Church Leadership: No Surprises!

One of the things I stress with churches and particularly other church leaders is not dropping any surprises. By surprises, I mean saying or doing anything that is controversial or will have a significant impact on the church without discussing it first with other leaders.

Perhaps a couple of examples might help explain more. What I’m talking about could be a minister who preaches a sermon on a controversial subject without even so much as letting the other ministers and elders know so that they can be prepared for the reaction. Or perhaps its an elder who announces the beginning of a search for an additional minister without ever talking about it with the ministers and elders. I know of churches where each of these examples have occurred and nothing good came of such surprises. Of course, I could give other examples too.

In conversing with different churches, dropping a surprise does nothing except creating frustration, distrust, and consequently unnecessary conflict. The problem with such surprises begins with the fact that it makes the rest of the leaders look incompetent before others when others approach them with questions only too see that they are caught off guard. When the leaders of a church appear incompetent, they are viewed as incompetent and their ability to lead is made even more difficult.

Another problem with dropping a surprise is the internal distrust and frustration it creates among leaders. When one leader, such as a minister or elder, drops a surprise, it says to the rest of the leaders that they cannot be trusted enough for the leader to seek their input first. Also, instead of working as a team, one individual places him/herself above the others. That is essentially an insult to the rest of the leaders which only makes for a more dysfunctional leadership, especially if this sort of behavior is tolerated.

It’s better to have no surprises! If a leader is about to say or do something that has the potential for controversy or making a significant impact on the church, it is something that should be discussed with other leaders first. And not just in a quick impromptu meeting but with enough time for prayer and discernment so that the leadership is not only prepared but supportive. If a leader is not sure then it’s better to discuss. The old adage “Do first and ask for forgiveness later” may work but that currency is very small and once it is spent, anything else will only create trouble.

Got Faith?

Willmar TornadoThe picture you see to the right was the tornado that touched down a third of a mile from my house on July 11, 2008. My family and I had just moved to Willmar, Minnesota and I had just returned from a stop at the nearby Best Buy where I overheard there was a confirmed tornado touch down in Kandiyohi County. I didn’t make much of it because the skies were still bright but five minutes later, while retrieving a flashlight from the trunk of our car, I noticed that the branches on the trees looked like a vacuum cleaner was sweeping them up. In what seemed like minutes but really was a couple of seconds, I heard what sounded like a jet approaching and noticed my ears were beginning to pop as I looked up at the sky to see the twister approaching.

As soon as I realized that a tornado was coming, I ran back into house screaming for my wife to get the children and get into the basement immediately. Fortunately for us, the tornado made a slight turn in direction and we, along with the other residents on the south side of Willmar were spared a direct hit. Damage was minimal, with only two injuries and some property damage nearby (including three homes that were leveled).

Fear and Faith On A Stormy Sea

I have a fascination with storms, especially tornadoes but on that particular occasion, I was scared. So when I read Mark 4:35-41 where the disciples are become frightened on a boat as a storm comes along, I can identify with them. In fact, I really want to speak out in their defense. These were seasoned fisherman who were used to the seas but this storm was big enough to scare them. In fact the storm was strong enough to cause the waves to break over the boat. So if the boat should capsize, they all are probably going to drown and they know that. That’s why disciples wake Jesus up and frantically ask him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Well, if you’ve read this story then you know Jesus rebukes the storm and silences it, saying “Peace, be still” (KJV). But then Jesus turns to his disciples and says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Can we have enough faith so that our natural impulse of fear does not become our master? 

I used to think that Jesus was rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith which is why it seemed like Jesus was being a little unfair. However, the text never says that Jesus is rebuking his disciples per se. So what is Jesus doing? Perhaps his question about fear and faith is not so much a rebuke as it is a teacher challenging his learners (which is what a disciple is). After all, I think Jesus, as a human, can understand why a storm provokes fear and let’s not forget that fear is a normal reaction too. But Jesus has also began to demonstrate the inbreaking of the kingdom of God by healing diseases, driving out demons, and teaching with authority that was unlike any of the other religious authorities. Then, according to the Gospel of Mark, in chapter four Jesus has taught a series of parables about the potency of faith. So it seems that Jesus is taking advantage of the opportunity to point out their fear and remind them that they need to have faith.

Faith, of course, is important and necessary. Jesus knows that his disciples will face more danger, more unnerving encounters, and challenges bigger than this storm. And for that, they will need to have faith. Not just intellectual assent that confesses belief in Jesus, but a living faith that is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of death on the cross. Can the disciples have such faith? But the more important question: Can we have such faith?

Assuming you’re a Christian like I am, can we have enough faith so our natural impulse of fear does not become our master? 

Faith and The Way of Jesus

Right now we live in a volatile society that is rupturing quickly. I’m not one for doom and gloom but there’s hardly a day that goes by without the report of another terrorist attack somewhere and sometimes that somewhere is here in America. Political extremism, racism, and violence are spending like cancer and regardless of who’s to blame, such evil is a danger to everyone. Those without faith think the problem will be solved by more of the same, matching one extremism with another extreme or trying to solve violence with more violence. But as the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The only way of peace is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. That is, the kingdom of God breaks upon the wold as we, the disciples of Jesus, his church, embody his self-sacrificial life and emulate his character as a witness to the rest of society. Some Christians don’t get this. Even though they proclaim the cross as God’s victory over evil, they’ll reason (utilitarianism) as to why God’s power of the cross must be set aside for the power of the sword in one form or another. But how can we live under the cross as follower of Jesus and set aside the cross. As Leonard Allen writes, “The church that lives under the cross will consist of people possessing cruciform values, that is, the character traits and virtues necessary to follow the way of the cross” (The Cruciform Church, p. 187).

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls us to follow him all the way to the cross. With a hindsight faith, we believe that even though Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb, the tomb is now empty and Jesus is alive. Sin and death have been defeated and the kingdom of God is appearing. It is our calling to live as witnesses and show the world the way of peace, where hatred is replace with love, where the light drives out the darkness of racism, violence and any other malady. But this is not an easy call. It never was and never will be. It takes faith.

Fear is a natural response to any storm, whether it be a literal storm like a tornado or a metaphorical storm in the form of racism and terrorism. But here is Jesus saying to his church, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Overcoming Racism: The Pursuit of Reconciliation

Like most others, I am saddened by the violent loss of human life. Whether it is the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile or the deaths of the five police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, there are now seven different families that are grieving the loss of someone they loved. As a follower of Jesus and a minister of the gospel, I am grieved because I don’t like seeing and hearing of others suffering. I am also  frustrated because I believe the church of Jesus Christ in America should be an example of reconciliation but isn’t. But as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I believe we must!

On television and social-media, the vitriol and anger is so palpable that it can be cut with a knife. Some want to point fingers, but don’t! Blaming others for flaming the current racial divide only stokes the fire more. The truth is that racism and inequality has always been a problem in America but those who have suffered as a result of such hatred, particularly blacks, are tired and are crying out to those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see. Some seem to think that violence will help but it won’t. It never has and never will. In fact, violence only begets violence which only begets more anger and hatred which only begets more violence which only… you get my point.

But there is an alternative to blaming others and killing one another, an alternative that seeks true peace and reconciliation. As a praxis, peace and reconciliation begin with a conversation that’s possible because Jesus has died on the cross, exposing the darkness and rendering it powerless (cf. Col 2:15). On the cross, Jesus extends true love and forgiveness. In turn, we are free to love each other with enough humility to hear the pain of the other, repent as necessary (whether it’s injustice or just indifference and apathy), forgive each other, learn to speak truthfully with each other and serve with each other for the sake of justice.

What we need is a conversation where we come around the table with enough humility to listen with empathy to others, especially to people of different skin colors. Overcoming racial and social differences requires that we engage others, listening with empathy for the struggles of the other. Love demands that we engage others, listening with empathy to their struggles of being hated and discriminated against. The pursuit of reconciliation demands that we are willing to repent where necessary, forgive one another, and stand with the oppressed in their desire for justice.

The place for such conversations should be our churches and that means becoming intentional about creating and cultivating space for such conversations. Our pursuit of reconciliation is the outworking of the gospel we profess and our currency that gives visible substance to our gospel, so that our proclamation of the gospel is a living tradition rather than dead traditionalism. But for far too long churches have been on the wrong side of the fence either because we were engaged in unjust practices of racism or because our we remained indifferent, pursuing other issues we deemed more important. This has to change! If we believe that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ and not Democrat or Republican politics that offers true peace and reconciliation then it must change and that change must be us. So let’s open space for others of different color at the table, just as Jesus has done for us, that we may pursue reconciliation with them.

The Gospel According To Us

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.” This famous quote is often attributed to the twelfth century Catholic Friar, St. Francis of Assisi, though as far as we know he never actually made such a statement. Christians often share this quote as a reminder that the life of Christians should be a proclamation of the gospel itself and that the gospel proclaimed in spoken word is insufficient. Of course, this quote attributed to St. Francis has also come under criticism in an attempt preserve the necessity of preaching the gospel in words. Ed Stetzer goes so far as to say that “the quote is not biblical.”

Is it really unbiblical to suggest that we should preach the gospel and only use words as necessary? Stetzer thinks so and makes his case by appealing to the Apostle Paul, particularly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

The Apostle Paul summarized the gospel as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ… The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

The problem with this is that while it’s fair to describe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 about the gospel as a summary, we must remember that it’s just a summary. As with any summary, there is much more detail to what the gospel of Jesus Christ is and that is found in the larger biblical narrative which is why Paul says that the death of Christ is “according to the Scriptures” (v. 4). Beyond the mere facts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there is a kingdom with a particular end (telos) that cannot be separated from the gospel. Even more so, behind the historical facts of the gospel is the actually life which Jesus lived and called us to follow him in living too. We read of this life in the four canonical Gospels, the Gospel According to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. As Scot McKnight points out, these four books are called “Gospels” because they each are witnesses to the storied life that Jesus lived (The King Jesus Gospel, pp. 81-82). That’s important because Jesus himself proclaimed the gospel in both word and deed. Put another way, Jesus both demonstrated and declared the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God.

Unequivocally then, the gospel is preached in both word and deed, and therefore something which is both seen and heard. So rather than making a dichotomy between preaching the gospel in word and deed, turning this into an either/or issue, let’s treat preaching the gospel in word and deed as a both/and issue. If someone thinks the gospel only needs to be lived and never proclaimed in word, then Ed Stetzer has a valid reason for concern and I join with him in voicing such concern. However, I suspect that some Christians regard the gospel demonstrated as less important that the gospel declared. I don’t know of a Christian who would admit such devaluing of the demonstrated gospel but when we look at what is done, there are reasons for such suspicions.

“Jesus both demonstrated and declared the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God.”

Last week after various evangelical leaders met with Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, James Dobson of Focus on the Family declared that Trump had accepted Jesus Christ and therefore was now a Christian. Regardless of Trump’s political views, there is good reason for raising questions about Trump’s alleged conversion when months ago Trump said that he has never even asked God for forgiveness and did not have any need of repentance. However, as one article recently said, this is not about Trump:

But I think these things are less the failure of Trump’s Christian infancy as much as they are a microcosm of the underlying problem with much of America’s evangelical movement — we actually have no idea what it means to be Christian. We lack a meaningful understanding of faith and belief.

That’s right, the issue is really a problem for Christians.

However, I believe such confusion about what it means to be a Christian flows from a misunderstanding of the gospel itself. If we think that demonstrating the gospel is somehow less important than declaring the gospel with the spoken word then it’s easy to define a Christian based on what they say, such as claiming to have accepted Jesus Christ. Identifying a Christian has less or even little to do with the transformed living that comes from the Spirit at work as we repent and receive our baptism into Christ.

While we all, as Christians, including myself, struggle in someway to live congruently with the faith we profess, our faith in Jesus is intended to become an embodied life as much as it is a confession. Yet one only needs to open up the status feed on social-media to see that what Christians often believe in, value, and advocate for is far removed from Jesus… Like when a woman’s right to choice or a person’s right to bear arms eclipses all consideration of the thousands of unborn children or the numerous civilians who are being slaughtered by gun violence across America… Like when fear of terrorism, Muslim refugees, and undocumented immigrants justifies an expedient exemption from love our neighbors as ourselves and even loving our enemies… Like when the need to either be politically correct or politically offensive allows the demonization of either the police or the #BlackLivesMatter movement, depending on what side one falls on, or despise the LBGTQ community…. Like when sounds more like an echo chamber of Bill Maher or Bill O’Reilly than Jesus and the Bible that bears witness to Jesus. And like I said, one only needs to turn to social-media to see what I’m getting at.

“…our faith in Jesus is intended to become an embodied life as much as it is a confession.”

The only way forward begins with a better understanding of the gospel, which includes understanding the gospel as an embodied way of life rooted in the mission of God. I’ve just finished reading Michael J. Gorman’s book Becoming The Gospel which summarizes this saying:

From Paul’s perspective the gospel itself is a powerful word of transformation, its content being given voice not merely in words but also, and inseparably, in actions. This does not eliminate the need for, or the importance of, words, but it does imply that the words have meaning and power only in action. God did something in Christ; Christ did something in becoming human and giving himself for us; the Spirit does something to and through the people who believe the good news of this divine activity.

     Furthermore, the content of the gospel Paul preaches is so thoroughly rooted both in the peculiar Christological shape of this divine activity — the life and teaching, and especially the death and resurrection, of Jesus — and in the Scriptures of Israel, with their promises of the Spirit and of shalom, that people who believe such good news are ineluctably drawn into its strange Christ-shaped and Scripture-shaped reality. So if the gospel has to do with a faithful God, a Suffering Servant who inaugurates God’s shalom, and a prophetically promised indwelling Spirit, then the individuals and communities who believe in that good news will be shaped in their minds and bodies, their thinking and their living, into Godlike, Christlike, Spirit-enabled people who in some real, if imperfect, way instantiate the message they believe (p. 298).

This connection between the gospel as historical reality and embodied life is what seems lacking, in varying degrees, among many Christians and local churches.

I’ve talked with more than a few churches over my years as a minister. Most are experiencing some decline and seeking renewal, desiring both spiritual and numerical growth. That’s good but we must understand that renewal is the work of God which sprouts from the gospel as it is believed in word and embodied in deed. So I would like to suggest that we must give as much, if not more, attention to demonstrating the gospel in the way we live as we give to declaring the gospel with words — without drawing a sharp distinction between word and deed since what we believe, value, and advocate for with spoken words reflects and impacts how we live.

How we demonstrate the gospel matters more than ever if we are to have any credible gospel witness. In fact, in our post-Christendom society where our Christian voice is increasingly marginalized, how we demonstrate the gospel becomes a currency of sorts for gaining a hearing. Without demonstrating the gospel, we lose the audience of those who may be open to the declared gospel. Stated in the positive, demonstrating the gospel as our embodied way of life gives us the credibility for declaring the gospel and “preaching the word” then becomes an explanation of what is seen rather than just an argumentation for what we profess. After all, the only gospel of Jesus Christ others are going to see and hear is, as the picture above suggest, the gospel according to us… the gospel we embody in word and deed. So to invoke the alleged wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi again, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”

Visions, Churches, and Conversion

When it comes to the book of Acts, a lot of attention has been given to the so-called conversion stories. There are good reasons for this, as these conversion stories not only give us an account of the gospel being preached to unbelievers but also how people responded to the gospel message. One of those conversion stories tells of the first Gentile conversion to Christ when a centurion soldier named Cornelius and his household were baptized. But there’s another “conversion story” (if you will) within this story that seems overlooked, the conversion of the Apostle Peter told in Acts 10:9-23.

Conversion might seem an odd way of describing what happens to Peter on the roof but conversion is repentance, a change involving a person’s entire self to the will of God. What happens to Peter is a conversion towards the impartiality of God (Witherup, Conversion In The New Testament, 69) and it demands our attention, especially if we’re interested being led by the Spirit as I have heard different churches express.

When Heaven Opens…

When Peter went up on to the roof to pray, he was a God-fearing follower of Jesus. His devotion to God as a follower of Jesus has already led to him proclaiming Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36) and it has resulted in even being arrested (Acts 4:3). So there isn’t any question about the sincerity of Peter’s faith. Peter is a God-fearing follower of Jesus but he’s still lacks some understanding he will need to repent of in order to believe in the full gospel and live fully as a participant in the mission of God.

The repentance Peter is in need of has to do with what he regards as unclean. In a dream of sorts, Peter receives a vision of all different kinds of four-footed animals telling him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter’s response is an immediate and emphatic rejection of such a suggestion. And who can blame Peter. Like Jesus and the other apostles, Peter knew the scriptures  and he knew that the Law clearly forbids eating anything unclean (Lev 11:47). But the voice in the dream tells him to stop calling unclean what God has made clean (Acts 10:13) and Peter will later say that this voice was God teaching him that he should not speak of anyone or anything as unclean (Acts 10:28). Consequently, despite his conviction about what he thought was the biblical teaching regarding clean and unclean, Peter had to recognize that he was wrong in his belief on this issue and repent.

Is there a lesson for churches today? I believe so. The churches I am familiar with have a very high view of scripture and are devout God-fearing followers of Jesus. Like Peter, we know that we must “obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29). But like Peter, could we ever be wrong about what we believe is God’s will according to scripture? I certainly hope so because it takes an abundance of hubris to think otherwise. Although everyone of us believes we are right in the different views we hold, we must open ourselves to the possibility that God may be trying to show us we are in fact wrong. That requires humility, which most of the churches I encounter seem to possess. This openness is important because without it, we risk the danger of one day become so dogmatic and self-righteous that we end up looking more like the religious authorities who opposed Jesus and the apostles.

Letting Go…

The conversion of Peter in this story is not a result of a different Bible teaching, a point that should not go unnoticed. It is a vision that initially challenges Peter’s understanding of scripture which has taught him to reject what is unclean and that is only the beginning point. So how is it that Peter will regard what he has previously believed, with good biblical reasoning, and open himself new understanding of God’s will? While Peter is aided by the voice of the Spirit, it is the unfolding events that help him make sense of the vision and conclude that the vision is the revealing of God’s will. In fact, he unfolding events to come will stretch Peter’s understanding of what it means to be a member of the people of God (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, 187).

The openness of Peter is a mindset that churches must embrace if they are to participate in the mission of God. It is an openness that’s willing to say that the way we have understood scripture on any particular issue is wrong and requires us to change (repentance). But it is also requires a willingness to relinquish control and I’m talking about the control that keeps everything safe, comfortable and within our “dogma” box. Of course, we can become dogmatic and double-down with our biblical proof-texts, insisting that the scripture says… But imagine if Peter would have taken that approach. Sometimes our understanding of scripture is wrong and if we’re open to seeing how God is at work in the unfolding events rather than defining how God must work with our predetermined conclusions about the teaching of scripture, we might see our need for conversion as did Peter.

Peter doesn’t turn to scripture but allows his experience in the events that unfold to redefine for him the boundaries of God’s people and in whom God is at work. I’m not suggesting that scripture is without authority or has a diminished importance but we must learn to discern what God might be saying though events, experiences, and voices other than scripture. For example, I grew up believing that only those who understood scripture exactly as I did were true Christians but this sort of sectarianism began to crumble when I began to take notice of the Spirit dwelling among other believers in Jesus, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. I realized that God is not partial in offering his grace to only those who think they understand all the teachings of scripture correctly. The same might also apply to the way we view women serving in ministry. Regardless of what we think certain passages teach regarding women serving in ministry, when we see how God has gifted some women as incredible teachers and leaders might it suggest that maybe our understanding of certain biblical passages is wrong?

A Final Thought…

Peter underwent a conversion because he was open enough to know he could be wrong and needed to reconsider what he believed about what God is up to. We know the results, the gospel expanded to the Gentiles and Christianity began to differentiate itself as an entirely new movement rather than just another Jewish sect. Right now any local churches find themselves at a pivotal point, facing decline and wondering where God is leading them next. The real question is whether or not we are open enough to be surprised as to where God is leading or will we simply insist on not eating anything unclean?

Hope Remains!

Aunt PatThis past Wednesday my Aunt Pat, who is pictured on the left, took her last breath in this life. Having battled cancer for the last couple years of her life, her suffering finally came to an end. That is another way of saying that although my aunt will be very missed, her death is a relief in some manner as she is no longer having to endure the pain and suffering that usually comes with the final stage of cancer.

I don’t want to be misunderstood about death. Death is a terrible thing. Whether it comes at the end of a very long and beautiful life or it comes prematurely through tragic circumstances such as violence, disease, etc… death is still something that should grieve us. Death has grieved me and still does, from the day when I was twenty-two years old and watched my dad, who had cancer too, take his last breath, to the day when my first son, Kenny, unexpectedly died and a year after that when my younger brother tragically died. Death stings and hurts because once someone we love is gone, they’re gone.

Death also grieves God who created life to flourish rather than perish. So when we turn on the news and hear of people who were violently killed in an Orlando nightclub, or in some school like Sandy Hook Elementary, or at a movie theatre in Auroa, or even in foreign countries like the Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi Kenya, God is grieved. It matters not what the victims religious beliefs were or what sort of moral lifestyle they lived, these are people created in the image of God and loved by God.

In this world of death which is also filled with much hatred and violence, it is tempting to become cynical. It’s tempting to throw our hands in the air as though life is hopeless. But I refuse such cynicism because I believe that God has become a human like us in the person of Jesus Christ and that in the coming of Jesus, God is reconciling all things through Jesus who was crucified and raised victoriously from death (Col 2:19-20). I believe there is a day coming when Jesus will come again and make all things new, a day when the new heaven and new earth will be one and death will be no more (Rev 21:1, 4-5).

So even as death seems all around us, hope remains! Until the day when Jesus returns or the day when I take my last breath, which I hope is not any time soon, and I rest in Christ while awaiting his return, I will live with faith(fullness), love, and hope (1 Thess 5:8). Let’s seek peace with each other, loving our neighbors and even our enemies, forgiving others as God forgives us, grieving with those who are grieving, and let the Spirit of God sanctify us that we may live with faith, love, and hope.

Here is a video of the choral group singing the hymn Be Still, My Soul, which I listen too frequently. I first heard this hymn when I was struggling to make sense of life and maintain my faith after the death of my son and younger brother. This hymn speaks gives voice to the grief and pain of suffering as well as the hope that encourages faith.

Christians… What’s Next?

It was during the mid-afternoon this past Sunday when I heard the horrific news of yet another mass-shooting taking place in Orlando. Fifty people who bear the same image of God that you and I bear are now dead, with many others wounded and traumatized. Just a couple hours before I was speaking to a church about being people of peace and reconciliation. But now I feel the dissonance between being a people of peace and reconciliation among such hatred and violence because part of me knows that Christians in America are not really perceived as people of peace and reconciliation.

Whenever such macabre violence takes place, there is always a response. We want to voice our frustration as well as show our solidarity with the victims. But what next? Whenever mass-shootings occur there are a lot of other questions  raised. What do we do about gun violence? Mental health screening? Terrorism? And on and on the questions go. These questions bring out the best and worst of society, which is all available for instantaneous access through social-media. For some of the best responses, we have learned of some Muslims who gathered in prayer for the victims. It has also been reported that several Chick-fil A restaurants, founded by Christians who have infused Christian ideals into their business, in Orlando opened their restaurants to serve food to those lining up to donate blood.

But then there’s the ugliness, revealing questions how much animosity, discrimination, and self-interest above the interests of others shapes our thinking − Christians included. Not even a day passed and social-media was already filling up with Islamophobia and homophobia. Some of the same old political antagonisms began making their rounds out of fear that our individual rights are at risk, which is ironic considering that those murdered have already lost their rights. In the worst case scenario, there are even some professing Christians that twist the Bible in such perverse ways, like this Sacramento Baptist Pastor, that they praise evil as good.

Something is very wrong when our Christianity sounds more like American politics, Pharisaical judgmentalism, and anything else other than Jesus! And somethings got to change.

Most Christians I know want a society that reflects the values of Christianity. Fair enough. But know this… We can sing God Bless America to our hearts content and invoke the name of God in public discourse but that won’t do diddly squat. The mentioning of God in public doesn’t make a society Christian anymore than wearing a Stetson Western Hat makes one a cowboy. Change happens as we embody the gospel as our living faith, our way of life and that happens by first realizing that our way of life should reflect the life Jesus Christ lived himself. And if we want a “Christian” society, that is a society where there is love rather than hatred, peace rather than violence, reconciliation rather than division, etc… the presence of the kingdom of God, then it is upon Christians to show the way!

The apostle Paul desired that Christ would be formed in us because God’s redemptive goal is that we become conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19). Our formation in Christ must change and reimagine for us what it means to be Christian, how we read the Bible, and how we act as living embodiments of the gospel. If our understanding of Christianity, the way we read the Bible, and how we live does not resemble the life Jesus Christ lived, then we are wrong. This isn’t a call to perfectionism but a call to become the people Jesus gave his own life for us to be, and to stop trying to justify versions of Christianity that sound more like America or the Pharisees than Jesus Christ.

I don’t have the answers for how the Federal and State Governments should deal with the issues of violence, terrorism, and many other relevant issues. I really sure that I don’t have all the answers as to how embodying the gospel works itself out with every different issue. But I am sure that America doesn’t need you and I or any other Christians to argue about who should be the next President, how to address gun violence or terrorism, and so forth. What America does need, whether the nation knows it or not, is for us who are Christians to be Christians all the more and be, as local churches, living embodiments of the gospel demonstrating why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. Let’s do this!