Category Archives: conviction

What does the Kingdom of God look like?

child king

if Jesus laid down his life to preach not just a gospel of the King but a “gospel of the Kingdom”, what then does this Kingdom look like?  and how is this Kingdom actually good news, and not just another man-made kingdom that will come and go?

at best, the “Kingdom of God” for me was a “christianese” notion that was a vague echo in my head from passages i’ve heard in the bible (and told myself that someday i’d get around to studying) and at worst it’s a phrase whose interpretation i just blindly accept from the people who use it.  the following is my attempt to study the phrase as it is found throughout scripture, trying not to rely on commentaries for the work i ought to first do myself (and please don’t just take my word for it either, but look into it for yourselves.  i realize we all bring our own perspective to the reading of scripture but i don’t want us to use that as an excuse not to allow it to speak to us.)   with these clues i hope to piece together what the bible reveals of what the Kingdom of God looks like, a Kingdom that Jesus says is already breaking through in our midst if we care to recognize it.   

 

so what does the Kingdom of God look like?  

1. it is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is so valuable that, when it is found, it is worth giving up all THINGS (Matt 13:44-46) and even all PEOPLE (Luke 18:29-30) to have.  According to Luke 18:29 it is something that rewards not just in the life to come but “many times more” in this time as well.  Nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

 

2. it is eternal

the Kingdom of God endures throughout all generations and lasts forever (Psalm 145:13).  daniel prophesied that it would end all other kingdoms (Daniel 2:44) and it is indestructible (Daniel 6:26).

 

3. it is accompanied by supernatural power

this was probably the most surprising discovery to me.  with 10 verses connecting the Kingdom of God to supernatural power, no other descriptor of the kingdom comes up more frequently.  there are some outrageous claims about the Kingdom of God, that can easily be dismissed as a “pie in the sky” worldview, if it were not substantiated by power.  i’m not talking about human power consisting of simply the means and authority to exert force (thanks, mark charles) but supernatural power which, by it’s very demonstration, substantiates its source as being “above” that which humans can claim.  

God’s kingdom is not just about talk but it comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  the gospel of the Kingdom is not just a proclamation but a demonstration of power, power over sickness (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Luke 9:2, Luke 9:6, Luke 9:11, Luke 10:9) and power over darkness to drive out demons (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20).  any discussion of the kingdom that does not address supernatural power is just playing at the Kingdom of God.  

 

4. it is good

unlike most, if not all, other kingdoms, it is good.  not good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that it does right.  what good is good if it’s only good for those who oppress others?  rather the foundation of this Kingdom is built upon “righteousness and justice” (Psalm 89:14).  the Kingdom of God is not merely outward behaviors but a matter of springing from the deep internal reality of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

 

5. it starts small but becomes great

like a tiny seed of the mustard plant, Jesus says the Kingdom of God starts small (Matthew 13:31-33, Mark 4:26-32, Luke 13:18-21).  so small it may be easy to miss.  so small it seems insignificant.  so small it feels like it’ll take too long to wait for it to become more.  but grow it will. and it will grow so greatly that it could provide comfort to so many others than just oneself.  so great that the universe itself will show visible signs of its fulfillment (Luke 21:25-31).  the Kingdom of God is great but it won’t always look that way at first; it requires patience and is a process.  those who skip over this may find themselves chasing something else entirely.  

 

 

6. it is a mystery revealed  

the Kingdom of God is a mystery to most but to some it is a gift revealed (Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10).  In a way, the Kingdom of God is hidden in plain sight in that Jesus gave all who would hear access to it.  but he told of the Kingdom through “parables”, stories that could be taken at face value but that pointed to a deeper reality for those who would care to look further.  why not reveal the Kingdom of God more plainly?  maybe such a form would serve to weed out those who were not truly hungry for spiritual things.  there is hope in that even the disciples of Jesus didn’t get what the parables were always about, but they did stick around with Jesus to find out.  the Kingdom of God is going to grow.  we can do our part but at the end of the day, like a growing seed, it will grow whether we fully know how God does it or not (Mark 4:26-29).  

 

7. it is a reversal of worldly status 

probably the most distinctive aspect of the Kingdom of God, that sets it apart from all other kingdoms, is the radical (and often unsettling) worldview of privileging those at “the bottom” of the earth’s social status.  this aspect of our King’s heart is not some side-note in His scripture.  next to point #3 above, these associations of the Kingdom of God with “the least of these” are the most reiterated.  

in the economy of the Kingdom of God “the least” are the “greatest” (Luke 7:28, Luke 9:46-49).  the Kingdom of God belongs to children (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) and the poor (Luke 6:20, James 2:5) whom society tries to push aside.  the Kingdom of God will go first to the “sinners” we don’t expect to be a part of it (Matthew 21:31).  

can you imagine such a Kingdom?  where the people that the world tells us are “losers” are the ones who are held in most high esteem?  where children and the poor are our models of faith and how to relate with God?  where those we look down upon are actually the ones we will be looking up to?  these very notions go against how the kingdoms of our world operate (and it’s not a very good track record i might add).  maybe this gives us a sign that it’s origin is not of this world.   maybe this is why we have so much difficulty in seeing the Kingdom of God.  we’re not even looking in the right places.  our lenses are totally broken.  then maybe, after all, this is the good news that we’ve been looking for all our lives.  

 

in conclusion, what does the Kingdom of God look like and what makes it so good?

the Kingdom of God is the most valuable, eternal, powerful, good, growing, mysterious, and upside-down thing you can give yourself to.  

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The Good News of the King AND the Kingdom (or “Why Do We Need Kingdom Theology?”)

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breaking news. fake news.  lots of bad news.  we are bombarded with news so much that we’ve almost become desensitized to it and are unable to let it sink in.  in the midst of all the news where is the good news?  i mean, really good news that gives us hope and really lasts?   

i believe there is good news for us that is eternal: good news of a King AND a Kingdom that does real good in our lives, even now…not just in some distant future.  

this good news is the news that the God of all life saw our situation and stepped into our world as a human named Jesus Christ, not only to save us but to unite himself to us in order to show us how to truly live and transform the world around us.    

but wait a minute, this sounds like christianity.  aren’t these the hypocritical folks who are just like the world, sometimes worse? aren’t these the folks that are so “heavenly minded they aren’t any earthly good”?  

first off, sadly, i confess, we deserve much of that scorn.  i am sorry on behalf of the american christian church (of which i am a part).  this is not people pleasing.  i think christians (or at least those who call themselves such) have actually done some real bad (most recently in turning a blind eye or even supporting politicians and policies that take from the least, the last, and the lost in our society in order to privilege the prosperous, the powerful, and the prideful).  i think there’s a reason why christians have gotten to this place of such a bad reputation.  i think at least one reason is incomplete theology (literally the study of God).  

let me explain.

our american theology has focused on Christ for our personal salvation and sexuality but at the expense of the effect Christ should have in and beyond our own lives.  in other words, paraphrasing from james chong, a theology of the good news that is focused merely on decision, individuals, and an afterlife as opposed to transformation, community, and kingdom life.  to put it most simply we’ve focused on the King (the identity of Jesus who saves individuals) at the expense of the Kingdom (the reign and impact of Jesus upon the world).   

the american church (or at least in circles i’m connected to) loves the word “gospel” (good news).  it’s good.  it’s rich.  but it has developed some blind spots.        

namely, on how the Kingdom of God informs the good news.  the Kingdom of God is not a term that some folks just happened to pick up as a fad.  it is found all throughout scripture from OT (“Kingdom” and “God” are used together at least 27x) to NT (“Kingdom” and God are used together at least 67x….and yes, even in the epistles).  

and there is an intimate relationship between the word gospel (euaggelion/euaggelizo in the original greek) and the Kingdom (basileia in the original greek).  they are used together at least 9x in the NT.    

  • Jesus proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” or preached the “good news of the kingdom” throughout His ministry here on earth (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 8:1, Luke 16:16).  in fact Jesus says “I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43), and that the end will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14).  
  • when Jesus, sends out his 12 disciples on their first mission trip guess what he sends them out to do?  “[H]e sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2).  a couple verses later it says they obeyed Jesus and “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:6).  this is a particularly interesting passage because we see that the “kingdom of God” and the “gospel” are paralleled in v. 2 and v. 6, and used interchangeably.  
  • Acts 8:12 fleshes out the key components of the gospel most explicitly when it reports a disciple beyond the 12 disciples (read: beyond those holy gurus to everyday servants) reaching out to people beyond the jewish nation (read: beyond just american citizens of the dominant in-group): But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God AND* the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (*emphasis added)

alright, so what’s your point?

my point is any scripturally honest discussion of the gospel or good news of Jesus CANNOT be separated from the Kingdom of God.  

this is so significant because if we don’t hold both together there can be grave consequences.  

  • if we only hold onto the identity of Jesus but neglect the rule of Jesus on and through our lives, the faith of Christians can just become “easy believism” of mental assent to some truths but no actionable change in our lives or the world around us.  in this kind of view it is easy for Jesus to just be about me and my own but not for my neighbor and “the other”.  this leads to the deadly poison of tribalism and comfortable cultural christianity.  this makes a person’s faith no better than demons, who know who Jesus is (often better than us), as they do not live lives of obedience to him and his work in the world.  this is Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.  
  • on the other hand, if we only hold onto the teachings of Jesus (which we are notoriously near-sighted with) but do not continue to hold onto the person of Jesus, the faith of Christians becomes rather a faith in ourselves and setting ourselves up to be God, often putting ourselves in the place of arbiter of what teachings of Jesus we want to hold onto and which we will conveniently move aside.  in this kind of view we more readily come to believe the ends justify the means (pursuing justice at the expense of the peace-making Jesus gave to us through the cross) and so what we think is our righteous indignation may end up just being indignation.  this makes it easier for us to write people off as “ignorant bigots” or “coddled snowflakes” rather than as people made in the image of God.  this leaves no room for the grace of Jesus that empowers our lives and enfolds others in, but is rather a recipe for legalism, judgmentalism, and burnout.  we need Jesus just as much as anyone else.  this is Jesus as Lord but not as Savior.    

the result of these gaps in our theology is what i believe we are now seeing playing out in america amongst so many who claim to be christian.  

and it’s a terrible witness to the world.    

by no means am i exempting myself from this warning and so i need Jesus and all of you Jesus followers to help keep me in check that i don’t let go of either Jesus as Savior or Lord.

the good news is not just about the person of Jesus but what the reign of Jesus looks like breaking into our real world (for more on that stay tuned).   

the good news is that the King AND His Kingdom are here.  let’s join in!    

5 Reasons We Should Defend Undocumented Immigrants as Christians

First off, what I am NOT saying is that a complete open border policy is necessarily the best way to go nor that we should blindly defend those that intend harm (as it regards immigrants, actually, the opposite is true in comparison to native born folks).  Let us consider that if a stranger came to our home most of us would first want to make sure they are not there to harm anyone.  

But what I AM saying is that once we know their intent is not harm, if we are to be good neighbors, we ought to welcome them as we would want to be welcomed (as we work toward immigration and policy reform that reflects this spirit).  i would like to submit to you 5 reasons why we should seek to defend undocumented immigrants, especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. :

1) Jesus challenges us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Him (Matthew 25:35)

There is a wealth of scriptures (from the law, from the narratives, from the writings, from the prophets, from the gospels, and even from the epistles) regarding the foreigner/immigrant that would make us think we ought to err on mercy over judgement.  Jesus’ very identity is intimately tied up with the foreigner that to reject the foreigner is to reject him.  the biggest, irony is that we ourselves were foreigners (unless you’re a Jew, which i’m assuming you’re not), enemies even, to God’s chosen people but were given the grace of being included in the family of God.  To be unmerciful to the foreigner is a deep hypocrisy we must keep in check as believers in Jesus (let alone as citizens of the U.S. with it’s troubling origins. R.C.W., W.H.*).  

2) Yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. However, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver.

In the case of our 45th president and his administration, they are going against God’s commands to defend the most vulnerable of our neighbors (Deuteronomy 24:14, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 25:31-46) and instead are insulting them and enacting laws against them.

Please understand that by dissent, I do not mean violent resistance but rather civil protest.  The early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances.  Let us not forget, the person who wrote that verse about submitting to the government, Paul the Apostle, was in PRISON when he wrote that very verse because he would not submit to the governing authorities to be silent about his faith.  Jesus himself confronted even the establishment of the temple (read church) authorities, over their corruption with money at the expense of making a way for the marginalized to worship, and he made quite a scene about it too (one of the few times in scripture where we see Jesus ANGRY is quite telling).  

3) Yes, people ought not cut in “line” to get in to the country but this is based on the assumption there is a “line” for those who are poor.

It seems from our current immigration policy (even before no. 45) this is not the case.  As of right now, the only ways you can enter the country to become a legal permanent resident (i.e. get a green card) are:

A) employment (i.e. You are invited in by an employer, most often does not apply to “unskilled” work of those who are poor.)

B) family (You have an immediate blood relative that is a citizen or permanent resident.  However, the sponsoring family member must demonstrate that they have the financial resources above the poverty line to support these family members coming in for which there is already a limit.  And even if this is approved the process can literally take decades, especially if you are from a poor country in which case waiting is particularly a luxury you cannot afford when your survival is on the line.  For more detail on what B might look like see this article by an immigration lawyer. S.W.P.*)

C) diversity lottery (Only applies if you are from a country that does not have very many immigrants in the U.S.  This leaves out many of our poor neighbors.)

D) refugee of persecution (Under the current administration these are being pushed to be more rarely granted and even before this administration there has been a HEAVY 20 step vetting procedure ALREADY in place.  Often refugee status is dependent on the type of relationship and interest the U.S. has with a given country and does not include fleeing from home country due to famine, natural disasters, or dire economic circumstances.)

For further and more comprehensive discussion on immigration policy I have found the book Welcoming the Stranger to be immensely helpful (written by two authors: Jenny Hwang, a director of advocacy and policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, AND Matthew Sorens, a Board of Immigration Appeals – accredited Immigration and Citizenship Legal Counselor at World Relief).   

4) The hands of the U.S are not clean regarding their role in these very countries, crisis, and conditions that gave rise to the need to emigrate.

Specifically regarding many of our neighboring Latin American brothers and sisters, the U.S. has been involved in the violence of supporting military juntas in civil wars to drug trafficking in these countries fueled by the U.S. demand for illegal drugs to the U.S. war on drugs that went into these countries (without supporting reconstruction efforts)  to exporting gang members into these countries ill equipped to handle them (K.C.*).  

Certainly, individual responsibility is important and even in terms of governmental responsibility the U.S. is not the only ones to bear that burden. But it is morally irresponsible of the U.S. to shift blame solely on the immigrant, especially onto the children and families fleeing the violence, when the U.S. has been complicit in contributing to these issues.  It is sobering to consider that one of the few clear instances in scripture of the case for a greater weight of sin is how it is heavier upon those in leadership.  It’s not going to be easy but if we have made such a bed we must work together to sleep in it.  

 

5) The unjustified and inhumane way the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are going after folks with NO criminal records.

According to a recent Washington post article covering raids that happened this past week, “The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.”  However, with some fact checking (thanks to Dr. Ji Son) it turns out that the actions of ICE were worse than we thought.  An analysis by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that since Obama became president, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”  Although the intent of the previous administration may have been better, the devil was in the details of the local execution of these policies, with devastating (S.C.*) results.  

There is little to no due process (precisely because their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation, S.C.*) or concern for tearing them away from family to a different country (something we don’t even do to our worst criminal offenders).  Let alone, that what counts as “criminal” can change depending on jurisdiction area (S.C.*) and as such can include violations and misdemeanors (including traffic violations), and broad definitions of “aggravated felony” (which includes even “filing a false tax return”).

Let us examine any prejudice within our hearts toward the immigrant and rid ourselves of the unfounded fears and lies concerning the immigrant who contribute to our communities. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable coming from the most vulnerable situations.  In addition to deep 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers, here is one more way to defend the undocumented immigrant.  Jesus advocated for us when we were defenseless.  Let us be merciful as Christ has been merciful to us.  

*thank you to my friends over at the Progressive Asian American Christian group.  Although I may not agree with everything that is said in the group (as is hard to say with anyone in a group that large), you’ve provided significant insight and perspective into this issue that has been helpful.  

Jesus and the foreigner

in light of our president’s executive orders in his first week in office, and the ensuing chaos, we may have different opinions on the best way to implement immigration policy. that is expected.  there are certainly many more qualified than me to make that assessment.  in regards to that, this seemed one of the more balanced approaches to the concerns.  

however, as believers, i hope there is one thing upon which we can agree: Jesus loves the foreigner.  yes, he loves all of humanity…but i dare say He has a tender spot for foreigners. as i survey the scripture it is my view that, whatever policy is landed upon, the default tenor would favor mercy over judgement as it regards the foreigner in general.  here’s why it’s reasonable to think so.  

Jesus has a special love for the foreigner because…

1. it’s in his heritage

yes, Jesus was the Son of God but, lest we forget, Jesus was also a jew.  jews were once refugees to egypt to escape famine and lived as foreigners in egypt for a long time.  they were perpetual foreigners because they became an underclass of slaves under the oppression of egypt (a nation with a different religion and gods) and were viewed by their rulers as dangerous enough to attempt a genocide of jewish baby boys.  God heard their cries and delivered them into a new land.  yet, even as they possessed a new land God reminds them:

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:34

as the son of God and as a son of a jew Jesus was bound to this word to never forget the suffering of being sojourners and to care for the foreigner.  

 

2. it’s in his lineage

there are foreigners to the nation of israel in the very birth line of Jesus – foreign to the people of God, foreign to the country, foreign to the religion of the people of God (aka not christians).   one foreigner was a woman named ruth from the land of moab.  moab was not some neutral nation to the people of God.  moab tried to hurt the people of God (a king of Moab hired out a prophet named balaam to curse the people of God, and moab in the book of judges oppressed the people of God).  ruth didn’t come from a safe country.  but this moabitess came to a new nation and came to know a new God and she accepted them as her own…and God weaved her and her story into the line of Jesus.  

 

3. it’s in his experience

Jesus was foreigner in multiple ways.  He left the comfort of the heaven to become an immigrant to earth.  he also became a further foreigner when he was on this earth.  to escape the slaughter of jewish baby boys (sound familiar?) from a jealous king herod, Jesus’ family had to escape their home country to become refugees to egypt before he returned years later.    

 

4. it’s in his identity

just in case we weren’t sure what and who Jesus stood for, Jesus, in no uncertain terms identifies himself with the foreigner.  in fact, he says that however we treat a foreigner is how we treat him and is a litmus test for saving faith.  to not be hospitable to the foreigner has eternal implications.   

 

5. it’s in our salvation

perhaps the most fateful twist of all for us though is the truth that if it was not for Jesus’ love for the foreigner we would be damned (unless you are a jew which, statistically speaking, you probably aren’t).

praise God that He considered it “too light a thing” to only bring back the jews to Him but that He would reach out to us…gentiles.  without His light shining out to us we would not be able to “see.”  He has a mission for reaching out to the foreigner…to the very ends of the earth…to us.  we are infinitely fortunate that He loves like that.

 

there can be much we say or do (or don’t) regarding the foreigner but let us be completely clear…it matters how we treat the foreigner.  Jesus takes it personally.  and we should too.  

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

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trying to find sense when it seems we’ve lost our minds (a response to the election one week out)

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a week ago we reached the end of a difficult and particularly toxic election for the united states.  we were hoping to move on. however, when the results were called we woke up to a different reality.  for some it was triumph and feeling emboldened for others disbelief and dissent.  for many anger…at “the other” side (i for one experienced more anger before the election then after).  we didn’t know our divisions could actually get worse.  

(WARNING: this is a long read so feel free to read in parts.)

WHY ARE PEOPLE (AM I) HAVING SUCH STRONG REACTIONS TO THIS ELECTION AND ITS RESULTS?   

there’s all sorts of craziness happening.  there is so much division, even amongst believers.  but, I know that no matter what, we as the people of God’s Kingdom know that only His Kingdom lasts so we must be the people in this world that hold the tension of not giving into despair (whether that’s giving up on people we disagree with or giving up hope of any kind) but not dismissing pain.  it is the pain however that is getting us most riled up.  pain dismissed is what got us here.  there must be space to deal with the pain if we are ever to move to a place of healing.  there are 4 thoughts we’re tempted to have but we must not give in to.    

1. we ought not be so upset, we shouldn’t be crybabies.

yes, we don’t despair because God is in control.  but why shouldn’t we cry?  where does this stoicism come from?  not from God.  the people of Israel were familiar with lament and maybe we can learn something from them.  Job asked God questions in his pain.  Jesus wept (even when He knew it was going to work out for good).  The early church was familiar with tears.   Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  

yes, we may not need to cry over some things that can be better said in words.  but sometimes we may need to cry because that expresses more than our words could ever say.  the hand of God responds to the cries of his people.  we need space to grieve or else our pain will harden into something worse.  

2. but Romans 13:1 says we should submit to governing authorities God has put in place so we should just accept it

yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. however, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver (i.e. in our president-elects case, the need to love the most vulnerable of our neighbors as opposed to insulting them and proposing laws against them. if he has changed, awesome!  let him apologize and set things right).  by dissent, i do not mean violent resistance but civil protest (the early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances. Jesus himself confronted the establishment of the temple authorities by overturning the corruption of money-changer tables).  

when God appoints a leader that DOES NOT always mean God anoints a leader.  let us remember God appointed pharaoh with a hard heart to oppress the israelites,  nebuchadnezzar with an arrogant heart to kidnap daniel and his people, and will appoint the anti-christ (i’m not saying we know who the anti-christ is) with a defiant heart to persecute his saints.  but again we are not hopeless because he always has and always will work things out for the good of those who love him.   

3. none of these policies have been put into place yet, and it’s not such a big deal as there are people in the world with greater suffering.

yes, there is a scale of pain but that doesn’t mean that we must then disregard the lesser pain.  yes, the suffering of others gives us invaluable perspective and we are poorer without it but that is the very thing i am appealing to: perspective.  you may not be strongly affected by things that were said but that doesn’t mean others can’t be strongly affected, especially those who are dealing with a real history of real pain.  there is real pain for them, not so much because of legitimate results of our electing system, not because laws have come into effect already, but because the election results can be read as an approval of a president, by this united states, that thinks it’s okay to dismiss many who live in them – a realization of fears these very people have worked so hard to overcome.  in fact, if we pivot perspectives, many were surprised in this election precisely because they did not take into account the pain of working class / poor whites in the rust belt states that swung the vote.  yes, we can not make everyone happy, nor should we, but telling someone their pain does not matter is certainly not a solution.

4. sometimes God subjects people to pain that they deserve…they have brought it upon themselves.

this may be, but this is the judgement for God to make not ours.  even such pain is not pointless. this side of heaven and hell there is still hope of redemption.  we are ALL made in image of God and we ALL fall short.  once we begin to demonize the other side as ignorant, insane, and/or irreversibly immoral we’ve put them in the category of beyond redemption.  we do not know that.  secondly, there are real beliefs and values at play on both sides, to ignore that is for us to be stuck in an endless cycle of greater division.  we may not agree with the beliefs and values of the “other” but they are motivated by what they think is right as we are motivated by what we think is right.  we may not all be right but let us work this out and not give up on each other.    

to my fellow christians in particular, let us keep in mind that neither political party is the party of God.  God is not left or right, liberal or conservative.  both sides, all sides, must answer to Him.  both sides have faults.  both sides also have some truth and issues that align with what God cares for – here are just a few (please keep in mind that i’m not saying either side doesn’t care for these issues or that the application of these values in terms of policy is the best way, but i’m talking more about emphasis of platform as it relates to biblical principles):  

“conservative”

“liberal”      

i long for the Bride of Christ, not to be beholden to either political party but to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable to a more holistic Kingdom vision.  for the time being though, inevitably, with the way our secular party system is currently formed and our tendency toward tribalism, someone is bound to lose.  there are costs to be paid.  this leads to the next big question.    

 

GOD, WHY WOULD YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?  

whatever “this” is for you, we are faced with this question in the face of real evil and suffering that we witness not just on a personal level but on a systemic level.  as i’ve wrestled with these questions with God in the past week this is what i’ve sensed.  

1. suffering reveals his saints

  • in trial, it shows what/who we really trust in.  
  • in this past week, God’s been causing me to appeal to and put my real hope in his eternal character and kingdom more than before.

2. suffering refines his saints

3. suffering tests his saints

His Bride shines brightest in suffering not in comfortability.  

 

So then, this leads to the final big question

HOW THEN DO WE MOVE FORWARD?   

1. let us take our pain to God first.  

2. let us seek God for what’s important.  

  • let us ask God what do we need to let go?  
  • let us ask God what we must not compromise?  
  • let us allow liberal/conservative adorations and divisions to die.  there are three things that are eternal: God, people, and His Word.  all our answers to what is important must be measured by scripture.  we need a deeper theology of orthodoxy and orthopraxy of what it means to love God with all that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.       

3. let us walk the walk not only talk the talk.  

  • let us commit ourselves to unceasing prayer because the power of a right life in Christ comes from prayer, not people pleasing.  daniel, even under threat of the lion’s den in a broken government, never forgot who he was and continued to do his thing, as was his usual practice for decades, of seeking after God and His Kingdom.  prayer to the Father was the God-given private nexus behind Jesus’ public authority and power that he modeled for us.
  • let us not be afraid to enter into the suffering of others unlike ourselves, without which there is no resurrection.  Jesus tells us that if we are to follow him, we must take up our cross (instruments of death) and follow him.  we are saved by faith alone but a faith without works is dead.
  • let us first be faithful to what God has put before us before we engage the broader discussion.  this one is such a challenge for me because, if i am honest with myself, sometimes the work right before me of loving my own family, my own ministry, my own community is harder then to engage in larger scale dialogues and policies.  not that we ought to neglect the latter but that we must not lose sense of our God given responsibility before us.   as we do that better we are better equipped to have something of more substance to offer to the broader conversation.   

we don’t always understand why there is suffering when God is a good God.  but just because we don’t see a reason for the suffering doesn’t mean there is no good reason.  we don’t know the full story, no one does except God.  but in humility let us trust in His goodness because His goodness will always win.  let’s not give in to despair or hate.  let’s keep on doing good because He is good, He gives us power to do good, and good WILL win.    so no matter what we’re facing let’s persevere in Jesus because HIS Kingdom is already being unleashed and it is indestructible.

stuck between gospel escapism and humanistic justice

pictures-of-crosses-jesus

in the wake of our election season, american christianity is being revealed for what it is, for better or worse.   

i am finding in myself, and in our faith communities, two tendencies that are overly represented and NEITHER of which i feel are true representations of our hope for how we ought to live in God according to the full counsel of scripture (as opposed to picking and choosing what we like).  this goes beyond the labels of conservative/liberal and republican/democrat.   

church family, please hear me out.  i’m not saying i have all the answers.  i do know that i am troubled by our division (and even the attitudes and anger rising up in me) – how we’re treating one another, let alone people outside the church – and i don’t think i’m alone in this.  we do ourselves, our witness, and ultimately the desire of Jesus no good by being so entrenched in our divisions.  Jesus knows, some hills are worth dying on…and some are not.  let us make every effort at peace.  i want to start by addressing our two root tendencies or the opposing sides that we often find ourselves in.  then i would like to propose a way forward that overlaps the strengths of both sides.  let’s not be so quick to point out the speck in our siblings eye and miss the log that may be in ours.  let us be the first to admit where we fall short before we insist on change from the other.     

1) on one hand i see the tendency of gospel escapism (in me and the church in general).

what i mean by gospel escapism is…

a faith that focuses on loving God at the expense of loving our neighbors where they’re at (not expecting them to have it together before we love them).  a belief in the good news of God that neglects the engagement of this world, where this good news of God unfolds (the gospel is not just that he forgiveness us but that he unites himself with us to walk in this world). a theology that accepts salvation now but waits for the kingdom of God later and somewhere else (causing us to fall prey to the lawlessness that we can go on sinning so that grace abounds all the more. we need to remember Jesus tells us to daily pray for His kingdom to come HERE on earth).   a Jesus without justice (a pursuit of a Jesus that is sterilized from his cries for justice).

2) on the other hand i see the tendency of humanistic justice (in me and the church in general)

what i mean by humanistic justice is…

a faith that focuses on loving our neighbors at the expense of loving God directly (the one who is our daily source of life).  a belief in humanity that neglects the engagement of the God of humanity on His terms (His word does have authority and He does have standards that we must not compromise to the world and will make us quite unpopular).  a theology that accepts the kingdom of God as expanding now but waits to work out salvation later (not only does this lead to burnout but puts us in danger of being legalists of a different kind).  a justice without Jesus – a pursuit of justice that is fine to use Jesus as a rallying point but that asks him step aside when it’s time to do the work (yes, Jesus is for the marginalized but it is not at the expense of his reign nor his spiritual power).   

church family, my dear brothers and sisters whom Jesus has died for, i long to see a third way of Gospel Justice.  

what i mean by gospel justice is…

a gospel that has it’s face turned to God but feet planted on the ground.  a gospel that doesn’t forget Jesus’ inaugural address was good news for the poor, prisoner, blind, and oppressed.

a faith that is informed by the epistles AND the gospels.  Truth AND Grace.  conviction AND compassion.  a Jesus that will call out sin but sups with sinners.  orthodoxy AND orthopraxy.  conversion AND discipleship.  justification AND sanctification (Romans 1-5 AND Romans 6-16).  loving God AND loving our neighbor.  that we are not saved BY good works but rather we are saved TO DO good works (Ephesians 2:8-9 AND 10).   

 

let us not be gospel escapists who throw in the towel, disengaging from spheres outside of our own and policy that affects our most vulnerable neighbors from the womb to the tomb.  let us not be humanistic justice seekers who put our ultimate faith in human systems of governance, as if there is no God sovereign over all and whose kingdom is the only one that will stand.  

will you join me in seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness to break through here on this earth, not our kingdoms and our righteousness?