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Showing posts with the label #Kingdom

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

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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 KWL14 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 God’s kingdom, much less inherit it. But salvation’s only the introduction to the gospel. It’s the part which explains why God bothers to interact with us sinners…

Thy kingdom come.

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MATTHEW 6.10, LUKE 11.2.In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτωἡβασιλείασου/elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation.The arrival of God’s kingdomisthe gospel. It’s not John 3.16, no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven, with Jesus.” But Jesus never said that: In his second coming, he’s coming to earth to take over. God’s kingdom’s gonna be here. We Christians have been laying the groundwork for it.And doing a rotten job of it, but that stands to reason: Too many of us think the kingdom’s n…

Politics, Christians, and our democracy.

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POLITICS'pɑl.ə.tɪksplural noun. 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.tɪkadjective, political pə'lɪd.ə.kəladjective, politician pɑl.ə'tɪ.ʃənnoun, politico pə'lɪd.ɪ.koʊnoun.]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, some good deeds might feel self-sacrificial and miserable, but somewhere in our psyche is some “greater principle” which feels really good to make great sacrifices for. We’re just that carnal. It’s why God needs to save us, ’cause we’ll never be good enough to…

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

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Many Christians are fond of saying, “This world isn’t my home. Heaven is.”To a degree that’s true. We’re part of God’s kingdom, with Christ Jesus as 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 many of TXAB’s readers, which is why I so often get U.S.-centric. Of course I realize the site gets readers from all over: You might be a citizen of Canada, China, France, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom… and that’s the top 10, so if I didn’t mention 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…

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

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CIVIC IDOLATRY'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.trinoun. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.[Civically idolatrous 'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəsadjective, civic idolater 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tərnoun.]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 dire…

Churches, “the Church,” and God’s kingdom.

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Whenever people say church they either mean a building where religious activity happens, or the hierarchy which runs the religion.Which is way different than what I mean by it. Or what Jesus and the bible mean by it. When Jesus says ἐκκλησία/ekklisía he means a flock of Christians; a group, assembly, crowd, congregation, collection, bunch, congress, whatever term you wanna use for many of us. People like to take apart that Greek word, and note its word-root is καλέω/kaléo, “to call”—and then analyze the significance of Jesus calling Christians to meet together. Yeah, whatever: By the time people used the word in Jesus’s day, it just meant a gathering. And that’s still what it means.Still, even Christians tend to use it to mean a church building, or the church leadership. Which is why we tend to forget we are the church. Church isn’t a separate thing from us; it is us. It’s us collectively; it’s why I can’t say “I am the church,” because I all by myself am definitely not the church: Ot…

Hating the opposition.

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Talking politics is a minefield. I’m gonna dance through it today anyway.Half the folks I know are progressive, and the other half conservative. Half Democrat, half Republican. School and work friends lean progressive, family and church friends t’other.(Yes, even my fellow seminarians lean progressive. Not because I went to a liberal seminary or anything; I certainly didn’t. But because when you wanna get into ministry and help people, you find the progressives tend to be more helpful, and the conservatives more Darwinian. But that’s a whole other discussion.)I grew up conservative—conservative parents, conservative churches, conservative friends. So that’s what I used to be. I’m far more moderate now. I often refer to myself as a “recovering conservative,” as those in the 12-step programs tend to describe themselves: I used to hew to the party lines pretty tightly, ’cause I was raised to think all true Christians thought and voted that way. But now I follow Jesus, and let him determi…

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

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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 c…

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

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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 old…

Where do Jews fit into God’s kingdom?

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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 ne…

The Johnson amendment, and preaching the wrong kingdom.

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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 a…

Bummed your candidate lost? Bad sign.

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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 sign…

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

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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 need…

Standing with Israel?

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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 …

How your politics will kill your testimony.

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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…

Are we living in the last days?

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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, bu…

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

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Our God reigns. But perhaps we oughta think about how he does so.SOVEREIGN'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)nnoun. A supreme ruler.[Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.tinoun.]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.)Go…

Does Jesus call himself Messiah?

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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 …