Have We Lost Our Way?

ON JANUARY 13, 2021 BY DAN LACICH

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.

Honoring Obama Even When You Disagree With Him: The Sequel

This piece was first posted four years ago today. I find that it is just as relevant now as it was then and can only hope that people who claim to follow Christ will exhibit Christ-like character no matter what their political position may be. It is deeply concerning to me that I see many Christians, politically right and left and theologically right and left, who have made their political ideology superior to their Biblical commands. By that I mean, many people are interpreting Scripture in light of their politics and not their politics in light of Scripture. I think this because the vitriol that I see in the Christian on Christian attacks and ad hominem arguments are only possible if we are setting aside the things that Jesus taught us about our relationships and responding to one another out of human pride, bitterness, and anger.

With that said, I trust that the following will speak to you and that you will be encouraged to trust in an almighty God who has been running the universe very well, long before you and I ever showed up on the scene to tell Him how to do it.

First published in November of 2008

“This morning I was confronted with one of those Bible passages with which we like to do one of two things. It is a passage that we either try to ignore altogether or explain it away so that we become convinced that it could never apply to our situation. The passage deals with giving honor to leaders, even bad leaders, even if you vehemently disagree with what they are doing. The words come from the Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 2:13, 14 and 17. “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good…17 Honor everyone. Love the Brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” Peter goes on to talk about also honoring your boss as well as being willing to suffer for doing good. Those are not easy things to put into practice.

Now before I go any further let me make it clear, in the last election I voted for the other guy so this is not coming from an apologist for the current administration. Rather, I am trying to look at this from the standpoint of making Christian witness a priority over political ideology. What I have seen in recent months, in terms of political rancor and vitriol is not new, at least not in my eyes. One advantage of being a child of the sixties is I have seen demonstrations against the government that make the G-20 demonstrators look like a Sunday school class out for an ice cream social. So I am not concerned about the general population getting all angry and nasty in politics. That is nothing new no matter what the media says. What does concern me is the level ridicule, bitterness, and anger bordering on hatred that is being poured out by many claiming to follow Christ. Instead of attacking the issues that we disagree over, many are falling into the time-honored tradition of attacking the person expressing the ideas.

I always find it humbling to the extreme that the first century Christians continued to honor the Emperor with the exception of worshiping him as a god, even as he was having some of them put to death for their faith. Peter makes it clear why this was to be the practice of Christ-followers. 1st Peter 2:21-23 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His footsteps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” That is the kind of life that we as Christ-followers are to demonstrate to the world around us.

But what is the purpose in it? Peter also makes that clear. We are to live this way, honoring those in authority even when they make us suffer so that they will glorify God. “Keep your conduct honorable among the gentiles so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1st peter 2:12 This is why I say I am more concerned with our Christian witness than I am with political ideology. Peter says that the ultimate goal is NOT for us to shape the government. Certainly we are to be involved in the process but if we get the public policy we want and do not live in such a way that leads people to people glorify God, then we have failed. It would be better to have lost the policy debate and have won people to Jesus than to have won the debate and lost our witness and our souls.

This is why Peter says that we are to honor others. We are to treat them with respect and dignity, even serving them while we disagree with their policy or their methods. We debate the issues. We don’t attack the person. We should be involved in the public debate in order to demonstrate what a Christ-follower is really like, not just what we think, but how we love and honor others. So disagree all you want with President Obama, with your governor, mayor, town dog catcher. If you are in another country the same applies to you. Disagree with policy but honor the office and the person in it. It may mean that you will suffer for disagreeing, because we should never be surprised when unbelievers don’t play by our rules. But that is never an excuse for us to do anything differently from how Jesus did it.”

Why God Had Obama Win

“for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” Romans 13:1

If Romans 13:1 is right, then Barack Obama won the election because God established it to be that way. If that is true then there are many Christians today who did not want Obama to win, who must be asking themselves what is going on and why God let this happen. There are two basic reasons why God has someone in authority as it relates to His people, the Church. One reason is to give us a time of peace and blessing and freedom to do what He has called us to. Think of David and the golden age of Israel. But another reason God puts a governmental leader in place is to teach His people a lesson regarding their failure to fulfill the mission He has given them. Think of the Babylonian rulers conquering Israel. It is the second of these two reasons that I want to focus on as why God had Obama win.

First, Obama has offered people hope. From his book, “The Audacity of Hope”, to his constant message of a better future, he has spoken of hope. I am convinced that the hope he offers is incomplete at best and counterfeit at worst. It is a hope built on wishful thinking and not built on the assurance of a relationship with Christ. True biblical hope is founded on the character of God and the salvation we have in Christ. The fact that people have so embraced the nebulous hope that the president elect offers is an indictment on Christians. We have not lived with Provocative Hope. We have not demonstrated a biblical hope that reaches out and grabs people. People who do not know Jesus need hope. They know they need hope, they want that hope, and they will take it where they can find it. Maybe God is saying to the Church, “You have not lived in the hope of the Gospel and now people are clinging to what little hope they can find”. When Christians live in fear, proclaim doom at every turn, and seem anxious and angry, then we have failed to show the hope we have in Christ. So our first lesson must be that we have failed to live a provocative hope.

Second, Obama offers to have the government alleviate the economic suffering that so many are facing. There is a promise of better financial times for the poor and the middle class. It is a promise that the government would step in and make sure that people who have more, will share with people who have less. It is a message with great appeal to people who are nervous about their finances or who are currently in crisis. Again this is an indictment on the church. If the Body of Christ had been taking care of the poor and people in crisis in the way that Acts 2 demonstrates then people would not be looking to the government to meet their needs. The failure of Christians to live out the generosity of Jesus means that people are turning to the government to force what the Body of Christ should have been doing willingly.

Third, many Christians are understandably concerned about what an Obama presidency will mean for moral issues like abortion. The problem is, we have been relying on political power, in the hands of the president, to appoint the right judges to interpret laws in a way that forces certain moral behavior. Clearly the government is supposed to pass laws that promote moral behavior. But that is the last resort as far as Christians should be concerned. The problem is, we have abdicated our responsibility to make disciples who honor and follow Jesus. That is change we can believe in. It is a change in the hearts and souls of people that will result in moral change from the heart. We can never put our confidence for change in the hands of the secular government. The command that we have been given to make disciples is how real change will come about. Our failure to do that in reliance on the Holy Spirit is what has led to trusting in earthly powers for heavenly results.

So why did God have Obama win? One very real possibility is that there is a lesson to the church. That lesson is that we must be about the task of living out a provocative faith that is filled with hope in Christ, cares for those in need, and makes disciples who obey all the He has commanded. If we had been doing that all along, the world and even the White House, would be very different places today.

Obama/McCain and the Biblical Response

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1

I received an email recently. In fact I received it several times from several different people. Yea, it was one of those emails that has been forwarded about 3 zillion times. The basic message of the email was that the coming election was the most dangerous election in American history and that all Christians needed to unite and make sure that Obama does not win the election, otherwise America is doomed and all sorts of apocalyptic things are going to happen. Oddly enough I heard the same thing from people about Bill Clinton before he was elected and we seemed to have survived his eight years in office without any apocalyptic meltdown.

Okay, so here is the deal. If we really believe what the Bible says then on a very real level it shouldn’t concern us one way or another if it is McCain or Obama in the White House. Now that does not mean that we should have no opinion and not be involved in the process. Of course we should. Every Christian should vote and speak their mind. But come the morning after the election, whoever is in the White House is there because that is the way God wanted it to be. What could be more clear than Romans 13:1. And remember, Paul wrote those words to people who lived in the shadow of the Colosseum. The people who were in authority over them were dangerous in the extreme and had the power of life and death with no appeal possible. Yet Paul said that those in authority were placed there by God. Jesus said the same thing to Pontius Pilate before Pilate ordered His execution.

What needs to be remembered is that our first century brothers and sisters were able to turn the Roman world upside down, in part because they were the best possible citizens. They kept the laws, respected authority, and served when others would not. As a result, even people within Caesars own household came to faith in Christ.

The bottom line for the Christian is this. It does not ultimately matter who is in the White House, it matters who is on the throne of the universe. And that would be Jesus. Whoever gets into the White House will get there because Jesus let him in. I can live with that.