Whenever I am on social media, it is only a matter of time before a post or thread comes across my feed wherein Christians are debating the trending topic of the day.
Most recently, I have seen a number of comments on Twitter about whether or not the Bible states slavery is wrong. Yes, you read that line correctly. There are currently professing Christians on Twitter that are actually debating the morality of slavery.
I honestly don’t have the emotional energy to follow many of these threads, but when the discussions are trending they inevitably end up in my feed. It is always topics and discussions which elicit an emotional response from others that start trending. In recent years, here are a few additional topics I have seen debated in Christian circles on social media (some numerous times):
- Women in Pastoral Ministry
- Gun Ownership
- Marijuana Use
- Infant Baptism
I assume you may wonder, just as I did, why topics such as those above are repeatedly debated on social media. I will use the most recent topic as an example. As far as I can tell, a few individuals posted quotes on their social media from theologian Johnathan Edwards. Then a few others pointed out that Johnathan Edwards was a slave owner. Pretty soon everyone starts to throw out their opinions of Johnathan Edwards as a theologian and the morality of slavery, and I am sure you can see how the discussion would just take off from there.
As I see topics such as those above debated on social media in Christian circles, a question I have often asked myself is, “Why did Jesus not speak more specifically about these topics during His ministry on earth?” After all, in the midst of these debates I will often see responses like, “Jesus never condemned slavery,” or “Jesus never commanded His followers to tithe,” or “The Bible does not say getting a tattoo is a sin.”
Such comments are not necessarily incorrect. There are many topics which the Bible or the teachings of Jesus do not specifically address. In recognizing this, the next logical question to ask ourselves is why this is the case.
In reflecting on this, I have come to realize that just as it is important we know well what Jesus said during his earthly ministry, it is also important that we know what He did not say.
Why did Jesus not lay out a more specific moral code for His followers?
If He had done so, He would have simply been repeating the error of the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. Jesus did not come to define, change, or expand the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly was demonstrating that the law was less about following a set of rules, and more about the state of one’s heart. He demonstrated this in His response when asked what is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37).
As followers of Jesus trying to navigate social media, we must be careful our debates regarding whatever the trending topic of the day may be do not cause us, or those we interact with, to lose focus on what is most important. It is not following God’s law that saves us. Jesus saved us, even when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), and it is this unmerited grace which compels us to pursue holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16).
Yet what about broader social issues like slavery and women’s rights? Why did Jesus not speak more directly to such issues during His ministry?
The answer to this question is actually not much different than the question about the law. Jesus’ ministry was about changing the hearts of men (and women), it was not about a social revolution. Jesus began His ministry with a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17). He called his followers to a life of sacrifice(Matthew 16:24-26). He spoke often in parables, but when He gave specific examples they were uncompromising and convicting (Matthew 5:21-48).
If Jesus had spent His ministry specifically addressing the social issues of the day, He would have not been addressing the real problem, our sinful hearts. Interestingly enough, it is when the individual members of a society repent of their sin and are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ that the solution to the societal issues of the day can be addressed. So, I guess one could say that Jesus did come to address broader societal issues, just maybe not in the way that people would have expected him to.
I am increasingly convinced the words of Jesus are enough, even if they don’t specifically speak to the question we are asking.
I am increasingly convinced the Bible is sufficient for living a life of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), even if it does not specially address every topic we encounter.
I think that too often we use a perceived lack of specific commentary in the scriptures regarding the trending topic of the day as an excuse to voice our opinions while completely missing what is most important.
When Christians today decide to debate the morality of a topic such as slavery publicly on social media, we are demonstrating that many of us still have not addressed the real problem. Many of us still have not learned to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:31). Many of us still have not learned what it means to follow the example of Jesus as a servant (John 13:13-16). Many of us still live a self-centered life, instead of a life of self-denial (Matthew 16:24).
Can you think of another example of a moral question or topic that Christians seem to debate because they don’t feel the Bible specifically addresses it? If so, what guidance does scripture give us regarding approaching that topic?
A few years ago, a patient came to me with a very interesting request. She came asking how to safely participate in a three day fast for a religious ceremony. This woman was elderly, frail, and diabetic. She came to me about this because she knew a three day fast could potentially be dangerous to her health, so she wanted to know how to do it safely.
She let me know at the beginning of the appointment she was not seeking permission from me. The religious event was so important to her, that she was resolved to participate in the fast, even if I advised against it. She also let me know that she respected me, and for that reason wanted to seek my advice as a clinician.
This request frankly caught me off guard. In my experience growing up in the American Christian church, fasting was often presented as optional. When the topic of fasting was brought up for discussion in the church, inevitably people would state they cannot fast for “medical reasons”. Pastors were always sensitive to this while promoting a corporate fast, and sure to include the disclaimer, “I know that some of you will not be able to participate for medical reasons…”
Yet here in front of me was a woman who had plenty of medical reasons to not participate in a three day fast, yet she was resolved to do so. On top of this, she was not a Christian.
After the appointment, I reflected on the fact that thus far in my career, I never had a Christian come to me with the same request as my patient that day.
A few years later I took a position working in gastroenterology, and there I made a surprising discovery: there are essentially no medical contraindications to fasting. Part of my job in that clinical setting was to guide patients through how to fast prior to endoscopic procedures. It is genuinely challenging for some people to fast twelve hours prior to a procedure. After all, we live in a culture that revolves around food. But even those who are chronically ill and frail can safely fast; it is not medically contraindicated even for those folks, and certainly not impossible.
The whole idea that fasting has medical contraindications is essentially a fabrication. So why is it repeated so often in the church? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section as to why this may be the case.
I would propose that for too long in the Christian church in the USA we have tried to make the spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, easier and marketable. We make fasting easier out of fear that we will push people away if it is hard.
So instead of Biblical fasting being a routine part of the Christian’s daily life with corporate fasting occurring regularly as we see in the scripture, every once in a while a church will promote a “Daniel fast” to help people lose weight. Or maybe only the youth will fast, since so many adults in the church cannot fast for “medical reasons.” Still other churches have told people that fasting can be abstaining from essentially anything, so people will fast their morning trip to McDonald’s, social media, or their favorite TV shows.
Whatever the scenario, in all of these cases we end up watering down fasting so much it ends up looking nothing at all like fasting in the scriptures. Even worse, when we do this, we miss the entire point of fasting.
Throughout scripture, we see fasting as a regular occurrence in the life of a follower of Jesus. There are also numerous examples of individuals and groups fasting to seek God’s direction, or the movement of God in a unique way. Fasting is a powerful tool Christians have been given to experience the movement, power, and direction of Almighty God in their lives.
When was the last time you fasted? Was it challenging? Did it stretch your faith and grow your relationship with God, or was it convenient and uneventful?
I’m not sharing all of this to shame anyone. The truth is, as I write these words I have to look at myself first, recognizing I have a lot of maturing to do in the spiritual discipline of fasting.
When Christians fast, we are not worshiping an idol that is powerless or a false god that cannot respond to our worship. On the contrary, we worship the one true God and creator of the universe who desires to be glorified in our lives. When we truly seek God with all of our heart through prayer, fasting, and scripture reading, we will see God move powerfully in our lives for His glory.
Imagine if Christians in the United States actually started to set the standard for what spiritual discipline and fasting looks like.
Imagine if doctor’s offices were flooded with patients seeking medical advice from their PCP regarding how to fast and seek the one true God.
Imagine if seeking God was something we started to build our lives upon, instead of something we try to fit in when it is convenient.
Imagine if Christians began to seek God so fervently that the power and movement of God in our midst would be undeniable to those looking from the outside.
In the wake of a number of mass shootings in the United States, the debate regarding gun rights and gun control is again in full swing. As I have been following various discussions on social media, I noticed a number of folks will argue against gun control stating that guns are simply a tool. Additionally, as I have stated on my social media pages that guns are an idol in American Christian culture, a few folks responded by commenting that guns are tools and therefore cannot be idols.
These comments caused me to reflect on the various idols that compete with our affection for God in the American Christian church. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- Personal Rights
The interesting thing about these is that at a very basic level, they are all tools. None of these things are inherently evil, and in fact can be used for good.
Money, when used wisely, can be a great blessing to many. Politics can be a means to advocate for the poor, live as responsible citizens in our communities, and give a voice to those who otherwise may not have one. Firearms can be used for hunting and providing for one’s household. Individual rights are a foundational concept upon which healthy communities are built. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of how money, politics, guns, and personal rights can be tools for good; but I hope you otherwise get the idea. It is important to start here, because many people will staunchly defend these things under the auspices that they can be used for good.
So at what point does a tool become an idol?
A tool becomes an idol when it is no longer a means to an end, but the end in itself.
For example, if the Lord blesses a Christian with wealth and that wealth is not an idol, they will pray for wisdom regarding how to use it for God’s glory. They will not hold too tightly to the money or be devastated if it is lost for some reason, because their wealth will be found in Christ, not in their money. If the Lord blesses financially, we should praise Him, and if He takes our money away, we should still praise Him. No matter which circumstance we find ourselves in, our calling is still the same, to glorify God in our lives.
If wealth is an idol, one may try to hoard it, obtain more of it, or use it for their own selfish desires. When money is an idol, it becomes the goal, it becomes the focus; and it replaces God as our motivating force. This is why Jesus taught us not to love money, but to be generous and store up treasures in heaven (instead of on earth). Jesus wants us to avoid making money into an idol.
As another example, having the right to bear arms has its merits, similar to other personal rights that are established in the United States. Yet, we are in trouble when we seek to preserve a right simpy for its own sake. I will never forget when a brother from church and I were talking about these things, and he boldly declared, “The government can try to take my guns away, but I will die defending my right to bear arms!” You will notice, my brother did not state he would be willing to die for the gospel or for the glory of God, but for his personal rights to own a firearm. On top of that, his statement implied he would be willing to take another man’s life for that same purpose.
Are our guns or any personal rights really worth dying for or killing others for? Did Jesus teach these are things worth dying for? If we take just a moment to go through the teachings of Christ in the gospels, we will find that Jesus actually taught the opposite. Jesus taught His followers to be willing to lay down their rights for the sake of others, He taught us to love and pray for our enemies.
Our personal rights here in the United States, including the right to bear arms, are a blessing. We should consider how blessed we are, and how we are using these blessings to glorify God. Yet if we hold to these rights too tightly, they become the goal, they become an idol. If God wants me to lay down my rights for the benefit of others, then as a follower of Jesus, I should do so gladly.
In the interest of brevity, I will not expound on at which point politics become an idol, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this and hope you would consider contributing in the comments section.
Idolatry, being normalized and even promoted in the American Christian church, has had a devastating impact in recent years.
There are churches where the idolatry of money, politics, and guns have become so accepted, they are preached from the pulpit. It is a more obvious form of idolatry when churches preach a prosperity gospel, host political rallies, or raffle off guns to their congregants. This blatant idolatry should be condemned in the church and in Christianity generally.
Yet, idolatry can look much more subtle, almost the opposite of that mentioned above. In these cases, the church may choose to be silent regarding issues of money, politics, and guns; but this silence is a symptom of a deeper issue. I recall years ago, a pastor telling me they will not preach about money from the pulpit, because they have had congregants get angry and threaten to leave the church after such sermons. Another stated they will not preach about politics from the pulpit, due the same concerns. In each of these cases, the silence of the church is the result of fear. The idolatry of the surrounding culture infected the church so significantly, the church’s ability to speak the truth of the gospel in the midst of a secular culture is severely crippled, if not silenced.
At the end of the day, each of us needs to honestly evaluate our own hearts and priorities.
May we have wisdom to identify the tools in our lives that we have made into idols, repent of our sin, and remove those idols from the places of influence we have given them; returning that space back to God and God alone.
May we strive to live our lives in such a way that the only thing we hold tightly to is Christ himself.
May Christ be what unites us, may Christ be what motivates us, and may Christ be the model we all seek to follow.
Recently, I posted a review of my book on Facebook. A large number of folks typed “amen!” in the comments. This actually surprised me, because the review (see attached) stated the book will make you uncomfortable. This has been one of the challenges in getting people to engage with the content of the book, since people typically are more inclined to read books that reinforce their worldview, not challenge it.
Sometimes I wonder if people are skimming through their Facebook feed so quickly they see God Is Not on Your Side, and simply misread it as God Is On Your Side. There are entire memes dedicated to our tendency to misread things on social media, so I don’t think the idea is too far-fetched.
Anyway, I was looking through the comments on the post, and in the midst of a long list of “amens” one person simply typed, “What!?”. This made me chuckle, and I thought to myself, “I think someone actually read the review.”
Honestly, this type of reaction is the primary goal of the book. In the USA we are so accustomed to a self-centered Christianity, we just assume it to be true.
We assume God is always pursuing us, instead of seeking God with all our heart. (Matthew 22:37)
We assume God wants us to take care of ourselves first, instead of putting others first. (Philippians 2:3)
We assume God wants us to be wealthy, instead of living a life of generosity. (Matthew 6:20)
We assume God wants us to defeat our enemies, instead of loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:44)
We assume God wants us to be prosperous and comfortable, instead of taking up our cross. (Luke 9:23)
We assume God wants us to live the American Dream, instead of building the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 6:33)
We assume God wants us to be a celebrity or a leader, instead of living as a servant. (Matthew 20:26)
We assume God wants us to fight our battles with guns and other physical weapons, instead of fighting battles with spiritual weapons. (Ephesians 6:12)
At a foundational level, we assume God is on our side, instead of seeking to be on God’s side.
We have grown so accustomed to self-centered Christianity instead of God-centered Christianity, it feels as though something needs to jolt us awake. Something needs to cause us to pause and ask ourselves if what we have assumed to be true for so long, is actually true. The answer will not be found by “looking within” or “searching our heart” but earnestly seeking God with all of our heart and searching His Word (the Bible).
I don’t know what it will take for us to open our eyes to our self-centered Christianity. On almost a daily basis I am bombarded with news of tragedy after tragedy occurring in the United States I feel would at least prompt us to lament and introspection. Yet people only seem to be digging in their heels even deeper and defending their assumptions, their pride, and their perceived rights.
It has now been over a year since God Is Not On Your Side was published. Though there have been many days where I feel my attempts to be faithful to the calling God has put on my heart with this project are met with silence, I praise the Lord for the opportunity He has given me to write this book and for each individual I have been able to engage in conversation on this topic. I have faith that the Lord is working in people’s hearts leading them to the truth, just as He has worked in my own life.
It will take a literal miracle to change our self-centered Christianity to a God-centered Christianity. It will take a miracle for our assumptions to shift their alignment from that of our own hearts, to the heart of God. The good news is that God Almighty is a God of miracles!
Jesus told His followers it is impossible for a rich man to be saved (see Matthew 19:16-26). Their response was a reasonable one, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replied to their question with the following statement:
“With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I was recently at a local market, and a middle school student approached me selling some items for a school fundraiser. I noticed her school is a private Christian school, and so I inquired as to where it is located. The adults that were accompanying the young lady then proceeded to provide me with the school’s information and say, “Our school is here so that you can get your kids out of the public school system,” and “If your kids come to our school, they do not have to be vaccinated for COVID.”
I thanked the gentlemen for the information, and as I returned to my car, reflected on how odd the interaction was to me. These brothers in Christ had an opportunity to share with me about their children’s school, and instead of mentioning Christian values, or even Jesus himself, they assumed I was looking for a safe haven for my kids from the public school system and vaccine mandates.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have opinions and concerns regarding the public school system and curriculum here in California, and I also have opinions regarding vaccine mandates for kids and adults. The thing is, neither of these would be deciding factors when considering a school for my kids.
Why is that?
Simply put, neither of these issues is definitely Christian, or in and of themselves should be issues that Christians unite around.
There are some Christians who homeschool, there are some who send their kids to private school, and there are others who send their kids to public school. I have met families in all three scenarios who have sought the Lord earnestly regarding the path they chose, and are walking that path in the conviction it is the way the Lord has called them to disciple their family and be a light for Christ in their community.
In the same way, there are Christians who have had their children vaccinated for COVID, and others who have not. Again, I know many Christians of varying opinions who have sought the Lord regarding this decision and are sure of their conviction.
It is good for people to have opinions regarding these issues, but a problem arises when we start to say that a specific opinion or conviction regarding these issues is the Christian one.
Many churches, Christian schools, and other Christian organizations have already been going down this dangerous path for a few years now. Instead of uniting around Christ, we unite around a shared political ideal, a shared conviction regarding masks and vaccine mandates, a particular political candidate, a particular cause, or something else.
The thing is, what unites us, if it is anything but Christ, will eventually tear us apart.
I fear we now have churches and other Christian organizations growing simply because of their politics, and the divisions in the American Christian church we have witnessed in recent years will only grow deeper before they improve.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not spend the majority of His ministry campaigning for women’s rights, or maybe trying to abolish slavery in His day? There were many social issues and injustices that Jesus could have chosen to unite people around. Instead, when He started His ministry He declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) He then spent three years teaching and demonstrating what the kingdom of heaven looked like. He told parables to illustrate the kingdom of heaven in relatable terms. He demonstrated and taught how His followers (citizens of heaven) will act (Matthew 5-7). Yes, He addressed social issues, and subverted social norms, but this was not the focus of His ministry and it was not what His followers united around.
In a future blog post I would like to expand on this concept further, but for now, I want to encourage you to at least consider how different Jesus’ ministry would have looked if He had focused on championing a cause, instead of bringing the kingdom.
As followers of Jesus, Christians are not called to unite around a cause, but to bring the kingdom of God.
If we are honest, it is much easier to focus our energies on a cause instead of the kingdom. This is why my Christian brothers who shared about their children’s school mentioned political topics instead of Christ. It is easier to talk about politics, or our frustrations with the public school system, or maybe how we dislike vaccine mandates; after all, these topics do not require self-reflection, personal repentance, or change.
It is much harder to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). Why? Because the process begins with each one of us. If we are earnestly seeking the Kingdom of God, we cannot point the finger at others, but have to first seek God’s kingdom in our lives, in our homes, and in our community.
Yet Christ calls us to the harder path. Christ calls us to unite around Him. Christ calls us to repent of our idolatries, repent of our politics, repent of our other worldly efforts, and simply seek Him (John 14:6) and the kingdom of God.
If we really want to see our culture change, if we really want to fight for a cause; it is in seeking the kingdom of God that we will see real change, it will begin in each of us, and God will be glorified in all of it.
“That sounds like a really interesting book, but are you sure you want to use the title ‘God Is Not on Your Side?’”
I received this question often when I was in the early stages of working on this project. .
I did not go into this process with any delusions of grandeur. I know people tend to buy books that reinforce their worldview, so a book which challenges one to rethink their worldview would be a tough sell to say the least.
I considered changing the title many times. If I am completely honest, it made me uncomfortable even then. The concept that God is on my side had been ingrained in me for so long, that for a long time when I read the title of the book it just grated against something foundational in me. It was in this process of wrestling with the book title, that God revealed to me exactly why He had put it on my heart.
Working on this project has shown me how foundational the lie that God is on my side really was in my life. It was such a part of my worldview for so long, that it influenced nearly every aspect of my life, from small seemingly benign decisions to large ones (like getting engaged). For many years, my life had been bearing fruit that had been born from this false theology. Allowing God to work in my life to change my worldview and align it with a Biblical worldview, has been a very humbling and sometimes uncomfortable process; but by God’s grace I am on this journey.
I had never published a book before. A community health provider, content in my calling to serve the underserved, I had no built in platform for book marketing. I essentially found myself in the situation where I felt sure that God had called me to write a book I knew people would not be inclined to buy, without a publisher, without a platform for marketing, and without any prior experience in any of these areas. None of it made any sense, but when does God call us to do things that make sense?
The more I spent time in prayer, the more I felt God confirming that He simply wanted me to walk in faith through the project. Every step of the process has been humbling and challenging. I have seen the Lord show himself faithful numerous times, and by His grace the project has come to fruition and continues forward. I do not know what God has in store, or even how He wants to use this work, but I know He has called me here, and that is enough for me. I praise the Lord for each person who has interacted with this project and has shared that God has spoken into their life through it.
There are some who may look at the division and challenges of the American Christian church and feel things are beyond repair, that people cannot change. My testimony is that God showed me my sin, I repented, and by His grace I am walking a new path seeking to be on His side. If God can do this work in me, I have faith not only that He can do this work in others, but that He is already working to bring about this change.
Why am I taking the time to share these things with you? I simply felt that it would be helpful to share a little of my heart and the story behind this project. I am humbled where God has brought this so far, and trust that He will continue to use it to work in the lives of others for the glory of His name.
So where have we been?
From January 7th 2022 through March 6th 2022, we will be doing an e-book promotion, and the God Is Not on Your Side e-book can be purchased for $0.99 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. If you feel so led, I kindly ask that you consider sharing the e-book with some friends or simply letting them know about the e-book special.
Where are we going?
I pray the Lord will continue to open doors for additional podcast interviews. If you know a podcast you feel would be a great space to discuss the topics of the book, please feel free to send me your suggestions through the Contact the Author page of this website or simply by commenting below.
At this time, in addition to what is mentioned above, I am praying about the possibility in the Spring/Summer of working on a 16 session You Tube video series that follows the God Is Not on Your Side Book Study.
My heart is that this project would be a space where we can seek to be on God’s side together. If you have any additional suggestions for how that may happen, I would love to hear your ideas. I am simply trusting the Lord in this process and greatly look forward to the journey that is ahead.
May the Lord bless you greatly!
In the book of Luke there is an interesting conversation not included in the other gospels. After celebrating the Passover, and immediately prior to His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read the following exchange between Jesus and his disciples:
“And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, “AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS;” for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” Luke 22:35-38 (NASB)
I have heard this passage of scripture quoted by modern day Christians as a call to arms. A quick reading in context, though, reveals Jesus was clearly speaking metaphorically when He told his disciples to sell their coat and buy a sword. Only a few verses later (Luke 22:49-51) when Jesus is arrested, Peter draws his sword and tries to kill the servant of the high priest. Immediately, Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword (Matthew 26, John 18) and He heals the man who had been struck by Peter.
Reading through the rest of the New Testament, we do not encounter a single example of the followers of Jesus “taking up arms.” Instead, just as Jesus did, we see His followers take up their cross and lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
As I have reflected on this passage of scripture from Luke 22, a question I have been asking myself is, “When the disciples brought Jesus two swords, why didn’t He explain His statement was not meant to be taken literally?” In this situation, it is what I would have done. Actually, if I had been in Jesus’ shoes I probably would have shook my head in disappointment when they brought me two swords and said, “You still don’t get it.” Jesus’ response, though, is filled with wisdom, grace, and humility.
Up to this point in the story, the disciples of Jesus thought, as the promised messiah, He would overthrow the Roman government that was oppressing them and establish Himself as king of the nation of Israel, just as David had been. In their eyes, Jesus was going to “make Israel great again.”
Jesus had not come to establish an earthly kingdom though, He came to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus would establish His kingdom, not by overthrowing the Roman government, but by laying down His life. Jesus had foretold His death and resurrection to His disciples numerous times (even that same night), they just did not understand yet.
I think this is the reason when the disciples brought Jesus two swords, instead of trying to explain to them that is not what He meant, He simply said, “That is enough.” He did not want them to go and gather more swords, but explaining to them why they did not need the swords would have been futile.
So how did Jesus finally get His disciples to understand the swords were not needed? He showed them.
Jesus could have spent hours trying to explain His calling and the Kingdom of God more clearly to his disciples, but the truth was that He had already explained all of these things thoroughly. The only way the disciples were going to fully understand the arrival of the Kingdom of God would be through Jesus’ example.
I am sure all of the disciples were completely confused when, that same night, Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, and willingly let Himself be arrested, humiliated, mocked, beaten, and finally crucified. Three days later the disciples still did not understand, but the resurrected Jesus appeared to them and opened their eyes to what He had been teaching them from the beginning.
From the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, a kingdom was established which has outlasted all the other earthly kingdoms at the time and will continue to do so. Earthly kingdoms are built on war, weapons, and power; God’s kingdom is built on something else. The kingdom of heaven will continue to grow, not through earthly means, but through those who have followed the example of Jesus, their Savior.
Unfortunately, many Christians in the United States of America today have tried to fit the kingdom of heaven into an earthly kingdom. Many have become convinced that the Kingdom of Heaven is built by “taking up arms” and even by warfare. I have had many Christians tell me that without our second amendment rights here in the United States, Christianity would crumble. Would it though?
When I said there are no examples in the New Testament of the followers of Jesus taking up arms, I was not being entirely accurate. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 6:10-18) calls on the followers of Jesus to take up arms, but the weapons he calls us to carry are not the typical weapons of earthly warfare. Paul implores the Ephesians that our weapons are: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, our salvation, and the word of God.
Many of the Christians in the United States of America today are similar to the disciples in Luke 22. We are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, but we do not fully comprehend what it means to be His disciple. Many of us are still holding on to our swords thinking this is how the kingdom is built. Yet, unlike the disciples at that moment in time, we know how the story ends. We know how Jesus called His followers to live.
So why are we still reaching for our swords?
In a country that is becoming increasingly worldly and divided, it is not enough for Christians to know the words of Jesus. Every day you and I encounter people that have heard the words of Jesus, are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, but have not seen them lived out. If others are going to understand the salvation and full life found only in Jesus Christ, it will be through our actions.
Those who do not put down their sword, cannot take up the cross. Make no mistake, we are living in a time where those who claim to be followers of Jesus will have to choose between one or the other.
Whose kingdom are we building?
For about as long as I have been serving in ministry in some capacity, I have consistently been asked the following question: “Are you thinking of becoming a pastor?”
At first, I simply interpreted this question as a compliment, people see me seeking the Lord and so are inquiring as to whether I would more formally pursue theological study. As time went on though, and I continued to hear the same question, I began to wonder if perhaps people simply associate spiritual growth with the eventual pursuit of pastoral ministry. In other words, I began to worry that people seem to think anyone who is spiritually mature should become a pastor.
This suspicion was reinforced when my pastor told me about a conversation he had with an individual who was pursuing pastoral ordination at a sister church in our denomination. The person had been in the process for a few years, and my pastor asked him how he knew God was calling him to be a pastor. The person looked at him a little puzzled and responded, “I thought everyone who is growing in their faith should become a pastor?”
In the midst of a consumer driven culture, it should come as no surprise that people have this impression. Church services have become a very passive experience for the attendee, with many of the participants simply coming there to receive something (a word, enjoy the music, child care, etc.) instead of coming to church with the goal of contributing to the gathering and the edification of the Body of Christ in some way. If most people come to church to be a passive participant, it stands to reason that they would assume those who are “more spiritual” are the pastors and elders of the church.
Is this the model for the Body of Christ that we find in the scriptures?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see at church gatherings the body of Christ coming together expecting that everyone would contribute in some way:
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NASB)
The Body of Christ is not supposed to be a top down system where all those who are “most spiritual” do all of the ministry and work of the church. The Body of Christ is supposed to be a community of followers of Jesus who are seeking God whatever their state of spiritual maturity, with each contributing to the edification of the church in some capacity.
As followers of Jesus, we are all called to ministry, though the calling will not look exactly the same for each of us. Actually, the calling of God on the people of God will potentially look just as diverse as the Body of Christ. Pastoral ministry is one possible calling of many, and we must be careful to not simply assume that Pastoral calling alone is the outcome of spiritual maturity, if we do this we risk neglecting the significance of God’s calling in other areas.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts the followers of Christ to first glorify God in their vocation:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” Ephesians 4:1 (NASB)
He then goes on to explain that each of us do not just have a calling to glorify God outside the church, but we are each called to ministry within the Body of Christ for its edification.
“And he(Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Ephesians 4:11-12 (NASB)
Within the body of Christ, some will be gifted as teachers of the Word of God, others will be gifted as evangelists to share Christ with people who don’t know him, others will be gifted as prophets to speak God’s vision and word to both individuals and the church as a whole, and still others will be gifted as Pastors for the shepherding of the church. As a follower of Jesus grows in their faith, the Holy Spirit will begin to work through them to edify the church and therein confirm the giftings and calling that is on that person.
If we see Pastoral ministry as the precipice of spiritual maturity, we are missing out on the diversity of giftings that God’s Holy Spirit is wanting to manifest in the Body of Christ.
As I write this, it does not escape me that a shift in how our church services are conducted will be needed so as to encourage all believers in Christ to participate and edify the church. With that said, I would simply like to encourage you as an individual that if you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to ministry.
Are you currently ministering to the body of Christ in some capacity? If not, I would encourage you to pray and ask God to show you how He wants you to serve the Body of Christ. It will look different for each one of us, but I guarantee you that God has a role for you to play in strengthening and growing the Body of Christ.
If you are reading this and happen to be struggling with whether or not you may be specifically called to pastoral ministry, I want to encourage you to focus on seeking the Lord and serving Him faithfully in the Body of Christ. As you seek God and He uses you to edify the church, it is in the process that He will confirm your calling.
Early in the COVID19 pandemic, when we all were trying to figure out how to navigate this new situation, I recall hearing people say on a regular basis, “I cannot wait to get back to normal” or “I cannot wait for things to be the way they were.”
Lately I have been reflecting on these statements more and more as it has now been 20 months since the first COVID cases arrived in my county and we have had to navigate three significant surges of COVID, the most recent of which we are still in the midst of.
After such a long time, I know I am not alone when I say this past year and a half has been exhausting. It is easy at this point to simply go into “survival mode”. It is easy to focus on the negative takes, the heartbreak, the division, the politics, and the individualism that have seemed to consume the narrative from the beginning. Much of this would appear to stem from the discomfort we feel with our customs and comforts being pulled out from under us. Many of us are still looking behind us and waiting for things to “go back to the way they were.”
As humans, we seem to gravitate toward what is comfortable, what is familiar; and our stress levels increase when we are suddenly thrust into the unfamiliar. Our tempers seem to flair easier, our patience wears thin. It feels like not a day goes by without someone posting a video on social media of a person getting angry on a plane flight or at the grocery store. On top of this, in our communities we are seeing increases in depression, substance abuse, and family conflict.
Christians also gravitate toward what is familiar. There has always been the temptation in the church to look for the program or the formula that produces the outcome we are looking for (usually increased attendance) and then replicate it. We like our church services, programs, and ministries to fit into a formula and feel comfortable. I also think if we are truly honest with ourselves, we like things to be a little predictable.
In many ways, the response of Christians that have been thrust into the unfamiliar during COVID19 has sadly not been much different from the surrounding culture. Most of our responses seem to simply be reactions to what are perceived infringements upon our customs or “rights”, those things in which we had previously found familiarity and comfort. Just like everyone else, we seem very uncomfortable with change, and interpret any change to our norms as a personal attack.
Early in the pandemic, it seemed like there was almost a competition between Christian churches regarding how to “be the church.” Should the church meet just like it always has and ignore the pandemic? Should the church act in defiance of government regulations? Should people wear masks? Should people get vaccinated? With each question, people will pick a side and another line of division seems to be drawn within the Body of Christ. Even after over a year and a half has passed, these divisions continue to be strong. Only a few days ago I heard of a church that told its congregants to not wear masks in order to defy their state regulations and another church posted a sign stating that any congregants wearing masks would be asked to leave.
As with most debates and divisions, I think the solution will ultimately lay somewhere in the middle for both the individual and the church. After all, if followers of Jesus stay home because of fear, or only because the government tells us to, we are not following Jesus. At the same time, if the followers of Jesus gather together only in rebellion or to “protest” the government, we are not following Jesus.
More importantly, I think it is imperative that as individuals and as the church, we reflect on what God may be wanting to teach us in the midst of all this.
Maybe God is allowing us to be uncomfortable so that we can see where our peace is truly found?
Looking back on this past year and a half, what spiritual fruit has been born in your life? By spiritual fruit, I mean to say, how did God use you to expand the kingdom of God?
Have you seen people come to salvation in Jesus or grow in their relationship with Jesus, or have you simply been trying to survive?
Have you seen the Kingdom of Heaven grow here on earth, or are you still simply waiting for things to get back to normal?
When we strip away our programs, our customs, our “rights”, what are we left with? My prayer is that when all these things are removed, what we are left with is Christ, and that in that moment we find that He is more than enough.
Maybe in some ways, God is wanting us to break free of the formulas, programs, and customs that we have relied on for too long. Maybe God is calling us to rely on Him as our center, our peace, and our source of direction; with the church community simply called to stand on a foundation of prayer, fasting, scripture reading, and discipleship.
Beyond this, I am increasingly convinced that the calling of the individual Christian and each local church may look drastically different from one community to another. We do not follow a God of formulas, but a living God that has a unique calling for each of us to share the hope and life found only in Jesus in the midst of a hurting and broken world.
If you are willing, it would be a great blessing for you to share a testimony below in the comments regarding how you have seen God at work in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
There is an inherent tension in Christian living. Once a person believes in Jesus and receives Him as their Savior, there is a significant shift in purpose. Without Christ, one lives in the here and now, because that is all there is. Once one is in Christ, hope is found in something much greater. Living as a Christian then means living in the present, while also having an eternal perspective. The priorities and purpose of a person focused only on the temporary, will be very different from a person who is living with eternity in mind.
Christians also must live as citizens of an earthly kingdom and a heavenly one. When we receive Christ as our Savior, we are not then called to renounce our earthly citizenship. On the contrary, Christians recognize that Jesus has called us to live essentially as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven while residents of an earthly kingdom. When Jesus prayed for His followers, He conveyed as much:
“I (Jesus) do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” John 17:15-16 (NASB)
With this in mind, it should not come as a surprise when people are puzzled by how invested Christians in the United States are in politics. Within the past few years it has now become common to see Christians endorse political candidates, form political action committees, attend political rallies or protests, endorse the military, and the list goes on. If Christians are called to live as ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, why are we placing so much importance in an earthly one?
Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with Christians wherein they will argue that it is in fact “christian” to be involved in politics and building of an earthly kingdom. These individuals believe there is no inherent tension between the earthly kingdom of the USA and the kingdom of heaven; there is no tension between the finite and the infinite. One only has to open their social media page or watch the news to realize that such thinking has come to dominate Christendom in recent years. For this reason, such a concept warrants further evaluation.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first proclamation was for people to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ arrival ushered in the kingdom of heaven. He spent the next three years showing people what the kingdom of heaven looks like. He also spent three years trying to help his disciples shift their priorities from that of building an earthly kingdom (Israel) to a heavenly one. It is important to understand it was difficult for Jesus’ disciples to shift their priorities from earthly kingdom building to heavenly kingdom building. The truth is that even though Jesus’ disciples were present with Him in His ministry, they did not fully understand the concept of the kingdom of heaven until after His death and resurrection. Recognizing this shift in priorities was difficult for Jesus’ disciples, we should seek to approach this topic with other Christians with patience and grace.
So what does the kingdom of heaven look like? By what rules does it operate? This will not be an exhaustive exploration, but let’s look at a few of the teachings of Jesus regarding the kingdom of heaven:
- Whoever wishes to become great, must become as a servant/slave (Matthew 20:25-28)
- Whoever wants to build the kingdom of heaven will need to deny themselves (Matthew 16:24-25)
- Whoever wants to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven must love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:38-48)
- Citizens of heaven will not build up earthly wealth or treasure, but will instead build a heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21)
- In the kingdom of heaven, those who humble themselves will be exalted ( Luke 14:8-11)
Looking at the list above, it is easy to see the tension that should exist between the kingdom of heaven and an earthly kingdom. In an earthly kingdom, wealth and influence are important, in the kingdom of heaven humility and simplicity are important. In an earthly kingdom power and authority are important, in the kingdom of heaven those who are great will be as servants. In an earthly kingdom we kill our enemies and take from them, yet in the kingdom of heaven we pray for our enemies and bless them.
The contrast could not be more stark.
I will often hear people say we need more Christians in politics, but when I look at the lives of politicians and compare them to the teachings of Jesus I wonder, How is it possible that a Christian could be a politician? Have you ever seen a politician who lives out the teachings of Jesus above? The two identities of Christian and politician are nearly in direct opposition to each other, it is almost as though by claiming one, the person would have to deny the other. I am not saying it is impossible for a politician to be a Christian, but I also think it is not nearly as easy as we make it out to be.
Jesus demonstrated clearly in His teachings and life what building the kingdom of God will look like, and if we are honest it does not look at all like political action committees, protests, political lobbying, or waging war. Jesus clearly called His followers to do the opposite and pursue servanthood, self-sacrifice, humility, simplicity, generosity, and peacemaking. Such living looks like foolishness to the world, but as followers of Jesus we are simply called to live out His example. (John 13:13-16)
I want to be careful to point out I am not stating Christians should not advocate for the poor, or the unborn, or should abstain from voting. When speaking of politics and the tension between an earthly and heavenly kingdom I am referring to politics in so much as it is the pursuit of power/authority. Followers of Jesus are called to live in and engage in our communities; it is how we engage in our communities that is important and should set us apart from those who do not know Jesus or follow His teachings.
Do we need more Christians to enter politics, or do we need more politicians to become Christians? Though our intentions may be good, when we engage in politics for the purpose of spreading Christianity, the end result seems to be that politics only corrupts the Christian and Christian church. If we take a moment to think about it, this makes perfect sense. In order to engage in politics, we incorporate strategies, tactics, and techniques of earthly kingdom building. These may seem to be successful at first, but ultimately fail in building the kingdom of heaven.
As we navigate the tension between our earthly residence and our heavenly citizenship, may we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). May eternity be our priority, and may our actions demonstrate that we are not of the world, just as our Savior was not of this word. May God give us eyes to see where the tensions exist between the earthly kingdom in which we reside and the heavenly kingdom of which we are citizens; and may our actions and our lives demonstrate clearly where our citizenship stands.
Are there additional tensions between the kingdom of heaven and an earthly kingdom that you can identify? Feel free to share in the comments, use of scripture for reference is encouraged.