Engaging the World With the Life of Christ

I noticed some of you were a bit concerned by the John Fischer quote, of a couple of blogs ago. This may tweak some of you even further. That’s not my desire, most people recognize how irrelevant the message of the gospel has become in our world, and I think Fischer’s article strikes at the heart of why that’s true. We have tried to fix the world, not demonstrate the Father’s love into their lostness.

First let me say that my view of loving a lost world never involves accepting their sinful behavior. How could it? Love always speaks the truth, but it does so in an environment where truth has the best opportunity to be heard. Jesus was gentle with sinners. His harshest words were directed at those captive to religious arrogance. He had the amazing ability to love people without confusing them that he was condoning their behavior. As we learn to love like him we will to.

Second, my comment about those thinking of November elections as a Christian victory was not a shot at Bush, but a response to the recent Time article identifying the 25 ‘evangelical leaders’ lining up at the trough of quid pro quo politics to reap the rewards they feel the Bush White House owes them for their political support. My point was that we can get every law passed that we want and still not engage this world with the reality of Father’s kingdom. It doesn’t come by law or by politics but by the demonstration of his reality through lives who have been transformed by his nature. I am not against people working for better laws, but I have great concern about those who wrap their political agendas in the name of Jesus who do not demonstrate the least bit of his nature in their own lives.

I’ll offer you two more quotes by Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz that bear on this discussion. While I’m not any more nuts about the term ‘Christian spirituality’ than I am ‘Christianity’, I share his aversion to identify with a term that has become so politically charged its meaning has been robbed. We’re not being called ‘Christians’ today because we look like Christ in the world, but because we’ve joined a group that uses that term to describe our religion. Anyway, here they are:

For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained. Christianity, unlike Christian spirituality, was not a term that excited me. And I could not in good conscious tell a friend about a faith that didn’t excite me. I couldn’t share something I wasn’t experiencing, And I wasn’t experiencing Christianity. It didn’t do anything for me at all. It felt like math, like a system of rights and wrongs and political beliefs, but it wasn’t mysterious; it wasn’t God reaching out of heaven to do wonderful things in my life. And if I would have shared Christianity with somebody, it would have felt mostly like I was trying to get somebody to agree with me rather than meet God. I could no longer share anything about Christianity, but I loved talking about Jesus and the spirituality that goes along with a relationship with him.

Tony the Beat Poet says the church is like a wounded animal these days. He says we used to have power and influence, but now we don’t, and so many of our leaders are upset about this and acting like spoiled children, mad because they can’t have their way. They disguise their actions to look as though they are standing on principle, but it isn’t that, Tony says, it’s bitterness. They want to take their ball and go home because they have to sit the bench. Tony and I agreed that what God wants us to do is sit the bench in humility and turn the other cheek… We decided that the correct place to share our faith was from a place of humility and love, not from a desire for power.

I know this last quote is not true of all believers looking to influence public policy, but it certainly looks this way for most of them that make the talk-show rounds or pontificate from their own TV pulpit.

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22 Comments
  1. Kent Burgess February 18, 2005 at 9:18 pm

    I think Wayne makes a good point here. I have to admit I still feel troubled today about politics even with a more friendly President to the things I hold dear. I’m left back at the same place I often find myself, feeling not at all at home in the political party I align myself with. I’m longing to find where Father wants me and how to relate to and engage the culture I live in with his love. I find myself today more at home with those that are limping through life trying to find their way than I do anywhere else. Maybe Father is at work here. If home is where the heart is maybe he is taking this religious heart apart and rebuilding it with a humility and compassion for the world. Father, please make it so.

  2. J February 18, 2005 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you for your clarification about the previous blog. You are right about the fact that in the world’s eyes we are just another religion instead of followers of Christ. Not only does the world feel that we are just as relative as the other world religions, but some "Christians" feel this way too.

    Another problem is the politics of "Christianity". So many with their own agendas are trying to be the spokesperson of Christ, when in fact they only speak for their constituents. Jesus had no other agenda other than the Father’s.

    As far as your comment about getting every law passed we desire and still not advance Father’s Kingdom, you are correct. We can too easliy get caught up in the belief that if we could only get a Supreme Court justice that espouses our views then America would be a better place. Although it would be nice to get a believer on the bench, only a relationship with God will change the heart of America, and unfortunately America seems far from ready for that.

    As believers, we must obviously stand up for Truth, but the truth of the matter is, we desperately need Jesus. We need community with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    —J

  3. Kent Burgess February 19, 2005 at 12:18 am

    I think Wayne makes a good point here. I have to admit I still feel troubled today about politics even with a more friendly President to the things I hold dear. I’m left back at the same place I often find myself, feeling not at all at home in the political party I align myself with. I’m longing to find where Father wants me and how to relate to and engage the culture I live in with his love. I find myself today more at home with those that are limping through life trying to find their way than I do anywhere else. Maybe Father is at work here. If home is where the heart is maybe he is taking this religious heart apart and rebuilding it with a humility and compassion for the world. Father, please make it so.

  4. J February 19, 2005 at 12:19 am

    Thank you for your clarification about the previous blog. You are right about the fact that in the world’s eyes we are just another religion instead of followers of Christ. Not only does the world feel that we are just as relative as the other world religions, but some "Christians" feel this way too.

    Another problem is the politics of "Christianity". So many with their own agendas are trying to be the spokesperson of Christ, when in fact they only speak for their constituents. Jesus had no other agenda other than the Father’s.

    As far as your comment about getting every law passed we desire and still not advance Father’s Kingdom, you are correct. We can too easliy get caught up in the belief that if we could only get a Supreme Court justice that espouses our views then America would be a better place. Although it would be nice to get a believer on the bench, only a relationship with God will change the heart of America, and unfortunately America seems far from ready for that.

    As believers, we must obviously stand up for Truth, but the truth of the matter is, we desperately need Jesus. We need community with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    —J

  5. Diane February 19, 2005 at 9:17 am

    The Kingdom of God is a political entity ruled by King Jesus (Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2; Luke 23:2; John 18:37) and the law of love (Gal 5:13, 14). Since that law is not of this world it makes the Kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God (Eph 2:19) living under the law of love, which also makes them in world but not of it (John 17:15, 16).

    In the first century, to say that Jesus was Lord was a very political statement because it challenged the claim that Caesar was Lord. In twenty-first century America, to say that Jesus is King challenges the claim of democracy that the people rule.

    Being a Christian makes one a political dissident. Understanding that, I believe, is the first step understanding what one’s political affiliations and actions are to be.

  6. Kent Burgess February 19, 2005 at 10:35 am

    Diane, try to explain in more detail your last statement. What do you think your actions should be? How does that belief work itself out in society? I’m not questioning your statement at all, I’m just interested in hearing how it translates into your life and where you feel you fit as a citizen of the Kingdom of God in the world?

  7. Diane February 19, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    The Kingdom of God is a political entity ruled by King Jesus (Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2; Luke 23:2; John 18:37) and the law of love (Gal 5:13, 14). Since that law is not of this world it makes the Kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God (Eph 2:19) living under the law of love, which also makes them in world but not of it (John 17:15, 16).

    In the first century, to say that Jesus was Lord was a very political statement because it challenged the claim that Caesar was Lord. In twenty-first century America, to say that Jesus is King challenges the claim of democracy that the people rule.

    Being a Christian makes one a political dissident. Understanding that, I believe, is the first step understanding what one’s political affiliations and actions are to be.

  8. Kent Burgess February 19, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    Diane, try to explain in more detail your last statement. What do you think your actions should be? How does that belief work itself out in society? I’m not questioning your statement at all, I’m just interested in hearing how it translates into your life and where you feel you fit as a citizen of the Kingdom of God in the world?

  9. Diane February 20, 2005 at 7:40 am

    Kent, I think I understand what you’re asking and I will try to give some of the specifics for me, but each individual and each community needs to do their own interacting with Scripture and work out the specifics for their lives.

    First and foremost I do a lot of studying to grow in understanding of who Jesus is within the overall narrative in the Bible. I see myself as an ambassador of the Kingdom and so I am not registered to vote because ambassadors do not vote in their host country. When questioned as a possible juror I’ve been excused because my criteria for judging aren’t acceptable. Since I know that Jesus was resurrected, will be returning to earth in his resurrected body and that all who are in him will return with him in their resurrected bodies, I know that I am to follow him in non violence. I am able to live at peace with everyone, though not everyone is willing to live at peace with me. As led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I am free to give aid and comfort to all who will receive it.

  10. Diane February 20, 2005 at 10:40 am

    Kent, I think I understand what you’re asking and I will try to give some of the specifics for me, but each individual and each community needs to do their own interacting with Scripture and work out the specifics for their lives.

    First and foremost I do a lot of studying to grow in understanding of who Jesus is within the overall narrative in the Bible. I see myself as an ambassador of the Kingdom and so I am not registered to vote because ambassadors do not vote in their host country. When questioned as a possible juror I’ve been excused because my criteria for judging aren’t acceptable. Since I know that Jesus was resurrected, will be returning to earth in his resurrected body and that all who are in him will return with him in their resurrected bodies, I know that I am to follow him in non violence. I am able to live at peace with everyone, though not everyone is willing to live at peace with me. As led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I am free to give aid and comfort to all who will receive it.

  11. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 4:53 am

    I just read this today and thought I would post it here to be read in response to some of what we have been talking about. Perception is everything in the sense that it causes people to respond in a certain way regardless of their being right or wrong. The worlds perception is that America sees itself as a holy nation yet they see something else. We in the church know America isn’t a holy nation. What should the church in America response be to this sort of thing?

    The least of these

    Here’s Bono in yesterday’s New York Times commenting on Bush’s trip to Europe. He depicts aid to Africa as something these arguing continents can agree on, and must agree on, and as part of that he makes this comment about European reaction to American pieties: [Bush needs to] clear up some confusion about America’s basic beliefs. Americans are overtly devout. And yet Europeans, who inhabit a more secular world, give more per capita than Americans to what the Bible calls "the least of these" – the world’s poor. The United States is in 22nd place, last in the class of donor nations. (Add private philanthropy and it’s up to 15th.) Europeans see the discrepancy, and they smell hypocrisy.

    Bono is, of course, European, so he would know how they think. But I can back it up: I was doing some extended visiting with many Christians, all of whom would have called themselves evangelical, in more than one non-English-speaking country on the continent around election season last year. I read a poll in the major French evangelical magazine in which about 70% of their readership answered "Do you believe that Bush is sincere in his profession of Christian faith?" no. I participated (and not of my own initiative) in multiple conversations about this topic in evangelical churches, Bible studies, and in the backs of vans, and they all had the same consensus: No one whose policies treat the needy (and/or the environment) the way Bush’s do could possibly be a disciple of Christ.

    Please hear me that I’m not trying to have a conversation about this topic here. Please. This blog has both Republican and Democratic readers, and the Americans here will understand clearly how Bush’s Christianity, for a very large group of American believers, looks self-evident and typical. (Even Bono goes on to show that he understands that many Americans think about these issues quite differently then Europeans.) So I very much do not want to see a comment thread start on the premise "But I love Bush!" or "I don’t!" I’m posting this just because I found it very interesting that Bono chooses to attack on that point: Do you Americans know being last in foreign aid makes your faith look ridiculous to us over here? And even to those who on every other point share Bush’s evangelical Christian commitments?

  12. Kevin February 21, 2005 at 6:10 am

    Kent:

    Let me respond to that as I had a discussion with my sister-in-law about that very topic recently.

    We’re both believers. She’s a liberal Democrat while I’m a conservative Republican. I say Democrat and Republican only in the sense that we typically vote for the person of that party.

    She thinks our government should do more with respect to aid. I think our government should do less.

    Am I not compassionate because of that? Am I hypocritical? No, not at all. Let me explain. It comes down to what one views the role of government is.

    As a conservative, I believe in limited government and a strict interpretation of our constitution. Our government does not produce anything and can only give aid to other countries or internally from what it takes via taxes from the American people. Most Conservatives would agree with that.

    About the only thing I think our government should be doing is encouraging private involvement. I could go into much deeper and stonger arguments than that but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Now as an individual, I, our president, and everyone else are free to do what God has laid on our hearts to do with respect to charitable deeds.

    As I mentioned, my sister-in-law disagrees with this positionand believes it’s government’s role to fix these issues. We’ve agreed to disagree. Not about being charitable, but about what government’s fundamental purpose is.

    I’ll add just one more thing. We all know what happens the larger institutions grow and the more power they get. 🙂 There’s no difference between the "church" and "government" in this respect. When you think about it from this perspective maybe you can understand why conservatives favor a very limited central government.

    Control and power should be limited and decentralized as much as possible in my opinion.

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  13. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 6:26 am

    Kevin, I don’t think that says anything as to the perception issue with the world though. I would fall more to your side politically but with that being said if God’s people are to care for the poor in the world and as the article reveals not only does the secular European believe but appearently the believing European also believes or at least perceives that the christian community and the government are one in the same voice or they wouldn’t see it as hypocracy. How should the believing community here in the States try to address the issue? Should we care what others think? Does it affect our ability to have positive change for the Kingdom of God in the world and it’s advancement? I’m just trying to work these things out. I think the dialogue is one the church in America needs to take seriously.

  14. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 7:53 am

    I just read this today and thought I would post it here to be read in response to some of what we have been talking about. Perception is everything in the sense that it causes people to respond in a certain way regardless of their being right or wrong. The worlds perception is that America sees itself as a holy nation yet they see something else. We in the church know America isn’t a holy nation. What should the church in America response be to this sort of thing?

    The least of these

    Here’s Bono in yesterday’s New York Times commenting on Bush’s trip to Europe. He depicts aid to Africa as something these arguing continents can agree on, and must agree on, and as part of that he makes this comment about European reaction to American pieties: [Bush needs to] clear up some confusion about America’s basic beliefs. Americans are overtly devout. And yet Europeans, who inhabit a more secular world, give more per capita than Americans to what the Bible calls "the least of these" – the world’s poor. The United States is in 22nd place, last in the class of donor nations. (Add private philanthropy and it’s up to 15th.) Europeans see the discrepancy, and they smell hypocrisy.

    Bono is, of course, European, so he would know how they think. But I can back it up: I was doing some extended visiting with many Christians, all of whom would have called themselves evangelical, in more than one non-English-speaking country on the continent around election season last year. I read a poll in the major French evangelical magazine in which about 70% of their readership answered "Do you believe that Bush is sincere in his profession of Christian faith?" no. I participated (and not of my own initiative) in multiple conversations about this topic in evangelical churches, Bible studies, and in the backs of vans, and they all had the same consensus: No one whose policies treat the needy (and/or the environment) the way Bush’s do could possibly be a disciple of Christ.

    Please hear me that I’m not trying to have a conversation about this topic here. Please. This blog has both Republican and Democratic readers, and the Americans here will understand clearly how Bush’s Christianity, for a very large group of American believers, looks self-evident and typical. (Even Bono goes on to show that he understands that many Americans think about these issues quite differently then Europeans.) So I very much do not want to see a comment thread start on the premise "But I love Bush!" or "I don’t!" I’m posting this just because I found it very interesting that Bono chooses to attack on that point: Do you Americans know being last in foreign aid makes your faith look ridiculous to us over here? And even to those who on every other point share Bush’s evangelical Christian commitments?

  15. Kevin February 21, 2005 at 8:53 am

    Now I see your point.

    So people look at the christian community and the government as one and the same voice. Hmmmm…my belief about the role of government never allowed for that possibility…but now that you mention it, I understand.

    Those are very good and tough questions you posed. I haven’t thought about them deeply enough to have any solid convictions.

    My initial inclination is to always fight for limited governement and educate people on what I believe to be God’s purpose for the institution. Along with that we should encourage ourselves as children of another kingdom to live under that kingdom’s rule.

    I’ll give your questions some thought though. Let me know where you go on this as you try and work these things out. This is an issue that I have to deal with daily as I work with many people who are media would call the "christian right".

    We can take it offline if you like. I can be reached via email at "tupper kevin [NoSpam] @ hotmail . com". Just remove the spaces and the [NoSpam].

    – Kevin

  16. Kevin February 21, 2005 at 9:10 am

    Kent:

    Let me respond to that as I had a discussion with my sister-in-law about that very topic recently.

    We’re both believers. She’s a liberal Democrat while I’m a conservative Republican. I say Democrat and Republican only in the sense that we typically vote for the person of that party.

    She thinks our government should do more with respect to aid. I think our government should do less.

    Am I not compassionate because of that? Am I hypocritical? No, not at all. Let me explain. It comes down to what one views the role of government is.

    As a conservative, I believe in limited government and a strict interpretation of our constitution. Our government does not produce anything and can only give aid to other countries or internally from what it takes via taxes from the American people. Most Conservatives would agree with that.

    About the only thing I think our government should be doing is encouraging private involvement. I could go into much deeper and stonger arguments than that but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Now as an individual, I, our president, and everyone else are free to do what God has laid on our hearts to do with respect to charitable deeds.

    As I mentioned, my sister-in-law disagrees with this positionand believes it’s government’s role to fix these issues. We’ve agreed to disagree. Not about being charitable, but about what government’s fundamental purpose is.

    I’ll add just one more thing. We all know what happens the larger institutions grow and the more power they get. 🙂 There’s no difference between the "church" and "government" in this respect. When you think about it from this perspective maybe you can understand why conservatives favor a very limited central government.

    Control and power should be limited and decentralized as much as possible in my opinion.

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  17. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Kevin, I don’t think that says anything as to the perception issue with the world though. I would fall more to your side politically but with that being said if God’s people are to care for the poor in the world and as the article reveals not only does the secular European believe but appearently the believing European also believes or at least perceives that the christian community and the government are one in the same voice or they wouldn’t see it as hypocracy. How should the believing community here in the States try to address the issue? Should we care what others think? Does it affect our ability to have positive change for the Kingdom of God in the world and it’s advancement? I’m just trying to work these things out. I think the dialogue is one the church in America needs to take seriously.

  18. Kevin February 21, 2005 at 11:53 am

    Now I see your point.

    So people look at the christian community and the government as one and the same voice. Hmmmm…my belief about the role of government never allowed for that possibility…but now that you mention it, I understand.

    Those are very good and tough questions you posed. I haven’t thought about them deeply enough to have any solid convictions.

    My initial inclination is to always fight for limited governement and educate people on what I believe to be God’s purpose for the institution. Along with that we should encourage ourselves as children of another kingdom to live under that kingdom’s rule.

    I’ll give your questions some thought though. Let me know where you go on this as you try and work these things out. This is an issue that I have to deal with daily as I work with many people who are media would call the "christian right".

    We can take it offline if you like. I can be reached via email at "tupper kevin [NoSpam] @ hotmail . com". Just remove the spaces and the [NoSpam].

    – Kevin

  19. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Well, Kevin I tried to send this to your email but it didn’t go through, so I will post it here. If anyone has any insight please join in.

    Kevin, I would love to try to work these things out with some folks. Today I really don’t know where to start. I’m just trying to work through where Father is in all this stuff. On one hand I feel I have a civic duty to participate and yet I find myself with both parties troubled by things that seem not to fit in my walk with God and being His representitive here in the world. The one thing I know is our government is not a part of the Kingdom of God. It is a part of the world system. That probably is the point alot of my problems come from. Why am I trying to prop up a system that is not in submission to the All Mighty? Here is another catch, I LOVE MY FREEDOM!!!!! I’m thankful I live here instead of somewhere else. Isn’t it worth standing up for????? But the way we stand up to defend it opens up another can of worms, doesn’t it? How much of our conversation is filtered through politics when it should be Kingdom focused? Like I said, I don’t have the answers. Only questions. I’m crying out for Father to show the way.

    Kent

  20. Diane February 21, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    Kent, those are great questions! Have you read anything by N.T. Wright? Reading Wright has helped me come to a better understanding of what God’s overall plans are and that has helped me in working out these kinds of things for my life. A lot of stuff by Wright is posted at http://www.ntwrightpage.com

  21. Kent Burgess February 21, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    Well, Kevin I tried to send this to your email but it didn’t go through, so I will post it here. If anyone has any insight please join in.

    Kevin, I would love to try to work these things out with some folks. Today I really don’t know where to start. I’m just trying to work through where Father is in all this stuff. On one hand I feel I have a civic duty to participate and yet I find myself with both parties troubled by things that seem not to fit in my walk with God and being His representitive here in the world. The one thing I know is our government is not a part of the Kingdom of God. It is a part of the world system. That probably is the point alot of my problems come from. Why am I trying to prop up a system that is not in submission to the All Mighty? Here is another catch, I LOVE MY FREEDOM!!!!! I’m thankful I live here instead of somewhere else. Isn’t it worth standing up for????? But the way we stand up to defend it opens up another can of worms, doesn’t it? How much of our conversation is filtered through politics when it should be Kingdom focused? Like I said, I don’t have the answers. Only questions. I’m crying out for Father to show the way.

    Kent

  22. Diane February 21, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Kent, those are great questions! Have you read anything by N.T. Wright? Reading Wright has helped me come to a better understanding of what God’s overall plans are and that has helped me in working out these kinds of things for my life. A lot of stuff by Wright is posted at http://www.ntwrightpage.com

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