Was Jesus Political?

April 10, 2015

I have been mulling over this question for quite some time (even blogged before about it here). It is an increasingly significant one particularly since Jesus is frequently used to prop up political agendas from all over the spectrum.

“Support me (or my cause). Jesus is on my side!”

Then there are the theologians and biblical scholars who also make various claims as to the politics of Jesus. Some deny that he had any direct political involvement while others support a highly political Jesus.

Who are we to believe?

Well, you could say it is complex.

In any attempt to sort through this, I think we must first look at the term “political.” If we frame it just in our current cultural usage, then to me it appears that Jesus was not really into politics at all. He could not run for any office. He did not lead any public political protests; make any overt political demands for himself or his followers; try to create an organized political party; or attempt to ingratiate himself to the political powers-that-were during his lifetime. In fact, when an effort was made to draw him into a potential political discussion he deflected it (Mark 12:16-17).

During his life he seemed content to live under the existing Roman political system even advising his followers to not fight against it (Matthew 5:41). This certainly does not paint a picture of a radically political Jesus.

So from this view of the Christ, I personally cannot picture him marching in some rally for or against something now; or leading a political party or movement; or seeking a political office. Would this Jesus even vote? I honestly do not know.

Could he be considered more political within his own Jewish community?

Perhaps this is the better question. He certainly challenged the existing political ruling structure in and around Jerusalem. He posed such a threat to their regime that they manipulated the Roman system to have him killed. Turning over tables and turning out the money changers could certainly be considered a bold political move.

But what kind of politics? Again, he desired no office. He did have followers but even within the Jewish community they never sought political power. Amazingly, just the opposite was true. Jesus specifically taught his disciples to not grasp for the kind of power that defines politics (Matthew 20:25-27). He obviously lived his teaching. So what are we to make of this?

Don’t you think that if the King of Kings so desired, he could have called upon legions of angels, swept the Romans and the Sanhedrin away and taken up residence on David’s throne fulfilling the Zionist Messianic dream?

But he didn’t. That was not his brand of politics.

And I think this is exactly where we end up confused. Jesus is not an American. He is certainly not a Republican or a Democrat and neither does he belong to any political party anywhere. He is not into this kind of politics. Actually embedded within his teaching and that of his followers in the New Testament is a basic ethic, which subvert this brand of politics.

Ever heard of a politician stumping for votes on a platform including “love your enemies” or “turn the other cheek” or “love your neighbor as yourself?” How about “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought” or “bless those who persecute you and do not curse” or “do not repay evil for evil?” Or what about “let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another?”

Didn’t think so.

To see the political Jesus just read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It captures perfectly his brand of subversive politics. It undermined the accepted norm—the practice of power politics from both the Roman and Jewish perspective.

Asked to carry a Roman’s bag one mile—make it two. Trying to manipulate the Torah to your advantage—think again! Those “blessed” are not the strongest; the richest; the most advantaged; the most politically placed. No, those truly blessed are the poor; the mournful; the meek; the merciful; the pure; the peacemakers; and the persecuted.

Wow!

No wonder “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (Matthew 7:28). They had never heard anyone speak such things—especially politicians and people in power.

Jesus’s politics demolishes business-as-usual-politics. Recall Matthew 20:25-27 again:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.

Jesus first followers took all of this to heart. Their grass-roots movement changed the world but not through power-politics. They sought no office nor engaged in any political lobbying or posturing (unless you count Paul appealing to his Roman citizenship for a trial before Caesar).

Instead they were taught to obey and pray for whatever form of political government they happened to be under and to live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” and not to rebel against such authority (See 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter  2:13-17). And these statements were made to Christians living under anything but a democratic form of government.

So how did they change the world then without a political machine; without accumulating power and position?

The answer is the politics of Jesus; the subversive nature of his teaching; and the power unleashed by the Spirit in the Kingdom of God.

This kingdom knows no boundaries; has no nationality; is not limited by any particular form of government; is not beholden to the whims of politicians; does not depend on any nation; and is quite unstoppable.

It has thrived in such hostile environments as totalitarian states and communist governments as well as friendlier democratic and republic forms of governments. Those in this kingdom have their citizenship in heaven and are to be “aliens” and “strangers” in whatever place they may find themselves on the map (1 Peter 2:11).

What primarily guides them; shapes their goals; defines their behavior is not found in any constitution or government document or political platform.

It is the politics of Jesus—subverting the callous; loveless; power grasping; brutal; unforgiving; unmerciful; deceptive; self-seeking; intolerant; murderous; dehumanizing culture through quiet but purposeful kingdom living and teaching.

It was once said of his ragtag group of followers—who without power or any political advantage—“turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

They accomplished this without any ballots or bullets. Rather it was by faith.

Faith—not in any form of government, political party, politician or country, but in the Most High God and his eternal plans for his unstoppable kingdom.

By faith history is changed (see Hebrews 11).

By faith power politics looks puny.

Faith—it seems to me that this is the radical politics of Jesus.

*Note: A while back I wrote another related blog post that might be of interest entitled Christians, Civil Responsibilities and Politics.


People, Not Issues

February 19, 2015

issuesQuite often during the ministry of Jesus, attempts were made to draw him into the middle of some controversial, hot-button issue. Whether it was healing or working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-5) or identifying just who is your neighbor (Luke 10:29ff) the law experts and Jewish theologians were anxious to involve Jesus. But he refused to take their bait. He either ignored them or handled the issues in such a way as to deflect the controversy and defuse the debate.

Jesus and his ministry was about people–not issues. He came to serve and to save (Matthew 20:28; Luke 10:10). He had no time for issues. Reaching people was his priority.

It should remain so for his church. Issues continue to abound. Churches can get lost in them–making the issues their identity. God forbid!

Our world does not need more issues. It needs more servants sharing the gospel of Christ. Issues cannot save. Jesus can.

Three observations:

  • Issues splinter, the Gospel reconciles. Issues create strife, quarreling, and division–a toxic mix for a church. We should work to avoid this at all costs (2 Timothy 2:23-24). The gospel has the opposite effect. It reconciles and unifies (Ephesians 2:16; 4:1-6). It creates a healthy, harmonious, growing atmosphere for a church.
  • Issues are nothing new. Not only did Christ have to deal with issues, but the first churches did as well. The solution was always Christ-based and gospel focused (1 Corinthians 2:2). What an important example for us. When issues arise–put them at the foot of the cross.
  • People want Jesus, not issues. Most people do not know about nor do they care about most of our church issues. In fact, being made aware of our issues has pushed many away. They have enough issues of their own living in our broken world. By lifting up Jesus we are offering a heaven-based alternative to their issues; a message of hope and joy; of forgiveness and grace.

This is the message Jesus shared in his ministry. It penetrated the issue-laden focus of the religious leaders to reach the hearts of many–hungry to hear a word of hope. These people marvelled that Jesus was not an ordinary teacher with an ordinary message (Matthew 7:28-29). The first church grew rapidly because of their focus, not on issues, but on the “Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Let’s learn from this.

It is about people, not issues.


Put Some Clothes on Already!

February 10, 2015

Yesterday I checked out one of my favorite news websites. I go there regularly to be informed about world events–unfortunately it is usually not very good news. Yesterday the bad news was accompanied by something even worse–a picture of the revealed backside of an aging pop star!  Her Grammy “outfit” (meant to shock, no doubt) was all about exposure. I don’t know if I was more aggravated by the picture or that the news site posted it.

News? Really?

Of course it is all about eyeballs on their site and clicks on their ads. Both the site and the pop star mutually benefitting from all of the “exposure.”

But when are we going to get enough of this? Celebrities spilling out of their scant clothing; publically exposing private parts; “leaking” sex tapes; etc.–all to generate a little buzz and keep themselves somehow relevant? That is all sad enough, but when it starts headlining news sites next to the latest bulletin about terror threats?

Enough. Put some clothes on already!

I have two young daughters. I really do not want them influenced by this kind of behavior. It is not to be celebrated. It is not cool. It is vulgar. It objectifies women. It is not freedom. Rather it is a symptom of slavery to sin.

I said it. It is sinful.

It is misguided. It takes the beauty of God’s creation and corrupts it.

It damages girls because they can grow up thinking this is acceptable and how they should dress if they want to be attractive. It damages boys because it trains them to view girls as little more than objects on display.

Is there a chance we can rediscover modesty?

Modesty by definition is about drawing undue attention to yourself. Certainly exposing flesh qualifies. In New Testament times it was more about extravagant dress–elaborate hairstyles and way too much bling. In that context we find this teaching:

What matters is not your outer appearance–the styling of your hair, the jewelry your wear, the cut of your clothes–but the inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. (1 Peter 3:3-4 MSG)

Maybe we will reach some kind of tipping point as a culture–where exposure becomes overexposure and enough will be enough. I don’t know.

In the meantime, let’s work to emphasize the value of what God delights in by demonstrating and teaching that gracious, gentle inner beauty to our young people.

Yep, I am getting older and this bothers me.

What is ironic is that the pop star with the missing material in her costume is exactly my age. She should know better.

Put some clothes on already!

 

 


When Bad Things Happen to Good Churches

January 23, 2015

Being in the preacher world I am well acquainted with bad things happening to good churches.

Division; immorality; financial difficulties; unhealthy leadership; strife and friction; ungodly agendas; even false teaching are among the bad things that often happen.

All are devastating. All are hurtful. All threaten to undermine the work of God’s kingdom. All happened to churches we read about in the Bible.

Just pick one: Corinth? Rome? Ephesus? Galatia? Colossae? They were all familiar with bad things.

Allow me to pick one–Ephesus–and roll with that (mainly because I am leading a study on Timothy at my church right now). We know quite a bit about this church. The first-century historian, Luke, details its riotous beginning in Act 19. The apostle Paul shares a rather emotional moment with its leadership in Acts 20. Later he pens letters both to the church and his protégé, Timothy, who was serving there (listed in the New Testament as Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy). And then this congregation is the recipient of one of the seven letters written to churches by Christ as recorded in Revelation 2:1-7. In terms of information about them—we have a broad context.

A broad context of bad things happening.

Bad things not only happened to the Ephesian church, but were first predicted to happen to them (see Paul’s statement in Acts 20:25-31). Ouch!

Turns out Paul was right—what he foresaw happened and it was bad. Unhealthy leadership with ungodly agendas did a number on this fledgling body of believers. Read 1 Timothy in particular, and you will start getting the picture. It is a picture of bad things.

To counter these bad things Paul sent Timothy. After Timothy got there and saw just how bad things were, Paul had to write a stay-there-and-do-the-job-I-sent-you-to-do type of letter. Hey, I have been a preacher at a good church when bad things were happening. Believe me when I say Timothy needed this kind of encouragement!

Of course, Paul gave him specific advice on how to handle the various bad things occurring, reminded him that he definitely was the man for the job, and encouraged him to keep his own nose clean as he sorted through the mess.

It is worth noting that in the midst of all of this instruction and confidence building, Paul uses the exact same phrase twice to preface a major point. It is:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. (1 Timothy 1:15 and 4:9)

Interesting. Various ideas have been floated out as to exactly why he turned this phrase, but I like to think it is one of those okay-now-listen-up-because-what-I-am-about-to-tell-you-matters-a-little-bit-more type statements. It is similar to when a parent calls the kid by his full name. Now it is time to pay closer attention!

So what was this crucial information Paul wanted to share and how does it help good churches currently dealing with bad things?

It all has to do with Jesus.

In both contexts Paul follows his preface with strong affirmations about Christ, forgiveness, and hope.

Could there be any more important information or any better way to counter the bad things while leading the church to a healthier place?

It all has to do with Jesus.

When bad things happen to good churches just double-down on the Christ! It may sound over simplistic in the always complex consequences of the bad things, but no surer foundation exists upon which to rebuild.

Bad things have a way of distracting; of bouncing off in all directions; of creating confusion in such a manner that we lose sight of the blessings of Jesus. He gets lost in his own church! The bad things discourage us; disappoint us; and divert us away from him and the hope he promises. They create a debilitating fog that clouds the joy of Christ, which prevents him from being exalted in his church.

Little wonder then in his letter directly to the church in Ephesus, Paul’s prayer was for them was “that you may know him better” in order to more fully realize the hope Christ offers by having the “eyes of your heart…enlightened” (see the entire context of Ephesians 1:15-23).

Discouraged because bad things are happening at your church?

Fix your eyes on Jesus more than ever! Get to know him even more. Teach, preach the forgiveness and the hope found only in him. Exalt Christ!

Not only will he provide you the strength (right, Timothy?) to navigate the bad things; he will create the healthy focus enabling your church to rediscover the good things.

He was the answer to the Ephesian church crisis.

It reminds me of what Paul “resolved” only to know while dealing with the bad things in the Corinthian church.

It was all about “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

When it truly is all about Him, bad things will not defeat good churches. They will hurt. They will disappoint. They may even discourage for a season. But better days are ahead. That is the essence of the hope Jesus offers.

Remember that letter Jesus wrote to the Ephesian church recorded by John in Revelation 2:1-7? Hear what he says to them then:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 

Wow! Seems like the bad things were in their rear view mirror. They did not allow themselves to be defeated. This good church overcame the bad things in his name!

If (and God forbid) bad things ever happen to your good church cling to Jesus!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10)


“Life that is Truly Life”

January 20, 2015

LifeTruly_lThe title is a little phrase snatched from the context of the apostle Paul’s concluding statements in a letter he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy the evangelist, who at the time was in the ancient city of Ephesus trying to sort out a mess of a church.

To many people across the world this letter we call 1 Timothy is likely unknown or obscure. Certainly Christians are more familiar with it, but even to many of them this phrase (from 1 Timothy 6:19) is probably not something they often consider.

It is just there in Paul’s instructions to Timothy on what to teach to the wealthy members of the Ephesian church. Apparently, among the other problems facing this infant church, an unhealthy attitude toward money existed.

Reading the immediate context you get the idea those with money were not using it to God’s glory or to further God’s kingdom. Reading the greater context, you get the feeling others in that church were using the church for their personal profit. Either way, it was not good news.

So Paul instructs Timothy to work to redirect some hearts and practices by encouraging them to “take hold of life that is truly life.”

By making this statement Paul is necessarily indicting the “life” being lived by many (rich included) in the Ephesian church. It is a contrast statement. Their (the Ephesians) approach to life was not “truly life.”

That is a fairly bold statement. How would that come across in our culture? Probably as judgmental and unwelcome. We pretty much pride ourselves on making our own way—rugged individualists that we are.

Who is some long dead, dusty old preacher or anyone else, for that matter, to tell me what life is all about?

Yet, if we ever honestly (brutally so) take personal inventory, how is that really going for us? How really is our life?

Contextually Paul shares three points that I think connect to his “truly life” statement.

  • It has to do with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6) is how he put it. Again, this was a contrasting statement—set up against the confusion; friction; and hurt put upon that church by people who were anything but content. The point? We can have it all, but without a God-laced contented spirit, can we enjoy it?
  • It has to do with hope. Real hope as in something true and meaningful after we are done with this world. This is found in one place- “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (what a great statement—6:17). Everything else is uncertain and temporary. Which is better to build a life upon?
  • It has to do with helping others along the way. Serving, sharing, being generous—that is part of “truly life” according to this teaching (6:18). Self-absorption; self-consumption; and self-centeredness isn’t.

“Truly life” leads us to “lay up treasures” as a “firm foundation for the coming age.”

Awesome.

So, if Paul is to be believed—“life that is truly life” not only allows us to live now in the abundance of the blessings God has given for us to enjoy, but shapes us to do so with a contented spirit and a generous heart in full certainty of an even better future ahead. And it also helps us to avoid many unpleasant situations, which rob us of peace and joy.

Where can I sign up?

Oh yeah, at the foot of the cross.

“ For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37)

 


Stuck in the Middle with Jesus

January 13, 2015

Middle crossIt was the middle ground; the high ground; the holy ground.

There he was—humiliated, exposed, and dying—up on that hill in-between two thugs. It was bloody ground; unwelcoming ground; it was holy ground

It was holy only because of him. The innocent lamb at the slaughter. He shouldn’t have been there; did not deserve to be there; but there he was. God in the flesh—up there on the middle cross dying under the devastating weight of my sin.

Literally, volumes have been written about Golgotha. I am not going to uncover anything new. I will just share what I see right now:

  • The middle ground—between the thieves. Symbolism aplenty. Jesus in the midst of all of us sinners. We surround him. Will we hold him in contempt as one thief did or will we recognize the Son of God among us and seek his grace as the other one did? Another view of the middle ground—where we are called to live, daily. (See a host of Scripture references—1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:23; Philippians 4:5; Titus 2:2; 1 Peter 1:5.)
  • The high ground—I think Jesus lived his life here. He never lowered himself to engage in or respond to the manipulative tactics used against him by his enemies. He could have called down legions of angels, but amazingly he refrained. He always did the right thing even though he was tempted otherwise. Of course, we all know the discipline this requires because we have been asked to do likewise. “Let us do good unto all men,” is the exact wording of the Golden Rule type, take-the-high-ground expectation (Galatians 6:10).
  • The holy ground—the best way I know how to express one truth this reveals to us is exactly how Peter did: “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Being holy is not about being better than anyone else; it is about doing my best to be like Jesus.

I am just as broken as the two criminals who died with Christ that day on Calvary, but I do not want to be stuck in my brokenness—I want to be stuck right in the middle of God’s love with Jesus on that high, bloody, holy ground of grace, forgiveness, mercy, and pardon.

It is my only hope.


Could You Use Some Parenting Help?

January 6, 2015

Parenting conferenceI will be the first to admit, that yes I can! I am an older dad with two young daughters (12 and 9) who are both strong-willed and quick to share opinions. Occasionally this all comes together in a perfect storm–if you get my drift! And I confess to not always handling those storms in the right way. So certainly I can always use some more information on how to parent better.

This is what the Central Arkansas Parenting Conference held at the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas on January 23-24 is all about–sharing information to encourage better parenting. My wife and my go-to people when we need parenting advice are Christian counselors, Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue. Fortunately for me, Alan is a shepherd at my church and both he and Sherry have helped us on numerous occasions with solid counsel and wisdom from their experience and education. They are keynoting this conference and will bring that wisdom and experience with them. If it were just them alone this would be a must-attend event, but there is much more.

Over the weekend several presenters will lead break-out sessions covering a wide range of parenting topics.  Among some of the topics covered:

  • Blended families
  • Parenting daughters, sons, preschoolers, middle schoolers and teens
  • Adjusting to becoming an empty nester
  • How to effectively discipline
  • Balancing busy schedules
  • Fostering and/or adopting
  • Being a new parent
  • Children and technology
  • Public, private and home schooling
  • Living with ADD/ADHD children
  • Helping children develop a positive self-esteem
  • Teaching kids about money
  • Building faith in children at home
  • Dealing with children in a grow-up-too-fast culture
  • Teaching kids about mission work

If you are anywhere near Central Arkansas, I urge you to strongly consider attending this special weekend event. You can look over the entire schedule and register at capc.eventbrite.com or you can register at a congregation of the churches of Christ in the Little Rock/North Little Rock area.

 

 


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