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Church and State, part 4

Here in the tri-cities, July is a rather patriotic month. We begin by celebrating our nation’s birthday. We close the month by kicking off the Coast Guard Festival. So I’ve devoted four articles to the intersection of church and state. Here’s what I’d like to conclude with: a check valve. This is a device that allows water or air to flow in one direction, but not the other. If you’ve ever blown up a water raft, you’ve experienced a check valve. In the stem there is a valve that allows you to blow air into the raft. However, it doesn’t let air escape when you stop blowing.

I’d like to suggest that there should be a check valve between the church and the state. And when I refer to the church, I’m meaning God’s people and the kingdom we represent. Not just a religious institution. There should be a constant flow of influence from the lives of God’s people toward our nation and its governing bodies. Christians should live and vote and advocate in ways that are fully informed by Scripture and our Christian commitments. However, the influence should never run in the other direction. God’s people should never have their lives and convictions shaped by politics or our government. We are the salt and light of the world, not the salted and illumined. We are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom. We have been placed in America to bless it and influence it. It must never be the other way around.

Church and State, part 3

I’m going to drift a little off topic in this installment. This isn’t so much about church and state, but about people and how our uniqueness impacts where we land politically. Last week I was backpacking in West Virginia. In some ways it was like being in a different country. Sure, they spoke English (after a fashion). But it was a totally different way of life than what we have here in West Michigan. The geography and topography were different. Industry and lack thereof was different. And I wondered… how different would I be if I was born and raised in the hills of rural West Virginia? How would it shape my perspective on life? More to the point, how would it impact my political convictions?

I’m not arguing for some sort of relativism where whatever a person thinks is right. What I’m saying is that the life we are given, including where we’re born and raised and by whom we’re raised, has a powerful impact on our convictions in politics. Again, I’m not saying that every view is right or even acceptable. I’m saying that people arrive at their convictions for reasons that go deeper than logic (yet aren’t illogical). It’s true of me. It’s true of you. I can disagree with your position and consider it wrong. But may I never fail to recognize and respect the powerful undercurrents of your life that led you to that position. May I also humbly recognize that forces greater than logic are leading me to the positions I hold too.

Church and State, part 2

Last week in this space I suggested that the Bible presents no overarching, specific model for how to engage in the affairs of our nation. The Israelites and the early Church were in a very different position with respect to the governing authorities. That leaves a large spectrum of ways to interact with our government. However, any approach to political engagement must have a biblical flavor to it. People have said that the ends will justify the means. But this is certainly not true for followers of Jesus. Jesus is the prime example of one who did the right things the right way to achieve the right results.

Specifically, I would like to address the rhetoric that we use in political discourse. Reading political comments on Facebook is perhaps the most disheartening thing I do. I love it that people feel convicted about certain issues. But the angry and disrespectful way some of those convictions are expressed is disturbing, especially when it is coming from Christians. Please remember that more than representing a position or a political party, you are representing Jesus and His kingdom. Everything Jesus did was motivated by love. Not fear. Not ego. There’s a place for righteous indignation. But even that must be motivated by love in the first place. So please, before you make the post or the comment or write the letter, examine your motives. Remember the One you represent. No matter how noble our cause or sentiments, we must express that truth in love.

Church and State, part 1

This week we will celebrate our nation’s birthday.  In honor of that I am writing four articles in this space that deal with our nation.  I hope it will help us appreciate what we have in the US.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we as Christians engage in the policies and governing of our nation.  I’ve wrestled with questions like, “How involved should we be?”  “How outspoken should we be from church platforms?”  “How do we think of ourselves in relation to our government?”  These are tough questions.  And what makes them even tougher is that we don’t have a great comparison to our situation in the Scriptures.

In the Old Testament, God’s people were the government.  Israel was a theocracy.  It was governed by God through leaders who set the tone both politically and spiritually.  Later in the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament God’s people were in a different situation.  They were under a government in which they had very little stake.  They were exiles or under Roman occupation.  Their religion was illegal at times, barely tolerated at others.  So throughout the Bible, God’s people either were the government or were oppressed by the government.  That’s not our situation in the US at this time.  That leaves us with many different options.  Some will choose to become very involved in government.  Others will not make this a focus.  Some will be very outspoken.  Others will not develop strong opinions.  So I want to start by affirming that their are several legitimate approaches to engaging our government.  Next week will look at one component that I believe is non-negotiable for any approach.

 

I Believe

I believe pain and suffering are a part of the broken world that we live in.

I believe that, like stars require darkness to be visible in the night sky, joy requires suffering and struggle to become real in our lives.

I believe that there is no sorrow, pain, wound, or tragedy that God cannot and will not redeem.

I believe that God’s power is mostly found at the end of ours.

I believe that the kingdom of God is visible, like the glow of the eastern sky before dawn.

I believe a life lived for that kingdom is far fuller than a life lived for oneself.

I believe that the little things make a difference and that even the smallest act of kindness ripples into eternity.

I believe that each one of us was created for such a time as this.

Kingdom Rock Review


kingdom-rock-logo-hi-res

Last week was an exceptional one at our church facility. And it didn’t happen by accident. There is so much time an energy that goes into putting on a successful and engaging VBS experience. The planning starts several months in advance and final details are still being worked out each day. Many people helped decorate. Many people gave up their morning to lead a crew, work in the kitchen, or facilitate a station. Many people donated items. Many people invited their friends’ and neighbors’ children. Many people prayed.

Here is what God did with all that time, energy, and prayer. First, each day nearly 100 kids heard the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Some of these kids have very little exposure to church or the Gospel. Second, volunteers came together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. There is a bond that forms when you work together to do something awesome. Third, relationships between adults, student helpers, and children developed across the generations. These relationships will only serve to strengthen our church family. What else did God do last week? Time will tell. But I’m certain that all kinds of important things were happening – seeds planted, fires lit, and lives changed if only in small ways. Thank you for being a part of all that God did at Kingdom Rock last week.

Ah, Summer

Today marks the official start of summer vacation for students throughout the tri-cities. I can remember back to those days from my childhood. There was always an irrepressible joy within me as I celebrated the end of nine months of school and considered what the summer might hold. The next three months would be filled with camping, fort-building, baseball cards, and a little mischief. Specifically, I can remember going to bed after the last day of school, the whole summer before me. It seemed too good to be true. I rejoiced at simply being alive to all the possibilities.

Thirty years later I really don’t have a parallel for that feeling. Joy is still present, but served in smaller doses these days. Maybe I’ve just learned to govern my reactions a bit more. Still, there is one way that this “last day of school” experience seems appropriate: when we think about reigning forever with Jesus. I think the kind of joy associated with summer vacation will be a daily reality for us when Jesus brings His kingdom to earth. I’m not sure if we’ll need to sleep in the age to come. Actually, I wonder if we’ll even be able to sleep as we ponder all the possibilities of God’s presence and the new earth.

Happy Birthday to The Well

One year ago today about ten people from FCC met in Swiss Village and walked around, praying that God would lead them to make good friends in the neighborhood. Yesterday I sat in a circle of people and saw first hand how God answered that prayer. Some of the folks there had been coming to gatherings for several months. Others were fairly new to The Well. They talked about the people they had met because of The Well. They spoke of not having to do it on their own, but having a community to help them. We prayed for family members who were ill. We prayed for people seeking jobs. We prayed for peace to come to various situations. We read Psalm 100 together and thanked God for His goodness. Then we ate hot dogs and birthday cake and talked some more.

God has done a great work in Swiss Village. So much has happened in a year – a few big miracles and lots of little ones. Thanks for supporting our mission-based community called The Well. Keep praying that God will bring His kingdom through them more and more in the next year.

The Real Mentor

Dallas-WillardThis week one of my mentors passed away. I won’t be attending the funeral. I haven’t gotten choked up thinking about it. There’s no need to pass on your condolences. You see, I never actually met this mentor of mine. His name was Dallas Willard. He was a pastor who became a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California. He went on to write several books, one of which impacted me powerfully. It is called The Divine Conspiracy. It was a book about the sermon on the mount and how Jesus came not just to ransom our souls from Satan, but to radically change the world by introducing a new kingdom. The Trinity conspired together to start a new world order called the Kingdom of God. I learned from this book that life in Christ is not just a spiritual transaction (Christ’s death for our sins), but a beautiful, new way to live.Divine-Conspiracy

Anyway, you hear a good helping of Dallas Willard in my preaching. My ideas about ministry are influenced by this man who was himself influenced by the Holy Spirit. I read a story that someone shared about Dallas Willard this week. A friend asked him about his greatest fear in the ministry he was doing. Willard responded immediately: “Willard-ites.” In other words, he was afraid that people would follow his teachings instead of Jesus’ teachings. All of us have many spiritual mentors in life. Some of them are very close to us, like parents and pastors and older adults who invest in us. Other mentors are people we don’t know personally, like authors and speakers and bloggers. The best mentors have this in common: they point us not to themselves, but to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate mentor. He may work through parents and pastors and authors, but in the end all spiritual growth and transformation is the result of being mentored by Jesus.

My Heart Knows the Truth

One of the biggest challenges of being a Christian is that it’s impossible to prove what we believe. We can demonstrate that belief in a supreme being who created the universe is reasonable. We can refute any argument that tries to prove God doesn’t exist. But when it comes right down to it, we can’t prove that God exists. We can’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died and rose again to make us right with God. It’s hard to believe with certainty in something you can’t see. I read quotes from Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins or converse with an atheist friend. I sometimes get overwhelmed and wonder why God doesn’t just prove himself in scientific ways. On rare occasions I’ll even wonder if I’m crazy to believe what some really smart people regard with such disdain.

A song by the Crist Family yesterday in our service summed it up for me. It’s called, “My Heart Knows.” The chorus includes these words: “No matter where my head is at, I will not be moved.  ‘Cause my heart knows the truth.” Despite a lack of scientific proof, my hearts knows with certainty that Jesus loves me. What my head may not be able to fully understand or prove, my heart understands completely. I cannot deny what Jesus has done in my life – how He’s changed me and touched me and healed me. My heart knows the truth.