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?
I was just under four years old in 1973 when the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade mandating the legality of abortion in all 50 states. Since that landmark decision, the American landscape and culture have witnessed over 63 million reported abortion cases. Yet, during that same time, countless followers of Christ have been praying and working to help women with unplanned pregnancies find a better option than the termination of their child. They have worked for hope.
Today the High Court has reversed this ruling. Since a politically motivated leak of the initial decision last month, we have experienced a tsunami of media outpouring and emotion. I, too, have had to sit with my thoughts and feelings and the surrounding ramifications. Yes, the emotions are high right now. But what are the simple facts when we take a deep breath and calm down to think through the issues rationally? One thing is clear; the ultimate answer is much deeper than the legal opinion of nine human judges. So while I could write a tome on today’s announcement, here are six quick truths below the media hype.
1. The Legal Truth.
Despite the avalanche of liberal media, the overturning of Roe v Wade will not outlaw abortion in the land but instead send the issue back to the states. I won’t get bogged down in legal discussion here as others who are more versed in this area have already done so, and those looking for honest research can find them.
2. The Scientific Truth.
The crux of the matter is defining the object of abortion. While many proponents of abortion will refer to the baby as a mere fetus, the basic science dictates that this is a human being. Several years ago, I came across the work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune of France, an expert in genetics. In 1959 he discovered the genetic cause of Downs Syndrome and was hailed for his work early on. However, once Dr. Legeune furthered the conclusions of his findings, that the logical progression is that life begins at conception, he began to experience a cold shoulder from his colleagues because of the implications of what abortion truly is. The simple reality is that the object of abortion is not the mere excising of tissue but the termination of a living human being. With advances in ultrasound technology and other science, the evidence is clear. This is life.
3. The Moral Truth.
If the science is evident in the data that this is life, we are forced to move into the moral category. What we know of God is that we are created in His image. David affirms that it was God that “formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) Without trying to be harsh purposefully, the reality is that abortion is the taking of innocent life. The Biblical and legal term for this act is murder. I will unpack this a bit more in point 6 below. But part of the issue here is how our present culture looks at children and humanity in general. We no longer see people as being created in the image of God but rather as property to be arranged for convenience.
4. The Grace Truth.
Grace is something that I sorely need in my life and continue, and will always, praise God for his grace on me. Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose again. I need HIS grace. We need to know that this same grace is available to women who have had abortions and to men who have been involved in decisions for abortion. David repented of his murder of Uriah to cover up the affair with Bathsheba and received grace and restoration. Paul repented of his murder of Stephen for preaching the gospel and not only received grace and restoration but a new call on his life.
5. The Hope Truth.
HOPE is the operative word here. One reason women go into an abortion clinic is that they feel cornered and without hope. But there is hope. There is hope for the baby and hope for the mother. Care-Net is one such ministry of hope that Debi and I, along with our local church, support regularly. It is one thing to speak against abortion. It is another to get involved in loving these women and their babies and helping them find hope and purpose at this unexpected fork in the road. This message of hope is not something new but found back in the early church and seen in the times of the Roman Empire when followers of Christ would rescue unwanted babies who were left in trash heaps.
6. The Heart Truth.
The mere changing of legal structures will not alter a nation’s makeup in the immediacy any more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, or the conclusion of the Civil War changed the hearts of racists in 1865. In short, slavery was abolished, but some white people still cursed black people and hated those who supported the freedom of blacks. In our present debate, the struggle is spiritual, as it was then and always will be at the root. It is a spiritual wrestling match to see that every human has value. But this reality is not easily seen by those with an atheistic and humanistic worldview who do not believe that these unborn children are human. The core cause for this blindness is a hard heart. Thus the real issue is one of a heart awakening and revival.
We need more than righteous laws of the land; we need the mending of broken hearts that can only come through Jesus Christ. In describing this eternal struggle, Jesus stated that: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus has healed, changed, and continues to change my heart. That is the answer that I continue to pray toward. Yes, I believe that this is a good day in the ongoing history of the United States. However, I firmly believe that we must do more; we must acknowledge our sin and repent, walk in His grace, and love and pray for those who continue to see no evil in abortion. The answer is in Real Revival, which first begins in me and then spreads to the hearts of those around me.
What is it about Psalm 23? The emotion of the ancient text is somewhat like the old hymn, Amazing Grace, written by a former slave trader, John Newton, in 1772. Amazing Grace, or at least the last the first stanza, tends to show up in movies and television programs during a funeral scene even when there is absolutely no other overt Christian theme at all in the storyline. The old hymn conveys hope in death and dire situations. So, what is it about Psalm 23? It conveys hope in dire and hopeless situations.
Few can quote the entire psalm. Yet many have heard how the prayer opens with the emotional outpouring, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Then, near the psalm’s conclusion, we are taken through the painful feelings of “walking through the shadow of death.” But yet, we begin to rise a bit with confidence, declaring that we will “fear no evil.” Finally, with a crescendo of hope, the psalm concludes with our eyes turned heavenward in the affirmation that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23 is a prayer song of King David from some very dark days where he owned his ragged emotions, yet he was able to find Hope in God and then press forward.
Recently I officiated a funeral service in which Amazing Grace was sung and I, at the request of a family member, centered on Psalm 23 in my sermon. After addressing some of the ever-present soul questions that quietly rise to the surface of people’s minds at a funeral, I was able to point to the work of Christ on the Cross and his resurrection, which gives assurance of where we will be on the other side of eternity.
Then I was able to share this ancient prayer of hope for those left behind until they, too, step into eternity.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Notice the offer of rest from a chaotic world and media that never shuts off. See the hope of renewal for the depleted soul. Feel the relief offered to those oppressed and told that there would be a day of judgment when all things would be made right. Hear the offer of reliance from a God who comes through in a world where trust is in short order. Yes, Psalm 23 conveys the truth of a God that can be trusted even when we feel like all of creation has fallen apart – that somehow, God is faithful at the end of the day.
Though this is all encouraging, which it should be, the greatest fulfillment of Psalm 23 is found in Jesus Christ, who in John 10 noted that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus accomplished the greatest hope of all. He died for my sin and rose again, defeating the greatest enemy of all, the grave. Sin and death destroy, but for those who know Jesus, the most excellent shepherd, there is hope.
John Newton found hope and grace in Jesus despite his former sinful life as a slave trader. David sought and found hope and recorded his prayer journey in Psalm 23. Yes, even today, this hope can be realized for you. The author of Hebrews declares to all creation that the ultimate shepherd, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Are you looking around at our present world and wondering if there is hope? Yes, there is hope, and this is the greatest message from Psalm 23. Today, this is the psalm and song of hope we need.
Evangelical, Evangelist, and Evangelism. They are words with mixed emotions today, yet they may be precisely what the world needs at their root meaning. In its worst usage, the term evangelical is often hurled by the political left to depict a category of white males with a Christian background who voted for President Trump. Of interest, though, one Gallup study found that 61% of Non-Hispanic Blacks identified as Evangelical compared to only 38% of Non-Hispanic Whites. So an honest consideration of these terms must press further down than surface political rhetoric.
But even within professed general Christian subgroups, there appears to be debate over the help or hindrance of evangelicals. In one recent high profile podcast, the host rightly pointed out the problems with some specific individuals wearing the name evangelical. However, he was slow, even avoidant at times, to shine the light on the glory of these ancient terms. It seemed that he was not only cautious toward the title in question but also conveyed the idea that those who walked with evangelism as a priority in their lives were somehow less enlightened than more advanced thinking Christians. On a personal note, a few months ago, I was criticized by someone in this progressive camp as being a mere evangelical because I was not cheering for his chosen social issue of the day. Because I refused to jump on his societal bandwagon, I was labeled among the problems of America and the world today. For him, my prioritizing evangelical above social was a profound problem.
But maybe without straying too much, it would seem logical to step back and calmly research academically what these terms mean instead of allowing the latest social talking head to define them. In short and at root, the terms combine two Greek words conveying the idea of good news. Thus, an evangelical believes and stands on this good news. An evangelist is someone who announces this good news, and evangelism is the act of announcing that good news.
Religion brings a burden. Jesus and his work bring hope. This hope is precisely what all these words convey. On a very primordial level, all of our issues are connected to a brokenness in our hearts, our lives. The answer to that is somehow found in God and not us. The answer is found in the good news of what God did for our hearts in Jesus Christ. The hope is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which brings forgiveness and healing for our sins. The good news is that we can be healed from the brokenness of sin. Then, the picture gets better. Because I can have peace with God and myself, I can also have peace with the world around me. Is that not what we are looking for?
In one of the earliest occasions of this word, the Apostle Paul noted that he was not “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Here, the gospel is simply the English compound of the two Greek words depicting Good News or (Yuanghelidzo) – or Evangelism. The power of that statement is seen in the mysterious reality that somehow, the Jews and Gentiles of the first century were united and found peace with God and among themselves.
Their peace came not from politics, more excellent education, more money, or social enlightenment. Instead, the change in their heart came because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. That was the good news, the gospel, the evangelism. That is what changed them and can change the human heart today.
So, yes, I am an evangelical and hope you will be one someday yourself.
How has this word touched your life?
Ukraine? How do we respond to the Russian invasion that has gone on for almost two weeks now? By this, I do not mean governmental, political, or economic responses. Instead, the question has to do with our own hearts. Maybe it depends on the generation or location. Since the war began, I’ve not heard too much from younger adults in their early 20s. Perhaps this is because it is occurring on the other side of the globe. Out of sight, out of mind to our present context some would say.
For me though, I grew up in the latter part of the Cold War, so my connection is a bit heightened. I remember being in college when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. So, the knowledge of an aggressive Russia triggers emotions.
More importantly, during a ten-week foreign internship in 1993, I spent just over a week in Ukraine, so I have personal connections there. In addition, through other ministry contacts, I am aware of Christian leaders in the country. On the other end of the storyline, I lived in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996, helping establish a Bible college, and have many beautiful memories from that time and know people in Russia who do not support the actions of Putin and other Soviet-era leaders who want to take over Ukraine.
But across the world, the public chatter is growing much more vocal. Maybe it’s the constant media. One of the differences between the Viet Nam war and all previous wars is the amount of continuous media coverage that comes into American homes on the nightly news with more graphic images than ever before. Today, with our media technology, anyone with a cell phone can record and shoot to the world at any time. So, these videos and reports from Ukraine are sometimes happening in real-time, which conveys raw information and sometimes very intense emotions.
So, for us, who are not actually on the ground there, how can we respond? There are some great and growing options to send humanitarian aid. Two of those are with Impact Ministry Group and Marked Men For Christ in which you can go to the site and click to designate for Ukraine. Physically, though, there is little more. On the other hand, as a child of God, there is indeed so much more we can and must do. In truth, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, there is the essential thing that can and must be done, we must pray.
When I think of prayers in the Bible, one of the first appeals that come to my mind is a prayer we know as the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 is one of the most widely referenced and partially quoted prayers within and without the church. With a bolt, it flies out of the shoot with the opening line of, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . .” and is further carried with the powerful image of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
The text is a recording of prayer deep within the soul of King David as he acknowledged that despite everything, God will bring deliverance. We don’t know if the context was one of him fleeing the mad King Saul, or possibly, this was even more personal as some believe that David offered up this praise and plea when his son, Absalom, tried to usurp the Kingdom from David and take his life. Whatever the historical specifics may be, we see in this prayer David reaching up to God and finding hope despite what was quaking around him in the present.
Yes, we can still today reach back some three thousand years and find hope for today. But the real and ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in John 10:11 where Jesus addresses all our tensions with the proclamation that he indeed is the one and only Good Shepherd. It was Jesus who faced the final and greatest enemy, death, and triumphed over it and Satan on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. His resurrection demands proof of his divinity and thus we have assurance of His future return with the final judgment, and reward. As David trusted in the God of all creation, we too, lift our voices with praise and prayer today knowing that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, will hear us.
-Like so many occasions in so many places of the past, I recite in faith, David’s prayer of Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
-From David’s prayer, I offer up my brief personal and present additions . . .
“Lord, I declare before all creation that you, and you alone, are the true shepherd. Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Trump, and other governmental leaders are not the true shepherd and the power they wield is only given by you. To you, and you alone, I ask that you bring divine help to the suffering not only in Ukraine but to all who call out to you.
Jesus, the valley of the shadow of death is very real in Ukraine today. I ask that you use your rod and staff to confuse and confront those who are set against you and set toward evil and violence. As David prayed for the confusing of the enemy in 2 Samuel 15:31, we pray that you will bring to nothing those who are bent on violence. I ask that you bring miracles and wisdom to those standing against evil.
Lord, David spoke of hope, of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. He spoke that even though he was separated from the tabernacle, from the Arc of the Covenant, which was still in Jerusalem. David spoke of hope because his hope was in you.
I pray for those in Ukraine suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I pray for those in Russia who do not agree with the aggressive actions of Putin. I pray for those who live near the DMZ in North and South Korea, for those in Cuba, for those in China and Taiwan. I pray for the people of Honduras who are now under communist rule. I pray for the poor in Mexico, Central America, Africa, and in the lower reaches of rural America and the slums of US and international cities.
I pray that you will bring the final and ultimate victory. As we wait for your complete judgment and renewal of all things, give us strength to carry on in trust. Above all, I pray for open hearts and that they will see your grace and power. I pray that through the chaos right now, you might be glorified, and people might come to know you.
Yes, Jesus, I pray that you would be the shepherd to those who call upon your name.
In Your Holy Name, Amen”