Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Part 1 – The Interpreter of Dreams

stand-apartAs we discussed last week, Daniel and his three friends were subjects of a conquering kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon attacked and messed with Judah for a few years, first making them a vassal, but after the Kings of Israel were “rebellious” in refusing to pay tribute, King Nebuchadnezzar decides he’s had enough and just destroys Jerusalem and the Temple there.

But he takes a few “choice” young men to groom and educate. It is an interesting program of indoctrination – take intelligent, good looking young men, woo them with the palatial comforts and educate them in the imperial culture, and then use them as examples of how it is beneficial for all conquered peoples to assimilate into the new culture. Daniel and his three friends went through this.

Daniel leads his friends to separate himself and keep himself pure within this program. It is such a strict program, that when he asks the stewards over them if they could do something different, the steward is afraid of royal retribution and punishment. To summarize, “I don’t think you get to do your own thing.”

Even though God had given the Jews over to the Babylonians as a punishment, Daniel felt the conviction to be set apart for God in a real and practical way.

While Daniel is known as the interpreter of dreams, we must remember that before God uses him in this way, Daniel had been intentional about seeking God and being faithful in the midst of oppression.

Daniel decided they couldn’t consume the fine foods and wine. He and his friends would eat vegetables and drink water. And he challenges the steward: if they didn’t appear healthier after ten days, then they would give up their convictions. They challenged in faith, and God blessed them for their “fast.” They did look better. As you can imagine, eating differently would mark them every day as separate from everyone else.

And that is who God used to interpret the dream of the King.

It is not biblically more spiritual to do the “Daniel fast.” That’s not the point.

But the principles are important and instructive for us today.

How are we saying “no” to the culture around us? As our government and culture adopts more of the Marxist ideology and godless ideas, this is more and more necessary for us to discuss and examine as disciples of Christ and citizens of a different Kingdom.

We will be mocked for saying “no.” That is the reality. There will be fear of standing out. Daniel had to deal with this. But if we are going to stand for the Kingdom within an increasingly godless and perverse culture, then there must be resistance and independence, ways that we show where our citizenship lies. This will threaten earthly empires and kingdoms.

The revelation for how we say “no” to our culture and stand out is up to Jesus and the Father. We must get our revelation from him, otherwise there will be no conviction, no strength of grace for endurance in that discipline. For it will require discipline.

And we must have people walking through it with us. We must have people we are vulnerable with that we can say, “Hey, God is telling me to do this,” and then they can walk through it with us or hold us accountable. Daniel had this in his three friends.

Could Daniel have done it alone? With God’s help, yes. But God has designed us to need one another, especially in the Body of Christ in the New Covenant. We will need each other more as our culture adopts more Marxist ideology (and religion … it is a religious belief and agenda, despite what they say to the contrary).

We cannot expect God to use us in powerful ways – and he is using and will continue to use many in powerful ways – unless we are willing to stand for him first. That is essential. It must come from revelation and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and it will scare us and challenge us. It will not be comfortable. But it is essential for what God has for us in the future.


Next week – Part 2 – The Dream of the Kingdom

Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Introduction

daniel-lionsAs we think about the role and the reality of the Kingdom of God, it is difficult for us to reconcile current tragedies or oppressive circumstances with the notion that we are a part of a Kingdom that is supreme and will never fade, nor will it ever be shaken.

The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is a fascinating study in this. It has the clearest revelation of the Kingdom of God, but the context is of a subjected, punished people – the Jews – under an evil and oppressive regime.

A part of this is that God states that he uses these regimes and gives them power, for a time, for his uses. First, to punish a rebellious Jewish population for their continued sin and disobedience and immorality despite numerous warnings from numerous prophets and leaders. Second, to prepare those same people for a second deliverance, of a sort.

So we can see that even though these are an oppressed people, the Kingdom is still supreme and God is in control. He has not abdicated his power because tragedy has struck. He has allowed it or used it as punishment (an extremely unpopular idea in today’s culture, but stated clearly in the OT) with the ultimate goal of redemption. Some were not deserving of punishment, and yet we see they do not lose faith. Instead, it strengthens their faith. So whether innocent or guilty, God’s love and power is used to redeem or prepare a people for his deliverance.

It is important to note that the idea of the Kingdom of God goes all the way back to the time of the Judges, if not before. The Israelites did not adopt the idea of a kingdom from other cultures. In fact, the whole struggle in the beginning was against the idea of an earthly king “like other cultures” since God was their king. They had leaders and deliverers but not kings. We see this argument with Samuel and then eventually, Saul. God is sovereign, so he used even their sinful desire for a king to prophetically speak of a God-prophet-deliverer-priest-king to come.

All this is useful context as we will begin to look at Daniel and his three friends as they are taken as slaves and brought to the Babylonian empire.

It is also interesting that Babylon is seen as the model empire. We will go into more depth with this later, but secular and scriptural history points to Babylon as the initial empire of the ancient world. There had been great civilizations and kingdoms, but Babylon is symbolic of the imperial nature of large and central governments of the world from then on. Everyone basically copied them. Daniel is intentional about contrasting the notion of empire with the Kingdom of God.

This is a blog about the Kingdom. And so as we explore the book and relate it to us today, it will have a lot to say about how we act and behave and have faith in a transcendent Kingdom while living under an earthly one, even one that oppresses us. In fact, the scripture assumes that any earthly one will oppress, sooner or later. The only one immune to such corruption is the Kingdom of God.

The revelation and story of Daniel was preeminent in the minds of the Jews when Jesus arrives and begins his ministry. When we study the ideas of the Kingdom in Daniel, it gives greater and deeper context and understanding of Jesus’ gospel – Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. And he preached that under another Empire, Rome, that was as oppressive and violent as any other, as did the apostles afterwards, in their own way.

On a personal note, while many of us in America are disheartened by the choices for president and the overall bad leadership in our country and immoral direction, this is an important reminder that, absolutely, we should want good leaders with integrity that understand the principles of good government; however, we already exist and operate within the Perfect Government of Christ in the Kingdom of God. That is more central to our peace and righteousness than the filling of an earthly office.

Next week – Part 1 – The Interpreter of Dreams.


Tucker and Dave vs Evil and the Theology of Fear

tucker daleAn interesting movie was made back in 2010 called Tucker and Dale vs Evil. It is a definite B-movie and I’ve only seen it free on streaming, like Netflix, so it is easy to see. As someone who has watched a great deal of horror and dark comedies, the title and description interested me. I watched it one night and laughed. It was clever and original. I can only recommend it to those that would enjoy a movie mocking the college/teen horror flicks.

The setup of the movie goes like this: a couple good ole boy rednecks (Tucker and Dale) decide to go up to a cabin for a vacation. On the way, they stop at a convenience store where a group of young college students has also stopped on their way to another cabin. These college students see the rednecks and instantly surmise that they are serial killers. A couple simple coincidences reinforce this idea, and the college students leave the convenience store glad to survive the encounter.

Wouldn’t you know, the rednecks and college students have cabins close to one another on the lake. Tucker and Dale are nice and simple guys, and as they try to meet these college students, their interactions cause even more fear in the college students, and for the rest of the movie, the college students find creative ways to kill themselves running and reacting to their assumption that Tucker and Dale are serial killers.

I love this movie. It is incredibly insightful. Yes, it is a dark comedy made to be silly and stupid and funny, but like another one of my favorite movies, Idiocracy, it makes an important statement.

Tucker and Dale were NOT serial killers, and as the movie continues, they are horrified at the deaths and try to help. But because these educated college students worked with their original assumption, they interpreted what they saw through that assumption. These educated college students were educated enough to kill themselves. They were killed by their own fear.

We live in a culture where more access to information through the internet has ironically led us to have more surface relationships, less real community, and more blanket assumptions based on less facts. We’ve become more divided and closed minded about our tribal positions while being more “educated” than ever before. This happens with every group, but the most accepted group of people to make assumptions about and demonize are the “conservative Christians.”

Conservative Christians are uneducated, bigoted, stupid, superstitious, mean, racist, tyrannical, hate science … and the list goes on. It is the one group it is acceptable to call names. You are educated and cool and progressive if you completely demonize and dismiss this group of people.

We have a current president, supposedly highly educated and tolerant and open-minded (debatable on each point), who said about people in certain areas that voted against him that they were holding on to their “God and guns.” Not possible that they disagree with his policies that trap people into poverty and are based on a lack of science, history, and logic. It must be that they are stupid. Yeah, that’s it.

Of course, we must dismiss that most of the current universities were begun by people who believed conservative values, in education, in the progress of humanity as the image of their Creator. Or that “conservative” Christians have been responsible for countless schools and the rise of education in places that others would never go around the world.

That is not to say that conservatives or Christians are not capable of horrible things. Every human is. But they also do not possess a monopoly on them.

The greatest crime among many in our media is not killing or stealing to get ahead. The greatest crime is to be a conservative Christian. Anything is acceptable except that. Anything.

And so our educated culture runs from the identity and perception with such zeal that they run into buzz saws and axes and creative ways of killing ourselves, all in the name of not being like those we demonize. Any help that conservative Christians attempt to give is interpreted based on that filter and only confirms the perception.

Fear does interesting things. They’ve done studies on the brain, and fear and stress lowers our IQ. Making decisions based on fear is more about survival than progress. Despite how intelligent we try to make ourselves sound, the root of fear is the same and the result is the same – death and destruction, like those college students with Tucker and Dale.

If we believe the wisdom of God, then he tells us that he has not given us a “spirit of fear” but “power, love, and sound mind.” God is good and wants the best for all, and if fear is a root of death and destruction, then God would want to give us something greater and more beneficial.

So what is the solution? For all of us, whether Christian or not, whether conservative or not, let us not look at another and assume because they have perspectives we do not agree with or like, no matter what the issues are, that they are immediate enemies and unworthy of input. When we make those immediate judgments, it says more about our character than theirs. And each individual is worthy of that chance to be a friend as a created person loved by God, no matter who they are.





Seeing the Kingdom in Suicide Squad

suicide squadSuicide Squad was released a few weeks ago. It has been a hit with fans and panned by critics. Certain aspects were controversial, but overall, as a writer and comic book lover, I enjoyed the movie despite it’s plot and production problems. This post, however, isn’t to weigh in as a formal critique. Instead, I will explore why it has become so popular as it is rooted in the purpose of the Kingdom. I will try to avoid serious spoilers.

Suicide Squad began in the comics. As comics became darker with Frank Miller and Alan Moore and others through the 80’s. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proposed the realistic concept that our superheroes might not be as moral or pure as we may have thought. That influenced everything from Superman to Batman, especially in DC, where the heroes were more “heroic” even in their personal lives, although it did affect Marvel, as well.

By the 90’s, more adults were buying comics, and so the writing matured. The heroes turned darker and the villains were humanized. What if our heroes were to turn evil or get out of control? So the gubmint in the comics decides to form a team of villains they could control.

Hence, the Suicide Squad. When the movie was first announced, the comic fans were excited. We loved the idea when it came out, and since Harley Quinn became such a popular character, seeing her in the movies for the first time appealed to us.

Even though the critics have tried to destroy the movie, it continues to be popular. Why? And how does this connect to the Kingdom?

While the writing has matured over the last 30 years, superheroes are somewhat difficult to relate to. They have superpowers we don’t have … and they consistently use them for good. It is inspiring and cool, but we don’t fully relate to it.

What we do relate to is criminals who want to do better but seem stuck in a cycle of selfish behavior.

And we relate to the reality of a large institution that will use us only if it can control us.

So even though the movie was severely problematic, it was wildly popular.

These are disturbed and decadent individuals, but their dreams were simple and universal – time with a daughter, a stable marriage filled with love, the return of lost loved ones. Redemption.

And yet their whole life, including their individual choices, are obstacles to their dreams.

These are the people the world turns to when the impossible needs to happen. They are forced to accept, but that control does not last. It cannot.

The villains are ultimately given the choice. The government can no longer control them. They could leave if they choose and not fulfill the mission. But these villains and misfits decide to do good, of their own volition. For the good of others. To save the world, they learned to work together.

It reminds me of the Kingdom. We have all made mistakes, have regrets, and lose hope. If we are honest, we are all misfits and villains. But we want to be heroes in the story. We want to do what is good and right for the right reasons. We want a chance for redemption.

Through the transformation of Jesus in the Kingdom, God gives us all that chance. The invitation is open to everyone, whether we feel we are beyond redemption or not, whether we feel filled with the devil or not. God extends his love to all, inviting us to come and participate in the power and mission to save the world from evil.

And then we join in with other villains, or former villains, to work together for good, for a mission. I pray we all find that team in our lives.



Why Christians Love Science More than Anyone Else

creationWe have developed, over time, this concept in our modern culture that assumes Christians who believe in a single God who created all that is seen (which is a very diverse group in and of itself, not simply the extreme Ken Hamm Creationist) are uneducated and ignorant and “hate” science.

To be clear, the issue is when these individuals question the scientific validity of cross-species macro evolution and evolution as a creative event. They are believers in a “flat earth” and “closed minded,” despite the evidence to the contrary.

While I will not excuse how religious authorities have suppressed certain movements either in the past or currently, I will say that some of the stories surrounding these issues are so exaggerated as to be legitimate propaganda tools more than reasonable and balanced explorations of how the very preponderance of education in the west is directly due to Christian evangelical influence, not to mention how Christianity is more involved in raising the educational level and living standards of the poor throughout the world than any other group.

None of this is the general point of this article. I am not attempting to debate how right or wrong Christians are in their beliefs or even evolutionists. The point is to help people understand why Christians, despite the propaganda, love science more than any other group.

Christians follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God and His Son, together, created the world and the universe through an act of word and will. Not only do we follow Christ, we believe that we are born of the Creator. We do not only have an intimate relationship with the Father through the Son and the Spirit, we are born of Him. We were born again upon repentance and God is our Father.

So when we discover the design of this world, how things work, or when we see the beauty and the amazing things that we discover as we explore (Christians are, by nature, educators and explorers since knowledge and truth are paramount in Christianity), we smile in a sense of awe but also feel a personal connection to creation since our Daddy did it.

I am a creative person. I will not say what I create is good, for several reasons, but I write songs and books. I create series for church discipleship, make them my own. My point is this – my children see me create things all the time.

And it interests them. They feel a connection to what I create. “Daddy, is that your book?” “Daddy, did you write that song?” “Daddy, I like that song.” Whether or not it is quality work, my children feel a sense of pride in something their daddy made.

I have a friend on FB, and his father passed away not long ago. His father was a blues guitarist and made a record back in the 60’s. The record is rare and goes for $2k or more online, if you can find an original. He is willing to pay top dollar for this record. Not because it is good, even though it probably is … but because his father made it.

My grandfather wrote a book called Struggle in the Coal Fields, a book which is used at universities to help study the issues surrounding the coal industry and unions in the early 1900’s. I own a copy for one reason. He was my grandfather. I bought a copy for my father for one reason, his father wrote it.

Now if you go to my children and point to a book I wrote, and you say, “Your father didn’t write that.” Of course they will argue with you. They will say, “No, he wrote it. He told me he did.” They will point to my name on the cover. They will tell you how they see my character in every line.

(As an aside, it was interesting when people read The Living Stone, they continually said, “I could hear you saying all this.”)

One reason Christians have been at the forefront of science through history is for this reason, the discovery of the design of this world and the wonder within is deepened within us, further than someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God as their Father can understand. In effect, we love science more.

I am not trying to establish that Christians are more correct or incorrect in their scientific or religious assertions, only to help those who use name calling as an argumentative device to understand instead of demonize.

When we see a sunset that takes our breath away, it is personal for us. It is our Father who took our breath away. We see His hand in the way things work, in the good science can do. Ironic that a culture that increasingly accepts someone’s self-identity as legal reality, in fact celebrates it, despite all the evidence to the contrary, will so easily dismiss a whole group of people that seek to further love their Father.

Or perhaps not so ironic after all. Our Father told us about that, too.



How Dystopian Fiction Expresses the Longing for the Kingdom

v for vendettaIf you know me, you know I love sci-fi and comic books and fantasy. When I was younger, some science fiction took on the elements of how great the future could be, how advancements in technology and culture would lead us to a utopian existence. Star Trek was the most popular of these ideas, on how “in the future” we would get rid of poverty and money and ownership (all that evil stuff!) and realize what is essentially a Marxist dream. Other sci-fi stories did the same to another degree or from other perspectives.

We can understand how one could extrapolate that conclusion. The West, and America specifically, achieved a certain amount of rapid progress and wealth over a short amount of time, and continued to give hope with the advances in civil rights through the 60’s. In the future, who’s to say what is possible? And with fantasy, there was the same hope of an idyllic existence, especially with the Tolkien-esque idea of the elves, who seem to have it all figured out.

There were dystopian views in sci-fi, and fantasy, as well. Social commentary is the root of sci-fi, especially. But over the years, we have few, if any, true utopian stories in science fiction. Even in modern Star Trek, the Federation of Planets suffer corruption and internal conflict. And with the popularity of worlds like The Hunger Games and others, dystopian stories have become the rage, the norm.

That’s not even discussing the Zombie Apocalypse narratives that were once B-movie fare but are now major games, movies, and shows, making millions.

It is fascinating that our culture is more and more comfortable with a pessimistic view of the future – the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. While our society and politics become even more and more godless and Marxist, the corruption only increases and takes us further into despair about what is to come. We’re chronically disenfranchised … with everything. Religion, politics, philosophy, economics, whatever. It’s all crap. And our pop culture is reflecting and communicating that sense.

And in reality, everyone – conservative, Christian, liberal, atheist, agnostic, everyone – we all connect with that dystopian view of the future, even as we blame the other side for it.

God forbid we blame ourselves. But that’s another post.

We all understand tyranny, oppression. We believe that authority and power has been abused and will continue to be.

While that is interesting, it is not the most fascinating part to me.

What is fascinating to me is that all of these stories, in all of them, the only response is to fight the tyranny. The heroic response is to do whatever we can to throw off that oppression.

This is on the one hand, a very American idea. Our philosophical foundations were a Declaration of Independence due to an extensive list of grievances, of how the big, powerful Empire, the most powerful one at the time, perhaps in the history of the world, had abused their power. The American colonists revolted, formed their own government, and political history since changed.

Also, this is the longing of the human heart. To make our own choices. To see justice done. To feel a sense of unity around a noble purpose. And that longing comes from a Creator who has purpose, and since he created us in his image, downloaded purpose into us.

I take the fascination one step further, however. The end of these stories is always the death of the Emperor, the destruction of the oppressive system. The towers of tyranny are toppled, and the story ends there.

We almost never see anything better replacing it in these movies. So we can agree and connect with a feeling of oppression, a philosophy of self-determination and freedom, and fighting to the death for that right, and yet when it comes to seeing how the world works after the tyranny has been abolished, we don’t see how it should functionally occur.

Take the recent Star Wars movie, the Force Awakens. We left Return of the Jedi full of hope and the death of the evil Dark Side Emperor. What comes next? The struggles of a new Republic to establish a fair and just system in the place of the Empire? (To be fair, the novels did explore some of that, and those stories were pretty good overall.)

Nope. Not in the next movie. In the next movie, we have yet another all-powerful First Order taking over the galaxy. The First Order uses their weapon to take out this new Republic, you know, the one we never even experienced or saw how it worked. This vague idea of a government, a republic, was destroyed in fire. And we’re back again to tyranny and oppression.

So we have this longing for freedom and justice and a government that ensures what is truly right, leaders that don’t abuse power but use it wisely and for good, and yet we can’t even conceive of what that would really look like, or at least agree in our own agendas as to what that would be.

As usual, this all makes sense when you understand there is a Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is that perfect government, that utopia that we all long for and yet imperfectly express. It is a real longing but vague in the details for one reason – it must be revealed by the King.

Even now, there is a freedom, a power, a means of resistance to the oppression and tyranny of the world. Make no mistake, the systems of the world will always devolve into tyranny. It is their nature. Now, however, we belong to and exist within an eternal power over and above all of those temporary systems. If we are disciples of Christ, we are children of the King and heirs of that Kingdom, and we possess the power of that Kingdom.

We also wait for a further revealing of that Kingdom, in a new heaven and earth, where what we know and experience through Christ is realized in the earth around them. We who experience it now long for that even more than the world to whom their longing is vague and misunderstood. We have drunk from the fount and know the sea into which we will plunge. It does not now exist as a government of this world.

But it does exist. There is only one way to see it, to enter it, to be a part of it, be born of it and inherit it, however, and that is by falling in love with and following the King.


Unity and Diversity are Kingdom Ideas

unityThe Bible tells the story of how the world was corrupted, through the sin of man, through disobedience, and left on our own, humanity divided itself through violence and then was divided even further by God because their unity was to worship themselves and not the Creator worthy of their worship. And of course that was His love, just like a father who sees his child hurtling toward a cliff, he will do whatever he can, even clotheslining the child in the process, to avoid a sure death.

But God did not stop there. He called a man, Abram, and made him a promise. If he would leave his family, his father’s house, and go where God led him, then God would make a new family out of Abram, and from his descendents would come a SEED, and through that SEED all nations would be blessed. “Through you and your seed, every nation will be blessed.”

Paul in the New Testament clarifies that the SEED wasn’t the Israelite people but their Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one that would bring all the diverse nations into unity once again.

“Through you and your SEED [unity] all nations [diversity] will be blessed.”

The Gospel of Jesus, of King Jesus and His Kingdom, is the way by which the diverse nations of the world will be unified again in truth and reality.

That Jesus is the unifying catalyst is clear. He was born of God, fully God and fully human. He is called the “firstborn from the dead” and the “second Adam,” a unifying reality back to the Creator and away from the corruption of division based on sin and disobedience.

And there are different peoples and cultures and languages all around the world. The growing sense and promise and prophecy of the Old Testament was that all nations would come to the “mountain of God,” that the nations wouldn’t have to come to the Israelites to know God, but that they would each have the opportunity to know Him. The nations retain a sense of identity, of individuality, even within the unity.

A primary example of this is the Day of Pentecost, which is coming soon, a day in which God filled the disciples gathered in Jerusalem with his very Spirit, his essence, his power. The New Testament, by the way, says that there is ONE Spirit. There is not one Holy Spirit in me and another in you, like they are divided. They are not. They are one in every way imaginable and ways we cannot conceive. When the disciples expressed the works of God by the Spirit, they did so in different languages, to each gathered there in their “home” languages as they were gathered from the scattered corners of the Roman Empire.

After that moment, they all stayed. They lived as one family. Oh, there were issues – the Greek Jews felt discriminated against and unity had to be reestablished – but God drew them back into unity. It took persecution to scatter them, not internal division.

That unity was voluntary. This is important. That unity was by their choice. They were called and chosen, but they also chose. No larger worldly government had to force that unity or manufacture it. It was organic and voluntary.

The world, as usual, has attempted to appropriate these ideas without the source of them. The ideas are attractive and inspiring, and should be since we all recognize the corruption in the world systems, no matter what your beliefs, and so the modern progressives or other philosophers have attempted to incorporate or identify with ideas of unity and diversity as humanistic ideas. There are two problems with this.

First, to claim these ideas as something that originated with humanity, or is human in its character, divorces them from the one Person that can realize them. God, as creator and designer, is alone qualified and able to unify and maintain dignified diversity in a voluntary way. Since humanity does not have this ability, then that leads us to number two.

Second, since humanity doesn’t have the ability to maintain diversity voluntarily, then it must manufacture it by force – taking away rights to be different, ironically, and oppressing into a form of unity that is firmly held by fear and violence. You know, like the original corruption. Because without God’s help, that’s all we have left. And there you have the history of socialism, communism, and bad governments throughout the world.

So why do we try to do it without God’s help? Well, because we want that “diversity” to include our sin.

Whether that sin is economic or sexual or religious, we don’t want to give up our pet sins. It was sin and disobedience that divided and caused the corruption. Do we really think we get to keep the sin and be brought back to unity?

Well, for some reason, we do. As the Apostle John says, we reject the light and embrace the darkness “because their deeds were evil.” So we call it “progressive” and “enlightened” while falling into the same trap of the Garden.

Do we not see that it was Abraham’s obedience by faith that was the spark of this redemption? It must only continue with obedience.

Also ironic is that the one chance for unity and diversity, being under the rule and reign of Christ, is increasingly hailed as the most divisive tool of all. Any religion or way of life is acceptable, no matter how abusive and damaging in practicality, as long as we don’t give validity to the true.

As a final thought, I will admit that it is problematic that “Sunday mornings” are one of the most segregated times in our culture. We have denominations (which means “division”) and we segregate the Body of Christ by whatever suits our fancy and then make excuses for it. I agree it is sad and not the design.

But to leave it there would be intellectually dishonest. You see, as I said, this unity must be voluntary. It cannot be forced like in a public school setting or with some sort of government program. That, as we’ve seen in history, only breeds more division and oppression, ultimately. Since it must be voluntary, we don’t see it as we should.

However, we do see it, though. I have been around the world and met other disciples of Christ and I can give witness to the same Spirit, the same God, despite cultural differences and linguistic limitations. There are many churches that boast a very racially and culturally diverse congregation. One of the largest churches here in the Atlanta area boasts people from over 100 different nations.

The amazing thing is not that it doesn’t happen … but that it does. And it is voluntary. And therefore, more powerful and real than anything our modern, intellectual progressives could achieve.

Because it’s of God and His Kingdom.




Half-a-Jesus is Really No Jesus at All

half jesusIn a conversation with friends the other night about some recent events, the comment was made, based on a meme (oh, how we have progressed), that “Jesus ate with sinners and prostitutes but obviously wouldn’t have __________ (insert conservative Christian hypercriticism here).”

Political implications aside, this statement made me pause and think. Not because it was true or even insightful, but because there was something fundamentally so wrong about the logic that it took me a moment to work through it intellectually and spiritually. (Full disclosure: I had a beer or two and I was tired, so my brain wasn’t working as fast as normal.)

As I’ve meditated more on it since then, the fundamental problem with the statement became more and more troublesome and more an insight on the spiritual narcissism and danger of our modern culture.

Essentially, what is expressed in the original statement is that Jesus went to eat with people considered sinners, out of love, and so therefore, then we who claim to be His followers should do the same. On that point, I have no argument. That is biblical.

But here is also what Jesus did. He reached out to those people to change their behavior. Do we think that Jesus went to eat with the Pharisees and others that would eventually seek His death, giving false witness at the Sanhedrin, possibly, without an agenda of addressing their lifestyle and behavior? With His scathing words against the religious leaders of His day recorded for us, of course not.

Do we think he went to eat with sinners (prostitutes, tax collectors, etc) with the expectation that it was okay with them remaining as they were? With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus absolutely fought for her absolution and forgiveness against those who would judge her out of their own hypocrisy. But he also said, “Go and sin no more.”

Sin is destructive. It kills. Out of love, Jesus sought to bring people into a righteousness that came from the deep places of compassion and the heart. Knowing that the acts of sin come from the heart, then it was the heart he sought to change. Change the heart to one of love for God, and righteous acts that please the Father would follow.

So yes, we should encourage those who claim to follow Jesus to reach out to all people regardless of behavior, but if Jesus is the model, then our agenda should be to change hearts and correct behavior for their good.

Love corrects. The scripture says that if I don’t correct my children, I hate them. It says that God loves those he disciplines (chastens, corrects, etc.). We should see the correction of God, as uncomfortable and countercultural as it may be, as love. He loves us and it is for our good.

Culture, modern philosophy, ancient rock and roll stars, these do not define love. God does. If He is love, then He defines it, not us.

But those aren’t the kind of Christians we want. Because that’s not the Jesus we want. The modern, “progressive” view of love is that we let people do whatever they feel makes them happy, despite how it goes against any moral code – unless what makes them happy is something conservative and Christian based on that moral code. To take a stand on that is evil, somehow, and exempt from the modern definition of love.

We don’t want the Jesus of the Bible, of the scripture, of sound doctrine, the Jesus who loves us so much he seeks our good through correction, through transformation, through change of our hearts and behavior.

Jesus is after the sin in our hearts, the sin that we think makes us “happy” as well as the sin we see as evil. Greed, lust, betrayal, pride, unbelief, and yes, sexual sin. All of it.

To want a Jesus who “loves” us but does not seek our correction is to want a Jesus who hates us. We are asking for a God who hates us.

But that God doesn’t exist. And so what we manufacture with our own hands based on our modern, “progressive” philosophy is an idol. And idols will tell us whatever we want to hear.

Jesus loves us to reach out to us where we are. He comes to us in the midst of our mess. “While we were yet sinners” he died for us. But he loves us too much to let us stay there. He seeks our good, our eternal happiness, and works for that. He guides and corrects for that. It’s all love.

It humbles us and angers us and makes us wrestle with big questions and our own pride and selfishness, but in the end we are saved and blessed in our Father. Sounds like love to me.


Palm Sunday and “Gas Station” Christianity

bad coffeeMeditated yesterday on Palm Sunday.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and the people celebrated him like a king coming into his kingdom. They threw their robes and palm branches down, crying out “Hosanna!” to him, literally, “God help us! Save us!”
As we know, the Jews were looking for a Messiah that would free them from their Roman oppression and establish a new Jewish kingdom more extensive and powerful than David and Solomon’s combined.
They got that. But just not as they defined it. They got something far better. An eternal kingdom and an eternal king, a freedom not predicated upon local or imperial law that can be changed and abused but upon an eternal reality that can never be shake, a heavenly Kingdom that will shake and dismantle every earthly one.
But since that Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of many of the Jews – the ones in power, the ones whose power was based on Rome’s power – then they had to end him to preserve and accomplish their ends.
God can disappoint you. The true God and Messiah, the true Gospel, the eternal Kingdom, is bigger than modern political positions, agendas, and leaders. And if we want what is less that what God is, God angers and disappoints us.
Was it the same people on Palm Sunday that cried “crucify” the following Friday? Probably not the exact same, but it would be beyond logic to think they were two totally different groups of people, as well. 
The point is this: it is ironic that the greatest being in existence, the one who is the source of love and creation, can be seen as “not enough” to the very same creation. That disappointment, and resulting anger and disbelief even that God exists, is a deception based on lowered expectations.
One of our “coffee” pastors was talking with another coffee distributor the other day, and this distributor was giving our pastor a hard time about how much we pay our farmers for the coffee – like, we pay too much. And our pastor turned to this distributor and said, “We’re not serving gas station coffee, here!” Not realizing that this distributor’s expertise was, in fact, coffee in gas stations.
Our coffee is the top 1% coffee in the world and we were taught to roast by one of the best roasters in the world. It is amazing coffee. Additionally, we pay our farmers 4-5 times fair trade, directly, and that money gives dignified employment and relief and ministry. We also support pastors, missionaries, and other domestic relief by selling the coffee here in the US.
Even though our coffee does amazing things and tastes as good as anything out there, some people prefer bad coffee. You know, they were raised on Folgers pumped full of sugar and milk. Smooth, great tasting coffee makes them wince and spit it out.
Coffee isn’t the point, though. That’s just an example of the principle. There is nothing greater than the Eternal King and Kingdom. But if our expectation of Christianity, of God Himself, is colored by what is by nature less – the things and thinking of this world – then when confronted by the real thing, we wince and spew it forth. We reject it, and ultimately, because the source of our thinking is this world, then it is no surprise when we reject all forms of Christianity and the existence of God Himself.
The only solution to this is relationship with the person of God. That will train our spiritual pallet to what is real and true, lift our vision ever higher with peace and joy. Taste and see. He’s good.
It works the other way, too. When we are used to great coffee, as I am, then it is easy to recognize bad coffee, crappy coffee. Same with the Kingdom. Through a consistent relationship with the Creator, I can more easily recognize that which is not of Him, that which is of the world.
God isn’t offering “gas station” Christianity, or a “gas station” Kingdom. It is the greatest eternal Kingdom that can possibly exist. That’s all he offers. There is no watered down version of that. It cannot exist. He loves us too much to offer less.

Patrick and the Kingdom of God

StPatrick1As usual, we have another “Christian” holiday that is more about cartoon characters and what we can get rather than celebrating, you know, the actual person and what they stood for and believed. That would be too “religious” I guess, so we should just drink a lot of green beer, pinch each other for not wearing green, and butcher Irish accents. Because that’s what St. Patrick was about.

If you haven’t heard the story about St. Patrick, it is an epic one. I would love to see a quality film made based on his life, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while, if ever. The powers of Hollywood are busy with their own agenda; real history and great story are sacrificed for that.

Patrick was a Briton under Rome and somewhat educated in the Christian religion. As a young man, he was abducted by Irish pagan raiders and brought back to Ireland as a slave. While a slave, he learned Irish language and culture from his captors/masters and began to seriously pray to God. God spoke to him and told him to start walking and leave his life of slavery. Through a series of amazing events, he returned to his family and began to pursue a life as a Catholic priest.

While studying and moving forward with his religious career, Patrick had a dream where an Irishman begged him to come and preach the Gospel to them. He struggled with that, as anyone would, but ultimately got the sanction from the powers that be to go be a missionary to Ireland.

This was more difficult than you might imagine. The Catholic church at that time saw “barbarians” like the Irish as practically unreachable. There was no effort to do so. Patrick’s request was unique and met with resistance and skepticism. But Patrick pushed forward. That’s what happens when you get a word from God.

Patrick was criticised and even sanctioned, to a degree, for how different he was with the Irish. He spoke to them in their own language, used their own culture to express the absolute truth of the Gospel in a new way, in contrast to the Roman way of making a people learn Latin and Roman culture and “civilization” before ever thinking a people could hear the Gospel. Patrick took ideas from Paul and the New Testament and miraculously changed an entire nation with the Gospel. He loved those that hated him and transformation happened.

A brutal and violent people were changed. Patrick used their love of poetry and song and education to teach them about the love and truth of Christ. And within a couple generations, Irish missionaries went out into Europe as the Roman Empire fell away and their government/religion along with it, and those Irish missionaries did what Patrick taught them to do – they preached the Gospel out of relationship and love and re-evangelized most of Europe.

As Seamus McManus said in his amazing book, The Story of the Irish Race, “The coming of Patrick to Ireland marks the greatest of Irish epochs. Of all most momentous happenings in Irish history, this seemingly simple one had the most extraordinary, most far-reaching effect. It changed the face of the nation, and utterly changed the nation’s destiny. The coming of Patrick may be said to have had a sublime effect not on Ireland alone, but upon the world. It was a world event.”

Patrick changed a nation, and history itself, with the love of the Gospel.

So of course, we should drink lots of green beer and put leprechauns on our FB pages. Makes sense.

To be fair, I will be drinking some beer today, hopefully a Guinness, because I am of Irish descent and that’s how we roll.

But more importantly, I will be reminded of the world-changing power of the Gospel as we celebrate St. Patrick, because I am a child of God. And that’s how we roll.