When I was young…

When I was in high school, we used to have this thing called See You At The Pole. Once a year, or more, we would circle around the flag pole and pray for our school, our town, and our country. It was a great way to connect with fellow believers and express our sadness over a broken nation and express hope that one day, God would bring healing to the nation.

I remember one year where the prayers were especially passionate. In the middle of everyone praying, I felt the Holy Spirit move and I couldn’t help but kneel in the presence of that flag. There was something that pained me about the brokenness I saw. I felt people put hands on me in prayer. 

No one stopped me. No one said I hated America. 

No one shamed me with the “soldiers died for your rights” phrase so popular right now.

Today, people are kneeling because they see brokenness and I am not surprised. If even high schoolers can see that the world is broken, then how much more should an adult see it. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve fell. For the rest of history we have been plunged into a very dark reality of violence, oppression, greed, etc. For the Christian, when we see the men and women kneeling during the national anthem, our reaction should not be anger on behalf of a nation. We should be quick to recognize that brokenness is real and that our country is not infallible. Especially after the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is becoming more evident that there are massive forces of darkness working to bring fear into the hearts of Americans.

Instead of stopping people from kneeling or shaming them into standing, we must try to be like our Heavenly Father and seek to heal the broken-hearted. Our calling is not to live a so called christian commitment to a flag that is not really ours. Our deepest call to action is to bring the love of Christ to the broken. That means to not be afraid to kneel when we mourn our brokenness. It means to not use the physically maimed for political gain, but to bind their wounds and help with their healing, physically and mentally. Remember that your true citizenship is the Kingdom of God and that should always take first priority over any nation you were born in. We follow the sacrificial way of the Cross that leads to healing and resurrection. We do not follow a flag whose might is economic power and military might. Before you call yourself a patriot, seek to be a prophet calling for justice in a land that starves for it.

Besides, if we concern ourselves with God’s mission, is that not the path to true respect, honor, and love? Would God be more angered by not performing the nation’s rituals for the flag? Or is he more angered at people who use the flag for their own selfish gain? The end result of our Christian calling has the potential to lead to the more perfect union that America seeks to be. However, we have to be passionate about our Christian teaching first and then we can talk about what rituals are appropriate when honoring our nation’s flag.


July 4th (America and the Church)

I wanted to post on this again, since today is the Fourth of July. I struggle with the idea that America is the nation of God. It doesn’t seems to make much sense to me. I have been looking at references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven in the New Testament and there are a few things that stand in the way of calling this nation the Nation of God.

1) America wasn’t around during the time that the Scriptures were written. If Jesus was representing the Kingdom of God, Heaven (which is defined as the place where God dwells), and America had not been born, then it would have to mean that there these two are not parallels. The events leading to America started much later in world history. Jesus also was speaking to the only political entity to ever be given such a title, which was Israel. The title has changed, since Israel is not necessarily the nation of God. That title has fallen to the Church, which has opened the membership to everyone across nations, kinships, races, etc. God has merely allowed America to gain much, but the frightening question is why He has done so.

2) The Kingdom in the times referred to in the Bible is ruled by God. There is nothing in the founding documents, or in current American law that gives God the ruling of President of the USA (God can actually only be totalitarian since His rule is conditioned on the complete obedience of those under him).

3) The Prophets, Jesus, and the writers of the letters continually mention or reference the kingdom coming. If the Church has fulfilled the messianic hope of the new kingdom, then it must follow that America can fall in line and recognize our commissioning by God (my apologies to the Republican platform). Although I am American, I must say that when it come to representing either this country or the nation of God, I choose God.

This is not a post of rebellion, but of perspective. I do not condone anyone seeking to use God as an excuse to defy what is not evil in itself. God has told us that governments are meant to promote order and peace (though they fail, and that is the exception) in Romans 13. Although it is assuming the correct actions of the governing, it still stands as a testament against fulfilling your selfish desire for anarchy or pointless liberation.

In Revelation 21:24, John shows us that God is not about destroying the nations, but having them follow him (and that would mean one world government ordained by God, to the ones who think one world government is evil). Also in 22:1-7 states that the end times are a time of healing the nations, which means that we should be about healing the nation with what we have to offer. If a nation is being heavily taxed, lets offer advice of mercy. When it is oppressing, let’s bring words of challenge. When the people are violent against their rulers, let’s offer creative consequences that teach and do not kill. And remember…

The Church, not America, is the Nation of God,

and the Church will see vindication and glory, not America.

So go out and live what the Gospel teaches to the world. I hope we see many great things in these end times (which, to clarify, has been the last 2000 years, give or take).

Grace and Peace.

Letter to Mark Driscoll on His Comments About Obama’s 2nd Inauguration

In response to this tweet, “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know” @PastorMark (Mark Driscoll’s twitter name)

Dear Mark,

I have come to respect you as a leader in the Church. Though we disagree with some theological issues you raise, I have come to think of you as a great leader with a fervor for doing things for God’s glory and a magnificent church planter. I could only dream of having the latter gifting, but I do share your fervor for God.

All compliments addressed, I ask you to recant your comments about Obama. I would direct your attention to more than one prayer breakfast and multiple claims to Evangelical Christianity. The strange thing about our faith is that it is diverse, even the Evangelical sector. The Evangelicals all believe, at least in theory, that the Scriptures are our authority. Also, they place Christ in the center of the Faith. Obama has done both of those things. You need to at least qualify the comment that he does not believe in the Bible, which will invite a wealth of comments, even academic ones which deserve consideration. It also takes a wealth of insight to claim that he does not know God, something that I would be wary of anyone saying, even you.

I would urge you to take back the tweet that by now everyone has responded to. I also encourage you to look up video, audio, and transcript evidence in which Obama claims a vibrant Christianity. The last thing you need to do is try contacting Obama and state your grievances in true Christian love (This might be difficult, so do not fret over the last one if it does not pan out).

My fear for you is your slow descent into cultural fundamentalism, which is purely late-western modern ideology,  and your sudden show of a power over you, the politics of this world and not the politics of the world to come. Please hope in Christ and reflect Him. Consider divisive language of this nature of the devil. Do not oppose Romans 13 by making politics the main message of the Church. And try to ask why. Why do you think this way? Why do they think that way? Why do I think another way?

Also, to take your own approach, you need to be bold enough to say your against Obama. You’re not fooling anyone and God does not think what you’re doing is cute. Hiding behind a twitter handle does not make your more loving or prophetic. Sorry to be rougher in this paragraph, but it needs to be said.

And remember, it is more courageous for a man to be loving and seek understanding than it is to hate and attack, even if attacking passively. Jesus showed us that by example.

So, again, recant. Repent. Be more like Christ.

Grace and peace to you.
Your brother, R.P.

Special Post:

The Church of England has decided to not ordain female bishops based on the vote of the laity in the synod. The vote is sure to be discussed for a while, but this does seem to create a step back from biblical equality.

I decided to link to some of my posts on equality and women in ministry:

Women, Ministry, and Inerrancy of Scripture.

Important Women in the Bible (and In Ministry!!!)

Scriptural Feminism

Also, some videos on the issue:

Church of England says no to women bishops

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Women in Theology and Ministry

What do you think? Should women in England be Bishops? Or do we need to keep repeating history?

Voting, Homosexuals, and the Church.

I was listening to NPR recently and heard a pastor in Maryland talking about protecting marriage (aka, keeping gay marriages illegal). His stance on the issue was that our country established the separation of Church and State so that the government was not allowed to invade the Church, which arguably has already happened since we fly the American flag on our pulpits. When studying British history, we can see that this was a reality which led to the separation being necessary. It’s not bad to keep government out of religion so that there is no use of religion to control the people.

The issue at stake here is that there is a longer history of the Church and the State’s relationship in mainland Europe and it is not one that only experienced the Government’s takeover of the Church. The vice-versa that was also realized in the rest of Europe was a heavy reality of the Church controlling the State in mainland Europe for much of the time from the day that Constantine legalized Christianity for the Roman Empire to the time of the Reformation and even to more recent history in the Western world.

The truth of the matter is that separation of Church and State comes from enlightenment models that saw both realities. Our nation’s concepts are based on this model. This is not much different from the Early Church and the New Testament. The believers of this early time were caught between the Jews, who did not take kindly to hearing that a human was divine or that the Messiah had been killed, and the Romans, who did not like new religions because they could be a sign of rebellion against the Empire. In this setting, Christians attempted to gain acceptance by the Empire and convince Jews and pagans to join their religion without using legal power. From that analysis, we can see that the Christian faith can exist in a very pluralistic setting, even to the point of being a minority.

One might assume that this means God must exit politics. This is not true. God is very interactive in humanity. Therefore, he must be interactive with politics. With that said, it also does not mean the Church should take over politics in a legal sense. The example of homosexuality is one that is commonly used in the legal setting. We must remember that the Church exists to baptize and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). This verse is explicitly missional, but it is not militant. Note the order in which disciples are made. First they are baptized (brought into the faith) and then taught the ways of God. This order has been reversed by those who wish to use law to legislate the moral practices (and I only mean ones that more neutrally affect the world). The consensual practices taken by people must be allowed to be judged by Christ and not human law when they do not necessarily affect the well-being of non-consenting parties. This is paralleled by the fact that the early church existed in a very pagan society that viewed the sexual relationships between men as proper. Though Scriptures are very adamant that Christians do not take part in these acts, it recognizes the order of conversion followed by being taught and then following the commands of God. They did not teach the vice-versa practice being implemented today by the Religious Right.

One might now quote Tony Evans, a preacher who holds my respect, in saying, “Separating God from politics is like separating God from history.” That point is good. There are many things that we should do that influence and inspire politics. One might also make the point that if God must be in politics, then we should vote for the party that most reflects the Scriptural values. To those people, we should say that they are right in saying that, but the reality is that no party has completely fulfilled Scripture. Even Pastor Evans has said that “God does not fully align himself with any of man’s kingdoms.”

The main point here is to be careful in who you preach to vote for, whether Republican or Democrat. Both are accountable to God and His judgment. And we must be careful judging those who vote differently from us. And we must not take the pluralism as a threat, but as an opportunity to convince others that our God is great, mighty, and worth following. It will take some hard work to convince some like Muslims, Homosexuals, Atheists, and others, but it will be worth their true belief and submission to God and much better than forced submission without belief, which is not salvation, but legalism.

Below is a slide show of some people who have made comments on politics and religion that are important. They are very thought provoking. Let the messages sink in and challenge this election day.

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What is a Succesful Nation?

Listening to NPR’s coverage of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, one excellent question was raised. What does it mean to be a successful nation? It’s a very important question and raises many views. Most popular today seems to be more oriented around money and prosperity. This is understandable considering the economic collapse of 2008, which still fresh in many people’s minds and experience. Although we have recovered greatly in the last couple of years (compared to some European countries) under President Obama and two congresses that have swung two directions in party strength, much of the prosperity rhetoric abides. One must ask, what does it take for our country to consider itself wealthy and blessed. We make more than most in the world, have more than those people too, and yet we still complain about an unemployment rate that is the envy of a large part of the world.

I would argue that this is not a new fad. Many strong countries like ours known as empires had issues with wanting more. England gained land for the queen. Germans wanted to make the population stronger, Rome wanted to spread their pax romana in order to control the world. Greece just wanted to see how far it’s military could stretch itself. All of these countries had eventual trouble with wants (or greed, as it should be called). Even mighty Rome entertained in the Colosseum and passed out free bread to make the masses happy.

Our country has always struggled with being greedy for more. At first, we took from the Indians, then the Mexicans, then the Africans, then the Asians, and then the Hispanics. We are a nation that exists on a staple diet of taking things, whether money, resources, or even just trust.

The problem is the word success. Why the word success? Because behind the word success, we assume the meaning of being great. But success in the eyes of God, is not always what it seems.

In Philippians 2, we get a glimpse of the greatness of Jesus. It was not a pursued greatness, but one that was surrendered to God and His purposes. This is our example, to not seek greatness through success. We seek greatness by doing the will of God, which is to love Him and love others. This could mean different things for different people. Individuals need to find these opportunities anywhere. Businesses should ask if their company policies are concerned for their workers welfare instead of just increasing profits. Government officials should ask if local, state, or even federal policies encourage a philosophy of love instead of strict party thought or their desire for power (the health-care debate applies here as much as any other topic).

What defines a successful nation? We find that in the Church as part of the Nation of God, which is not America. Love is our prerogative and command. It is our vocation. And if we carry it to our last breath, it will be our success in the Lord.

What is your definition of success? Why do you think this is success? Is it based on your desires or God’s desires for all the world?

Scripture, Transformation, and Fear

One of the major issues of Christianity is the authority of Scripture. Within the Church universal, the views range from fundamentalist to liberal. Though there are issues I would take with liberal and fundamental extremes, there are some basics that should help us come together in conversation and find a more Christian view of Scripture’s role in the Christian’s life.

What is the Scriptures?

This is a loaded question that takes hours of study and analysis and is debated today, but I will sum up the key things to remember about the nature of Scripture and it’s development.

One has to take into account that the Scriptures started as an Oral Tradition passed down by speaking it and not necessarily in writing. This may sound strange, but that culture passed it down and it led to writing it down. Eventually, we decided to write it down to standardize the story and had many books written. This is true even up to the New Testament era. The Jewish people decided the Old Testament canon in the 90’s AD and Christians decided on their general canon of the New Testament in the mid-300’s AD. That is the main story of the development of the Bible.

As far as the Bible’s view if itself, it helps to understand that the writers are either orally recounting and event or referencing an account of the event in history. In the Torah, for example, many of the accounts were later reflections of a long past, especially Genesis and Deuteronomy. Other times, there Re situations where someone references the earlier writings, such as Acts 2 looking back to Joel. This does not make the Scriptures less true and powerful, but it does show us that the Word of God when talking about Scriptures is based on something more powerful.

What is the Word of God?

This is a more involving exploration of theology itself. According to John 1, Jesus is the Word. Why? Because he is the revelation of God. The Bible is also revelation from God, though not near the status of Jesus. This puts our focus on the same one who the authors of the Bible focused on, God (as understood in Christ). Still, it means that there is authority in Scripture when read under the direction of God’s Spirit. What this does is create a difference between this who look to critique the Scriptures and those who have Scripture critique them. This can be a scary proposition to all. It challenges both the deconstructionist liberal reading and the shallow fundamentalist reading. The important thing to remember about the authority of Scripture is that it is not about learning we can show about Scripture, though can happen at moments and can be shared, but instead is about what the Bible can show to you about the King that leads to transformation (Romans 12:1-2; please note that is God doing the transforming and not Bible itself).

The Takeaway

One story that shows how someone can shy away from transformation is the story of the rich man in Luke 18 walking away saddened when Christ asked him to sell his possessions. The came to him to follow. When Christ presented him with things to do, he was completely on board until it touched his riches. No matter our position with Scripture, transformation is always a must when being led by the Spirit into Scripture. When you read pray for guidance and abandon your wants from the text.

Why do you read the text? Is it your authority? Or do you seek to be the text’s authority? Do you think you are rich in your spirit and not in need of the Spirit’s work or do you recognize your spiritual bankruptcy and your desperate need for the Spirit of God in you?

11 Years and Counting

Eleven years ago, a great tragedy took place. It is a tragedy that we in the United States will not easily forget for at least another decade. The tragedy I reference was the crashing of two planes by al-Qaeda in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. We all experienced anger and sadness over many unnecessary deaths in this country.

Very shortly afterwards, we responded by going to war with the country suspected for harboring these terrorists. Eleven years later, thousands of deaths later, and hundreds of billions of dollars later, we successfully avenged the deaths over two times over and killed the mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. Some would call this a justified war. However, some serious questions are being raised on this issue: was this a last resort, did we figure the benefits, did we properly distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, did we use the principle of minimal force, etc,?

In some cases we did do this, but on many counts we did not. We were fast and furiously vengeful. We decided to take a rhetoric of not just war, but total war, one of doing whatever it takes and paying whatever costs no matter the costs.

We have not taken part in just war ever since the end of World War II, and as Christians in America, we must take responsibility for this. As a pacifist, I enjoy chatting with those from the Just War position in Christianity. The thing that makes me enjoy their company is that they confess that death and violence is evil, although we would disagree on how and why we interact with it. The problem with the other alternative to war is that it does not take seriously violence as evil and even when it might start to, refuses to “work out its salvation with fear and trembling” as part of the Church (Philippians 2:12; ironically, this follows right after the passage urging us to be like Christ who surrendered himself to death).

The only cost worth putting all of ourselves towards is the one that moves away from violence. I mentioned John 13 in my last post. I pointed to the fact that Jesus washed the feet of the one who would betray him to death, Judas. Jesus was still inviting him to join in Kingdom living, even after Judas had already made His mind up to betray Christ. If we are Christians, and take seriously that our very name means follower of Christ, we must find that way of lesser to no violence.

And when we find that we have brought unnecessary violence, we must make amends. As an American citizen, I think that we should end involvement in any conflict we are now engaged in. As a Christian, I challenge our country to do what it can to make amends and bring peace into this world, on top of the efforts already attempted. This is the way that will bring a little more of God’s Kingdom on earth.

What is your stance on war and violence? Do you agree or disagree with America’s pursuit of “justice” this past decade? Should we be involved in more or less conflict? Why?

Right vs. Left

I heard one day on the radio a Glen Beck segment on Jim Wallis. In his rant, he was saying that Jim Wallis was representing the liberal agenda creeping its way into the Church and that Conservatives needed to keep these guys out.

So Glen Beck says Jim Wallis is liberal invading the church. This is very confusing since Beck is part of the Mormon church, a sect that broke from Orthodox Christianity to follow their own way less than 200 years ago (please look up liberal in the dictionary). It is amazing how polarizing language can affect the rationale of people, even in the Church. We need to be careful when approaching a gospel that finds its basis in a political party. It does not work in the Church and is not a Biblical pursuit

The main problem is that this rhetoric against conservatives or liberals does not reflect Romans 13. Romans 13 starts us with the submission to those in authority out of good will and good conscience, but it ends with an interesting notion: Pay to everyone their dues so you do not owe them anything (or so that they have no true power over the direction of your life). It follows that up with urging Christians to only owe people love. This is the main point of chapter 13 and a major element in following Christ. The One who showed us the greatest love is Christ. We follow in His way. The caustic language against the brothers and sisters we disagree with is not love, but it is leading to hate. When you associate love and hate with the proper entities, the first is of God and the latter is of the world. So who is your master, Christ or the world (and remember that you can’t serve both)? I would prefer to follow the one who has shown love despite any political stance.

This leads me to a site that I have grown to appreciate this election year. You should visit Don’t Let Them Hijack Jesus. In it people are making videos denouncing politicized Christianity. I have not made a video yet, but I look forward to seeing this style of Christianity take hold in America. I can’t wait for the future of the Church here.

What are you calling liberal or conservative? Are you being honest or belligerent? Is it worth pointing out in argument? Is it loving or hateful? Is it Christ centered or world centered?