Tag Archives: kingdom of God

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

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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 (otherwise we 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 (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?   

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.  

why black lives matter matters

hold up! don’t just skip past this and assume everything that comes next.  please.  i know you’ve heard it already too many times. but this isn’t going to go away if we don’t engage.  

 

because of the climate of our nation that is polarizing so deeply that the “other” side (which ever that may be) is immediately labeled “crazy” and people disengage from dialogue, i’ve got to start with some clarification.

WHAT I AM NOT SAYING

  1.  i am not saying that all other lives don’t matter: i am in no way shape or form advocating for violence against ANY individual or people group.  nor am i saying that other lives matter less. albeit crudely, one fellow succinctly put words to this misunderstanding by tweeting: “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean other lives don’t. Like people who say “Save The Rainforests” aren’t saying ‘F**k All Other Types of Forests’”.  the statement brings to the fore what is being ignored.  if some individuals use that phrase as a justification for violence, it doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.  
  1. i am not saying that everything associated with black lives matter is all good: it is so important to recognize that those who use this phrase are not all associated and organized together.  the phrase can refer to the principle, the movement, and/or the organization.  if i agree to one it doesn’t mean i agree to all. for example i can use the hashtag #prayfortrump and i could mean we need to pray for our enemies, we need to pray for a presidential candidate to make wise decisions, and/or we need to pray for him to win.  if i agree to one statement it doesn’t mean i agree to all.  I agree with the principle of black lives matter but I do not agree with everything that the organization stands for.  if we are waiting for perfection we will not find it this side of heaven.    
  1. i am not saying that i speak for all black people: i am not a black person.  i won’t pretend that i experientially know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.  yet, my fellow black brothers and sisters have challenged me to speak up.  as a non-black person i am speaking to my non-black friends.  i don’t think i have to convince my black friends that their lives matter.  i am haunted by the words of mlk jr. when he shared “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 

WHAT I’M HOPING WE CAN ACKNOWLEDGE

  1. unarmed black people are disproportionately killed by law enforcement.   when adjusting for most recent u.s. population, in 2015 unarmed black people were nearly 4 times as likely to be killed by police than unarmed white people.  i am not trying to villainize the police but rather to reveal the troubling response of us as americans, that there is something lurking in our hearts where this is considered permissible.  if we find ourselves thinking “well, they must have done something to deserve it”, doesn’t this reveal a prejudice within ourselves to not give the benefit of the doubt to a person because of their race?  and even if it were the case, is death the verdict deserved?  is an entire race guilty until proven innocent?  this is not even to focus on blacks being killed by other non-blacks while unarmed and doing normal non-criminal activities.  i won’t even spend time on the effects of entrenched racism (we don’t even have to go all the way back to american slavery but can look at housing policies from the 20th century) that our fellow black human beings must endure to this day.  
  1. black people are made in the image of God just as every other person is made in the image of God.   save Christ, no one person or group has the monopoly on the reflection of his image.  the body of Christ ought to reflect his image more clearly but that may not be the case these days.  each part of the body is not the same but we all need each other.  this does not mean that we are not also all broken with sin.  but this does not take away from the dignity of human life no matter how different from our own.  
  1. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors no matter who they are and no matter how much it will cost us.  Jesus not only told us this, he modeled this…to us who treated him like an enemy.  He interacted with and loved on all people – cross gender, cross culture, cross class, cross creed.  He paid the ultimate cost of his life on the cross to love us.  we have neighbors who are literally dying and in need of tangible love.  

this is why black lives matter should matter to each of us.  

 

HOW THEN CAN WE RESPOND?    L.I.V.E.S.

  • Listen: we must be quick to listen and slow to speak.  especially to those with whom we are unfamiliar, where the temptation is to dismiss without understanding.  let us give one another the benefit of the doubt that this person is not just plain crazy but has reasons coming from their experience. let us treat one another the way we would want to be treated.  
  • lnvestigate: this takes listening a step further to actually check if what is being said is true and not jump to assumptions and conclusions for which we have no evidence.
  • Validate: this is so important and what i am not seeing enough of.  i’m not saying you have to agree with everything a person is saying but we cannot invalidate a person’s experience (and especially not of a whole race) or the pain that they feel…especially if you are not of their race.  who are we to say “no, you didn’t experience that” or “no, you didn’t feel that”?  it is especially unfair for the person in a position of relative power (or associated with power) to tell the person who has experienced pain (at the hands of this power) to lay down their pain while they themselves are unapologetic of the pain inflicted.       
  • Engage: this is where we move from mere lip service to action.  james, the half brother of Jesus, reminds us that it does no good to see a person in need and say they should be filled but do nothing to meet that need.  what does this wronged brother or sister need?  maybe it is to stand up for them where they are not given a voice. maybe it is to empower and encourage them to stand. maybe it is to stand with them in a difficult situation. let us ask them and respond where God has given us the grace to be able to meet that need. where we are unable, let us grieve with them and ask God for more grace and faith to hope for better.          
  • Speak: this should be last as it is often what we are prematurely drawn to do first.  also our words have less integrity the less we have done what comes before this.  but speaking is eventually what we will need to do to confess and confirm what God has put in our hearts.  we must spread the word of God’s kingdom to the unengaged.        

 

ignoring black lives matter won’t make it go away.  our fellow human race is speaking.  we need to listen and engage.  what we can not do is ignore race and hope this all goes away.  

let us remember that in the kingdom of heaven (i hope to be there one day with you) we will be worshipping the One we were made in the image of…and every nation, people, tribe, and tongue will be there.  

why are the poor blessed and the rich cursed?

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I have heard the phrase “blessed are the poor” many times before.  Growing up, I always heard the phrase qualified as, in Matthew’s account, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3a)  The former phrase has frequently been explained away to me as not being literal, i.e. not having anything to do with the amount of money you have, and rather about having a heart of desperation for God.

Now although the latter (longing for God) is true, only in the past year or so have I been challenged to consider that the connection to the former (amount of resources one has) may not be so easily dismissed.

In the Luke account the passage reads: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – Luke 6:20b

The language is quite direct here.  Jesus is talking about a specific type of person: a person who is poor.   Of course, especially in light of Matthew 5, this could also mean a person who is poor in spirit or is in need spiritually.  It may be hard to insist though that Jesus is ONLY speaking figuratively here since the context of this phrase, that comes in a series of blessings, are all shocking statements that go against what we’d expect to be the blessed state (hunger, weeping, and being hated as being blessed in God’s kingdom).   If the statement about the poor is only figurative, considering parallelism, then the rest of the statements are also likely only figurative, which becomes difficult to maintain.

However, what makes it most difficult to deny that Jesus is speaking of a literally poor person is the following statement, in a contrasting series of statements by Jesus in the SAME message: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24

Jesus is directly contrasting the poor to the rich, the haves and the have nots.  When we read this statement of the rich it is harder to explain it away as referring to someone who is rich in spirit.  The rich have “received (their) consolation” meaning they have already gotten something of worth.

What then can such a statement mean, that in God’s kingdom the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed?   We may be quick to qualify that, certainly (and rightly so), being poor doesn’t make you more godly, but are we as quick to say that being rich doesn’t make you more godly?   Poverty is not good in it of itself but, let us consider, NEITHER is wealth. Do we even see the trap of riches?  We must be suspicious of a tendency to want to explain away statements of poverty and to ignore the warnings of wealth.  If anything, Jesus is making a stronger statement here about the dangers of wealth than the dangers of poverty.

What I think Jesus is saying in these statements is not that poverty is a godly end we should attain to but rather calling our attention to the condition toward God that poverty and riches engenders.  Being literally poor tends to makes one desperate and being literally rich tends to make one consoled.  Which is easier to say? “I have nothing without you, God” and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from OR to make the same statement knowing you have plenty of goods to spare?  Who is more likely to be in touch with their need for God, a person who is poor or a person who is rich?  Are we desperate for the Kingdom of God as a poor person might be or are we alright with our kingdoms now?

Lord, let me long for you as if I am poor, and let me give to others as if I am rich.