Friday, December 19, 2014

To Hell In A Handbasket: How To Live In A Post-Christian Society

"The world is going to Hell in a handbasket!"

How many times have you heard that phrase in your life, especially as it relates to the culture where you live? There is no doubt that American society is changing and in many ways, there are some really big differences in things like morality. Movies, music, and other artistic mediums have definitely changed over the past 50 years, no denying it. There is also a growing hostility towards Christianity as a whole. It's not too serious as I'll later point out, but it is growing. Government has also been on the move, with some very unique things such as the mayor of Houston requiring several major churches to submit their sermons for review (there was a good deal more to this story then most saw, but also, these subpoenas were squashed). 

But, one of my main problems that use the phrase above is the presupposition that our society has ever been in heaven in the first place. It has not. It will not. It can not. But, I'm not sure this the worst news in the world for the church. In fact, there may be a lot of good that can come even when society is dark. How we respond to these changes and live as the bride of Christ in this unique and interesting world will be incredibly crucial in the coming years. So, while I don't see our society as ever having been Christian (something my title infers), I do see us moving away from even making the claim. 

Ever since sin entered the world, the world has been a fallen place and actually has been "going to hell in a handbasket." The exception to this is God's people, first represented by Israel and now represented by the church.  

So first, let's debunk something. As a church, let's put to rest the myth that our country was truly founded as a Christian nation or even because of solid Christian principles and we just need to get back to our roots. We say this all the time, I know there are many Christian principles that were acknowledged in founding our country, but hear me out. One of the #1 reasons America broke off from British rule was for freedom from high taxation. That's completely contrary to Christ's teachings, however. The situation in Israel was the exact same - foreign power, foreign rule, steep foreign taxation. When asked about this though, Jesus says "render to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). He doesn't say "dump the tea in the harbor." It's easy to associate revolution or war with a noble cause, it's very difficult to associate either of them with the principles of Jesus. 

But religious freedom is worth fighting for right? Nope. But what about when there are groups persecuting your group? Nope. 

Peter wrote to Christian "exiles" in his first epistle who were experiencing political oppression because of their belief and worship of Christ. 

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (1 Peter 4:12-16)

Now, these people weren't experiencing people taking Christ out of Christmas (which isn't even true because X is a shorthand Χρίστος [Christos - Messiah or Christ]) or getting cut off during an interview on CNN (just google it). They were being fed to lions and executed in any number of atrocious ways. Peter says that they shouldn't be surprised by this. They shouldn't be surprised by government and others taking their very lives

So, whenever people want to take "In God We Trust" off of money (which has always been a societal lie, especially when it comes to the paper it's printed on), take the Ten Commandments out of court rooms, take prayer out of schools, and a number of other things that we often cite as the end of times, Peter looks at us and says "Do Not Be Surprised.

The main reason this should not surprise us is because social institutions and God's kingdom are simply incompatible. Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world" and He was referring to the social systems and institutions of this world, because he clarifies the statement with "if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36).

Imagine Jesus as president - would the world really want a president who's foreign policy is enemy love? Would our capitalistic society truly jive with the idea of giving to others and helping the poor until it begins to hurt? 

These two worlds just don't mesh. The church has a different way of doing things completely. The kingdom of God has a different politic than the world in every single way imaginable. This is why Peter says that we shouldn't be surprised. He was writing about this very thing. 

But not being surprised is only the first part. The rest of how we are to live in a Post-Christian society is surmised by the commandment to participate in the sufferings of Christ. This is about loving others even when they are treating you in the worst ways. 

It's not that we are putting our stamp of approval on society. Not in the least. The church has a duty to remain true to the teachings of Christ set forth in Scripture no matter what the environment is. If Christianity is made illegal, American church numbers will go down DRASTICALLY...but it does not reduce the necessity for Christian community or the worship of the Almighty One. The early church met in homes and however else they needed to in order to praise God, even though their society was hunting them down. 

In all this, I hope you can see how the church definitely challenges culture and society at large, but changing culture and society are not our primary goals. We should instead be always seeking to make the church more Christlike. But we should obviously not be surprised when society, culture, and government are not Christlike. We help in changing the hearts of individuals and families, not institutions. 

So, the formula for living in a Post-Christian society? Do not be surprised, endure whatever comes peacefully, focus on the church, and love extravagantly as Jesus did to His persecutors when He hung on a cross and prayed for God to "forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"What Must I Do To Be Saved?"

Pretty classic question. People have been arguing over that one for hundreds of years. I have been asked that question by people who were Christians because we can't figure it out. 

We have a lot of different answers. Growing up in more conservative Churches of Christ, one of the more classic ways that we have answered that is summarized in five steps: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized. We have usually put a pretty heavy emphasis on the last one there, and there is pretty good reason for it. After all, it is pretty symbolic of dying to self, being washed with the blood of Christ, and being raised up in newness of life. 

But then you get other people that say "all I have to do is believe" in order to be saved. To them, there is obviously a need for baptism as a form of obedience, but the point of salvation comes when you believe that Jesus is Lord of all and at that point He saves you. There are those within this line of thought that use The Sinner's Prayer to "accept Jesus into their hearts" and the like. Hear me, there ain't a single thing wrong with accepting Jesus into one's heart...but the Sinner's Prayer isn't really biblical (just saying). 

For others still, there is a huge connection to salvation and acting out gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues and the like. These are thought to be the visible sign that the Holy Spirit has come upon one's life and so this is the point of salvation. 

I could probably go on with examples of how people are thought to be saved by Christ, but I am really becoming disenchanted with all of them. There are three reasons for this. The first reason is that the emphasis is put on us in some way or another. So, while Churches of Christ may get dogged on pretty hard for thinking that salvation comes  through a "work" like baptism, everybody pretty much thinks that there is something that we do that brings salvation, whether it's saying a prayer, believing in Jesus, or accepting Him into our hearts. All of that is what we do, and salvation is something that God does. Baptism may be something that I decide to do (it's actually quite passive when you think about it, confirmed by usually being a passive verb in Greek), but saving is something Jesus does. 

The second reason that I'm disenchanted with these things is because we are trying to designate the "point" of salvation. Now, it makes sense why we want this to happen - we want to know when we are safe from the fires of hell. That's pretty understandable in all reality, but being scared of hell is not at all what Jesus wanted us to do in comparison to hoping for heaven. 

The third reason is because all of this stuff is kind of prideful, "I know exactly what's going on with this topic," and really divisive towards the church as a whole and has been for a long dang time. So, I have something to propose that perhaps could bring some unity to our various Christian movements. Note though, this is me thinking out loud, and I'm certainly not abandoning my personal tradition. I would love to hear other opinions on how we can find more unity and read scripture better on this.

Perhaps the most memorable time that this question was asked (at least in my mind) was when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22). He asks Jesus what good thing he must do to be have eternal life and Jesus answers in a very peculiar way. He actually seems to kind of dodge the question, which is funny, when He says "Why do you ask me what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." I'll do some more unpacking of that idea in a minute, but what's interesting is that Jesus takes the focus away from what good thing the man must do and puts the focus on the only One who is truly good (God). Jesus then just says to keep the commandments. 

This isn't enough for the young ruler though, and so he asks Jesus "which ones?" This guy really wants to stamp his "saved" card and go to sleep in peace. Jesus of course lists off some good commandments and the young ruler feels pretty good because he's been doing all of those things since he was just a kid and asks what he still lacks (I personally doubt he was expecting a reply other than "dude, you're totally good then, go in peace"). This is when Jesus drops the ever so infamous line - "If you want to be complete, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 

This devastates the young man because Jesus asks for the one thing that he is unwilling to give up. Jesus knew what this guy was hanging on to. But I think we need to look at the dialogue as a whole and put ourselves in the man's place. 

Firstly, Jesus says to keep the commands. The young ruler thought he was doing that, but he wasn't. If we were there, we might reply "which ones" and get a plethora of responses from "hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized, accept Jesus in your heart, say a prayer, speak in tongues" and then expect to be good. It is at this point that Jesus would look us in the eye and tell us to follow Him.

When Jesus says to keep the commands, I think He is saying that we need to submit ourselves fully to Him. We want to clarify exactly what this is and that is when the very thing we want to hold onto most is what Jesus says to give away so that we can follow Him whole heartedly. 

What if we started looked at salvation as no single action done on our part but as the process of submitting our entire life to Christ and the following of Him while living in His constant forgiveness? Note: salvation is something God does, so I'm not suggesting this is how we save ourselves.

I know very few people in Churches of Christ that think if a person has decided to submit their life to Christ and got in a car accident on their way to the baptistry that they are messed over. I know very few people who, although they don't see baptism as a necessary task of salvation, do not think that baptism is a command that should be followed in order to be obedient to God and His will. I also know of no one that thinks a person could go through any of these steps, then walk away completely from the life of discipleship and those steps mean anything at all. 

Some of the most committed followers of Jesus that I know have come from faith traditions that are unlike mine. We have disagreed on certain things from time to time, but at the end of the day, they are a disciple and it shows in their lives. These people truly give God everything that they have, but maybe read scripture just a little differently than I do. 

If we submit to God, we will keep the commandments - we will believe He is Lord, we will repent of our sins and confess Jesus is the only way for us to be saved, we will be baptized so that we can partake in His death and be cleansed by His blood, and we will live by the Spirit while walking in newness of life as a disciple that must follow Christ down the darkest of roads for the rest of our lives. All of these things are part of submitting to God. So, what happens if along the way of submitting we die? I tend to think that we are good...don't you?

Why do we label things as necessary and not necessary when all are clearly part of the process God wants for us? Why do we try to mark salvation as if it were some end point instead of the beginning of new life that it truly is? Salvation is entering into newness of life, and that starts by submitting ourselves to God and His will and then living in that for the rest of our days.

Does that mean we won't goof up along the way as we are submitting? Of course not. We gonna mess up all the dang time. But, living in a state of submission means that despite my shortcomings which are ever so present, I am giving that to Jesus and following the commands just like Jesus told the young ruler to do. It is also going to mean that I will constantly be checking my life for material things that I am beginning to become too fond of. But when I live a life of submission, those things are submitted to Christ before they ever even poke their sneaky little head up in my life. Jesus. Wants. Everything.

I am done arguing about the point of salvation and what is necessary and not necessary. I am instead about submitting the entirety of my life to Christ so that He can be glorified through it all. Might this be the way that we are able to find unity amongst ourselves? We are slowly getting over the fact that we all do worship a little differently from place to place. This is the one thing that we seem to hang onto and want to divide over. 

I ask you to join me in this submission. It's a humbling experience. It certainly isn't very American like to give up all our rights for the sake of the cross. But I do believe that it is the answer to the question - "What must I do to be saved?"

Friday, November 28, 2014

What The Gospel "Is" and "Is Not"

What do you think about when you hear the term "Gospel"? Surely you think of The Good News, that's a pretty classic one. That probably brings to mind the idea of proclaiming The Good News to other people. It's a central theme to our faith, as it was the last thing that Jesus said to do before He ascended "Go and proclaim the Gospel to all nations" 

But, sometimes I think we get confused as to what "proclaiming the Gospel to all nations" means. We read verses like "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" and we know that's important, but what that looks like and means gets pretty screwed up sometimes. So, here's a list of things that proclaiming and being unashamed of the Gospel is Not. To put it another way, here are the most common things that people use to punch their "Gospel" card for the week.

1. Bible Banging (A.K.A. Telling People They Are Going To Hell)

The first and most agreed upon point. Only a select few of us actually think that picketing funerals and holding up signs that tell others they are going to hell is a good technique. But, I know that some of us still play the punishment card before the rewards card. This isn't about escaping hell, it's about having a relationship with the Most High God who loves each and every person He made to insane amounts. Grunting with a KJV and a clinched fist does nothing to promote the good news. 

2. Voting Republican (Or Democrat)

Voting for members of the republican party has grown to be synonymous with being Christian in the United States. Somehow, Jesus came to love capitalism, 2nd amendment rights, and freedom to worship. Sorry, but Jesus doesn't care about any of those things (shoot me a message or phone call if you want to unpack that statement or get an explanation). On the other hand, Jesus doesn't endorse any number of things in the democrat party either. Some Christians have really just reversed this and made Jesus a liberal in their minds. Jesus was not a liberal or a conservative, He was a radical who's kingdom was "not of this world" and operated by a completely different set of standards that are simply inconsistent with the social institutions of the world. After all, do you actually want a president who's foreign policy is enemy love? That's what we, the church, should be about, but the thought of governments acting like this is ridiculous. Voting does not bring the gospel to people. 

3. Sharing Political Articles About Religion

I've seen it time and time before, political articles about religion. "The thing so-and-so said about God that has the liberals FUMING" or "The things about Jesus that the conservatives don't want you to know" or any number of articles. Have you ever stopped to consider that if a political website is sharing an opinion on religion, that opinion may be informed by a worldly perspective versus the other way around (I'm looking at you, Matt Walsh Blog readers)? As I said before, the church has it's own politic. For some reason, churches tend to reflect the culture instead of living counter to it. Churches were every bit as segregated before the Civil Rights Movement as the rest of the world (and unfortunately still are for the most part). Anybody remember The Crusades, Inquisition, or any number of corrupt Popes? Government tends to have a way worse effect on the church than the church has on the government whenever they are close. Sharing these articles is not sharing gospel.

4. Watching, Wearing, and Loving all things Duck Dynasty 

Quite frankly, these people have something to do with why I don't have a huge beard anymore. Also quite frankly, this is kind of the same as the last two points. I am very sorry, but wearing a Duck Dynasty t-shirt, shooting fowl out of the sky, and drinking sweet tea do not fulfill The Great Commission. Disciples will be known for their love, not for their support of Phil Robertson. Somehow, we have made gospel out of the idea that we need to stand up and support the Robertson clan and what they stand for. I'm not saying you can't like the show (I personally don't get it, but it's whatevs), I'm just saying that Duck Dynasty is the current face of Christianity, and there's honestly alot wrong with that picture (although I fully admit, most days I also struggle to wear the face of Christianity in a truly Christlike way). 

5. Eating Chic-Fil-A Sandwiches

This relates back to the last point, which relates back to the last few points (there's a theme!). Remember back when Chic-Fil-A took their stand in support of traditional marriage? There are many things I could say about that situation, but I'll leave it at the fact that some people got hacked off and spoke out against Chic-Fil-A's stance. I remember it vividly because I was at a church camp when Mike Huckabee or some other political figure (who'da thunk it?) announced a "Support Chic-Fil-A" day and thousands upon thousands of Christians flocked to their doors in the name of a Christian cause. Although many would deny it, there was the sense that people were checking off their "Spread The Good News" box for the week by eating 12-count chicken nuggets. If eating chicken could get me in to heaven...well I'll just say that it doesn't and move on. 

What The Gospel Is

It really does translate to "Good News." One of the things you may not know about the word is that it actually does not directly relate to Jesus dying for the sins of humanity, God loving people, or the hope of the resurrection. It can have something to do with those things, but only as those things relate to the concept of Kingdom. Whenever you read about gospel in the New Testament, there is almost always a message of kingdom nearby. Think about it, Jesus was proclaiming the gospel before He died (check the end of Matthew 5). The gospel message is that God's kingdom is being continuously established, Christ is its King, and things change when you fall under the rule of the Lord Jesus. Perhaps you can see now why I focus so much on the political side of what gospel is not. The answer to what gospel truly is relates greatly to politics, but a very unique politic. This politic is so unique that it cannot be brought about by earthly kingdoms. It can only be brought about through the church. Government cannot further this kingdom, it usually only manages to get in the way.

At the end of the day, I have just as hard of a time bringing this message to people as the next guy. It is hard to speak this message into people's lives. You know what is easy for me though? Putting up tweets, facebook statuses, and even blog posts about it. However, I feel as though there is a relational aspect of Gospel that all of the areas above, as well as myself, fail miserably to promote. We cannot share the gospel with others if we do not work to have a relationship with them. Why else would they want to listen to us? 

So, I ask you to join me and stop believing the utter bullcrap of a lie that any of these non-relational, political, or cultural "stands" is truly being "not ashamed of The Gospel of Christ"

Let us love others and show them both with our lives and with our words that the Kingdom of God is here, and it changes lives. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Tattoos & Their Messages

I started getting tattoos when I was a sophomore in college. I had learned that Leviticus really didn't apply to the situation since I wasn't involved in pagan worship and since I fully planned on clipping off the edge of my beard at times (although there was a stint in my life where I almost abided by that one). 

All my tattoos are lessons that I have learned and things I want to remember and proclaim to others. I'm slowly becoming a messenger like Ezekiel with object lessons to proclaim my news. This is what I have so far. (Note: I will very poorly try to transliterate the foreign language into english letters)

My first tattoo is on my shoulder and reads "Yahweh agapesen" (Hebrew and Greek) which translates to "God loved." Yahweh is God's covenant name and from what I can tell started being used more heavily around the time when Moses encountered the burning bush. This is why this word and it's derivatives are at times translated as "I AM." The word carries an idea that God is present with His people, as He was in the plagues, in the wilderness, His presence was felt. Agapesen is straight outta John 3:16 and is translated as "He loved." The word though is in a tense that is kinda like looking at a scroll that is time. God loved then, He loves now, and forevermore will love even though we translate it as past tense. So, it says "God loved" but in a Biblical pun that I intended, it also says "I AM Loved." This fact defines much about me. 

My second tattoo was a follow up to my first. It reads "Ahavtee Theon" which translates to "I Love God." Nothing too special about this except for I reversed the Hebrew word for God with the Greek and the Greek word for Love with the Hebrew word. Although in the tattoo, the Hebrew still comes first. This is my reaction to the fact that God loves me. This defines how I react in return to that love. I decided to do this tattoo in negative space, my skin being the words. I did this for aesthetic reasons but also to symbolize that no matter how dark things around me may be, this is something that I want to stand out.  

My third tattoo is essentially the reverse symbol from Uno. Yep, biblical language to a card game symbol. However, it means alot to me. I started learning about Reversal Theory, which is what nerdy Bible peeps came up with to describe the recurring theme of scripture where things get reversed. The first will be last and the last will be first. The blind are made to see. Blessed are the poor in spirit and a number of other undesired traits. Death is victory. I personally went from being dead in my sins to alive in Christ. So, this tattoo is response to the previous two. Because God loved me and because I love Him, I've been reversed by the power of the cross and I now live a reversed lifestyle in an ungodly world. 

Tattoo number four is by far my largest and most symbolic piece. It's a dove made out of guns. Now, obviously that requires some unpacking. I got the idea from art pieces made from weapons that were used during the Mozambique genocide. The country of Mozambique was in civil war for around 15 years if my memory serves me right. Once there was peace though, it was volatile because everybody and their grandma had an AK-47. A Christian group inspired by Isaiah 2:4 (They shall beat their swords into plowshares and will no longer learn of war) came in and sought to disarm the country. In exchange for weapons, they would give the people tools of agriculture. A shovel for a rifle, and so on. One village exchanged a whole cache of weapons for a tractor. The group took the weapons and made art pieces out of them, which are really quite extraordinary. This is where the idea came from. The dove is a symbol of peace in almost every culture. The body of the dove is an apple and the stem of the apple refers to the Tree of Life. The apple itself is an allusion to Eden, when humans tried to "get on God's level" and eat of the fruit. I think we still try to do that when we say who deserves to live and who deserves to die. That is a judgment call that only God is righteous enough to make. There are also three words incorporated into the red of the apple. These words are in their original language and are Eiraynay (Greek), Shalom (Hebrew), and Salaam (Arabic). All three words translate to "peace" and also represent cultures that have not always been peaceful, especially with each other. So, it's a symbolic piece that symbolizes peace.

My most recent tattoo is an armband and an inksplot. The armband consists of 99 shapes and then there is the 1 inksplot. This is an allusion to the parable of the 1 sheep that goes astray and the shepherd cares so much for that sheep that he goes and risks all to find it. It's a reminder to look out for the sheep who's gone astray - the ostracized, the outcast - and the fact that God cares for them deeply. The inksplot is messy, it's not like the others, but it's also redeemed by the blood which it alludes too. 

So there you go. There's the story behind my ink. I share it every chance I get.

I have ideas for more. I really don't know when I'll stop, but for now I keep getting reminders about how to live and I keep being presented with opportunities to share my faith because of the ink on my body.

Stay tuned for more stories. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The 4 Sins of Patriotism & Nationalism

If you keep up with me on here, on facebook, or in real life, you might have noticed that I don't exactly scream red, white, and blue. I'm a rather unpatriotic, non-nationalistic person, and to some that is offensive, especially to some Christians. Christianity in the United States has been deeply connected to American pride and ideals for quite some time, and so I understand the alarming nature of seeing a Christian "not be patriotic" nor "proud to be an American." At one point in my life, this kind of thing alarmed me too, and I could not understand why some didn't rep the bald eagle and appreciate The American Dream like I did. So, I sympathize a good deal and furthermore would like to offer an explanation for why I believe what I believe in hopes to open up a dialogue on the topic. 

Brief background first. Church and state were far from being connected up until the 4th century when Constantine legalized Christianity. Before this, Christians were fed to lions and martyred, because it was illegal. Some of the most genuine faith heroes we know about, and even ones we never will, came out of this time period because they chose to follow Christ in the face of such adversity. Once Constantine came along, all of this changed, as well as the church at large. There are people who say that we cannot begin to understand what the first century church was like because of a prescription lens that we, the church, got from Constantine. 

Go through 1700 years of history and you can see the impact this shift has made. The pope was as powerful as many emperors and battled for supremacy because church and state were hardly separable. In the name of Christ, crusaders sought to reclaim the holy land, acting on behalf of the state and slaughtering thousands of people in the name of the church. Come down a few years later and you have American colonists with political freedom in their hearts and religious freedom on their lips throwing off their british oppressors (much like the Zealots wished to do with Rome, but with no backing from Jesus to do so). Such patterns of political oppression (far less than any Christians bore peacefully during the first three centuries of the church) have been equated with God given rights and have put a spark in patriots' hearts for years. 

Now a days, it's common to see "Proud to be an American" t-shirts in church as much as anywhere else in the world. It's not even uncommon for flags to be found in churches as well as for preachers and teachers alike to speak on the price paid for religious freedom. Based on our history as a church, it really is not surprising. Everything makes sense in context, and it is clear to see why the church is so patriotic. 

But should this be the case? Church, I hold that patriotism and nationalism are behaviors that have no business in our churches. And if you'll bear with me, I'll explain. 

1. The Church Is The New Israel

Once upon a time, church and state were essentially the same thing and this was approved by God. The Israelites were God's chosen people. They were His nation. What's interesting is that even Israel was commanded to take in outsiders.

These days, the book of Ephesians lets me know that the Church is the new Israel, and so God's chosen people are no longer associated with a nation. And this chosen people is now inclusive of both Jew and Greek, Slave and Free, American and Iraqi. For Christians then, this would seem to thwart such a strong identity being found in anything but the Body of Christ. 

2. It Labels "Us" And "Them"

Having a strong sense of nationalism unavoidably begins to label people outside the cultural norm as "others" for reasons of skin color, language, and a slew of other markers. When we were attacked on 9/11, I remember someone close to me saying that "we should just nuke the entire Middle East." Hopefully that statement is as shocking and disgusting to you as it would be to Jesus. Unfortunately, I know of several Christians that if pressured might say something very similar. 

Somehow the whole "love your enemies" gig that Jesus commands goes out the window when it comes to national identity. We can't even love Christians on the other side of the border. Soldiers in both the north and south during the Civil War prayed to the same God for success and protection before filling their fellow brothers in Christ with lead. Church goers in Germany followed their "Christian Nation" into battle during WWII and thought very little of it. 

There should not be a prayer offered up in a Christian church for "our troops" because the church does not have troops. As Mark Twain eloquently put it in his lesser known writing War Prayer, one cannot pray for victory on their side without praying for failure and death on the other.

We have more in common with Christians of enemy nations than we do with the soldiers of our own nation who cause those Christians to suffer. Jesus destroyed all concepts of "them" and we should not be so quick to start drawing lines in the sand. 

3. It Divides Our Allegiance

The city of Philippi was a major part of battles waged by the Roman empire during the time leading up to Christ's birth. Because of this, the victors of the battle gave the entire city a huge honor - Roman citizenship. In that day, being a Roman citizen was much like being an American today. It was the most advanced and powerful society in the world. When Paul wrote to the church there, he called them Citizens of Heaven, differentiating this citizenship from the earthly one that they held. 

The language surrounding Jesus was not new language. Lord and Savior were common titles used for Caesar, for he was essentially their deity. When writers of the New Testament call Jesus Lord and Savior...there is a faint echo of "and Caesar is not" that follows close behind. 

This is why Christians were fed to lions. Their allegiance was dedicated solely to Christ and there was nothing left for Caesar. 

The idea that one could have allegiance to any person or institution other than Christ would have been a ridiculous idea to first century Christians, they would have called it idolatry. In today's world we say the pledge of allegiance in Christian assemblies and think nothing of it. 

4. It Loves "The World"

When Jesus replies to Pilate's question of "Are You A King?", He replies with the line "My kingdom is not of this world." I touched on this in my last post pretty heavily, but this line is not a reference to some metaphysical experience. Not Of This World specifically refers to the idea that The Kingdom of God does not operate like the kingdoms of this world. He differentiates His kingdom from the institutions and systems of this world. 

Nationalism and Patriotism do the exact opposite. They applaud and take pride in the institutions of this world that Jesus so clearly wanted to differentiate Himself from. 

Neither Republicans nor Democrats are the shining lights of Christianity they are so often held up to be. There is no "God party" when measured up to the teachings of Jesus. Nor will there ever be. The way of Jesus simply isn't compatible with The World. 


I speak almost exclusively of American Christianity because it is what I live in and know, but the principles apply to any and all nations where Christ's church resides. 

There should be no church with any nation's flag sharing space with emblems of worship. There should never be patriotic hymns sung in church. No communion thought should ever compare the sacrifice of Jesus with acts done in war. 

I understand that some of this doesn't even make sense because the acceptance of Patriotism and Nationalism is foundationally and systemically rooted in American Christianity. It's like having a cataract that renders you to see the world through a blue tint, and never realizing that the world is not blue. It has been engrained within so many of us. 

However, I ask you to question your lens, read scripture, and challenge your value positions accordingly. If you want to discuss any of this, I am more than willing to do that. But I can't sit by and leave the church to wallow in the sins of Babylon without even realizing it. I challenge the church to "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins" (Revelation 18:4)

Works Cited:

Most of this comes from a working knowledge of things I've read and have adapted with my personal stance on issues, namely

Camp, Lee C. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003. Print. 

Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Messiah & His Kingdom

I wrote about a similar thread of thought a few posts ago discussing Captain America. There are a lot of allusions to Christ in our culture. Most super heroes (especially characters like Superman) are essentially messiah figures. Soldiers sometimes sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. We admire figures who fight for freedom of one sort or another.

Should this be the case though? Is fighting for freedom a Christlike example? Let’s look at that idea for a bit.

Now, it is not shocking to me that we have done this in our society and even our churches. After all, the word Χρίστος (Christos, usually transliterated as “Christ” but more so translates to “Messiah”) is the word that has the meaning of Savior, and that word can be applied to many figures depending on perspective and context. First century people did the exact same thing. The Prince of Peace was born into a world that was absolutely drenched in violence caused by messiah figures.

In the Old Testament, God is the people’s Savior and Deliverer. Sometimes He uses figures to help in this, but it is always by His hand that victory comes. Some of these secondary figures go awry from time to time though. Gideon ends up seeking personal vengeance, worshipping idols, and using unethical means of warfare despite such humble and God filled beginnings. Although we usually paint him as a hero in VBS, Samson was no more than a brute who engaged in all kinds of inappropriate behavior and even at the end of his life, seeks personal glory instead of glory for God (Judges 16:28).

In between the Old and New Testaments, one of the most significant things to happen in Jewish history was what a man named Judas Maccabee (literally “the hammer”) accomplished.  Under him, the single most successful Jewish revolt (at least since the days when God was delivering the Israelites by His own hand) was achieved. Under the Maccabees, the Jews were able to throw off their Greek oppressors. The Maccabees eventually start turning on their own people, but nevertheless, their success “would shape the way Jewish people in Jesus’s day would understand – and anticipate – the kingdom of God” (Sprinkle, 115).

Many messiah figures heralded themselves even in Jesus’s lifetime and afterwards. I could go into the details of these men’s exploits, but they can be summed as essentially being about throwing off Roman (no longer Greek) oppression in order to bring back God’s kingdom, sometimes claiming to be prophets, but always showing themselves as saviors to the people. They pretty much all failed though.

This was the first century understanding of what it meant to be a messiah ushering in God’s kingdom. Enter a Jewish carpenter from a small town who taught people to “turn the other cheek” and “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Who could possibly take this “Messiah” seriously?

There are many times when Jesus would inform people NOT to tell other people that He was the Messiah. Why would He do this? Because the term itself, as well as what bringing God’s kingdom to earth meant, had been incredibly tinted by the blood drawn by Maccabean swords.

Jesus would redefine what Kingdom and Messiah meant. When asked by Pilate if Jesus was a king, Jesus replied that “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Now, Jesus isn’t referring to some metaphysical, spiritual thing when He said “not of this world”, instead he is saying that in His kingdom, the citizens do not act in the same way that the world does. The same use of “the world” is found elsewhere, such as “do not love the world,” not meaning the actual world but the socially constructed systems of the world (Sprinkle, 2013).

In Jesus’s definition of God’s kingdom, there is no fighting for it the way that the world does or the Maccabees did.

This is why it bothers me when we “fight” for religious freedom, or for anything really, through either violence or political means. Jesus had absolutely no intention of overthrowing Rome (a government far more oppressive than ours has ever been). Instead He challenged it ideologically through concepts such as social stratification, treatment of the outcast, economics, and the idea that enemies are to be loved.

Fact is, while we are busy bleeding while fighting our enemies in order to obtain or maintain religious freedom, Christ is bleeding in order to make our enemies whole.

There is nothing more noble than sacrificing one’s life for others, because that is what Christ did. However, Jesus wanted to differentiate himself from the other “messiahs” who used violence in order to free people. Jesus absorbed violence into Himself in order to save people; He never reciprocated or perpetuated it.

I realize that some of this is provocative. As always, feel free to hit me up and we can dialogue about all this. However, let this marinate and permeate your brain so that God's truth, not mine, America's, or even your local church's truth, can be how we think. May we always seek to sharpen one another. 

Work Cited:

Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baptism: All About That Watery Grave

Many of you know I was born and raised in Churches of Christ, some may not. If you know Churches of Christ at all, you likely know two things: you generally don't see instruments and there's a heavy emphasis on baptism. The importance of the first is slowly dwindling as years go by. The second one has stayed more consistent though, and has stirred a good number of conversations in my life. So, that's what I want to talk about for a bit. I will say that I've come a long way in my views of baptism and so maybe this will be a helpful read for you, despite the denomination you come from. 

I'll go ahead and whip out the old phrase that people generally use against Churches of Christ - "They think you have to be baptized to be saved!" 

Let's pick that apart a bit. The first way people sometimes take that is that baptism saves you. Some in Churches of Christ may think that...but it's not true...and most of us don't actually think that. Everybody knows that Jesus saves people. I was immersed in water PLENTY of times at church camp, mainly by much larger kids in the pool area. Baptism apart from Jesus is absolutely pointless. 

So, let's play with that statement a little bit. We do not think baptism is how a person is saved as much as when a person is saved. That is a much more accurate representation of most people in Churches of Christ. Honestly, this makes a lot of sense to me, and I'll tell you why. The language and metaphor surrounding baptism just point to it. It is at this point in time that we are said to reenact Christ's death and resurrection, dying to our sins and being raised up in newness of life (Romans 6:3-7). Many biblical authors also point to baptism as the point that one comes into contact with the blood of Christ which washes us clean of iniquity. Go and search baptism for yourself and look at the metaphor and language surrounding it. Alot of the time, it's these images and transportation language, going from one thing to another like in Galatians 3:27 when it discusses being clothed with Christ. 

Now, many jump on that and say "hey, baptism is a work and we can't be saved by works." On one level they are right, and on another I feel there is some misunderstanding. I'll reiterate - NOTHING saves you but Jesus. However, we have a part somewhere in this whole thing. There is a level of obedience in everybody's theology. The Sinner's Prayer is something we do. Repentance is something we do. Believing is something we do. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is something we do. Baptism is in fact one of the most passive acts of obedience. You are baptized (passive), raised up in newness of life (passive) and cleansed by Jesus's blood (passive). Obedience on any level is a response to what Jesus did for us on the cross. The Sermon on the Mount makes it pretty apparent that Jesus demands some obedience of us, so I'm not sure why people get hung up on "works." After all, NOTHING saves you but Jesus, but what if He cleanses you and raises you up from that watery grave where your sins are put to death?

Now, some of you are still thinking "I'm not saying I don't believe in baptism, my church does that, I just was never taught that it was the point of salvation. If I get baptized at a later date during a group baptism or whatever would that still count?" 

As far my personal stance, I've already stated why I see baptism as so important. It's the language surrounding it. Also, read Acts. There is an immediate response from people to be baptized. It is often said that people received the gift of the Holy Spirit in accompaniment to it (and then gifts being associated with the laying on of hands by the apostles). Now, there are exceptions to this, but it's the general pattern laid out. 

However, this is where I'd like to address some of my own brethren. Shall we limit or comprehend God's grace? I do not believe we can comprehend it, nor should we ever try to limit it. 

Alexander Campbell once stated that he would call any person trying to follow Christ a Christian, something I very much agree with. After writing this, he received a letter from a lady asking if he believe that baptism was necessary for salvation. He replied that he did. At this point, she asked him how he could call those who did not practice baptism in exactly the scriptural way a true Christian. His reply was that while he would always teach what he saw as the most scripturally evident means of baptism, how could he possibly limit God's grace by saying it could only be done in one particular way? After all, do you honestly think you get every little piece of the Bible right? We strive for the most scriptural, Christlike way, but nevertheless we are human and we will fall short. So, he stated that the only people he truly worried for were those who despised baptism as a practice. 

In my life, I agree with that. I very much see the necessity and pattern set forth for the practice of baptism and will always teach that. However, if you are truly following Jesus with all your life and you have not completely neglected baptism as a practice, I will call you brother or sister. 

In all reality, this is inclusive to most folks. Prettttttty much everybody practices baptism is one way or another. Not many (hopefully) truly are just like "heck with that piece of crap work, we're just gonna believe and think happy thoughts."  

Now, there will always be the people that just try to throw a wrench in things. Example, what about the criminal on the cross? Well, Jesus is pretty cool and He pretty much has the authority to do that. Remember though, we are asked to participate in His death and resurrection by the apostles. What about the gentiles who received the Holy Spirit without baptism (Acts 10)? Well, there was some pretty crazy stuff happening around that time. People were getting struck dead (Ananias and Sapphira) and all kinds of stuff that would make the church today audibly say "whoa." It's the more general pattern set for the church that should be examined, not rare happenstances. What if a person is going to get baptized and they are in a car accident on their way to church? C'MON!!!! Now you're just being adverse. You will rarely run into a person who believes that God's grace isn't big enough to cover things when something absolutely terrible happens. That doesn't mean the concept is something to be ignored. 

Overall, go read up on it. Read Acts (there's a lot of good stuff in there) and see what the general pattern is. Note the language surrounding the event. Do some study. Be inquisitive. 

However, I'll end this post by telling you to always remember: There is NOTHING that can save you but Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

God's Plan?

Recently I've heard people talking about tragedy and how it relates to "God's plan." It goes something like this, "I know [tragedy] happened but I also know that it's part of God's plan."

If I may be so bold, I'd like to address this by saying - No it's not. 

Many of you know my life story, many of you don't. My father died just before I was two years old and my mom was pregnant with my younger sister. Talk about getting your world rocked. Subsequently, I've dealt with a number of other losses of people I know and love. All throughout my life I've seen people leave this earth in less than pleasant ways, sometimes way sooner than is normal. People try to comfort those who have lost by saying stuff like "It's part of God's plan," "God must have needed another angel," and the like. 

Quite frankly, that's bullcrap. 

My personal understanding of God's providence does not include God taking my father in a car crash while my mother, unborn sister, and myself were left without a person to fill such a vital role. It is not God's plan for people to get cancer, suffer terribly, and die early. It's simply not. Now, I don't just think this because the idea of God causing these things is troublesome to me, I think this because the Bible informs me so. 

Let's start at the beginning. In Eden, we see God's real plan for humanity. Perfection. Shalom - nothing is missing, nothing is broken. That is God's plan. Unfortunately, we messed that up and we now live in a fallen world due to sin. Now, God can make anything beautiful out of what is ugly. So, when we did sin and fall, He made a way for us to come back into relationship with Him. However, it was not His intention for us to disobey Him. 

Later on, when the Israelites rebel against God, He punishes them by means of other nations and invasions. The interesting thing is, God always ends up punishing these other nations for the violence they do against Israel as well. So it's saying that God makes Assyria and other nations attack Israel only to punish them for obeying Him? I don't think so. I think that these nations were hungry for expansion, God gives people the will to choose what they do, and so God used an already bloodthirsty nation to fulfill His need to punish Israel. However, it was still that nation's decision. God can make anything work for His glory. 

Think of the countless saints who unfortunately died early in life, but think about the impact that their lives made on this world. Martyrs have inspired others to stronger faith for centuries, and sometimes even when a death is not because of persecution, that person's life makes a huge impact on this world. I saw this most recently with a young man who was in a youth group I worked with. He died due to heart complications one night while running. However, you should have seen the response of others to this. His life was one of such witness and love that he will be inspiring men and women for years to come, despite it being so short due to living in a fallen world where heart conditions and sickness exist.

In my own story, a man came along and became my father when I needed one, and has loved me unconditionally from the day he took on that challenge. 

So is tragedy a part of God's plan? I don't think so. That's the result of living in an imperfect world where Satan still operates today. Did God need another angel? Nope. God doesn't need anyone, although He desires us strongly. Furthermore, we don't become angels. Nowhere in scripture can that idea be found. That is nothing more than commercialized Christianity.

I realize I'm kind of dogging on all those "feel good" things out there and sound a bit like a downer. But stop and think. Would you really rather hold the opinion that God gave someone cancer, or a heart condition, or took my father away in a car accident? 

In all reality, I present this viewpoint in order to give a better understanding of tragedy and pain. Many have left faith because they have blamed God for allowing or even causing such things. I've already stated why I don't think He causes it. In terms of allowing, I present this final thought that I've used before in blogs, but it is so fitting. 

"...Jesus isn't magic. Jesus is human. Jesus is the very incarnation of God; He's God with us - to bring us not magic but accompaniment, not "healing"...but salvation...any healing that is more than a temporary solution - that is, in other words, transformation...demands deep accompaniment. It demands that another enter into my world and bear my suffering, not to magically take it away but to die with me if needed...The cross reveals this Jesus: not a magical one but a suffering one, not a God who takes away pain but a God who joins us in it."

Are there more questions? Yes there are. Do I have all the answers? Not at all.

At the end of the day though, this gives me rest. I know that despite what happens in this life, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants" (Psalm 116:15) because they no longer have to suffer in this fallen world. God holds them in His hand in a place so much better.   


Root, Andrew, and Kenda C. Dean. The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011. Print.