Category: Christ & Culture (Page 1 of 34)

Mostly Untried

There’s a great line by Christian author Philip Yancey: “American Christians have become the kind of men and women people appreciate as neighbors but don’t want to spend much time with.” By great, I mean the line is penetrating and painful. Ouch.

I’m afraid to ask what people think when they hear the word “Christian.” Whatever they might think, we have only ourselves to blame.

At the Christian college, there’s a crusty theologian with a long face and a loud voice lecturing on the imperatives of the faith. At the Christian newsletter, there’s a prideful group of guys writing papers to counter other papers that were written twenty years ago which were written to oppose papers that were written a hundred years ago. On Christian TV, there’s a mess of evangelists with every dyed hair perfectly in place naming the current Antichrist and pointing our their own healthy and wealthy lives as the way to salvation. All over the internet and social media – God help us! – there’s the religious right talking about their issues, their great morality. and their hardline stances on what’s absolutely right and absolutely wrong with the world.

We’re so eager to point out how good we all are, I fear we’re neglecting the very basic fact that the Gospel is a spectacularly good things that is happening to spectacularly bad people.

G. K. Chesterton famously wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.”

We are failing the Good News of Jesus Christ when we run around acting like we’ve got everything figured out, like we’ve got all the answers, like there’s no more mystery, no need for divine grace. We distort the Gospel and do violence to the Scriptures when we proclaim that God sent his Son to establish my vision of my church or my version of the United States as a beacon of Truth to the rest of the world.

As children of God and disciples of his Christ, if we have any answers at all to what’s wrong in this world, it has nothing to do with our morals, our laws, or our political positions. The solution to what’s wrong is not found in anybody’s constitution or declaration or form of government or economic system or military strategy. What’s wrong with the world is sin. And the solution is only found in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

God revealed himself in Christ Jesus to show us how he’s fixing things. It’s in sacrificial service. It’s through unconditional love. It’s by forgiveness and reconciliation. Gentleness. Peace. Obedience. Prayer. Worship. Suffering. Death.

Politicians are not going to save the world. Parties and platforms and partisan positions are not going to change this country. This country and this world are not going to be won by votes or armies or news networks or being woke. Only our God in Christ can save the world – God alone!

And his way is the way of death. His way is the way of suffering and sacrifice and service. His will is to change people and save people, not by force or through threats, not out of anger or with an attitude, but with humility and love and forgiveness and grace. And peace.

This world will change, not when more Christians vote, but when more Christians serve. This country will change, not when Christians get their man or woman in the White House, but when Christians get suffering and sacrifice in their hearts. This world will change, not when the Church is in power, but when the Church is persecuted for righteousness’ sake and suffers for doing good. This country will be changed, not when our enemies are shot and bombed and destroyed, but when our enemies are forgiven and prayed for and loved.

Of course, you already knew that. This is not new information. You’ve known it for a long time. It’s just that it’s very difficult. And mostly untried.

Peace,

Allan

New Normal

It’s one of those phrases from 2020 you’re sick of hearing and you never want to hear again: new normal. I get it. But we can’t act like nothing’s changed. Fifty-eight percent of American adults say the coronavirus pandemic has changed their lives forever. You and I are not living in the same world we were in this time last year. I don’t think it’s overly dramatic; it’s probably subtle. But the coronavirus has affected nearly every aspect of our lives.

We have a new vocabulary now: social distance, COVID bubbles, RAC nurses, Zoom meetings, hospitalization rates. We have new fashion accessories in masks that are printed with different colors and patterns, different prints and even logos; some masks even say, “I hate wearing this mask!”

And people are drinking more. Alcohol consumption in the United States has gone up 14% in the past year.

We’re more connected to our devices than ever before with online learning, work from home, and virtual church. We’re waiting in our cars for the next seat in the barber shop, we’re making appointments to work out at the gym, and it’s more drive-thru than dine-in. I don’t know what would cause Chick-Fil-A to ever open up their dining rooms again.

And there’s a general mistrust of information. With the competing news media and fake news and conspiracy theories and the constantly changing and sometime contradictory information about the virus, 41% of Americans say they’re overwhelmed by all the news and information and they’ve stopped paying attention.

Sociologists say Americans need two things right now: security and sociability. These are the two things we are missing and craving and desperately needing right now. Health security, financial security, a stronger sense that everything’s going to be OK. Being around other people, being in the same room with our friends and family, in our clubs and social circles, back at church.

That’s the main reason, they say, that 74% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 are dealing with mental health problems right now. Three out of four are suffering with at least two of these five issues: stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts. This is our new normal. These are the conditions we have to acknowledge.

And it’s not just the coronavirus. Certainly the pandemic has brought sickness and death to our world and is leaving a tsunami of related sorrows and devastation in its wake. But the political and racial tensions have also done a ton of damage. Our families, our community, our churches, the whole country — we are divided right now. The air we’re breathing today is thick with fear and anger and uncertainty. We must recognize this.

But we also need to recognize this. According to a massive Cleveland Clinic survey, 58% of all Americans say, in the aftermath of 2020, they are reevaluating their lives. Sixty-five percent say they are reevaluating how they spend their time. Seventy-eight percent say they value relationships more now than they did a year ago. And 72% of all Americans say they have hope for the future.

Yes, we are all moving into a scary, uncertain, new normal. But our new normal is filled with people who are re-thinking their priorities. People are seeking what’s truly important. They’re searching for what’s significant and lasting. The new normal is loaded with opportunity!

The people around you are searching for what’s trustworthy and true. The people you are running into every day are disappointed, disillusioned, and divided; and they’re open to something different. They want something or someone that’s real and solid and dependable. They want an answer for everything that’s gone wrong; they’re looking for a solution to everything that’s broken.

The new normal is not to be feared. It should be embraced and engaged as God’s time and place for something beautiful and eternal and new.

Peace,

Allan

Move Back From It

I have never read a Beth Moore book and I’ve never heard her speak. I’m not on Facebook and I don’t have Twitter. So I was caught off guard when Carrie-Anne told me last week that Moore’s December tweet against Trumpism in the Church had created a bit of a national stir before Christmas. I had no idea.

Maybe you already know about this and it’s old news. If not, let me fill you in on what I know. From her Twitter account, Moore straight up called out American followers of Jesus for their fevered Christian Nationalism:

“I do not believe these are days for mincing words. I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it.”

There are an endless number of things about the insurrection at the U.S. capitol last week that sicken me. It’s a very discouraging thing to consider. What happened in Washington D.C. is tragic. It’s still happening – the threats, the violence, the anger — and it’s scary. It’s terribly sad. But, by far, what disturbs me the most are the Christian flags and symbols that were carried by the insurrectionist mob and the Christian Scriptures they wore and quoted as they stormed the seat of this country’s government.

Wearing a cross while waving confederate flags. Chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” while toting banners that read “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President!” A Christian flag was carried into the House chambers as U.S. lawmakers huddled under chairs fearing for their very lives. Hundreds of these violent protesters — some carrying loaded guns, some brandishing clubs and bats, some throwing fire extinguishers,  some breaking glass and stealing government property,  some carrying plastic zip ties, some beating police officers, a couple planting pipe bombs — were carrying out their angry attempt at a violent coup in the name of our Lord Jesus. They erected a cross on the capitol grounds and draped a MAGA flag around it. They also erected a gallows on the same property and called for the execution of government officials who aren’t voting the way they want them to.

More than anything, that is what breaks my heart and causes the tears to run down my face. The American church’s grab for political power over the past forty years, the compromising of our Christian commitments in order to wield influence and pass laws, the idolatrous syncretism of mixing national politics with the Kingdom of our Lord, has turned us into a people whose actions defame the eternal name we claim to wear.

The Kingdom of God is a political Kingdom, but there is no right or left, there is only the straight and narrow; there is no elephant or donkey, there is only the Lamb of God.

When it comes right down to it, the reason Judas betrayed our Lord is that he couldn’t lay down his own agenda to take up the agenda of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. We are called by Christ to be a people of grace and peace, of love and unity. But the banter leading up to last week’s assault on the capitol and the banners that were carried in D.C. betray the agendas of thousands of Christians. Fear and anger, violence and force are not what we are to foment, practice, or endorse. We love and forgive, we embrace diversity and strive toward unity, we consider the needs of others more important than our own, we lay down our rights in order to serve the ones around us. Those are the politics of the Kingdom of God and decidedly not the politics that so many Christians displayed last Wednesday. And Christian leaders need to call it out.

As Beth Moore tweeted last month:

“We will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we’ve been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain.”

“And, God help us, we don’t turn from Trumpism to Bidenism. We do not worship flesh and blood. We do not place our faith in mortals. We are the church of the living God. We can’t sanctify idolatry by labeling a leader our Cyrus. We need no Cyrus. We have a king. His name is Jesus.”

An article in Relevant magazine about Moore’s tweet and the reaction from both secular and Christian leaders asks why she’s “the only one brave enough to say this stuff.” She’s not. There are preachers and pastors all over the country who are saying these things in smaller churches in less significant settings. They/We have been preaching and teaching and writing on these things for many years. The question is why more big-name leaders with big-mega-membership churches and big-national-reach platforms aren’t saying this stuff.

The evidence is widespread and overwhelming that, when it comes to people 34-years-old and younger, the American church’s marriage with the politics of this country is the number one biggest turnoff to Jesus. Our lust for power, our endorsement of and participation in the ways and means of the political machine, are driving people away from our Lord. Rightly so. I get it. We have only ourselves to blame.

The anger and violence in the United States is still simmering. What we saw in Washington D.C. last week is not the end of it. There will be more threats made and names called and armed groups gathered and lives lost for the kingdoms of this world. If you wear the name of Jesus and are a member of the Kingdom of God, move back from it.

Peace,

Allan

Peace, Be Still

Surely we needed no more proof. But if we did, the disturbing events that unfolded at this country’s capitol yesterday illustrate beyond any doubt that we are a deeply divided people. We are divided. And desperate. And afraid. Angry. Hurt. Confused. Violent. Bitter. Outraged. Torn apart.

We need a peace that surpasses all understanding and can come only from our Lord. We need healing that only God through the righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus can provide. We need forgiveness. We need comfort. Reconciliation. Acceptance. Unity. Compassion. Empathy. Grace. Love.

We certainly needed no more evidence. But if we did, what happened yesterday affirms for all of us that our hope does not rest in politicians or parties, platforms or partisan posturing. Our prayers are not answered in Austin or Washington D.C. Our salvation does not come from elections or laws, flags or speeches.

We have a King and his name is Jesus. He has become for us our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Despite what’s happening all around us, he alone is making everything new. And he calls his followers to practice peace. And healing. And forgiveness. Comfort. Reconciliation. Acceptance. Unity. Compassion. Empathy. Grace. Love.

May our God bless us quickly and richly with his peace. And may his people behave in the name and manner of our risen and coming King.

Peace,

Allan

Counting on Your Vote

“If you always vote for the lesser of two evils, you will always have evil and you will always have less.” ~Ralph Nader

I know you want your vote to be counted and I know you want your vote to count. But are you counting too much on your vote?

Many Christians and many churches have bought into the idea that the salvation of the United States somehow depends on electing the right politicians. I am saddened by that. These Christians campaign and picket, scream and yell, insult and fight right alongside everybody else for their preferred party or platform, all of which is decidedly unChristian behavior.

Each of us has made our own decisions about voting: whether or not to vote; if we do vote, for which candidate to cast a ballot; and to what extent we place our hopes and dreams in this country’s politics and candidates. Like all citizens of this country,  we are enduring the unprecedented uncertainty today with a mixture of concerns and expectations, a variety of motivations and desires. But the guiding principle for us Christians is that we know our God is chasing different goals and using different methods than those represented on the ballots. The way of our God is always different from the ways of the world. That’s what gives us our Christian perspective.

It’s not a cynical outlook. It’s not the view of the 20th century activist Emma Goldman who said, “If voting could change anything they would make it illegal.” It’s about weighing how much, if any, of himself a Christian wants to pour into the election process of a worldly kingdom. Have you thought seriously about that?

Are you paying attention to how much energy and emotion you’re putting into the outcome of this thing? Are you aware of how the ups and downs of this past month have impacted your behavior? Are your loves and allegiances being kept in the proper order?

Hunter S. Thompson is given credit for saying, “There’s a terrible danger in voting for the lesser of two evils because the parties can set it up that way.” The repeating cycles in this country make it difficult to argue against his point. Haven’t we been here before? Aren’t we here every time?

More to the point of today’s post, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Of two evils, choose neither. Christians must turn from the endless cycle of voting for the lesser of two evils and expecting an unrighteous act to produce a righteous result. Choosing the lesser of two evils is still evil, and never should we do evil that good may come.”

C.S. Lewis once observed, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation or a party or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God himself.”

I believe it’s OK for followers of Jesus to vote; just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an act of righteousness that is going to change the world for the Kingdom of God. Don’t place your hope for God’s will to be done in this country in a politician or any group of politicians. Don’t count too much on your vote.

Peace,

Allan

The Revolutions of Men

“A revolution is supposed to be a change that turns everything completely around. But the ideology of political revolution will never change anything except appearances. There will be violence, and power will pass from one party to another, but when the smoke clears and the bodies of all the dead men are underground, the situation will be essentially the same as it was before; there will be a minority of strong men in power exploiting all the others for their own ends. There will be the same greed and cruelty and lust and ambition and avarice and hypocrisy as before.

For the revolutions of men change nothing. The only influence that can really upset the injustice and iniquity of men is the power that breathes in Christian tradition.”

~ Thomas Merton

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