Category: Christ & Culture (page 1 of 30)

A Great and Terrible Nation

I’m always on the lookout for balance and objectivity when it comes to viewpoints regarding the way American Christians follow our Lord while living in the United States. Logic. Rational discourse. Theological insights coupled with Christian hope. Who is able to prophetically call out the idolatry of combining God and Country and, at the same time, acknowledge the really good things about this country and the blessings we enjoy here?

Mark Galli, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, is one such thinker/communicator. His recent editorial, A Great and Terrible Nation, correctly observes that calling the United States a Christian nation founded on Christian principles is a bald-faced lie at best and probably blasphemous.

“Can we, in any way, shape, or form say that America was founded on Christian principles when its very existence and prosperity were set on a foundation of unimaginable cruelty to millions of other human beings?”

At the same time, Galli calls us to love this country and to pray fervently for the United States.

“Let us continue to love it as we love our flawed families and friends. Let us continue to serve it as God leads us to. Let us continue to reform it as has been the practice of every generation. And, most of all, let us continue to pray for it, that God would continue to have mercy on us and on our children, and on our children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”

The United States was founded the way all worldly nations are founded: violence, rebellion, power, and oppression — nothing Christian about that. Since then, the U.S. has, ironically, become a land of freedom and opportunity for untold millions — it is possible for people to prosper here in ways they just can’t in most other countries. In short, Galli’s piece concludes that the U.S. is just like every nation that’s ever existed on this earth, blessed by God in many ways and in many ways standing under God’s judgment. This seems like the right perspective.

I recommend his editorial, which you can access by clicking here. If you like that, you might also enjoy and be challenged by his editorial in the May 2019 print edition “Repenting of Identity Politics.”

Peace,

Allan

Better Christians

“We don’t need more Christians, we need better Christians.” ~Francis Chan

The world is turned off by “radical Christians.” The world is sick of “Christian fanatics.” People don’t listen to Christians anymore because some of them are “too Christian” and are offending everybody. I can’t become “too Christian” and I don’t want my church to be “too Christian” because we’ll just make people mad.

Yes, we do hear the world complain about “Christian fanatics.” These “radical Christians” get born again and they start hollering, they start screaming against things. They yell and make speeches and forward emails against politicians and parties, same-sex marriage and evolution and abortion, immigration and homelessness. Pick a topic, pick any issue, and Christians can appear to be very judgmental and intolerant and loud. That’s what turns people off.

And when that kind of behavior is done in the name of my Lord, it turns me off, too.

When did those kinds of people and that kind of behavior get labeled “Christian?” Or “radical Christian?” Why do people who act that way get accused of taking their Christianity too seriously?

It’s terrible that the world thinks overbearing and judgmental and narrow and self-righteous is what it means to be Christian. It’s awful. Whose fault is it? How did that happen?

It’s our fault because we are not Christian enough. We don’t take our Christianity seriously enough.

When we’re loud and opinionated and harsh and judgmental, we’re not being radical Christians; we’re really not being very Christian at all. Christians are people who are following Jesus in his ways, imitating Christ, obeying his teachings, and living by his call. Christians should be radically humble. Fanatically sensitive. Over-the-top loving. Extravagantly forgiving. Extremely understanding. Christians should be servants. Just like Jesus.

Some of us can be arrogant and pompous and selfish and actually be a hindrance to the Gospel. We can actually be working against our God as he redeems the world. We say we carry a message of grace, but how will people experience it if we act that way? Sometimes, in the name of Jesus, we’ll just run over people. We can be so narrow-minded and stubborn sometimes that nobody’s right about anything but us.

Our Lord Jesus completely embodied and brought a powerful message of truth that called people to repentance and accountability and change. But he never ran over people.

If we were all really “fanatic” about our Christianity, if we were all truly “radical Christians,” the whole world would fall in love with our God.

What if every one of us made the decision today, right now, that from here on out everything is going to come from and flow through denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus? Every word spoken is a word of grace and encouragement. Every human interaction is drenched in mercy and goodwill. Every action is motivated by sacrifice and service for others. If the world saw all of us walking to the cross, walking with a cross, serving and sacrificing, dying to ourselves and dying for one another, loving unconditionally, forgiving extravagantly, showing mercy and grace to all, speaking only kind words, the whole world would fall down and worship our Lord.

People wouldn’t know what to call us. But they would more clearly see Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Primary Command

Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period.¬† Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.

One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”

Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.

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The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.

People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.

(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)

Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us

According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.

Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.

The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.

We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.

Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.

If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.

This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.

Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.

No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.

Peace,

Allan

Obey the Lord in Front of Your Community

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:8-9

Your commitment to God is a public matter. After all, what does it mean to write, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” on your front door? It’s a constant reminder that your first allegiance is to God. Every time you leave your house and every time you come home, it’s a reminder that your loyalty to the Lord controls all your activities both inside and outside your house. It declares to all your friends who visit you and to all strangers who drive by that the Lord is not just the unseen guest in your house, he is the supreme ruler.

And on the gates. The gates were the community gathering place, where things were bought and sold, where justice was administered, and where reputations were made. Dependence on the Lord was to be declared and practiced in the middle of all that, too.

Love the Lord with your whole person and obey the Lord with your whole life.

I think, as Christians, we are subject to a couple of temptations. We are tempted to treat our relationship with God as primarily a private interior thing or only as an exercise in external performance. It can’t be just one of those things. It must be both. Our love for the Lord and our devotion to him alone is certainly rooted in the heart. But it’s demonstrated in the wholeness of our lives, in a passion to speak about our faith with our families, and to publicly declare our allegiance to the Lord in front of the world. This passage says the very decorations in our homes and the things we wear on our arms and around our necks should testify to our loyalties to God.

Peace,

Allan

Underdog

During Bible times in the Ancient Near East, where and when the Scriptures were penned, the oldest son inherited all the wealth. That was the culture. The practice ensured the family would keep its status and place in society. The second and third sons got very little, if anything at all. The first-born male got everything.

Yet, all through the Bible, when God chooses to work through somebody, he chooses the younger sibling. Abel over Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Jacob over Esau. David over all eleven! God doesn’t choose the oldest, the one the world expects to get the glory. It’s never the one from Jerusalem, always the one from Nazareth.

Back then, women who had lots of kids were considered heroic. Very valuable. Highly prized. A good wife. Lots of children ensured economic success for the family business and military security and success for the village. It also carried on the family name. Women who had no children were shunned. Shamed. Yet, God continuously chooses to work his salvation through barren women, females who were despised by the culture. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elizabeth. God always works through the men and women nobody values.

OK, great. God loves the underdog. So what? It’s like a Disney movie. It’s like ALL Disney movies.

No! The point is that God himself — transcendent, immortal, holy, righteous — became an underdog. God came to earth and became weak and vulnerable and despised. For us. He did it for us.

This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the history of the world. Every other religion says if you want to find God, if you want to improve yourself, if you want to achieve a higher consciousness, if you want to connect with the divine, you have to DO something. You have to gather up your strength, you have to keep the rules, you have to free your mind and then fill it again, you have to strive to be above average. Every human religion says if you want to live the right life and make the world a better place, summon up all your strength and reason and make it happen.

Christianity says just the opposite. Christianity says you CAN’T do any of those things. God came to earth and has done all those things for you. Those things are already done in and by Christ Jesus. Every other religion says they have all the answers to the big questions. Christianity says Jesus himself IS the answer to all the questions!

It’s not: If you’re strong and hard-working enough this religion will save you. Christianity is not just for the strong and smart. It’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It’s for people who admit they’re broken and incapable of fixing themselves.

The genius of Christianity is that it’s not: Hey, here’s what you have to do to find God!” Christianity is: “Hey, God came here in the form of Jesus to find you!” That’s the unique and radical truth of Christianity. That’s what Christianity has contributed to the world. All the world’s ideas about caring for the weak and needy, living for love and service instead of power and success, loving our enemies, sacrificing for others — all of that flows directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

For the Eye-Rollers

“Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” ~John 1:46

Nathanael thinks there’s no way the Messiah comes from Nazareth. The all-time religious headquarters were in Jerusalem, home of the temple, the priests, and the Ark of the Covenant. Rabbis came from the south; that’s where they were born and raised and educated. Rabbis don’t come from the fishing villages in Galilee. And neither does the promised Christ. Nathanael’s rolling his eyes. Whatever.

Some people see Christianity that way. Nathanael rolls his eyes at Jesus. Lots of people today roll their eyes at Christianity. We talk about Jesus — who he is, what he’s done for us, submitting our lives to him — and some people say, “Oh, yeah, Christianity. Been there, done that, got the cross-shaped necklace and the Jesus fish for my car. But that was a long time ago. I grew up in church but I’m not into that anymore. I’ve grown up. I’ve moved past that. I’m too smart for that.”

See, Jesus is still from Nazareth.

But people who dismiss Christianity are cutting themselves off from the very source of a lot of their core beliefs. Their values can probably be traced back to Christianity.

The idea of living in a peaceful civilization, of reaching out in kindness to your enemies instead of killing them, came from Jesus. Nobody thought like that before Christianity.

The concept that every single human being has value and dignity, that every person should be treated with respect — that came from the Bible. It stems from the Christian belief that all men and women, regardless of talent or wealth or race or gender, are made in the holy image of God.

Taking care of the poor is a Christian thing to do. In pre-Christian Europe, all the elites of society thought it was crazy to love your enemies or take care of the poor. They said society would fall apart because that’s not the way the world works. The strong and talented are born to prevail. Winner takes all. The poor are born to suffer. That’s just how things are. Christianity comes along and stresses love for all, including enemies, and taking care of the poor and the orphaned.

You’ll run into some people, though, who say, “I can believe those things and practice those things without Christianity. I don’t have to believe all the Son of God stuff and resurrection stories to hold these values and practice these good works.”

Well, that’s possibly true at one level. Possibly. But it seems really shortsighted.

Why would you accept and embrace some parts of Christianity and take them into the core  of who you are, but reject all the parts that make sense of the parts you like? If you concede that the source of a lot of your strongest convictions is actually Christ Jesus, why would you reject the parts of the story that explain those concepts and make it all coherent?

Don’t be like Nathanael. Don’t let a conviction that Christianity is outdated or intellectually unsophisticated blind you to what it offers. Watch out for pride and prejudice. Be aware of contempt and being dismissive. Those kinds of attitudes are poisonous in all aspects of life, but especially where you’re asking life’s biggest, most important questions.

Everybody’s looking for the answers to life’s biggest questions. And nobody’s overly satisfied with the answers given by the culture or the universities or the world’s philosophies.

Wrestle with Christianity. Consider it again. Look at its claims with fresh sensitivities. And stop rolling your eyes.

Peace,

Allan

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