That is the question of the hour, the day, and the reality of our present culture. Established contracts are killed, marriages are mutilated, and churches are crucified by the question of what I am going to get out of something, even at the expense of others. When I was a junior in High School, Janet Jackson quarreled with the question, “What have you done for me lately” and in a Presidential Town Hall debate, a college-aged woman rose to ask the then-candidate, George W Bush, what he would do for her if he were elected.
Suppose I were on stage that night and had been asked that question. In that case, I’d probably have responded with something along the lines of, “Well, I’m going to challenge you to take hold of every opportunity you have as an American citizen and get up and do something great.” I would have followed the call of JFK, who broadcasted in his Inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.”
That is what I would have said if I were on stage running for the Presidential gig that day. But honestly, who am I kidding? (more…)
I’m back. Recently I finished a Summer Social Media Sabbatical and am returning to the blog. So how was the break, Steve? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first few weeks were hard. However, the disconnect soon became a healthy flow of life. Now, as I’m back in the regular rhythms, I’m finding that my distractions, especially seasons of getting hot and bothered by politics, have simmered down quite a bit. It’s freeing. I can focus more easily.
I know some are called to the political arena. In the Bible, we see this of Joseph in Genesis and of Daniel, the prophet. But I don’t believe I’m either equipped or called personally to politics. More importantly, this unplugged season reminded me of what I know internally; the Kingdom of God rules above the realms of humanity, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.
The Kingdom of God? It’s something quite mysterious and profound. Indeed, it’s more than casual Christianity. Clearly, it is beyond a religion of mere sin management. It is infinitely more. Jesus used this terminology as a central building block in his teaching. Yes, he came deliberately to give his life as a ransom for many. However, his preeminent proclamation is a wholly transformed reality.
In his first public teaching, Jesus declared with authority: “The time has come the kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and Believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15). The original grammar of that statement is in the perfect tense, implying something that has happened and is continuing to happen. The title, Kingdom of God, is used some 75 times in the New Testament with the highest concentration being in Luke, who wrote to Gentiles. The secondary term, the Kingdom of Heaven, is only used 34 times in the New Testament, with 31 of those occasions being in Matthew, who wrote to Hebrews, showing them that Jesus was the prophesized Messiah.
Is there more than a history lesson here? There is more than you can imagine. Yes, this mysterious Kingdom that Jesus spoke of is a present reality and a future hope. The Kingdom is not one of flesh and blood or the politics of Jerusalem. It is a current reality wherever his children work his will out today. In Luke 17:21, Jesus described it as being within you. There is also the reality of the future, fulfilled Kingdom of his second coming.
Beyond the reality of God’s will being executed by his people in the here and now, the Kingdom also demonstrates the truth that God is still moving in His sovereign providence above the affairs of humanity. Even this morning, in my regular Bible reading, I noted that “the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice” of the enemies of King David, and thus they failed to overthrow God’s plan. There is a mysterious ebb and flow of our free will and God’s providential path toward the fulfillment of everything. Daniel observes that God “deposes kings and raises up others” while Jesus confronted Pilate, who thought he had charge over him, that he “would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
There is hope because God is still on the throne today. Yes, on the one hand, I live as a responsible citizen, as Romans 13 teaches me. But, on the other, I know my higher allegiance is above, and it is from there that my ultimate redemption comes. This dual existence calls me to stand for Jesus regardless of what earthly and temporal authorities do. It also comforts me to know God will have the final say when the curtain of eternity falls upon all.
I am not the first in history to wrestle with this reality and often think of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hung at Flossenbuerg concentration camp just a month before the conclusion of World War II in Europe. Scripture does teach us that we are to obey the laws of the land unless they specifically contradict God’s will. However, I am rarely forced to disobey God in the West and in America. While governance has and may oppose Christ, I am not prohibited from preaching Christ.
The answer is to remember what I say I believe. The call, above worldly citizenship, is living out the Kingdom of God in the here and now. While it’s easy to type this today, I know there will be occasions when I am tempted to lose focus. I may need the help and prayers of friends. I may need your help. But I know this Kingdom is true. That’s why I named this blog kingdomology back in 2009, and I hope this will be a challenge and encouragement to you as well.
Is this an area where you wrestle?
This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.