The obligation of the Kingdom

Reflecting on society, laws, cultural wars… and having a lot of time to think while I was driving across Iowa… I began to think on what I practice but do not articulate very well. I am not sure I can still articulate it well, but this is my attempt.

No matter what laws are passed or are not passed in this country or any country regarding how to treat (or not treat) another person, there is NOTHING in an earthly law that can surpass the obligation of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God dictates a far higher respect for human beings than any human law.

Regretfully, we do not live this out as Christians. As liberals, we will point out how to treat people, or not treat people, and then proceed to point out which specific groups we are talking about.

As conservatives, we will hear a list made and then unintentionally (or intentionally) rebel against that list.

One example is women. In my denomination (which is conservative theologically) we have ordained women into ministry since our founding. But when “women’s lib” came along, all of a sudden we have a move to be “more biblical” and “put women in their place.” We will ordain women, but we have a serious undercurrent that questions that process and balks completely at actually voting women ministers into significant offices in our districts or at the national level.

Beyond my denomination are conservative movements that will not ordain women into ministry at all. Ignoring key passages on key women ministers in the New Testament (like Romans 16), they make declarations like “not bowing to current cultural trends.”

But if we will ALL step back and evaluate, the truth of the matter is that the Kingdom of God obligates us, as believers, to treat women better than any culture could ever mandate. Whether it is in the church and discussing the issue of ordination, or OUTSIDE the church and advocating for things like better maternity leaves in the workplace, the Church should be leading the way in doing better.

There isn’t any law or cultural trend that dictates how I treat women. My obligation to the Kingdom of God calls me higher. It should call ALL of us, as believers, higher.

My obligation to the kingdom of God calls me to treat any human being with far more respect than any culture here on earth could possibly demand of me.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:19-27)

A Pro-Life Ethic: Finding the place God wants you

When I first moved to the Twin Cities and began ministry, I plunged into as many community activities as possible. I served on neighborhood boards, school committees, park committees, etc., looking for what was going on in my part of the city. What was God doing and how could I join him?

The shotgun approach worked for a time, but I reached a point where I was needing to back away from some things because I was honing in on what I thought God was asking of me. When I had lunch with a board chair on a committee I was resigning, he heard my heart and then gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard:

“You can’t boil the ocean.”

So true.

We think we can do everything. But when we try that, we do nothing. 

We have to pick our passions.

This is a place I find myself again, and I am praying this for my church.

I am working on a pro-life ethic, but when it comes to action, I know I can’t boil the ocean. I know my church can’t boil the ocean. We can’t tackle everything, but we can tackle something. 

This is what I am praying about, and I am thankful there are those in my church who are asking the same questions. What will be our “spot?” Where will we choose to get active?

For some it’s abortion and pro-life causes.

For some it’s human trafficking.

For some it’s hunger.

Housing.

Job training.

On and on.

These are the things we have before us. If we will ALL ask about our part, issues can truly be addressed.

Ask is what we shall do. It is the nature of the Kingdom.

 

A Pro-Life Ethic Revisited

I want to return to my theme of a pro-life ethic. By this I don’t an ethic only anchored in abortion or right to life. It’s an ethic I want to build for ALL of life.

But I return to it because of the horrifying case of Kermit Gosnell. He was convicted of killing three babies after they were born. He performed many late term abortions.

For “pro-lifers” this is a rallying case.

Already pro-abortion people are couching this case in these terms:

Supporters of legalized abortion said the case offered a preview of what poor, desperate young women could face if abortion is driven underground with more restrictive laws.

I’m sorry. You may be trying to sell that, but I’m not buying. 

It’s just not plausible. Abortion is legal and these poor women were still exploited by this man. It was all “above ground” and babies who could have easily lived died.

This is a case where we truly need to walk through more of a true “pro-life” ethic. Not just a narrow view of limiting abortions. It’s helping the poor. It’s doing better in our education. It’s churches not abandoning the urban core so we can try and reach and teach young women.

It’s about having a pro-life ethic that will treat women well, so they will not be sexually exploited by men who abandon them. A pro-life ethic will need to address the SYSTEM. All the way through. Regardless if the original idea of some part of the system was “Republican” or “Democrat.”

Do not excuse Gosnell’s actions. Do NOT put this off as something that will further strengthen abortion laws. I am one “pro-lifer” who truly wants a conversation about later-term abortions ONLY. I have yet to meet a “pro-choice” person willing to concede. They are like NRA members foaming at the mouth if they are threatened with giving up 15 bullet magazines. THAT needs to stop.

I know there will not be any honest conversation out of this. Only excuses from the left. Only rants from the right. I know that.

But I pray for something more. And, if anyone is listening, I am willing (as one) to work for more. To work for BETTER. Because I know this: We can talk about poor women being on the margins, but those babies Gosnell killed were ALSO on the margins and they ALL deserve a voice.

One of these days my pleas may be heard. Until then, I pray. I ask. I plead.

A Pro-Life Ethic in a Sexually Charged Culture

This story really caught my attention for several reasons.

1. It’s in Iowa. I thought this might be something from New York or California or Florida. But this case happened in Iowa.

2. The court’s decision was 7-0. No dissenting votes. The boss could actually fire his employee because she was too attractive.

But beyond that, I thought about the design of a “pro-life” ethic (an ethic for true living) and how that should look in the real world. The boss, who has a profession of faith, fired his employee because she was too attractive.

Beyond the “constitutional” rights of the employer or employee, what does a Kingdom ethic have to say in this kind of environment?

If the boss is a Christian, did he do the “right” thing in a Kingdom perspective?

If the boss is a Christian, would a true “pro-life” ethic say anything about thought life? Personal control? Acting in a different way?

Or, does he just go ahead a fire a long-term employee because he thinks it threatens his marriage?

Again, beyond a constitutional argument, what might be a “pro-life” ethic?

This is the stuff I think we SHOULD be challenged with in our daily world. The Kingdom of God should say something to us as believers in daily work like this. The question is… does it?

The Way of Peace is Found in Following the Prince of Peace

One of our Advent readings today is Eph. 6:10-20. It’s one we, as Pentecostals, love. Spiritual warfare.

Here is the ironic thing I find in this passage and our current attitude in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting. On the one hand I’m fairly sure I could get almost 100 percent agreement from my fellow Pentecostals that we need to be people of prayer. The real enemy is Satan. We fight a spiritual battle. Blah, blah, blah.

But when it comes to living it out, and the question comes up concerning how to respond to something evil like the school shooting, I find posting after posting from Pentecostals who say things like, “If a teacher had been ‘packin’…”, or “Don’t take away my right to own a gun,” or some other response that is opposite of what we would talk about in Ephesians 6.

Of course, one could argue that when a physical attack confronts you, what are you going to do? Pray?

How silly!

“Get yer gun out and shoot that boy!” (To which you could almost hear someone add, “Bless God!”)

In the moment, it’s incredibly difficult to know exactly what to do UNLESS you have trained in some way for that moment without even knowing it. We train ourselves all the time. We just don’t realize it.

As an athlete would train to make sure their body responds in certain ways to situations without even thinking, we do these kinds of things in just about any situation in our lives. It’s called “muscle memory.”

We can have it in athletics, we have it when we drive, and we have it when we respond to life situations.

We can train.

There certainly diverse responses to the Connecticut shooting. As the Body of Christ, I still think we can do better.

One response we are seeing is an increase in gun sales.

Well, that is certainly one way to respond.

What I propose is that we have two basic ways to respond. We can respond in fear, which is seen in the action to buy more guns. We “fear” gun control laws. So, we stock up. Again, this goes against the Sermon on the Mount in this way: It is not trusting the One who says he will supply all our needs. It is living in anxiety and, if you are a Christian, your king says that’s not necessary.

I’m NOT saying, “Throw away your guns,” or, “I will take your guns away.”

I AM asking you this, “Are you able to TRUST your king? Do you NEED yet another gun?”

Let’s start with that.

Another option is to walk in faith. That still has some anxiety. But the Prince of Peace is the One who takes care of things. Do we trust him?

The way of peace is found in following the Prince of Peace. It is to let HIM lead the way and show us how to live powerfully.

We don’t need anxiety. We need the Prince of Peace.

We need not live in fear. We know the real enemy (if we are truly following Christ), and that enemy already knows his end.

 

Kingdom Expectation Demands Change

The pro-life ethic is possible. It is not something laid out by Jesus and just left in the text of Matthew’s gospel. Peter picks it up (as do the other New Testament writers) and calls on the reader to understand the need for change.

We do NOT have to live in the grip of this world.

We do not need to respond to life with anger or anxiety.

Change IS possible.

We need to see the calling. We need to see the possibility. We need to believe the possibility. We then need to obey the king and walk in that possibility.

1 Peter 1:1-11 is in today’s Advent reading and it is so timely as I think about this pro-life ethic and the soul of the American church. We are lost as a people. We don’t need to be this day.

We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (v. 4).

But it takes effort (v. 5).

Dwell on this passage today and understand change is possible. We CAN indeed be different! We don’t need to accept the violence of this culture or the rugged individualism anymore. We don’t need to be lost in the consumerism or controlled by the gods of this age. Not any more.

Live in power. You can indeed change.

A Pro-Life Ethic and Avoiding Bumper Sticker Theology

Over the past few months I have worked at what I am calling a true “pro-life” ethic. This is an ethic I believe can be sustained as a Christian. It is also an ethic that I believe cannot be labeled “liberal” or “conservative,” “Democrat” or “Republican.”

In the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut, I have been working through this ethic again.

In a conversation last night with good friends we also talked about the “DNA” of our American culture. Truly, the argument cannot be about “gun control” alone. It can’t be about “mental health” alone.

The deeper question we are all afraid to ask is, “What has made us this way? What has made us this culture that thinks a violent response is a legitimate way to solve an issue?”

We are afraid to ask because the blame game has to stop at that point. We can’t blame politics or political views. We have to look inside ourselves and we quite frankly don’t like that thought.

A true pro-life ethic, I believe, needs to cut through the divisive arguments to the core of what makes us tick. I think we need a conversation on “DNA” of cultures.

Two things I thought about from our conversation last night:

1. From our founding, this nation has always resorted to violent solutions much quicker to solve big issues. For instance, Britain ends the slave trade decades before the United States, and without firing a shot in civil war. We go to war.

2. From our founding we seem to have the motto of “rugged individualism.”

There are times when that seems appropriate. There are times that just doesn’t work.

So, let me demonstrate how I think a true pro-life ethic can help understand the core of our issues, even if we don’t want to talk about them. I will do so by offering up something I truly despise: A bumper sticker thought. But I do so to try to elicit response. (I’ve also buried it way into this post so I can make sure you’ve at least read my thoughts to this point.)

Here we go: rugged individualism is in the DNA of our culture and is evident in two extremes: On the “left” it is the radical commitment to abortion. On the “right” is the radical commitment to gun rights.

Both, I submit, are prime examples of rugged individualism.

Of course, I have lost 90 percent of everyone who has bothered to read this far. Conservatives are mad because I want to take away their guns. Liberals are mad because I want to tell a woman what to do with her body.

Both sides would be wrong.

I am not saying either thing.

I AM saying they are examples of us being more selfish and thinking we have “our own rights” and they come from the “right” and the “left.” To me, that is what shows the DNA of our culture truly is “rugged individualism.” If “rugged individualism” were just about things like gun rights, then you could argue it’s just a conservative mantra. But it’s not. It’s in our cultural DNA.

So, the question should be at this point: What do we do?

But this is the point we have “epic” fail. Because we don’t want to talk about our individual conditions.

I don’t want to talk about my selfishness… I want to talk about your selfishness.

So, we’re stuck.

Without the Kingdom of God and looking to the true King… we will remain stuck.

But we desperately need conversations like this. We need to go beyond bumper sticker theology and talk. We need to wrestle together. We need to reason together.

I want to come out of my theological trench for more than just a time of singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve and then going back to my theological trench. I want to stand out here in “no man’s land” and DARE anyone to have a conversation!