Don’t Bundle Your Faith

It is an election year. Once again, I am concerned that Christianity has been woven so tightly with conservative politics and candidates that faith in Jesus has become, by definition, evidence of political partisanship. 

Not so. Moreover, I want to make it clear to anyone that is interested that I do not want such a thing to be assumed in my case. My opinions about candidates and causes are strictly “ala carte.” I may bundle my insurance, but I don’t bundle my faith, nor my views on the social trajectory of the western world. If I had to identify a political persuasion, I suppose I would have to declare myself “independent.” I did not vote for Donald Trump and I cannot imagine a time when I would. For that matter, I didn’t vote for Joe Biden.  As Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird said, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience…Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”

For more than eight years I have tried to avoid straining relationships with Christian friends by dodging discussion about conservative evangelical causes.  Fancy footwork and deftly changing the subject take a lot out of you. I don’t have the energy to fly beneath the radar this time around. Moreover, I wonder if there are others who might welcome a break in the silence and be emboldened to express their own misgivings? Perhaps I am not the only one who is worried that evangelicals are sailing near treacherous shores.

I am willing to risk rejection by my brothers and sisters in the faith because I am confident that there will be a time when we will find ourselves together in the coming Kingdom. Under those circumstances none of this will matter. It is inconceivable that anyone in the presence the King of kings will lean toward their neighbor and ask them who they voted for in the 2024 election.  It is on the basis of that future unity that I risk being rejected today. Rejection today will eventually lose its significance.

On the other hand, there are those outside the Evangelical camp who might reject me because they suppose my faith is proof that I wholeheartedly approve of the politics of the religious right. What concerns me more, though, is that people may reject the object of my devotion, namely Jesus, based on the mistaken idea that there is a positive link between Jesus and partisan dogma. More than a few have dismissed the Lord thinking that to follow him would automatically require the endorsement of both conservative politics and our former president. I don’t want to risk that misunderstanding.

I want to be sure that people do not reject Christianity based on the erroneous assumption that conservative candidates and causes come bundled with faith in Christ. I want to stand for the simplicity of Christ while making it clear that I reject the political sword rattling that characterizes so much discourse in these times. The dissonance in my soul makes it necessary, I think, to declare my devotion to Jesus, the Messiah, while categorically excluding all of the other issues that people may assume are corollaries to faith.

That is why I am posting this piece. 

Having swept political assumptions aside, I would hope that the curious skeptic might take another look at Jesus of Nazareth.* There are many reasons that people reject Christ, but his supposed political bedfellows ought not be one of them. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.” And I would add, you must not reject him because of anyone’s politics. 

* To begin a fresh exploration of  Jesus and his message (what is called “the gospel”). I recommend the streaming series, The Chosen, as a good starting point.

New Recruits and Combat Veterans

Revival and generational partnership

A few days ago, a missionary friend sent me a link to the Kansas City 24/7 House of Prayer stream. He had stopped over in KC on his way home to the East Coast and thought I might enjoy seeing what he was seeing.

I have been watching it off and on ever since. Something about the continual and uninterrupted stream of worship and prayer has captivated my heart. Perhaps it was my recent viewing of the Jesus Revolution movie that stirred something in me. The memory of being part of that youthful movement of the early ’70s combined with this new generation of young people driving the engine of prayer 24 hours a day 7 days a week made me realize how deeply my heart yearns for a spiritual awakening–reawakening.

And I think it is coming. Moreover, I expect it to come, as it often has in the past, through the young. It seems, however, that many of the young are discouraged. They don’t see a future and a hope, even though God’s intention is for them is to have both. Occasionally, they see a glimpse of it, or what they think is a future, but lose the hope necessary to step into it. They are like a bird who thinks it sees a place to fly only to find that what it sees is only a reflection in a pane of glass. There is a window but it is not a way forward but a barrier.

How can this generation see a future beyond the mediocrity that this world offers? Y’shua said that he has gone to prepare a place for us–for them–and that he would return and receive us all so that we could be with him in the Kingdom. This message seems to be lost in the hopelessness of the world. How can we show them the future and hope that Y’shua holds out to them?

As I consider these things, it seems to be that we older ones need to encourage the younger to adopt the ways of the Kingdom right now as we anticipate the fullness of it then. To do so, is the only hope of finding joy and fulfillment in this world. I am reminded J.B. Phillips’ translation from the letter to the Hebrews 6:18-20.

We who are refugees from this dying world… have a source of strength, that we might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very shrine of Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf…

As a follower of Y’shua, I need to be part of a community of hope; and to be that, I need to model with others how to reject the things of this world and the solutions that it offers. That means I need to find a community that has learned from the passing of the years.

Mending My Ways

I can’t help but feel that we, the generation of young believers that emerged out of the renewal of the seventies,  squandered our inheritance. We sold our birthright for a bowl of soup by becoming distracted from the simplicity of the cross–Jesus the Messiah and him crucified. We began to succumb to pride. We had our own music, which mutated from its original call to love and worship. Eventually, it became a product to be sold. Soon it began to imitate the world. It never occurred to us that imitation was evidence that the world was creeping back into our hearts.

Furthermore, we became a market share. We believed that God’s blessing came in the form of material abundance, so we bought and sold and accumulated. We built worship centers and flocked to celebrity preachers.

We became proud of our numbers and felt the validation that comes from being part of a crowd. Moreover, some of the loudest voices among the elders began to invite us to join forces and change society. We became a voting block. We believed God had positioned us to become the moral majority who would confront the Goliath of social decay. We put on Saul’s armor believing we could slay the giant with the weapons of the world, media, influence and the ballot box. We ignored the five smooth stones, unity, empathy, brotherly love, kindness and humility.

This was my generation, born of that revival of 1970.

A number of years ago, I attended a reunion of my peers who were part of that early movement. As we sat around a campfire and shared our meals together, I was aware of a sense of discouragement- -disappointment. The kingdom promises, it seemed, had not materialized as many had thought.

photo of us navy soldier carrying a holy bible

Marriages had crumbled; children had strayed; faith had become dry and habitual. There were moments that I felt I was among a bunch of old soldiers who were casualties of war. They were chafed and bruised by Saul’s armor and now faced the end of their service.

Later, as I reflected on that time, I saw something like hope. The hope came from the realization that by looking back we have learned what we were up against. We are not casualties of war. To think of ourselves as such is to waste something essential for the next generation. Not casualties of war, combat veterans.

My son, as I often say, spent “100 years” in Iraq in 2004. In the years following – – years of recovery – – he explained to me on more than one occasion the value of a combat veteran amidst a unit of new recruits. New recruits were inclined to be cavalier in their attitude towards deployment and warfare; overconfident in the nobility of their mission and the superiority of their weaponry. A combat veteran was a source of balance and sobriety. The wisdom of a veteran was vital training for young, inexperienced, and vulnerable recruits.

Some of us old Christ followers, with decades of combat experience behind us, are going to be vital in the training of a younger generation which is about to be swept up in the next renewal. That thing that happened back in the seventies was not about us – – the 20-year-olds of that season. It was about the 20-year-olds of this season; of this renewal.

But if we are to be of any help to this new generation, we have to repent. We have to take off Saul’s armor and pick up five smooth stones. We need to teach the young the simplicity of following Jesus; teach them how to keep their eyes focused on the things above where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne. We have to repent of our confidence in the things that we can buy and own and elect.

We need to reject the notion that we can elect someone who will save the society. When the votes are counted it isn’t God who has spoken, it is the people… and the people are often wrong.

It was not the people of Israel that voted King Cyrus into office so they could be liberated and go back to their homeland, it was God. He established him for that purpose. Cyrus was useful in God’s hands and it was God who removed him once Cyrus had served his purpose.  The King that the people chose was Saul–appealing, head and shoulders above everyone. Give us a king like the other nations, they cried – – fierce and forceful.

It’s a fearful thing when God gives us something against his better judgment.

Now, a new generation is stirring. Fear and hopelessness is nudging them to restlessness, faith and courage. I have a feeling that there is a generation awakening to the hope of Messiah. They will need combat veterans to instruct them not to lose focus, but to be like their King.

More Joy Thoughts

In prayer this morning, I was meditating on John 15:7 and 1st John 3:22 -23. It fell in with the thoughts I have been having about Joy. In these verses he declares that his legacy for us is the same joy that he himself lives in.

What a wonderful promise! That we will be given his Joy – – we are entitled to it. It is almost too wonderful to believe. Moreover, I have to wonder if we really know how to live in the kind of joy that Jesus is describing here. We are to have joy, he says. It is his desire that we have it. We are, in short, entitled to it. I think it is noteworthy that he hasn’t asked us to do anything except stay close to him and to remember the things that he has taught us and shown us how to do. This Joy he speaks of apparently has to do with living in him, through him, and with him. We aren’t to try to have joy, we are to live with those, “unforced rhythms of grace.” We are free. Freedom is the wellspring of joy. We are to say, as Brennan Manning imagines, “yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

Order #227

The boot is on the other foot…

The world has changed. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in the water. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, and none now live that remember it.

Galadriel. The Lord of the Rings.

The world has changed for the fighters of Russia. None now live who remember when the armies of a megalomaniac named Adolf Hitler invaded the Russian homeland. The German military had plunged deep into the pre-Soviet territory of Russia. Old soldiers now in their 90s, teenagers in 1942, will remember the indignation, the incredulity, the outrage.

And they will remember ORDER #227.

I have been reading a book, a memoir of a woman who flew in the Russian air force in World War II. She told of the battle for the heart of Russia and of Order #227. Here is what she wrote:

… at last we found our headquarters. Here they read out ‘Order 227’, a stern order whose meaning boiled down to: “Not a step back!” As a rule, the order numbers were remembered only by staff officers. But even now this one, Order number 227, will be recalled by any war veteran if asked about it. It was said in this order that we had to defend every position, every single meter of our soil…

Anna Timofeeva-Egorova; Over Fields of Fire: 1942-45.

These were Russians defending Russian soil against Adolf Hitler. They watched as their land and their people were overrun by the “Hitlerites.” Order 227 was intended to stop the advance of the enemy and threaten those who were unwilling to fight.

Today, the boot, as it were, is on the other foot and Ukraine is standing her ground—defending her ground—against Putin’s plans to reclaim the territory that was once the Soviet Union. Look at the map and it will be plain where this is going. Move clockwise from the Eastern coast of the Black Sea: Georgia, Crimea and now Ukraine. There seems little doubt that Belarus will likewise be food for Putin’s table. Indeed, the world may be poised to move backward.

It would appear the majority of Ukrainian people are not interested in going backward; yielding the freedoms they have enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. I suspect, neither are the citizens of the other formerly Soviet republics of eastern Europe. Moreover, far more Eastern Europeans remember the years of the Soviet Union than Russians remember August 1942. It appears that the people of Ukraine intend to stand their ground, hurling Order #227 in Putin’s face.

Meanwhile, what are we, the Ekklesia, going to do? Our brother, Paul, the apostle, reminds us that our people in Ukraine are not strangers and foreigners, we are fellow citizens with the followers of Messiah, members of the household of God wherever it is found (Ephesians 2:19). We are a people without borders. Where some of us suffer, we all suffer.

So, what can we do?

We can seek out ways to help those who find themselves suddenly in harms way. I think of a song written by John McCutcheon:

They are caught in the crossfire,
lost in the fray.
The battle broke out
and they just got in the way.
The story is always the same in the end:
caught in the crossfire again…

Displaced and divided families, will need help and some of that can come from us. We can reach out to Ukrainian churches in our cities. There are aid organizations that are already moving to render assistance in whatever ways possible. As part of the Ekklesia we can make ourselves available, bearing the weapons of peace and tools of restoration: food, money, time, and most importantly, prayer.

We can pray. We can present ourselves before the throne of God and ask for wisdom on the part of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. We can ask for mercy, plead for peace and for the advance of love. We can pray without ceasing, especially for those in the household of faith whether they are in Ukraine or Russia. Pray for the defeat of fear and and defense against bitterness and hatred.

All this, we can do while men, and more than a few women, fight in the spirit of Order #227.

Gluten Free Movements

Rethinking Black Live Matter

Read the Label

The definition of an allergen is a substance to which the body reacts, triggering an immune response. More than ever, consumers are paying attention to what is in the food they eat because they may be allergic or have a sensitivity. Look for the “gluten free” label or endure digestive distress. Lactose can result in unpleasant consequences. Peanut derivatives can cause anaphylaxis that may even result in death. To add to the challenges, some people may not be allergic to foods that might be deadly to others. It is vital we know what is in our food.

Similarly, in the halls of congress, certain bills can contain more than first appears. The strategy of hiding line-items in the text that are only loosely related to the main substance of a bill is called “pork barrel politics.” It is a way of directing money toward pet local projects of legislators by a sort of legislative sleight-of-hand.

More than Meets the Eye

I had a “things aren’t all they appear” experience several years ago when I made the acquaintance of a fellow that held the same opinion as I regarding the deployment of the National Guard to overseas duty. We both agreed that was a bad thing so I thought I had found a partner in the cause. But as time went on, I discovered that my “partner” had even more issues on his agenda, one of which was an antagonistic view of local law enforcement.

My son-in-law is a cop. We’re proud of it. The police we know are hard-working, honorable men and women. There was no way I was going to allow myself to get lumped into an anti-cop agenda while working on the National Guard issue. I parted company with my activist friend, leaving him to follow the dictates of his conscience.

I believe the ecclesia must do the same with Black Lives Matter because the movement is not “gluten free.” Why would I say that? Based on the singular meaning of the name, there can be no dispute. Black lives DO matter. The injustice and systemic racism that has been part of the black experience is unconscionable and plainly evil. The simple message of the name Black Lives Matter calls for national repentance and I agree with that unreservedly. Nevertheless, I would prefer to use a different rallying cry. Honor and Respect Black Lives, perhaps.

Moreover, BLM is disconnected from the roots of the civil rights movement. Dr. King’s activism was grounded in his faith. His call for equality was born of his understanding of the love of God and the redemptive, unifying work of the cross of Jesus. His strategy was non-violent. Black Lives Matter is linked only by the simple meaning of the words. It’s core values are purely secular.

The problem with BLM is that the agenda of the organization goes beyond the plain meaning of the name. Black Lives Matter comes “bundled” with secularism and the affirmation of a certain sexual ethic which stands in opposition to the values of the new community, namely the LGBTQ agenda.

Challenge Hatred

Now, let me clarify something. We in no way approve demeaning or threatening behavior toward LGBTQ persons. All people are created in the image of God and members of that community are no exception. We will not tolerate hateful treatment toward members of the LGBTQ community any more than members of the black or Hispanic communities. Hatred is a cancer on the human soul that must be identified and opposed wherever it is found.

Furthermore, we decline to lobby for or against legislation relative to the free exercise of the LGBTQ lifestyle. We believe that choice is a God-given privilege and if the Creator himself declines to interfere with a person’s choices, we must follow that example. Though we may not agree with the choices people make, it is not up to us to prohibit them, nor to insist that others live like we do. Moreover, we believe that worldly governments and their affairs are separate from the Kingdom, so we stay clear of political involvement. As Frank Viola has said, it is not our job to make this world a better place, but for us to be a better place in this world according to the values of the Kingdom of God.

That said, within our community, we are unapologetically binary, cisgender and monogamous by conviction. Our reasons for that might be a topic for another day, but for now, let us simply say that is the sexual ethic that we affirm. It is assumed that anyone who would want to share our journey would choose to honor those convictions with us. As for those outside of our community, we ask that they practice charity toward us as we do toward them.

Honor and Respect

I hope they will, but I won’t count on it. Why? Because it seems the LGBTQ agenda allows for nothing less than full acceptance. When it comes to our beliefs within our community, “don’t ask, don’t tell” may not do. I get the feeling that we must acquiesce or be branded as hateful bigots. Hopefully, I am wrong about that. It would be nice if we can be left alone to believe what we must, but whether we will be remains to be seen.

In the meantime, our devotion to Christ invites us to love others whether we agree with them. It is our privilege to extend grace, compassion, and acts of kindness to all people. It is our responsibility to defend and protect from hatred and malice. Disagreement with others does not preclude acts of love toward them. We will join the national repentance that calls us to Honor and Respect Black Lives even as we extend charity to the LGBTQ community.

Microcosms of Malice

This post originally appeared in another of my blogs on November 8, 2017

And so it happens again, this time in a church. People are gathered to worship. Children playing with friends. Adults enjoying conversation. There is music and prayer. A community has come together in the name of the Lord, Jesus.

A man, boiling with hatred enters the sanctuary and begins firing a weapon which has as its sole purpose the taking of human life. It performs flawlessly. Twenty-six brothers and sisters of the Kingdom are dead with another twenty injured. The illusion of safety in this world, if such an illusion persisted, is shattered in a tiny town in Texas.

Another mass shooting. Days before, a worshiper of a demon god (certainly no righteous deity could have inspired such an act) murders eight innocents with a rented truck in New York. Before that, 58 killed in Las Vegas. Elsewhere in the world, acts of cowardly inhumanity are standard fare. Hatred has gone viral.

The Clock Ticks Toward Midnight

There is a hurricane of malice battering our coast-lands. Spiritual climate change, it seems, as God removes restraint—all right, then, have it your way.

We Kingdom dwellers need to carefully guard our response. It is all too easy to be caught up in debates about gun control, the roots of terrorism or domestic violence. I learned recently that such debates easily ignite small conflagrations that burn with acrimony. I had carelessly posted a remark about demon gods being the inciting spiritual influence behind the situation in New York. I did so without elaboration or explanation. It was cathartic. I had spoken my mind. Howled my indignation. Surely, I was justified and it felt good. Soon I became aware I had inadvertently kindled among my friends one of those heated discussions. Moreover, I realized that what had emerged from my carelessness was a tiny microcosm of the very event I had decried in my original post. Violence and hatred can scar city streets or wound human hearts. No matter which, it is the same virus, only a question of degrees.

I deleted the post. Would that malevolence were so easily erased from the world.

Sadly, it is not. But we who live here between the worlds can use the events that happen around us to incite us to peace, and invite us to mercy. Debates and discussions will not serve in a world approaching midnight. We need to let hatred and offense remind us to love one another and to extend that love to those outside wherever we can. The weapons of our warfare are not assault rifles or crippling arguments, they are acts of love and hearts turned toward the coming of the Kingdom.

Culture, Cosmology and the Multiverse

Theoretical physics has brought us the notion that our single universe is not necessarily all there is. The “multiverse” idea is a hypothetical mega-universe full of numerous smaller universes, including our own.

~Nancy Atkinson, Senior Editor, Universe Today

Look at All the Smart People

OK, that gives me a headache. The whole universe is made up of other, itty-bitty universes? What is Ms. Atkinson smoking?

But wait! She’s only channeling other learned ones of science. Folks like Max Tegmark, professor at MIT. And then there’s Sir Roger Penrose, English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, and the list goes on. I know the list goes on because I was planning on mentioning some others, with all their academic credentials– but sheesh! That’s a lot of bandwidth. Just go to Wikipedia and search “multiverse.” There’s a boatload of very smart people listed there. And they all think there is good reason to believe there is more than one dimension. It is true what Scientific American said in an article summary: “Parallel universes [are] not just a staple of science fiction. Other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations.”

Continue reading “Culture, Cosmology and the Multiverse”

Driven Back to Our Roots

Surrendering what we’re satisfied with…

I realize I have been lamenting the destruction of our national symbols. But, could it be this is not a bad thing relative to the Kingdom? If we remove the idols of nationalism, may we find our way back to Y’shua? If we can no longer rely on the American creed, and we cannot embrace what is coming, then will we not be driven back to the roots of our faith, the Kingdom message? If we must surrender what we’ve been satisfied with, might God give us what we are hungry for?

A New Community

100 days and counting…

That is how long we have been, more or less, locked down. I never expected it. Yet, here we are, over three months into what appears to be a new normal. And in the background, thrumming away like evil crickets, are the pandemic, rioting, anger, judgment, and political rage.

I wish it would stop.

But it shows no sign of stopping. Every time I venture out, I see people walking around with masks on to protect themselves from the toxic environment. Look at it from the other direction and we are protecting others from ourselves and our pathologies. The world has gone septic and there does not seem to be a remedy. 

I will say this about quarantine, it gives one time to think. In the process, I have come to wonder if I have anything to offer in a social climate that reflects nothing like the gospel of peace. My wondering has led me to a conclusion: As followers of Jesus we are now being called to a separate peace and a new community. No more business as usual.

To write those words causes a reaction in me. They feel like exaggeration. Hyperbole. Things will calm down. No need to imagine a future much different than we have known. But I am not so sure. Societies experience corrosive seasons that fundamentally change them. At present, symbols of national heritage are being indiscriminately torn down and there is no guarantee that they will be replaced with anything. Chop away at the roots of a tree and the tree dies, topples over. If the church is too dependent on the tree, she may topple with it. 

Peter the apostle, wondered in his second letter to the church,

“Since all these things are to [be destroyed] in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”

As reactionary as it may sound, I believe we have come to the time of ecclesia, that is the calling out of an assembly. The old American church has been too dependent on the culture in which it was formed. That culture, in ways both subtle and obvious, is turning against it. A friend shared this quote in his Facebook feed:

Some people aren’t loyal to you … they are loyal to their need of you … Once their needs change, so does their loyalty.

I think this is true of societies; of twenty-first century America. The church is not needed unless it is willing to reflect the changing values of the culture—not even wanted. Whatever loyalty the society once showed the church is dissolving. Moreover, the ecclesia must not show loyalty to any cause but the cause of Christ. That is why it is very unlikely that the new community, the ecclesia, will be tolerated. In this season, to be focused on Christ alone will be seen as disloyal.

The church is nearing rocky shoals. If she doesn’t come round she will be driven aground. So, come round she must. The church must set a course for open water where she is not in danger of shipwreck on these shores. It must be her own course and not some other creed or cause. She must plot a course for the Kingdom.

June 2020

Quarantine…systemic racism…police brutality…sexual preference…

I am confused and burdened by the world right now. I feel disappointed in myself that I can’t seem to rise above it, trust only the Lord. I imagine waiting it out and returning to “normal.” But there is the possibility that we won’t know what the “new normal” is for a very long time.

Abba, the moorings of this society are weakening. The tethers that have held us are coming undone. How shall we then live? Since we are being drawn into a world of expanding options, it is needful that we choose. We are required to choose, knowing that when we do we will be traduced and condemned. We must choose who we will serve and make peace with the consequences.