Good News? (A Quasi-Political Post)

I need you to trust me.

If you have followed my writings over the last decade you know that I do not like politics. In fact, I hate politics. I believe the confluence of politics and religion has been one of the greatest dividers and antagonizers within the Church as a whole. And, as a result, I spend my energy working to unite people from all political persuasions into the only thing that can cover a multitude of sins, a multitude of ideologies, a multitude of political persuasions- the love of God.

For it is the love of God, singularly, that can save us from ourselves, as impossible as that may seem sometimes.

But at the same time, you should know that since I do not care for either political party, I try to speak as much unbiased truth as I can, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t have skin in the game.

So with all of that being said, please know that my intention with this post is not to make some political statement, or to take some supposed political side, because I am not. Neither right nor left, blue nor red, liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat will save us. I am simply trying to work through some of the great divides I observe within the American Church in light of political influence and power.

This post began writing itself last week when I saw an article about Vice President Mike Pence, who by the way is from my hometown and my alma mater (Columbus, Indiana and Hanover College), addressing a pastors conference (and now the Southern Baptist Convention) in which he was a surprise speaker. It was this specific line that hit me, and then subsequently made me reflect upon it. It was when he told the audience of pastors to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe that line doesn’t really stand out to you. In fact, I would be surprised if it did stand out to you in any appreciable way because it is the very backbone of Christianity and a very common thing for a Christian leader to say. So it’s no real surprise that someone would say something like that at a preachers conference.

But the reason it hit me in such a weird way the other day was because there is a growing number of Christians, like me, who see how un-Christlike our government is, whether it be the current administration or past administrations, and the Vice President’s call to “share the good news of Jesus Christ,” seemed to ring a bit hollow in light of the current un-Christlike administration.

I need to be clear here. I am not at all doubting the Vice President’s sincerity or his allegiance to his faith. That’s not it at all. As you will soon see, the main point of this post really doesn’t have anything to do with the Vice President or the administration. I truly believe that from Pence’s perspective, he believes that the work he is doing, and the work that the Trump administration is doing by proxy, is largely in alignment with the “good news of Jesus Christ.” And his rally cry at the preacher’s conference was his clarion call for them to join him in this good news mission. Again, I do not doubt his sincerity or allegiance to his faith at all.

I just believe it is mistaken and misaligned.

The problem is that there are those of us who see the “good news of Jesus Christ” differently, who see that the character and policies of the Trump administration (and the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations of the past) as un-Christlike, and who believe that any pronouncement of the “good news of Jesus Christ” ought to be accompanied by a people resolved to be like the Christ they profess to follow.

I want to be consistent, though. I am not saying that I believe a country should, or even could, be Christlike because I don’t think that is even possible, nor is it what Jesus ever intended. But, when Christianity is so actively and vociferously bandied about by the current administration, and then used as their basis for policy decisions, it begs for serious accountability and critique by those who take following the way of Jesus seriously.

So here are a few questions I would have.

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it has no real bearing on us becoming more like Christ in our lives?

Ought not the preaching of the “good news of Jesus Christ” be accompanied by lives and initiatives that look Christlike?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if the policies of the United States are rarely Christlike, or not Christlike at all?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it really isn’t good news for people living today?

Does the Good News have any real world influence, or is it just something that guarantees a future in heaven?

Of course these questions are rhetorical, but they really bring to light the deeper problem we have within American Christianity in how we view the “good news of Jesus Christ,” and what it ought to mean for the here and now. And believe me, this problem is at the very center of the issues we have with each other in the larger American Church.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we have two very different and distinct understandings of what the “good news of Jesus Christ” even is. And it is this difference in understanding that has led to very different ideas about what that means in the world and then how that ought to be expressed.

Some Christians believe the “good news of Jesus Christ” is the saving work of God through Christ accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross in order to defeat sin and death, thereby satisfying the wrath of God and granting forgiveness to all who repent and are baptized so that they may go to heaven for eternity in a spiritual afterlife.

The limitation of this understanding of the “good news” is that it does not offer a cohesive moral lens through which to see the world. Because this understanding is largely end-oriented, it is significantly limited in how to view (and relate) to the world presently.

That is why many within this version of the “good news” have adopted the most accessible lens in front of them to understand the world- the Judeo-Christian American lens.

Within the vacuum created by only using Jesus as a means of salvation, but not the lens through which they view all things, they needed some sort of lens to make moral sense of our country and world. And the Judeo-Christian American lens was the most accessible, because it was the one handed down from generation to generation in America.

The problem is that the Judeo-Christian American ethic is a mishmash of selective and inconsistent ethics from the Old and New Testaments. And those who see the world through that Judeo-Christian lens seek to impose those values on the governmental system as their ultimate goal, because they believe it is what God has always wanted. The Judeo-Christian American ethic is believed to be fundamentally and unequivocally Christian by those Christians who use it as their lens, even though its ethics are thoroughly un-Christlike.

A Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic. There is no such hybrid entity within Christ. To be a Christian means to follow the ethic of Christ. It does not mean ascribing to a mishmash of selective values that can be molded to your liking, or to your political leaning.

I am not pointing a finger of judgment here, because this is the quasi-Christian mumbo-jumbo that we have all been sold for generations. The problem is that a Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic and we are mistaken if we believe they are synonymous.

However, there are those, including me, who believe that the “good news of Jesus Christ,” which Jesus and Paul referred to as the “good news of the Kingdom of God,” is an entirely different nation and citizenship without boundaries or divisions or hierarchies, and whose values look exactly, and consistently, like the king in this kingdom… Jesus.

Yes, we still believe that the forgiveness of God was given to all as a peace-offering through Christ crucified, that sin and death were triumphed over in the resurrection of the Christ, and that God longs for all to repent (for all to change their minds about God and be transformed in the process of reconciling their relationship) and to be immersed heart, mind, body, and soul into this new reality of living, this Kingdom of God.

But it goes much further than that. Jesus isn’t simply a means to an end. Jesus is the means and the end. Jesus isn’t just good for getting to heaven. Jesus is the template and the lens by which we pattern our lives and through whom we see all things.

The good news of the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the selective and inconsistent morality of the Judeo-Christian American lens.

For example, when we say “pro-life,” we believe that God loves all life from womb to tomb, not just in the womb, because that is what Jesus taught and what Jesus embodied. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that all people are loved and worthy. And in this Kingdom, like Jesus, one does not see enemy-combatants or people worthy of death row or illegal aliens or garbage human beings or humans referred to as animals. We simply see people who are made in the image of God and loved by God. We see, like Jesus, people that we are to love with our heart, mind, body, and soul. And that may make us stupid and worthy of ridicule for loving so recklessly, but it is consistently with who Jesus called his followers to be.

And that is just one difference, among so many, between the selective and inconsistent Judeo-Christian American ethic and the universal and consistent good news of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to know how to see the world and other people when Jesus alone is the lens through which we see all things.

Let me give another example to illustrate the profound difference between the two lenses.

A Pew Research article posted on May 24, 2018 looked at whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees.

Of every single demographic analyzed in the study, from age to gender to class to ethnicity to education level, the groups MOST AGAINST the United States accepting refugees were the white, Protestant Evangelicals at nearly 70% and white, Protestants at 50%.

The people of Jesus. The people of compassion. The people who have become the very “body of Christ” in the world. The people of the “Good News.” The people who are to see others as Jesus sees them, is the single demographic MOST AGAINST accepting and helping a refugee.

When a Christian religion adopts a lens through which to view the world that is in stark contrast to the lens of Jesus, this is exactly what we end up with. Whether or not one breaks an American law, whether or not a person deserves the help, whether or not the person comes from another country or not, the good news of the Kingdom of God welcomes in and cares for the foreigner, the outcast, and those pushed to the edges of society. The good news of the Kingdom of God has deep, deep compassion for the poor seeking a better life, for those being hunted and killed by their own domestic oppressors, and for those seeking religious asylum from violent regimes. A people who understands the good news of the Kingdom of God is not singularly concerned preaching about the self-sacrificing Christ. We are resolved to pattern our lives after, and see the world through, the self-sacrificing Christ.

That’s the difference.

And I believe that is why there are so many Christians who think that the current administration is “doing the Lord’s work,” while there are just as many of us Christians who believe the current administration is an affront to Christ. Because without making Jesus the lens through which all things are seen, one can pick and choose which ethical concerns are “more important” or more “politically satisfying” or “more in line with American interests,” than with the Jesus they profess to follow.

It may be time for us to have deeper discussions with each other about what the good news is and what it really means for the world today.

Peace…

Brandon

This is My Body Given For You (Kind of)

This Good Friday I would like to offer some thoughts and a challenge to you about the death of Christ.

The typical Christian thought of Christ’s Passion is that it was something done “for us.”

And that is the foundation of Christianity: that Christ was given sacrificially over to death so as to atone for the sins of humanity and bridge the divide between God and man.

It was in that sacrificial act that God moved decisively in history and did something “for us.”

We didn’t reach this conclusion by happenstance, for Jesus himself asserted that he was giving his broken body for each one of us.

In fact, we can still hear the echo of Jesus’ pronouncement during his final meal just moments before he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified, “This is my body, given for you.”

So while we, as Christians, have been on solid footing in our understanding that the death of Christ was something done on our behalf, I would propose that the pronouncement of Jesus is something more than any of us have ever imagined- not just something done “for us,” but also as something being done through us by God as well.

“This my body, given for you,” is not simply a statement continually reminding us of who Jesus was and what he did.  It is also a declaration of what his Body (the Church) will continue to do.

And the implications of this larger understanding have the potential to breathe fresh life into the Church, but more importantly- to change the world.

It is a step forward from a position of being perpetual recipients and into a position of being recipients and then extenders.

This is captured nicely in the parable of the servants.

Three servants were each given something.

Two of the servants extended what they had been given.

One servant held onto what was generously given and extended nothing.

It was this foolish servant who was reprimanded for not extending what had been given.

The lesson for each of us is: what we have been freely given… we ought to freely extend.

As Christ’s body was given for us… we have become his Body in order to give ourselves for others.

As was the pattern and shape of Christ being broken and poured out for us, so we become the Body of Christ by allowing ourselves to be broken open and our blood poured out for the world.

And becoming his Body means that we take on the exact pattern and shape of his life, with a willingness and determination to even go to our death in order to demonstrate God’s radical love.

But doing this confronts every way we have fought against truly being his body, broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not stand up and fight… his body would lie down in surrender.

Christ’s body would not break people down… his body would allow itself to be broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not seek to be exalted… his body would be ridiculed among the sinners.

Christ’s body would not be self-righteous… his body would be meek and humble.

Christ’s body would not be accusing or condemning… his body would be gentle and empathetic.

Christ’s body would not be legislating morality… his body would be teaching and demonstrating a higher way and extending grace.

Christ’s body would not be shunning sinners… his body would be washing their feet.

Christ’s body would not be casting people aside… his body would be joining them where they are at.

Christ’s body would not be pronouncing judgment… his body would be defending the cause of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.

Christ’s body would not be casting stones… his body would be making peace.

Christ’s body would not be sitting at the exclusive table for the religious… his body would be sitting among the outcasts and sinners.

Christ’s body would not be despising and hating… his body would be loving.

In the same way that Christ embodied the beauty, richness, and fullness of God’s generous mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace by becoming the least of these… so ought his Body on earth right now.

But the truth is that we are all too eager to unconditionally receive God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and all-consuming love… but painfully conditional or absent in extending it.

But guess what?

It’s not ours to give.  It’s God’s.

And we have been generously entrusted with what God has given us so as to further extend it.

God’s full expression was on display in the body of Jesus Christ… and nothing short of that ought to be on display through the Body of Christ in the world today.

What we have been lavished in and showered with… flows freely.

And that’s where real Life is found- giving ourselves, our lives, our bodies for others.

While it is true that we, as Christians, would rather die than to ever stop living in God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

It can not stop there.

This all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love is not simply meant to be received.

It is meant to be given as well.

And here is what that means.

It means that we would rather die than to ever stop giving that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Again, what is received… is meant to be given.

On this Good Friday as we join our Savior at his table… let us join him in his proclamation to all of the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

Peace…

Brandon

GUEST POST: On Faith, Fire, and the Kingdom of God by Luke Harms

As I sit in my comfortable townhome, typing on my aged but still fully capable MacBook Pro, streaming old episodes of The Office on an aging plasma TV (one that, while not the newest, fanciest model still could probably fetch the equivalent of a year’s wages for one of the factory workers that assembled it), I can’t help but face one simple reality:

I am the problem.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I talk a mean game for an armchair activist. Injustice makes me uncomfortable, maybe even a little angry, but not enough to actually change the way that I live my life. Sure, I’ve changed the way that I talk, but if I may invoke that most classic of cliché’s: talk is cheap.

For me, it’s especially cheap. Words and ideas are my job, my hobby, my life, but you know what? They don’t cost me anything. I can talk myself into a corner and talk myself right back out again without ever putting any real skin into the game.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel where God directs David to build an altar and make a sacrifice. A citizen offers to give David wood and oxen for his sacrifice, but David replies with what has become another (unfortunately) common cliché:

“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God offerings that cost me nothing.”

These words, these ideas, these silver-tongued pleas for justice spoken from the comfortable confines of the high hill of privilege, are the sacrifices that cost me nothing, and they seem to burn hottest when fueled by my own righteous indignation. In the end, it’s all the same. They’re consumed, and nothing is left but the echoes and the ashes. But there is life left in those charred remains. Somewhere in all of those words and ideas there lies the foundation for a Kingdom unlike any other, a Kingdom whose watchword is Love and whose Prince is Peace.

It’s the Kingdom I’ve become particularly adept at talking about, and even better at avoiding actually living out. I have forgotten, or perhaps more accurately ignored, Christ’s parting word to his disciples to go and do.

So here I am. I’m still sitting in this townhome. I’m still typing words on my MacBook Pro, and The Office is still playing on the TV, so has anything really changed? I guess I’m not really sure, but every fire starts with a tiny spark.

Maybe this is the spark.

Maybe it’s time to burn it all down.

Luke is an ENFP who hates writing bio’s in the 3rd person. He’s an analyst to pay the bills (a constant challenge for his non-linear brain), but his real passions revolve around being married to Jill, and raising Thing One (Ethan, 3) and Thing Two (Asher, 1). He writes over at Living in the Tension (sporadically, due to the demands of the aforementioned Things) where he wrestles with everything from faith to family to philosophy, and does it all through the lens of what it means to be a follower of Christ in his life, his work and his family. He’s thirty-smhershmer years old, still loves punk rock and has famously never turned down a rice-krispies treat.