This is the first of two posts that I have to preemptively tell you that my heart in this is motivated only in love and service to helping Christians (including me) more closely align in following the way of Jesus. I simply ask that if you are a Christian and one who struggles with anger when a person challenges your faith perspective, then maybe park this post until you can read it in a non-defensive, non-oppositional, and peaceful posture. These words are meant to begin a civil conversation and dialogue and then to guide us into deeper reflection and dependence on the Spirit of God in our lives.
Too many times, Christians read what I write (with the most recent example being about Christians and politics) and quickly retort, “Well, I disagree with your position,” or, “Well, that is just your opinion.” Others immediately dismiss what I have written and begin listing all of the arguments they have grown up believing to be true. I am not pointing a finger in judgment here. They certainly have the right to state their disagreement, but it is almost always done without the slightest bit of reflection or curiosity as to how I arrived at my position. I know this because when I ask each person if what they believe comes from Jesus, they usually state that it does not come from Jesus. They may point to the Old Testament. They may refer to the founding documents of our country. They may convey that their position is what the majority of Christians believe in our country. They may even say it is their opinion based on what their own church or denomination tells them. But when they disagree with me… they never, ever, ever say that their views on the government or the political system come from Jesus.
I believe most people are trying to be sincere in their faith. I really do. But I also believe they are being brainwashed by well-meaning religious leaders, preachers, and teachers who care more about the United States government and the United States political system than honestly trying to follow in the way of Jesus and then working to advance his counter-cultural kingdom. But the Church’s affinity and obsession with government and politics have led to upside-down, mixed up priorities and profound sickness.
You know the old saying, “It takes one to know one.” Well, the reason I can identify this problem so easily is because I was part of the problem.
Admittedly, I used to have the same exact understanding and view as those who believe that Christianity and the American governmental and political system should be inseparable and that their fusion is absolutely essential. I was the Conservative Evangelical guy who believed that Christians needed to take back our country for God, that we needed to elect Conservative Christians to restore our Judeo-Christian principles and values, that the United States was the “shining light on a hill” and the only source of “good” in the world, and that all of our military endeavors against the enemies of “good” were approved by God.
I was THAT GUY. I was the guy who bought into the marriage of Christianity and politics hook, line, and sinker. I was the guy who believed that it was absolutely essential that the Church be politically active. I was the guy who believed that prayer ought to be in school, that the 10 commandments ought to be outside of the courthouse, and that a “Christian worldview” was the only thing that was going to defeat atheism and evolution and save the next generation.
If those values and beliefs were so ingrained in me and comprised the very core of my being, how in the world could my perspective change so radically?
The simple answer is that God began to completely destroy me. And the destruction left me shell-shocked. In shambles. In pain. Everything I had believed. Everything I had trusted. Everything I had put my faith in… leveled to the ground.
God completely obliterated and annihilated the foundations upon which I had built and resided my entire life. God shattered the lenses through which I viewed reality, the world, and other people. God eradicated my inferior allegiances, my inferior value systems, and all of the worldly wisdom in which I had placed my hope, faith, and trust, because they were all completely anti-thetical to, and opposed by, the way of God perfectly demonstrated in the Christ.
Little did I know that it would take this kind of demolition for something new to be built up in its place. It was something more beautiful, more liberating, more peaceful, and more inclusive. Amidst the wreckage, I began to see the beautiful, alternative, present reality of God’s reign (which Jesus called the kingdom of God) and how we, as his followers, are supposed to give our lives, our pledge, and our allegiance to it only. That is how God took my heart, mind, and soul captive and changed my heart’s every desire.
So when I write about how the preoccupation of the follower of Jesus ought not to be that of governments or politics, but rather that of the kingdom of God, I do not write as some wild-eyed anti-conformist, but rather as a former Conservative Evangelical whom God saw fit to completely decimate and reconstruct as an ambassador for his alternative, upside-down, and beautiful kingdom.
So with that narrative as a backdrop, what does it mean, if what I write is not just “my position” or “my opinion,” but the very truth of God that you need to hear and internalize and pray over, rather than immediately and casually dismiss because it conflicts with your current belief and value system?
The truth is that I cannot twist your arm, force you to understand, or convince you to believe in anything that you do not want to believe. I cannot convince or persuade you into understanding or entering into the beautiful reality of God’s kingdom with my eloquent words. And despite how convincing or persuasive I can be, you have to discover it for yourself, which leads to my next point.
I came to the realization last week while mowing that there was a very good reason why Jesus only talked about the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. By speaking about the kingdom of God in parables and sayings, it keeps people from turning it into a formula for salvation, steps that must be taken to insure eternal life, or laws and rules that must be followed to be a good Christian. We, in the religious realm, certainly have a track record for trying to create new religious laws and protocols and formulas for “who’s in and who’s out.” And that is the real genius of Jesus preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. He completely short circuits and circumvents our tendencies toward controlling people and cheapening God’s grace and forgiveness.
However, there is also an unfortunate downside to only speaking of the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. As our Western minds long for a more pragmatic, predictable faith that is achieved by simply following rules and taking the “right steps,” we have completely stopped “asking, seeking, and knocking” to discover the riches of the kingdom of God. Despite the fact that the Good News of the kingdom of God was the reason Jesus said he was sent, was the focus of his parables and the Sermon on the Mount, and was the very first thing he preached after his resurrection, we have completely stopped (or maybe never even started) looking for the kingdom into which Jesus was announcing and inviting us.
I have mentioned this in previous writings, but there were times when Jesus did not explain the parables of the kingdom of God to the crowds. He said frequently that those who understand his parables “have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.” Some people would get it. Some people would not get it. But it was up to each person to be in a humble posture of seeking, asking, and knocking. A person whose posture was resistant, closed-off, or defensive would never have the eyes to see or the ears to hear and understand the deeper mysteries of God’s kingdom.
I am afraid that many people today are in that place as well. We are significantly lacking in the kind of humility that recognizes the reality that we will always be students in this lifetime and that our learning from the Great Teacher will never end. We have stopped seeking to discover greater breadths and depths of truth because we believe we have already discovered all truth. We have ceased asking to have the eyes and heart of God because we already believe that we see everything clearly and that our hearts are fully aligned with God. We have stopped knocking at the door because we believe we have fully arrived at our spiritual destination.
I do not share any of this from a place of arrogance or arrived-ness, because I have definitely not arrived. I fall way short of God’s glory on a daily basis. I only want to simply and humbly ask for you to seek first the kingdom of God. It is only discovered through your own willingness and your own pursuit. It is only when your heart is open, that you can fully receive.
But too many Christian hearts are closed off to the kingdom of God.
And that is why, I believe, so many discussions about the government and politics are so fruitless among Christians. Very few approach politics from a kingdom-centered perspective to begin with, even though this ought to be the lens through which Christians view everything, including governments and politics.
And here’s the crazy thing, Jesus told his followers to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM… which makes a Kingdom-centered perspective the most Jesus position of all positions, yet when I implore Christians to seek first the Kingdom of God (rather than our government or our politics) it’s dismissed as just another “opinion.” It seems to me that the most thoroughly Jesus position (the Kingdom of God) ought to be the one that Christians seek first and whole-heartedly embrace, rather than simply treating it as just another “opinion.”
Seeking first the kingdom above all else…
Read other posts in this series: