Taking Back America

I want to share a story that I have told a few times, but each time it was told I left out a key part. Not because I was trying to hide anything, but because there were other points I was trying to make in the account at the time and this particular part wasn’t important for the other points.

But I believe it is time for this part of the story to be told… because the lesson in it is incredibly powerful.

Over a decade ago a friend and I believed that we should start an organization called Taking Back America. We believed that the very best thing for America was for Christians to mobilize politically and make a stronger united effort to influence our governments, schools, and other institutions “for the cause of Christ.” We were very excited about this endeavor and were planning to have a huge kick-off event with some national political speakers who were Christians and some nationally recognized Christian musical acts.

With the planning underway and a few speakers already committed, I contacted a particular artist management company to line up a particular musician. I spoke to several different people at this company, telling them all about what we were doing and why we were doing it. I sent them our information and they told me that they would get back with me within a couple of weeks, but they never did.

Frustrated, as this was the last piece of the puzzle we needed to begin promoting the event, I called the agency back in order to find out what was taking so long. The lady with whom I had been speaking over the previous weeks finally passed the call over to the agency director. The subsequent conversation left me completely frustrated and confused.

The director started by saying that he did not believe that the musician we were trying to book necessarily agreed with what we were doing or how we were doing it. Perplexed, I asked him to be more specific. He said that neither he nor the musician believed that it was a good thing for Christianity to advance politically, adding that they did not think America necessarily had to be “taken back for Christ” by the means we were suggesting.

I continued to press him because I could not understand what he was saying. It was not computing. It would not register. I could not imagine that there could be such a person who did not believe that Christians ought not take America back and “restore it to the Christian values and ideals that we once had.” Even more frustrated, I asked him how, exactly, we ought to move forward as Christians in America if we do not do it politically. He told me something I will never forget. He said, “The Kingdom of God is not dependant upon any political or governmental institution to move forward.”

This leads me to the part of the story that I have never written about before but that I now believe is important to share. But I before tell you how he responded to me and what he said… let me simply say this: when a person or a group of people believe that they have special knowledge or information, or that they have superior insight into a subject or a particular view, or that they have experienced a moment of clarity or enlightenment… there is a temptation to look down on others who do not have this special knowledge, superior insight, or shared enlightenment.

What I was about to receive was the most despicable form of judgment and lack of grace I have ever experienced.

In response to my serious lack of understanding to his perspective and my continued questioning for clarity, he said, “People like you will never get it.”

And that was like a dagger in my heart. Ugh.

While on one hand, that was the first time anyone who had a very different perspective of the way, life, and message of Jesus had confronted me on my limited perspective of how a Christian should think, act, and behave in our country. Even further, that was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the Kingdom of God to me. It was the first time anyone had ever suggested that God could work and move in the world in ways that were different than anything I had ever known or expected…and it certainly got my attention.

But on the other hand, I was ANGRY. On that day, I would have socked that guy in the mouth if we had both been in the same state! Not only had he challenged my perspective that the United States ought to be a Christian nation and that it should be done politically, but he did it in a way that absolutely killed me on the inside. I felt so small… so belittled… and so angry.

Even in my anger, I had to at least admit that my view may have been limited because I had never known or heard anything about the Kingdom of God. I had never heard that the Kingdom of God was a present in-breaking reality in the lives of those who follow the sacrificial way of Christ. I had never been confronted with Jesus and his upside-down Kingdom message. And I certainly didn’t realize that day how this Kingdom and Christ’s Lordship in my life would change my allegiances, my values, and they way I live and extend it each moment and with every breath I take.

The guy on the other end of the line had information that I needed. He had knowledge of something for which I was seeking and asking. He must have had a moment of enlightenment at one point of his life in order to know about something so beautiful and so radical and so revolutionary… but in his arrogance and judgment and lack of grace… he slammed the door to the Kingdom of God in my face… and told me I would never get it.

Well, I did eventually get it. And it was with very little help from the man who wrote me off as a lost cause.

I understand the tendency to feel as if we have superior knowledge and information and that everyone else needs to get a clue. I am guilty as charged too many times in my life. The issue isn’t having knowledge, information, or a moment of clarity or enlightenment… it is what we do with it… and how we treat people in the process. I know there are tons and tons of people in our lives who frustrate us because we think that they will always have their fingers in their ears and their eyes closed tightly. I get it. But if we are to be honest, God never gives up on anyone as a lost cause. And if the reign of God is to permeate through our hearts, minds, and souls… then we can’t give up on even the most hard headed, hard hearted, stubborn mule of a person. Right?

Even further, I know that I write a ton about the misgivings and misalignment of the Church. I know at times it may feel like I am writing off the Church and the beautiful people that make it up. But I write and share what I have discovered, not because I don’t think you will ever get, but because I know that you can get it… and I will never give up trying to help you find this beautiful treasure of the Kingdom of God.

The way of the Kingdom is not about discovering riches and then looking down on people as destitute paupers who have no share in the riches. Rather, the Kingdom is about discovering the riches and then humbly and lovingly realizing that all are entitled to share in the treasure together.

Don’t give up on anyone…

Brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

Breaking Silence…

As a Christian, ought I kill a man who lives down the road from me, but whom I have never met, only because I have been told by others that he is my enemy and that he has verbally threatened my freedom and my life?

I am convinced that your gut reaction to my issue was an adamant and exclamatory, “No! Of course not!” And, of course, you said this because you know that such a thing is unlawful and is also contrary to what Christianity would mandate of me. But if you will allow me, I would like to go further.

Could I ever convince you that I, as a Christian, would be justified in killing this man with my own hands? What if some of the circumstances were to change? As a Christian, would it be more or less acceptable for me to kill a man, whom I have been told is a threat to my life and freedom and also my enemy, if he lived somewhere else in the United States or in the world? Would I be more justified in my actions if the distance changed? Would I be justified in preemptively killing him based solely upon what others have told me of his threats and the fear i now have that he will make good on his threat of taking my freedom and life?

As a Christian, I am no more justified in killing my enemy when the proximity changes than I am when the man lives across the street from my house. Even if this man really has threatened my freedom and my life… I have still preemptively taken his life into my own hands and it is murder.

But it seems I have found an appropriate loophole to the dilemma of killing this man, whom I now believe is my enemy, which clears my conscience. What if I have another man kill my enemy on my behalf in order to protect my freedom and my life so I do not have to do it on my own?

Being that I do not have the conscience to kill my enemy and being that I find that his killing stands opposed to the tenets of Christianity, it seems a more appropriate and justified action to have someone hired or appointed by the government to kill him -or- to have someone volunteer to kill him on my behalf. In this way, I will be completely absolved of his murder and the guilt of it will not be upon me.

I have to admit that while this sounds appealing…there is something about this logic that does not make sense.

As a Christian, am I any less guilty of killing my enemy by having another man do it… even if that is what he was employed to do on my behalf? Can I so easily put the burden and guilt of killing on this hired man and leave him to deal with the demons of killing for me? In my support of this preemptive action, or in any act of retaliation, am I not guilty of his murder by the witholding or, in the reluctance, of my opposition?

I am beginning to realize that, since I am a Christian and called to love my enemy, no matter how hard I try to manipulate the circumstances or get around my conscience with slick reasoning, justifiable thinking, or creative planning- killing my enemy is no less murder or contrary to the way of Christ. Even if I have someone do it on my behalf, as I stand in silent or vocal support of the action, I am still guilty of murdering my enemy myself.

As a Christian living in a hostile world there is a real struggle by coming face to face with this tension.

In one sense, I fear what my enemy has threatened to do to me so I feel justified in his killing. On the other hand I have committed myself to a higher law of love and have been called to a higher standard of being a peacemaker by Jesus Christ.

“Jesus, as one who follows you, might I have a special exception to preemptively kill my fellow human being even if he might be an enemy who has threatened my freedom and my very life? Or would you at least allow someone to kill him on my behalf?”

You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

“But surely you understand and appreciate that I love my life so my enemy must be killed.”

Whoever loves his life will lose it. For those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

“Jesus, that is such a high standard. Not only are you saying that I ought not kill another man, but that I ought not even be angry with him. What if my enemy attacks me or verbally insults me or damages my property? Am I then authorized to aggress or retaliate against this man who causes me injury?”

You have also heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

“Am I to sit idly by and not defend myself?”

You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Still holding on to the hope that Jesus would agree with me that it is appropriate and justifiable to kill my enemy, I exclaimed, “But Lord, your requirement of me is much too high! Surely you understand that I am not capable of your way! Your way is naïve and too idealistic for this life. Surely you understand that I am a mere mortal man incapable of such a high standard! You are perfect and I am not!”

It was to this the Lord boldly impressed upon me, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Therefore, I can come to no other conclusion through good conscience, and as one who uncompromisingly follows the way of Jesus Christ, that not only can I not kill my enemy or have someone do it on my behalf or with my support, I can not even hate my enemy, avenge the wrong he has done to me, or be angry with him- for all other laws have been transcended with a higher law of love, non-resistance, and non-retaliation to evil.

And it is to this higher law and it’s legislator that I pledge my allegiance.

As a result, I have no other choice before me than: to not repay evil with evil in any situation, to not seek retribution on my own accord, to not ask anyone to seek retribution on my behalf, and to not implore the court to sentence a man to death on my behalf. I must not avenge myself, but must leave room for the wrath of God. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The truth is that, no matter how much we have been brought to believe that certain circumstances or situations stand outside the reasonableness of Christ’s law, we have not been given special exception to kill or to have someone killed on our behalf.

As Christians, we have unambiguously been given the command by Christ of non-resistance to evil, to not repay evil with evil, and to love our enemies. And while we, as Christians, ought to hold ourselves to this expectation and standard… we do not hold other individuals or governments (who do not follow Christ) to this standard….even though we believe that the way of love is the best and highest way and the only way evil can be defeated and extinguished.

“A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true Life.”- Adin Ballou

“What really made a mess of the world? Grace? Forgiveness? Turning the other cheek? Or is it guilt, punishment, vengeance, and retribution?”- Robert Farrar Capon

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his point of view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brother who are called the opposition.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Men who are used to the existing order of things, who like it and dread its being changed, try to take [Christ’s teaching] as a collection of revelations and rules which one can accept without their modifying one’s life.”- Leo Tolstoy

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”- Jesus

Peace…

Brandon