Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God

Once again my friend Keith has written something great. He so often writes what I think but don't take the time to write near as well, and I have to share his latest newsletter with you. Please go to and check out all his stuff.


"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." - 1 Peter 2:13-17

More and more I find that there is a blurred line in American Christianity between "The American Way" and "The Kingdom of God". The Kingdom of God and the American Dream are not the same thing, and in fact, they are two opposing viewpoints which are in conflict on many levels. The American Dream is founded on the concept of every person's right to the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you can imagine would make you happy you are free to pursue it with all your heart. That's your right. The Kingdom of God is founded on the concept of laying down your life, your idea of what will make you happy, in favor of receiving what Jesus knows will really make you happy. Following Jesus involves laying down your life and giving up your rights. It means full and complete submission to God because you recognize that His perfect will for your life is a million times better than anything you could ever dream up, or pursue, on your own. Jesus didn't ever instruct any of his disciples to fight for their God-given, "Inalienable Rights", and neither did Paul the Apostle. In fact, they both encouraged their disciples to live humble lives, serving others and not demanding more because they deserved more. Paul even specifically told those followers of Christ who were slaves to remain slaves, even if they were being mistreated. Historically, the early Christians didn't fight for their rights as citizens, they took it on the chin, and in the Lion's den, and in the arena. They literally would rather die than to take another person's life. Simply put, they followed their Lord and Savior, Jesus and they followed His example of non-violence and submissive service to those who hated and mistreated them. Does that sound like the American Dream to you?

STAY FOCUSED We cannot afford to become distracted by nationalism or led astray by politics. As followers of Jesus, He must be our one and only priority and influence. This is what it means to make Jesus our Lord. As Christian pastor and activist Jim Wallis has said, "God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God is not partisan. God is not ideologically committed to our Left or Right. God's politics challenges all of our politics. It includes the people our politics regularly leave out; the poor and the vulnerable. That's God's politics."

OUR WITNESS It would have been virtually impossible for an unbeliever living in those first three hundred years of Church History to ever reject Christianity on the grounds that it lacked compassionate people or failed to teach loving kindness. In fact, we have testimony from many of the most hostile pagans who lived during the first three hundred years of Christianity who were put to shame because of the overwhelming generosity of the Church. Julian, the Apostate wrote of this frustrating situation when he said, "..The godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also." Christian philosopher Aristides (125 AD) wrote about the radical charity of the early Church also, recording the fact that, "…if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food." For a Christian, killing our enemies is not acceptable. If being a good American citizen means you need to cheer on a war that kills innocent people then you must lay aside your Christianity. If being a faithful member of a political party trumps over 2,000 verses in the word of God about caring for the poor, then you need to make a choice. A few years ago I had an opportunity to speak to Jim Wallis on this very subject and his response has stayed with me ever since. He said, "The Church today is more American than Christian. The Kingdom of God is not the same as the American Empire. When we are more American than Christian we confuse the meaning of the Body of Christ with any nation state. This notion of the Church as a counter-cultural movement is Biblically obvious. There's no doubt about that. We're in the world to transform the world for the sake of this new order that has come in Jesus Christ. If Jesus' vision of the Kingdom was so threatening, why is our vision of the Kingdom so safe?" The Gospel of the Kingdom is not the American Dream. It saddens me to see Christians more passionate about their political party than they are about the Kingdom of God.

Conversatio Morem! (Death to the status quo/Constant Conversion)


Friday, January 16, 2009

Thanks for the atheists!

I found this new story in the Out of Ur newsletter done through Christianity Today online:

Bible Society Supports Atheist's Ads
British Christians fund atheist bus ads hoping they backfire.

The British Humanist Association, a group supported by best-selling author and atheist Richard Dawkins, has purchased ad space on buses that read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Shortly after the ad campaign was announced, a Christian group responded by making a £50 donation to the atheist group. Theos—a thinktank of the Bible Society—welcomed the ads because they believe the message will backfire. A spokesperson for Theos explains, "When competition arrives, it forces a re-evaluation of attitudes and creates an opportunity." Theos says the ads will make people reconsider what they really believe, and "in such circumstances, growth in the overall market is not uncommon. Thanks be, then, to the atheists."

I personally agree with the thinking of Theos. One of the real problems that American evangelicals seem to have is with Christianity being involved in a competitive milieu of ideas. We have enjoyed the dominant position for several hundred years, and now find ourselves at best as one idea among equals. But the truth is that Christianity has always done it's best work when it is not the dominant idea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A brief ode to my granddad

Driving home today I saw one of those license plates a ham radio operator has. And even though I've seen them lots in the last 15 years, today was different. Today the memories came.

My granddaddy was a ham radio operator. I still remember his call sign: WA5YPA. As a kid, he had a "radio shack" in the backyard. It was just what it sounds like--a little shack where all the radio equipment was. Later they remodeled their house, and added a room where they didn't have to go outside to get on the radio. Grandaddy talked to people around the US. People came from all around to talk to friends in other parts of the world. I remember families coming over to talk to missionaries in South America.

My grandparents were (and still are--granddaddy's wife, my grandma, is still alive) people of incredible faith. Granddaddy was a lay leader in churches all his life. He often served as a music minister. He couldn't read music, but he would sit and chord on the piano. He wrote a song based on Psalm 40 that I can still remember and sing called "God Gave Me a Song." After spending most of his life as a Baptist, he had a filling experience with with the Holy Spirit, and spent quite a few years in a pentecostal church in the little town where they lived. When I was in college, and he was fighting cancer, we would have these deep theological discussions about God.

But it was the conversation we had 8 days before my 10th birthday that I can remember like it was yesterday. We were playing chess on the patio, and he started to talk about repentance (I must have been winning, since he changed the subject). He took one of the pawn and put it on the table, and said when we were born, we were put on earth by God. Because of our sin, we are naturally pointed away from God and toward hell. He pushed the piece across the table, talking about living and learning, but eventually, he said, if you keep living in the same direction, you end up dying and going to hell. At that point he pushed the piece off the table and fell to the floor. My nine year old psyche didn't want that to happen to me.

Then he took another piece, put it on the table, and started the same discussion. But he began to describe what repentance was, this turning your back on sin and hell and turning your face back toward God and life. It made sense to me, and we prayed right then that Jesus would rescue me, that I would follow life and God and good. There were tears and hugs, and a week later I was baptized at First Baptist Church, Skellytown, Texas, by Milton Thompson.

Today that journey continues. Today the heritage that is my family--honed by my grandfather--finds fruit in my life. And it's not just him, although he's the one I thought of today. Faith has been alive for generations. And when you add my wife's family and the generations of deep and abiding faith there, I am confident the heritage continues with my own kids.

I'm grateful for my grandaddy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Steelers Rock

I don't know why, but in the past decade or so I've gotten more into watching sports than I used to.

I didn't make the transition from player to fan very well 20 years ago. My little brother was still playing at UTEP, so I went to the games. During one of the first ones that season I nearly got into a fight in the stands with some moron (my pastor used the word "moron" twice in today's sermon; I'm taking that as meaning I can too) who was what we always refered to as "junior high all-american"--basically someone who once played in junior high or something and now thinks they know everything about the game.

I was pastoring at the time, and I think I somehow thought that I needed to develop some sort of compassionate empathy for people, and participating in competitive sports somehow seemed to not be developing those qualities in me. So I tried hard to stop being competitive. It was hard to do. I still very much remember walking in to a gym full of students and parents and hearing my brother yell, "introducing the fattest tight end in the history of UTEP..." As athletes we cut each other down like that all the time, but in my non-competitive desire to be sympathetic, I was a little sensitive.

And I somehow don't think it worked. I'm still not very compassionate. But I have regained some of my desire for watching and even playing sports. And certainly I'm competitive. So it was great to watch the Steelers today. And the game with Baltimore next Sunday should be awesome.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's a good thing I don't make New Year's resolutions. If I did, I'm sure one of them would have involved blogging more often. And now it's already January 10th, and I haven't blogged at all.

I'm really not blogging today, I guess. Just randomly throwing some thoughts out on paper, er, screen as the case may be.

I'm amazed at the connectivity of Facebook. I continue to find and be found by friends that I haven't seen in years.

I remember someone once telling me not to say anything I would be embarrassed for my mom to hear. Now Mom is reading my blog and commenting. Should I be scared? (Welcome, Mom! Just don't slap me if I cuss in a blog or something...)

I am thinking about 2009, even if I don't make resolutions. I'm thinking about Paul telling us we're ambassadors of Jesus. Like, we represent him in our circle of relationships. And I'm thinking that's a pretty big deal. If I was Jesus I wouldn't have chosen me to represent him. Sometimes I think my family and friends worry about me representing them. But choose me he did, to be his ambassador.

And that's probably worth some resolutions. If I made resolutions.