The temptation of power

Years ago Richard Foster wrote a book on the great temptations of our culture. They haven’t really changed.

Money. Sex. Power. They draw us in. They are at the root of so much that dominates our political landscape. And the Church somehow gets caught up in this game.

Let me demonstrate the idea of “power” and “money” in this statement:

The “pro-gun” lobby and the “Planned Parenthood” lobby are two sides of the same coin.

That really sets people off. Both sides won’t see the legitimacy of the other side. Both sides will scream their righteous indignation, NEVER claiming to be alike in any way.

But here is what happens in our current political climate:

“The Democrats are taking away our guns!”

“The religious right is trying to tell a woman what to do with her body!”

When those two lines are screamed, you know what happens? Gun sales go up in the first scenario, and donations to Planned Parenthood skyrocket in the second. Guaranteed.

No room for compromise. No room for discussion. It’s simply going to be a stream of insults and then money comes out… It’s ridiculously predictable.

And in the middle of this we have a “voting block” the media keeps insisting on called “evangelicals.” And that group still thinks they have a lot of sway. They certainly try a lot of guilt!

“If all the evangelicals had got out and voted like they were SUPPOSED TO… Candidate X would have WON!”

So, in our current cultural upheaval we have an American slice of Christianity still trying to hold on to …. power. 

And fear is the driver. Just like “gun control” and “women’s rights,” the key words here are: “religious freedoms.”

Here IS the thing: We have been afforded, as Christians, tremendous religious freedoms over the years. It is true.

My contention has been that in a secular society when you have “religious rights” and that culture’s definition of “human rights” clash… “religious rights” will start to slide away.

We ARE seeing that. There are swipes at what constitutes a “religious organization” when it comes to healthcare law. There are bills that arise from time to time challenging property tax exemption for religious organizations. There is a bill in the California legislature right now challenging funding for religious based colleges.

Here is what we are struggling with: the power. We have had it so good for so long and now that influence and prestige is waning.

And this group wants the same thing as Trump supporters in general and Sanders supporters in general: protection. 

Trump promises protection from the big bad immigrants and terrorists. Sanders promises protection from the big bad corporations.

And yesterday, hundreds of evangelicals made pilgrimage to NYC (Trump ain’t coming to you, baby!) to hear Trump promise one thing: PROTECTION. 

All of these things demonstrate the pull of those big three “strongholds” in our culture: money, sex, or power. Some evangelical groups are still clawing for one last fingernail hold in “power.” And it is looking ridiculous. Honestly.

What we need desperately in the American Church is new thinking. Fresh thinking. Kingdom thinking. The kingdoms of this world pale in comparison to the Kingdom of our God. Yet, we are clawing for power in this realm.

Rights will be challenged. It is just the environment we are in. We can challenge in court. We can challenge in political races. But those rights will keep slipping away.

It is NOT whining on my part. I believe this will give the church the opportunity it needs to BE THE CHURCH.

Quit courting political power! Hillary, Bernie, and Donald do not hold your answers! You CAN live in a society that grows increasingly hostile to Christian belief. Millions of Christians do it every day!

Let us quit the silliness of chasing this system’s power and let us BE THE CHURCH in a fresh new way!


The gods of our culture

NT Wright and Richard Foster both nailed it long ago. Our three biggest gods are money, sex, and power.

Try to say something against those three behemoths, and see how quick you get knocked back. It’s not a cultural war.

It’s just war.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t represent the “rights of women.” They represent the power of greed and sex. The manipulation they can pull is astonishing.

A couple of years ago the Susan G. Kommen Foundation mentioned they wouldn’t give a grant to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings. Within hours, 1. Planned Parenthood had double the money given to them than what the Kommen Foundation had promised in the grant, 2. Planned Parenthood had completely demonized the Kommen Foundation and sounded like this withholding would bankrupt this great work for women, and 3. the Kommen Foundation restored the grant.

Now, it’s the “revelation” of Planned Parenthood selling off body parts for profit. You would THINK that would be a tipping point moment, but my best guess is it’s not.

Here’s why: there isn’t ONE Democrat crying out for an investigation. And, quite honestly, I’m going to call out my liberal Christian friends on this one. I haven’t heard ONE of them… and I mean NOT ONE… decry this revelation. So much for “justice.”

When there is that much STUNNING silence in some major segments… you know something is truly up. We’re bowing to different gods.

There will be cries for defunding Planned Parenthood, etc. That is not really the battle. The battle is in repentance. There needs to be some tipping point where the horror of this action gets so overwhelming, so sickening, that people finally wake up to the atrocities of abortion and realize what is happening to human life.

I pray this may be that day. Quite honestly… I doubt it.

Kermit Gosnell couldn’t turn our stomachs as a nation. In a few days, this won’t raise an eyebrow.

We allow the allegiances of other gods blind us. And we offend the One we SHOULD be worried about the most.

The new scarlet letter

Immediate qualifier: I don’t know the first thing about Duggars or TLC or any facts of the old case against one of the Duggars. But with the charge of molestation and the vehement blog post titles I see on my Facebook feed, I think once again to the issue of child molesters and how we handle it as a country. The label of sexual predator has become our new national scarlet letter. We do not think people can be truly redeemed or changed. This will have a deep impact on our culture and we are not doing well in this discussion.

Boys will be boys

Through this fall there has been an interesting shift in what is “tolerated.” Bill Cosby is the pinnacle of that right now.

From Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson to Bill Cosby, they represent a culture (present and past) that used to be wildly celebrated and is now… um… unseemly.

Washington Post article on Cosby put it this way:

The accusations, some of which Cosby has denied and others he has declined to discuss, span the arc of the comedy legend’s career, from his pioneering years as the first black star of a network television drama in 1965 to the mid-2000s, when Cosby was firmly entrenched as an elder statesman of the entertainment industry, a scolding public conscience of the African American community and a philanthropist. They also span a monumental generational shift in perceptions — from the sexually unrestrained ’60s to an era when the idea of date rape is well understood.

For Cosby’s era, it was celebrated to be “free” in sexual exploration. A generation later, is it POSSIBLE we’re understanding the phrase, “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind?”

For Rice and Peterson, that shift has been coming. From the free pass days of the old NFL to the arrest of Aaron Hernandez last year for murder to Rice and Peterson, is it POSSIBLE we’ve finally grown up and understood we just can’t let “boys be boys” in some ways?

Is it POSSIBLE we may actually do a little more “soul searching” and understand that our sexuality has responsibility attached to it?

Or, will we just go on finding other ways to let out our “freedom” and in another generation we’ll be offended in new ways all over again?

The sex talk

When you preach through the Bible with a systematic style of having the text in front of you, those really tough places will pop up from time to time. Eventually, you get to passage you’d rather skip over.

1 Thess. 4 is one of those places. Paul won’t avoid it.

Neither should we.

And my question is just very, very simple: “As a follower of Jesus Christ, who I claim as my King, am I willing to have my whole being (and that means my sexuality) laid before him and allow him to command what is best for my life?”

It is my desire to leave it in that simplest phrasing, let the passage stay in front of me, and consider: “Am I truly living as wholly given over to my King?”

HIS will needs to matter, if I am his apprentice and HE is my master teacher. The world doesn’t get to dictate this matter to me any more if I am truly following him.

Leaving it in as simple terms as possible, my truly honest question is this: how do you walk this passage out in your life?

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 4:1-8)

Sizzle Always Attracts Headlines

When I blog, I actually try to come up with a snazzy headline. It doesn’t work, but I try.

I know that when the Twitter feed or Facebook post pops up, most people only take in the headline. I get “likes” on some posts about three seconds after it hits Facebook sometimes, so I know they didn’t read the whole post.

Sizzle sells.  We have an addiction to the sensual. Not just sexual, but sensual. It attracts attention.

That is NOT the Kingdom of God. Our problem is we’re trying to make it the Kingdom of God. We create “headlines.” We make great church names. Put up great marketing slogans. Give a nice splashy appearance on the website, then in our buildings. Sizzle sells.

And that is NOT the Kingdom of God. Believe it or not, there are weightier matters. When we train ourselves to take up those matters, we will find the Kingdom. We will find Kingdom life. As a pastor, I will do better if I can equip people to pay attention to weightier matters than try and attract them with sizzle.

N.T. Wright’s major point in Surprised by Hope is to understand the weightier matters of the Kingdom so we’re not just obsessed with where we go when we die. There’s so much to do here. We are in training for Kingdom matters now. 

The first huge building block for him is justice. He defines it as “the intention of God, expressed from Genesis to Revelation, to set the whole world right — a plan gloriouslyl fulfilled in Jesus Christ, supremely in his resurrection (following his victory over the powers of evil and death on the cross), and now to be implemented in the world.” 

The problem here is obvious. It doesn’t sizzle. We try to make it sizzle from time to time… but overall, justice just doesn’t “pop.”

We can make it sizzle a little bit by using one narrow definition or another. We can talk about “justice” in reference to keeping the law. Conservatives will hop on board. Just mention illegal immigration and before long the word “justice” will appear. Liberals will then hop on board and talk about “justice” for the illegals. It will sizzle in the headlines. And then… nothing happens.

When we’ve truly been captured by the power of the resurrected Christ, our own tune changes. And it must change. It won’t make headlines. It won’t sizzle all the time. But it will matter. Our call, as Paul would say, is to be steadfast and immovable in doing the work of the Lord because our labor is not in vain.

So, Wright tackles a huge issue in matters of justice when he gives an illustration: economic imbalance in the world. Now, that headline will sizzle. By try and solve it. Good luck.

It will work for an election cycle as sizzle. Then… nothing. Unless you are truly committed to the Kingdom. Two hundred years ago William Wilberforce in England caught this sense of justice when it came to slavery. It took him a lifetime of legislative will power to get Britain to outlaw the slave trade.

And that is what justice will call us to as believers. It may take a lifetime. It may go beyond our lifetime.

It’s more than a bike ride or a golf tournament for a cause. It is a plodding on because you know this needs to be “righted” in this off balance world. You stay at the matter. The Spirit empowers. The Spirit emboldens. The Spirit won’t relent.

There are times you will have a sense of justice in a matter and you will bore the pants off of those who are still listening. N. T. Wright has made it his mantra. He sees it as the number one issue in the world. So, he stays at the subject in his writing and his teaching. He will talk with anyone who will listen about economic imbalance.

Then, he gives a fabulous line:

“Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more.”

I put that one line on my Facebook status, and it has, obviously, drawn attention. Sex really captures peoples attention. Justice… not so much. Sex sells. It sells in this world, especially in the West. Global justice… we just don’t care too much about how little a worker in Thailand makes. We don’t care too much about a region called Darfur, unless, of course, it threatens oil supplies and I’m paying more at the gas pump. Then, I yell about gas prices. I don’t care about Darfur and its people. I care about my gas prices.

There are things we just don’t to take up our attention. And it threatens the world!

The call of the Kingdom is to get past the sizzle. It’s to get to the weightier matters of God’s intention.

This Just In: Sex Still Sells!

Whether it’s hot topic issues like “gay marriage” or “abortion,” or “books” like the hot selling trilogy on just plain hot sex and the current flap over how we, as evangelical Christians, should handle it, this much we know to be true: sex still sells.

We are definitely not getting is this: no matter who we are, Christian or not, we still don’t know how to talk about it, either.

The gods of this age just toss their collective heads back and laugh. Humans are still pretty much lost.

The Heavenly Experiment — Realizing Our New DNA

I can completely understand the temptation to spend the majority of our Christian lives in the epistles. They are straight to the point, we have little in the way of cultural barriers, and we can go easily to application. Since I am teaching Prison Epistles this semester, I am immersed in some the greatest doctrine of the Early Church. I am also immersed in the most challenging practices.

The current challenge is Colossians 3. The call is to get our eyes up. We are to fix our gaze on what is above. It’s not about being “heavenly minded” in a way where we dream of gold streets. It’s being heavenly minded in that we get our eyes on the One who sits on the throne.

To have our gaze fixed on the Beautiful One, we need our eyes OFF of what we have normally looked at in our old lives. This is the challenge. There is a need for a “spiritual divorce.” Paul puts it more plainly: “Kill the old self.” It’s like a call for spiritual suicide.

We MUST starve the old life and learn about our new spiritual DNA. The old life is summed up in this thought: “I want what I want.”

Why do we have such intense battles over abortion and homosexual marriage? It’s not about “rights.” That’s the false argument. The underlying principle is serving the god of sex. Even more base is this: “I want what I want, when I want it, in any manner I want it.”

Any kind of sex in any manner in any form and in any way I choose to describe it. We worship at this altar in America.

This is so embedded in us it’s become part of our DNA.

Through Christ, we have a new DNA. THIS is what we put on now. THIS is the great challenge.

In a world that is all about violence and vulgarity, we are called to PUT ON these ridiculous traits:

Compassion, humility, kindness, meekness, patience, love, forgiveness…

How crazy is that? When we can tear down character, insult people publicly, act like idiots on TV and get instant fame, why on earth would we want to do anything else? How silly.

Well, if we want to insist on living as we want, we need to hand over the name “Christian.” It’s not our DNA. If we insist on “I want what I want,” our DNA isn’t about Christ, and we need to cease calling ourselves Christian. Our life is different in Christ. It’s his. Paul said it best in Galatians: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

My DNA is supposed to be different. I need to know how to speak the truth in love. I need to learn how to forgive. Patience must become my hallmark. His word must dwell richly in me.

If I were new to this country and wanted to become a citizen, I would give myself to studying for this citizenship. My citizenship is heaven. I need to study the culture of my new “country.” I must take on that DNA.

Christ is my life.