At the end of the day, Christianity trumps white evangelicalism

Over at the Washington Post, Eugene Scott has written an interesting opinion piece regarding Mike Pence’s commencement speech at Liberty University. Scott is concerned that warnings about Christian persecution fall into a victim complex that is not all that helpful for navigating through fruitful citizenship. Now, I do agree with some of what he says. But the more I read through it, the more I think some parsing is in order to get to the real concern. He says;

Religious persecution is real. The congregations of three black Louisiana churches that were recently burned down for reasons that some suspect were racially motivated know this. And so do the congregants of the synagogue that was attacked last month by a gunman; the suspect pointed to his conservative evangelical theology as justification for his hatred of racial minorities.

But accusing “Hollywood liberals,” the media and “the secular left” of persecuting Trump-supporting evangelicals might do little, if anything, to prepare the next generation of leaders to be good citizens working toward the common good in a religiously diverse nation. At worst, it could perpetuate the victim mentality that is so pervasive in our culture wars and that some believe has made this country more politically divided than at any other point in recent history. Such a framing may win you some political battles, but in the long term, it makes it much more difficult for the United States to become “one nation under God,” as Pence and so many others often pledge.

Now, I do think he’s right in that we can form a persecution complex and engage in fear mongering. After all, Jesus did say that we would have trouble in this world. We can’t surely expect that a secular culture will align with Christian values. Even though religious liberty was ensconced in the framework of this country’s founding, we do need to consider it is also not a guarantee to live out faithful Christianity. That’s not to say we should not care or make efforts to preserve it. But we can at least expect a Christianity believed and lived faithfully will be at odds with a culture that seeks to live for self. Continue reading

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Jesus, Jerusalem and the big game changer

It’s been interesting watching the reactions to President Trump’s announcement concerning acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Many are seeing this as a fulfillment of prophecy, most notably Zech. 12:1-3. Of course, on face value it seems to make sense if in fact Scripture indicates that Israel with Jerusalem at the seat of its theocratic power, as existed in the Old Testament, that such a move would be celebrated on theological grounds (there are political reasons as well but we won’t go into that).

All this points to a telling sign to me: that so many Christians believe that God’s fulfillment of covenantal promises still involve the geographic, political state of Israel as if those promises still involved that particular piece of land.

It would be a long while in my Christian walk before I realized that references to Israel in Scripture, particularly the New Testament did not mean the political state of Israel. Romans 9-11 is particularly instructive in this regard. Paul lays out the case that though he longs for his kinsmen according to the flesh (ethnic Israel) because of all that had been given to them (9:4-5), they don’t belong to the true Israel. “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (vs. 6). Israel refers to Abraham’s children according to the Spirit (vs. 8), those who have believed in God’s promises through Christ (cf. Gal: 3:7-18). The remnant of Israel is actually the true believers, those united to Christ, including the grafting in of the Gentiles as those who inherit the same promises (11:13-24). It’s important to note here with the rejection of Israel  that the distinction of ethnic Israel relates to the fact that they were first given the revelation of this glorious truth. God is not giving up on them but it doesn’t mean they are somehow a separate people of God who will be dealt with according to a specific piece of land.

But doesn’t Paul seem to be referencing such when he says, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles and come in. In this way all Israel will be saved” (11:25-26) then sites Is. 59:20 as an indication for a future for Israel. Is Paul referring to a deferred plan for the place called Israel? Not hardly. Another way of seeing this is that the time of the true Israel (Jews and Gentiles together) don’t get fulfilled until all the elect are saved, including Jews. (PS: I do recognize that scholars have debated the complexities of Rom. 9-11 and come to different conclusions.) Continue reading

Freed for thankfulness

Photo; courtesy of the Food Network

This is a personal reflection and one that I hope is encouraging to those whose Thanksgiving, but moreover, life circumstances don’t look as we wish.

This was another year of wrestling with meat for Thanksgiving. I’m not a big fan of turkey, especially white meat and find other kinds of meats more palatable. In year’s past, I’ve done Cornish hens for Thanksgiving but there is something about have some leftover bird for days that suits the spirit of the season. Last year, I finally broke down and brought a turkey as I was motivated to attempt brining and bringing some cajun flavoring to lift the bird out of it’s flavorless doldrums. Fortunately, I was able to find one small enough for this experiment as it was for just the two of us: myself and my son.

I’ve spent Thanksgivings all kinds of ways, including one year in Jamaica with my grandparents, uncles and aunt. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with big family gatherings with my step-mother’s family for many years. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my dad and his friends, I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my husband’s family when he was alive.

This brings me to the struggles I’ve had with Thanksgivings especially since I’ve been in Dallas these past nine years. When I moved here in 2008 to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, though I came with the intense desire to for theological training in order to help people and encourage faithful discipleship, another desire descended upon me something fierce. Having been a widow since 2004 and uttering a simple prayer a few months after my husband’s death that though I had not known “good” in the relationship/marriage department, that God would grant me this wish and prayer. Continue reading

There is only one Jesus

In these times of racial tension and political polarization that has engulfed the mood of the church, I increasingly noticed references to Jesus as belonging to a particular affiliation: white Jesus, black Jesus or American Jesus. Typically, it’s to repudiate a cultural appropriation of Jesus that aligns him with particular causes whether it be racial or political and to embrace a Jesus that can speak to our ethnic identity.

Now, I get that cultural captivity is deserving of critique. I understand that when people use these terms it’s more of an indictment of cultural and political impositions on the work and person of Christ that has reduced him to a god of ideological fulfillment.  I do think that legitimate frustration is warranted when Jesus is made into the likeness of particular interests.

However, the problem with repudiating these myopic tendencies with an adjectival Jesus does nothing to really mitigate the problem of a marginalized Jesus. In fact, I think it reduces him further and makes him too small.

There is only one Jesus

There is only one Jesus in whom and through whom creation was made and to whom it all points. He was with God and is God (John 1:1-4; Col 1:15-18)

There is only one Jesus who responded to the Father’s will to call creatures to himself so that God will be their God and they will be his people. (Ex. 7:6; John 10:14-16)

There is only one Jesus who voluntarily left his heavenly abode, became fully human like us to become the obedient sacrifice for us so that all who trust in him would live. This one Jesus removed the most powerful stain of sin on humanity by bearing it on a cross and gives life through his resurrection. (Phil 2:6-8; Col 2:13-15)

There is only one Jesus who said, “Come unto to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” And this rest served as the backbone of survival for too many years, through too many tears of injustice and marginalization. This one Jesus offers hope to the hopeless through trials and pains of this life (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 10:32-35)

There is only one Jesus who is building his church according to the will of the Father that comprises every tongue, tribe and nation, has progressed under his sovereign rule and will continue to forge ahead across the globe. This one Jesus unites his people through his reconciling work by breaking down the walls of division that ethnic hostilities have erected (Eph. 2:13-16; Rev 7:9)

There is only one Jesus who can transform cold and prejudicial hearts and transplant the desire to love even our enemies if we are truly united to him. (John 13:24-35; Phil. 2:13)

There is only one Jesus who not only made the world but overcomes it and promises to one day come and make it right again. He is the anchor in which any reconciliation can be found. (John 16:33)

This one Jesus is bigger than our ethnic alignments and political affiliations. He is bigger than our racial infractions and divides. His work is grander than any scheme concocted to subjugate, malign, segregate despite man’s pitiful efforts to shrink him down to size of our myopic visions.

So instead of pointing to a white Jesus or black Jesus or American Jesus or any other special interest Jesus, let’s point to the one Jesus who has the power and authority to help us out of our tribal mess.

 

When it all falls down…

This post is not for everyone, though I suspect at some points or another in our Christian life it will resonate with just about everyone. But for now, if you feel like life is going pretty smoothly, your prayers have been answered, your heart is full and you otherwise are experiencing a relatively satisfactory life, you might want to sit this one out.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this and it’s all fallen apart or it hasn’t worked out or its just not happening, in spite of the all the earnest prayers by yourself and intercessors, regardless of how noble and God-honoring the cause…

That loved one still died, that spouse still walked away, that miscarriage still happened, that marriage still ended in divorce, that adoption still fell through, that infertility or singleness still persists, that company still crumbled, that bankruptcy still happened, those family relationships are still fractured, or some other life desert or breakdown has occurred and persists.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve prayed. It doesn’t matter how many have prayed. When life dishes us a bowlful of disappointing lemons in spite of trusting God, and believing for his hand of goodness, the gap between making lemonade can seem like a chasm too far to bridge.

You have trusted in Christ as your Lord. You rejoice in your salvation, the redemption and forgiveness of sins. You know that God is sovereign and does as he pleases. You know you must bear the cross, that you are not your own and you serve a God who sees and who cares. You take this to heart and vow to keep trusting him, through the fog of bewilderment. Continue reading