It’s Monday morning after the evil tragedy in Newtown, CT and I’m still somewhat at a loss for words. It’s funny as I work with words on a regular basis. But sometimes they just don’t come. I’ve not been glued to the news and I’ve actually just shut it off a few times. You see, I know what they’re going to say. No, not the specific details that are coming out, I don’t know those, but I know the bottom line. The story will be the same and I just want to cry when I hear the fine points of little children being cut down in a safe school classroom in a quiet community. The story will be the same that has been played out in all kinds of places in all kinds of scenarios since the day Cain struck and killed his bother Abel. I just saw from a friend’s email that the story was played out again last night in another shooting. The story of evil in the world will be the same. While the magnitude will rise and fall; the story of evil will always be the same.
I’ve been reminded by some friends that I’m falling behind in my Kingdomology posts and they’re right. Why the delay? Well it’s partially because I’ve had a ton of irons in the fire. But I have to admit that it’s also because I’ve just been meditating a lot on the present spiritual environment of the American culture since the presidential election last month. The root of my observation is not centered on the victory of Obama over Romney, but rather something deeper. The simple truth is that the American culture we know today is light years away from what the writers of the Mayflower Compact envisioned for this new land. Obviously America still enjoys more religious freedom than most countries on the globe especially when you think of places like China or the Middle East. But the American culture at large appears to be mirroring the Roman Empire of the first century much more than the philosophy of the Pilgrims.
Now I’m not saying that the Pilgrims were perfect nor am I suggesting that we should go back to their religious dress code or imitate their legalism. Indeed they got off track in many areas like we all do. But there was something different in their core nature that is missing today in so many camps.
Today the United States will change. After Americans go to the polls and ultimately the Electoral College vote is cast, one direction or the other will be set in motion. Either the governmental philosophy of President Obama will be fully confirmed or the direction of Governor Romney will set another course. Either way, we are looking at monumental change. I have friends who are cheering for each side of this debate. I have friends from all across the political spectrum who will either be throwing a party tonight or settling in for a somber night’s sleep. Indeed this is a serious election. But after you go to the polls, here are two main principles followers of Jesus Christ need to keep in mind at the end of the day.
I’ll be honest. This election season has been a hard one for me. It was just over four years ago while planting a church in Northern California that I made the firm decision to never run for political office. While that commitment has been relatively easy to keep, the question of debate has been quite another story. The last 2012 Presidential debate has come and gone. But many of us are still debating with our friends, enemies, and even sometimes with our own souls. Debate is a great principle in our culture. However, it seems to be a whole lot easier to simply debate than actually do something. It’s easier to debate about what the government should do than actually getting out and doing something ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not turning Amish here and as noted in a post from a while back, I do believe that sometimes folks are called into public policy molding just like someone might be called into law enforcement. The great William Wilberforce from the UK is a prime example. But as a Christ follower we are all to be Salt and Light in our world even if we are not in public service or making public policy. We are called to be his hands and feet from wherever we stand on the political debates. So while this debate could take off in innumerable directions, let me simply ask what it is that we are all going to do ourselves instead of expecting someone else to do for us. Consider these to begin with:
Although I often talk about Deb and the kids on Face Book, I don’t usually write much about my family here on the blog. Maybe I should. But something interesting went on over the past few days which I suppose warrants a change in practice. John, my oldest son, was asked by his High School English teacher to write a short paragraph along with the rest of the class describing what they use as their moral compass to live by. Fair enough. But then she finished her assignment by stating that they couldn’t answer the assignment by talking about “God or something like that.” When I was taking John to his Cross Country meet later in the day he told me that for the first time he was “disobeying” one of this teachers. I asked for an explanation and then got the whole story. John did write something in accordance with his convictions and I’ve included that below from Deb’s blog where she also wrote about it. I love the way Deb described our oldest son in all his glory. (Actually, he gives all that to God) But read on and ask yourself, “when was the last time I made a stand for Christ?” Yup, that’s my boy.
It was never so clear as the day the young couple walked into my office. They were in their early 20s, not yet married, with a wonderful little daughter at their side. I had spoken with the mother on the phone but had not yet met the father. So this was our first meeting together. As they came in, the young man addressed me as “Father” from his Catholic tradition to which I gave him a fun laugh, a big hand shake, and we set down to talk. The reason for their visit was to ask if I would baptize their little girl of two. In essence, the mother was Methodist and they wanted someone in between to do the spiritual deed.
After some fun introductory conversation I dove into the “theological stuff.” I tried to make two main points. 1. The Bible does not teach infant or toddler baptism and it is actually the product of Catholic doctrine which did not originate until about the 4th or 5th century. The little girl was not aware of her sin or her need to come to Christ. 2. That there was nothing special about me which would raise me to a “Holy Father” status. I tried to point out that while we do see leadership roles in the Church, the Bible does not make a distinction between the “Holy” Christians and the regular Christians. “We have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” I quoted to them. But no matter what slant I tried to bring into the discussion, it was clear that I was getting nowhere. I tried to point them as individuals directly to Jesus and Jesus alone. I gave them a Bible in modern English and encouraged them to read the gospel of Mark and then call me back. I never heard from them again even after I tried to follow up.
So what was so clear that day?
If you’re like me you’ve probably heard people quote or refer to Jesus in backing up their conversations. You know; “Jesus said this which agrees with what I’m thinking so I must be right.” The funny thing, though, is that I have friends from all over the theological, social, and political spectrum who throw out the “Jesus said” card when they think He helps their case. But I often wonder how much we really read the words of Christ or simply refer to cliff notes prepared by someone else in our own camp of thought. On the other hand, if we value His truth as much as we let on, then wouldn’t it seem that we ought to be willing to go to His words first without preconceived ideas? This is of course true for Kingdom citizens who have already stepped out in the journey of being a Christ follower. But for all of us, skeptics included, my challenge this week is for everyone to take in a heavy helping of Jesus directly from His own words. The challenge is for everyone, me included, to simply read the words of Christ with fresh eyes and then readjust our world view to His teaching rather than forcing Him into our own paradigm.
What makes a Christian? Glad you asked. That is a wonderful question in our present American and Western Culture. Does going to a “church” service once or twice a month make a person a Christian? Does renouncing all worldly happiness and becoming a Catholic nun or priest make one a better Christian than others? Does picketing abortion or signing a petition against same sex marriage make a person a Christian? What about feeding the poor and working to eradicate world hunger? That’s a good one that both my right and lefty friends like. Does that make one a Christian? What’s on your list of your personal requirements for being a “Christian” in the West? I wonder how the Christians in persecuted China and other parts of the world would answer that question.
Going back 2000 years, the first question was probably not, “what makes a Christian” but rather, “who are these people who live so differently?” Answer, “Those are the folks who follow Christ” and thus the term was born. In sermonizing for Sunday, I camped out a bit on Acts 11:26b which states that the “Disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Looking at the greater context what we find is that this group of early believers were so marked by the character of Christ that people took note. Some scholars debate as to whether this was a term of endearment or ridicule. To me that doesn’t really matter a whole lot. The point is that these people were just doing life seriously devoted to Jesus and change happened. Who were these first Christians in Antioch? From the text here are a few points to ponder.
Ok I’ll admit it; I’m a Tebow fan. Yup, despite all the hype, I’m in. Is he the best quarterback in the league? Probably not. Is he good enough to even be in the league at all? Some of his fans say yes even though they don’t know a thing about the game. On the other hand some of his critics say no even though Tim is better than other quarterbacks already in the NFL. If I had my pick, I’d trade him off to Dallas instead of NY. Then my favorite team would now have my favorite QB. Sorry Romo; nothing personal. Just business you know. But with the huge divergence in opinions on the guy, it would seem that there’s more to the story than just football. Even if he’s not that good now, he’s still early on in his game with time to improve. So why the fuss? The answer is obvious; he’s an “outspoken” Christ follower. Yes, there are other Christians in the NFL. But Tim seems to have taken the spotlight because of his starting in the 6th game of the 2011 season for the Broncos and winning while still living for and speaking out for Christ in a public way. That’s the rub that people don’t know how to handle. People ponder about how outspoken a Christian should live today. Some believe he ought to just keep it to himself as this is a “private” matter. Unfortunately those who believe and teach such things really don’t understand the essence of being a disciple of Christ at all. Actually, the actions and spoken message of Tim really illustrates for us the second part in this study of Ancient Evangelism.
“Lighten up; it’s only a book!” Have you ever heard that about the Bible? Have you ever thought that about the Bible? For me, I’ve actually based my whole world view on the Bible. Why? Because I have an assurance that “All scripture is God- breathed” and therefore I set eternity and all that I do and teach on that truth. I know that everyone doesn’t agree with this. A lot of folks question the validity of scripture and speculate whether it can be trusted or not. Many people suggest that “because the Bible was written such a long time ago and was translated so many times” that it just can’t be reliable for us today. If that is true, then the Bible rightly should be questioned. But there are many good reasons to trust the authenticity of the Bible and its inspiration by God. Below I’ve posted a summary list a friend and I put together which offers 8 major proofs for the authenticity of the Bible. What else would you add? How does this affect your view of scripture? How does this affect your view of God and His Kingdom? How does it affect the way you do life today?