Getting Past the Right Answers - Becoming Honest with Ourselves

People who have been churchgoers for a while know the right answers to say so that we can look like we are totally committed to Jesus, but when it comes to actually living out the right answers, we fail more often than not.

For instance, we say that we believe in the power of prayer, but when was the last time that we spent thirty minutes in prayer?

We say that we believe that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, but when was the last time we seriously studied them?

We say that we believe that following Jesus is the best life that anyone could possibly live, but when was the last time that we shared the gospel with someone?

We say that we value living life together in Christian community, but when was the last time that we sacrificed, whether financially or with our time, for our community?

We say that we trust God, but when was the last time we despaired and doubted?

What we do shows what we really believe.  The right answers are easy.  Too easy.  But living out the radical call of the gospel in our lives is difficult.

Paul wrote in his letter to Colossae, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:9-10 (ESV)

I heard Craig Groeschel give a sermon the other week where he said, "I'm guessing that some of you know someone who has told a lie so many times that they start to believe the lie is true."  Then he went on to ask, "How many of you would honestly say, that for you that battling with self-deception is a significant problem?  You're really, really deceived about a lot of things?"  Only a few people raised their hands.  Then he asked, "How many of you know someone else who is really self-deceived?"  The hands then raised from nearly everyone.  He told them to look around and ask, "Do we have a statistical problem?"  The problem is that we can notice the self-deception in other people while we consider the self-deception in ourselves justified.

Why is it so hard to be honest with ourselves?  Do we not like who really are?  Are we embarrassed about our failures?  Paul said to not lie to one another, but I think we really need to stop lying to ourselves.  We need to put on that new self, allow the knowledge that we become enlightened with to transform us, but we can never do that if we keep telling ourselves that the old, out-of-style clothes that we are still wearing are still in.

We have developed an immunity due to familiarity with the Gospel that should transform us.  As churchgoers, we have developed, what I consider, sermon immunity.  It means that we can listen to a sermon, think it is great or awful, and go home and not do a thing about.  We have learned how to listen to a message and remain immune to any change.

This has become easier because we have become more and more inundated with knowledge.  Wikileaks just leaked 251,287 State Department documents.  It was said back in 1989 that a weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th-century England was likely to come across in a lifetime (Information Anxiety).  Around 1,000 books are published internationally every day and the total of all printed knowledge doubles every 5 years.  More information is estimated to have been produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000 (The Reuters Guide to Good Information).  Information is everywhere.  If we have any question about any historical event, we can just Google it and have the answer.  But allowing the right knowledge to transform us is more important than just knowing some information, being able to wow your friends with trivia, or passing a test.

What Paul wants us to do is really believe in the depths of our being.  To allow our beliefs to wash through our body and come out in the way we live.  For a belief that is kept in the head and not expressed in the hands and feet is not a true belief.  It's just us deceiving ourselves.  And if we won't be the hands and feet of Jesus' head, who will be? 

James wrote:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1:22-27 (ESV).
Let's stop lying.  We have places to go and new clothes to put on to get us there.

The Bible on Alcohol and Drinking Wine

In America, we live in a church culture where the prohibition movements that began in the 1840s and culminated in the Prohibition in 1920 have played a huge role in shaping our nation and our church.  These movements, birthed out of good intentions, have warped an honest and historical interpretation of Scripture into one that declares that alcohol is forbidden.  Some churches that were firm on prohibition have made abstinence from alcohol a key issue to who they are.

Others in our society dislike drinking because of terrible family situations they have been in.  They have experience a father or mother drinking too much alcohol.  There hatred of alcohol from their experience is understandable, but the issue in these situations is not consuming alcohol in moderation; it is about people getting totally blitzed , becoming a slave to alcohol, and allowing that slavery to justify abandoning their responsibilities as a father or mother.  My sympathy goes out to people who are living in or have experienced situations like that. 

The larger issue disguised in the alcohol discussion isn't really about alcohol but the practice of making Scriptures forbid something that it does not forbid.  In the case of alcohol, they are actually forbidding something that Scripture encourages in places.  This is a dangerous step to take because it produces a Bible study method that can make the Bible say anything. 

Here are some clear verses on the issue. 

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Psalms 104:14-15 (ESV)
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Tim 5:23 (ESV)
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Prov 31:6-7 (ESV)

The verses that are against drunkenness need to be read in the understanding that there are verses that encourage drinking like the ones listed above.

The following verses show that wine is bad in excess.  By only addressing the excess, the honest conclusion can be that drinking in moderation is okay.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  1 Tim 3:8 (ESV) 
You can be a deacon and a drinker, just not addicted to much wine.  Paul could have easily said, "No drinking wine."  But he said "not addicted to much wine."
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.
Titus 2:3 (ESV)
In Matthew, Jesus claims that he came “eating and drinking.” This is in contrast to John the Baptist who came “neither eating nor drinking.” Obviously, John drank liquids or he would have been dead. What Jesus is saying is that he came drinking, in the way that people claim to go down to the bar and have a drink (Matthew 11:19). Jesus was a drinker.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana where they ran out of wine. If John, the writer, wanted to emphasize that it was non-alcoholic grape juice, there was a word that he could have used to describe it as such. Instead, he used a different word, the word to describe wine. So we see that Jesus had no problem going to a wedding where they were drinking. Nowadays, unless you can turn water into wine, you would have to run down to the store and buy more alcohol, but Jesus took the barrel of water and turned it into wine right on the spot so that the hosts would not be humiliated for running out of wine (John 2:1-11).

Paul wrote Timothy and told him to drink some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). We see that Jesus drank alcohol, that he provided alcohol at a party, and that Paul followed that up by recommending alcohol for medicinal purposes. Wherever the prohibition attitude started, it was not through an honest reading of Scripture

Do not indulge in much wine or get drunk is sound doctrine. It is also sound doctrine that it is okay to drink. What is not sound doctrine is saying that drinking is forbidden; that teaching is a precept of man birthed out the early twentieth century and is not sound doctrine from Scripture. We often confuse sound tradition with sound doctrine.

Science also agrees that drinking in moderation is beneficial.

Alcohol in Moderation Is Good for Sick Hearts Too, Italian Study Suggests
Alcohol heart benefits show up even after bypass surgery
AJCN study shows moderate alcohol consumption related to stronger bones
Moderate alcohol consumption may help seniors keep disabilities at bay
Why Alcohol Is Good for You

In the end, what science says does not really matter because scientific conclusions change with the passing of time.  But in this case, they line up with Scripture and explain for those who are adamantly opposed to alcohol why it is actually good in moderation.  Despite these medical benefits of alcohol, I would argue that the best benefit of alcohol is, like David said,  that it gladdens the heart and opens us up a little bit to make better relationships.

Abstaining from alcohol is not a bad thing to do.  One would be completely justified in taking that approach.  The problem is when people make their abstention from alcohol a requirement despite the Scripture giving clear teaching that it is not something a follower of Jesus needs to abstain from.

We must remember that all good things in life have risks.  Alcohol can be very damaging to one's health, family, and job if consumed in excess.  But that does not mean that it is not beneficial in moderation.  Most things that are beneficial and enjoyable in moderation can be destructive in excess.  Finally, if someone can't participate in a beneficial pleasure in moderation, then they should abstain from it, whether that is alcohol, television, music, sex, sport, or any other pleasure that can take control of our lives, but that does not mean that we have the liberty to make a blanket statement prohibiting alcohol because Scripture does otherwise.

Legalism brings about Division, Love Knits Us Together in Unity

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV).
This part of the letter from Paul to the church at Colossae came immediately after Paul dealt with two attacks on the church there.  The first attack was one on the nature of who Jesus was.  The second attack was legalism in the form of philosophies, Judaism, angel worship, and asceticism.  Paul's remedy to legalism and losing focusing on Jesus was to seek Christ in the things that are above rather than the things of this world.  This echoes Jesus' teaching during the Sermon on the Mount: 
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt 6:33 ESV).
When I was a kid and would play hide and go seek, I always liked to hide with someone.  Although less effective, it made the game all that much more enjoyable.  Earlier (in Colossians 2:3), Paul wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus.  Paul (in Colossians 3:3) is saying that we are hidden with Christ in God.  Unlike when I played hide and seek, hiding with Jesus is still enjoyable yet more effective for our life.  For us who are in Christ, the secrets that are hidden and do not make sense to the world are revealed.  If we live in that same mystery, our lives shouldn't make sense to the world around us.

We're supposed to set our mind on the things that are above, we're supposed to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and we're assured by Jesus that if we seek we will find (Luke 11:9-10).  What if what is above is actually all around us?  What if His kingdom is here in our midst, yet we fail to see it?  What if finding Him is much easier than we thought?


Dr. Karl Menninger was a psychiatrist who was revolutionary for his time and his thoughts are still challenging to the psychiatric field today.  Before World War II, when mental asylums were overcrowded, conditions were terrible, and the mentally ill had a stigma with society, Menninger opened up a clinic that actually loved patients and cured them of their problems rather than just isolating them from society or medicating them like they do now.  

"Love cures people-both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it."

"Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarely taken."

"Love is the touchstone of psychiatric treatment ... to our patient who cannot love, we must say by our actions that we do love him" (1).

When Menninger was asked, "If you knew for a certainty that you were going to have a nervous breakdown, what would you do?"

He replied, "I would close my house; I would move over onto the other side of the tracks; I would knock on doors until I had an opportunity to meet somebody who had more problems than I did; and then I'd spend my time helping them solve those problems" (2).
Meninger knew that loving others is the best cure for the problems we face.


Jesus taught:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,   I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,  you did it to me' (Matt 25:34-40 ESV).
It seems that I have taken a tangent from the idea that legalism brings division while love knits us together in unity, but Jesus' teaching that we love Him by loving the less fortunate isn't a tangent.  It's the cure to legalism.  Loving others, especially those who society deems unlovable, is exactly how we "seek the things that are above."  We can get hung up all sorts of crap when we are the church together.  We can get hung up on what music style we us, what songs we sing, whether we sit on pews or pew chairs, whether we have the lights dim or brighter, what programs we should or should not do, or one of the hundreds of other inane subjects.  But the real heart of our life together is love.  Love for one another and love for those around us.  When we let the other issues get in the way of us loving each other and loving those around us, we have become legalists.

A healthy family is not a family who always agree with one another.  A healthy family is one who works through their problems and disagreements because they love one another.  They don't give up on one another when times get tough or family decisions do not go their way.  "Hatred stirs up strife,  but love covers all offenses" (Prov 10:12 (ESV).  Hatred toward one another causes a family to disintegrate while love frees them to disagree.  The same is true of a healthy church.  We need to love one another through thick and thin because we have been knitted together in Christ.

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Col 2:6-7 ESV).  This walk in him does not come through self-centeredness that manifests itself in us warping Jesus into who we want Him to be or morphing our walk into a series of legalistic obstacles that we expect others to traverse.  This comes from living a transformed life, a life that is focused on loving others no matter what others might think of us.  For we have been "knit together in love" and hold "fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (Col 2:2, 2:19 ESV).  

Legalism brings about division, but love knits us together in unity.


1. Quoted in "Menninger's long history began with a small idea."  Menininger Institute. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.

2. Quoted from Clarke's personal file in Clarke, J. Richard. "The Royal Road to Happiness."  Brigham Young University. 30 October 1979. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.

Man Being Tried for Murder Nearly Thirty Years after the Shooting

I don't support shooting cops, but I also don't support people being arrested for murder, after having served time for the shooting, thirty years after the incident.

Here's the story.  On November 6, 1980, three men were caught in the act of stealing a Mustang and two of them, David Knick and Robert Strong, shot the law enforcement officer, Deputy Ira Essoe, who was being a good and brave officer trying to stop the robbery.  Unfortunately, the officer was paralyzed.  It was a heinous and terrible act, and Knick and Strong deserved their punishment.  On February 4, 2010, Deputy Essoe died.

Here are the details that I think are important from the story.

David Knick was twenty four years old at the time.  He then served nine years for one felony count each of attempted murder, unlawful taking of a vehicle, possession of a firearm by a felon, and two felony counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and auto burglary.  It is not his fault that he did not serve enough time; he was given that time by the judge.  According to his daughter, he is now a pastor, wrote an apology to Deputy Essoe in the 80s, and has never claimed that he did not deserve the punishment he received.

Deputy Ira Essoe died at the age of 69, twenty-nine and a half years after the incident.  The medical examiner says that his death was from complications from the shooting thirty years ago.  He died from sepsis of the blood, which the examiner claimed was caused by bed sores.  Knick's daughter claims that the sores were caused by neglect from her caregivers and not by the shooting that happened nearly thirty years ago.

There are two issues at stake here.  First, the two criminals who did their time for the original crime appear to be receiving a tougher dose of justice because the victim was a law enforcement officer.  If this is a murder, then we need to be fair and routinely charge criminals with murder if the victim dies of complications from the incident thirty years later.  It should not matter if the victim is a law enforcement officer or not.  Second, we must ask ourselves how long after a shooting one should be charged with murder from complications from that shooting.  What is a reasonable period of time?  Thirty years does not seem reasonable.  But there is a time period that would be reasonable.  Not everyone dies immediately from a shooting.

It is sad that Deputy Essoe has died.  Even though it was in February, my prayers do go out to the family. Sadly, the family can't deal with the death in peace because of the circus surrounding the crime that happened thirty years ago.  But the answer is not putting two guys back into prison who have kept a clean record since being freed.  Doing that won't help anyone - not the taxpayers, not the Essoe family, nor the criminals' families.  


From the Associated Press - Murder charged after CA victim dies 30 years later

From the Orange County Register - Two men charged with murder in deputy's 1980 shooting

From the Orange County Sheriff's Department -  Officer Down Memorial Page Honors Sergeant Ira Essoe

An online petition to the Orange County Prosecutor - Bring Justice for David

Quote from James and the Giant Peach - Learning to Dream Again

In James And The Giant Peach a little boy named James is orphaned and moves in with his evil aunts take care of him.  James dreams of escaping his terrible situation and traveling to New York City.  Then one magical day arrives.  James receives a magical seed that turns into a giant peach.  James and The Giant Peach is a story of suffering, triumph, and overcoming obstacles as James floats and flies across the ocean with the giant peach to New York City.

At the end of the movie, after James arrives in New York City, his aunts appear and attempt to take credit for the peach, so they can profit off of it.  James tries to get people to believe the truth when he explains the magical, wonderful, yet unbelievable story that caused the giant peach to arrive in New York City.

The aunt retorts in a slithery voice, "This is all something he dreamed up."

James finds courage and replies, "Well, maybe it started that way.  As a dream, but doesn't everything.  Those buildings.  These lights.  This whole city.  Somebody had to dream about it first.  And maybe that is what I did.  I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it."

Everything starts with a dream.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the early church, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Acts 2:17-18, 21 (ESV)].

These days of the Spirit are here.  Notice that with the Holy Spirit, old men will dream dreams.  We are never too old to dream.  To think of things that aren’t yet that should be.  To see God’s vision of the world that we feel in the depths of our being should be but isn’t.

Age beats us down.  And the more we age, the more we can become disillusioned that the things we do become meaningless, that the wrongs in this world cannot be fixed.  The ideals we once strove for are unreachable.  But the Holy Spirit gives the power to continue dreaming.  It gives us the power to keep going despite all obstacles.  It gives us the strength to see a world that is not yet and go after it.  No longer do we have to stop dreaming as we age.  We can dream, and we can change into that which we dream.

May we continue to dream, and may we, as followers of Jesus, dream His dreams.  May His dreams become reality because we never give up on dreaming them.  It probably won’t be a giant peach, but it will be a better world.

A Leadership Poem

A Leader makes decisions
Even When People Don't Agree

A Pleaser makes decisions
Only When People Do Agree

What happens...
...When people Disagree

A Leader Leads Through

A Pleaser freezes
And chaos ensues

My brief foray into the Nazarene Church and Reflection on the Changes at Riverside Christian Church

Someone wrote me an email about my time as a Nazarene, whether that was influencing me, and mentioned that some of the people who had left the Antwerp Church of Christ, before it became Riverside Christian Church, accused me of teaching things that are "way out there."  This was my reply.

I left the Nazarene Church because I was not Nazarene in the least bit.  Never was.  We never became members there.  I wanted to leave a month in, but Lindsay wanted to stick it out. I just tried to minister to the best of my ability through the opportunities given to me while we were there.  I realized through observing the inner workings of the Nazarene denomination that I could not minster there without compromising my conviction that we should not adamantly condemn things that the Scriptures appear to allow. 

I left in a peaceful way, not making any stink, and still remain friends with Scott Marsee and Tom Travis (it was sadly funny to hear the stories from the people that hated me and left the Antwerp Church of Christ on how I caused trouble and left the Nazarene church and the youth ministry I ministered at in Michigan).  Honestly, it was over the Nazarene teachings on drinking, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.  I would not say that people who speak in tongues should be excluded from the church or ministry positions because the Bible does not say that (see this thread on Naznet for a discussion of the Nazarene view on tongues as a prayer language and their response to it).  There are biblical rules to speaking in tongues as a prayer language and those should be adhered to.  I could not say that drinking was wrong because Jesus was a drinker and Paul recommended drinking (from the Doctrinal and Ethical Positions of the Church of the Nazarene 34.5. "we call our people to total abstinence from all intoxicants.").  I understand that there is discussion within the Nazarene church to change this, but the stance of the church at the present time is not one that I can agree with.  And I do not believe people are saved with a prayer and raising their hand because salvation is found by grace through faith when we surrender our whole heart to the Lord.  This will result in us dying to ourselves, becoming Jesus' disciples, and doing His will.  Not that the Nazarenes don't believe that, but the practice of raising one's hand drove me bonkers, probably more bonkers than it warranted.  These were just a few examples of teachings, albeit well-intentioned, that seemed to spring from some source other than Scripture, which drove me nuts week in and week out.  I am required to teach what I understand the Bible to teach, whether that goes against a teaching of the church or, as in the case at the Antwerp Church of Christ, the traditions of men.         

I'm not anti-denominational though.  Just non-denominational.  Bob Russell, the retired pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, gave a great sermon at the men's meeting at Lake James on this just the other month.  At some point in the 1950s, some in the Church of Christ (especially those in this area) started focusing on the things that divide rather than just going after the mission of Christ in the world around us.  We started thinking we were right because of our doctrines rather than loving like Jesus and making disciples.  If there are copies of that sermon floating around, it would be a great one to listen to.  I'm willing to work with denominations where we have common ground, to build relationships, and to learn from them as I hope they learn from me through our relationships.    

And my teachings are "way out there" to some, but I think they are in line with the Bible and the Churches of Christ/Christian Churches throughout the rest of the country.  It was not my desire to do what I did at this church and hurt people's feelings and "take" their church from them.  I was just following Christ; I honestly believe He wanted to transform the church and bring it back to life.  The changes just started steamrolling as the leadership changed one thing after another knowing that we needed to change if we wanted to exist in ten years.  The changes took place much faster than I had planned, but I do believe God was in control.  I can see now that if we took my slower plan with a focus on educating the changes through, we would have had just as many headaches and lost as many people.  These losses would have occurred without the resultant growth we have seen.  Slow changing would have probably killed the church; fast changing nearly did.  I remember sending emails and making phone calls to my Church of Christ professors and friends in the ministry asking if I should be pursuing the changes we were making and teaching the things I was teaching because the struggle we were facing was something I had never experienced.  I was beginning to question whether I belonged in the Church of Christ, although I did not know where I would wind up if I did not.  But they encouraged me and told me to keep going after what God had called me to.  I know now that I rest firmly in the Restoration Movement and that there are like-minded churches in this area, but I did not have the relationships with them at that time.

I hope that the core of my teaching is what Jesus had at the core of his teaching, "Loving God and loving our neighbors."  It is our mission to be a community of people in real, authentic relationships with one another, to be passionate about Jesus and His work, and to love people in practical ways.  By doing that, we hope that God will transform people and add to our community.  This vision is a combination of the thoughts in Acts 2:42 and Matthew 22:37-40.  If people don't get that from what I teach, then I have not done a good job.  If my teachings aren't "way out there" to a dead church who should have the life of Christ exuding from them, then I am not doing my job. 

Just this last week, I taught a sermon that would have infuriated some of those who left on the Lord's Supper in which I touched on how it is not commanded to be done weekly (although they try to use bad Bible study methods on Acts 20:7 to make it say that), but that we choose to do it weekly because we want Jesus' death on the cross and the forgiveness and unity we have as a result of that to be central to our gathering.  The only sin associated with taking the Lord's Supper in Scripture is the sin of taking it in an unworthy manner, not discerning Christ's body, the church, when taking it.  The Lord's Supper is not something we should divide over, think it makes us better than others because of the frequency or way we do it, nor is it something that we take on Sunday and forget; it should be something that spurs us on toward living the life of love that Jesus wants us to live throughout the rest of the week.

Our church's beliefs and convictions can be found at our church's website.

How to Change our World for Jesus - The Lure of Politics

When I first started this blog in 2004, I wrote a few articles on Christian Exodus, an organization that plans "to accelerate the return to self-government based upon Biblical principles" by planned resettlement in South Carolina.  The idea is that if enough Christians moved to the same place, they can create a synergy that will transform their local governments, which will then transform the state into a theocracy, a government that recognizes God as its ruler.  I thought they might have fizzled out by now, but they appear to still be going strong.   

Here are some of the posts for background on this subject:
More on Christian Exodus - The Dilemmas Raised in Attempting to be a Christian Nation or State
The Difference Between a Nation of Christians and a Christian Nation
Creating a Jesus State - On Christian Exodus

What we see in Christian Exodus is just a more overt expression of the platitudes and attempts of many of the Christian political organizations fighting the political battle in America.  This approach is nothing new.  It is just a rehashing of the concept that has crept into the church throughout the years.  As Christians, we desire our nation to be one focused on God, but this desire can be expressed differently.  For some, it means that they will enter the political fray and attempt to transform the political structure from one that is out of tune with God to one that takes its marching orders from God.  From the Christianization of Rome by Constatine to Calvin's Geneva to Uganda today, we see that the religious people, when trying to make a state based upon the headship of God, have a tendency to begin killing people who disagree with them.
The fallacy of this approach is that the life of Christ cannot be passed on to others by the powers of the State.  We might create moral people through the threat of the gun, fines, and imprisonment, but moral people are meaningless without hearts surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.  I pray that we will never resort to executing non-believers like Constantine and Calvin were willing to do, like the people of Uganda are almost ready to do once again.

If we want to have an eternal impact on our world, we need to focus on being the people that God wants us to be rather than obsess with transforming our nation.  It's easy for us to point fingers at others and tell them that they need to change while we ignore the most important calling on our life that we have control over.  Our nation would benefit more from Christians examining their our own lives, drawing closer to Jesus, and following our intimacy with God with the sacrificial living that will inspire.  We need to spend our time figuring out ways to make Christ's love real to the world around us through the overflowing of the love we have for one another in our local church.  It starts with us truly loving one another, not just with words but with real, meaningful actions.  That love will produce the result we desire instead of the hatred that ensues from Christians entering the political fray "for Christ," creating morality laws, and coercing others to live like they are Christians.   

We still have the concern of how to stand up for justice and the things God cares for in our society.  Don't confuse this approach as saying that we need to stop being concerned about the things that Jesus is concerned with.  The answer to justice does not lie in the state but in Jesus, who has a body here on earth that is supposed to bring about His will.

In a conversation years ago with John Nugent, professor at Great Lakes Christian College, he wrote to me concerning the writings of John Howard Yoder.  His thoughts are very appropriate on an election day like today. 

"What follows is simply a summary of John Howard Yoder’s article “Original Revolution” published in a book that bears that title.) The Sadducees represent one strategy. They got in with the Roman power brokers located in Jerusalem and through strategic alliance with them sought to carve space for Jews in Palestine on Rome’s terms. Then there are the Pharisees who gave up on political leverage. Instead they created Judaism to be something mostly concerned with individual piety. Regardless of who is in charge, if everyone just focuses on personal piety, they will be right with God and will share in the resurrection. Then there were the Zealots. They would not tolerate Roman occupation of “their land” without a fight. So they employed violence, subterfuge, and revolt in order to topple the enemy. These three strategies are employed in various ways by various groups and religions in America today. I leave it to you to connect the dots. But a fourth strategy seems most analogous to the Exodus movement. These are the Essenes or Dead Sea community. Their strategy was to quarantine themselves off from the contamination of wider society, to do things right on a strictly in-house basis, and to patiently await God’s call to take the next step whatever it may be."
Significantly, Jesus rejected all of these strategies. If either of them were basically right, it seems that Jesus would have allied with them and taken control of their already gathered ranks. Instead he begins a movement that is genuinely new and draws adherents from various of these camps. His strategy was to form a people who would exist among the people but would not live according to their ways. Instead they would order their life together to bear witness to God’s kingdom. His strategy should not, however, be confused with the Pharisees. Jesus did not ask them to focus primarily on their individual spiritual lives. He gathered them into a people whose corporate life together was a large part of their witness (e.g., light of the world, city on a hill, salt of the earth, etc). It was crucial that they be a visible-political body, ordered according to the politics of God’s kingdom, and it was crucial that this people would exist in and among the other peoples of the world—not off in relative isolation as with the Essenes. If the Essene strategy was right, all Jesus would have had to do was join them and tweak their teaching to align with God’s kingdom. Interestingly, however, John the Baptist seems to have left this group to be used by God to prepare the way for Jesus among the people of Palestine. Anyway, you know how the story goes. Jesus gathers this people, dies, rises, re-gathers them, and commissions them to await the HS who would empower them and send them out on their worldwide mission. The HS comes and Jesus’ followers decide to huddle in Jerusalem (re-Babel-ification). Then the HS sends persecutions that scatter the Jerusalem Christians out into worldwide mission to people of all ethnic groups. But this dispersion, according to the letters of the NT, had to take a certain kind of shape. In keeping with Jesus’ vision, they were to form messianic communities ordered according to God’s kingdom and located among the nations as a witness to them. Their status was that of aliens, strangers, exiles, and ambassadors. They were resident aliens—residing among the people but of alien citizenship. A great online article that highlights these themes in 1 Peter can be found here."

So we really have the option of being five types of people.

1. People trying to change the political structure for God.
2. People focused only on individual spirituality.
3. People focused on removing the "sinners" from their land by force.
4. People focused on isolating ourselves from the world.
5. People who live together in such a way that their life together is a witness to the world.

I can see the possibility of Groups 1, 2, and 5 working together. Then I am reminded that the blunt end of Jesus' criticism landed on groups 1 and 2, the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Now, if you're new to my beliefs on individual spirituality, let me have a little go at explaining them. The main verse we hear on a "personal relationship" with Christ is John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Jesus requests in that same prayer that we are to "be one" three times (John 17:11, 17:21-22). God wants his people to be one. As Ephesians 4:4-7 states: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift."

A brief summary of my stance is this. It is important for each individual to make a commitment to follow Christ - that is the entry into the Kingdom; however, that commitment does not lead them into personal spiritual ecstasy land. That individual commitment leads them to the body of Christ. Romans 12:5 says, "We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." When you become a Christian, you begin to share your life with others.

It is tough to believe in the importance of being a collective group in a society that worships the individual. But we need to be careful. When our beliefs parallel that which the pagan culture around us strongly adheres to to, we need to make sure that we carefully scrutinize those beliefs.
As followers of Jesus, we are tempted with all sorts of methods that will distract us from our true mission to be in love with Jesus as a body and live lives together that will reflect His glory.  Anything else than total surrender is easier, and that is why they are appealing.  But we must remember that Jesus' burden is light.