Month: December 2015

America is NOT the Kingdom of God

From Starbuck’s Winter Cup design to the legalization of gay marriage, from the right to bear arms, to the issues surrounding refugees; our country has found itself in an unwinnable battle between Right Wing Christians who think the world around them should cater to their personal beliefs about morality and ethics because, “Thomas Jefferson, and Winston Churchill were reincarnated versions of Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul, and when they landed the Mayflower on Plymouth Rock, Ronald Reagan was there to greet them and help lay the foundation for the Christian States of America.” At the same time, their counterparts on the Left seem to only care about serving their Reptilian Overlords.

All joking aside, so many of the Christians who have taken to social media in order to bash the, “Downfall of our ‘Christian’ nation” seem to believe in an origin story of these United States that fails to include many of the un-christian elements of our history. They get their fingers rattling on their keyboard and fill the Internet with things like, “We better watch ourselves or God’s gonna get us like He did Sodom and Gomorrah.” But apparently these same people haven’t actually read that story, because it includes a level of rampant wickedness not yet available at your local CVS.

The fact of the matter is the Constitution of the United States does not include a declaration of state religion, forbidden religions, or even code of moral conduct. In fact, the document is oddly (for the time in which it was written) void of any reference to any distinct God. And even though the Declaration of Independence includes the idea of a Supreme Creator, and Inspirer of the document itself, the construction of government, law, and justice are particularly secular in their expression.

As a follower of Jesus, and a passionate American, I have struggled as of late about these issues. Among so many others, I have seen a distinct shift of the American Pop-Culture Machine away from any semblance of morality to a distinctly amoral description of the American Dream. Even though I recognize that the United States was not founded on a moral principle or standard of personal conduct, I do believe that every human is responsible for his/her own actions.

So, what is my response to the decline in American morality?

What is my role in the struggle between the Left and the Right?

How should my Christianity influence my Americanism?

I think the answer to all these questions can be found in a single statement, “The United States of America is NOT the Kingdom of God.”

The fact that so much of the world thinks the West is synonymous with Christian is simply not true. Maybe there was a time when the majority of voting Americans wanted it to be true, but it has never been true. If it was, we wouldn’t have been a country that struggled so hard to end slavery, or allow women to vote. If America was the Kingdom of God, we wouldn’t have had such an aversion to Civil Rights.

Qualities like racism, sexism, and the dehumanization of anyone who fails to agree with our opinion are not representative of the Kingdom of God.

The fact that the world looks at the U.S. as a “Christian” Nation is a direct reflection of something that we were all to willing to say with our mouths, but not something we were willing to reflect in our actions. Now, “Christianity” is perceived by much of the world as a religion of consumption, greed, blind nationalism, fear, hate, bickering, infighting, and a profound neglect of the weak and destitute. Sadly, the American church has not really done much about this perception. We have clothed ourselves in riches while the world went hungry.

And regardless of your personal belief about our origin story, you have to admit that the current state of our United States fails to live up to our founding documents. We are not what we should be. The American people are not who we should be. The American Church is not what it should be. And as a Citizen of the Kingdom of God, and an Ambassador to the United States on behalf of the God who died for the sins of His enemies, I have to believe that there is something I can do about it.

But I highly doubt that the answer is going to be found by waging war against Starbucks, or the LGBT community. I doubt the answer is eating more Chic-Fil-A or buying all my, “CHRISTMAS” decorations from Hobby Lobby (emphasis on Christianity is meant to be a jab at the rudeness of christians who fail to show compassion to others during the holidays). I don’t even think we’ll gain ground by calling Obama the antichrist, or anything else Fox News thinks to call him.

No, we will only see victory for our culture when we remember that, “Jesus didn’t die to make bad people good, He died to make dead people live!” (Pastor Matt Chandler, The Village Church, Texas)

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I cannot expect others to be like Jesus unless they have been reborn into the Kingdom of God; and even then, new believers must be discipled by mature followers of Christ before they will ever act like Him.

Nevertheless my Christianity does not make me an American.

Nor does my Americanism make me a Christian.

The two identities are distinctly separate. My expectations of my government are not the same as my expectations of my church. So when we think about the issues that are facing our culture, and society, we have to separate our American Dream from our Christian Conviction. Christ gave us an example of what it means to follow him by dying on the cross for his enemy (me), and Romans 13 speaks clearly about the responsibilities of a Government: to execute justice, and to protect the citizenry within its borders. The same passage also tells us to be subject to our own earthly authority. So when we discuss the specific issues finding their way into the headlines, it is incumbent upon each of us to reflect on the kind of decision that is being made.

Gay Marriage. Being that we live in a democratic republic and exercise rights to elect our representatives, we have a right to voice our opinion about the legality of any issues. However, being that Gay Marriage has been made legal nation wide, it is not an issue of opinion, but one of fact. We live in a society where Gay Marriage is legal, but how I respond to the situation should not be a reflection of my own moral opinion, but should be a reflection of the grace given to me by Christ Jesus. I don’t like that it is legal for homosexuals to get married, but I also don’t like that it is legal to get an abortion, or legal for teens to have sex with each other, or legal for fathers or mothers to just walk away from their children, or legal to have children with someone who is not your spouse, etc. But the fact of the matter is, the laws of the United States are not a reflection of my own belief system. They are a reflection of our society’s belief system. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean we’ve lost the battle. The battle simply shifts to one of personal love and genuine compassion for those who are lost. (Oh wait! That’s what it was supposed to be about the whole time.)
So when we reflect on the Romans 13 passage again, we have to recognize that it is the responsibility of every Christian working for our Government to uphold the law and to honor our earthly authority. And if you don’t believe me, just read the book of Daniel. I think the story of Daniel accurately displays how we are to honor our God by subjecting ourselves to our earthly authority.

Syrian Refugees. There may not be a more difficult issue facing the American People today. The idea that we might be a haven for the hurting is appealing to many Americans, whether Christian or not, but the idea of extending the same level of safety to our enemy is terrifying. But if we recognize the political issue as separate from our Christian response, we can find peace in our own heart about such a difficult decision.
The American Government will make a decision about the safety of our own people in relation to these Syrian refugees, and when that decision is made, our Christian response must be primed and ready. Our obligation at that point is to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the imprisoned.

Second Amendment Rights. Honestly, I don’t even know why this is being discussed. It’s in the bill of rights. So…………
Legally there is a way to operate under our earthly authority. If you are doing this, I can’t really see how Christianity even gets mixed up in the whole thing. Unless it is to say that if you have a CHL and you happen to be in a liquor store when it’s being robbed, and you were to pull your weapon and kill someone, that might be morally reprehensible. But, being that it falls well within the laws of my own state, and that part of that legal obligation is to protect the innocent and defenseless, I can’t say that it is morally, ethically, legally, or spiritually bankrupt.
If you happen to live in a state that does not protect your right to own a firearm and use it in self-defense, then I think you should relocate. But Christianity doesn’t have much to do with it.

Starbuck’s Winter Cup. I was about to say something here, but then I remembered that I don’t know of a single Christian that gives two hoots (yes I was watching my language) about the design on the Starbucks cup. The only person I’ve even heard with an opinion about it is Josh Feuerstein who doesn’t act like Christ in ANY way whatsoever. And if I’m going to honor Christ with this post, I have to stop talking about Josh Feuerstein, or the flesh may overtake the spirit.

In the end, I have to believe that Christ is not interested in me being the most politically savvy individual in my church, nor is he interested in my being a chump who lets society roll over me, my family, or my local church. I think he called me to follow him in every way possible. I want to honor His name in my actions and with my words. I want to acknowledge sin, evil, and the darkness that continues to loom over my neighbor’s house, and respond with power, love and self-discipline, instead of fear.
But more than any of that I come away from every conversation about the “Downfall of Christian Society,” and remember that my loyalty ultimately belongs to a king who is returning some day to reclaim what has been broken by sin and death.

I remember that my God is enough…especially when I’m not.

Misconception 3: I Fight Satan for My Good

Christian AuthorI’ve had a lot more interaction over the past few weeks about this particular Misconception than the other two combined. I think this is because of a miscommunication on my part as to what I was referencing when I mentioned spiritual warfare. So, in an effort to clarify my position, I want to make some simple distinctions about various spiritual aspects about our sanctification. I agree completely that the first post was intentionally vague so as to encourage discussion, and I hope that this post helps to tie the project together, and I hope that our new knowledge will encourage us to be about the business of our Heavenly Father.

  1. Spiritual Warfare is different from our war against our own flesh. Galatians 5:17 indicates that there is a direct opposition between our flesh and our spirit, and that the conflict needs to be won by our spirit. The term Sanctification is used to describe this process wherein our spirit grows and our flesh is put to death on a daily basis until that point where we are reunited with our Christ, and are no longer struggling against the desires of the flesh. However, I fail to see the role of an active adversary other than our sinful flesh. This may be a bit critical, but there is a difference between my own inherent wickedness and, “the devil made me do it.”
    I hope that we can see that the struggle to become more like Christ is crucial to our sanctification, but that our battle with sin to which we were formerly bound has ultimately been concluded by the death of Jesus.
  2. Spiritual Warfare is not limited to our testing. I am not engaging spiritual warfare when I am facing Trials of Many Kinds like those mentioned in James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:3-9. These trials are a testing of faith for the express purpose of growth among the saints. James goes on to indicate that there is a purpose and plan behind the testing, and Peter overtly states that these trials are meant to refine the purity that has already been imputed to us. (1 Peter 1:7)
    Our testing, not unlike those experienced by Job, come about as a way to reveal what is already within us. Job 1:8 indicates to us that God saw in Job a faith that could withstand a test, and allowed him to be tested in order to reveal his faith for what it was. In no way, and at no time, was Job’s salvation in question. In fact, Job was able to withstand the trial because of his faith in God.These trials are an element of endurance, which is only one element of Spiritual battles.

These first two aspects of Spiritual Warfare seem to relate to two pieces of our Spiritual Armor as described in Ephesians 6. First is the Breastplate of Righteousness which is the imputed righteousness given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the second is the Shield of faith which is assigned to us by the Holy Spirit. Both of these pieces of armor are necessary on the battlefield, but they are defensive weapons. (and no, I don’t need some medieval lesson on how a shield can be used as an attacking weapon, so if that’s your argument, just keep it to yourself.) They were each given to us at the point of Justification and will be useful for our sanctification, but that battle is not being waged over us. It is being waged over those who are yet lost.
The element of Spiritual Warfare that is far more neglected is that of the attacking weapon. Spiritual Warfare is truly about advancing the gospel into dark places, and while a shield of faith and breastplate of righteousness is critical for the advancement of that Gospel, we must maintain focus on those for whom we are fighting.

  1. Spiritual Warfare is a battle for the lost. Armies advance in war when they attack. Advancing armies need weaponry specific to their adversary and the specific battle conditions. So when the Lord saw fit to put his church on the front lines of a spiritual battle for the lost of this world, he equipped us with the most effective spiritual weapon available. Scripture. Ephesians 6:17b calls us to take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
    Yes, I saw War Room too and it was great, but what made that movie great and what makes our prayer effective, is the fact that God empowers the prayers of His people by his own word. Ephesians 6:18 commands us to pray after we have taken up the full armor of God. When we pray, we are invoking the name of the Lord, as a direct result of our being called children of God. We are able to approach the throne of grace boldly and ask of God any thing that our heart desires.
    Prayer is the active wielding of the word of God. With the Word, or prayer has power, and without the word, our prayer is nonsense.
    We pray for those who persecute us.
    We pray for others that they might be healed.
    We pray for those who doubt.
    We pray in order to snatch some from the fire.

I will admit that the idea of Spiritual Warfare includes defense against Satan’s attacks, but I disagree with the idea that we fight for our own sanctification. Our salvation is a product of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is guiding our sanctification. The enemy may try to slow our development but my eternity is no longer in question. The eternity of those who are still lost, however, is not secure. It is the advancement of the gospel that will draw them out of the fire. It is the sharing of the good news of Jesus that will offer them life.

It is when we stop trying to purify ourselves through the practice of psychological determinism and start focusing our spiritual energy on shining a light into the darkness that we will see our own spiritual lives being encouraged. We will recognize that my righteous lifestyle is a tool to save, and that my checkered past is a tool to save, and that my struggle with the flesh is a tool to save, and that my pursuit of the Holy One is a tool to save, and my memorization of scripture is a tool to save, and that my every waking moment can be spent developing my own spiritual warfare skills in order to save someone…Anyone…for the King who first saved me.

When we begin to see ourselves as warriors instead of scholars, we will advance the gospel in ways that the world has not yet seen.