Monday, October 31, 2016

God and Country? (2)

While there are followers of Jesus Christ who strive to speak above the political chaos in the United States, and speak with the voice of eternity, the media has focused on those who have wrapped the Cross of Christ with a political agenda.

As I have written before, all history ought to be read through the lens of Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just as we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have individual histories without sin, so we can delude ourselves that our nation has a history without sin.

Nations often think that God is on their side and God is a helpful propaganda tool for governments. One can be patriotic and recognize this. One can also be patriotic and fear the power of the delusion that God and country are inseparable. Patriotic fervor is religious fervor, and it is usually a fervor which allows no criticism. When patriotic fervor is christened with God it explodes in a flame that devours critique – it is a flame and heat akin to the fiery furnace of Daniel Chapter Three.

Singing “God Bless America” has become popular at sporting events. What does this have to do with a baseball game? Are we baptizing ourselves with holy water that is meant to ensure our military and economic superiority and which deludes us into ignoring our rebellion against a holy God? Those who love this country will weep for this country, they will not cover its sins, they will not dilute the Gospel, and they will not preach “peace, peace” when there is no peace. Christians who love their land will clearly articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ as citizens of His kingdom.

Followers of Jesus Christ ought not to be endorsing a national delusion of righteousness – either present or historical. Our nation has done much good, we have also done much evil – all have sinned. This delusion of national righteousness is not patriotism, it is idolatry.

The church of Jesus Christ cannot serve the world, or the nations of the world, if it is of the world. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Wheelbarrow

It is black with rust spots on a wooden frame. I’ve scrapped and painted it more than once, but it looks as if the rust is winning…rust can be relentless. An engineer once told me how much stronger rust is than concrete, I don’t recall what the factor was, but it got my attention as we were inspecting balconies on a high-rise building in Richmond. If you have metal railings attached to concrete it is wise to keep the metal painted and not to allow water to pocket where the railings go into the concrete – the rust will always win. I once had a high-rise property in Baltimore on which the concrete balconies were spalling and falling onto the street below – that’s what we call liability in the property management business.

I realize that rust on the bucket of a wheelbarrow is rather mundane, but it isn’t just any wheelbarrow, it’s our wheelbarrow with a history. A wheelbarrow with a history is something to pay attention to; if I had a museum I’d have a conservator preserve it and put it on display and have a nice narrative printed on plaques in front of it – I might even have some retrospective photos of places it’s been.

Wheelbarrows are not something you purchase every year – a good wheelbarrow ought to last for years, even decades. I’ve seen some old wheelbarrows that were likely used to haul dirt around Richmond for entrenchments during the Civil War.

When we first moved to Chesterfield County in 1989 we didn’t have a wheelbarrow. We had lived in a townhouse with virtually no front or back yard and whatever earth we needed to move could be moved in a child’s beach bucket. Of course Vickie planted flowers and plants in our little yard, she is always planting, but there was no need for a wheelbarrow.

Our first home in Chesterfield was begging to be beautified with flowers, perennials, and trees. It didn’t have to beg long before Vickie went into action. She went into action so quickly that we needed a wheelbarrow before we had a wheelbarrow. I had dirt to move that wouldn’t wait for me to go to the hardware store and purchase a wheelbarrow. What to do?

I went to our neighbors Bill and Gayle, two doors down, and borrowed a wheelbarrow for that first project. It was a wheelbarrow with a shallow bucket, but it did the job. You may recall from a previous post that we met Bill and Gayle shortly after we moved to Chesterfield through our “rescue” dog Mitzi – or “the Mitz” as she was also known. Vickie rescued her from the streets of Richmond and whenever we’d let her out of the house she’d run through our backyard, then through Doug’s backyard, and then to Bill and Gayle’s house – so we got to know Bill and Gayle because of our numerous trips to their home to retrieve Mitzi. It’s good to have neighbors who have wheelbarrows to lend.

Since I’ve had a lot of demand to write about my wheelbarrow I’ll continue this…

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Revive Us?

Some friends are talking about an event/movie by Kirk Cameron called “Revive Us”. One of my friends, who hasn’t gone to see it but apparently is going, has a friend who had a powerful spiritual experience at the event/movie (it was originally simulcast but is now being shown as a movie). This should be frightening – this is strange fire.

Below is my email response to an invitation to attend. I am not attending. This is exactly why we need to distinguish between the Cross of Christ and a national flag and agenda and a whitewashed view of history.

Hi Everyone:

Well here is the thing about the movie; what looks nice and feels nice may not be nice and as nice as it might feel it might not be the truth.

Eric Metaxas has written some books that feel nice but are not well founded, his most recent one about America is a case in point, and his one about Bonhoeffer is another. He has also disparaged academic critics of his books rather than provide reasoned responses to them.

Kirk Cameron has a pretty naive perspective on US history - a number of people do.

And Ben Carson? He might be a great surgeon, but his defense of the indefensible words and actions of one of the presidential candidates is, to me, beyond words.  Carson's words and actions betray the absence of a well-thought-out philosophy - he is navigating by a weather vane rather than a compass.

Anytime people wrap the flag, any flag, around the Cross of Christ there is a problem, and when it is in the context of a highly-charged environment with music and appeals to revival and patriotism and Jesus - that is dangerous. 

So my advice is that if folks go to go with a critical mindset and then do follow up homework - because if what Cameron and Carson and Metaxas have to say is based on what they've already said and already written then much of it isn't going to be true...and the premise will unlikely be untrue. 

Frankly they are using the Cross and (sadly) Christianity to promote a political agenda - Metaxas and Carson are strong supporters of Mr. Trump. I don't know about the other folks. I think this is dangerous - regardless of the candidate. 

The very fact that people are saying they're having a spiritual experience at the movie underscores my point - if we can't distinguish between the Kingdom of God and a nation, any nation; if we wrap the flag around the Cross...we are on dangerous ground.

Here is a professor of history at Wheaton - if you go to this and search for Cameron and Metaxas you'll get some hits.

Here is a professor of history at Messiah.

And here is a post I did on my blog this past Monday that better expresses my own thinking:

Much, much love,


Monday, October 17, 2016

Which Kingdom? What Voice?

This is the only time I've posted the same thing on both blogs, but since the readership is not identical I am posting this on both Mind on Fire and Kaleidoscope.

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm,’ ” (John 18:36).

What would have happened had the followers of Jesus Christ stirred up the populace and attacked the Jewish and Roman leaders? Could they have freed Jesus? Could they have freed Jerusalem and Judea from Roman domination? Would the church have been born on the Day of Pentecost? Would there have been a Gospel? Would we be yet in our sins? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, today be associated not with a cross but rather with a bloody sword due to the actions of His followers?

One of His followers did indeed use a sword in Gethsemane and was rebuked by Jesus. Prior to arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday this same follower sought to convince Jesus that Jesus should save Himself from rejection and death and was not only rebuked by Jesus but told that he was playing the role of Satan and not setting his mind on the things of God but the things of man (Matthew 16:21 – 23). Jesus followed this rebuke by stating that to follow Him meant taking up the cross, denying self, and losing one’s life for His sake and the Gospel’s. This remains the call of Jesus Christ, it remains the requirement of Jesus Christ – as Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Do we desire the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man? Are we seeking to preserve the Gospel by loving Christ and others and peacefully articulating, in word and deed, the message of Jesus Christ? Or, are our hearts and minds engaged in self-preservation – desiring the kingdoms of this world, the American “dream”, and agendas which draw our souls away from the Kingdom of God?

At a time in our nation when our nation needs (as it always does) the church to be the church, the voice of Jesus Christ, articulating the hope of the Gospel and the coming Kingdom of God; our shallow theology and thinking, our tenuous confession of Christ, and lack of identity as the People of God, has shown us to be a confused and manipulated people – without unity, without the confession of Jesus Christ, and without moral courage – for it takes courage to say in word and deed, “I will stand with Christ and with Him alone. His kingdom is not of this world and I am in His kingdom.”

We can only have one God and we can only serve one master and we can only desire one kingdom…and we can only look to one savior. Our nation or political or economic agenda must not be the god of the Christian nor can these things be our savior. To be sure we must pray for our leaders and be good citizens, but no earthly citizenship should take precedence over our heavenly citizenship, and no interest should take precedence over the interest of Jesus Christ and His kingdom and His Gospel.

Where is the clear articulation of the church in America that we are the people of God and that we will live within a nation in chaos loving people, serving people, and clearly sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peril of our own well-being? Where is our willingness to suffer and be marginalized for the sake of Jesus Christ? Where is our voice for the defenseless, for the stranger, for the politically and economically and socially disenfranchised?

Are we able to say that we will love and minister to people of all political agendas? Or are we so embedded in the political and economic life of this nation that we can no longer live as citizens of God’s kingdom? Have our actions and words renounced our heavenly citizenship?

Two of my historical mentors are Fran̤ois Fenelon and Andrew Murray; the former a French Roman Catholic archbishop and the latter a Dutch Reformed pastor in Africa. During wars between the English and French, Fenelon ministered to soldiers on both sides Рyes, he was a subject of Louis XIV but he was first and foremost a subject of Jesus Christ.

During the Boer War Murray also ministered to combatants on both sides. In Fenelon’s case both sides respected him for his ministry; in Murray’s case many on both sides disdained him for they thought he should choose sides. Sometimes people will understand us and accept us, other times they will not – that should not be our consideration. Both of these men were citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost – there could be little confusion about their testimony.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often quoted by religious people with political agendas, using him as an argument to vote one way or another. What these people miss is that Bonhoeffer came to the place early on, during Hitler’s rise to absolute power, when he realized that the church must stand as the church and speak from the Kingdom of God into the world as a distinct voice, the voice of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer realized that the politicization of the church would be the death of its testimony to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer became increasingly isolated, he was considered too radical, he was not taking political and economic realities into consideration, those who had once stood with him separated themselves. Yes, there were others like Bonhoeffer, but they were few. Pragmatism and self-preservation caused many pastors, theologians, and the church to capitulate to evil – foolishly thinking that things would get better, stupidly arguing that they could moderate evil. They used the “lesser of two evils” as an argument and found that the lesser of two evils is still not only evil…it is absolute evil – for evil is evil and when we baptize an agenda as the lesser of two evils we anoint it as the authority in our lives – we subject our hearts and minds to it – we pollute ourselves and those around us. The lesser of two evils becomes the evil in our hearts and minds.

The choice of the church is not a choice to vote one way or the other – the choice before the church is whether we will live in the Kingdom of God and speak from that kingdom and live as citizens of that kingdom – serving all around us in love and charity and grace and seeking to bring them to Jesus Christ. If we must vote, then let us vote with our lives and not with our ballots – the world does not need our ballots, it needs our lives – it needs to hear and see the clear articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have lost our voice for Christ for we have not used our voice for Christ; let us recapture an awareness of who we are in Jesus Christ – let us return to our first love – perhaps the light of our candlestick will be rekindled. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Benefit of Immorality and Unethical Behavior

If we can’t have people with a sense of morality and ethics, let us at least have people who have a sense of what is immoral and unethical. Such a sense, on either side of the divide, indicates an awareness of the divide.

In our current situation we have neither morality or immorality; we have neither ethical thinking and behavior or unethical behavior and thinking – we live in the land of the Greek prefix Alpha – “a” – a prefix which indicates “the absence of” – we have arrived at being a people of the “amoral” – having no sense of light and darkness, no sense of good and evil, no sense of morality or of ethics – we are a people lacking sense, whether the common sense dispensed to all mankind or the particular ethical sense of past civilizations, or the moral sense that was once at the core of humanity – especially that segment of humanity graced with the heritage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Let us not loath our political leaders unless we first loath ourselves. And let not the church loath the general society unless it first repents of its own moral and ethical and spiritual promiscuity.

At work I find myself requiring my team members to observe ethical standards which are pretty much nonexistent on Wall Street, in Washington, and even in much of the church.  I ask them to take a long-term view of life and business when all around us is short-term thinking. I ask them to put others first when few put them first.

Never, in my life, has intercessory prayer been so precious; never so critical.