substantial, but good (we don't usually fight for things we do not consider good), then the fact that we are unwilling to fight for God, or even to speak on His behalf, means we have not done at least one of these things. 

Maybe we have not considered God. Maybe we are among the thousands, if not millions, of Christians whose faith is not their own. We were taken to church by our parents or our other relatives, or we fell under the influence of someone we admire or even a good pastor, and the faith that we carry with us is theirs, not ours. We are Christians because someone else brought us to Christianity, and we have never considered it for ourselves. 

Maybe we haven't weighed God out. Maybe we are among the Christians who have been taught that we should never test God, that we should just accept what He says and whatever happens to us. Maybe we haven't had a life that requires us to test Him. Maybe we haven't needed (yet) to pray desperate prayers, crying out from the depths of our souls. Maybe we haven't needed healing or grace or mercy or whatever else it is that might have convinced us on more than just an intellectual level that God is who He says He is. Maybe we haven't needed God, so we don't know how good He really is. 

Maybe we haven't measured Him. Maybe we haven't held Him up against the things of the world and really seen the difference. Maybe we've spent our lives running to the wisdom of the world first and settling for what it is able to offer us. Maybe we don't know, in our own experience, how high, how wide, how deep is the love of God because we simply haven't measured it. 

Maybe we haven't found God substantial. Maybe we've been sitting in pews our whole lives and don't know what difference it actually makes, except that maybe now we get to go to Heaven instead of Hell (but who really knows?). Maybe we haven't seen a tangible impact of God in our own lives (and maybe for the three reasons we just discussed - because we haven't considered, weighed, or measured Him). So maybe we just don't know that God is substantial for ourselves. 

Whatever the reason, what we have is a whole generation of Christians who, by and large, have not experienced God in a meaningful way. We haven't encountered Him, and He's not a valuable part of our daily existence. So when we have something that we've actually had to wrestle with, we pretty easily form an opinion on it and we're pretty sure we're right. When that topic surfaces, it's not hard for us to take a stand. 

But without the same kind of wrestling, without the same kind of experience, with God, it's no wonder we run for Tarshish. We just aren't willing to put ourselves on the line for something we're not certain of. For something we don't know, with reasonable certainty, that we even believe. 

Wait...does that make us a generation of doubters? 

Friday, August 20, 2021


There's something remarkable about the prophet Jonah, and it's this: he didn't want to go to Nineveh. 

You might be thinking to yourself, "duh." That's kind of the point of the entire story. The sinful prophet doesn't want to do what God tells him to do, so he ends up in a giant fish and then in a pile of guts until he finally decides to go and do what God told him to do in the first place. Most of us read the story and don't think a second thought about many of the details. But read it again. Jonah doesn't want to go to Nineveh.

God gives Jonah the very assignment that you'd think most Christians want - that is, you'd think that's what they want if you have paid any attention to preaching over the past few generations or to Christians on social media these days. God tells Jonah, "Go to Nineveh and tell them they are wrong.

Oh, the joy! 

This is exactly what most of us want to do, it seems. We love telling other persons why they're wrong. It doesn't even have to be about God. We just love explaining why we're right and they're wrong. Or worse, just jumping on some bandwagon of whatever is considered to be truth these days and hammering all dissenters into the ground. We love telling others how stupid they are, how backward they are, how their ignorance is their burden to bear. We love telling them that they're going to Hell and that God is upset with them for choices they are making or things they are doing or hey, even situations that they find themselves in through absolutely not fault of their own. 

We are a people who just love telling others they are wrong and condemning them. In Christian circles, we say that we do this because we have the truth and we know a better way, but let's be honest - if we really do know another way, we aren't showing it by the way that we're proclaiming it. 

So you'd think that when God tells Jonah to go and tell these people they are wrong, if he was anything like us, he'd be all for it. He'd be rubbing his hands together and whispering to himself, "Finally." Finally, God is going to turn me loose on these peoples and let me tell them what's what. Finally, I'm going to get to show all of my understanding and wisdom and put these peoples in their place. Finally, God's calling me to do something I'm good at and something I can't wait to do. 

But Jonah isn't like us. And actually, we're more like Jonah than we want to admit. 

The church seems to have taken this up as our mantle for several generations now, this preaching of fire and brimstone and arrogant superiority, but the truth, I think....is that if God came down right now and asked us to go and tell the peoples they are wrong, most of us would be running for Tarshish. 

Most of us would turn and run the other direction. Most of us would say, uhm, no thanks, God. Not really my thing. Most of us would immediately start to hem and to haw and to make excuses and plans to get us out of it. If God came right now and gave us the absolute message of truth and grace and love and told us to start by condemning someone else, most of us wouldn't want to do it

Strange, right? We'll do it all on our own - for free, even! - but if it were God's idea, most of us would at least hesitate. Most of us would turn and run. Most of us would decide that proclaiming such a truth was not right for us. 

This should at least give us pause, shouldn't it? I mean, if proclaiming God's truth doesn't seem right for us, then what exactly are we proclaiming right now in our own power? 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Being Human

We've jumped off on a touchpoint and taken a detour through what it means to be human and whether or not our seemingly-natural self-interest is a result of the Fall or if perhaps God created it from the very beginning. I've been building a case that perhaps our self-interest is part of our original design, as it is our self-interest that can lead us to both God-interest and to surrender, which together can lead us to God-love. 

Still, I understand that some remain troubled by the notion that there is anything fundamentally human in our relationship with God, even if it seems good. 

We have been taught - most of us - that the greatest aim of the Christian faith is to become a spiritual being only. To put aside the flesh and live only in the heart. That our flesh is thoroughly sinful, completely unredeemable, and a hindrance to all that we want to be and accomplish and grow into when it comes to our faith. We have heard sermon after sermon and read book after book and seen story after story about how our flesh is our enemy, usually based on ideas that we take grossly out of context from the New Testament. 

But here's the truth: God made us human beings. Before there was a fall, before there was sin, all the way back in the very beginning, God created us with flesh. In fact, He created the flesh first so that He would have a place to put the Spirit. The flesh is a very fundamental part of our holy being. And God called it very good

This means that we have to stop all of this stuff about being spiritual beings in fleshly bodies, about being somehow trapped in our human nature, about how our bodies hold us back from being everything God intended us to be. Our bodies are not a burden; they are a blessing. (Even when they're broken.) We ought to start treating them as such. 

God came to walk with us in the Garden. He came to a place where we would use the feet that He gave us and asked us to use them to walk with Him. He speaks repeatedly in the Old Testament about how frustrating it is when something has eyes, but doesn't see; has ears, but doesn't hear. God gave us both eyes and ears - He wants us to see and to hear! There's a passage in Scripture that says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Taste. The Spirit, outside of a body, doesn't taste; it doesn't have taste receptors. Only the body has that. 

Our bodies are built to draw us closer to God in a thousand ways that we could never even have imagined. Our bodies were meant to be used by us for faithfulness. Our bodies are God's gift to us so that we can have the fullness of life that He said from the very beginning that He wants us to have. 

They are not some kind of Christian escape room. They are not a set of puzzles meant to be figured out so we can finally get out of here. We are meant to embrace what is holy about our flesh. And to do that, we have to honestly consider the things that we learn about ourselves and figure out whether these are holy things or not. Are these God's plans or our brokenness? Is there something good about our design that we are far too quick to dismiss simply because we think it's nothing more than "being human"? 

Spoiler alert: God made us human beings. So our fundamental human nature is holy. 

Let us not be a people so quick to condemn or desperate to escape. Let us instead be a people thoughtfully invested and sacramentally engaged, that we might discover something beautiful about ourselves that God has wanted us to know all along. 

And if we do, there is no doubt in my mind that we will discover something beautiful about Him, too. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021


We've come full-circle, from a place where we do not want to surrender to a place where we know that we must. True faith requires our surrender. It requires that we set aside our self-interest and even our God-interest for something much greater: love. 

But we cannot - and should not - pretend that just because we know our need for surrender that we will actually do it. Or that it will be even easier. Truth be told, our churches are full of Christians who want to love God but who haven't yet been able to surrender themselves to loving Him. This is precisely why our churches feel so fragile sometimes, like the very next hardship might just break them. 

Believe it or not, this fragility is the sign of our ego. The world tells us we're supposed to develop a robust ego, that we're supposed to think highly of ourselves, that if we would just have more confidence in who we are, we would be better off for it. Everyone would be better off for it. But the church and the life of faith reveals the falsity of this claim because it is in these places where we are supposed to feel our strongest that we feel most fragile, and it is because we have not fully entered these places. We have not surrendered to them. 

There is a difference, however, between surrender the way that the world does it and the kind of surrender that God calls us to.

When the world thinks of surrender, it thinks of laying down its weapons, putting its hands in the air, and walking into captivity and defeat. It thinks of giving up. It thinks of admitting to losing. It thinks of bringing shame on itself and living forever in its own failure. No wonder we don't want to surrender. 

Christian surrender, on the other hand, is very different. Christian surrender lays down its weapons not because it can't win, but because it realizes it doesn't have to fight. Christian surrender lays down its weapons and falls into the arms of Jesus. Christian surrender gives in. It admits its own fragility and collapses into His tender strength. It thinks of bringing glory to God and living forever in His goodness and grace. 

Christian surrender doesn't give itself up; it gives itself over to something greater. It is not intimidated by what seems stronger, but it is drawn by what is good and glorious. 

That's what makes it somewhat easier to live in Christian surrender than in the world's kind. We talked last week about how we don't want to surrender, how we don't want to live in the knowledge of our own smallness. But we do want to live in the security of God's bigness. And it is for that reason that we keep pushing ourselves deeper toward the kind of surrender the life of faith requires of us. 

Interestingly, surrender takes us on a detour back through a place that we've already been - it takes us back to self-interest, though perhaps briefly. 

Our self-interest (wanting good things for ourselves) leads us to God-interest (because He offers us good things). When we realize the good things God offers and how deeply we want them for ourselves, the call to surrender leads us back to self-interest (it would be good for us to surrender, though 'good' means something different here than it previously did). Thus, our self-interest leads us to God-interest, which calls us back to self-interest that then leads to surrender and to God-love. 

Isn't it glorious? 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Wanting God

Our self-interest may in fact be the perfect thing to lead us to God-interest, as we will nearly always choose what we believe is best for ourselves. And God is good and so gracious and so loving that, well, He is good for us. 

But choosing God is not enough. 

When we choose God, what we're saying is that we want God. There's something in Him or something about Him that satisfies some kind of need that we have. And it is this that we really want; it just so happens that we find it in God. The truth is that most of us would take it anywhere if we could find it, so just starting out, God is a bit of a neutral party. 

Wanting God is good, and it does lead us toward God-interest, but it is a far cry from actually loving God, which is the ultimate aim.

Wanting God can never get us to the kind of relationship with God that He desires. Nor can it get us to a relationship with Him that satisfies our souls. It's this truth that makes faith a little more difficult than just the notion of self-interest or God-interest; it requires something else. 

Faith requires that we have a bit of humility. Namely, that we are able to break out of our own perspective and stop thinking about our own satisfaction for a minute. It requires that we learn what is good because of our own intense desire for good things, but then that we take what we know about goodness and pursue it on its own merits. To say it another way, we come to God through our self-interest because what He offers is good for us, but if we can embrace humility and grow in faith, we come to a place where we want God because He is good. 

This is the turning point. If we can step outside of ourselves and realize that God is good not just because He is good to us, but because He is thoroughly good in His own nature, then this is the first step toward truly loving Him. Once we realize He is simply good, we start to see all of the other things about Him that He wants us to know - things that our life experience may not have taught us yet. 

You don't know God as Provider until you find yourself in need. You don't know God as Healer until you're broken. You don't know God as merciful until you find yourself in need of mercy. But when you humble yourself and recognize His goodness, you start to learn these things about Him before you even need to know them. Because your faith starts to become centered on who He is and not on what you need (or want). And the more you're focused on who He is, the more you see of Him. The more you see of Him, the more you just can't help but love Him. 

Not because of who He is for you, but just because of who He is. 

So yes, our self-interest can lead us to God-interest, but God-interest can only take us so far if we remain solely (or even primarily) self-interested. True faith requires something more. And that, ironically (or not so much), circles us right back to where we were last week - surrender. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021


On Friday, we played with the theological notion that perhaps God created us more self-interested than we want to believe. For a people who spend their entire Christian lives condemning their flesh, this is a hard possibility to consider. We have been taught to believe that everything bad about us is "human after the fall" and that when we are redeemed, we won't have to deal with any of this junk. 

But I also said that it's potentially not as disturbing as our first gut reaction. And I want to expand on that a little more. 

As we saw, God wants us to choose Him freely. That's the very nature of love. And in order to choose Him freely, there has to be a legitimate choice. That is, there has to be something that has as much of a draw on us as all of the goodness of God. It's not a stretch for most of us to say that this something is often ourselves. 

Now, then, think about how you make decisions about what is good or bad, right or wrong. You make these decisions based on some understanding of a standard. We develop our standards, generally, by observing the outcome of our choices. If it benefits us, it is good; if it does not benefit us, it is bad. 

We are not, of course, always that self-centered, but it's still the standard, whether we think it is or not. Because even when we think that we're thinking about other persons, about what might be good for them or bad for them or what they might need in a certain situation, we are basing our interpretation on what we believe would be good for us. Well, if I were homeless, I would want a shelter to stay in. If I were sick, I would love for someone to bring me food. 

In other words, if it would make our lives better to have whatever action done for us if we were in their situation, then we determine that it is good and therefore, we should do it for them. To take this further, we only understand what someone else means when they say "That would be good" or "I would like that" because we know what those phrases mean when we use them - this person has an intrinsic value set that would benefit from whatever we're talking about. The truth is, the only real reference we have for this world is our experience of it, and we draw on that more than we think we do. 

If we are driven by our own reflection of our lives and our experiences in the world and if we are looking in the world for things that are good because they are good "for us," that sounds selfish. It does. But it is also quite likely the very thing that leads us to God. 

Because if you're looking all over this world for things that are good for you, eventually, you're going to find God. You're going to meet Him. You're going to get to know Him. You're going to hear His story, and you're going to hear things like love and grace and hope. And these things...are good for us! And, well, if we're only choosing things in the world that are good for us, then naturally, our self-interest leads us to God-interest. 

And if we go off searching for better things, we find Him again, too. 

On the surface, we already know this. Overwhelmingly, we come to Christianity not because we love God, but because He's done something good for us or He promises something good that we want. We see it reflected in the lives of His people or we read it in His story or whatever, and we determine that it is good and that we want that. We only learn to love Him as we get to know Him. That, too, is the way that love works. 

So that means that there has to be something that draws us to God if we're ever going to love Him. We like to say that it's His nature, that it's His grace, that it's His love - that it is something about God that draws us to Him. And in one sense, it is. But the deeper truth is that we are drawn to the good things about God because they are good for us

That's why it doesn't bother me, theologically, to say that maybe God made us self-interested. After all, if God Himself is the very best thing in all the world but He wants a love that is freely chosen, then He has to create us as a people who want the very best thing in all the world for ourselves

Friday, August 13, 2021

Human Nature

Most of us would rather die under the illusion of our own righteousness than live in surrender and self-examination. That's the theme of this week, stemming from God's Word to His people that if they wanted to live, all they had to do was go to Babylon. Yet, we cling to a profane Jerusalem - primarily because we don't want to put in the hard work of dealing with our own hearts. Yesterday, we introduced our fundamental self-interest. 

And that raises the question: is it human nature that we are so self-interested? We would like to say that's just who we are, but is it?

This is a really sticky theological question. The gut instinct for most Christians is to simply blame the fall. Who we are today is who we are as a result of sin, and we only get mere glimpses of our original creation. And when God comes back and re-creates the world, He will wipe all of this self-interest away, and we will simply worship Him the pure, whole, unencumbered way that we were meant to worship Him. 

I'm not sure it's so simple. 

The foundation of our relationship with God is that we choose Him. Love is, after all, freely chosen. And we confess this. We use this argument all the time in discussing how God gave us free will (and thus, we do not hold Him accountable for our sins). He wants us to love Him for real. Not because we have to. Not because we're wired to. Not because the fundamental nature of our creation is that we love Him. But because we choose to love Him.

And when we go back to the Garden, to Eden, we know that there were two special trees in that Garden - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Now, here's where our basic, Sunday school, young theology fails so many of us. After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God banished them from the Garden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live. So we've somehow gotten the idea that these two trees are the same, that the moment you eat from them, you have their benefits forever. That if Adam and Eve turned around and ate one tiny little piece of fruit from the Tree of Life, we'd all be...eternal (in our present form). 

That's not quite how this worked. We can say that with some confidence because prior to this, God never forbid humankind from eating of this tree. His only instruction was not to eat from the other special tree. Without this instruction, we can assume that Adam and Eve ate as freely from this tree as from any other; there was nothing to stop them from doing so. And if they had eaten freely from this tree and God was concerned about them eating from this tree after eating from the other tree, then we can confidently say that eating from this tree once does not bestow its effects forever. If it did, it wouldn't matter whether they ate from it again or not; they'd already be eternal. Even if they subsequently sinned. 

The nature, then, of the Tree of Life is that God intended for mankind to routinely eat from it and live. It was a sustaining tree. And if God wanted man to continually come and eat from this sustaining tree, then God wanted mankind to choose life, and to choose God, continually. And if we are expected to continually choose God and God's things, then we are also expected to continually choose against something. That something cannot be the serpent, for God did not introduce man to the serpent or the serpent to man; He was asking man to choose life before the first hiss. So what was there to choose against?


(That was the hiss anyway, wasn't it? Adam and Eve didn't choose the serpent; they chose themselves.)

That's not as catastrophic as it seems, this notion that perhaps we were created as self-interested beings. Because even though we are selfish, there is something in our hearts that is innately God-ward. We know this because we keep seeing the way that it comes up not just in God's story, but in ours. We are a people who turn instinctively toward the Lord when we come to the end of ourselves, and that means there's something inside of us that is wired to choose Him just as much as there is something in us that is wired to choose us. (Roughly. Give or take. You know.) And I think we can defend this notion in just the same way that we defend free will as fundamental to love: there has to be something powerful enough to tempt us away from God to enable us to freely and purposefully choose Him.

So maybe it is just human nature. Not fallen human nature, but real human nature. The way that God made it from the very start - that we would wrestle with ourselves in order that we might fall in love with Him all the more. 

That we might, somehow, thousands of years later, surrender to Babylon in order to hold onto something truly holy. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Examine Thyself

Yesterday, we ended with a hard truth: most of us would rather die believing that we are righteous than live knowing that we are not. And if that statement didn't sting a little, if it didn't make you stop and take a deep breath, then there's a good chance you're not being honest with yourself. 

There's no judgment in this statement; it's just a fact of who we are. Now, it would be fun to take a little detour here and talk about whether or not that's "human nature" as God designed it or if it's something that we learned along the way somewhere (and maybe we'll do this, but not today), but the point for right now is that most of us are more self-interested than we like to admit. 

This is precisely what makes faith so difficult for so many. And this is especially true in our current culture, which has trained us to be more self-interested than ever and has even applauded it for us. Many of us are right now worshiping in churches whose primary message over the past few generations has been that Jesus came to save you from your sins and that you should believe in Him so that you don't go to Hell. 

In fact, ask most persons who claim Christianity as a religion, and they will tell you that they are not quite certain, but they are very sure they do not want to go to Hell. They have taken Pascal's wager - that if there is not a God, they will never know it, but if there is, they want to be on the right side of things. 

And we don't even have to limit ourselves to those on the margins of Christianity, those who claim Christianity in name but not really in ethic. Ask almost any Christian at all, even those living the most devout and righteous lives, what the single most important thing about Christianity is, and they will tell you it's that Jesus lived, died, and lived again to save us from our sins and ensure that we get to go to Heaven. 

This is another one of those subtle, but important differences. Jesus never said that His aim was that we would get to go to Heaven; Jesus's life was lived, died, and lived again so that we could be reconciled to God - so that we could live in His love and live loving lives. So that we would be free from the chains of sin that bind us and live once more as human beings made in the image of God, by His very design. He wanted to restore us now, not save us for Heaven. 

But most of us just care about that big ol' mansion He promised. 

That's just who we are - we are a self-interested people. So when we say something like, "Surrender," our gut instinct is, "Uhm...no thanks." When we say something like we would rather live under the illusion that we're righteous than consider the possibility that we're not, most of us feel a sting in our soul. We don't want to have to examine our own lives, unless of course we are thinking of making them more comfortable. Almost every single one of us would do all the math in the world that it takes to figure out how we could fit a pool into the backyard or a hot tub on the deck, but ask us to clear out a space for a prayer closet, and we're busy. Ask us to get rid of some of the old things that are holding us back, and we'll put it on that list we're never going to get around to doing. 

Ask us to search our own hearts, and we're out. 

Yet, that's the draw of Babylon in the promise of God. God tells His people - you can live. All you have to do is go to Babylon. And if you really are a faithful and righteous people, then you don't need the illusion of Jerusalem to be faithful and righteous. You will find out your faith in a foreign place. Or you will die clinging to shadows in the rubble of somewhere too familiar. 

Can you - will you - surrender? 

Or is all your so-called "God-interest" nothing more than self-interest clothed in sacred language?  

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Holy Illusion

God was very clear with His people: if you want to live, surrender to Babylon. If you try to stay in Jerusalem, you will die. But not all of His people were convinced. 

Neither are we. 

Most of us would think ourselves holier if we were to die in God's holy city than if we were to follow Him to profane Babylon. So...we die. And as we saw yesterday, it is not credited to our righteousness - the city we're clinging to is often not the city that we think that it is. It has become the profane city by our sinfulness and unfaithfulness. We are clinging to an illusion.

But that's just the thing - it's the illusion that we love. God's people thought that since they were living in the shadow of His temple, there was something still holy about that place. They thought they were good, that His protection was always going to be over them there. That as long as that temple was still standing, there was nothing that could take them away from their Lord. 

The truth is that they were comfortable there. They had this hedge of protection around them. At least, they believed that they did, and that made them comfortable living their lives the way that they wanted to. They were completely content to go on sinning because they were in what they believed was a holy place. They didn't worry about their own righteousness because they believed they were covered. There was no motivation to examine their actual lives because the temple was still there; they could see it. 

There's something human in all of us that likes that kind of life, that life without accountability. We would love to be in a place where we don't have to examine ourselves, where we don't have to think too hard about the kind of life that we're living. In fact, most of us spend our whole lives trying to construct exactly that kind of place. And many of us succeed. 

We surround ourselves with those who already agree with us, creating echo chambers in which we are never challenged. We decorate our homes with affirmations of those things that we already hold dear, never looking to see if they are legitimately worth loving or not. We buy into all of these ideas about who we are supposed to be because of what they make us seem to be and we say that it is good because we are told that it is good. We love the illusion. 

The problem is that God came along and shattered that illusion for His people, as He so often does for us. He told them in no uncertain terms that if they really loved their lives, they ought to be willing to live them in another place. If their lives really were glorious for Him, they would be so beautiful in Babylon. 

But the people knew what we know, even if we aren't willing to confess it: without our hedges of protection, most of our lives don't work. They aren't beautiful, and they certainly aren't holy. Lived anywhere but here, in the shadow of the temple, in the shadow of the illusion that we've set up to guard ourselves, our lives aren't actually livable. Or rather, we can't lie to ourselves about them any more. 

We say that we would rather die in God's holy city than to live for Him in a profane one, but the truth is really that we aren't willing to do the hard work it takes to look at our own lives if we surrender to Babylon. We'd rather die believing we are righteous than live knowing that we are not. 

That's why we cling to Jerusalem. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

A Sinful City

When we talk about whether we're willing to die for God, the real question is whether we're willing to live for Him. And the example we're using comes from the Old Testament, when God told His people that if they wanted to live, all they had to do was surrender themselves to Babylon; if they didn't surrender, they would surely die in Jerusalem. 

Still, there's something about dying in the holy city that calls to our hearts, isn't there? Most of us would rather die in a sacred place than live in a profane one, even if God gave us the option to live in Babylon. 

But here's what we don't often understand when we're busy climbing our mountains and staking our claim: Jerusalem was a profane city!

The whole reason that Israel was going into exile was because her people were so sinful. They had turned their backs on God, were worshiping idols, were completely backward from where they needed to be - and they were completely unrepentant about it. They were so sinful for so many generations that God had no choice but to exile them, hoping they could find their faithfulness in a foreign place. So anyone who was trying to cling to Jerusalem because of some notion they had about how sacred it was...was not paying attention to what Jerusalem was really like.

Their holy city wasn't holy any more. They had ruined that with their unfaithfulness. It was a sinful city, through and through. There was not beautiful worship happening in Jerusalem. Jerusalem had lost her way, and it just wasn't the same city the people were clinging to. They were clinging to an idea, not a reality.

And that is so often the case for us. When we start staking our claim and trying to hold onto the things that we once had, even when God has told us that it's time to move, what we're holding onto is not what we think it is. It is something that is a mere shadow of itself. It is something less holy than we remember it being. It is something that has become profane in our lives and we don't even recognize it. We think it's still the beautiful place where God dwells, but if we were being honest...God hasn't dwelt here in a while. And it's not even that beautiful any more. 

That's why we can't be so quick to say we're willing to die here. Are you willing to die in a fallen Jerusalem? Are you really willing to be part of the rubble when God promises that the life He wants for you is just a Babylon away? Are you really willing to cling to the memory you have of somewhere instead of making new memories in a new place? 

Sometimes, we need a change of scenery to see what Jerusalem really looks like. And I'm betting that every single Israelite who chose to live for God turned around for one last look at Jerusalem on their way out and just shook their head. Look at that so-called "holy" city. Look at what she's become. 

Friday, August 6, 2021


Would you be willing to die for God?

We believe that this is the ultimate question of our faith. We've heard stories about those who have faced severe persecution for their faith, who have had guns held to their heads and who have been ordered to reject God and who wouldn't do it. We are always told, when we are told of great faith, what it takes to be able to do this. We should all, we say, be willing to die for God. 

And we can say this relatively easily. Most of us are not actually going to be asked to die for God, and we know it. We live fairly comfortable lives in a culture that, while antagonistic to Christianity, is not militant against it (at least, not right now). Most of us live with a relative certainty that no one is going to hold a gun to our heads and tell us to reject God. So we say, sure. We'd be willing to die for God (since that's never going to happen).

But culture and the relative security of being a Christian in America aside, the truth is that God has very, very rarely asked His people to die for Him. In fact, when we read the Old Testament, we see a God who keeps telling His people how to live

When Babylon comes storming into Jerusalem, Zedekiah begs for a way to come out from under them. He seeks the prophet Jeremiah and asks for advice on how to secure Jerusalem in the face of the approaching army. And Jeremiah tells him - you can't. This city is going to be destroyed, and everyone who clings to it is going to be killed. The only way that you can live is if you surrender to Babylon and go live in their land. 

That seems pretty straightforward - if you want to live, surrender. If you don't surrender, you will die. But it's complicated by the fact that if you live, you live in Babylon and if you die, you die in Jerusalem. 

There's something in us that wants to demonstrate our faith by saying that we'd rather die in the holy city, in the shadow of the altar, than to live in some faraway, profane place. And in fact, most of today's Christians would think that this is some kind of test from God - that He's wanting to see how willing we are to cling to Jerusalem, how rock solid our faith that we would rather die in His city than to live anywhere else. 

Never mind that He's the one telling us to get out now, to surrender, to live

Somehow, we've gotten the idea that obstinance, rather than obedience, is the greatest sign of our faith. That staunchness, not surrender, is what God really wants from us. So even when God tells us that He wants us to live, we decide that what that really means is that He wants to know whether we're willing to die. 

But what if it doesn't?

Most of us spend our Christian lives asking if we are willing to die for God, if we would become martyrs if the opportunity presented itself. But what if the real question is exactly the opposite? What if the real question of our faith is...are we willing to live for God? 

Even in a place like Babylon?

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A Matter of Reputation

This week, we've been talking about condemning our Christianity because the world is upset with it, but we've also seen that not everything that bears of the name of Jesus is actually Christian. There are all kinds of questions that we have to ask ourselves about any accusation the world makes before we jump so quickly to throwing ourselves out with the bathwater. 

These questions include: who is using the name of Jesus? how is the name of Jesus being used? and what do they mean by "Jesus"?

But even if we were to find that it was the world that was using the name of Jesus to try to create tension or if we found that it was a fringe group of Christians with wildly different beliefs than mainstream Christianity or if we found that it was only a small number of Christians who were present, but weren't there specifically for a "Christian" purpose...does that mean that Christianity, then, doesn't have a problem?


Even if we were to find that it was not Christianity as a whole, or even as a majority, that has an image problem in the world, we would have to then confess that, well, Christianity has an image problem in the world. 

This is the idea of "living above reproach." If the name of Jesus is being used in the world even by those with less-than-pure intentions or shallow understandings and the world truly believes this is representative of all of us, then we have a problem. And that problem is that we, as Christians, are not living in such a way that the world can tell the difference between someone who is truly in Christ and someone who is just using His name. 

There's something that circles around social media from time to time that captures this. It says something like, "Live such a spotless/righteous life that even if they heard the rumors about you, they couldn't possibly think they are true." Because the world is always going to talk. And the only thing we can do, as Christians, is to live so respectably, so righteously, so consistently with the love of Jesus that we preach that even the world would look at events like those that prompted this week's conversation and say, "Those aren't Christians." 

We should be so absolutely, thoroughly, completely known for our love, grace, and hope that the world couldn't possibly mistake any of these imposters for the real church. 

This is, of course, a bit harder to do in a culture that is antagonistic to the Gospel and in which language is used as a weapon, where all that matters is that a story exists and is being told, whether that story is true or not. In fact, the louder you shout it, the more true it becomes somehow. So there is definitely a challenge ahead of us in trying to live a beautiful witness in a world that only has to say that we are not and that one statement becomes just as true as thousands of hours of love. We live in a world that can say whatever it wants to, completely ignore the evidence, and create a "truth" out of nothing at all and then, remarkably, stand on it. 

But that doesn't excuse us from trying. 

That doesn't excuse us from being called to live the kind of life that Jesus has called us to live. It doesn't excuse us from being the embodied Gospel in a broken and hurting world. It doesn't excuse us from trying to show the world the real truth about Jesus and what it means to be a Christian. 

But neither does it mean that we have to engage on the world's terms, that we have to live in response to their story. We simply cannot be a people who condemn our Christianity at a mere whisper just because the world has condemned us. We cannot be a people too quick to jump in and say, "Oh yes, us, too. We are so sorry." Because the name of Jesus is being used all over our world, but not necessarily by those actually drawing near to His heart. There are, and always have been, and always will be false prophets and rumors and rogues but the church does not have to claim them...and we certainly don't have to let them claim us. (Which is what is happening by the way.)

All we have to do is all that we ever had to do - stand on the truth and the love and the grace and the hope of Jesus Christ and live loving Him and one another. That is our best answer to the critics. That is our best witness to the world. That is our best hope of staking our claim in culture. 

Everything else is just a distraction. 

(And can we just say this, too? We will never argue the world into believing us. We will never refute their accusations well enough or condemn ourselves thoroughly enough to please them. We cannot win this battle in words. So can we please, please stop trying and just love already? Okay, thanks.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Fringe Movement

This week, we're talking about how some Christian leaders are very quick, at the world's command, to condemn our Christianity. But should they be? 

So far, we've asked a couple of fundamental questions: who is using the name of Jesus and how is the name of Jesus being used? These are questions to which we must know the answers before we issue any kind of response to the world's criticisms of our faith. 

The next question is similar and is also very important: what is the nature of the Jesus being claimed?

This goes to the notion that we introduced slightly yesterday, which is simply that there is Christianity...and then there are fringe movements of Christianity. There always have been and there always will be. From the very beginning, there have been small sects of certain fanatics who all believe they can push Christianity further in one direction or another by some special, amazing understanding that they have come to of it that changes the whole game. 

The trouble is that most of these fringe movements not only change the whole game; they change the whole Gospel. They change the very nature of Christ. They change the witness of Christianity to the world. They change the foundational truths that got us this far for more than 2,000 years. They change the testimony of the disciples. They change...everything. 

And these groups are usually extremely vocal about it. They want to share their special, amazing knowledge with everyone. They love taking the front row and standing up and proudly proclaiming that they have finally figured it all out! They are the ones who have the truth.

There are a second set of fringe Christian groups that we also cannot afford to ignore. These are the folks who, for lack of a better expression, spend their whole faith feasting on spiritual milk, suckling at the same most basic ideas for their whole lives. These are the Christians who have very black and white understandings of spiritual things and whose faith is exactly the same today as it was fifty years ago - it never changes. It never grows. It never develops any nuance. It never responds to its own experience in the world. These, too, are groups that can dramatically misrepresent the Christian faith.

In terms of the conversation at hand, where Christianity is being so strongly linked to politics, here's the example: most Christians who voted in the last election voted Republican. That's just a truth. Most voted for Trump. But most Christians who voted for Trump in the last election didn't do so because they think Jesus commanded them to or that God wanted Trump to win. And most Christians who voted for Trump were nowhere near the Capitol on January 6. And when I say "most," I mean - overwhelmingly. The number of so-called "Christian radicals" for Trump is actually very, very small. 

What the world has done is to lump all Christians in with this fringe group and to claim that we are all the same, then demand that we apologize for that and condemn ourselves. This is exactly what too many Christian pastors and authors and leaders have stepped up to do. "Yes, yes. We're terrible people, us Christians." 

But we're not. This fringe group is not representative of our Christianity, of mainstream Christian faith, of the overwhelming majority of persons in America who call themselves Christians - even persons in America who call themselves Christians and voted for Trump. If we condemn ourselves because of them, then what we're saying to the world is that they're right - we're all the same. We are all just like that. And the truth is that we know that we're not. 

Christianity's response to these fringe groups has always been the same - consistently live a witness according to our Gospel, according to our true faith, and let these fringe groups condemn themselves. This is harder in a world where story is so important and language is a weapon. We believe that if we don't shout them down, if we don't address them, if we don't say something, these fringe groups are going to take hold and run rampant and hijack our story even more than they already have.

Let's be clear on this: the story of Jesus persists more than 2,000 years after His life, death, and resurrection. It remains the story of grace, hope, and love. It is fundamentally unchanged from the very first telling of it for the majority of those who call themselves Christians, who continue to grow in their faith, who nuance their faith to their world. But how many of Christianity's fringe groups can you name? 

The Gospel is not in as much trouble as the world wants to tell us that it is. 

At least, it wouldn't be if we would stop condemning ourselves to appease our culture. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

A Christian Happening

The first question we have to ask ourselves, when the world wants us to quickly jump in and condemn our Christianity, is whether or not it's actually Christians who are behind the image. Is the name of Jesus being used by the faithful...or is it just part of the messaging of an antagonistic world? 

If the answer is that the name of Jesus is being used by Christians, then the second question we have to ask ourselves is how His name is being used. This includes a couple of ideas. 

First, is the name of Jesus being used widespread in a certain event? When we look at things like protest rallies or similar gatherings, we see a ton of signs being held up by those in attendance. This question asks - is the name of Jesus on every sign? Or even most of them? Or has the world singled out a very small representation and nitpicked one particular thing in order to push its antagonism toward Christianity? 

A similar question asks whether all of the messaging about Jesus on all of the signs is generally the same or if it is a number of individual expressions. Is there one, solid, consistent message about Jesus being pushed or are there a bunch of individuals who happen to have thoughts about Jesus and wanted to share them, independent of one another?

To that end, we could also ask if the signs were homemade or if they were mass produced. Did someone have signs with Jesus's name on them printed for this event or is the use of His name more organic and less propagandized? (Assumedly, of course. It's possible for a bunch of persons to get together in a garage and make similar signs with the purpose of pushing a certain agenda. This would also be less organic and more organized toward a propaganda, but we're just addressing big ideas here.) 

All of these things matter, and they lead to the second big question for today: is this, then, a "Christian" event? Do those in attendance consider this event an act of their faithfulness, an opportunity broadcast their beliefs? Is their main purpose in being there to express a religious point of view or perspective on the issue at hand?

There is quite a big difference - and this is something that the world doesn't seem to understand or at least, pretends not to - between a group of persons with agreement on a particular interest (even a political one), who also happen to be Christians, getting together and a group of Christians getting together for the purpose of pushing an interest they believe to be directly Christian. 

It's the difference between a group of persons who happen to be Christians showing up to serve at a soup kitchen because they have a vested interested in addressing the problem of homelessness...and a Christian mission team showing up to serve at a soup kitchen because they believe that Jesus has called them to serve the less fortunate. 

In some cases, it can absolutely feel like splitting hairs, but it's extremely important. If the world is upset at something that bears Jesus's name, but the truth is that a bunch of Christians just happened to show up to it and not that it is a deliberately Christian event, then our response to the world's criticism has to be different. We cannot condemn the church for something she hasn't done, just because her name was on it somewhere, even by implication. At the same time, we cannot ignore something that has Jesus's name on it just because we think individual Christians, and not the church, are doing it. 

It's about knowing what we're responding to. Jesus's name has been attached to this - do we have a systemic problem in the church or are we dealing with a group of rogues? Do we have to condemn our entire Christianity because of what's happening or is it possible that what's happening isn't even meant to be an expression of our entire Christianity? We have to ask this question. 

And if it's just a bunch of rogues, well, the church has always had those. (Tune in tomorrow.) 

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Name of Jesus

Yesterday, we introduced the concept of the church being too quick to respond to culture. In this case, the world has called the church out because it saw the word "Jesus" and didn't like what it saw, and the church has not disappointed - prominent pastors, authors, and leaders immediately stepped forward to apologize and condemn Christianity. 

But should they have?

There are a couple of considerations at play that should make us at least hesitate before we respond. We should at least think about it. The first sounds like one of those 'conspiracy theories' the world keeps mocking persons for, but there's a certain truth to the notion that the world shouts when it needs to distract you from something. So the fact that the world would not even want us to consider this idea and would call us foolish for doing so...kind of means we should at least consider the idea. The fact that the world calls us stupid for thinking it and tries to label us in all kinds of derogatory ways on the sheer notion...means we should probably consider it. 

And I'm bringing this up first not because it is the most likely or because it is the most important, but because the other idea that I want to bring up is going to take more than one day of discussion, and I want the space to flow as well as it possibly can, so a quick-hitter here and then we'll get into something more complicated that delves deeper into church history. 

Okay, so here it is: not everything that has the name of Jesus on it comes from Christians. 

In a world that is antagonistic to Christianity, it's very easy for anyone to just slap Jesus or a Cross onto a message and then start tearing it down. And it happens. We are misrepresented by those who don't even claim to be legitimately representing us, but who just want an excuse to pile on and tear us down a little more. To create an image of Jesus and then attack it. It's the classic strawman. 

It sounds conspiracy theory-ish, and maybe it is a little bit, but it's also a reality. In our current conversations, Christianity has become linked with politics, and then politics has become heated to the extreme where we can't even have civil conversations any more, but just jump right to attacking one another for the caricatures of the politics that we think someone holds. And with religion so closely tied into it now (largely because 'evangelicals' were identified as a large demographic by some politic not too long ago and has been aimed for or against by either side ever since), it's no stretch to say that what we're having is a political discussion, not a religious one, but it's so easy to just throw Jesus into it because a certain politic has become so tied to a certain religion that the general public doesn't separate them any more. 

You know this world is vehement toward those "Christians" even more than those "Republicans"? But not because of our religion? Because of our politics!

And particularly with the last president, when religious arguments came out pretty strongly because of certain social positions of the opposition...we're just in a mess. And again, not because of our actual faith, but because of what it is tied to as a mere idea - because of a caricature. 

So it's not hard to understand that when you want to demonize a group, just make it look like they're guilty of something. Everyone understands this, down to little children. "He did it." By middle school, they already know how to make the evidence point away from them and toward someone they particularly dislike. In a world constructed on language as a weapon, it doesn't take much any more but to say or to imply that someone or some group is responsible for something - if you get the story spreading, the story takes on an authority of its own just by being a story. 

The first question that we have to ask ourselves, then, when we hear the world pinning something on "Christians" is this: are the persons involved persons who actually believe themselves to be Christians? Is this a legitimate claim? Or is Jesus just being used as part of the messaging? 

In the Name of Jesus

And just like that, it's happening again - certain leaders in the church are panicking, quickly jumping to condemn Christianity and to apologize for Christians in the wake of yet another attack by culture. 

Here's what happened: last week, testimony began in the case of the January 6 events at the United States Capitol building. And in the early testimony, what came out was that some of the persons present were carrying signs identifying themselves with Jesus. These signs allegedly said things like "Jesus is Savior; Trump is King." And within just a few hours of this testimony coming out, my Twitter was blowing up with pastors and Christian authors who were jumping on Christianity, lamenting, and repenting - condemning every Christian who voted for Trump...and many others. Condemning Christianity itself. "Oh, my friends, we are getting Christianity so wrong!"

But are we?

This is one of those very dangerous areas that we have to be exceptionally mindful about. On one hand, we absolutely want to condemn the places where we are getting our own faith wrong. We want to be vocal about the brokenness that we are perpetuating, or even creating, in the world. We want to be honest about our failures and earnest about our heart to do better. All of these things are absolutely true. 

At the same time, however, we cannot be a people who let the world tell us when to condemn ourselves. We cannot let the world dictate when we apologize. 

It's quite simple - the world, as we've seen, has a limited perspective on things, even on truth, even on 'true' things that it's certain that it sees with its own eyes. And that is evidenced quite well in the story that we're talking about right now. 

The world saw the word "Jesus" and immediately jumped to blame Christians and Christianity, a group that the world has proven itself to be antagonistic to. The world has (almost) always been antagonistic to Christianity. In our present times, the world would like nothing more than to completely discredit Christianity and put Jesus back in the tomb. This is no secret. 

That means that at the drop of a pin, the world is ready to jump on anything they might be able to attribute to Christianity and use to tear it down. So when the world sees "Jesus" on a sign or hears His name in the middle of a riot, the world is very quick to say, "See? SEE? We tried to tell you about these Christians and this Christ." 

And then these pastors, authors, and Christian leaders who are so scared, for some reason, of this world are so quick to jump in and say, "You're right, you're right. We're terrible." What in the world is going on? This is the world determining our faith for us. This is the world setting the parameters of our belief. This is the world chaining us to its antagonism, and too many Christian leaders are falling right for it. 

To the detriment, not to the benefit, of the church. 

Now, it may seem like I am defending the actions that took place at the Capitol or the use of the name of Jesus as part of them. That, too, is the world's narrative - everything is black or white. Either you completely condemn everything or you're in favor of it. Either you subscribe to the dominant narrative or you're one of "them." You probably would have been at the Capitol, too, if you had the means to get there. But this attack is clearly logically false and doesn't hold water, no matter how loudly the world shouts it. And it doesn't hold water here, either. 

What I am saying, though, is that there are other layers to the truth of the testimony that was given last week about these events, other considerations that we have to keep in mind. Things that, if we kept them in just as clear view, would keep us from having this kind of knee-jerk reaction to culture that condemns us. 

In fact, we might see - and we might even show - that things aren't as dire for the church as the world wants to pretend that they are. 

Stay tuned. We have a lot to unpack this week.