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)

 

Advertisements

The Kingdom of God is Revolutionary

September 11, 2017

The following is the introductory lesson for my fall class series at Levy–The Kingdom Revolution. More to follow. 

We may not really think about the kingdom in revolutionary terms, but it is so. It was as Jesus began more fully introducing the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount and then as he lived it out within the context of his ministry. It was as he died on the cross only to be resurrected three days later. It was when the first Christians changed an empire by faithfully living out the kingdom in taking Good News throughout the world. It remains so today—even if we do not fully understand or embrace it.

At the dawn of the in-breaking of the kingdom—before Jesus gathered a crowd around him on the Sea of Galilee to proclaim blessings and reimagine narrowly interpreted Scripture—God’s message to people had become muted, corrupted and reshaped into a stale repetition of ordinances and rabbinical traditions, which were mostly disconnected to the practical needs of daily life. Yes, there was an expectation of a Messiah and the coming of the kingdom, but no one ever expected the Messiah and kingdom that actually came. The Jews certainly did desire a revolution, but nothing like the one that really happened.

In some ways this mirrors our experiences today. As Christianity has become institutionalized we run similar risks of muting the revolutionary nature of the kingdom lest it upset the institution itself. We welcome the Messiah and the idea of kingdom, but too often attempt to micromanage both. Revolutions are not micromanaged however. They turn worlds upside down and change everything.

Everything Changed

One way to measure a revolution is the reaction to it from those whom it threatens the most. In terms of the kingdom of Christ this became obvious as entrenched religious leaders opposed Jesus. They saw him—and rightly so—as a threat to their orthodoxy. They recognized how his revolutionary teaching would change everything. What they failed to recognize was how this was God’s will and always had been.

To paraphrase Jesus, if they had really known the law and the prophets they would have seen the revolution coming. But they were blinded by tradition, self-interests, power and pride. As everything changed around them, they stubbornly opposed it, while ultimately moving to stop it. They failed, of course. After all, who can stand in the way of God?

The revolution was his idea—his plan to send his only Son to change everything. As respected author and theologian N.T. Wright explains:

The New Testament insists in book after book, that when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as a result of which the world is a different place. And the early Christians insisted that when people are caught up in the meaning of the cross, they become part of this difference.”  (from The Day the Revolution Began, pg. 39)

How the world is this different place is what we will examine in this study. Hopefully it can encourage us to be or continue to be a part of the difference—kingdom revolutionaries if you will.

Three Texts

In this study we will focus on three primary biblical texts. The first will be Galatians 3:26-28. Here Paul captures how everything changes once we clothe ourselves with Christ in baptism. Our identities undergo a revolution. The old ways of identifying ourselves give way to a kingdom redefinition. In the context of the writing it was revolutionary. It remains so in our context.

The second text is 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. In addressing a context specific problem among some in the Corinthian church, Paul shares some revolutionary kingdom ideas about relationships, personal rights and use of recourses. It is the kingdom teaching of Jesus lived out in the real world, but it is not easy. Revolutions rarely are.

The last text is Romans 12-15:7. This longer context again speaks to the personal transformation process that comes with the kingdom revolution. Here Paul revolutionizes such values as love, zeal, integrity, and other personal behavior. The fact is for the revolution to actually to make a difference it has to start within. Why else would Jesus state that the kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21).

The Revolution Personified

It is no mistake that these three texts were written by the apostle Paul. His story, perhaps, like none other most clearly represents the degree of change that accompanies the kingdom revolution. Here was a man whose life so completely transformed that it barely resembled what it once had been.

Here was a Pharisee of the Pharisees; a man who completely embodied Judaism; passionate to the point of persecuting; until he met Jesus and was totally transformed. Here is how he stated it:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Stop and read that again. “I no longer live.” Everything changed! He joined the revolution.

He did so because he became aware—as must everyone who joins the revolution—that what the kingdom offers is of far greater value than anything else anywhere else. This awareness would later lead him to say things like this:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).

Is Paul an outlier? Was this just a special dispensation asked of a man who would be an apostle—or are we all called to this? The answer to that reveals much about us. Is it truly a revolution within that changes everything or is it something less? If it is something less then can it really be a revolution? If it is not a revolution then what will really change? It is my guess that Saul of Tarsus had these questions to wrestle with once. Now it is our turn.


Money and Me

July 12, 2017

Worried About Money

So I am enjoying a kind of preaching sabbatical due to different circumstances intersecting (regular Sunday off, preaching intern, mission trip), which provides me a rare opportunity to plan my next sermons over a longer period. All year my preaching focus has been themed around “seeking first the kingdom of God”–obviously from Christ’s incredible Sermon on the Mount. During the summer I have narrowed that focus to what I call “kingdom values.” Next up my plan leads me to address the use of and attitudes toward money in the kingdom (so Levy be warned!) It will not be a “sermon on giving” (or as the classic Marvin Phillip’s line goes–a “sermon on the amount”), but rather what Christ taught about money and possessions along with how they are best used in his kingdom.

As I have been reading and ruminating over this, it has caused within me a growing tension. It has resulted in me coming face-to-face with and acknowledging my own weaknesses and failings in this regard.

It can be rather convenient for preachers to pick out our texts, work our sermon plans, and have a go at the church without ever allowing the message to become deeply personal. After all, we have to move from one sermon to the next fairly quickly. Sermons are our products. We have to produce one weekly, which often does not allow time for self-reflection. Due to the accidental sabbatical I am enjoying self-reflection opportunities right now–and it is working me over.

I admit to always having a struggle with money. I grew up with very little of it and have never managed to accumulate a great deal of it. Overspending, though, has never been much of a problem. I hate debt even though I have never been totally free from it. I don’t sense within me the love of money that is rooted in all kinds of evil. I don’t have any great internal problems or hesitancy with contributing.

It is just this–I worry too much about it.

Interestingly enough this has only increased within me as I have gotten older. It has compounded due to having younger children. I now find myself on occasion being fearful about the future–will I have enough to help them through college? What will happen if I am not able to keep working? Are we sure we have enough money to cover all our responsibilities? Some of this may seem like typical concerns. Some of it quite honestly is just an irrational lack of faith. But it is the tune Satan keeps playing for me in the recesses of my mind.

Let me make this clear however–it does not come from a kingdom perspective at all.

In fact, Christ teaches exactly the opposite. Don’t worry. Seek first the kingdom and God will provide. Prioritize your money and resources from a kingdom perspective and be set free from our consumer driven social conditioning. I know this. My wife, Terri, reminds me of this quite frequently. God has always had our back, so why worry now? But I still do. Therefore the tension mounting within me.

I confess this here for a few reasons. First, confession really is a balm for the soul. It puts your struggle out there, forcing you to deal with it differently than if it is kept hidden. Second, preaching about money sometimes can be a tricky proposition. I want Levy to know that I am first preaching to myself. That my agenda is not just to challenge others to live out the kingdom values, but also to embrace them more fully myself. And third–to seek prayers from others on behalf of my struggle.

I must overcome Satan’s song with the beautiful words of Jesus:

So do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or”What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. –Matthew 6:32-34

Money and me have always had a complicated relationship. More than anything I want that relationship to be better defined and prioritized God’s way. I want to be set free of the tyranny of worry and fear.

 

 


Anyone Tormented Lately?

August 28, 2013

But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment (1 Peter 2:7-8 MSG).

Move over Lot, you should be having company.

Contextually, Peter was referring to Lot being in those notoriously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How wicked were they– say compared to the present time? I cannot say. A conjectured comparison is not what this post is about.

Recently though, that statement by Peter crossed my mind and prompted me to consider if anyone is feeling today what Lot felt then?  Has there been any torment going on in our souls about the moral rot that surrounds us?  This is what this post is about- morality or lack of it.

I realize this is not a popular discussion. It is loaded with all kinds of loaded opinions and passionate presuppositions. Post-modernism does not easily lend itself to any kind of moral conversation. it seems to break down too quickly into divisive rhetoric which then becomes counterproductive to any constructive dialogue.

But even with the challenges– shouldn’t we be having this conversation?

Do we really want Miley Cyrus (who is just the latest performer to “shock” us) and the pervasive entertainment industry to define the moral standards for our culture? (To a large extent- they are, BTW) We cannot run or be afraid to address what is playing out before us. If indeed the moral rot embedded in our culture bothers us– then shouldn’t we feel compelled to speak out?

But not with signs, picketing, angry shouts, hate-fueled language and slander. Go back a couple of paragraphs to the counterproductive point. I don’t think that has really gotten us anywhere. So what to do? Here are my thoughts:

  • “Be shrewd as snakes”- This quotation is from Matthew 10:16. Jesus gave this advice to his disciples before he sent them out on a mission to “the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus not only gave this advice, he lived it (as well as the equally important second part). Christ engaged people where they were without creating unnecessary barriers. He did not use hate-language or angrily confront the lost sheep. He sought opportunities to dialogue and present kingdom alternatives to prevailing morality (see John 4:1-42). He told penetrating stories that made people think and reconsider choices they had made.  Make no mistake– he spoke truth, but in love. Also make no mistake- our moral failures tormented him. That is why he became flesh and why that flesh was bruised and pierced.  This is how he became personally engaged in our conversation. We can learn volumes from him on how to become personally engaged in our current cultural conversations.
  • “And innocent as doves”- Hypocrisy undermines any credibility Christians have in a discussion of morality. Moral rot my torment our soul, but if we participate in it– we simply have no place in the conversation. There was no guile in Jesus. He had no hidden agenda or secret sin. He did not posture or manipulate. He was authentic, compassionate, and innocent. So must we if we are to have any voice in the overall cultural discussion.

It also has to do with those kingdom alternatives. We simply cannot just rail against and not offer something healthier. Authentically and joyfully living out Jesus is that healthy alternative. The Sermon on the Mount; heaven’s values revealed in the parables; the heart of Christ embedded in his people; these will go a long way to counter moral rot.

I guess it could be worse, though. What if this moral rot is not tormenting our soul? What if it doesn’t bother us at all?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.


“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

February 17, 2011

So says the Prince of Peace (See Matthew 5:9). He knows whereof he speaks- having himself brought peace and reconciliation to the Creator and the creation through his blood (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now he seeks a people of peace. Disciples who will share it, honor it and promote it. Who will let this “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) reign and overflow to others. Peacemakers are blessed. “They shall be called sons of God,” Jesus says.

This peace stems from the very person of God (1 Thessalonians 4:23). Strife, divisiveness, arguments, dissention, turmoil, factions, grudges, confusion, etc. have no place where he reigns. (God “hates” such- Proverbs 6:19). Nor should any of these define God’s people.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Romans 14:19

This is what peacemakers do and their ministry is just as urgently needed now- in and out of the church- as ever.

Peacemakers:

  • Seek Solutions.  Like spiritual ambassadors always seeking out a way to let peace rule. Problems always exist. Peacemakers seek to peacefully solve them.
  • Promote Harmony.  This is at the heart of peacemaking. Like Scripture teaches, “Finally all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
  • Generate Goodwill.  The atmosphere created and encouraged by peacemakers is a joy. That is why it is a “beatitude.” It is spiritually healthy and conducive for growth and goodwill.

God blesses all who seek and promote his peace. All who do are lights shining a dark world. All who do are invaluable to God’s kingdom. All who do are sons and daughters of the King!

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

With this blessed attitude we can’t go wrong.  Praise God for the peacemakers!