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Showing posts with label #Kingdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Kingdom. Show all posts

16 May 2018

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

Same as the rest of the world.

The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed.

True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The LORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike.

So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it.

So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever.

But you’d be surprised how many American prognosticators simply can’t have that.

Blame American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is special, the greatest country in the world, the greatest country in history, and the related belief that Americans are smarter, more capable, more innovative, more talented, than the folks of any other nation. No offense guys; we just grew up under more freedom. If you had American-style freedom, maybe you’d do as well. But probably not. We’ve been freer longer, and we’re pretty sure that has something to do with it too.

We’ve been taught exceptionalism all our lives. It’s a huge part of American-style civic idolatry. So yeah, this is a lot of the reason why we Americans behave as if we’re special. We’ve always been told we are, and we believe it.

This attitude has trickled into our religion. Our End Times prognosticators figure the United States is special, doggone it, so we oughta fit in the End Times timeline somewhere. They’re not entirely sure where, but they shoehorn us pretty much anywhere they can get away with it.

21 March 2018

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

Not necessarily America’s liberal churches.

Mainline is a bit of Christianese in the United States. The adjective refers to the Protestant churches in the United States who were around since the 1700s—since before our constitutional freedom of religion made it possible for all sorts of new churches to crop up, and add to the thousands of Protestant denominations.

Some of these churches, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians, got their start here. Others, like the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, got their start in England and Scotland—but when the colonies declared independence from the UK in 1776, the churches reorganized their leadership to become distinct from their UK governing bodies.

So being “mainline” or a “mainliner” doesn’t refer to a belief system. They’re not mainliners by philosophy: Other than Jesus’s teachings and Protestant traditions, they don’t necessarily have a lot in common. (In the case of Unitarians, the rest of us figure they’re heretic.) They’re mainline because they’re older. They have a longer history. They were here when the United States began.

But for many politically and theologically conservative Christians, “mainliner” has become their shorthand for a politically progressive or theologically liberal Christian. Because a number of mainline churches are liberal in their beliefs. Not all of ’em, but just enough for “mainliner” to pick up another definition.

So when you hear Christians refer to certain churches as “mainline churches,” sometimes you gotta ask them: Do you mean old, or liberal? (Maybe both.)

13 July 2017

Where do Jews fit into God’s kingdom?

Did God switch kingdoms between Old Testament and New Testament?

When we confess Jesus as our Lord, and believe he’s alive, we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Duh. True of anybody—whether Christian, or people who kinda shun that title; whether women or men, young or old, knowledgeable or ignorant, gentile or Jew.

Particularly if you’re a Jew. ’Cause Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. He particularly came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Mt 10.6 And if anyone’s under the delusion there aren’t any Jews in God’s kingdom, they’re nuts. Their antisemitism is making ’em heretic.

But here we slam into a little bit of controversy.

Y’see a number of Jews don’t confess Jesus as their Lord. Don’t believe in their hearts God raised him from the dead. Yet they still figure they’re in God’s kingdom, ’cause they’re following his Law. (Their rabbis’ interpretations of the Law, anyway.) God saved the Hebrews from Egypt, gave ’em his Law, told ’em to follow it, said he’d make a kingdom out of them, so they do. So they’re in God’s kingdom, right?

Well… no.

Because people are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law.

Galatians 2.15-21 KWL
15 We’re ethnic Jews, not gentile sinners,
16 who knew people aren’t set right by working the Law unless they trust Christ Jesus.
We trust Christ Jesus, because we’re set right by trust in Christ.
Not by working the Law, because working the Law won’t set any flesh right!
17 If we who seek to be found set right by Christ, and we’re sinners, is Christ a minister of sin?
Absolutely not. 18 If what I build up, I once again destroy, I myself am the Law-breaker.
19 Through the Law, I died to the Law—so I can live for God. I was crucified with Christ.
20 I no longer live. Christ lives—in me. Though I live in flesh now, I live by trust in God’s Son.
He loved me and gave himself up for me. 21 I don’t deny God’s grace:
If righteousness came by Law, Christ died for no reason.

People are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law. Ro 3.20 That’s the false assumption people made ever since the LORD handed down the Law at Sinai, but it’s entirely wrong. The idea’s always been wrong. Every human, from Adam on down, is only saved by God’s grace.

The Hebrews were rescued from Egypt, not because they were good or mighty people, but because God chose to save ’em. We Christians are rescued from sin, not because we deserve it or grew up Christian, but because God chose to save us. None of us earned God’s favor. Nobody works their way to salvation. The Law was granted to an already-saved people. Same as Jesus’s instructions are granted to us Christians.

So when Jews claim, “I’m part of a special covenant with God, and that’s how I was saved; your insistence I can only be saved through Jesus isn’t valid,” they’re absolutely wrong.

See, an integral part of any relationship with God, no matter what form it takes, is faith. God offers us salvation, and we respond to his offer by trusting him and doing as he expects. Abraham believed God; his faith justified him; God saved him. Ge 15.6, Ro 4.3 What’s God expect of us nowadays? That we believe in the one he sent, Jn 6.29 namely Messiah Jesus. Jn 17.3 Especially if we’re descendants of Israel.

This idea that Jews get any special path to salvation which does an end-run round Jesus? Absolutely false.

03 July 2017

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

When people convince themselves their homeland is an outpost of God’s kingdom.

Civic idolatry /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri/ n. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous /'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs/ adj., civic idolater /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər/ n.]

Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States.

In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.)

So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should.

However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s idolatry, and when it’s directed towards a nation we call it civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded; when we treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as holy. And when we treat criticism or contempt for it as blasphemy.

Heck, for those people, my even talking about the subject is blasphemy. Although they’ll call it unpatriotic, subversive, traitorous: How dare I say love of country is a bad thing?

Again: Not saying that. But when love of “God and country” get blended together as if they’re the same thing, we got idolatry. When we attribute things to the United States that are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry. When our nation takes precedence over the growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry. Sometimes in our dual citizenship with the kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side… and when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.

06 February 2017

The Johnson amendment, and preaching the wrong kingdom.

On the tax code rule which rightly keeps politics out of Christ’s pulpits.

In the United States we have a Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Since tax status has been specifically used in the past to interfere with unpopular religions, the U.S. Code makes churches tax-exempt.

Yeah, here’s where the legalese comes in. (Hey, I wanna be thorough.) Most churches fall under what we call a 501(c)(3) organization, named for that specific subsection of Title 26 of the United States Code. For your convenience, here it is.

Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. 26 USC §501(c)(3)

Basically if you’re a nonprofit church, university, charity, society, or promotional group, you needn’t pay taxes. And people who give you money can deduct their donations from their taxes. Nice, huh? But here’s the catches:

  • All your incoming money shouldn’t be controlled by, or benefit, one individual—like the head pastor. Your church shouldn’t be merely a promotional tool to help your pastor get speaking engagements and sell books and videos. Nor should it spend all its money enriching your pastors, but do little to no ministry.
  • The church shouldn’t spend “a substantial part” of its money (and other laws define how big is “substantial”) on pushing its politics: Promoting causes or lobbying government.
  • The church can’t promote a political candidate or campaign.

And of course churches aren’t permitted to break other laws. None of that “We have freedom in Christ; no government can tell us what to do” malarkey like we find in cults. Either prove the law’s unconstitutional, or follow it like a good American. (And for those of you who are paranoid about Islam: This applies to Muslims too. I know you don’t believe me; I can’t help what you refuse to believe.)

Now, why am I spelling all this out? ’Cause last Thursday during the National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump repeated his intent, which he voiced throughout his presidential campaign, to do away with the “Johnson amendment,” the part of 501(c)(3) which forbids churches from promoting candidates and campaigns. There’s currently a bill in Congress, House Resolution 6195, the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” which’ll overturn it.

The Johnson amendment is named after Lyndon Johnson—who was still a senator when he got it passed in 1954. It applies to every 501(c)(3) nonprofit; not just churches. It wasn’t controversial when it was first passed, because back in the ’50s most pastors recognized politics is a dirty business, and didn’t want to soil themselves in it.

But times have changed, and a lot of ’em nowadays roll around in politics like pigs in poo.

14 November 2016

Bummed your candidate lost? Bad sign.

Which I do. Which we all should do. Regardless of how much it irritates the authority.

I wrote this piece in 2012, after Mitt Romney lost the presidential race to Barack Obama. I had to tweak it very, very little in order to apply it to this year, after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump.

Four years ago my Republican friends were moping about the election results. This year it’s my Democratic friends. They’ve been putting on a brave face, saying the usual platitudes about how God’s still in control, even though their candidate won’t be. And how very bummed they are. And how they’re gonna put their trust in Jesus.

Hopefully some of them recognize these are the things you say after you’ve been putting your faith in an idol… and God just smashed that idol.

But probably not. It took me quite a few years before I got to that point myself.

The first presidential election where I didn’t get my way, back when I was a Republican, was the 1992 election, when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. I’d voted for Bush. As had most of my fellow Republicans. A significant minority had instead voted for independent candidate H. Ross Perot. That meant nobody had the majority—but Clinton had the plurality, and secured the Electoral College.

So I was horrified. What the hell was wrong with Americans? Now this hippie was president.

(Amusing since a lot of people assume I’m a hippie. It’s ’cause of the long hair and beard. And the fact I don’t wear shoes very often. And the fact I’m now a Democrat. Real hippies realize I’m way too conservative for them. But I digress.)

See, I’d been drinking too deeply from the Christian Right Kool-Aid. In both parties there’s an element which tells you if the other candidate wins, the Apocalypse follows.

02 November 2016

Politics, Christians, and our democracy.

The pursuit of power is contrary to everything about God’s kingdom. Pity so many of us won’t see this.

Politics /'pɑl.ə.tɪks/ pl.n. Activities associated with the achievement of power, position, and status. Especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to gain it; often considered to be divisive or devious.
[Politic /'pɑl.ə.tɪk/, political /pə'lɪd.ə.kəl/ adj.; politician /pɑl.ə'tɪ.ʃən/, politico /pə'lɪd.ɪ.koʊ/ n.]

God’s kingdom is entirely about surrendering our power, authority, will, even our identity, to God.

We kinda have to do this. Humans, y’see, are selfish to our core. Total depravity, theologians call it: Everything we do, even everything good we do, has a self-centered ulterior motive. Makes us feel good about ourselves. Makes us feel self-justified. Yeah, it’ll appear to make us feel absolutely rotten, but somewhere in our psyche is some “greater principle” we’re willing to make great sacrifices for—and it gives us just enough satisfaction to get us through any misery. We’re just that carnal. It’s why God needs to save us, ’cause we’ll never be good enough to save ourselves. And why the God Holy Spirit needs to give our consciences a total overhaul.

Politics, however, is about wielding power. And, for politically-minded folks, it’s also about gaining more. Sometimes for noble reasons: To do good deeds. More often, for not-so-noble reasons: To keep it out of the hands of others, lest they do something we dislike with it. Not that we’re gonna do anything with it. Or anything good.

So yeah, there are antithetical ideas at play when we talk about God’s kingdom and politics. One’s about surrender, because we can’t be trusted with power. The other’s not; it’s about gaining or taking or stealing power, because we’re the right-minded exceptions who can be trusted with power. It’s the others who can’t. The opposition party surely can’t.

How do Christians juggle these ideas? Same way we’ve always justified our possession of power. Same as we’ve even justified not surrendering all our power to God. In brief: “I’m gonna do good with it. The power’s not gonna corrupt me; my heart is pure.”

In other words, we lie to ourselves. And our fellow Christians. And God.

27 October 2016

“If my people pray, I’ll heal their land.”

Pray for your nation. But don’t just presume your nation is God’s nation.

2 Chronicles 7.14

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with civic idolaters, those folks who assume when Jesus returns, he won’t overthrow the United States: It’s the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. To them, it already is his kingdom, and Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just we’re heavily mismanaging things. But once we call upon God… well, lemme quote their beloved bible verse.

2 Chronicles 7.14 KJV
…if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Right. If our Christian nation returns to God, and returns to proper Christian values (as defined by popular Christian culture), and makes big shows of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (and never mind what the party’s candidates think about the needy, the stranger, the widows and orphans—heck, women in general): God will heal our land. Turn it into his kingdom on earth. Make it paradise. Maybe even hold back on the End Times for a few more years, so we can finally accomplish all our personal goals for wealth, romance, and material success, without that pesky rapture messing up our schedule. Yet at the same time, in our church services, claiming we’re getting the church ready to meet her groom. Rv 21.2

Yeah, it’s a wholly inconsistent theology. But fear’ll do that to people.

Anyway, whenever I object to them ripping 2 Chronicles 7.14 out of its historical context, I regularly get accused of not loving the United States like they do. And they’re right: It definitely ain’t like they do. I love the United States like God loves the world—and wants to save it. Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. I don’t assume they already have. Polls prove we think we have, but crime and abortion rates prove we haven’t. So I remain mindful my citizenship is in God’s kingdom. And every time the Holy Spirit wakes me up to the fact the United States and the kingdom are opposed, I’m siding with the kingdom. Every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

10 October 2016

Standing with Israel?

Evangelicals insist it’s important. It is; but not in the way they’re thinking.

My views on Israel are not conventional. So, of course, they’re controversial.

The average American Evangelical believes that the Jews are God’s chosen people. ’Cause they are. Ek 20.5 There might be a few antisemites hiding out among Evangelicals, but for the most part we believe God chose Abraham, God chose Abraham’s and Israel’s descendants, God demonstrated salvation by freeing Israel’s descendants from Egypt, God set a king over them whom they called Messiah, and Jesus of Nazareth is the final and greatest and eternal Messiah. (Or Christ, as gentiles tend to call him. Means the same thing.) Our religion is a descendant of the Hebrew religion. We even swiped their holidays.

The average American Evangelical also believes the nation of Israel is a nation of God’s chosen people. God promised ’em the land of the Levant/Canaan/Palestine if they kept covenant with him, and upheld his Law. God encouraged the nations round about Israel to support it and ally themselves with it—if they knew what was good for them. Of course this is based on the presumption Israel followed God; and when Israel followed God, it and its allies prospered. When it didn’t, not so much.

Hence, as a nation, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. It was made a client state of them, and the subsequent Persian, Greek, Seleucid, and Roman empires. (With a tiny bout of independence between the Seleucid and Roman periods.) Then, in the year 70, the Romans destroyed Israel again. And it stayed destroyed.

“Until the 20th century” is how most Evangelicals usually end that last sentence. Here’s where they and I part company.

The current nation contains God’s chosen people, in that many Israelis are Jews. It consists of a lot of the land the ancient Hebrews occupied. It’s the ancient nation’s successor state. But it’s not the same state, any more than Italy is the Roman Empire, Turkey is the Ottoman Empire, or Russia is the Soviet Union. It’s an entirely new state, founded in 1948. Despite what both Jews and Evangelicals claim, it’s a whole different country than the one founded by the LORD through Moses ben Amram in the 1400s BC.

So all the prophecies and promises in the bible which have to do with Israel? Don’t automatically apply to modern Israel. ’Cause it’s not the same country.

22 July 2016

How your politics will kill your testimony.

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Couple months ago I found one of my favorite theologians is on Twitter. I have a few of his books, and used to listen to his radio program—in podcast form, naturally; who listens to radio anymore? So I decided to “follow” him.

About two weeks later I simply had to stop following him.

Why? ’Cause everything he tweets is angry, partisan, hate-filled, deliberately provocative, overly zealous… and sometimes even the reverse of what Jesus teaches. You know, works of the flesh. The times he actually reflected Christ—the times he acted like the thoughtful theologian I originally became a fan of—were once in a blue moon. Now it’s nothing but bile.

What happened to the guy? He got political.

I know. If you’re the political sort, your dander’s probably up already. Might be from the title. “Politics kill my testimony? What, are you one of those [bums from the opposition party]?

Maybe. But no, I’m not saying politics is gonna turn every Christian, or even you, into a fruitless Christian jerk. It’s not the politics: It’s what the politics might turn you into. It’s whether your support of your party, your candidates, your political views, or your “Christian worldview,” ultimately make you unlike Christ. ’Cause it can happen. ’Cause it happened to me.

I don’t have an issue with politics per se. I have political friends. On both wings; I grew up in the midst of the American Christian Right, and I’ve since made lots of friends among the Christian Left. My own irritating politics pick and choose from both sides, based on whether I think they reflect Christ Jesus’s teachings best. The reason they irritate people is ’cause they don’t neatly fit into the popular categories. The reason my friends put up with it (and me) is ’cause a lot of times we do agree. And when we disagree, I’m not a dick about it. (I try not to be, anyway.)

Now, when I was younger, different deal. I was semi-solidly in the Christian Right. I say semi-solidly because while I fully agreed with their moral views, I had big problems with their economic ones—which don’t come from Jesus, but from the party. I had doubts, and rightly so. But I stuffed ’em, ’cause I wanted to be loyal. I zealously supported the party. Too zealously.

Problem is, I didn’t realize zílos/“zeal” is a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 And why would I? My NIV translated it “jealousy,” and I wasn’t jealous; my KJV translated it “emulations,” and I didn’t know what emulations were. Plenty of Christians believe zeal’s a virtue, though it’s rarely used that way in the scriptures. We figure zeal’s what we should feel for the beliefs we hold, the causes we support, the Christ we worship. It justifies every unkind thing we do in their support.

20 July 2016

Are we living in the last days?

Sure.

When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” what they nearly always mean by it is, “These awful things happening in the present day: Are they signs Jesus is returning soon? Like in the next few years? Is it the time-before-the-End-Times?”

Why they’re asking is ’cause they already suspect the answer is yes.

Because awful things are happening in the present day. Cops shooting innocent citizens; citizens shooting innocent cops. Wars and terrorists, rumors of wars and terrorists, people who could shoot up a room with no advance warning, drones which could smite you from the heavens above like Zeus himself. Scary new diseases. Unfamiliar “social norms” which were neither “normal” nor “moral” just a decade ago; who expected marijuana to be legalized? Unfamiliar technology which, given its power, may very well be dangerous. Racism coming out of the closet. Immoral people running for president, and so-called Christians not just holding their noses and voting for the lesser evil, but endorsing them, and praying for their victory instead of their salvation.

So yeah, when things get bad like this, people understandably want it to be the last days. We don’t want it any worse. We really want Jesus to return, to stop the madness. In this, I don’t blame ’em whatsoever. The sooner Jesus invades, the better. Maranatha.

But does a sinful world indicate Jesus is returning soon? Nah. A sinful world is the status quo. The world’s always been sinful.

“But it’s worse than it’s ever been!” Again, nah. I once taught history. Still read history books for fun. Without a doubt, there’ve been many, many, many times throughout human history where things were worse. Far worse. Unimaginably worse; it’s why Game of Thrones still shocks people, even though worse atrocities have been committed in real life. If you’ve read your bible, you’ve even read some of them. If you haven’t, check out the early chapters of Exodus, or most of Judges, or the decline and fall of Israel after the kingdom split in two. Jesus lived under the Roman occupation of Israel; that was worse. It got even worse than that, as you’ll see when you read Flavius Josephus’s Jewish War.

Why do Americans insist things are worse than they’ve ever been? Mostly because of the popular myth, spread by political conservatives, that America used to be better. People used to be more noble, more Christian, kept their word, followed the Law, respected their elders; this used to be a Christian nation. And even though these very same people know their American history—the atrocities of African slavery, the genocidal wars against the Indians, the Civil War and racism and sexism and imperialism, the many things Americans had to overcome—somehow they divorce these effects from the causes, and forget we Americans were the causes. Total depravity, y’know. A truly moral people wouldn’t have suffered them, nor struggled so long to be rid of them, nor still need to deal with ’em.

If “things used to be better,” and currently they sure aren’t, it must follow we’re getting worse. And doesn’t worse mean Jesus is returning soon?

01 July 2016

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

You’re a citizen of the kingdom and your nation. Which one has your allegiance?

Many Christians are fond of saying, “This world isn’t my home. Heaven is.”

To a degree that’s true. We’re part of the kingdom of heaven, with Jesus our king. We recognize his reign (or try to) and follow him (more or less). Or at least we expect, despite our unloving, unkind, impatient, fruitless behavior, he’ll nonetheless graciously recognize us as his followers when he takes over the world. Maybe he will.

In the meanwhile, we’re also citizens of our nations. I’m a citizen of the United States, as are most of TXAB’s readers, which is why I so often get U.S.-centric. Of course I know there are readers from all over: You might be a citizen of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Ireland, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, the U.K.… and that’s the top 10, so if I didn’t list your nation, you’re just gonna have to enlist more of your friends to read, and bump up your stats. Anywho, as Christians we’re all fellow citizens of God’s kingdom—yet at the same time we have allegiances to our respective homelands.

In the U.S., if you’re both a citizen of this country and another one, we call you a “dual citizen.” We have lots of ’em. Officially the U.S. only recognizes one citizenship: Ours. (So pay your taxes. It’s why Americans who don’t even live in the States still have to pay American taxes.) When people become Americans, part of our citizenship oath requires people to renounce their original country. But if the original country doesn’t care about that, and still counts them a citizen, they’re dual citizens. Most of the dual citizens I know are also Mexican citizens, and take full advantage of their Mexican citizenship whenever they’re in Mexico. One’s from the U.K.—and when he visits family in the U.K., he’ll even switch his accent from Californian to Londoner.

Here’s the catch with dual citizenship: Sometimes you gotta pick a nation.

Say you were a citizen of both the U.S. and Iran. And say we went to war. (Hope not, but let’s just say.) Well, you’re gonna have to pick a side. Especially if you work for the government—of either nation. Neither country will let you stay neutral: You’ve gotta be wholly American, or wholly Iranian. (Or you’ve gotta flee to Argentina.)

Well, that’s how Christians are when it comes to our national citizenships. I’m a dual citizen of the kingdom and the United States. So what happens when the States does someting hostile to the kingdom? Right you are: I gotta pick a side. And I’ll let you know right now: I’m picking Jesus. Like any immigrant, I may have been born American, but I choose citizenship in the kingdom. So Jesus takes priority. Don’t even have to think about it.

Much as I love the United States, I’m fully aware that when Jesus returns, he’s gonna overthrow it. And when he raptures his followers to join his invasion, we’re gonna help him overthrow it. I’m gonna help him overthrow it.

Yes, that’s treason against the United States. Yes, this treason-talk is probably making a lot of good patriotic Americans feel extremely uncomfortable. As it should. ’Cause this isn’t a hypothetical situation: Jesus is returning. Not maybe; is. Not in some “spiritual sense,” by which you’re probably thinking imaginary. He’s literally, physically coming to earth to take it over. Maybe not in our lifetimes… but maybe he will; we don’t know.

So where’s your allegiance? ’Cause you must pick a side. Probably should do it now.

03 March 2016

Sovereignty: God’s our king. Not our puppet master.

Our God reigns. But perhaps we oughta think about how he does so.

Sovereign /'sɑv.ər.ən, 'sɑv.rən, 'sɑv.ərn/ n. A supreme ruler.
[Sovereignty /'sɑv.ər.ən.ti, 'sɑv.rən.ti, 'sɑv.ərn.ti/ n.]

Usually people talk about a nation’s sovereignty—their right to do as they please, with no one telling them otherwise. Like in the face of international treaties: If the United States signed an agreement to cut pollution, but our President doesn’t believe in climate change so he felt like breaking it, hey, we’re a sovereign nation; more carbon for everyone! Or in the face of state laws which contradict federal laws: If Colorado wants to legalize marijuana, yet the FBI wants to jail me for growing a field of weed, which government takes priority?

But the Christian discussion about sovereignty is a little different. There, we’re talking about God’s sovereignty: His right and authority to rule the universe. He has a kingdom, and he the king. (If you wanna get picky, Christ means “king.” so Jesus is the king—but Jesus is God, so there.)

God didn’t create the universe, then leave it to function on its own, without his input or interaction. Kinda obvious by the fact he issues commands, either to nature 2Ch 7.13 or to us humans. 2Ch 7.17 He’s almighty, so he can enforce his commands: Make us obey, or penalize us when we won’t. And he has every right to command us, for he made us to do certain things—namely good deeds. Ep 2.10 If we don’t do as designed, he has every right to correct us. Even unmake us.

Yeah, there are Christians who believe God has no such rights. They won’t say it in those particular words; they know how rebellious and heretic it sounds. So they fudge around it and claim it’s God’s idea to not reign over his universe: God gave us free will, and he loves our free will so much, he’d never interfere with humanity. At all. “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,” they insist, “and will never interfere with your life unless you grant him permission.”

Okay yes, God gave us free will. (Duh.) God gave your kids free will too. Does that mean if they get the brilliant idea to paint the cat, you’re gonna let ’em? Not unless you really hate that cat. (Often not even then.) Free will means we can make choices, but God has free will too. Freer than ours; we’re limited and he’s not. God can almightily clamp down on our bad choices. Just ’cause he doesn’t always, doesn’t mean he doesn’t at all.

Tell “God would never interfere with your free will” to those people who are dying, don’t wanna, but God’s not intervening, for he’s decided their time’s up. Tell it to women who want to become mothers, but God says no. Or men who want to pursue one vocation, but God redirects ’em to one he prefers. Or people who wanna move in various directions, but God both shuts the door and closes the window. Ac 16.6-7

See, either God’s in charge, or we’re in denial: We’ve decided he’s not really, and make no attempt to submit to his will or approval. Jm 4.15-16 Not the smartest plan. But indicative of Christians who believe God’s kingdom hasn’t arrived yet, and won’t be here till Jesus returns. Till then, they intend to enjoy life and do as they will. They imagine once Jesus transforms us in his return, 1Co 15.51-52 he’ll vaporize our sinful nature—so there’s no point in currently fighting it. Go ahead and sin; we’ve got grace. Until the King comes, sin gets to be king. (Scriptures to the contrary. Ro 6.1-2, 14)

15 February 2016

The kingdom of God. Or kingdom of heaven. Same thing.

You might not know it’s Christendom’s most important idea. You should.

The central belief of Christianity is God’s kingdom.

I know; you thought it was Jesus, didja? Most Christians do. He’s the king of this kingdom; Christ means Messiah, which is one of the many titles of Israel’s king. But you’ll notice Jesus, when he preached the gospel, didn’t say he was the good news: The kingdom is.

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near.
Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

I know; most folks who say they proclaim “the gospel,” or claim they preach “the gospel,” don’t define the gospel that way. They claim it’s the sacrificial death of Jesus: He saved us, and that’s the gospel. It’s actually not.

Don’t get me wrong. Salvation is totally important. ’Cause without it, we’d never have access to the kingdom, much less inherit it. But salvation is only part of the gospel; it’s the part which explains why God bothers to interact with us sinners in the first place. Being forgiven, saved, and given abundant grace: That’s definitely good news. But it’s not the whole story, and not what Jesus preached. He proclaimed the kingdom. Lookit what all his parables and stories were about: Kingdom. Lookit what he told his followers to go out and preach: Kingdom. Mt 10.7, Lk 16.16, Ac 8.12

Church is also important. But we get so focused on church functions (and busywork, and interpersonal drama), we forget the church exists to train us for kingdom living.

Jesus is definitely important. But he’s important because he rules the kingdom. Worshiping him entails doing kingdom business. Praying to him means getting kingdom instructions. Following him means developing a kingdom lifestyle. Even when he fills us with the Holy Spirit, the goal is so we’re equipped for kingdom work.

The kingdom has been God’s goal since creation. He wanted to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden; their sin botched that. Ever since, he’s been trying to bring us back to that level of relationship.

Leviticus 26.12 KWL
“I walk in your midst. For you, I’m God.
For me, you’re my people.”

He wants to live with us forever. Permanently. Physically: You may recall God became human, but you may have got the idea this was just a temporary deal so he could die for our sins. Nuh-uh. God became human so he could be human, as limiting as we might consider it, and really live with his people. Walk with us, talk with us, hang out with us, be with us. No more distance. No more separation. Just God and his kids, a king with his princesses and princes.

10 January 2016

Does Jesus call himself Messiah?

’Cause some skeptics claim he hasn’t—or that the apostles, namely Paul, put those words in his mouth.

As I pointed out in my piece on Historical Jesus, a number of skeptics claim Jesus didn’t say and do everything we read in the gospels. Or anything. Once they’re done revising him, turns out Jesus did no miracles, wasn’t resurrected, taught nothing, wasn’t even born. He was entirely fabricated by overzealous apostles.

Hogwash, but popular hogwash. ’Cause if Jesus isn’t anything, they don’t have to follow him. And they really don’t wanna, so it’s quite fortuitous for them he turns out to not be anything. It’s almost as if they loaded the dice, innit?

Anyway. The reason I bring ’em up is because every so often, one of the Historical Jesus revisionists’ claims winds up worming its way into Christendom. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The revisionists do like to point out baby Jesus wasn’t really visited by magi while he was still in the manger, and it turns out they’re right; it was years later. Skeptics can be mighty useful when they poke holes in popular culture’s myths and help us get to the real Jesus. They have their uses.

But sometimes one of their false claims gets into Christians’ heads, and we gotta help correct our fellow Christians.

The most common one I bump into is this idea Jesus never called himself Messiah. He never did, skeptics insist; go check your bible. So Christians do—and lo and behold, Jesus never does use those precise words, “I’m Messiah.” Not in English, nor in Aramaic nor Greek. Didn’t say ’em. It’s always others who call him Messiah. And since he didn’t say it… maybe he wasn’t.

Okay, time to clear things up.