Category Archives: Kingdom of God

Animated By The Holy Spirit

The third person of our Triune God, the Holy Spirit. As the promise of our victory in Christ and the power of our living in Christ, the Spirit dwells among Christians so that we may live as the church Jesus gave his life for us to be. You need the Holy Spirit. I need the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. God offers us his Spirit.*

Consider what one passage of scripture says:

While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” – Acts 1:4-8

The same Holy Spirit that is promised here is promised as a gift to all (Acts 2:38-39).  Yet in most churches, talk of the Holy Spirit still seems as if we are entering into unchartered waters. Why?  What is it that makes churches/Christians afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps it is because we fear losing control. Most churches in America came of age during the end of modernism, which was shaped thoroughly by the rationalistic and humanistic thinking of the Enlightenment era. That was the sort of thinking that held a high view of humanity, which sought to maintain control over important matters in life through human reasoning. Control is the operative word and it is something we lose by submission if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit will ever force us in any way but to say that when we seek the guidance of God through his Spirit, we are relinquishing our own way and that still makes us nervous.

But for what are we relinquishing our own way?

For mission. The mission of God. That as the church of Jesus Christ, we may participate with God in his mission as followers of Jesus. So in thinking about the way in which the Holy Spirit leads us as followers of Jesus, the book of Acts is always a great place to start understanding how we should expect the Holy Spirit to lead us. In fact, the book of Acts is so important to this question that even though it is technically known as The Acts of the Apostles that it has also been described as The Acts of the Spirit. That’s because the book of Acts is the continuing the story began in the Gospel of Luke regarding how the gospel goes from the Jews to the Gentiles, first undertaken by Jesus himself and then continued by the followers of Jesus who, like Jesus, are animated by the Holy Spirit.

There is so much more that needs to be said about the work of the Holy Spirit as told in the book of Acts but here is where I start: I believe that any faithful reading of Acts reveals that our calling as followers of Jesus is to be animated by the Holy Spirit so that we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in all that we do and say. Within this belief I have two additional convictions that might help clarify the work of the Holy Spirit among the church.

  1. As the third person of the One Triune God, the Holy Spirit will never empower Christians to do anything that goes against the will of God.  Although we will have disagreements  over the question of God’s will and disagreements on certain issues, scripture is the story which tells us how God acts within history. In particular, it tells us how God is working to redeem creation in Jesus Christ and the goal of that redemptive work (which is also to say that we should read the Biblical narrative as a christologically centered and eschatologically oriented story). Consequently, we know what sort of values, what sort of things make God tick, what he loves and what burns his anger, etc… and how that has played out in Christian history. Thus, scripture and tradition must be our conversation partner in discerning the leading of the Spirit.
  2. The Holy Spirit will animates us to accomplish our calling as in both ordinary and extraordinary ways but in ways that are often beyond our own human ability. That means that participating in the mission of God always more than our own capabilities. This is one reason why we, like Jesus whom we follow, must pray. So if we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be a praying people because there isn’t any other way except to go to God the Father and pray that he may strengthen us with power from the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).

So what say you?

——————–

* This post is an updated and revised version of a post titled You Need The Holy Spirit, originally published on May 20, 2012.

Reconciliation: From Creation to New Creation

I wish people could see what I see. That’s how I felt last Friday evening as I drove home. Twenty minutes before I was sitting in a room with other Christian men seeking to follow Jesus. Some of us, like me, were White and some others were Black. As I sat in this room, I could here some Hispanic Christians in another room singing hymns in Spanish. It was a beautiful moment. For though we all were different in our racial and ethnic makeup, we were there as one in Christ.

I wish people could see what I see.

When God created us in his image, he created us equally and yet he also created us with much diversity. It was and remains a beautiful thing. The problem is that when this beautiful diversity should have moved us to glorify God, we have used it to glorify ourselves by lifting ourselves up while we put others down. We take the created diversity as both a sign of our superiority and a sign of inferiority regarding others. We say that our race and ethnicity, or our gender, or our intellectual giftedness, and so on, makes us better than others of a different race and ethnicity, of the other gender, with different intellectual gifts, and so on…

In the desire to glorify ourselves and display our superiority, we even made God, our Creator, inferior. Some do this by sheer denial of his existence, while most of us do it by denying his glory and power to one degree or another in the way we live. The end result has become a of division and animosity, where we separate from God and each other. Invisible walls build us as suspicion and fear increase, opening the door to all sorts of sin and unjust acts in our feeble attempt at maintaining our alleged superiority at the expense of God and others.

From Creation to New Creation

But some of us have encountered the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ! There on the cross, sinless and innocent as he was, the death of Jesus demonstrated just how horrendous the pursuit of our own glory and superiority really is. That we would be so driven our own will as to play a part in killing an innocent person is indicting. And we would have got away with it except for the fact that God raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating him as the Lord… as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Then we realized how broken we are, how wrong we have been, and that it is us who must change, who must lay down our own will in exchange for his will — the will of God, the Heavenly Father.

No longer can we pursue our own glory and insist insist upon our superiority, not when the Lord himself became the humble and suffering servant. Now rather than glorifying ourselves, we seek to glorify God by humbling ourselves in order that lift the other up through acts of service. We are learning to love our neighbors as ourselves and even loving our enemies, and in doing so, loving God. We don’t cease to be diverse people. We’re still Black folk, White folk, Hispanic folk, and so on. We’re still engineers, business managers, and even a few preachers. But rather than seeing the differences about us as a threat to our own existence, we see the beauty of God our Creator in all of our diversity. By the power of the Spirit now dwelling among us, we glorify God for the wonder of beauty and power seen in each person as a reflection of the image of God. We also glorify God for saving from our broken selves so that we could share again in the beauty of life that God has created, this new creation in Christ.

As I said earlier, I wish others could see what I see.

For that’s how I was able to see the beauty of last Friday sitting in a room with other Black men and White men next to a room full of Hispanic people, all Christians seeking to follow Jesus. Diverse as we are, yet one in Christ to the glory of God.

Perhaps you do see what I see… and if so, then blessed are you!

“But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.” – Ephesians 2:13-16

Loving The Enemy: Jesus and The Early Church

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven…”

– Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:43-45

This is the teaching of Jesus who refused to take up the sword against his enemies, instead submitting to the will of his Father in heaven by choosing the cross. This is the Jesus whom we are called to follow and if we call ourselves a Christian, we are making a claim to follow Jesus.

We’re fine with following Jesus until it comes to the way we treat those who would do us harm. Then we would rather have a militant Jesus who will say it’s ok to take up arms and, in the name of safety and self-defense, do violence to that enemy and even kill that enemy if necessary. We’re so comfortable with the idea of necessary violence as part of our way of living, that it is almost impossible to fathom that Jesus is calling us to a non-violent way of life as part of our kingdom witness. Seriously! Listening to some Christians defend the use of violence leaves me the impression that the Jesus they follow entered into Jerusalem with military gear and an assault rifle, like captured in the picture here.

The notion that Jesus is calling us to a non-violent way of life seems so asinine that some Christians will stop at almost nothing to negate this teaching of Jesus. Some will proof-text certain passages of scripture out of both their historical and theological context to do so. Others will appeal to utilitarian reasoning, beginning with some hypothetical circumstance that logically seems to necessitate some measure of violence, in order to dismiss the notion that Jesus calls us to not fight with violence. And some will even anachronistically read the Bible by claiming that Jesus, as the second-person of the Trinity, is violent because God allows violence to take place in the Old Testament (an argument that is fraught with poor theology and hermeneutics).

All of these attempts either ignore, evade, or attempt to redefine the historical and eschatological trajectory of the biblical narrative and the good news of the kingdom of God that it proclaims (the gospel Jesus preached) which tells us of the redemptive mission of God that liberates us from the old life marred by sin, much of which involves some measure of violence, into the new life as new creation in Christ. That is, the attempts at justifying violence prolong the old life even though, as followers of Jesus, we are called to live as new creation bearing witness to the heavenly life that God is restoring among his creation in Christ. Violence has nothing to do with this life that we are witnesses of!

Of course, I could be wrong. It is always possible that my reading of scripture is wrong and therefore my understanding of the life Jesus calls us to follow him in living, which includes non-violent living, is wrong. But one way of always checking our reading of scripture is by turning to early Christian history and seeing how some of the earliest Christian leaders, those who historically are much closer to the apostolic era, understand the life Christians are called to live regarding the issue of violence and loving our enemies. So here are a couple of blog posts here and here that have assembled some quotes from some of the early church leaders of the patristic era. You can click on those links to read all the quotes but here a few:

  • Justin Martyr: “We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”
  • Irenaeus: “Christians have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not now how to fight.”
  • Tertullian: “Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.”
  • Origen: “We have come in accordance with the counsel of Jesus to cut down our arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take swords against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our Lord.”
  • Athanasius: “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
  • Clement of Alexandria: Christians are “an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without anger, without defilement.

I won’t pretend as though this teaching of Jesus answers how we should respond in every possible situation that seemingly creates an ethical dilemma. However, it should be evident that peaceful living (which includes non-violence) should be one of the virtues that characterizes the Christian life. That means at the very least that we should strive to nurture peaceful mind-set among ourselves so that in every circumstance we might respond in non-violent ways that bear witness to the eschatological reign of God in Christ. It also means that even if we conclude that there is a time when some measure of violence is justified (on the criterion for just-war, see here), we should never speak and act as apologists for violence — especially in a time where the ethos of American culture appears saturated by violence rooted in the things of the world rather than Christ.

May we learn to follow Jesus embracing the cross rather than the sword, loving our enemies rather than killing them!

People Matter… Including The Poor!

The Prophet Amos preached a message of judgment against Israel because, among other things, of their unjust treatment of the poor. In fact, when we read the prophets of the Old Testament it becomes clear that the poor matter to the Lord and that he expects people to act justly towards the poor, showing them mercy.

It’s also seems pretty clear in scripture that people are greater than the principles or policies we often organize and script our lives by. When laws and objectives are carried out at the expense of the people, there is injustice. When dogma and doctrine suppresses people, denying them mercy and justice, it is wrong.

I think this is why Jesus tells the Pharisees, “To and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice'” (Matt 9:13). The Pharisees have placed greater value on maintaining their tradition than extending grace to those they consider sinners but Jesus says they have it wrong. Offer mercy rather than sacrifice! In other words, people matter more than their traditions (and more than our principles, policies, laws, etc…) so they should be more concerned with doing right for the people.

Of course, when it comes to the poor, it is so easy to just trample upon them… either literally or metaphorically. That’s why the prophets speak so powerfully about justice for the poor.

And little has changed. We all know of numerous examples of how the poor are neglected and even afflicted by the lack of mercy and justice. So it is a great joy when hearing examples of service to the poor, especially when they show us that the poor matter more than revenue… or whatever other principle, law, or doctrine we are tempted to value over the poor.

Such an example comes from this story about a restaurant in Baltimore called Tabrizi’s, a Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern dinner place along Baltimore’s waterfront. Rather than taking in the big money to be made during Baltimore’s Restaurant Week, the owner of Tabrizi’s, Michael Tabrizi, is partnering with local homeless shelters to feed the homeless. According to the story, which you can read here, Tabrizi said, “It isn’t about revenue and money right now, we’ve done restaurant week before and we know the numbers, but right now it’s more important to promote the welfare of the city and its residents rather than to promote the business.”

That’s right. People, especially the poor, are more important than the business of making money, just as people are more important than a said principle, law, etc…

Tabrizi goes on to say about the homeless, according to the article, “These people don’t only suffer from hunger, but also from hopelessness, they feel that they don’t have any dignity anymore… We want them to come in and feel like they’re cared for.”

I don’t know what Michael Tabrizi’s religious convictions are but I know this sort of care for the poor reflects the image of God, our Creator. His example of using his business to serve the poor is an example for us all. May we take the opportunities were are given and the gifts we have received to care even for even the poor, blessing them as we have been blessed!

And one more thing… The next time I am down on the waterfront of Baltimore to dine out, I know which restaurant I’ll be trying.

Beyond Innocence and Ignorance: Practitioners of Reconciliation in an Age of Racism

Growing up as child, one of my favorite shows to watch was the Dukes of Hazzard which aired on CBS television from 1979 through 1985. That should come as no surprise. After all, not only did I think of Bo and Luke Duke as two cool dudes but they also drove one of the coolest cars ever, a ’69 Dodge Charger known as The General Lee. As for Daisy Duke… I was too young to care one bit about her short-shorts and cleavage. Later on, as an adult, I never had any interest in seeing the 2005 Film titled The Dukes of Hazzard but I have on occasion enjoyed a little childhood nostalgia by watching an occasional rerun of the show.

Innocence and Ignorance

For the sake of disclosure… I am white and I am a Christian trying to follow Jesus. I was born in Arkansas and raised in a small Indiana town by two working-class Christian parents, and I am comfortably in my element among southern and midwestern cultures. I share my little history with The Dukes of Hazzard because unless you have been hiding out somewhere deep in a cave, then you are aware of the controversy surrounding this show now. On June 17, 2015 a mass-shooting occurred at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine Christians dead. The killer, driven by racist motives, intentionally targeted black people. In addition to the discovery of the killer’s racist manifesto, photos surfaced of the killer waving a Confederate Flag… surely as a symbol of his racism and hatred for black people.

Consequently the Confederate Flag has come under scrutiny, with various states and business seeking to remove any display of the Confederate Flag. Ergo, the decision of TV Land to cease airing reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course, like so many other issues of our day, this has become a political controversy with people taking sides. Some are for the Confederate Flag, claiming that it simply represents southern heritage while others, like myself, won’t shed a tear over its loss because they see it for what it is… a symbol of racism.

Caught up in this issue is The Dukes of Hazzrd. Is the show simply a portrayal of a couple of good ole’ boys living their down-home southern country life or does it also represent an era full of racism that was sanctioned by southern state power? As a child, I was oblivious to any of the cultural meaning this show symbolized. I watched the show purely for entertainment, imagining myself as Bo and Luke Duke driving around in a cool muscle car. When I watched The Dukes of Hazzard, I was innocent but I was also ignorant.

Let me expand on this innocence and ignorance a bit more. At ten years old I knew very little about slavery and racism. I certainly didn’t know that for all the good things one might say about southern culture, that there was a horrible history of oppression inflicted upon black people that still lived on in the minds and values of some people. It’s the same way with The Andy Griffith Show. For all the good qualities we might make about the fictional town of Mayberry, in real life most of those good qualities existed only for white people. As I have written about before, I doubt many, if any at all, black people want to go back to the era of America that gave us Mayberry… “Not when being black meant being forced to ride at the back of the bus, not having the right to vote, and even being lynched.”

Reconciliation Trumps Politics

It’s the year 2015 and in less than a month I will turn forty-two. I am neither innocent nor ignorant anymore and neither are you. I am more and more aware of the ways in which I have helped sustain racism in America (read this personal story I share here) and I am more and more aware of the oppressive racism that still exists today. Further more, you may claim if you like that the Confederate Flag simply represents southern heritage… that it isn’t a symbol of racism but that is just a flat out denial of the truth! The Confederate Flag has always symbolized racism and white pride which is exactly why the Klu Klux Klan has always carried it and why Dylan Roof so proudly waved this flag for the camera.

I won’t lose any sleep if I never see another car chase involving the General Lee. It’s the same with the removal of the Confederate Flag. More importantly, I don’t see why you would either… especially if you are a Christian. I’m not naïve, so I don’t believe that removing the Confederate Flag from display on public properties will end racism. What I believe is that as Christians, God has called both we are called to something much more glorious than clinging to the foolish politics of supporting the Confederate Flag.

As Christians, we are called to live as participants in God’s ministry of reconciliation. In fact, at the heart of the gospel is God’s work of reconciling all people as one in Christ. That is, God is destroying the barriers of hostility that divide us so that we can live as neighbors rather than enemies (cf. Eph 2:13-14). So even if I wanted to, I won’t wave around the Confederate Flag because I know how offensive that might be to my black friends and neighbors… Because I believe that the ministry of reconciliation trumps politics everyday and that means valuing a relationship with people over seeing a Confederate Flag on display when I visit the south. To say otherwise and to value preserving the Confederate Flag over pursuing reconciliation with with people, including neighbors of different race, ethnicity, etc…, puts us in opposition to the work of God. Woe be to anyone who opposes God!

Moving Forward

If you care, and as a Christian you should, go talk to your neighbors, especially those who are different than you. Speak to those who believe differently, have a different skin color, talk in a different language, and so forth. More importantly, listen to what they are saying. Listen and learn! Listen to their stories. That’s when you will begin to hear the nuances of how systematic racism is still at work, which is necessary if our society ever hopes of bringing justice to this issue. But more importantly, when you listen, you’ll begin let go of those things that may divide you from your neighbor and in turn learn how to love them as yourself.

That’s the way forward because that is what the future will be when Christ returns. There won’t be any flag, not even an American flag, nor any racism or the symbols that holds on to those broken politics. If you want to participate in the new life that God is bringing about in Christ, then clinch not to the politics of the old dying world but live fully as practitioners of reconciliation by loving God as you love your neighbors as yourself.

Giving to God… Christianity in America

July 4th, the American Day of Independence, is around the corner, coming this Friday. Like every year, it will be a festive holiday with much celebration. I’m guessing that for many Christians the celebrations will be tempered by a sense of concern over the direction that America as a nation seems headed in. But that won’t be due to an unswerving holy allegiance to the kingdom of God as much as it will stem from an unholy allegiance to America. That’s the problem for Christians!

What Belongs to God…

What unholy allegiance? Well, here is Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. It’s the final week and Jesus has entered into Jerusalem, that holy city held hostage by the rule of Roman tyranny. Jesus understands what will happen to him in this politically and religiously volatile climate… death upon the cross! And he has reminded his disciples that if they are to continue following him, they should be prepared to carry their own crosses too because that is what might happen to them for participating in the kingdom of God.

The Pharisees and the Herodians know that Jesus will not align himself with Roman power, so they attempt to trap him with a simple question about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus’ response is familiar to us… perhaps too familiar.

“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Mark 12:17

Most Christians cite this well known response of Jesus as justification for paying taxes. Fair enough, as Jesus certainly seems ok with paying taxes. But what most Christians miss is what else Jesus is saying… that his disciples dare not give to Caesar what belongs to God – their life.

The coin has Caesar’s image on it so it is ok to give the coin back to Caesar but people bear the image of God, so they dare not give their lives to anyone but God. That means Christians, who follow Jesus, pledge their allegiance to nobody but God… not any nation and nor any president and the flag that signifies them. No allegiance to anyone except for Jesus who is Lord. But many Christians in America fail to see this and as a result they live quite comfortably aligned to a America, identifying themselves with the cause of America, and supporting almost every American endeavor to achieve and maintain that cause. However, now more than a few Christians see America as turning away from God, so their response is to fight for America to return to the ways of God. However, this is part of the bigger problem for Christians living in America.

A Turning Point?

The United States of America was never a Christian nation, regardless of what Christian values it may have one time embraced. As a nation, it’s goal has always been its own sovereignty which is completely incompatible with the Christian conviction that Jesus alone is Lord (Sovereign). Further more, regardless of whatever Christian values America at one time embraced, it also rejected many Christian values in order to establish itself through war and the exploitation and oppression of non-European people such as Native Americans and Africans.

Yet because many Christians, probably of White/European descent, believed in America as a “Christian” nation, they were comfortable among that version of America (this should be a call for much contemplation knowing that the Bible was read in a manner that allowed Christians to be comfortable with a secular nation). But now these same Christians feel a sense of loss… the loss of a “Christian” nation.

Perhaps this loss will allow a new recognition to take hold among Christians living in America, that we do not belong to Caesar even when Caesar is robed in the colors of red, white, and blue… that we must never give to Caesar America what belongs to God — our allegiance. Yet this will only work if there is an awareness among Christians who believed in the “Christian” nation version of America that this unholy allegiance to America was and is wrong. Without that recognition, Christian will likely only continue wasting time on trying to conserve the “Christian” nation that never existed and falter in following Jesus and living as witnesses of the Kingdom of God.

Discipleship Among a Secular Nation

As expected, there are a lot of Christians who disagree in some manner with the recent SCOTUS decision ruling in favor of gay marriage. That’s ok. But it’s also time to breath and relax. The decision is not as big as some Christian voice make it out to be. The SCOTUS ruling in favor of gay marriage will not make America any less of a Christian nation because it never was one to begin with. So with that in mind, instead of fighting for America to return to this allusion of a Christian heritage, it’s time to spend energy learning how to live among a secular American nation. That means learning how to live as a faithful follower of Jesus, embodying the gospel he proclaimed. Do that and the church in America becomes the people who “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Racism, Violence, and An Anemic Church

The murder of nine black Christians who were gathered for Bible-study at the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday by the hands of a single gunman who was there “to shoot black people” is horrific. But it is also a terrible reminder or the racism and violence that pervades America as a society. Unequivocally, racism and violence are two major issues in America, both of which causing great harm to the victims of such evil as well as undermining any sense of a civil society. The good news is that the church, called to live as an embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is poised to counter such racism and violence with the love and peace of Christ. Yet when the church ignores racism as a significant issue and justifies violence as a sometimes-necessary way of life, the church loses its prophetic gospel witness amidst an American society full of racism and violence.

Denial and Justifying the Wrong

The racism and violence that pervades in America should concern the church but sadly, this is not the case for many churches and the Christians who make up those churches. Instead of calling people to embody the love and peace of Christ as a counter-narrative to values of racism and violence, Father’s Day sermons were preached in many churches − because that’s the expectation of the chaplaincy pulpit.

It gets even worse when we turn on social-media, for there we encounter the failure of Christianity in America to embody a prophetic gospel witness. First, there are some white Christians who just want to deny the reality of racism. They speak of their own un-prejudiced treatment of blacks and other minorities and think that because they are not prejudice, that racism is not really that big of an issue. Some Christians will defend the symbols of racism, such as the Confederate Flag, as though these symbols are meaningless. They don’t want to have any constructive conversation about racism, a decision that white privilege allows since it is not the white person who has historically suffered under racism.

When it comes to violence, some Christians would rather talk about how allowing a concealed-carrying gun permit would make us safer. Instead of asking how the church can church can press deeper into faithfulness during such challenging moments, they want to talk about what level of violent measures might be necessary to make our worship gatherings more secure. In order to justify the “necessary” violence, appeal is made to Jesus. Yes, Jesus! Ignoring the peaceable kingdom-narrative that Jesus embodied… ignoring the self-sacrifical manner of life that Jesus lived which refused to harm others… ignoring the fact that Jesus went to the cross and told his disciples that if they are going to follow him then they better be ready to carry their own cross, some Christians will proof-text the story of Jesus overturning the table and driving the animals out of the temple to suggest that Jesus was violent and therefore justifies our violence. I’ve heard others, in a twisted anachronistic logic, appeal to Trinitarian doctrine to say that since Jesus is God in the Flesh that Jesus in the Old Testament approves of violence since God in the Old Testament approved violence (and they don’t even see the hermeneutical problems… should we stone every adulterer too? And put to death disobedient children?).

Forget the Irrelevant Nonsense… Embody the Gospel

This is where the church needs to wake up! Every day I read some blog or article about the evangelistic struggles that churches are encountering. Most of these article offer nothing but more nonsense (another phrase comes to mind but I’ll restrain myself) suggesting that if pastors just double-down on more creative preaching, if churches just get on board with the latest trendy worship style… was it contemporary, Taizé, liturgical, or…, offering four or five strategies for becoming missional, or offering four to five leadership principles to reignite your outreach, and on and on it goes. Nonsense!

You want to know why the church is becoming more and more irrelevant? It’s because the churches in America have little left by way of an alternative life. Regardless of what churches say they believe when you click on their “about us” page on their website, too many churches offer little alternative to the pervasive racism and violence because of the way they, through the Christians that make up these churches, ignore the issue of racism and justify violence. Who needs a church when that church appears and sometimes does embody the same life embodied by the American society at large? Why should any non-Christian desire to become a part of a church that isn’t any different from America? Nobody needs a church for that, they already have America!

If churches want to reach their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they must learn to not only speak the gospel but embody the gospel. That means speaking prophetically to the issues of racism and violence while embodying the kingdom alternative which is the radical love and peace of Christ demonstrated through forgiveness and reconciliation. We saw a sign of that embodiment when the daughter of Ethal Lance, one of the victims killed at the Emmanuel AME Church, said to the accused killer “But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

A Final Thought… The Kingdom Alternative

Are there other pressing issues the church should be prophetically speaking about? Of course, there are. But the issues of racism and violence are the issues at hand now and they are issues that have and will continue to plague society without any church ready to demonstrate the kingdom alternative. To dismiss the issue of racism and justify violence, or to try shifting the conversation by bringing up other issues, only makes the church more anemic. In such a difficult time, it is time to press deeply into the gospel and ask what it means to faithfully embody the kingdom alternative among a society plagued by racism and violence. That can’t be done pretending racism isn’t a big issue or engaging in hermeneutical gymnastics in order to justify violence. That happens by following Jesus who showed us what it means to love God and neighbor…even our enemies!