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

08 August 2023

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

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with patriots.

Every country has its problems, right? Limited resources. Suffering people who need social services and healthcare. Ecological crises, like pollution, floods, drought, and pests. Rich people, corporations, and criminals who think the laws don’t need to apply to them. Corrupt government officials who enrich themselves instead of serving others. Racists and nationalists who want social supremacy for their group. Fascists who want to undermine or overthrow democracy and run things their way. Foreign countries who want to oppress and exploit the country, or at least keep it powerless and out of their way.

Who’s gonna solve all those problems? Well, they need to, but it’s mighty hard! They’re gonna need God’s help—if not Jesus’s direct intervention when he returns to take over the world. So they pray.

As we should! What’s wrong with praying for our country? For the wisdom of our country’s leadership to rule us properly? For supernatural solutions, if that’s what it’ll take? Plenty of kings in the bible did it; even pagan ones. Often to the wrong gods, but still: They realized they were gonna need divine aid, so they sought it.

Hence most churches pray for their countries. Sometimes as a regular part of the liturgy, sometimes not—but the church members are really agitated about something in the news, so Pastor decides it’s time to pray for the country again. Some prayer groups make sure to include the country and its leaders, even specific politicians, every time they meet.

And a lot of ’em like to invoke today’s out-of-context verse. ’Cause to them, it looks like a promise from God: If they pray for their country, he’ll fix it!

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.

And of course they get really annoyed with me whenever I tell them they’re quoting this verse wrong. ’Cause what’s wrong with praying for our country? And why wouldn’t God fix it if we earnestly seek him?

Civic idolaters in particular. These’d be the folks who believe when Jesus returns, he actually won’t overthrow their country. In the United States, they figure the USA is the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. They figure already is his kingdom. Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just certain other unpatriotic factions are heavily mismanaging things. So we gotta outvote them. Or, failing that, overthrow them. You know, cheat.

And once our Christian nation returns to God, returns to proper Christian values (as they define them), stamps out the wicked, and makes a big show of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (nevermind the various godless things that party’s candidates also believe): We’ve unlocked the magic spell laid out in that verse, and God has to heal our land. ’Cause it’ll really be his kingdom on earth. He’ll 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, material success, and personal prosperity—all 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 politics and fear will do that to people.

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: I love it, but definitely not like they do. I love it like God loves the world—and wants to save it! Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. Not by political might nor personal power, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus himself.

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 his kingdom are opposed, I side with the kingdom every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

04 July 2023

Civic idolatry.

CIVIC IDOLATRY 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri noun. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous 'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs adjective, civic idolater 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər noun.]

In 1776 the British Parliament, insisting they had every right to tax the colonies of British North America to fund the Seven Years’ War, violated the colonies’ charters which had guaranteed them self-governance under a common king. King George Hanover 3 (who lacked the political strength to do anything anyway) sided with Parliament and declared the colonies outside his protection. The Americans’ Continental Congress, representing 13 of the colonies which later became the United States, interpreted this to mean they were now independent states. On 4 July (or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to) they officially declared themselves independent.

So today’s Independence Day in the United States. This week, Americans are gonna set off a lot of fireworks, eat a lot of barbecue, and 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. Yep, full-on idolatry. We also call it civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded: We treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as sacred and holy. When we treat contempt for it, or even fair-minded criticism of it, as blasphemy. Civic idolaters might call it other things than blasphemy, like “unpatriotic” or “subversive” or “seditious” or “traitorous,” but yeah, they mean blasphemy. ’Cause how dare we speak negatively of the United States?

Civic idolaters are also gonna do their darnedest to say they worship God, and God alone; not the United States. But y’notice they too often confound God and country, and blend ’em together as if they’re the same thing.

  • When we attribute things to the United States which are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry.
  • When we claim things about our country which are only legitimately true of God’s kingdom (“This is a Christian nation!” or “Jesus reigns over this land, and American laws should reflect this!”) we got idolatry.
  • When our nation or our politics take precedence over the actual growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry.
  • When our political principles actually defy Jesus’s teachings, we got idolatry.

Hey, sometimes in our dual citizenship with God’s kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side. But when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.

09 November 2022

Bummed your candidate lost?

Yesterday was Election Day in the United States, and since elections take time to tabulate (and people whose candidate lost will sometimes refuse to accept the tabulations, and demand they run ’em again, and even then insist something went wrong in the counting process, and sue, and bear false witness against the tabulators for years afterward), the results are still up in the air. It agitates the impatient. But eventually we’ll know who won… and one side or the other is gonna mope about it.

And, same as in every election, the losing side is gonna put on a brave face, say the usual platitudes—“God’s will be done,” and “God is in control,” and “God works out everything for our good,” et cetera, ad nauseam. God’s on the throne, even though their candidate won’t be. They’re very bummed, and sometimes there’s even weeping and gnashing of teeth and rage.

But they put their trust in Jesus. So they say… now. They weren’t before. This “God’s in charge” stuff is what people say after they’ve been putting their trust in an idol, and God just smashed that idol. As he does.

But not all of ’em will accept the idea God’s in charge. A number of them are plotting violence, and justify it by claiming God’s will has been frustrated. What comes next? God’s wrath… which looks suspiciously like their wrath.

I heard quite a lot of rightists talk about wrath during the Barack Obama years. Yeah, it’s projection; they’re angry, and covet power, and dream of sweet vengeance. Broken idol or not, they’re still idolaters—coveting and worshiping power.

Some of us are just that dense. I sure was.

08 November 2022

Politics, Christians, and our democracy.

POLITICS 'pɑl.ə.tɪks plural noun. Activities associated with gaining or holding power; frequently seen as divisive and devious.
2. Activites associated with governing a country, land, or organization; or dealing with relations between one such organization and another.
3. Beliefs and principles regarding the gaining or holding of power.
4. The academic study of government and the state.
[Politic 'pɑl.ə.tɪk adjective or verb, political pə'lɪd.ə.kəl adjective, politician pɑl.ə'tɪ.ʃən noun, politico pə'lɪd.ɪ.koʊ noun.]

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. 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 save ourselves. And why the Holy Spirit needs to give our consciences a total overhaul.

In contrast politics is about wielding power. And for politically-minded folks, it’s also about gaining more. Sometimes for noble reasons; mainly to help others. More often, for not-so-noble reasons: To keep it out of the hands of other people, lest they do something we dislike with it. Not that we’re necessarily doing anything with it, including anything good. Note the United States Congress: Too often it’s all about doing nothing—’cause many a politician figures nothing is better than anything.

So yeah, there are antithetical ideas at play whenever we talk about God’s kingdom and politics. One’s about surrender, because we humans can’t be trusted with power. The other’s not; it’s about gaining or taking or stealing power, because we imagine we’re the right-minded exceptions who can be trusted with power. Others 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 always justified not surrendering all our power to God. In brief: “I’m gonna do good things 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.

07 November 2022

Vote! But bear in mind what your vote really does.

God’s kingdom is not a democracy.

True, whenever we talk about repentance, turning to Jesus, voluntarily following him, and our free will, it sounds like our choices have a lot to do with Jesus’s reign as king. And they do… for now. Because for now, Jesus lets humanity choose sides.

Once he returns, it’s to take possession of a world he’s already conquered, and finally run it properly. At that time people will no longer have the final say about our rulers; Jesus will. And we definitely no longer get to choose the man in charge: Every knee’s gonna bow to Jesus. Pp 2.10-11

If that sounds disturbing or terrifying to you, it’s probably because you don’t know Jesus. Don’t worry; he’s awesome. He’s gracious even to the people who want nothing to do with him. We his followers don’t represent him adequately, if at all; we suck. His partisan followers, of every political party round the world, are typically the very worst of us.

Every election year, these partisans try to get out the vote. Everybody tells us to vote. Even churches who absolutely won’t endorse candidates (and rightly so; that pulpit is to promote God’s kingdom, not earthly ones) will still endorse the act of voting: “Christians need to get to the polls and vote our values.” We’re encouraged to vote for all the candidates which “stand with God.” We’re told our votes make a difference; that when we Christians vote, we’ve contributed towards making our country more Christian.

But once again: God’s kingdom is not a democracy. And God doesn’t endorse any other ruler but Jesus.

Christians will point to the bible and claim God did so endorse human rulers, like Abraham, Moses, the judges, certain kings, and certain head priests. But we fail to recognize God’s leadership structure is entirely different from our democracies. Whenever God appointed or backed a ruler, it was with the understanding God’s the real ruler, and this human on the throne was his employee. (All things considered, pretty messed-up employees too.) Whereas in democracies, our rulers work for us. They’re to do as we want.

This belief our democratically elected leaders will work for God, is pure campaign rhetoric. They will not. Even the most earnest of ’em will at best work for what they think God wants… which conveniently seems to be exactly what the party wants, which means they’ve been projecting an awful lot of their politics upon God. So whenever we get a politician who claims to be on God’s side, we’ve either got someone who doesn’t actually know God, or is a giant hypocrite. The non-hypocrites in politics will recognize this from the very start, and inform us voters “I work for you.” (Now, whether that “you” is the voters or the lobbies, is another thing.)

Unfortunately many Christians have totally fallen for the hypocrites. Remember when Jesus talked about fakes fooling people?

Matthew 24.24-25 KJV
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.

I used to think, “How are they ever gonna fool us Christians?” But Christianist politicians fool us every election year. Fooled me for a lot of years.

So am I telling you not to vote? No; do vote. It’s your civic duty to vote for leaders of good character. People who, because of their character—and certainly not their stated policies, which they can always change their minds about, and often will when they’re bad policies—will do the most good. As Christians who are called to love our neighbors, we likewise must vote in the national interest; don’t just vote for your own interests, as far too many always do. Much of the reason for our messed-up culture is because it’s based on selfishness instead of selflessness, and our votes reflect this all too well.

And don’t delude yourself into thinking your vote, your candidate, our leadership, and our government, is our salvation. We have one savior, and it’s Jesus. Put your hope in him, not whichever yutz the electorate picks this time around. If your particular yutz loses the race, stop acting like the world’s gonna end! It was always gonna end. But Jesus makes all things new.

17 November 2021

God is sovereign. (So, our king. Not our puppet master.)

SOVEREIGN 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n noun. A supreme ruler.
2. adjective. Possess supreme or final power.
[Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.ti noun.]

Typically when people talk sovereignty, they’re speaking of the adjective. They’re talking about supreme or final power, and who has it. Like a nation. Our country claims the right to do as it pleases, despite what other countries are doing, or trying to get us to do. If other countries want to cut pollution, and want us to sign a treaty which agrees to do so, but our president doesn’t believe in climate change and sees no reason to make our businesses stop dumping their garbage into our air and drinking water: Hey, we’re a sovereign nation, and those other nations can go pound sand. More carbon for everyone!

More often lately, people talk about individual sovereignty: They claim they’re sovereign citizens, who can do as they please and no government can tell them otherwise. If they want to refuse vaccines or get an abortion, how dare any government force them to act against their will. True, our governments recognize no such claim, because our Constitution entrusted Congress with this sovereignty, but you try making “sovereign citizens” practice eighth-grade reading comprehension. They’re sticking with fourth grade, and they’re sovereign and you can’t make ’em.

Obviously the way Christian theologians define sovereignty is way different. There, we’re talking about God’s sovereignty: His power, and right and authority, to rule the universe.

Which he does. He created it; he has the unlimited power to do with it, and make it do, as he pleases. He knows it inside and out, and knows best how to run it, so we believe it’s best if we defer to his wisdom about how it works. He’s setting up a kingdom meant to rule the cosmos, and Christ Jesus is its king. All this stuff is in the bible; arguably it’s the primary thing the bible’s about.

We Christians largely agree God is sovereign over the universe. There are certain Christians who take the deist view, and think God created the universe to run on its own, like a really good and well-wound-up clock. But then he left it to fuction on its own, without his input or interaction. Certain cessationists believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore, and believe this is why: He left us a bible, and doesn’t need to talk to us anymore, nor offer any supernatural corrections to the way the universe is running. He left us and forsook us; we’re on our own.

The rest of us agree God is king of the universe. Where we disagree is how he does it.

The scriptures make clear God 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 obey these commands. They’re good works, Ep 2.10 and 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 these particular words; they know how rebellious and heretic it sounds. So they fudge around it and claim God gave us free will, and he loves our free will so much, he’d never ever interfere with it. 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 when they get the 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 have the ability to choose our own course of action… 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 and won’t.

Some people are dying, and are fighting off their deaths as best they can—but God’s decided their time’s up. No, he’s not passively letting them die; it’s his idea. He can decide that, y’know. Tell them God would never interfere with their free will: They don’t wanna die! Yet he isn’t granting their requests for longer life. Death is totally interfering with their free will.

Likewise people whom God has decided don’t get to become wealthy. Or women whom God decided don’t get to be mothers. Men who wanna pursue one vocation, but God reroutes them to one he prefers. 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 it’s 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 wish. They imagine once Jesus transforms us in his return, 1Co 15.51-52 he’ll vaporize our selfish nature—so there’s no point in currently fighting it. Go ahead and sin; we’ve got grace. Till the King comes, sin gets to be king. (Scriptures to the contrary. Ro 6.1-2, 14)

The sovereign of the future.

What’s these lawless folks’ justification for saying God isn’t currently our sovereign?

Most of it comes from typical human messed-up ideas about how sovereignty works. See, when we get hold of too much power—the level varies from person to person—we turn evil. We won’t even realize it’s happening. We’ll imagine we’re benevolent dictators; we only want what’s best for our subjects. But we figure the only way to give ’em what’s best is to take control over more than we should. Give ’em no freedom at all; give ’em terrible consequences for even thinking of going against us. We imagine it’s the only way to keep everyone happy. In reality it only makes the tyrants happy.

Since God hasn’t utterly taken away our free will and turned us into mindless robots, and since God doesn’t immediately strike people with lightning whenever we break a command, lawless people presume God must not have taken his throne yet. ’Cause if they were in charge, heads would roll. God must therefore have put off his reign till Jesus returns. Then Jesus can be the tyrannical dictator who reprograms all the resurrected Christians into automatons who never even think of sinning, and all the non-Christians get tossed into hell. (What about the millennium? They don’t believe in it.)

What about the present? Who rules the universe right now?

Ah. There, many Christians assume after sin and death entered the world, God fled like a king going into hiding during a coup d’etat; like King David fleeing Absalom. 2Sa 15.14 God retreated to the territory he fully controls, i.e. heaven. From there he’s amassing a giant invasion army to take back his world. When God offers us strength and support nowadays, it’s like a king in exile smuggling ammo to his loyalists in the resistance. It’s kinda covert, ’cause God supposedly doesn’t want to tip his hand. But just wait till he invades. Oh, just you wait.

Whom does this scenario place in charge of the world? Satan. Jesus referred to “the ruler of this world” more than once, Jn 12.31, 14.30, 16.11 and in Jesus’s tests in the wilderness the devil claimed it itself is that very ruler. Lk 4.6 Jesus said “the ruler of this world” has been judged, Jn 16.11 so it can’t be God.

This is why Christian mythology claims God originally set a vice-regent in charge of the earth, named Lucifer. But power went to this archangel’s head, and it rebelled, so God fired it and had security throw it out. Like any deposed sovereign in serious denial, the devil is issuing statements from Mar-a-Lago, calling itself by its old titles, demanding obeisance as if it deserves honor. These myths became the basis of a lot of medieval theology and poetry, and of course present-day novels, and sermons about hellfire. None of it’s biblical though. I suspect it’s Satan padding its résumé: It was never that important or powerful in heaven, and rebelled ’cause it coveted power.

The rest of Christendom tends to skip the myths and focus on the kingdom. Which exists in a paradox of both being here already… and yet Jesus has yet to bring the kingdom with him when he returns. So God is sovereign, but not everyone recognizes his sovereignty yet. They will, Ro 14.11 but not yet.

Conditional sovereignty.

In the Old Testament, God’s the sovereign of Israel. They don’t have a king; don’t need one. God’s their king. Jg 8.23 He identified them to a Pharaoh as “my people,” Ex 7.16 the God of their ancestors, their God too, they his subjects. Lv 26.12

Okay yeah, later they wanted a human king, despite God being their king; 1Sa 12.12 they thought it’d be more stable a form of government, ’cause self-control wasn’t working for them. God was okay with the idea, but he considered these kings nothing more than his vice-regents: They answered to the real sovereign of Israel, who really reigned: The LORD. True, a lot of ’em did as they pleased, and paid the LORD lip service… and when they did, got in deep trouble with their boss.

This concept continued into the New Testament, but God’s kingdom expanded beyond Israelis and now includes everyone who comes to worship and follow the LORD and his anointed king Jesus. God’s still sovereign—the king over every Christian.

What about the rest of the world? Well, the bible kinda waffles back and forth between how God rules the world… and how pagans have no relationship with him.

God reigns over all the nations. 1Ch 20.6 Those who disregard God, aren’t his people. Ho 1.9
God judges all the nations. Jl 3.1-3 Conversely, those who weren’t God’s people, now are. Ho 2.23, 1Pe 2.10
God’s kingdom is over all. Ps 103.19 Those who are now God’s children, formerly weren’t. Jn 1.11-13
  Legitimately, sovereignty only belongs to God. Ps 22.28
  In certain cities, God has those who are his—and those who aren’t. Ac 18.10
  Don’t yoke yourself with unbelievers, for Jesus has no relationship with them. 2Co 6.14-16
  If Jesus’s Kingdom were of this world, it’d act a whole lot different. But it’s not. So it doesn’t. Jn 18.36

You notice a lot of the proof texts differ between Old and New Testaments. In the OT, God was definitely sovereign over Israel, yet its authors claimed his sovereignty over the world. In the NT, God is sovereign over Christendom, and its authors state he’ll take sovereignty over the world—eventually. Not yet. When Jesus returns.

The way I phrase it is God has a valid claim to the world, ’cause he created it; but he has no relationship with those who reject him. That’s why he hasn’t saved them, hasn’t blessed them, hasn’t filled them with his Holy Spirit. Nor does he hold them to his laws: He lets them go their own way. (To destruction, but still.) He lets ’em have their evil hearts’ desires, Ro 1.24-25 and the obvious end result is their current awful behavior.

Romans 1.28-32 KJV
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Properly, God’s sovereignty is a conditional sovereignty: He’s Lord when we make him Lord. Yes, he’s still Lord when we have nothing to do with him—but his current priority is to win these people over, not rule them as unwilling subjects. It may feel sometimes like he’s punishing them for being unwilling subjects, but really they’re just suffering the natural consequences of following the wrong sovereign.

But this time will come to an end. Always does. For many, it’s at death. For many whose evil is so destructive, God simply has to intervene sooner. And once Jesus returns, that’s it for everyone.

Meanwhile, those who don’t follow God still get his grace. No, not his saving grace; that’s for those who trust him to save them. It’s what theologians call prevenient grace, the grace that’s always been around, pointing us to God. It’s the grace where the sun rises on the evil and good, where the rain falls on the just and unjust. Mt 5.45 It’s those situations where pagans get the fringe benefits of living among Christians who show them compassion (we are showing them compassion, right?) and love their neighbors. And it’s the grace which gives them plenty of opportunities to quit a life which isn’t working for them, and finally turn to God.

Calvinist sovereignty.

If you recall what I wrote about typical messed-up human ideas about how sovereignty works: People imagine sovereignty as absolute power over everyone and everything in their domain. They can do whatever they like with their subjects. In fact they’re not really sovereign unless they wield that control. Their will is supreme.

This was the way kings worked in the Middle Ages, particularly France. Hence this was the way French subject Jean Calvin imagined God as king. He’s almighty, so he already has the level of absolute power we humans can only salivate over. Nothing and no one can stop him. And Calvin was a determinist, so he concluded nothing does stop God: This universe is precisely the one he wants.

This universe? Have you seen this universe? It’s crap.

True, Calvinists admit, it’s crap. For now. God’s in the process of reforming it. It looks like crap now, but everything’s going according to God’s wonderful plan, and nothing can frustrate it, for God pulls every string. Everything we see, everything which happens, every action, every electron—it’s all precisely where God wants it. For if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Um, what about evil? Oh, our Calvinist strawman would say, evil’s no problem. God’s still in control. He’ll do away with it eventually, but for right now, evil is precisely where he wants it. Again, if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Wait, God wants it there? Again, if he didn’t want it… yada yada yada.

Well why in the cinnamon toast hell does God want it there? Doesn’t he hate evil? Hasn’t he denounced it like crazy? Doesn’t he claim to be holy, i.e. utterly separate from evil? What in the ten heavens is the Lord YHWH doing suborning evil?

Here our Calvinist strawman usually comes up with some convoluted argument about how God can micromanage the universe, including the micromanagement of all the evil in the universe, yet magically keep his hands clean. There’s a bit in there about the difference between God’s revealed will in the scriptures, and his secret will which he keeps only to himself—and the evildoing is apparently part of the secret will. ’Cause God hasn’t explained to us why he made evil part of his plan. Remember, they insist this universe is precisely the one he wants, so evil’s here on purpose. Yet somehow it’s not hypocrisy for him to regularly, loudly, even angrily condemn the very same evil he makes humanity do.

They have no good explanation… but their usual excuse is “Who are you to question God?” Ro 9.20 Yeah the plan sounds like it’s utterly f--ed up beyond reason, but you just gotta trust the plan. Trust that God’s good. Trust that he’s able to have two entirely different, contradictory wills, yet not be an almighty schizophrenic hypocrite.

After their intellectual jiggery-pokery is over, they’re gonna come away very satisfied with their explanation. Not so much us.

’Cause that’s the problem with a micromanagerial God: If he really does control everything in the universe to the degree Calvinists claim, he’s included way too much evil. More evil than good, y’notice. So much evil, we can’t actually call him good! He’d only be good once we redefine “good” to mean “whatever God does.” And y’know, a lot of Calvinists actually do redefine “good” like that. Good and evil aren’t based on the Law and sin, on selflessness and selfishness. They define it based on whatever God feels like doing from one day to the next. It’s relative. It’s foundationless.

As the apostles defined love, micromanagement actually violates it. Love doesn’t demand its own way! 1Co 13.5 It violates self-control, which is one of the Spirit’s fruits, Ge 5.23 and one of God’s character traits. God must limit himself and the control he wields: He wants us to follow him of our own free will. God is love, and love hopes all things; 1Co 13.7 it doesn’t force all things.

That’s why evil exists: Not because it’s part of God’s inscrutable plan, but precisely because it’s not. God wants us to be good, but we seldom use our free will for good. Nor does evil’s existence mean God’s not almighty: He can, and often does, step in and stop it. At the End, he’ll get the outcome he wants and expects, not because he has to control every little thing in the cosmos, but because he’s mightier than chaos. Real power doesn’t need to pull strings. It commands and is obeyed. Ge 1.3

Micromanagement is how humans would behave if we were sovereign. Not how God behaves. We humans covet power so much, we’ve simply projected our personal, selfish wish-fulfillment upon God. Calvinists claim it even honors God: Their concept of sovereignty describes him as almighty, majestic, all-benevolent, and wise. Which he is. But the reason Calvinists talk up all those traits, and spend so much time on God’s greatness and mightiness and goodness, is ’cause they’re trying to distract themselves and us away from the problem of evil in a deterministic God’s universe.

Because people wanna know how a good, almighty God can permit evil. Because if they were almighty, they wouldn’t—and they’re not even good! So shouldn’t a good God do it? Calvinist answers to this question are so twisted and offensive, antichrists regularly use them to argue there can’t be a God… or if there is, he’s a dick, so don’t worship him.

’Cause if God’s a micromanager, he’s a monster. Which is why I’m absolutely not a Calvinist.

The king is coming.

But rather than end this piece on a giant bummer, I’m gonna remind you Jesus is coming someday to rule his kingdom.

How do you imagine Jesus will rule? Like the Calvinists, a lot of us project our own flawed ideas about leadership upon him: We imagine a benevolent dictator, or a micromanager, or a kindly grandpa who’s too busy napping to notice we’ve raided the liquor cabinet. You wanna understand God’s sovereignty properly, you gotta read the gospels. What does Jesus say God’s kingdom looks like? ’Cause that’s exactly what God’s sovereignty looks like.

Till the kingdom fully arrives, God’s outposts of the kingdom—his churches—are likewise meant to look that way. They don’t always look that way, and that’s our fault. Not everyone is truly following our king. Once Jesus takes personal, direct control, things’ll straighten up in a hurry. Meanwhile we must continue to pray for this to happen—as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” Lk 11.2 KJV Pray for God’s sovereignty to be recognized, and therefore followed. For him to have his way—because we his people recognize, and contribute to, his kingdom.

28 September 2020

Thy kingdom come.

Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2.

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”
Luke 11.2 KWL
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!
Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ”

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω βασιλεία σου/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 kingdom is the 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 not here. We anticipate an otherworldly, cosmic heaven; we figure we leave this world behind to fall apart and be destroyed. The millennium isn’t part of our plans.

So why have we bothered to pray “Thy kingdom come”? Well, ’cause the words are there, so we recite them by rote, but never meditated on them any. We just presumed God’d make his kingdom come by blowing up the earth while we all watch safely from heaven, and that’s where his kingdom is. And since God’s gonna blow up the earth, why bother to care of it? This world is passing away, so it’s okay if we pollute and spoil it, ’cause God’ll make us another one.

But once we realize God’s kingdom is located here, on our planet; once we realize God’s kingdom is meant to fix everything that’s broken on our planet (’cause God’s in the business of fixing what’s broken); and once we realize the Holy Spirit’s been given to us so we can get started already on God’s plan to make all things new: It’s gonna radically transform our nihilistic attitudes towards our world. And towards the people on it, whose glimpses of the coming kingdom are gonna attract them to it far better than warnings of doom and gloom.

02 January 2020

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

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 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 in the first place. Justifying us because we put our faith in him, getting forgiven and saved, being given abundant grace: That’s definitely good news. But it’s hardly the whole story, and not what Jesus preached. He proclaimed his 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 He wouldn’t stop talking about it!

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 absolutely important. But he’s primarily important because he rules his 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, his goal is to equip us 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 return us 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 would be human—as limiting as we might consider this—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.

Yeah, there’s heaven.

The author of Matthew preferred to describe the kingdom as “heaven’s kingdom” (KJV “kingdom of heaven”) rather than “God’s kingdom.” The popular theory is Matthew had a common Jewish hangup about name-dropping God so often. Regardless, we Christians tend to fixate on the heaven part—and assume by “kingdom,” Jesus and the scriptures are really talking about heaven. The afterlife. Paradise.

Popular Christian culture doesn’t help. There’s so much paganism mixed in with our ideas of afterlife. Most of us assume once we die, we go to heaven and stay there forever. No resurrection when Jesus returns; he just takes any Christians left on earth to heaven too. And that’s his kingdom, off in some different plane of existence. Certainly not on earth, not in the here and now… unless you mean having a heavenly attitude or mindset. And even then that’s all intellectual. Not concrete. Not real. Imaginary.

But the kingdom comes from heaven. It’s not limited to heaven. It’s not contained by heaven. It’s not trapped there. Jesus said God’s kingdom has come near. And in the Lord’s Prayer he taught us to pray it come, Mt 6.10 emerge into this world so what’s done on earth matches heaven.

Again, don’t get me wrong. We get heaven too. It’s part of the kingdom. Part. ’Cause when we take heaven and blow it up into the whole of Christianity, things get wonky. It’s like an entire body made of an eyeball. And you’ll notice how heaven-fixated Christians get wonky too: They abandon everything in this world. Yeah, they might give up materialism and greed, and that’s good… but y’notice these people also stop caring about other people. They dismiss the lost and the needy, reject caring for nature and the environment, and focus on nothing but their own heavenly future. So there’s still a lot of greed mixed in to this mindset: It’s like when someone stops washing the car ’cause it’s headed for the junkyard. It’s not really about humility.

The purpose of all the scriptures’ heaven imagery is not because we’re abandoning earth for heaven. On the contrary. Jesus intends to establish heaven here. Just as God came down, heaven’s coming down next. The reason Jesus wants God’s will done here, is because it’s earth’s destiny to become heaven. By acting like heaven’s citizens instead of earth’s, we Christians are to do our part as God establishes his kingdom. Here.

Here. But not here.

Jesus says the kingdom has come, and is already here among us. Lk 17.21

Jesus also says the kingdom hasn’t come yet. That’s why we’re praying for it in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s coming. It’s just not here yet.

Yes, that’s a paradox. One of the many paradoxes in Christianity. Which bugs a lot of Christians who insist our religion has no paradoxes; it’s totally logical and reasonable. That’s their hangup. The reality is God’s kingdom is both here, and yet to come—simultaneously. It’s here already, but not yet.

What’s this even mean? Obviously one of the ways it’s not here yet, is Jesus hasn’t yet returned in his second coming. He will, but hasn’t yet. He’s our king, but he’s not yet ruling the world from a headquarters in Jerusalem. Not yet.

But one of the ways the kingdom’s here already, is when we need resources from Jesus. If we need power, if we need to talk to our king, if we wanna borrow some of his angelic soldiers: We have full access to his kingdom. It’s right here, closer than Mexico is to the United States.

Don’t believe me? Notice what it feels like when Christians grab hold of these kingdom resources and use ’em. When people hear prophecy, get cured of their ailments, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to shout his praises in languages we don’t know: The kingdom is absolutely here. Shockingly so.

Of course, when Christians never bother to tap these resources, God’s kingdom’s gonna feel far, far away. So whether we recognize it’s here, largely depends on the active participation of believing, obedient Christians.

But that’s only the case till Jesus returns. Once he does, his kingdom will fully exist—whether Christians trust and obey, or not. (Although by then, we’ll be resurrected, and we won’t care to do anything but trust and obey Jesus.) After Jesus returns, we’ll have King Jesus on the planet to direct his kingdom personally. And powerfully.

Other kingdoms—and the fake kingdom.

Christians have wanted God’s kingdom to be here so bad, we’ve tried to bring it to earth ourselves.

The utopian view of the End Times was mighty popular among Evangelicals for centuries. It still has many adherents, all of whom think if humanity gets its act together, we might create heaven right here on earth. A kingdom of heaven, so to speak. We’ll solve humanity’s problems and everything will be paradise. What a beautiful world this will be; what a glorious time to be free.

So these utopians make an effort to establish a Christian nation. Or bring us back to our Christian roots (assuming we truly had any). We pass “Christian laws” by adapting biblical commands for our nation’s statutes. (Definitely the moral ones; sometimes even the judicial ones.) We throw in a few extra laws which encourage public piety: Put prayer in the public schools, force businesses to close on Sundays and Christian holidays, require the state to hold to “Christian” definitions of marriage and family and morality. They figure the reason God won’t answer the prayer, “Your kingdom come,” is ’cause that’s our job.

Invariably this goes wrong.

Because Jesus isn’t directly in charge. Humans are. Sinful humans are. Y’see, sinful humans covet power. And we’ll pretend to be whatever we have to be in order to get it. Invariably hypocrites take control of our so-called “Christian nation.” So, expect it to look far less like Christ, and far more like the Beast. Run by legalism instead of grace, fear instead of love, greed instead of compassion, debt instead of generosity. Funding prisons instead of hospitals and schools, pushing the death penalty instead of rehabilitation, manufacturing the world’s most massive warmaking machinery instead of peace. You know, like the United States right now.

Without Jesus’s personal, direct involvement, humans are just corrupt enough to bollix the entire thing. Look at the very best examples we have in the bible: Moses, David, and Josiah. And we all know what sins they committed.

There are very good reasons for the separation of church and state. Put ’em together and you won’t produce the kingdom. You get a state run by fake Christians, and a church full of hypocrites. We’ve seen it happen time and again throughout European history. But either we don’t know history, or we’re naïve enough to think we understand Jesus better than those old dead white guys ever did, so we’ll get it right.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it when Christians vote, run for office, and work in government. Moral people should be involved in government. We need to steer it away from evil as best we can! But when we try to grow God’s kingdom through political might, instead of surrendering all power to the only one able to handle it without it utterly corrupting him (obviously I mean Jesus; duh) we adopt force instead of grace. We using the devil’s methods instead of Jesus’s. We need to keep the state out of the Christianity business. Jesus is the only one qualified to run his kingdom. Till he returns, we have no business creating another monster which Jesus’ll just have to overthrow anyway. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the United States is an exception. That’s treason against our true king.

So in the meanwhile we Christians have dual citizenship, so to speak: We’re part of the royal family of God’s kingdom, and at the same time we live in the “kingdom” of our homelands, and have duties as its citizens. Vote, pay taxes, do community service. But when these kingdoms come into conflict, God’s kingdom must always take priority, period. We don’t put the American flag above the Christian flag on our flagpoles. We don’t support immoral leaders right or wrong, simply because we share a political party. (Well, okay, some brain-dead Christians do. But point out the discrepancy to them, and they’ll sort it out… or expose their real priorities. Either way.) We serve the eternal kingdom, not the one Jesus is gonna replace with his reign.

Kingdom living.

“The Christian life” is simply a synonym for kingdom living. We’re gonna live in God’s kingdom forever, and we need to start behaving like it. We need to adopt that lifestyle and get used to it.

That’s where we kinda slide away from kingdom talk, and get into thinking like God does (theology), behaving like God wants us to (sanctification), accessing God’s power (supernatural), and looking forward to Jesus’s return (End Times). But all of it, all of it, involves the kingdom. Like I said, it’s the central belief of Christianity.

Didn’t realize this? Well, let it sink in.

04 July 2019

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

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 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 are still required to pay American taxes.) When people become Americans, our citizenship oath requires ’em to renounce their previous citizenship. But if their original homeland 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 friend’s from the U.K.—and when he visits family in the U.K., he’ll even switch his accent from Californian to Londoner.

But here’s the catch with dual citizenship: The time might come when you gotta pick one nation over the other.

Say you were a citizen of both the U.S. and Russia. And say we went to war. (Hope we never, ever do, but let’s just say.) Well, you 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 Russian. (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 God’s kingdom, and the United States. So what happens when the States does something hostile to the kingdom? Right you are: I gotta pick a side. And I’ll just bluntly tell you now I’m picking Jesus. Like any immigrant, I may have been born American, but I choose citizenship in his kingdom. So Jesus takes priority. Don’t even have to think about it.

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

If that sounds like treason against the United States, it totally is. And if it makes you as an American feel uncomfortable, it should. Because as a Christian you need to pick sides. This isn’t a hypothetical situation, y’know. Jesus is returning. Not “could return”: Is returning. Not in some “spiritual sense,” by which most folks think 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 when he returns, you’re gonna be on one side or the other. Better not be the wrong one.

03 May 2019

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

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: Other Christians have to be in it. At least two or three. Mt 18.20 The more the better.

Typically “church” refers to a local group. But sometimes we use the word to refer to every Christian, everywhere: The universal church. The catholic church (as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, which is only one church within the universal church, although frequently they forget this). Every human who has a connection with Christ Jesus and is part of his body. It’s hardly limited to one sect or denomination; Orthodox Christians are not the only Christians on the planet. Neither are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Calvinists, charismatics, Fundamentalists, Emergent Christians, nor Purpose-Driven™ Christians. (Though sometimes we certainly act like it.) We aren’t saved by our affiliations or theology; we’re saved by God through Christ Jesus, and we’re in his kingdom because God adopted us and recognizes a valid, living relationship with us.

Of course, since many Christians are under the delusion we determine who’s a “real Christian” and who isn’t, we tend to limit the universal church to our definitions. If we’re pretty sure real Christians only vote the way we do, every Christian in the opposition party isn’t a real Christian, so they don‘t count as part of Jesus’s universal church. If we’ve got certain doctrines we feel every real Christian holds to, we figure everyone who believes otherwise is heretic, and by definition heretics can’t be in the true church. And so forth. Various Christians like to refer to the visible church, the 2 billion people worldwide who publicly claim allegiance to Jesus, and the invisible church, the unknown number of people whom Jesus really recognizes as his. Depending on how optimistic or pessimistic they are, either the visible church is way bigger than the invisible, or vice-versa.

Meh. I’ve no idea how many people Jesus actually intends to let into his kingdom. I’m an optimist, so I figure God’s way more gracious than we are, and is gonna save way more people than we expect. Not everybody; not that he doesn’t want to; he warned us there are gonna be holdouts. But he doesn’t limit his kingdom like we do. So I expect there’s significant overlap between the visible and invisible churches; and when I say “kingdom” I typically mean his invisible church, which is represented by the 2 billion professing Christians.

31 August 2018

Hating the opposition.

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 determine my political views.

To the dismay of both my leftist and rightist friends, many of whom are entirely sure Jesus thinks like they do, and think I’m wrong to believe otherwise. Progressive friends insist a real Christian oughta be as progressive as they; conservative friends suspect I’ve gone completely wrong, abandoned Jesus, and forfeited my soul. They can’t fathom the idea they might be wrong. Whereas I know I’m wrong. If I ever adopt the delusion I have God all figured out, that’s when I’ve gone completely wrong.

Anyway. Part of the reason my various friends struggle with me is because they hate the opposition.

It’s not dislike. It’s not a respectful disagreement. It’s hatred. They’re entirely sure the other side is evil. And to be fair, the other side definitely has a lot of evil people mixed in there. There are self-centered, exploitative, irresponsible, destructive sinners on both sides. Hard to say which side has more of them.

I know; both sides will insist, “It’s obviously the other side.” Partly because they’re willing to extend a lot of grace to the sinners on their own side; just look at all the pastors who blindly support certain politicians, candidates, and office-holders solely because they share a party. Partly because they extend no such grace to the other side, and assume the worst of every last one of them. Or believe the worst rumors they’ve heard about them.

In the end they justify loving their political friends and hating their political enemies, and presume the following teaching of Jesus doesn’t apply to their situation:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said:‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

And yeah, this instruction applies to politics too. Arguably it’s primarily about politics. Because whom did first-century Jews consider an enemy? The devil? The neighbor down the street who was awful to them? Or the occupying Roman forces, or the stifling Roman puppet governments like the Herods and the Judean senate? More often it was their political adversaries, whom they were hoping Messiah would come and overthrow. What they didn’t realize is Messiah wants us to overthrow our enemies by turning them into friends.

16 May 2018

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

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.

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?

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 NET
15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

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.

06 February 2017

The Johnson amendment, and preaching the wrong kingdom.

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.

22 July 2016

How your politics will kill your testimony.

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 he’s spewing forth nothing but bile.

What happened to this 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 libertarian capitalism. 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 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.

I didn’t realize partisanship is also a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 But that’s what zeal becomes when applied to causes, parties, even churches. We figure we’re right, and everyone else isn’t just wrong: They’re stupid, ’cause they mindlessly believe the dumb stuff they’re told; or they’re evil, ’cause they’re too smart to really believe what they claim to, and must therefore be deliberately leading people astray.

So I indulged both. And I had lots of help… from people in my own church, who saw me pushing those causes, loved my zeal, and cheered me on. Even when I started bashing my political opponents. Even when I cursed them as fools, tried to pick fights with ’em, believed every slanderous thing said against them, and was impatient, unkind, unforgiving, fearful, angry, and unloving. They didn’t deserve my love, y’know; they were evil.

So when I saw this behavior in that fellow on Twitter, it reminded me too much of myself. Had to get away from it.