Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Myth of A Christian Nation: Part 2 ( The Kingdom of the Sword)

       So, earlier this week I started a book review series on Greg Boyd's amazing book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church. I've read it before (and am re-reading it for the purpose of this series) and I am very much in support of its message ! I highly recommend it to anyone, and especially to Christians in America. Enough said. If you want to check out the first post (Part 1) on the book you can find it here. To quickly follow new posts in this book review series check out my very short book review page located here. So, now that we are done with the prolegomena ( a preliminary discussion), we can get on to my humble review of Chapter 1, The Kingdom of the Sword.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 1 - The Kingdom of the Sword:

       " The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. " (Luke 22:25-26)

       Jesus says that the kingdoms of this world "lord it over" others. They use authority and power to influence their domain through laws, enforcement, and fear. Greg says it best: " Wherever a person or group exercises power over others--or tries to--THERE is a version of the kingdom of the world. While it comes in many forms, the kingdom of the world is in essence a "power over" kingdom. In some versions--such as America--subjects have a say in who their rulers will be, while in others they have none.....there have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise "power over" people." (page 18)
       The kingdom of this world has and will always be like this. That's how our fallen world works. People take control, make the rules and regulations they feel are right, enforce these rules on their citizens, and sometimes try and enforce them on others around the globe. Greg points out that this ability to enforce rules and keep evil in check is the primary purpose of these kingdoms. He argues that based on Romans Chapter 13, God uses the kingdoms of this world, in their fallen and sinful state, to keep evil and wrongdoing in check. It is our job as citizens of whatever kingdom of the world we find ourselves living in to live in conformity to its laws, insofar as it does not conflict with our calling as citizens of the kingdom of God.   I believe John Howard Yoder sums it up best in the following statement on God's relationship with the kingdoms of the world: " It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and then God made government through a new creative intervention; there has been hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. Its exercise has involved domination, disrespect for human dignity, and real or potential violence ever since sin has existed. Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does....the librarian does not create nor approve of the book she or he catalogs and shelves. Likewise God does not take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious "powers that be" or for their shape or identity; they already are."  
       Greg goes on to explain the relationship that Satan has with the kingdom of the world. In the gospel of Luke it says that when the Devil tempted Jesus, he showed him "all the kingdoms of the world" and then he said: " To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you will then worship me, it will be yours." (Luke 4:5-7) Jesus, of course, does not go on to worship the Devil to acquire these kingdoms. But, as Greg points out, Jesus does not dispute the devil's claim to own them. Later in Jesus' ministry he refers to Satan as the "ruler of this world". ( John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) In 1 John 5:19 we find this statement: " the whole world lies under the power of the evil one". Greg further explains that this term "ruler" which Jesus attributed to Satan, is a political term used to denote the highest ruling authority in a given region. Jesus is basically saying that Satan is the CEO of all earthly governments ! Greg's point is that while every action of a government may not be in itself "evil", we as Christians must never forget that "even the best political ideology lies under the influence of a "power over" cosmic ruler who is working at cross-purposes to God" ( page 22).
       Further on in the chapter Greg talks about the "tit-for-tat" way of the kingdoms of the world. He explains it like this: " If you hit me, my natural (fallen) instinct is to hit you back--not turn the other cheek ! Tit-for-tat, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth--this is what makes the bloody kingdom of the world go around." (page 24) Greg continues the discussion by relating the example of the current conflict in the middle-east and some of the reasoning behind what is going on. He speaks about how sometimes, our us-vs-them mentality is a result of historical conditioning against the other.  Greg says this: " Much of the profound animosity Islamic terrorists feel towards "satanic" America is fueled by a cultural memory of what Christians did to Muslims during the Crusades. Believing that America is a Christian nation, they direct their collective, historically acquired hatred toward it. Now, you might be tempted to respond by saying, 'Well, they did a lot of bad stuff to Christians throughout history as well'--and you'd be right. But this is exactly the sort of thinking that fuels the endless tit-for-tat kingdom of the world." (page 25)
       I hope you are getting the point. To sum it up then we can boil it down to four short points.

#1 The kingdom of the world rules by a "power over" method, using laws, regulations, and the fear of the sword or punishment to accomplish its goals.  

#2 While God did not create the kingdoms of the world he uses them in their fallen state, he orders and sorts them much like a librarian sorts the book in a library. He does not have to approve of them and their ways but wisely uses them for the best possible good.

#3 All of the kingdoms of the world are under the control of the Devil/Satan. While not every act of a government is in itself evil, we as Christians must be mindful that even the best government still lies under the influence of Satan who is working at cross-purposes to God.

#4 The kingdom of the world plays by a "tit-for-tat", eye for an eye, us-vs-them, rule set. It more often than not sets us and our ways of life and thinking against that of those from an opposite way of life.

Greg finishes the chapter by giving us a taste of what is to come in Chapter 2. He mentions that the kingdom of God operates completely different than the kingdom of the world. He says: " The kingdom of Jesus was, and is, a radically different kind of kingdom indeed, and it is this kingdom that all who follow Jesus are called to manifest in every area of their lives." (page 28) 

I hope that this review has been in at least a small way beneficial to your time. I hope you will go and pick up a copy of this great book and see what it has to say for yourself. We'll end with a question.

Jesus was the only person who ever truly and fully had "power over," yet he chose not to exercise it. Do you feel that this is a model for us to follow or a choice unique to Jesus' mission? Explain your answer.  


Friday, December 28, 2012

How To See God Today

       People often ask if God exists. They want to know if he is real. They tend to say things like: I can't see God, how do I know he's there ? Where is God in the world today ? What is God like? Well, I think there are two places people can look to see God.

       First, in the Gospel of John we find this: "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known."(John 1:18)
The Bible says that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus, has made God known. What he did, said, taught, and commanded was in itself the very essence of God. So, look at Jesus. Study and imitate him. In doing so, you will "see God".
       Second, we can also see God in the flesh today ! In his first epistle, John says this about seeing God: "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." ( 1 John 4:12) So if we love one another God lives in us ? Really ? And if God lives in us, that means people get to see God ! They get to see what he is like and how he acts. But wait, what was the catch. It says, "if we love one another". Interesting. So when we love one another, that's when God lives in and through us. It seems like the key to seeing God is love. What is love? What does it look like ?
       Let's take a look at one more verse: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. " (1 John 3:16)
There's a couple things we can draw from this text. First, it says that love looks like Christ laying down his life for us on the cross. When we lay down our lives, our desires, passions, goals, for the sake of others, it looks like Christ. That is love. Love is always sacrificial. It always looks like Jesus on the cross, dying for the very ones who put him there. To the degree that someone lays down their life for others, it is love, and we are seeing God in action. To the degree that we see someone taking the life from others, their time, money, happiness, sense of worth, or their very breathe, we see what happens without God. A life lived without love, is a life without God.
       The question then is this: When people ask us how to see God, do we tell them, watch us and see ? Do we tell them to look at our lives (that should be filled with God's love) ? Can we point them to the love our church shows to those in our community ? Can we point them to the love we have for one another? I hope so, because God wants to be seen. He isn't hiding. It's up to us. Picture Jesus on the cross, dying and praying for the ones who put him there. He loved them. Go, and do the same. Live and love as Christ loves you and gave himself for you.

Shalom and Happy New Year !

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Myth of A Christian Nation, Part 1 (Introduction)

       Earlier this year I went through a major paradigm shift. My story was documented in my previous post From Soldier to Pacifist, earlier this year. In that post I cited two major influences in my journey. The first was a teaching podcast series by Bruxy Cavey entitled Inglorious Pastor's. I was introduced to Bruxy's teaching and ministry by my now good friend, mentor, and Brethren in Christ pastor, Kurt Willems. Kurt's friendship, patience, wisdom, and guidance has been such a tremendous blessing and I can't thank him enough. *bro hug* .......  .......  ....... Excuse me, sorry...ahem..
       Where was I ? Oh yes, the second influence that Kurt pointed me to was the book: The Myth of A Christian Nation, How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church, by Gregory A. Boyd. 


I love this book ! I could rant and rave about it forever but I don't think any of you would enjoy that very much. So, I'm going to attempt a book review. I hope to give you a glimpse inside this great book and to perk your interest in what I believe is a very important and relevant topic for us today. Well enough of me, let's get to the book and what Pastor Gregory Boyd has to say.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Introduction Chapter:

So, I'll let Greg speak for himself as to the central thesis of the book :

" I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world.......many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues. " (page 11) 

Ouch !!! Those words sound very harsh. But are they true ? What kind of "nationalistic and political idolatry" is he talking about ? Again, I'll let Mr. Boyd speak for himself:

" Many believe there is little ambiguity in how true Christian faith translates into politics. Since God is against abortion, Christians should vote for the pro-life candidate......since God is against homosexuality, Christians should vote for the candidate who supports the marriage amendment act-and a Bible-believing pastor should proclaim this....since God is for personal freedom, Christians should vote for the candidate who will fulfill " America's mission" to bring freedom to the world." (page 10)

Greg goes on to say that there is a myth which gives this strong connection between Christianity and politics in America such a strong emotion. He calls it, The Myth of a Christian Nation.
" This foundational American myth is, in fact, untrue, America is not now and never was a Christian nation, God is not necessarily on America's side, and the kingdom of God we are called to advance is not about "taking America back for God." (page 13)

      Again, very strong words from a very confident man. This myth of America as a Christian nation has hindered the cause of Christ. It has led many around the world to associate America with Christ, so that "they hear the good news of Jesus only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitative news, anti gay news, or Republican news". (page 14) I couldn't agree more !

Well that's it. Since you have the review of the introduction you can stop here. No need to read the follow-up posts about the rest of the book. Um, no ! Totally 100% kidding. In the days to come I plan to share with you my thoughts about each chapter in this great book. I hope you will stay with me on this journey. I also hope you will not just take my word but get the book and see what Pastor Boyd has to say for yourself. We'll end with a question.

Do you know anyone who has been put off by Christianity because of American Christians' tendency to link their faith with their politics ? What messages do you hear repeated ?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Be Where You Are & Do Not Worry

"Wherever you are, be there."-- Greg Boyd

       I'm a dreamer. Most people that know me will testify to this. My family, friends, coworkers, Church, pretty much everyone knows it. Especially my wife. She has often told me that when I'm home, more often than not, I'm really not home. I'm NOT where I physically am, I'm THERE. By "there" I mean somewhere else mentally or emotionally.  Sometimes that THERE is in the book I read earlier that day. Sometimes THERE is in a sermon series, or in a theological or philosophical topic. Sometimes THERE is thinking or planning about the future, whether it's a job, location, vacation, hope or dream. The point is, my THERE is often NOT where I presently am.
       Now I'm not saying that we should not ever think, dream and hope about the future. But when it becomes something that consumes us, our time , energy and thoughts, when it takes us away from "wherever you are" RIGHT NOW and to another place, it can very easily turn to worry. And that leads to my second point.
       Jesus said : "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:34)
       So, "tomorrow will worry about its own things". Why then do we think, plan, and worry about the things of tomorrow? I believe it is ultimately our little way of trying to control things. If somehow we can plan it out right, plan for the worst and try and make everything into the best possible outcome, we can be our own little gods. We can make our future life into our idol. Jesus says to not do that. He wants us to worry about today and what God is leading, calling and wishing for today.When we spend our time living in the future or not being where we presently are, we close the door to God's spirit that wants to work in the now. If I'm worrying about the bills next week, the moving plans, that job interview etc. I may very well miss the person in the supermarket, a coworker , or a friend who needs me to channel the love of Jesus to them. Worrying about the future and making our own plans ultimately puts us at odds with the Kingdom, for the kingdom way is the way of sacrifice, putting others first,  and seeking God's will "on earth as it is in heaven".
       Let us follow the simple advice from Greg: Wherever you are, be there.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

WHICH JESUS? Are you following the right one ?

I recently started reading the book Love Wins by Rob Bell. This book has stirred up a lot of controversy. Mainstream preacher John Piper said, “farewell Rob Bell” in response to the book and its message. (I’m not sure if he even cared to understand what the message really was).  I am a little over half-way done with the book and I highly recommend it! I agree with most of the content (so far) but that’s not really what matters. What DOES matter is that Rob Bell is asking the right questions. He challenges the traditional and widely excepted views of heaven, hell, God’s judgment, wrath and love, who’s “in” and who’s “out”, and the lens through which we view the whole Bible, topics which have turned many off from the message of Christ throughout the centuries. He challenges the reader to take an honest, unbiased look at what the Bible (not church tradition) really teaches about these tough and controversial issues. So anyways, if you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss is about.

       You are probably wondering what any of this has to do with the topic of this post. While reading the book I came across a short passage that got me to thinking. And THAT is the real topic of this post. Here’s the quote from Love Wins:

 ”When People use the word “Jesus,” then, it’s important for us to ask who they’re talking about.

Are they referring to a token of tribal membership, a tamed, domesticated Jesus who waves the flag and promotes whatever values they have decided their nation needs to return to?

Are they referring to the supposed source of the imperial impulse of their group, which wants to conquer other groups “in the name of Jesus”?

Are they referring to the logo or slogan of their political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power?

Or are they referring to the very life source of the universe who has walked among us and continues to sustain everything with his love and power and grace and energy?

Jesus is both near and intimate and personal, and big and wide and transcendent.”

       Thus the question: which Jesus?

Which Jesus are you following? How about your church? Also, which Jesus are you portraying to others, preaching and teaching about? I think these are important questions to ask.

       Is it the Jesus who: “promotes whatever values you have decided your nation needs to return to” (paraphrase from Rob’s quote) , supports justified war and violence as a means to the end, the worldly justice system , believes that “America is the hope of the world”, speaks against the gay and lesbian community above and beyond the much more mentioned sins of lust and pride greed and self-righteousness, sees nothing wrong with our western-materialistic-selfish culture, and separates ourselves from those who are not “in” the holy group of Christianity ?

       Or, is it the Jesus who: instead of saving the world through legislation, came to earth in a manger and served, died and loved those who opposed Him along the way. How about the Jesus who taught us to “love our enemies, do good to those that hurt you, turn the other cheek, and to NOT RESIST EVIL , the Jesus who ushered in the restorative-justice, peacemaking, grace and love centered kingdom, the Jesus who taught that He ALONE was the hope of the world, THE way, THE truth, and THE life. How about the Jesus who instead of kicking the sinners out, accepted, ate and drank with, loved, befriended, served and forgave. What about the Jesus who said, “do not worry about tomorrow” and “give to those who ask” and “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “go, sell all you have and give it to the poor” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.  

       So, the question I ask you is this: which Jesus? Why is it so important that we get Jesus right? The author of the book of Hebrews says this:

       In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

So, Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. Nothing and no one before or after will ever show what and who God is better than Jesus. The buck stops with Jesus. How we view God: his character, purpose, will, everything about him is summed up in the person of Jesus. You see, if we get Jesus wrong, we get everything wrong! I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the topic of God, what he wants, expects, thinks, and commands of me, I want to get that one right. I don’t want to just take someone else’s word. I don’t want to just blindly accept the traditions of those who have come before me. I’m going to look at and study Jesus. What Jesus said and did, how he reacted to others, how he loved, what he commanded, what he expects, that’s what is important.


I’ll end with yet another question. Which Jesus are you following and what is your primary resource for learning about Him?