Category: Christ & Culture (Page 1 of 40)

A Very Insignificant City

I can think of no better way to observe this Fourth of July national holiday in the U.S. in this space than in directing you to an excellent piece written by my brilliant brother Keith on their Center for Christian Studies website. He penned it a couple of days ago; I have saved it for today.

The third-century Church Father Origen wrote that Christians are a tremendous blessing to the cities, states, and nations to which they belong. In fact, they do more good for their countries than any other group of people because of the way they live their lives for Christ Jesus. Keith takes those lines, and another couple from Augustine, to give us a compelling argument that the best way to be a patriotic American–or Canadian or Mexican or Russian or Brit–is to be faithful to our Lord Jesus first.

Here are the lines from Origen, straight from Keith’s opening paragraph:

“Indeed, the more pious a man is, the more effective he is in helping the emperors—more so than the soldiers who go out into the lines and kill all the enemy troops that they can” (Contra Celsum VIII.73). It is Christians, Origen says, who “educate the citizens and teach them to be devoted to God, the guardian of their city; and they take those who have lived good lives in the most insignificant cities up to a divine and heavenly city. To them it could be said: You were faithful in a very insignificant city; come also to the great city where ‘God stands in the congregation of the gods and he judges between gods in the midst’ [Ps. 82:1]” (Contra Celsum VIII.74, emphasis mine).

Keith walks us through some biblical passages and reminds us that the idea of dual citizenship for Christians only developed in later centuries, after it became apparent that Jesus’ idea of “soon” is different from ours. However, he writes, “Christians have always understood that allegiance to the heavenly city is primary, and all other allegiances are relativized, insignificant in comparison.”

It’s a short piece–you can read it for yourself in like four minutes. But, like everything Keith writes, each sentence is packed. Deep. Provocative. And helpful for better articulating what we already know. Or should know. I recommend you read the article two or three times and reflect carefully on each paragraph.

I’ll give you one more paragraph here to tease it:

“As for the United States, the two cities should never have been confused in the first place.  But for those who may have failed to maintain this important distinction in the past—when much of American culture was shaped by or at least paid lip service to Christianity—a valuable service has been rendered by our presidential candidates and national politicians over the last few years.  The line between the two cities has never been plainer, as the insignificance of this earthly city is clearly reflected by the intellectual and moral insignificance of its would-be leaders.

Keith and I quibble a bit on the details of how Christians should or should not be involved in the worldly ways and means of the very insignificant city, the politics. But we will always agree on one of his final lines in this article: “The best way to involve ourselves, as Origen reminds us, is to be Christ in our neighborhood.

Here it is. Click on it. Read it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.




I love the way Josh Ross begins his final chapter in Coreology, by reminding us of the teachings of our Lord Jesus and asking if we truly believe that he means what he says.

The first will be last and the last will be first. Did Jesus really mean that or was he exaggerating to make us think about our relationships with God?

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. Was Jesus really rejecting James’ and John’s request for seats of honor and giving them a vision of service instead?

Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me. Was Jesus being literal, or was he just making a point?

I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life. Is that devotion to serving others for Jesus alone or is that the eternal model for you and me?

Josh holds up service as his sixth spiritual practice that will keep us from losing our Christian witness during this national election season.

#6 – I will choose to regularly serve others.

The 4th century Jewish historian Eusebius chronicled life and death in Caesarea during a terrible plague. Most people got out of Dodge. Eusebius tells us the Christians all stayed in town to serve:

“All day long some of them [Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”

You don’t do these kinds of things unless you have sworn your allegiance to a different King and Kingdom.

Roman Emperor Julian, just a few decades later, urged the Empire’s pagan priests to imitate the charity and service modeled by Christians. Seriously. A pagan emperor was urging his pagan priests to behave more like Christians because of the good they brought to the world:

“The Christians support not only their poor, but ours as well. All people see that our people lack aid from us.”

The Kingdom of God and discipleship to Jesus spread all over the world because our Christian ancestors captured the attention of their pagan neighbors through their character, morality, friendship, and sacrificial service to others.

Josh writes, “If Paul were alive today, we’d be getting a letter.” The apostle’s letter would remind us that Jesus didn’t die and rise again for people to submit to a national party, a partisan leader, or a worldly agenda, but to the Kingdom that is above all kingdoms and to the King who is above all kings. And to his politics of service and love.

Imagine, Josh continues, if service became a regular part of our lives. Don’t you know it would help us to envision a world that is bigger than our own little story? Lives of service have always been one of the most noticeable ways to show that our hearts have been given over to Jesus. By lives of service, I mean the intentional things we do: holding doors, moving the neighbor’s trash can, paying for a stranger’s meal, and returning shopping carts at the grocery store. But it’s also volunteering with non-profits, feeding the hungry, and tutoring kids at the local elementary school. Service reminds us that we are part of a bigger story than ourselves.

Service is an overflow of God’s love for us. We don’t serve in order for God to love us, but because he loves us and gave himself so freely for us.

Service is at the core of the heart and mission of our Lord Jesus and so it must be a major and consistent part of our lives, too.

Josh concludes his book by asking us to imagine an election season in which disciples of Jesus have demonstrably renounced the ways of the world and are truly following Christ. I’m going to finish this series of posts by giving you the last lines of Coreology here:

Imagine if followers of Jesus diligently decided to take seriously our confession that Jesus is the Lord of our lives and nothing else is. How could we not live with greater loyalty and passion?

Imagine if Jesus-followers were to create and honor spiritual practices that keep us rooted in God. Can’t you envision how we could live in greater peace and meaning?

Imagine if we refuse to allow media outlets to have a loud voice in our lives. Don’t you know fear and anger would have a difficult time growing in us?

Imagine if we accept the challenge to be peacemakers. Are you able to see the role we could play in bringing God’s healing to this world?

Imagine if hospitality were to replace the internet as the primary place for conversations about what is happening in the world. Do you see how it can bring us together?

Imagine if service becomes a regular part of our lives. Can’t you see how hard it is for hatred to grow where love thrives?

Let’s be intentional, especially in election seasons, to live in a way that we will like who we are when the elections are over. Care about the world. Be educated about issues and policies. Vote if you feel the need to. But do not give your heart to any other leader or kingdom.

Your spiritual core will not be strengthened by accident. Grow in God. Grow with God. Grow for God.

Guard your heart. Protect your joy. Don’t lose your Kingdom witness. You can do this. We can do this. God can do this in us.











While you might have been following the U.S. Olympic trials, Carrie-Anne and I were following our very own Evie Granado as she dominated again at the Team USA Gymnastics Championships. Evie, whom I’ve nicknamed “Three Events, Three Gold Medals,” won the Youth Elite 11-12-year-old trampoline championships at the trials in Minneapolis. She’s too young to go to Paris this time around, but she’s in the same gym as the ones who are, and completely blowing away those her own age and a little bit older. Man, you should see these videos of Evie flying and twisting around the rafters of that convention center!

Evie and her parents were part of our wonderful small group at the Central Church in Amarillo and we miss them dearly. But it’s so much fun to keep rooting her on from long distance. At the Olympic Trials this weekend, Evie won the national championship in trampoline, took second place in double-mini trampoline, and finished first in overall points–good enough to earn a top spot on the Junior National Team. Evie competes in the Portugal Cup this fall and, I’m assuming, will keep winning and winning and winning until she makes the USA Olympics Gymnastics team for the 2028 summer games in L.A.


Dr. Keith Stanglin (some relation) was in Midland this past weekend, putting on a church leadership seminar at the Downtown Church of Christ. Keith is the executive director of Center for Christian Studies in Austin and the preacher at University Avenue Church of Christ right there in front of the U.T. campus. He came in Thursday evening, his colleague Todd Hall and his wife Cara joined him Friday morning, and we had an absolute blast just hanging out with them all weekend. The seminar, “Leading Through Cultural Change,” was excellent. The ping-pong was exhilarating. We laughed a ton. And my claim when it comes to my brother and me is still true: I got the looks, he got the brains.



I’ve been posting very slowly in this space my thoughts on Josh Ross’ new book Coreology: Six Principles for Navigating an Election Season without Losing Our Witness. Today, I want to share with you this fifth core principle that helps us keep the Gospel story straight and the roles we play as followers of Christ during a heated national political season.

#5 – I will practice hospitality as a way to learn, grow, and invest in other people.

Near the end of his book here, Josh reminds us that the local church should be the place where people can talk about anything. “There should be no issue or topic,” he says, “that the church can’t provide space for as we attempt to navigate faith and culture. We would like to think,” he continues, “that the waters of baptism and the bread and cup hold the power to keep us united through it all.”

Josh asserts that disciples of Jesus should be Gospel-driven, and not issue-driven. This is why it is essential, he writes, that we develop principles in our lives that keep us rooted in the heart and mission of Jesus. And this fifth one, hospitality, is a big one.

In the Greek language of the New Testament, hospitality is philoxenias. Philos means “love” and xenos means “stranger.” So, to be hospitable is to be a friend to a stranger, or maybe even to make a friend out of stranger.

You already know my table theology. I believe that our God intends for meals around a table to be the way we both experience and express the Good News of his salvation. You know that more than 70% of Jesus’ parables are about food. In the Gospels, especially in Luke, Jesus is either talking about a meal, on his way to a meal, eating a meal, or just leaving a meal. And followers of Christ should be intentional about these meals in our contexts today. As Hirsch and Ford say in their book Right Here, Right Now:

“If every Christian family in the world simply offered good conversational hospitality around a table once a week to neighbors, we could all eat our way into the Kingdom of God.”

Nowadays, opening our homes and/or spreading a table in an act of Gospel hospitality is difficult even with our friends. But what about the strangers? What about for our neighbors or other people we don’t know very well? Josh claims that our culture has messed up the way we think about strangers. Instead of seeing people as a gift to the world, we see people as a threat. So, your circle of who you count as friends is going to shrink. And that means those people outside of your bounds get less empathy and fewer resources.”

To help support his point, Josh quotes from “Reaching Out” by the great Henri Nouwen:

“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at the surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm. But still–that is our vocation: to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.”

When we lower our defenses, when we remove our facades and peepholes, when we begin to be truly present with one another, then the healing power of the Gospel can begin its work. Take the risk, expand your table. You have more to offer the world than you think. You have more to receive from the world than you think. What do you have to lose? As a Christian, a citizen of a different Kingdom, choose the table over the comments section. You may not leave the table of hospitality in total agreement on every issue, but you can leave knowing you have more in common than you at first thought. You have more space for empathy, compassion, and service than you had when you were still hungry.




My friend Josh Ross, the preacher at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, has written a book designed to help Christians navigate another messy election season without losing our Christian witness or our Kingdom credibility in an unbelieving world. When Christians wholeheartedly adopt the ways and means of our national political parties and politicians–insults, division, threat, fear, anger, etc,. — we forfeit our legitimacy in proclaiming the love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and unity of Jesus. Josh’s book, Coreology, outlines six core principles for keeping us straight, for keeping our eyes on Jesus and focused on his mission.

We’ve already looked at three of these principles. Today, let’s consider the next one.

#4 – I will strive to become a peacemaker.

Josh begins this chapter with our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, blessing the peacemakers for “they will be called children of God.” He doesn’t bless those who have peace or those who talk about peace or those who wish they had peace; he lifts up those who make peace. Why? Because making peace is a very God-like thing to do. When you make peace, you’re acting like God, like one of his children.

In a world that operates on division and war, on aggression and violence, it’s hard for almost anybody to take peace seriously. I can’t think of a country or a political party that touts peacemaking as an essential component of national security, economic stability, or foreign policy. It’s not the tagline for anybody’s political ad. After all, one of the easiest and most effective ways to unite people is to create a common enemy. But peacemaking should be at the heart of what motivates God’s children as we engage the people and systems of this world. If we rally to defeat our opponents, to “own” them instead of make peace with them, we’re unable to witness for Christ. Philip Kenneson says:

“We find ourselves offering not an alternate vision of how God would have us live together that is rooted in his peace and wholeness, but merely a legislative agenda we would like to see advanced that would make us feel more at home in society.”

Josh says when all you care about is wins and losses, all you are left with are casualties. Josh quotes Ed Stetzer here:

“You can’t hate people and engage them with the Gospel at the same time. You can’t war with people and show the love of Jesus. You can’t be both outraged and on mission.”

If God has established peace by reconciling us to himself through the cross of Jesus, then we must do all we can to embody that eternal reality right now today. Christians lay down our weapons for tools of planting and harvesting. Christians build bridges, not walls. Christians see the image of our God in every man, woman, and child on this planet. Christians accept all who will come to the table of Christ. Children of God are peacemakers. Those are Jesus politics.




Ancient baptismal formulas required the candidate for baptism to verbally renounce the ways of the world and embrace the ways of Christ right before he or she went under the water. In order to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, one needs to say ‘no’ to other things. There are some things that cannot go with you into your new life. You must leave them behind. You must renounce them.

This is how Josh Ross sets up his third core principle for navigating an election season without losing our witness. The book is Coreology.

#3 – I will resist allowing any media outlet to become the primary way I think about culture and the world.

Josh warns Christians against allowing cable news and social media to be our only source of information about what’s happening in the world and certainly against watching it and/or listening to it multiple hours every day. He calls for resistance and restraint because our phones and our streaming news channels are intentionally dividing us and forming us into individualistic humans.

Mainly, they succeed by shaping us to think and react in binary ways. According to social media and most cable news, you are either a Republican or a Democrat, you are either a liberal or a conservative. There are only two possibilities, only two boxes. This is how our culture operates now. You know it. You feel it. On every topic that comes down the pike, you have to immediately make clear decisions and take firm positions and then dig in. And if you’re not in my box, there’s only one other box for you to be in. You’re the opponent. You’re the enemy. When Christians are thinking that way–when churches are thinking and behaving that way–we are less likely to love others, less inclined to serve others, less able to evangelize.

In this chapter of his book, Josh gives us three reasons to resist the transformative power of digital media.

One, these outlets mainly rely on fear as a weapon to motivate.

“Fear is profitable. Fear is fuel. Fear motivates. Fear gets people to buy security. Fear unites people around a cause. Fear creates common enemies. Fear isolates. Fear creates unnecessary forms of anxiety. Fear strangles joy. Fear does not bring about hope in God or hope for the world. Fear does not bring about a deeper love for God, for God’s mission, or for God’s world.”

Fear-based messaging has been proven to be almost twice as effective as any other type of messaging. As children of God and followers of Christ Jesus, we must guard against being motivated by fear, which is the opposite of faith.

Secondly, Josh claims that the truth in our culture and in our world is really hard to find. And we are increasingly more susceptible to believing fake news because of the urgent and hurried nature of our constantly streaming digital media. According to MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has conducted research that shows, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time. But when people resist making snap judgments, they are harder to fool. You just have to stop and think. The real problem is that the platforms today demand high speed decisions. So we don’t pause to think. We’ll repost and share and forward information without even clicking on the link.

Thirdly, projection impacts engagement. When we project upon people a certain stereotype or ideology, we hinder our willingness and desire to meet people where they are. When you see a car with a Trump or Biden sticker on the back, what do you think? What’s going through your head? And your heart? If you pull into the same restaurant, are you likely to speak to that person? Or have you already made up your mind about them?

“For Jesus-followers, our beginning place must be that all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of redemption and community. No matter what bumper stickers or t-shirts they display, all people are redeemable. They are not our enemies. Therefore, we approach them as image-bearers of God, not as enemies of the cross. We don’t allow other humans or human news sources to generate the narratives for us. Jesus Christ is our narrative.”

Say ‘no’ to the other voices so we can always say ‘yes’ to our Lord Jesus. And to all the people he loves.




Here is the second core principle from Josh Ross’s  book Coreology: Six Principles for Navigating an Election Season without Losing Our Witness.

#2 – I will create and honor regular spiritual practices that remind me of my devotion to Jesus

As preachers, pastors, and church leaders, a common observation is that increasingly more Christians are only spending time with God in Word and prayer when they’re at the church building a couple of times a month. Instead of a vital component to a vigorous life in Christ, daily devotions seem to be a thing of the quaint past. Regular, daily Christian practices or spiritual disciplines are engaged by fewer and fewer of us. At the same time, all of us are spending more and more hours every day in front of our screens–news, movies, sports, streaming, work emails, family Facebook, binging, whatever. We are being formed less and less by intentionally dwelling in the teachings and the presence of our Lord and more and more by algorithm-inspired propaganda, news, and on-demand entertainment.

To set up his second principle, Josh points to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 to seek his Kingdom first. In order to guard our hearts from getting lost in the culture wars or the election seasons, we must create and honor these regular times with God in Word and prayer. It must be intentional and it must be more than a quick checklist endeavor:

“You can’t give God a three-minute devotional time in the morning, yet soak in cable news and podcasts for hours a day and think you can live a life devoted to Christ… Devotion to Jesus takes practices that keep us rooted, grounded, and growing. Without such practices, we will drift from our center. We will fail to strengthen our core.”

A lot of the fear, worry, and anger that people experience in the world today is induced by cable news and social media. The more time a person spends with that, the more likely that person is to equate the ways and means of the culture with the ends and goals of God’s Kingdom. Especially when that person is not spending at least as much time with God in Word and prayer, to keep the story straight, to keep the Kingdom goals and the Jesus ways straight. It begins to seem like the only way to accomplish change in the world–in my world–is to holler and yell and insult and threaten. Well, now you’re working in decidedly un-Christian ways toward highly questionable goals. And you start to believe that the Kingdom of God is something for later, after you die, instead of for living and bringing to God’s world right now today.

“In his world, ‘Kingdom’ language was political. Jesus’ hearers knew about other kingdoms–the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Rome. The Kingdom of God had to be something different from those kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is for the earth. The Lord’s Prayer speaks of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, even as it already exists in heaven. It is about the transformation of this world–what life would be on earth if God were ruler and the lords of the domination systems were not.” ~Marcus Borg, Jesus and Politics, 2019

I love this paragraph as Josh concludes this chapter on devotion:

“Jesus intends for his followers to live by a different set of rules than any earthly kingdom sets in place. Our King is in place. His Kingdom has been set in motion. Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we have citizenship in this Kingdom. We have values, principles, and commands. We have a mission to build bridges in order to invite others, instead of building walls to keep others out. This is what the church–Jesus’ church–has been tasked to pray for and live into.”

Renouncing the kingdoms and the ways of the world and embracing Christ’s Kingdom and the ways of Jesus requires spiritual discipline. Especially now, we should all be doubling down on our spiritual practices. Pick one day a week and read one of the Gospels out loud all the way through so you can read all four every month. That will get you into the Word and get the Word into you. Pray several times during the day. Practice personal examination at lunch, at the end of your work day, and as you get ready for bed: how have I behaved in the past four to five hours? Did I think and talk and act like Jesus? Do I need to apologize to anybody? Volunteer at a non-profit in a different part of town. There are lots of ways to stay locked in to your commitments to Jesus and his Kingdom. But they don’t happen by default. It’s got to be intentional.



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