Have We Lost Our Way?


There is a line from The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins is perplexed, and alone, and unsure of where to go, or what to do. In that moment he says, “I have lost my dwarves, my wizard, and my way”. The dwarves were his traveling companions on a mission to restore the dwarves’ homeland and he has become separated from them. The wizard was Gandalf, the wise one who called them together, but Gandalf had left with a promise to return. The way, was the direction to the kingdom that they were trying to restore. I see striking parallels in where the church is today.

Dare I say we have become separated from one another in ways we have not seen since the 16th century when the church, during the Reformation, exploded into countless, fractured pieces. We have lost our connection to Jesus, the all wise one who has called us together. We have lost the way to build the Kingdom of God that Jesus called us to. The recent storming of the Capitol is the stark and tragic evidence of how lost we have become.

I don’t intend to address the politics of it all. Jesus rarely talked politics and when he did it was about paying to Caesar what was his due in the form of taxes. Paul rarely talked politics and when he did it was all about submitting to the governing authorities, even when that governing authority was the Emperor Nero who would eventually have Paul beheaded, and use Christians as human Tiki Torches to light the streets of Rome. I am absolutely certain that Jesus would never have called for his followers to storm the Roman Senate with banners declaring “Jesus Saves”, like we saw last week in Washington D.C.

That kind of use of force and demonstration of human anger and power is not what followers of Christ are called to do and be. Some might object, “what about when Jesus cracked the whip in the Temple of Jerusalem and threw out the money changers who were robbing people?” Fine, let’s be about the task of getting our house in order in the church. That is what Jesus was doing. When it came to his relationship with the secular government it was always about submitting to that government, even if it was corrupt like that of Pontius Pilate that got Him crucified.

Christians in The United States of America need to understand that our task is NOT to usher in the Kingdom of God by controlling the government or through political power. Should we be involved and campaign and vote as part of our responsibility as citizens? Of course we should. But we must do that with the attitude and demeanor of Jesus. The Great Commandment was not, “Love your country with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and make sure to control your neighbor”. It was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The hate that was demonstrated at the Capitol, and that has been demonstrated over the last decade or more, is not what Jesus has called followers of Christ to exhibit. Sadly it has been demonstrated from both the political right and left within the church at large.

The debates and arguments that I have seen Christians engage in over the last thirty years, have rarely been grounded in Scripture. In the last decade it has been even less so. There is the occasional verse yanked completely out of context, but rarely is there a deep dive into the heart of what Jesus calls us to, especially when that deep dive conflicts with our political, or economic, or social ideology. Arguments about justice are rarely based on what Biblical justice looks like. Arguments about corrupt government rarely address what the Bible says about living under such rule. Instead the debate turns to how to take power and control.

Why are we in this position? In part because we have believed the lie that this is a Christian nation and we are afraid we are losing that and are trying to take it back. When you are afraid you are losing something you can be led to do desperate things that are out of character. When your team loses it is all too common to blame the refs. They made bad calls. It is the other teams fault. They cheated. Rarely do we ever say, our team sucked and that is why we lost. Does this sound familiar?

America was never “A Christian Nation”. It was a nation founded on principles of The Enlightenment. That meant it was all about freedom, especially freedom of religion any religion, not just Christianity.

“But the founders of this nation were Christians.” So what? Yes, some of them were. Some of them were not. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of being “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,” was not a Christian. I mean after all, you can look at his personal Bible and see that he took a razor to countless passages he did not like. He cut out anything supernatural, any miracles, any mention of the resurrection of Jesus, and more. Sorry, not a Christian. “But the Declaration of Independence talks about God, the Creator.” Of course it does, a very nebulous God, somewhere out there, who created everything but has left it to run on it’s own. It is called Deism. Nowhere is there mention of Jesus or Christianity. They were actually rebelling against a Christian nation. King George III was not only King of England but head of the Church of England as Elizabeth II is today. Our country was built to avoid that entanglement of “official” religion. Why? Because so many of them fled England in order to have freedom of religion and wanted to make sure others had it too.

So where does this leave us? How do we find our dwarves, our wizard, and our way?

First, we need to remember that other followers of Jesus are not the enemy when they have a different opinion of things. The fracturing that is happening in the Body of Christ over political ideology must be breaking the heart of Jesus. Imagine being a parent and having your kids at one another’s throats over petty differences. It is far worse than that for Jesus.

Most of my formal theological education has been at institutions were I was not in the majority. In fact I was in a decided minority. For my bachelors in theology, I was the only non-Roman Catholic in the program in a Roman Catholic university. For my Masters of Divinity, I was one of two non-Episcopalians in an Episcopal seminary. Guess what happened. I learned to have dialogues with people I disagreed with and as a result I learned a ton more than if I had been in my own theological echo chamber. One of the main things I learned was how to love and respect people I disagreed with and who disagreed with me.

Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and the Father are one. What are you doing to make that prayer a reality? What are you doing that is inhibiting the fulfillment of that prayer?

Second, be more like Jesus, even when it hurts and goes against your political, social, or economic ideology. The whole point of being a disciple of Jesus is to become more like him. In order to do that you have to become a student of the life and teachings of Jesus found in the Bible. Then we have to submit to that teaching even when it runs against the grain of what we have previously thought and done. That requires humility not hubris.

Third, make God’s Kingdom, not an American Kingdom, the goal you are striving towards. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love America. I have been to more than 30 other countries around the world and there is no other place I would rather live, by far. But America is not the New Jerusalem come down from Heaven. Followers of Jesus are to be citizens of God’s Kingdom first and foremost. We are to be the best possible citizens we can be in this world, honoring those in authority and doing all we can to make their job easier. But we are more than that. We are to be pointing people to the love of Jesus more than anything, because He is Lord, not Caesar. If your political ideology is getting in the way of loving your neighbor as Jesus called you to, then I ask you, what needs to give, your political ideology, or the command of your Lord?

The bottom line is simple. Ask yourself this question, “Am I being who and what Jesus wants me to be so that he is honored and glorified and my neighbor is loved with the love of Christ?” It is all about following Scripture and not our cultural, political, social, or economic ideology. Loving them does not mean ignoring disagreements by covering over everything to avoid conflict. It does mean treating people with the dignity that comes with being made in the image of God. It means being willing to admit your own errors while giving them the benefit of the doubt and being willing to actually serve them as Jesus serves you. It means trusting that God is sovereign and there is no need for a follower of Jesus to fear conspiracy theories or give in to hate.

Keep the Great Commandment always before your eyes, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Anything that leads you away from that is leading you to lose your way.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/21

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;  repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

The ministry of John the Baptist was intended to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. Once John was arrested for preaching that the king needed to repent, Jesus began his public ministry. His message built on that of John who proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was coming. Jesus announced that it was now here.

The reason the Kingdom was now here was because the king, Jesus, was now here. The people were looking for a messiah/king who would re-establish the glory days of Israel. But Jesus came as a king who would make known the glory of God. For that to happen people needed to turn away from their expectations of a military messiah and look for one who would instead conquer sin and death.

They also needed to turn away from every other area of sin in their lives and trust in the Good News message, the Gospel of the Kingdom. That Gospel was and is that we are broken and sinful human beings who have all run after our own personal idols. We are seeking salvation in things that only condemn us. But Jesus came to bring salvation to anyone who would turn from those idols and trust him. That is the heart of the Gospel. The God we reject each day by running after other gods, came into the world to conquer sin and death so we might live forever in his glorious kingdom.

Provocative Submission: Is God Really Your King?

Recently I was witness to evidence of that amazing transformation from Communism to Democracy that has been experienced in Ukraine. As a former Soviet Republic the people of Ukraine spent seventy years under communist domination. Since the break up of the Soviet Union there has been a great deal of political turmoil in Ukraine as the people of the country struggle to learn democracy. In a microcosm I saw a group of Christian leaders putting what they have learned thus far into practice.

In a conference outside the capital city of Kiev a group of nearly thirty leaders of churches and various mission agencies had gathered to discuss the future of Christianity in their newly democratic country. Since the fall of Communism they had experienced what for them was unprecedented religious freedom. Countless groups from the west had flooded Ukraine in an effort to help strengthen the church. Some of those efforts were helpful and some clearly were not. Now these leaders, many of whom had known Jesus less than ten years, were taking responsibility for the future of their country and church.

They came up with a list of nearly two dozen issues that people around the table felt needed to be addressed if Christianity was to thrive in their country. It was then that I witnessed something that I am certain caused Stalin to turn over in his grave. They voted on every single suggestion in order to discover what priorities where most important. I sat in wonder as I realized that these people were only a few years removed from a time when such a vote would have been unthinkable and possibly dangerous. It was amazing and wonderful to see people taking ownership of the situation and respecting the ideas and opinions and votes of others around the table. Clearly a bridge had been crossed into the future. To have such freedom to determine ones future, to do it with out fear of reprisal, to live with a sense of dignity that your opinion and vote matter, is a blessed privilege.

But that also got me thinking. What are the dangers of Democracy? A wise person must recognize that even their greatest strengths can come with a blind spot that has the potential for ruin. Superman has superhuman strength because he is from another planet. But that also carries with it the seeds of his potential destruction. Kryptonite, which comes from his home planet, can drain his strength to the point of making him weaker than the weakest human. No matter how strong, good, powerful, talented, or gifted we are we must always be aware of the hidden dangers of that gift and the blind spot we have concerning it.

So what’s the hidden danger in democracy? For the Christian it is this; we don’t live in a democracy. We are citizens of a land that is an absolute monarchy. It is the Kingdom of God. It means that God is the ultimate sovereign ruler of that kingdom and all who live within it. It means that I don’t get a vote in what really matters. It means that I am the subject of the King and I owe Him my allegiance and obedience. That’s a hard thing for people who live and breathe the air of democracy from birth. Our freedom to do what we want, when we want, how we want and to change rulers we don’t like is so much a part of our cultural DNA that most people who live in western style democracies don’t even realize the danger they are in. The danger is that we marginalize God and act as if we are the masters of our lives and fate and not He who is our king.

We have been born and raised in a culture that thinks the highest possible value is to be placed on our freedom to decide for ourselves what we want. That includes deciding who is in charge. In fact democracy has built within it the notion that we have the right to reject any ruler and that the large group has wisdom far beyond that of the individual or small group of leaders. In the best of circumstances democracy protects people against the tyrant or complete incompetent who would bring ruin on a people or nation. But at its worst it means we reserve the right to vote God out of our lives. As a Christian you might not take a formal vote on it, but you certainly do it with regular decisions you make in which you fail to submit to your King.  I know I do and I am pretty sure you are just like me.

The thing that seems to be at the heart of it all goes back to the beginning when Adam and Eve rejected God and His law. They believed that by eating the forbidden fruit, they could become like God, that they would rise up to some new level of freedom. They would become His equals: democracy in action. They did not want to submit, even to God. Neither do we most times. We don’t want to submit to our spouses, our parents, our employers, our rulers, or even our Lord. Yet the Bible calls us to submit to all of those and it does so on numerous occasions.

We justify our failure to submit by affirming our own freedom to do, as we want and by painting submission as somehow being degrading and subhuman. I contend that it is failure to submit to God and one another that is in fact what makes us “sub-human”. We were created to be in a relationship with God that had us under His rule as our Lord and King. The first time we took a vote, we voted to remove Him from the throne of our lives. When that happened we became less than we were created to be. That is what I mean by becoming sub-human. We became slaves of our own “democratic choice”. The only way out of the dilemma in which we find ourselves is to submit completely and totally to Him as Lord.