Divided We Fall

August 22, 2013

Seems many of us these days have forgotten the “united” part of the United States.

I cannot ever remember a more divisive time than the one in which I now live.

Everything has been politicized– race; gender; sexual orientation; reproduction; health care; marriage; personal income; religion; education; gun ownership; retirement; even the weather.

A desire to work through issues with constructive dialogue and mutual respect has been replaced by angry accusations, pandering and partisan politics, irrational and irresponsible behavior and sometimes, violence.

It has become all about “getting mine” regardless of the long-term consequences.

It is increasingly dividing us as a nation– and divided we will fall.

More than ever then, it is to God and his kingdom to which I seek refuge.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.- Psalm 125:1-2

 

 

 


A Belonging Place

November 8, 2012

Imagine the tension among the collection of folks who made up the first century church.

Christians from a Jewish background had extreme difficulty accepting and trusting non-Jews (and visa-versa). Each group brought an entirely different worldview with them into the church including a long history of racial tension between them.  (Spend some time in the NT books of Romans and Galatians to get a feel for this struggle.)

Then there was the economic divide to overcome. Masters and slaves worshipped together. Rich and poor both were called to follow Jesus. Politicians and patrons were invited to come to Christ along with common laborers and prostitutes. Even though they lived in the same communities the daily life experience of these groups was incredibly inequitable.  (Revisit the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 to catch a glimpse of this difference.)

Gender roles also added to the overall challenge. Men had the monopoly on calling the shots in first century culture. Women were a long way from anything resembling equal rights. (Check out 1 Corinthians 11 to understand a little more about this.)

Yet into this mix Paul would write:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26-28)

Among their cultural realities, Paul wanted God’s people to strive for something better—a true belonging place where relationship with Christ trumped everything else and created a wonderful kingdom alternative that erased all of the political, racial, class, and gender barriers.

Notice his use of language and image to this end.

Clothes say much about our identity.  In Paul’s culture it would have been easy to spot the wealthy in their purple attire and gold jewelry. Most slaves would have been identifiable by their simple garments. Jews dressed quite differently than Greeks.  Women literally wore their social and marital status on their clothes.  The poor had to get by with whatever they could find.

Paul’s expressed desire for God’s people was to subvert these societal norms through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. His message was to “wear” Christ—to allow their identity as Christians to supersede everything else.  In so doing they would destroy the divisive social, racial, and gender barriers and become one in Christ.

In this way their Greek identity; their Jewish tradition; their expensive (and prideful perhaps) displays of wealth; their shame of poverty; and even their gender status would melt away at the foot of the cross. All that meant everything outside of Christ would mean nothing in him. (Paul personally modeled this- read Philippians 3:4-17.)

This was Paul’s vision of God’s church. It was to be a belonging place where everyone was not only welcome, but also able to freely and equally enjoy the blessings of God’s mercy and grace—a place free of the divisiveness and tension of the harsh world.

And how did this all work out?

Well, just read through his New Testament letters. God’s ideal and human reality clashed. There was a learning curve here. Folks entrenched and indoctrinated in the worldviews that created the tension had to learn a new way of doing and being in Christ—actually an entirely new way of conceptualizing the world and viewing one another.  (Which puts his statement of no longer regarding anyone “from a worldly point of view” in 2 Corinthians 5:16 into context. That entire text is very informative to this overall discussion.)

It is no different now.

In our factious culture still so defined by class, race, gender, and other layers of social and economic status and so polarized by the pandering of our political party system— God’s kingdom alternative of a welcoming place that eradicates all of those divisive labels and allegiances through the unifying force of Christ is both desperately needed and refreshing.

That place is God’s church. Here there is neither black nor white; Republican nor Democrat; rich nor poor; male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. (If this statement increases your blood pressure then you are relating to the challenge of the NT church.)

Wearing Jesus trumps all the rest.

What an undeniable witness to heaven this truly is.

Are we up to the challenge?

Is your church a true belonging place?

To genuinely follow Christ do we really have any other option?


I Sat Down (and other news)

May 9, 2012

For almost a year I sat down. I stopped exercising and followed a horrible diet of junk and fatty food. I found ways to justify it- the move and new job; having surgery; the desk-time demands of my master’s program. The consequences have been predictable: some weight gain, huffing and puffing going up the stairs; and a general feeling of sluggishness. Yep, I sat down and it was tough getting back up. But I have. Already I feel better. So don’t neglect exercise. I knew better. I was the exercise guy.

The Baltic Family Camp set for July 30-August 5 in Lithuania is shaping up, praise be to God. Our theme is “We Are One.” It will have a wonderful international flavor with Christians from Estoinia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, and the U.S. coming together at Camp Ruta. We have our schedule set including class topics and daily activities. Excitement is building. All four Dodds are scheduled to be there, God willing. Keep this effort in your prayers.

Well, after all these years I finally earned my master’s degree. In was in ministry through Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. I would recommend the MMIN program for anyone interested in expanding their educational and ministry experience. It is a wonderfully challenging and practical online program.

It is the political season. If you are like me you continue to ask which is the best way for a Christian to engage politics. There are many different viewpoints concerning this. Here is an interesting one.

I continue to appreciate the Levy church. I am enjoying my ministry here. Levy is truly an “organic” church where ministry grows from the grass roots. We recently hosted a Community Day in which nearly 500 guests enjoyed all kinds of activities. It was a blessing for all involved.

And finally, it is no secret that I am a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show. My ten year-old daughter, Taylor, is following in my footsteps and enjoys watching our DVD episodes. In a conversation with her the other day she replied to something I said with, “Well, you  know what Barney would say.” I was so proud! :)


To Change the World

April 11, 2012

It is election time! Everything now seems to be so over-politicized. How should we as Christians respond? James Hunter has written a challenging, refreshing, and thoroughly researched book entitled, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, addressing these questions.

He examines how Christians in the twenty-first century commonly engage politics- from the right, from the left, and from an approach of  radical withdrawal (that he labels as “neo-Anabaptist”) and concludes that while each approach has its merits (as well as problems) none really fully embrace the most powerful biblical way of “faithful presence” (using Jeremiah 29:4-7 as his foundational text).

It is through “faithful presence” Hunter argues- not by becoming entangled in partisan power politics that Christians can best impact the world. It is not by grasping for power that Christians will influence culture, but rather by a quiet yet steadfastly faithful living out of God’s presence in community through every aspect of our lives, our businesses, and our relationships.

Here is just one excerpt that represents his challenging ideas: “To be sure, Christianity is not, first and foremost, about establishing righteousness or creating good values or securing justice or making peace in the world. … But for Christians, these are all secondary to the primary good of God himself and the primary task of worshipping him and honoring him in all they do” (pp.285-286).

I recommend this book to you- especially now that it is election season. Just know, it is not the easiest of reads and you will not always agree with Hunter’s conclusions, but it will likely challenge you to examine your motives and involvement concerning all things political.


Christians, Civil Responsibilities, and Politics

March 5, 2012

The following is a study of Romans 13:1-7 which I entitled “Living Out the Transformation.” It is a part of our Wednesday study at Levy of this wonderful book. I was asked to post it here. It is rather long for a blogpost. As always you are invited to offer your input and wisdom. Thanks for stopping by.- Danny

This section of the book is somewhat remarkable contextually and even when considered within the overall context of the New Testament. It certainly is the most complete and notable text addressing the civic responsibility of Christians (Matthew 22:21; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; 1 Peter 2:13-17 are others).

CONTEXT

In passing along this teaching to the Roman church, Paul was not asking them to consider anything he had not practiced himself. As a Roman citizen he would use the rights accorded him to operate within the Roman judiciary system to appeal to Caesar himself (Acts 22-28). He recognized that there were definite advantages to the spread of the gospel for conforming to and honoring the governing powers. This has to be- at least in part- a component of his message to the Romans.

Another contextual situation, no doubt, concerned the civil disobedience rampant among parts of the Jewish community that had earlier created the banishment of the Jewish population of Rome under Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. (in which Apulia and Priscilla were caught up- Acts 18:1-2). Again, Paul realized that this type of rebellion against established government would be counterproductive to spreading the gospel and to the reputation of Christians within a community.

Finally from an immediate contextual perspective, this body of teaching seems to flow from the previous teaching in chapter twelve concerning blessing those who persecute, repaying good for evil, not seeking revenge,  and doing everything possible to live at peace with everyone. As previously noted, this divine advice mirrors the teaching of Christ- who did not embrace the radical agenda of the Jewish Zealots of his day, but chose rather to be obedient to the governing powers (even though they were unjust and killed him).

The ultimate goal Paul was seeking in this section of teaching was to urge the church in Rome not to engage in any type of civil disobedience that would bring undue attention to the church and hinder their ability to spread the gospel of Christ. Instead they were to submit to their civic governmental context and work within it as good citizens (as he himself was doing) to allow every opportunity for the gospel to be spread and influence their community.

TEXTUAL POINTS

From the text we learn:

  • Paul presents a positive picture of government. It is to be seen as established by God for the purposes of punishing wrongdoers and as such it serves God’s purposes.
  • “Everyone” is to submit to the governmental powers and not be in rebellion against them. Considering their context this was wise advise because Rome could and did act swiftly to eradicate rebellious and subversive activity (think Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) The Christian’s responsibility within their governmental context is to “do what is right” – not just for fear of punishment but because it is the right thing to do (“conscience”- vs. 5)
  • Doing what is right includes paying the various taxes required by government and paying your debts.

Coupled with the other NT texts mentioned earlier we see a consistent ethic put forth. Jesus agrees that taxes should be paid (Matthew 22:21). The Romans teaching agrees with Paul’s words to Timothy concerning living a quiet and respectful life within a community (1 Timothy 2:1-3). And Peter echoes the idea of respect and submission to the king and those in governmental authority- as well as emphasizing that in doing so it would best present the gospel message and silence critics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

To really grasp the impact of the Roman text (and the others) is to understand that Christianity was this fledgling movement operating among misunderstandings, suspicion, and opposition in the cities where it had taken root. On one hand it was opposed by most of the Jewish establishment (which spread rumors about the church) and was viewed by many Roman authorities as simply a splinter sect of the troublesome Jewish community- and therefore untrustworthy and suspicious. So, this teaching was crucial to establishing that Christians were not the threat to the empire so perceived. The call was to be good citizens, live at peace, and conform as completely as possible (sometimes- according to the demands of the ruling powers- complete conformity was impossible- Acts 5:29) to governmental powers so as to give the gospel every opportunity to take root and flourish. This indeed is one major way they could live out the transformation to which they were called (Romans 12:1-2). Such a lifestyle would differentiate Christians from others (especially the Jews who were constantly a problem for Rome).

LIVING OUT THE TEXT TODAY

Reading the text through 21st century filters leave us with many questions. What if a governmental system is not just? Should we live peacefully within a form of government that oppresses and promotes evil? If Christians fall under persecution what should be our response? Is it okay to participate in activities designed to overthrow evil governments? Can we participate in peaceful protest? Should we become involved in the governmental process?

To address this- we first must remember that the Roman texts (and others) were not written specifically to answer these questions. They were context specific. (In fact, it was only a few years after Paul wrote this that Roman Christians faced horrific persecution under Nero and persecution was at times and in places- harsh for Christians until Constantine).  So just what does this text have to say about the above questions?

Based upon all of the NT text here are some consistent principles to consider (some of which are quite challenging to us today):

  • Do our best- regardless of the type of government under which we live to submit to it and live at peace. Do not engage in any “taking up the sword” type of rebellion. The kingdom of God and our citizenship within it supersedes any earthly citizenship and living out that citizenship (transformed lives) is paramount.
  • As much as it may hurt- pay taxes and pay your debts. Do not give anyone an occasion to slander the name of Christ in this regard.
  • If forced- obey God rather than men, of course, but this still does not give permission to engage in the type of civil disobedience that leads to violence and anarchy. Consistent within the entire NT from Christ to Revelation is the call to stand firm in the face of persecution, but nowhere is any example of Christians engaged in anarchy. Historical records reveal that it was just the opposite. Christians killed in the Roman arena died not fighting but while singing praises to God. Martyrs like Polycarp of Smyrna did not resist but were “faithful unto death.”
  • We are called to “honor the king”- with no qualifications. So that means even if we do not like the king or his politics.
  • We must always remember that God has and most certainly continues to use governments as his servants. We likely will not understand how this necessarily works, but it is clear that he does. We honor our governments because we first honor God.
  • Christianity lived out in transformed lives can actually influence and transform governments. The first church in Acts living out and applying the teaching of Christ turned cities “upside down.” It was not done through a ballot box or through a political movement. That is one of the main points of the Roman text. Live as a transformed citizen of heaven within the context of your earthly citizenship and be God’s leaven to influence your surroundings. While Christ was not political per se, his message was quietly subversive and undermined the politics of his day- and still does in our day.
  • Christians can participate and use their rights of citizenship (like Paul did) to look for ways to spread the gospel- including participating in the governmental process. But Christians should not partner with politics in any unequal way (2 Corinthians 6:14) nor should they expect any government to be “about the Father’s business.”

God’s call is unchanged regardless of the type of governmental system in which we live. Live for him first. Be the best citizen possible in demonstrating what it means to be a citizen of heaven.


Honor the King?

February 15, 2012

Band of Brothers is a television series depicting the true-to-life WWII story of the Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army. This unit was one among many who parachuted into France before the historic D-Day landing on June 6, 1944.  In the series, we see Easy Company from their basic training days all the way to the war’s end.

The main character of the show is Dick Winters (real guy who lived what the show depicted).  His commanding officer in basic training is overbearing, incompetent, sycophantic, and universally disliked. Winters and the other men of Easy Company have to put up with him- he outranks them.

Later, after Winters has distinguished himself in combat and as a leader of men, he receives a series of promotions.  Eventually his rank rises above that of the basic training CO (who BTW lost his command to Winters, never went into combat,  and became a supply officer). At one point they encounter each other as Easy Company is in transit. The old CO– now outranked and bitter– fails to salute Winters. In a truly great scene, Winters stops the guy and says, “Captain Sobel… we do not salute the man, we salute the rank,” and makes him snap the salute.

I thought about this scene during a recent discussion about how Christians in America should view the presidency. (John Dobbs blogs about this here.) Take a few minutes to read 1 Peter 2:13-25 and Romans 13:1-7. Should we be engaged in publicly slamming and disrespecting our elected officials? (Not speaking about civil and constructive dialogue here- just the mean spiritedness that seems so prevalent in almost any discussion about politics and presidents.)

Can you imagine how the idea of “Honor the king” sounded to first century Christians? The Roman Emperor and the cult of Emperor worship sanctioned by the Roman state represented everything they opposed and at times severely oppressed them. Yet Peter says give him honor? Could it have been a salute the rank, not the man type thing?

In fact, honoring the king is a reflection of our submission to God. Our willingness to do this- even if it goes against our grain– is another way for God to be glorified to community in us. Why else would we do this except out of our relationship with God? Only in Christianity is this kind of ethic found. Many other religions would seek to rebel and overthrow (Jewish zealots in Palestine then- radical Muslims now) a government they dislike. This is not God’s call for us. Rather we challenge governments and culture through transformed lives- as peacemakers, through meekness, purity, and living out the values of the kingdom as Christ did. God will- through his justice  eventually make right all of the injustices that exist (where is the Roman empire now?). Like the Revelation martyrs- we may be asking, “how long” until this happens (Revelation 6:9-11). But until then God asks us to love our enemies, honor and pray for government officials and forms of governments (even those we do not like), turn the other cheek, think more highly of others than we do ourselves, take care of the most vulnerable among us, etc.

It is a difficult, humbling, totally against-our-human-nature call, but God is not asking us to do anything he has not already done himself.

I may disagree with and oppose the policies, politics, and even the lifestyle of a president. I certainly can engage in civil discussion about all of this and vote for or against him (something the first century Christians could not do, BTW). But while I may not necessarily salute the man, God has called me to honor the position. When I do I reflect that my true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.


Post-Christian

October 27, 2011

This is the label now used to describe our times. Where once our culture was framed by a general allegiance to Christian values and ethics-  it no longer is. This is probably not a shocker to most of us.  The evidence of this surrounds. Headlines blurt it out daily.

Now I could launch into a discussion explaining how this might not necessarily be as great a negative as it appears. I could explore the strong and growing similarities between our century and the first one and then point out how the church flourished in that pre-Christian era. That is indeed an interesting discussion.

But for now- here are some brief and general thoughts on how we got to be “post-Christian.”

  • We have surrendered our identities as Christians. No, we still wear the tag Christian, but in reality there is not much that separates us church-goers from those who don’t. Brad J. Waggoner in his book, The Shape of Faith to Come: Spiritual Formation and the Future of Discipleship speaks of “cultural seepage” within the church- basically dumbing down our  commitment to living and sharing kingdom principles. The lines have simply blurred. We look and act too much like surrounding culture to be taken seriously as a penetrating voice for Christ in the cultural dialogue.
  • Related to that is the moral ambiguity among us. We all know about scandals in high places among churches and church leaders. This has not helped, but what further hurts our attempts to share the joy of Christ is the failure of many Christians to faithfully live out godly virtues. We are simply failing to put these (see 2 Peter 1:5-9) on and wear them with any consistency. Instead (and again) we do not look much different than unbelievers. This actually disqualifies us from being a credible witness to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27).  And then, when we do speak we open ourselves up to criticism of being judgmental and hypocritical.
  • Our message has become too politicized.  God’s kingdom transcends any nation or country. Our call regardless of our nationality is to be salt and light to that nation. God’s kingdom can transform an earthly one, but not by becoming equal partners with it (2 Corinthians 6:14). When “God issues” become pawns in political debate designed only to pander for votes- it then hinders our ability to make a difference in that culture by sharing the overall life-giving message of Christ.
  • There is simply too much general apathy in our churches. Where now is our passion for evangelism? Where is our zeal to truly live a life worthy of our calling? Where is our commitment to Bible study and worship?
I am speaking in generalities here. Praise God there are exceptions. There are also solutions. God provides them (start by reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This is indeed a heavenly resource for penetrating any culture with the message of Christ). Ultimately it comes back to me. Am I being salt and light? Does my life- while imperfect- genuinely reflect godly values in a consistent way? Am I fueling my soul through God’s Spirit and with the Word of God? Am I passionately in love with Christ? Do I verbally share the joys of my faith?

I am not afraid of living in a post-Christian culture. God still reigns. He just wants us to demonstrate that reign in our lives.

Feel free to agree or disagree and add your thoughts to the discussion.


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