This month: 184 - Grace and truth
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Archives for 132 – A Kingdom Not of this World

And what is that?

Assimilation.

When Christianity gets assimilated and enmeshed too deeply into the surrounding culture it becomes something less than Christianity. There is a fine line between understanding our culture and learning to minister “contextually” (within the culture we find ourselves…being sensitive to its nuances) and so mixing the values of our faith with the values of the culture that what results is a cultural Christianity that isn’t Christianity at all.

This was Israel’s biggest problem we hear about in the prophets. This was warned about in Deuteronomy before they entered the land. This was the sin of Solomon. It was also a problem in the early church and was constantly warned about in the New Testament. Jesus prayed about this for his disciples in the garden. Paul wrote about this in his letters to not become so acculturated into paganism or Judaism or nationalism that one’s faith becomes a syncretized blend of something not of Christ. The churches of Asia we find in Revelation had fallen into the very same trap and ate the forbidden fruit not of living in a culture but belonging to a culture that is not of the Lord.

In contemporary Western culture we have exchanged idolatry for consumerism…the idol of wood and gold for the item of wood and gold. What results is a cultural Christianity that is consumeristic. The preaching must suit my needs as musts the worship and the children’s “program”. Church becomes a resource that serves me rather than me serving others, which is antithetical to the very example and teaching of Jesus that the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28, see also Philippians 2:1-11).

In Churches of Christ I believe modernism and rationalism has been somewhat of an idol for us and now for some postmodernism is becoming one as well. Our movement started at a time when people were rational, linear and analytical. Things were black and white and everything had to zero out mathematically at the end. The Bible was a pattern to behold, a math problem to be solved, and a legal document to be adhered to. Those can all be idols that cloud the actual culture Jesus calls for as well.

In all of this the answer for us today is the same as the answer was for them. The answer is to turn back to God…to still live in this world and be aware of the culture in which we live but to not let the parts of our culture that conflict with our faith take root in our hearts. We must jettison the parts of our culture that are incompatible with our faith rather than the other way around. We must seek God and when we seek Him we will find him. Finally, let us serve and view ourselves as servants rather than masters. It is from this vantage point that the kingdom becomes most clear and that true greatness can happen because we aren’t thinking too highly of ourselves which allows us to truly revere Christ as Lord.

There’s been some talk in the last few weeks about the morality of certain political candidates. Wayne Grudem made a case for the morality of voting for Donald Trump. Others have rebutted Grudem’s view. Others have offered their support. But several key issues surrounding morality, Christianity, and politics haven’t been addressed.

The Morality of Government

The biggest obstacle for any biblical argument for a political candidate is making a biblical argument for Christian participation in government. Though the bible clearly teaches that we ought to respect the government and even pray for the government, we are not ever commanded to participate in the government. When the Israelites demanded a king, God acquiesced, but did not approve.

Within the Churches of Christ there has been a debate about whether or not it is permissible (or mandatory) for Christians to vote and participate in government. Perhaps the most famous opponent to such participation was David Lipscomb.

In his response to the argument of that Christians must vote, Lipscomb concluded:

[Jesus] set the full example for the Christian to follow, and if he refrained from political affairs it was because he desired Christians to do likewise. So far from Bro. Jones’ or Pinketon’s articles convincing any one that Christians can go into politics, we are certain they confirm all thoughtful Christians there is no ground for it. Brethren, let us get clear of our partisan prejudices for human institutions and look plainly at the teachings of God and learn of them the truth as it is in Christ.
David Lipscomb, “Voting,” Gospel Advocate (1876) 543-546 (with thanks to John Mark Hicks)

We must ask ourselves as followers of Christ how our participation in the political process is in line with our citizenship in God’s kingdom before we make moral demands of other Christians to participate in a certain political manner.

The Government of Morality

It has become axiomatic that it is impossible to legislate morality, but underlying that axiom is an important question for all Christians to wrestle with: Should Christians advocate for moral laws?

In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says:

And, of course, Jesus never intended it to be such a plan. For all their necessity, goodness, and beauty, laws that deal only with actions, such as the Ten Commandments, simply cannot reach the human heart, the source of actions. “If a law had been given capable of bringing people to life,” Paul said, “then righteousness would have come from the law” (Gal. 3:21). But law, for all its magnificence, cannot do that. Graceful relationship sustained with the masterful Christ certainly can (pg. 155 emphasis original).

We must make a clear distinction between the religious laws that Jesus and Paul were referring to and the political laws of modern, secular governments. We must also assert, as Willard did, that laws can be necessary, good, and even beautiful. But there is no law that can produce righteousness. There is no religious law and there is no secular law that can make one right with God.

As followers of Christ, not only is our citizenship not of this world, our goals are not to make nations and kingdoms righteous. Whether or not the United States has laws that mirror the morality of Christ, our citizenship is in God’s kingdom. So, even if you were to answer the first question and assert that Christians should participate in government, you would also need to answer the second question and assert that such participation ought to be for the purpose of aligning the government with the bible.

The Party of Jesus

If you wrestled with both of those questions and you are still convinced that you must participate in government and that such participation must be to align the government with the teachings of Jesus in the bible you are left with a third question about which political party accomplishes that.

It is common for the Republican Party to be aligned with Evangelical Christians. This alliance has more history and nuance than is necessary for this article. In most recent history the alliance has been based on opposition to gay marriage and abortion. The Republicans use words like “family values” to identify with the Evangelical Christians who have, in large numbers, supported them.

Does it then follow that the major opposition to the Republican Party is anti-Christian? In recent history (because both political parties have changed their views many times over the years) the Democratic Party has supported abortion rights and gay marriage, positions which are anathema to many Christians. But at the same time the Democratic Party has opposed war and the death penalty (to name just a couple positions) while the Republican Party has advocated for both. A follower of Christ asserts that the peacemakers are blessed and that vengeance belongs to God alone so there seems to be some alignment between the teachings of God and both of the major political parties in the United States. Leaving us with the question of which party is the most Christian, or which party is the least opposed to the teachings of Christ.

What Must We Do?

I can’t tell you that you are morally obligated to vote. I can’t tell you that if you vote, you should vote for laws and lawmakers that want to enact biblical laws. I can’t tell you which political party, if any, represents the teachings of Jesus. And neither can anyone else.

If someone tells you that you must vote, they are not speaking along with the bible.

If someone tells you that you must vote for laws that support biblical teaching, they are not speaking along with the bible.

If someone tells you that you must vote for one political party or candidate as the representative of Christian values, they are not speaking with the bible.

Now we live in a world that is filled with daily decisions not expressly governed by scripture. Which movies should we watch? Which companies should we work for? What schools should we attend? What products should we buy? But that is not really very different from any other time in history. The bible was not meant to give us an instruction manual for every aspect of life, but to give us a relationship guide to bring us closer and closer to the heart of God. All of its rules and stories are summed up in love.

So, must you participate in government? The bible doesn’t say. Instead you ought to ask: How can you best love God and your neighbors?

Must you vote for laws that support biblical teaching? What is the most loving law for your neighbor?

Does one political party or another represent Christ? Which party could be summed up by its love?

Jesus said that his followers would be known by their love.  Not by their votes, not by their laws, not by their party affiliation, but by their love. So, what must we do? We must love. We must love those who choose differently than us. We must love those who participate in government and those who abstain. We must love those who vote for the laws they deem biblical and those who do not. We must love those who align with a political party and those who do not. We must love each other.

Immediately after Paul told the Romans to respect the governing authority (Rom. 13), he instructed them to bear with one another through disagreements about disputable matters like eating, drinking, and observing holidays (Rom. 14). Since our participation in government is even less-well addressed in scripture than those topics, I think it’s fair to apply the same practices of love and respect to voting as we should to eating and drinking.

Romans 14:

13 Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean.15 For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.

19 So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another  (NET Bible).

Renew_Bihar_Page_Middle3_3I saw it happen. The grimace from her face disappeared; the joy of Jesus overtook it.The young woman suddenly realized, “Jesus loves me!” Anaya had known the despair of a drug addict father and the abandonment of a teacher who rarely visited her village. She had suffered under a spiritual system that said, “Your life is worthless and valueless” and “You must chant to the powers to have any hope of surviving this life!”

When I met Anaya she had spent most of her life barely surviving—living in a remote village in Bihar, India. But Jesus changed all of that.

In the state of Bihar, India, Anaya’s story of despair is common. And her story of redemption is uncommon—because people lack access to the gospel. Due to Christian charity, Anaya was given an opportunity to hear about Jesus and a chance at learning new skills—to improve her economic situation. She had an opportunity that few do.

Being Christian means caring for the impoverished. If it had not been for this belief, Anaya would have been another statistic.

Bihar, India is one of the most impoverished places in the world. Bihar also has over 101 Million people who have never heard the name of Jesus. This is an unreached region. Think about that number for a moment: That’s the equivalent of about 1/3 of the American population lacking access to the gospel. Imagine if 1/3 of our country had never heard the name of Jesus. That’s how many people currently lack the opportunity to know Jesus in Bihar.

Imagine this: What if we could meet the needs of the extremely poor, bring them the gospel, and create jobs for them—all at the same time? That would change everything. It would be a new economy: it would be Jesus’ economy.

That’s what we’re envisioning at Jesus’ Economy, the non-profit I lead. We’re imagining the renewal of Bihar, India. Jesus’ Economy is sponsoring and training indigenous church planters—to bring the gospel to unreached villages. We’re meeting basic needs of the impoverished through drilling water wells and establishing a medical clinic. We’re creating jobs for women living on the underside of power—training them to develop products for a western market. We’re then going to sell those fair trade products online, to ensure that the economic situation of these impoverished women changes.

In Bihar, we’re renewing hearts, homes, and hope—all at the same time. And we are looking for people like you to partner with us in this effort.

I want to see the positive side of Anaya’s story repeated time and time again. And I want you to join me. So I’m personally inviting you to get in touch with me: john@jesuseconomy.org. You can also learn more at JesusEconomy.org.

Let’s envision a world where the gospel reaches the ends of the earth. And then let’s make it happen, in the name of Jesus. If not us, who? If not now, when?

This guest article is by John D. Barry. John  is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, an organization he and his wife started with just the money in their bank account and the time they could volunteer. John is also the General Editor of Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary, and the author or coauthor of 12 books.

When John is asked why he started Jesus’ Economy, his first reason was that God asked him to. His second reason is that he believes that people should be able to have every last dollar they donate to the developing world go straight there—and so he is making that happen. He is also facilitating this for churches: a church can directly sponsor an indigenous church planter through Jesus’ Economy and Jesus’ Economy sends every last dollar to the planter’s efforts. Jesus’ Economy then handles all the reporting and facilitating for the sponsoring church; i.e., Jesus’ Economy raises their own U.S. costs separately. So seriously, get in touch with John: john@jesuseconomy.org.

The Mennonite professor stood in front of his Christian Ethics class at a local seminary. It was the first day of class. “Take out a sheet of paper and answer the following question: What should we have done after 9/11? Quickly write down what you think we should have done.”

Students scribbled furiously for a couple minutes before the teacher interrupted and declared, “I don’t want to know what you wrote. But I do want to know one thing. Who is your we? When you started to answer, tell me which we came to mind when I asked what ‘should we have done’ after 9/11.”

The point was simple yet profound. The students’ we was “we Americans.” For most people in the class at this seminary, their first impulse was to answer for the United States of America. They wrote down what their country should have done after 9/11.

Some had no doubt assumed this would be a discussion about the merits of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars or the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and all the changes that came with it. But the professor needed to deal with a more profound issue. Even these seminary students were thinking as Americans first and Christians second. Their we was the American nation-state.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking as Americans. If you’re a fellow American, then we share a common identity as Americans. We live in a great country. Citizenship provides us with real advantages that we can enjoy.

As Christians, however, our first we isn’t supposed to be our national identity. The we of the Christian faith has nothing to do with birth certificates, passports, skin color, ethnicity, gender, age, wealth or even geography. For followers of Jesus, our we is all those who belong Jesus. Our primary identity is the Kingdom of Heaven. We are children of God, fellow heirs with all who claim allegiance to Jesus.

Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Or elsewhere, “For [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us . . . that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15). And again, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of on Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).

If you want to belong to Jesus, you must also accept that you belong to his people. Your primary identity is in Christ and in the fellowship of faith. Will your country save you before God? Will your ethnicity remove your sins? Will your passport form you into the image of Jesus? Only your identity as a follower of Jesus can do these things, and Christians ought to think as Christians first. Everything else should lie in submission to the we of faith.

I am deeply troubled at what I see in the American church today. It’s sad and disheartening to see what so many people think. Their posts and their comments reveal a primary loyalty to something other than the community of faith.

In one sense, I’m grateful that the truth is coming out. We’re seeing things as they really are. We’re discovering that the we for many of our fellow Christians in the US is not the biblical we but rather an ethnocentric we. Instead of sharing primary allegiance with believers across the world from among people of every nation, language, race and ethnicity, they only feel solidarity with those who salute their flag.

These Christians would have been right at home in Rwanda where ethnicity trumped God’s Kingdom. It has been widely noted that Rwanda was the most Christianized nation-state on the African continent at the time of the genocide. Bowing to incitement and fear-mongering, Christian Hutus massacred Christian Tutsis in barbaric ways. Loyalty to a race was more important than loyalty to Jesus. (I wonder who taught them this version of Christianity?)

It’s bad enough that too many American Christians have fellow Americans as their we rather than fellow believers. Still worse is the fact that some Christians sort themselves out in even narrower terms. Their we is Americans who share the leanings of their political party—either Republican or Democratic. And some go even further by saying that their we is only those who support Trump or Hillary or their particular wing of their party. That’s the we they think of above all else.

Have Christians really fallen this far from Paul’s vision of the people of God? Sadly yes, they have. Of course, we ought to admit that first-century Christians struggled with this as well. Early Jewish Christians struggled to accept believers who weren’t Jewish. And within a century the tables had turned to the point that Gentile Christians had difficulty accepting Jewish Christians who didn’t give up all Jewish practices. But that reality doesn’t lessen the target at which we are to aim.

As Christians we are habitually tempted to focus on the wrong we or to simply make our version of we far too small. In this day of political rancor and hatred, however, can some of us agree to redefine our we in terms keeping with Paul’s vision for the people of God? Let’s be clear that it’s not just Paul’s vision; this is the biblical vision: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:10). Thanks be to God for those who have the vision and the courage to define their we in keeping with our spiritual reality in Christ Jesus. Are we in this together?

Jesus talked about politics more than any other subject, depending on how you hear him. The primary topic of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Sometimes we use words and phrases so much that we read right over the very words that are being used. If I say New England you probably don’t think about England and settlers navigating the Atlantic looking for a New start…same with New Jersey and New York…as Jersey and York were both towns back in England. Another biblical example of phrases that take on a whole new meaning that make us deaf to hear the literal words is when we say “sermon on the mount” we usually just think of Matthew 5-7 and not that Jesus is actually preaching on a mountain…which then would remind us of another mountain that Jesus is paralleling in his teaching there, Sinai.

When Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, he is talking about principalities and powers. He is talking about sovereignty and authority. He is talking about who is in charge and who has supreme power. The word kingdom meant a lot more in his day and culture than it does to us in our day and culture so it takes us a moment to step into his world and hear him fresh.

Luke goes to great lengths to remind us that Jesus was born into a world that was just as political then as it is today,

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah…” – Luke 1:5

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David [who was a king]…Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:26-27, 31-33

Then in Mary’s song,

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;” – Luke 1:52

Then Zechariah’s prophesy,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” – Luke 1:68-71

Luke 2 continues to put things in a political/historical perspective,

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” – Luke 2:1-2

as does Luke 3,

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. ” – 3:1-2

Jesus was born into a world of kings, tetrarchs, high priests, and emperors. There were local authorities and national authorities. It was a time where various people were christos/anointed over kingdoms and where the lines of your kingdom and who ruled your kingdom mattered a great deal and crossing them meant an even greater deal, just ask John the Baptist who had a run in with King Herod or Jesus and his conversations first with the religious leaders and then Pilate or Paul who chatted with multiple kings and governors along the way and ultimately Nero Caesar. These things mattered a great deal in their world just as they should to us.

Mark tells us about Jesus’ very first public teaching in Mark 1:14-15,

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Many have already pointed out that even the word “gospel” or “good news” was used of Caesar’s proclamation’s of victory over the enemies of Rome. Jesus came preaching or proclaiming about another sort of good news/gospel that pointed people to another sort of kingdom, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, as Son of God, made it quite clear that this kingdom was his kingdom just as Caesar who was also considered to be the son of god claimed his divine right to the throne.

This is, in a sense, political language and it was that sense of Jesus’ teaching that the Jewish authorities used against him to get him in hot water with the Romans. Blasphemy won’t get you crucified but treason will, hence the charge leveled against Jesus, the way the soldiers mocked him (robe, crown and staff), and the sign above his head on the cross declaring him king of the Jews. Rome’s message was, this is what we do with “Kings” who attempt to rival the true king Caesar. God’s message was this truly is the exalted king of the universe…displayed on the cross but ultimately displayed in his exaltation in the resurrection where he truly was lifted up from the dead.

Jesus’ life reminds us that getting wrapped up in the political structures of the empire often get godly people in a mess.

What Jesus said about the kingdom of God should directly influence our view of politics today. Jesus describes the kingdom and how we live as citizens of the kingdom. If you tune in to Jesus’ teaching on this, the political process of this world becomes more and more exposed for what it is – antithetical to the kingdom of God and largely opposed to the purposes and principles of God.

If we choose to engage in the political processes of this world, it is essential we do it from the perspective, principles and purposes of the kingdom we truly belong to but do not yet fully live in. That can be extremely difficult to do but if it is what we attempt to do we must prioritize things and live, move and exist accordingly. This will force us to not co-opt a political party to leverage our faith or to be political evangelists understanding, like Jesus, that our kingdom is not of this world even as we live in this world and all that entails. So let us live as wise people. Let us live and move and even vote with our kingdom principles remembering the empire will always disappoint the one who has their eyes fixed on Jesus.

sky-earth-galaxy-universe

(This particular article isn’t really about politics. But it is about my life and the profound changes that have taken place. This is my continuing story–this is about being in a brand new place, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise…)

This world, good old planet earth, is desperately broken. I am not talking about pollution or global warming. I am not speaking of a new ice age or climate change brought on by human activity.

Those things can be debated, debunked, argued, or dismissed—depending on your take.

On the other hand, Paul tells us in the Book of Romans that we have all followed in the path of Adam and Eve—we have all sinned—and the wages of that sin is death.

Indeed, creation itself suffers the burden of our sin.

Romans 8:20-22, For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.

It is a broken world we live in, a broken world inhabited by horribly broken people.

Undeniably, sin has left its mark. Evil has scarred this planet, disfigured our bodies, and mutilated our lives. Ultimately, disobedience to God has left us with what an old hymn calls a crimson stain.

Yes, we have a broken world filled with broken people. And while I might wish to remain anonymous, I cannot: Hi, my name is Les Ferguson, Jr. and like you and everyone else, I am broken. I am broken and sometimes in ways still to be discovered or acknowledged.

Here’s a truth you can bank on: Broken people are hurt people.

Even worse, hurt people hurt people.

On October 10, 2011, with the murder of wife and son, I became undeniably aware of just how broken my world could be.

Those of my family who survived did so scarred, broken, damaged, and hurt. And by now you should know that hurt people hurt people.

I wish I could tell you that I was or am an exception to that rule. I wish I could tell you, but I can’t.

I just recently spent a week in the Florida sunshine. It was beautiful. And while I forgot about my troubles for a while, the world kept turning. And while it did, brokenness after brokenness made itself evident over and over again.

In a world of heartache and despair, if we are not careful, we will become blind to the beauty of the life God intended for us to live (and I know this first hand). Even worse, we will forget about The Great Physician…

After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].

One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk. (John 5:1–9a HCSB)

I wonder if you see yourself in this story.

I certainly see me…

Maybe you are not an invalid or totally dependent on the care of others.
Maybe you are not financially strapped.
Maybe you are not fighting an addiction.
Maybe you are not divorced and struggling.
Maybe you are not unhappy at your job.
Maybe you are not wrestling with your purpose in life.
And maybe, just maybe, you have never had to cope with grief and loss.

Those are some mighty big maybe’s, aren’t they?

And even if you can maybe say you are healthy, whole, sane, happy, and satisfied with life, there is still the sickness of your sin, the crimson stain of your soul…

Back in our text, John tells us this man had been sick and suffering for 38 years.
That’s a long time.
That’s a lifetime.

Did you happen to catch all the ways he was both alone and not alone?

Verse 7 says there was no one to help him in the water. Why was he alone? I cannot say for sure, but I can speculate from my own experience. I can guess that if he and I are alike, then we were alike in how we handled our pain.

And it is all very circular—hurt people hurt people. And in our pain, we also isolate ourselves. The more we hurt, the more we hurt. Pain causes us to isolate ourselves and pain causes others to isolate from us.

There is a world of lonely people out there. Hurting and hurting. And we are not alone, we just fail to recognize how others hurt just like we do.

But there is another scenario we might also consider (big stuff coming here…). Yes, hurt people hurt and isolate. But sometimes we build our lives around our struggle. We give it meaning. We infuse it with good intentions. And before you know it, it—-whatever it may be-—becomes not only our routine, but our identity as well.

The Great Physician did not come so that you or I could have or live a victim mentality. Our tragedies, pains, failures and heartaches do not have to define the entirety of our lives!

Jesus came to heal.
Hallelujah!

You may not see your struggles go completely away. You may have some degree of pain the very rest of your life. But the Great Physician, the great healer of our souls—-the one who washes away our sins—-the one who redeems, restores, and reconciles can change even the worst perspective.

This I know.
This I know.

Writing here today is proof positive of the Great Physician’s work in my life.

There was a time in which I hurt so badly that my pain became the pain of others. And I didn’t give them a choice. I hurt, so I hurt.

But eventually the emptiness of my loneliness couldn’t be sustained any more. Eventually I grew tired of being angry. I grew weary of making my pain my identity.

Enter the Great Physician.
Forgiver of my sins.
Healer of my heart.
Restorer of my life.

Like me, your healing may not be as instantaneous as the man in our text. Some aspects of our curing may take a lifetime. And truthfully, some things may not be completely cured until eternity calls.

But regardless, our healing will not begin until we hear and answer the same question Jesus asked: Do you want to get well?

The great Physician now is near, The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer, Oh, hear the voice of Jesus.

stethoscope_and_heart   Do you want to get well?

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

JesusPilateIt takes a lot of faith to trust the political process in this country because it feels like the process and the people continue to fail to live up to what we expect of them. This is not a partisan thing. This is a reality that crosses party lines. Many people are disillusioned at the moment. If you dig beneath the disillusionment it boils down to culture rather than politics. People are disillusioned about a lot of things and that carries over into politics.

It is important that we keep these things in a godly perspective because the world can go mad but we don’t have to go along with it. Even with all of that there isn’t ever a reason to disconnect our experience, emotions and thinking from our Christian faith.

There are a lot of things people base their decision on when it comes down to who to vote for. Some people look at who might pick better Supreme court justices. Others vote based on who they think is the more trustworthy candidate or who just has more experience or better experience. Still others weigh campaign promises, evaluating which candidate has more to offer me. Those who wait to get what they were promised from politicians will be waiting a long time because politicians are fallible and don’t have absolute power to say something and make it happen. And yet the promises roll in from both sides.

As Christians, We don’t put our hope, faith or trust in the promises of a party or a candidate. The truth is, we have a better hope placed with God, who is actually faithful to every promises he has made. He isn’t looking for loopholes out of what he promised. He isn’t looking to blame the heavenly hosts for his lack of action or follow through. No one is filibustering the throne of God until God gives in. God is actually excited about doing what he has promised he would do to bless the world and has the power to pull it off. There is no balance of power when it comes to the Creator of the universe. God isn’t waiting on the house or the senate or the supreme court. God unequivocally, irrevocably and unilaterally acts on behalf of his children to make good on every promise he has ever made. All of this reminds us that we shouldn’t get too comfortable with the way things work in worldly systems,

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16

It is when we stop longing that we start belonging.

When we stop longing and start belonging we begin to check our faith at the door in order to “talk politics”. I see way too much of that. It hurts our witness and our credibility. There is tremendous inconsistency in saying we believe in eternal life, God, heaven, hell, Jesus as the savior of the world, etc and then dump all of that in order to speak in a manner inconsistent with our faith on matters that are trivial compared to our Christian faith and mission.

Keep longing because this isn’t it.

We depend on God not on any government or public servant or elected official. God is the only one who is 100% consistent. God is the only one who keeps all his promises. God will never let you down. So we wait and we acknowledge that we truly don’t belong to this world and yet still have to live and work in this world in a way that is consistent with the faith we profess.

Here is how Hebrews 11 ends,

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

MaranthaJesusPilate

JesusPilateJesus was born into a world steeped in politics. It was a world of governors, kings and emperors. Whether you were a local ruler or a peasant, there was a pecking order and it paid to know your spot in the food chain.

As Jesus went about his ministry he had a way of upsetting the religious authorities of his day because Jesus’ priority was not to perpetuate existing power structures nor to fatten the wallets of those in places of power. Jesus’ priority was a kingdom priority and Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.

Just as one my expect today, those whose power and position were threatened would find a way to stop him. They knew that petty religious arguments wouldn’t get the attention of Rome. A Jewish upstart being accused of blasphemy or threatening the temple wouldn’t get much traction with Rome. They did, however, know one thing that would would raise the ire of Rome…this one thing always seems to raise the ire of a lot of people and that was politics. Jesus’ kingdom language could easily be twisted into competitive political language that would quickly get Jesus in hot water with the real big wigs who had the authority and power to wield the sword, or in this case the cross.

As Jesus is arrested and put on trial there is a cry that comes from the masses, who truly despised the Romans themselves, and yet in this moment found the Roman officials, centurions and even Pilate himself as useful to their cause. What was the cry from the crowd?

“We have no king but Caesar!”

As unbelievable of a claim as that is what makes it more unbelievable was the rocky relationship the Jews had with Pilate over the years. I don’t think Pilate was fooled but he was convinced that if Jesus wasn’t handled properly that there would be trouble.

As Pilate and Jesus converse or at least as Pilate attempts to have a conversation with Jesus Pilate learns what is truly going on – that Jesus is truly no threat to Rome, that the charges are baseless and that Pilate wishes the whole thing could go away in the simple act of washing his hands of it all.

But it is never that easy.

Once you get involved in the political process, washing hands doesn’t always seem to get all the dirt off. Just ask Lady MacBeth.

When you leverage politics for ulterior motives and agendas it is never easy to make a clean break because politics never come “no strings attached.”

This is where things get sticky, especially for Christians. What is our place in the political process? There has been a lot of discussion about this in Churches of Christ over the years with answers ranging nearly across the full spectrum of possibilities. It is important that we put things in perspective. It is also important to realize this is a complicated subject that is going to require a lot of grace in how we interact with others on it. Maybe that is just as much a reason to discuss it as the importance as the issue itself – a practice in spiritual discipline and the art of having a Christ-like disagreement. Yet it is a a topic that we should discuss openly and discuss it well.

I do realize I just posted something on refraining from political conversation might just be the spiritual discipline we need so this may seem contradictory. On the flip side, it is equally true that there is just as much discipline in discussing a difficult and sensitive subject well as there is in refraining from discussing it in the first place. For me, at least, what I am talking about here is not a political party or a candidate specifically (although they can serve as specific examples of what we are talking about). I am talking about priorities and processes. That is a conversation worth having. Discussing how our faith impacts our views is a conversation worth having. Discussing our similarities and differences in love is an exercise worth practicing. More and more we need to compare our views to a kingdom perspective that is, from a scriptural perspective and see what it is about our views that needs to better line up with scripture. This will help us discern how much of our views are truly cultural vs purely biblical.

I look forward to discussing these things with you as we launch our July theme “A Kingdom not of this world.”