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

kingdom

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!    

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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.  

You’re the only one

*a little poem inspired during my silent retreat last weekend

You’re the only one i can tell everything to
You’re the only one i can go to with every desire underneath my desires
You’re the only one who always keeps their word
You’re the only one who never leaves me
You’re the only one who knows my every brokeness and still loves me daily
You’re the only one that becomes more lovely to me in the knowing
You’re the only one from whom i can never ask too much
Jesus
You’re the only one in whose love i am so filled i want to love others better

why we’re afraid to pray for healing

too often we find our prayers infrequent and frail.  when we hear that someone is ill or not well our automatic response is more “that’s too bad” rather than “let’s pray.”  if we actually do pray for healing for another person we keep it general and not too specific.  and we are sure to add on to our prayer “if it is Your (God’s) will” to get God off the hook…or ourselves.

why is that?

it may be that we’re not sure what his will is, especially when it comes to healing.  yes, there are certainly inscrutable things about the Lord’s will in specific cases.  however, there are things about God’s will that are relatively clear.  healing, surprisingly, is one of them.  again, there are instances where he may not provide healing for some reason but in general it is reasonable to think healing is his will.

  1. when Jesus inaugurates his kingdom he proclaims the gospel AND demonstrates the gospel through healing. (matthew 4:23, 9:25)
  2. when Jesus sends his disciples on their short term mission trips he sends them out, commanding them to proclaim the kingdom AND to heal (the 12 in luke 9:6, the 72 in luke 10:9)
  3. we never see an account of Jesus in which he turns people away from healing or says it is not the Father’s will
  4. Jesus instructs us to pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” if heaven is where God’s kingdom and will is fully established and in heaven there is no sickness or pain, then we ought to ask for healing to be unleashed here on earth.
  5. lastly, our actions betray us. when we do not see healing then we conclude it must be God’s will that we not be healed…but then we continue to pursue medical treatment.  aren’t we disobeying God then if we truly believe that?

 

it is not a matter of IF healing is God’s will, it is just a matter of WHEN.  this leads us to the second reason why I think our prayers may be so weak willed.  as americans, we’re terrified of disappointment.  we’ve twisted our theologies of prayer to protect ourselves and limit God.  we’ve found believers in other countries, especially those not cushioned with wealth, to be of tougher faith who don’t give up on God and prayer at the first sign of disappointment.  often they do not have the luxury of health care so they go after God in ways that we can learn from.

in fact, Jesus teaches us, through the story of a widow who keeps going to an unjust judge to get justice (Luke 18:1-8), that perseverance in prayer IS faith (v.8).  when full healing didn’t come to a blind man after Jesus laid hands on him, Jesus just did it again (Mark 8:22-25).  He was fine to acknowledge that healing is a process.  if Jesus had to pray twice for the same healing we could surely pray twice (or more).

just so you know that the kingdom of God isn’t just a matter of talk, i’ve experienced more breakthrough as i’ve kept asking of God in my life.  one night a couple months ago at our discipleship school, right after a teaching on healing prayer, we prayed for anyone who was feeling any physical ailment.  each person we prayed for was not healed instantaneously.  however, when we pressed in to pray a second time, without fail, people felt a significant decrease in their physical symptoms.  i took the teaching challenge to enter into any opportunity to pray for people’s physical healing for the following week.  again, when i didn’t stop with one prayer, i witnessed healing.   one sister with chronic pain in her knees went from barely being able to walk to me to joyfully walking down the stairs.

even if the answer does not come right away he may be shaping us for the better in the asking.

let us persevere with God beyond what we’re comfortable with.

 

*special thanks to chris rattay for many of his insights concerning physical healing

heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

wealth: the other gospel

what a child wrote in response to the question "what is your wish for 2016" (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day)
what a child wrote in response to the question “what is your wish for 2016” (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day 2015)

 

i’ve been reading a book called the great chasm by derek engdahl and it has been hammering me with convictions that have kept me thinking.  on this the first day of the new year i believe it is a significant direction I want to continue to walk in.

the contents of this book, as i’ve told many people, captures what it has taken me nearly 12 years to learn (and counting).   it is a rare book (unfortunately) that brings together thorough biblical exposition with balanced real world application, especially to something so largely ignored from the pulpit.  i couldn’t commend it more wholeheartedly.

the book speaks of God’s heart for the most vulnerable in our society and the danger that wealth poses to disconnect us from the marginalized and His heart.

as a person that considers myself middle class, but actually in the top 4% of the world in terms of wealth (80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day), this is an uncomfortable topic.  yet, i must face it for that very reason. i’ve learned that having wealth, power, and/or status of any kind can blind you to it’s dangers.  i never considered myself wealthy until i got to know and have befriended people who are not wealthy (by wealth i mean having more than i need in terms of food, clothing, shelter).  those who “have” are not always aware that they have and are often not mindful of the “have nots.”  those that “have not” are keenly aware of their lack and of the others who “have.”

there is so much in the book that has struck me but i’d like to share one idea (from the fourth chapter) that still won’t let me go: wealth preaches a gospel contrary to Jesus.

engdahl reminds us that wealth (or “mammon”) is not neutral, but is personified by Jesus as setting itself up in opposition to God, hence in matthew 6:24 He says “you cannot serve God and money.”   The pursuit of wealth runs contrary to the gospel of grace.  gospel means good news. wealth promises to give us the “good news” of (earthly) life and security. Jesus promises to give us the “good news” of (eternal) life and security.  so who do we trust more in daily life?  the true gospel reveals itself in how it is obtained.  engdahl writes “At it’s core, Mammon, represents a meritorious worldview. It is opposed to grace because it is fundamentally about what can be earned and purchased.”  if my life and security is based upon what i can accomplish and earn that is not much security for me (worldly resources are limited and i fail).  if my life and security is based upon what God himself has accomplished and purchased that gives me a peace that can overflow (He is the limitless source of all life and He is able to keep His promises).

if we cannot serve both God and wealth can’t we at least have both, as long as I don’t “serve” wealth?

here, engdahl holds us again to the words of Christ by taking us back a couple more verses in that same section of matthew (v.19-21) and reflecting on it: “We deceive ourselves into believing we can have wealth as long as we do not put our trust in it. This is a great lie. What Jesus says is that if you have wealth you WILL put your trust in it: you will be enticed to serve it. You can store up treasure in heaven or on earth, and wherever that treasure is, THAT is where your heart will be.”

now, don’t get me wrong, no one is saying here that making wealth is a problem. it is what one does with it that reveals who serves whom. it is the keeping of wealth (putting our trust in it for security) rather than the giving of it (putting our trust in God for provision for us to bless others) that is an issue.

paraphrasing rankin wilborne, out of all the rivals that Jesus could have used to set up against God, He uses wealth. it is deadly precisely because we don’t think any of us have a problem with it.

let us choose this day (this year) whom we will serve.