Category: Christ & Culture (page 2 of 31)

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

The Urgent Need

People respond to the urgency of the need. If the need is severe and urgent — it’s bad right now! something’s got to happen right now! — then we’ll drop everything to get involved.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, we immediately mobilized to help from way up here in Amarillo. We bought hundreds of Home Depot buckets and filled them with cleaning supplies. We rented trucks and filled them with food and bottled water. Men and women volunteered to drive those trucks ten-hours one-way to deliver the help. People drove their boats in from Georgia and Kansas to help save stranded flood victims.

The morning after that horrific mass-shooting in Las Vegas last year, thousands of people lined up for half-a-mile to donate blood. When we see the need as urgent, we always respond.

In case you need reminding: the need for people to hear the Good News today is urgent.

We live in a lost and dying world. It’s broken. This past week two people in this country were shot and killed because of their skin color, fourteen people were targeted with bombs because of their political beliefs, and eleven people were murdered for their religious practices. People are broken and desperate. The systems are broken and failing. People need the salvation of God in Christ, they need to hear the Good News!

And we don’t always know what to do. We can’t fix everything. We can’t solve everything. We might even lose everything trying. But the Church always tries. The Church is on a mission. We stand and walk alongside the crushed and the oppressed. We stand with our Lord Jesus Christ and we love the broken and we proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God!

Say something to somebody today. Remind them that God is on his throne and that Jesus came to live and die and be raised again so all this can be fixed. God is solving all this. And he’s doing it with love and forgiveness, with grace and mercy, with kindness. It’s happening. It’s Good News. And the need for us to proclaim it is urgent.

Peace,

Allan

Death to Force and Fear!

The apostolic letter to the churches in Galatia begins with a reminder that “the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” The letter ends by telling us what that’s all about, where this whole thing is headed: “What counts is a new creation!”

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has put to death the structures, values, and ways of this world and inaugurated the new, glorious, and eternal creation. We are no longer bound to the ways and means and goals of this fallen world; we are set free by Christ to live in the glory of God’s new creation. So why do we insist on grabbing the old and fading and refuse to embrace the new and everlasting? Why do we invest so much of our identity and energy into a world that’s been given a death sentence?

I am increasingly distressed at the way American Christians flock to this country’s current President and giddily embrace his politics of force and fear. This sell-out of our Christian principles was never more glaringly on display than when Mr. Trump hosted one hundred “evangelical” church leaders Monday for a dinner meeting at the White House.

The President gathered these church pastors and Christian authors to gin up support for his agenda and for all Republicans in the November mid-term elections. He used both force and fear to rally these Christian leaders. And they ate it up.

According to everything I’ve seen and read about that meeting (please see these stories from the Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Jennifer Rubin, and CNN), Trump claimed that he has given so much to Christianity, he has protected Christianity, he has even helped revive Christianity, and if the Democrats prevail in the November elections, Christianity will be devastated as a religion in this country.

Trump told these Christian pastors the mid-term elections are “a referendum on your religion” adding, “You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”

He used force. He appealed to strength. He promised increased advantages if these pastors and preachers would only use their power for his cause. “You have tremendous power,” he said. “You have people who preach to almost 200-million people. I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote. Because if they don’t — it’s November 6 — if they don’t vote we’re going to have a miserable two years and we’re going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”

He told these Christians that he was delivering their power to speak: “You’re not silenced anymore.” He declared Christianity to be plateaued (I can’t argue with him there) and that hitching the Church’s wagon to his agenda would cause the Church’s stock to rise (I would suggest it’s getting in bed with this country’s politics that is damaging Christianity).

The President also used fear at this Monday meeting with preachers and pastors. If Democrats are successful in November, “they will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently — -violently. There’s violence.”

“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable,” Trump said. “Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you. You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve gotten. Little thing: Merry Christmas, right? You couldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas.'”

Force is how the world operates. The world gets things done by using force. But our Lord brings death to the use of force. His death and resurrection dooms force as a method to accomplish anything. Jesus shows us the way to really get things done, the way to really save the world, is by sacrifice and service, it’s in submission and obedience. And love.

Fear is how the world operates. This is how the world gets its way, by spreading fear and making people afraid. The world makes decisions out of fear. The way of the world is to react out of fear; to be motivated by fear to do the wrong thing and to be paralyzed by fear in the face of doing the right thing. But our Lord brings death to fear. His death and resurrection obliterates all fear as any kind of factor for anything. Jesus shows us the way to face life and death and everything in between is with faith, not fear. The way to overcome is with trust that God is in charge, that God is working all things together for your good and the good of the world, trust that God will vindicate the way you live and die.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” ~Galatians 6:14

The new creation, the new life we live in Christ, happened at the cross and Paul’s banking on it. He’s all in. For Paul, the world no longer has any power, authority, or control over him. The world’s standards and rewards mean nothing. The world does not determine Paul’s status or place. It’s all dead to Paul in exchange for this new life in Christ. Jesus says we are not of this world, just as he is not of this world.

So why do Christians fall all over themselves for Trump?

In that dinner meeting Monday, these one-hundred pastors embarrassed all of us by fawning over this worldly leader. According to the tapes and the reports, one of them said to Mr. Trump, “We love you and we believe in you. You are doing amazing, amazing things.” Another added, “Now we have a warrior at the helm who is willing to stand up and fight. Amen. Sir, I commend you for your courage. It is an amazing thing. So, team — let’s fight and we’ll win. God bless you.”

Fight? To win what?

We’ve lost our way. We’ve lost who we are in Christ and where we live in God’s new creation.

This world that rewards you for putting yourself first, this world that promotes and glamorizes violence and greed, this world that divides people and motivates by fear and accomplishes its goals by force — this world is destined to die. It’s not going to last. It’s dying. Stop chasing it. Stop identifying with it. Stop defending its ends and using its ways.

Our crucified and risen Lord, our reigning and coming King, is the only one who will save us. He is our only hope. His ways are love and humility. His methods are sacrifice and service. His goals are mercy and grace and forgiveness and peace. His reign will ultimately prevail. His rule will eventually win the day.

America’s mid-term elections are not a referendum on Christianity. Give me a break.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Too Complicated to Share

This week we’ve been looking at the things we need to stop believing. There are things in our heads and our hearts that we believe to be true that really aren’t. These false ideas we believe contribute to a church culture in which we don’t talk about Jesus with others the way we used to, the way we’re called by God in Christ to. The things we hear and the things we pass on that aren’t true — we start to believe those things the more we hear them. And it has the potential to shut us down.

The last thing we’ll consider is the idea that The Gospel is Too Complicated to Share.

The Good News of salvation from God in Christ is not hard. It’s simple. But for several generations now, especially in Churches of Christ, I think, we’ve put too much emphasis on knowing all the details of our rules and regulations and on being able to explain and proof-text all our inconsistencies and loopholes that we’ve made sharing the Good News kinda scary. We’ve turned into a people who’d rather not say anything to our friends about Jesus than risk saying something and not be able to answer a tricky question. For a variety of reasons, we’ve come to believe it’s a sin to say to somebody, “I don’t know.”

The Good News is not complicated. It’s the very simple and beautiful truth that God’s eternal salvation through his crucified and risen Son is a gift. It’s a loving gift. And his loving grace continually washes us and covers the stuff we don’t know.

If we believe what the culture tells us about church, if we believe only what we see with our eyes and what we read and hear from others, then, yeah, we can start believing that we’re just hanging on to a dying brand and that our message has no power and the world has passed us by. Who wants to have me try to push that on anybody? See, if we believe these things, we’ll stop talking.

You know, it looked bad when the world crucified Jesus. But God used that to save humanity. It felt bad when the world executed Stephen and scattered the Church. But God used that to expand the borders of his eternal Kingdom. Today, we know our God is using the circumstances in our culture and the conditions in our world — right now! — to do more through his Church than we could ever possibly dare to ask or imagine.

The question is: What do you believe?

Living in the middle of this world that resists Jesus and his Church, living in a society that rejects salvation from God in Christ, we need to believe the Good News. We have to believe that God lives in us and his Son is our Lord. The government does not have control over how we live our lives. Technology does not define our existence. Postmodernism doesn’t determine how we think. News and entertainment does not account for who we are. We must break the faithless habit of letting the journalists tell us what’s really real — we should at least give the Scriptures equal time!

Just like Moses in the Midian desert, just like Isaiah in the Temple, just like John on the Island of Patmos, in chains, guarded by Roman soldiers, watching the trade ships of the Empire sail by, hearing the reports of increased persecution, we, too, have been given a vision and a task. We’ve been given a picture of the way things really are: God on his throne, Christ Jesus by his side, and the Holy Spirit inside his people, filling us with courage and working in us and through us so his eternal will is done on earth just as it is in heaven.

May we believe the Good News.
May our words be fueled by the Spirit and filled with boldness.
And may our risen and coming Lord Jesus receive all the glory forever.

Peace,
Allan

Everybody’s a Christian

Another of the things we must stop believing if we are to become more faithful proclaimers of the Good News in our communities is this feeling that Everybody We Know is Already a Christian. We think that everybody we meet in our town — this is especially difficult for us in the Bible Belt South and Southwest — is a Christian. We must stop believing that everybody in our city goes to church. Because they don’t. And we also need to stop believing that people who don’t follow Christ  have all heard the Good News about Jesus and thought it through and made the decision to reject it. That’ s not true, either.

Census research in Randall and Potter Counties here in our Texas panhandle and surveys done recently by our local newspaper reveal that almost 50% of the people in Amarillo do not have a church home. One out of every two people we run into at work or at the store doesn’t go to church.

And there’s an increasing number of people who don’t know very much at all about Jesus. Over the last couple of decades, kids in this country are being raised differently than the ways most of us were raised. And there are lots of men and women in their 20s and 30s who have never heard the Good News. That’s difficult for us to believe — they’ve never heard it! We’ve got to stop believing everybody already has. It shuts down our desire to witness. It tempers the urgency to share the Gospel.

Our culture today is a lot more like the first century of Acts than it is the United States of the 1940s and 1950s. We can learn a lot by reading and re-reading Acts.

In the face of serious opposition, when the culture opposed them, when society ridiculed them, when the government threatened them, the Church did not pray for wisdom or protection or favor with the authorities. They don’t ask God to change any of the circumstances. They pray for two things. They ask for strength to obey, to have the nerve and guts and faith to continue to speak boldly about the Christ. And they ask for God to act in his mighty power, to do what he needs to do to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” ~Acts 4:29

The prayer is not about numbers or relevancy or new laws or positive press. The concern of the Church is for the Word to go forth and for Christ Jesus to be glorified. To speak more boldly about the Good News in a culture that isn’t Christian and to praise God when he does amazing things.

Peace,

Allan

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