Four Ways to Protest–Kingdom Style

September 25, 2017

 

protest clip

Jesus was not overtly political, but his teachings were dangerously subversive to existing cultural, social and political norms. His enemies easily recognized it—so much so they colluded to kill him.

He leaves then a legacy of protest in the form of his kingdom teachings. It is not, however about taking knees, political posturing, engaging in social media warfare, patriotism or lack thereof.

What he taught was radical, revolutionary, and scandalous even—it eventually changed an empire.

Want to protest? Want to really make a kingdom difference? Really want to change the world for the better and shake power bases to their core? Forget about boycotting. Try this:

  • Identify first with the kingdom. Not with a sports team; not with a political party; not even a nation—with the kingdom of God. Seek it first. Treasure above all else citizenship in the kingdom for which Christ died. Put behind you the old way of identification and be made completely new in your thinking—new goals, new priorities, new ways to relate to others. Let go of the anger and replace it with grace. Let go of the bitterness and let grace abound. Protest loudly through the quiet gentleness and mercy of Christ.
  • Love your enemies. Really. Stop yelling at them—if even on social media. Stop escalating the fury. Just stop. Step back. Turn the other cheek. Pray for those who you dislike. Disarm those who oppose  you with the love and compassion of God. It is a quite subversive and potentially transformational protest. Jesus did it willingly on the cross and it changed the world forever.
  • Go the extra mile. Jesus meant it literally when he spoke it. He still does. Don’t return evil for evil; shout for shout; anger for anger; or hate for hate. Give back what is completely unexpected and then some—an extra mile’s worth of blessings. Protest the kingdom way and do it willingly, joyfully, in the name of Jesus and for his sake—making the teaching about Christ that much more attractive in the process.
  • Be faithful unto death. Don’t ever quit protesting. Don’t give up. Be salt and light. Don’t grow discouraged. Our citizenship in God’s kingdom trumps all! The Spirit of God empowers. Our life here is but a vapor. Bigger and better things are in store. It does not matter our nationality; the colors of our flags; what political party is in power; Jesus just wants to find faith when he comes. And faith is the victory!

The original kingdom protesters changed an entire, brutal, ungodly empire without political power, social media, ballots or bullets. They were the poor, the meek, the pure, the persecuted, the hungry and the thirsty who stood up to tyranny, injustice, sin, corruption, persecution, hatred, bigotry, and hardship of every kind by simply faithfully living out the kingdom of God. It was a protest of the humble and helpless that was empowered by the scandal of a cross. It was the protest of the kingdom and it changed everything.

Could that happen again?

(Bible verses referenced include: Matthew 5-7; Luke 18:10; Ephesians 4:20-5:1; Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:9-10; James 4:14; Revelation 2:10; 21:1-4)

 

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The Kingdom Difference

June 14, 2017

kingdomofgod

Recently while on vacation I met up with a good friend for lunch. As usual our discussion was wide ranging. Part of the conversation concerned how my 2017 preaching theme of seeking first God’s kingdom was transforming me—as well as my understanding of God’s kingdom—in profound and unexpected ways. The next day my friend texted me stating that he would enjoy a further conversation about this, specifically how this was personally affecting me.

I’ve ruminated over this a great deal in the few weeks since. Surprisingly I find it somewhat difficult to articulate it adequately. I have twice posted since about the impact the kingdom is making. It remains a journey for me—a process to grasp just how deep and wide the challenges of the kingdom are. Some of them I do not like. They make me uncomfortable and expose too many of my weaknesses.

But I am going to take a shot at it and attempt to explain what I am learning. To me the kingdom of God:

  • Is not about me. I really enjoy things being about me. I like to get my way. I dislike having to compromise. I generally believe that I have the best ideas and typically have a strong desire for events to turn out in my favor. But unfortunately this is not a kingdom focus—actually it is far from it. Read again the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)— Christ’s first public teaching about the kingdom and its values—and you will see it threaded throughout. Then later (Matthew 16:24-26) he makes it even clearer. There just is no self-focus in the kingdom and I haven’t figured out how to get around it—even though a large part of me wants to do so.
  • Is about submission. Here we go again. The kingdom is about me submitting my will to the Father’s. Christ himself emphasized this (in John’s gospel) and modeled it perfectly—in a way I cannot even imagine. In order to fully embrace God’s kingdom and thrive within it I have to give up. Period. My old self will has to die and be buried according to Paul in Romans 6:3-4. Out of that submission God will raise me up anew and begin his process of reshaping me for the kingdom. Nowhere, however, is there ever a claim that this would be easy. Worthwhile—definitely, but easy, no. I typically like easy.
  • Is others oriented. I guess at this point, this could go unsaid. I posted about the “least of these” kingdom focus earlier. They are the others.
  • Upends conventional wisdom. Starting with the idea of submitting and giving up, but going deeper. The poor, the mournful, the pure, the merciful, and even the persecuted—they are the blessed ones. Enemies? They are not to be hated and destroyed but to be loved (when was the last time I prayed for or had a loving spirit toward a terrorist? Yea. Tough.). Being first is not what matters—being last does. Have a lot of money, land and stuff? Maybe the best use of it is not to invest it to gain more stuff, but to diverse yourself of it and give it away (like many did in Acts). Someone strikes you, don’t strike back, but rather turn the other cheek. Put your swords away. Go the second mile. Those are the actions reflective of God’s kingdom. Its values indeed come from another place (John 18:36). All of this creates big-time tension within me. Can I–coming from the place of conventional wisdom–really put into practice these unconventional teachings?
  • Is all about trust. And this is where the true test for me comes. I can know all of the above in an academic, skim-the-Bible-kind of way, but do I trust God enough to personalize them and go all in? The trust-building promises are all there. Seek first and God’s got your back–no need to worry. Humble yourself and God will elevate you in his way. Give of yourselves and God will give back many times over in various ways. Be last and then become first in the kingdom. To actualize this I really have to let go of the control of my life and hand it over to God. Can I see past the short-term to grasp the endgame of God? Short-term none of this has any appeal to me. Long term? I must trust God explicitly. It is the only way to see the value of what he is asking. It is the only way to really make the kingdom become present and alive within me (Luke 17:20-21). This, as they say, has rocked my world.

This is where I am—venturing out in baby steps toward greater trust and in so doing finding God changing me; learning to view people, possessions, and priorities differently; all while being constantly confronted by the kingdom. Sometimes I manage to be selfless through it all, but sometimes I don’t. I suppose that why it is called seeking–it remains a process.

In the end it is all about God’s will. That is the kingdom difference. I find myself praying more like Jesus:

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


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.


The Apocalypse, Tornadoes, and Global Warming

May 26, 2011

As you know, the end of the world has been major media fodder for the last couple of weeks.  Harold Camping’s apocalyptic predictions along with the tragic rash of tornadoes have dominated the news. Some have speculated that there is a connection- that the violent weather is some kind of sign of end times and that we contributed to this string of deadly storms by aiding (through our growing carbon “footprint”) in climate warming.

Quite a bit to digest there.

The first part of this (the apocalypse) is not too difficult to sort through. As a believer in God and in the inspiration of Scripture I will trust God on this one. According to his Word only he knows when Christ will return and begin God’s plans for the end of times as we know them (Mark 13:32). Really, there are no definitive signs to clue us in on when this might be. The langauge many use to try to identify signs in Matthew 24 is mostly connected to an event already in the history books- that is the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman military in approximately 70 A.D. (Read the text. How is running to the hills going to help if the world is ending? What difference does it make if a woman is pregnant or what season of the year it occurs?) So, neither Mr. Camping, the apostle Paul (who thought Christ would return in his lifetime) or anyone else can accurately predict when Christ returns. He will come as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

As for violent weather being a predictor of end times- again there is no such evidence in Scripture of this. Deadly storms are nothing new to history. Unfortunately they are a part of our fallen creation. According to the Bible our earth has been under a “curse” since the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17). From a biblical perspective tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. are a part of  a suffering creation.  A creation that according to Paul now “groans” and “was subjected to frustration,” but now eagerly waits for the time it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (See Romans 8:18-25).  This time will come when the new heaven and new earth is ushered in by Christ (Revelation 21:1-4; 2 Peter 3:1-13), but no where does Scripture indicate that weather will predict when this will happen.

Concerning global warming- well, who knows for sure, but God? Maybe we are contributing to an increase in violent weather by not being ecologically responsible or maybe we are not. Certainly there are facts, stats, and valid debate from both sides. I do believe that from a biblical perspective that we as believers have been called to not abuse the earth God has gifted us (see this post), but I am not sure any of us are smart enough to have all of the answers on this. I think back to what God told Job:

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid out the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand who marked off it dimensions?… Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the thunderstorm?… Does the rain have a father?… Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?  (Job 38:1-35)

Granted most unbelievers (and many believers) now view Job as more myth than reality, but I still believe. I believe that even with apocalyptic predictions and tragic weather and climate change and my own human weakness and failings- God is in control.

I believe he loves us all- every one of us and continues to work his redemptive will being very patient with us in our weakness because he so much desires all of us to find rescue in him (2 Peter 3:9). I believe that one day, the trump will sound, the clouds will part and the brilliance of Christ will emerge and all will be made right and wonderful. We will not have to be concerned then about storms or global warming. Oh glorious day!

So in all of the death, destruction, pain and confusion of storms (please keep praying for those affected) and in all of the climate debate and failed apocalyptic predictions- just keep faithfully hoping and praying- Come, Lord Jesus!


“Haste the Day When My Faith Shall Be Sight”

April 8, 2011

Death has visited us at Gateway. Two brothers- both amazing men- have gone to be with the Lord. They are asleep- at rest from the diseases that slowly ravished their bodies. I praise God for that. While they will missed greatly it is better for them that they went home.

Oscar Bell (along with his wife Lucy) was a trailblazer in racial integration among Churches of Christ in Pensacola. If you knew Oscar, you would not be surprised at this. This gracious brother quietly made lasting impacts across two continents in his long military career.

David Jordan was the definition of a servant. He spent his life serving God, his family, the hurting and his country. David survived (and helped dozens of others to do so) an Amtrak train accident in Mobile Bay. Later he served the devastated people of Pascagoula, MS after Hurricane Katrina as a key man “on the ground” for the relief efforts of the Central Church of Christ. (John Dobbs writes about David’s work).

Sunday (April 10th) at Gateway the sermon focus will be on the resurrection followed by a related sermon on Easter Sunday about heaven. Oscar and David are learning more about this right now then I will be able to share. But I can imagine.

MercyMe sings a deeply moving song entitled I Can Only Imagine. (posted below) It lifts me up to God’s throne every time I hear it. As I mature I find myself thinking more frequently about the things Oscar and David are now realizing. Then I think about another song.

It is Well with My Soul is an old standard that has touched generations. There is a phrase in this song that has become much more meaningful to me- Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight. Right now (to paraphrase the apostle Paul) I can only see darkly, but one day I will see God face-to-face. This will be the day when faith becomes sight- when all I’ve hoped and lived for and struggled to know becomes reality.  Lord haste that day!

I think Oscar, David and a whole host of others will be there- waiting and grinning. 

As for now though, I can only just imagine.


“What Love Really Means”

March 17, 2011

This song by JJ Heller is one of the most powerful and movng I have heard in quite some time.