Category: Christ & Culture (Page 1 of 36)

Common Ground

We Christians belong to a self-described God of reconciliation who has given us, in his words, the ministry of reconciliation. We are charged by the nature of our own salvation to be a people who seek common ground, who build bridges, who foster restoration of relationships. So, where is the common ground for conversation in the Pro Choice v. Pro Life standoff?

There is no conversation happening. Both sides of this contentious issue are dug in and refuse to budge. There are no attempts to understand, there are no efforts to empathize with the other side. There are only degrading insults and lightning-fast judgments. So, where is the common ground?

What if both sides of this fight have something valid and vital to defend? Don’t they?

Pro-Choicers are desperate to defend the rights of women. They are compelled to protect the bodies of women, to protect against the exploitation of women, to protect against women being told by men what they can and cannot do without any say in the matter. They want to secure the equal rights of all women medically, socially, and economically. That’s what is driving their position. And isn’t that something we all believe is a vital and valid cause? Aren’t those things to which we all should be committed?

Pro-Lifers are desperate to uphold the intrinsic equal dignity and protect the life of every single human being, born and unborn. The deep, eternal value of every person, regardless of perceived disability or inconvenience to society, is what compels their position. Speaking for and standing alongside the most vulnerable among us. That is a vital and valid cause. Aren’t those things to which we all should be committed?

Isn’t that the common ground Pro-Lifers share with Pro-Choicers? Isn’t there room in that realm for genuine empathy, maybe even a little identity, with the other side? Both sides want to take care of women and children and their families. Both sides want women in our society to enjoy the same rights and privileges of men. Certainly, children of God and followers of Jesus want these things. Aren’t we charged by our Lord to point this out and act on it?

Peace,

Allan

A Word About Roe v. Wade

It is right to rejoice and to praise God for what the Supreme Court of the United States did on Friday. Abortion is a violent evil and an atrocious abomination that has not just been allowed to run rampant in this country, it has become mainstream;  it has not just been allowed to become widespread, it is now celebrated in our culture. And has been for a long time. What happened on Friday is a good thing. God should be thanked. And Christians should rejoice.

But overthrowing Roe v. Wade does not make abortion illegal in the United States – it makes it more complicated. Abortion is not going away. We Christians in this country are in the minority on this matter and it will be a contentious, volatile, and divisive issue until our Lord returns.

In the meantime, may I humbly offer these three suggestions for Christians.

Let us all behave as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. Christians do not gloat or boast, we do not taunt or mock, we do not insult anybody or any group. Please be careful to display kindness and love and grace. Practice mercy. Emotions are high right now and the world is quick to judge, quick to condemn, quick to hateful speech and violent threats. Let us not be any part of that. Commit now to only Holy Spirit speech and actions in what you post and re-post, what you say, and how you interact with others.

Secondly, let us show empathy and compassion for those who feel primarily affected. Let us make good faith attempts to understand the desperation women and families feel when they are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. For decades now, our culture has strategically conditioned women to feel like abortion is a right and now it’s being removed. They’ve been taught to assume abortion is the only answer and now they’re being denied that only option. They feel like something is being taken away. They do not understand all that they can be given. It never occurs to them all the blessings of support and aid and resources they can receive. Maybe that’s on us Christians and God’s Church. Maybe we’re partly to blame for that. But let’s try to empathize with these young ladies and their families.

And, along with that, let us offer that support and those resources to help women and families facing unplanned pregnancies. Let us make that a priority now. Let us pledge today to figure this out so we can support these women with medical assistance, financial aid, family support, parenting classes, emotional support, diapers and food and supplies, housing, mentorship – whatever they need, whatever it takes to put our money and our energy behind our message that all life matters to our Lord and it matters to us.

May God be praised for every precious life that is saved as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision. May we reflect his glory as we demonstrate humility and love for those who disagree. And may we generously share God’s mercy and grace as we come alongside and support pregnant women and their unborn children.

Peace,

Allan

 

More Than Prayers for Uvalde

Thoughts and prayers are good. But they are not enough. If all we offer are thoughts and prayers in the wake of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of 19 seven-to-eleven-year-old children and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, we are right to be criticized for our hypocrisy and have no one to blame but ourselves for turning people off to Christianity.

We have to offer something more than prayers. If all we do is pray, we’re not really Christians.

When we pray to God, we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body – his representatives, his ambassadors – on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is, “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU are the workers!

I think about the inspiring prayer at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle Paul prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the Christian’s prayer:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must offer more than prayers.

If I pray that young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

Which brings us to yesterday’s mass shooting, the 27th shooting at a school in the United States this year and the deadliest school shooting in our state. A Uvalde High School student bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday and murdered 19 second, third, and fourth graders and two teachers inside their classrooms. It is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless that community with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter and his family. But we’re not praying like Christians if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it seems hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. – it’s “our thing.” According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since they started tracking them four years ago. Think about that. A 40-year-old publication dedicated to education matters decided it needed to start keeping a tally on murdered school children. Only in America! There have been 212 mass shootings in this country this year. There are more than 400 million guns in the U.S., with 98% of them in civilian hands, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens. One-third of all the civilian guns in the whole world are in the United States. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang, “Handguns are made for killing; they ain’t no good for nothing else.” And we’ve got more of them here, by a long shot, than anywhere else in the world.

But Christians are a people of peace, not violence. Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Robb Elementary school yesterday and what keeps happening almost every day in this country?

I don’t mean these next two paragraphs as prescription, only for discussion and reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out last night, more than 90% of Americans favor increased background checks, but 50 senators refuse to bring HB8 to the floor for a vote because “they’re afraid of losing their power.” Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. The NRA convention is in Houston the day after tomorrow. Most of our Texas state-wide office holders will be there and a lot of them are featured speakers.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. Maybe you take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your truck. Maybe you stop posting and re-posting violent and divisive messages and memes on your social media. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Prayers are good. Of course. Always. But Christians must offer more than prayers.

Peace,

Allan

The Crown Says It All

Jesus willingly rode into Jerusalem to be crowned with this crown. This crown of suffering and pain and anguish and shame is an undeniable statement about the kingship of Jesus. This crown represents a completely different way to experience the world, a totally different way to view success, a whole different way to understand the realities of history. This crown says it all.

Jesus does not enter Jerusalem on a gleaming white charger or a jet-black war horse; he’s riding a common, lowly beast of burden. He’s not carrying a bunch of war trophies, there’s not a train of prisoners or captives behind him. In fact, by the end of the week, Jesus will be the One led down the streets and dragged outside the city gates to be executed.

Jesus does not share the people’s hopes and dreams for earthly glory and power. He’s not establishing a Kingdom to rival the Roman Empire. He’s come to suffer. And sacrifice. He comes to die. He comes as a King to be crowned. With this crown.

The King who wears this crown loves his enemies. His righteousness far surpasses that of the Pharisees. He was rich and he became poor for the sake of the world. As he’s dying on the cross, suffering and suffocating on that tree, he shows us what love looks like when he stares the evil of this broken world right in the face and says, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

This crown is not a hurdle or a barrier or a detour on the way to the Kingdom of God. It’s not something we have to overcome or power through to enter the Kingdom. This crown is not the way to the Kingdom at all.

This crown IS the Kingdom of God. This crown is the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. This crown says it all. And the One who wears this crown is our almighty and eternal and all-sufficient and only King.

Peace,

Allan

Only Ourselves to Blame

We first suspected it in the early ’90s. We began to see corroborating research in the 2000s. Now the growing evidence is becoming undeniable. In the United States, people are leaving the Church and rejecting Christianity, in large part, because of our unseemly connections to national politics.

Some researchers call it “political backlash” and others refer to it as the “politicization of religion.” But the American Church is increasingly viewed by the general population as being in bed with right wing national politics and it repulses them. They see Christians holding their voting records with the same reverence as their loyalty to Christ. They see us stumping for our favorite politicians with more conviction and enthusiasm than when we’re witnessing for Jesus. They see the Church working harder to elect the “right” candidate than it does to protect immigrants or defeat racism. They see us caring more about state and national politics than we do about the Kingdom of God, even when the national politics are in conflict with obvious Kingdom of God values. So, to avoid the risk of being identified with a certain brand of American politics, to keep from being lumped in with the ways and means and goals of those politics, lots of women and men are opting to stay away from the Church.

We have only ourselves to blame.

Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Liberty Commission, told a writer’s conference last summer, “If people reject the Church because they reject Jesus and the Gospel, we should be saddened but not surprised. But what happens when people reject the Church because they think we reject Jesus and the Gospel? That’s a far different problem. What if people don’t leave the Church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the Church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis.”

The research is backing that up.

The American Sociological Review published findings twenty years ago that concluded distaste with the Church’s involvement with national politics is prompting people to reject church. Michele Margolis, a political science professor at Penn, writes that Americans are “falling away from religion because they see it as so wrapped up with Republican politics.” Research by David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, claims that “something as simple as reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church could prompt some Democrats to say they are non-religious.” Barna Research shows that as Christians display an increased fervor for national politics, the public is increasingly viewing the Church as “narrow-minded,” “homophobic,” “misogynistic,” and “racist.” Studies show that young people especially are rejecting the Church because it looks like an extension of the Republican Party.

Robert Jeffress, the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, the nation’s largest Baptist congregation, publicly calls all Democrats “godless.” There’s a house two blocks from mine here in Midland proudly flying a large flag containing a profane slogan directed against the current president of the U.S. over a large wooden cross in the yard and in front of another Christian cross on the house’s front wall.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. And it cuts both ways. We hear it from both sides.

“All Christians have to vote Republican because of the gay marriage position of the Democrats.”
“No, all Christians have to vote Democrat because of the military and war policies of the Republicans.”
“No, the Church supports Republicans because of the abortion issue.”
“Wrong, the Church supports Democrats because of the immigration issue.”

It’s easy to understand why someone seeking the Kingdom of God that transcends the kingdoms of the world would be turned off by that kind of talk. It’s no wonder people looking for something better and higher and eternal would be disgusted with that attitude. Using national political goals and means or a party’s platform as an end-all-be-all referendum on the lordship of Jesus is what’s weakening God’s Church. We’re viewing Jesus and interpreting Scripture through our party and politicians instead of vetting our politicians and evaluating our parties through Jesus and Scripture. Jesus did not come so we could create better versions of the kingdoms of this world; he came so we could belong to and participate in an entirely new and eternal Kingdom of God. It’s not that one party is good and the other is bad; it’s not that one party is righteous and the other is evil; it’s certainly not that one party is Christian and the other is “godless.” It’s that both parties belong to one fallen, broken, sinful, corrupt, worldly system. And it’s not going to save you and it’s not going to save the United States.

Jesus Christ is never going to be president of the United States. One, he’s not running. Two, you wouldn’t vote for him if he did. Think about Jesus’ platform: “Sell all you have and give it to the poor. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies.” If Jesus had a bumper sticker on the back of his donkey, it would say, “Be Last!” or “Vote for Me and Die!” I’m not sure we always recognize that. Ironically, most everyone else does.

When we communicate to the public that we Christians are putting our faith and trust in these parties and politicians to save us, they know we’re on the wrong track better than we do. When we chase after political power and influence, when we sanctify a politician or a party in order to gain worldly control, most people see right through it.

Jesus came to be crowned King, not with priceless jewels but with painful thorns. He didn’t come to sit on a throne, but to hang from a cross. Jesus doesn’t come with t-shirts and stickers and multi-million dollar campaigns. He doesn’t save the world with armies and missiles and markets and policies or power or force or threat. He saves the world through sacrificial love. And suffering. Service. And grace. Jesus rules with a towel, not a sword, He saves with mercy. Forgiveness. Peace.

Our discipleship should be defined by those things. Our identity should be found in those things. Our churches should be characterized by those things. When it is, people will break down our doors to get closer to God. When it’s not? Well, we have only ourselves to  blame.

Peace,

Allan

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