Posts Tagged 'Characteristics of Believers'

Discounted Citizenship

Did you know that as Christians our true citizenship is in heaven?  Philippians 3:20-21, states “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” What, exactly, does this mean? And do we act like we really believe it? How should we act if we really believe it? I think it goes to our allegiance.

The Lord keeps putting this notion in my mind as a reminder that my true allegiance is first and foremost eternal, to heaven and my King and Lord, and not to the USA, England, China or any other earthly nation, power, or human. It’s not that these other things can’t get and keep my attention; it’s just that when it comes to all things, my first thought needs to be, “How does this play out in the Kingdom of God?” That is my true heritage, and so I must always try to keep it intact.

Nevertheless, when followers of Jesus put other things – like their “patriotism” – ahead of heaven, they discount their true heritage and citizenship and they dishonor their Lord. This also happens when they mix up their true heritage with other worldly things, like notions that are part of “Christian nationalism” or politics.

Indeed, as followers of Jesus, our eternal citizenship is far more powerful than any earthly citizenship. That’s because we’re not only citizens of heaven, we’re literal heirs to God’s Kingdom. Paul wrote this often, such as to the Galatians (3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”), and to the Romans (8:16-17, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”).  If you were an actual heir to an earthly kingdom, such as Great Britain, would you even consider being citizen of some other worldly place? No way! Being an heir is far more powerful than simply having citizenship. So, if we know and believe we are also heirs to the Kingdom of God, why would we align or put our allegiance anywhere else? Well, we wouldn’t. And we shouldn’t.

Still, during this past year I’ve seen a rise in the United States of what many people are calling “Christian nationalism” – or, as Tim and I call it, “political Christians,” meaning people who identify a particular political party with Christianity or who have generally allowed politics to get all mixed up in their theology. In short, they’re putting their allegiance somewhere beside the place of their true citizenship – the Kingdom of God.

We’ve written about this dangerous way of thinking before, and it appears to be uniquely American. Only in our country do some of us believe that WE, the people, have to vote a certain way and pray the right man into leadership, and that if he doesn’t win it is a “stolen election,” against God’s will, and driven by Satan. This isn’t only dangerous to the democracy in the USA, it’s also discounting the Truth of the Word of God. As Tim and I have often written before, if you think God is so weak that He needs you to vote a particular way for Him to achieve his ends, then – at the very least – you don’t believe in the complete sovereignty of God, which is a central tenet of what we all proclaim to believe as Christians. Noted Christian apologist, R.C. Sproul, was fairly harsh on this matter; to him, if someone didn’t believe in God’s sovereignty in all things, he was likely to call them an atheist. Now, this was mostly an outrageous statement designed to get people’s attention. But, to Sproul, questions about God’s sovereignty didn’t distinguish between, say, Christians and Muslims or between one Christian denomination with another. They distinguished between theists and atheists. Ouch.

Of course, all this leads to a more refined discussion on free will, prayer, and other complicated notions like determinism, but that’s left for another day. My point on this day is that whenever you discount something as fundamental as the sovereignty of God, you also discount your own citizenship in His Kingdom, which should have led you to trust in God all along. You do so especially when you show an allegiance to some other entity or philosophy vying for your “citizenship,” such as a political party. Our true citizenship is eternal and heavenly, and in that realm (and, indeed, in this, His created realm) God needs no help whatsoever. Knowing that, why would you ever shift your allegiance?

But I see people mixing their citizenships and shifting allegiances all the time. Recently, I had an encounter with a neighbor while I was gardening in front of my house. Usually, when I meet someone, I always try to test the Spiritual waters of that person, and so I often mention God, Jesus, or Christianity in passing. This time, the person actually said, “Oh good, you’re a Christian. There are a bunch of us at the end of the block and we’re all Republicans, too.” Stop! Did you notice that? A complete mixing of theology and politics.

I was immediately disturbed. First, I was disturbed for her to associate a particular political party to Christianity – indeed, to the exclusion of other people (parties) like Democrats and Independents. Jesus was Not political and, indeed, his apolitical ways were one reason why the religious leaders of his day wanted to arrest him as he appeared a clear threat to their own political power and way of life. But, second, I was disturbed because I think it signaled that she had discounted her heavenly citizenship. She was shifting her allegiance right before my eyes.  

The fact is that having an eternal, heavenly citizenship is bound to lead to being a bit of an outcast to everyone else in the world. If you truly believe you are an heir to God’s Kingdom, then you’ll probably be both disappointed and encouraged (and thus, likely be both correcting and praising) various aspects and positions of all political parties. If those positions don’t line up with the Bible, then they simply aren’t a part of the place to which you enjoy citizenship and, indeed, are an heir.

You may recall that Jesus admonished and rebuked the religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, for taking Gods’ word and applying it in an overly-humanistic and religious manner, while forgetting what the intention of the word was in the first place.  Specifically, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for parading themselves in ostentatious clothing, demanding to be addressed by titles, and requiring the best seats at banquets. He called them out for hypocrisy and lying. Sound familiar? How many of our “Christian” leaders are just searching for recognition, forever trying to be photographed with some important person, and hoping to find a platform where many people can see them (and, of course, pay them). The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the political religious leaders. Aligned with Rome, they had a tremendous amount of political power that they used to accommodate the Romans in maintaining the status quo. They had their hands in everything going on in the temple, and they displayed alarm at Jesus’ ministry. Sound familiar? How many of our “Christian” leaders are overtly political, bound up in the workings of government? How many issue prophesies over elections? Indeed, how many would be alarmed at a ministry like that of Jesus were it to surface today?

It may be that these earlier groups didn’t really understand why Jesus rebuked them. They likely thought they were doing everything right by following their own notions of Jewish law and the realities of Roman rule. But they’d never seen anything like Jesus. He was like some sort of alien. His citizenship was eternal. His allegiance was to the Kingdom.   

My question to us today is, where is our true citizenship?  Where do our hearts reside?  We’re either 100% Christian and citizens of heaven or we’re not. Accordingly, we must remember our allegiance, and must never discount our true citizenship by even one percent.

Complicity of the Church Today

There is complicity among large parts of the Christian Church (not my particular church, the church as a whole) in the events of January 6th insurgency at the Capitol of the United States. To illustrate this, I want to focus both on the fact that Jeremiah Johnson, a Christian leader and self-proclaimed “prophet,” recently decided to apologize for his role in making people think that their Christian ideals should be sacrificed for a political candidate as well as on the Christian “response” to that apology.  

As you may know, when Donald Trump won the Presidency, he was embraced (to an almost unnatural level) by mostly white, evangelical, Christian churches. Leaders from those churches solemnly yet gleefully stood with hands on the President, saying he was chosen by God to lead America to a revival of holiness. Slowly, the gospel of Trump was preached in church buildings across our country, and it was fully embraced as some sort of divine will – like an addendum to the Bible – by the Republican Party. One prominent Republican actually told Trump that he was “the chosen one,” apparently meaning at least that God had picked him to lead America into revival, and that no earthly event could reverse that decision.  

Throughout the term, these churches became more obvious in their idolatry of a political candidate over the person they claimed to worship, Jesus. On many occasions, I tried to point out how they were showing both bad theology and a hypocrisy that was actually deterring people from seeking God. As 2020 neared, though, they became only more brazen.

Indeed, as 2020 neared, many of these leaders “prophesied,” saying that they were told by God that Trump would win again to finish the job. Some were very specific, providing exact dates and saying that he would win by a landslide. I’ve seen lists of as many as 50 of them. Jeremiah Johnson was one of them.

Accordingly, after Trump lost, people (including me) were hoping these so-called prophets would repent and apologize for being wrong. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do – even the prophets know that. But only one did, and even he withdrew his apology due to political pressure from his own congregation.

All of the others kept saying, “Just you wait,” “It isn’t over yet,” and “You need to keep praying so that God will show his mighty hand against these evildoers (meaning, I suppose, people who didn’t believe the election was stolen).” Some prophets began to backpedal, saying that maybe God didn’t mean Trump would win this time – maybe he would win next time, in 2024. Others began to re-define their terms, like saying that the “landslide” they mentioned was a landslide of evidence that would eventually show fraud in the election. All of this was being broadcast, announced, and otherwise posted to Christians across America right up until January 6.

After the January 6 insurrection (and it was an insurrection by any definition, but especially as it is used in the federal criminal code), Jeremiah Johnson decided to repent, apologize, and warn Christians to repent of their own idolatry of Trump. Sure, it would have been nice if he had done it earlier, but I chalk that up to him not completely understanding how the political process and the law work. Nevertheless, he wrote: “I would like to repent for inaccurately prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as the President of the United States. I refuse to blame the saints and say, ‘It didn’t come to pass because they did not pray enough.’ Nor will I proclaim, ‘Donald Trump actually won, so I was right, but now it has been stolen from him.’”  

Okay, I can get behind that. And you’d think a healthy Christian church would understand the need to apologize and repent.

Yet, a mere three days after his apology, he had to write, “Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry.”

To his credit, Johnson wrote: “If I helped to prop up this ideology concerning [Trump], I will need to repent again and stir up even more hell.”

Start repenting again, Jeremiah, because you did.

But you so-called Christians who threatened Johnson and said all those vulgar things to him need to repent as well. Maybe you were misled by people like Johnson, but that’s no excuse.

The reason that the “Christian” church of which I am a member is fully complicit in causing a treasonous insurrection against our Constitutional system is because it’s allowed politics to become dangerously intertwined with its theology. You can tell it’s true by merely looking at the pictures of the riot, which seemingly has equal numbers of Trump and Jesus or God flags flying above the chaos. It’s clear now that in many places in America, the church’s teachings are flawed, its theology is wrong, and its use of the term “evangelical” is laughable due to its actions, which are actually driving people away from God and the Bible. And we’re able to point to a clear culprit, which is politics.

The church is obviously split, because I (and others) railed against it for the last four years.  It’s time for the church (the body of Christians) to repent for sin and idolatry and come back into healthy and theologically correct teaching.  And it’s time for church members to kindly guide their church leaders toward a more biblical view of life and the world. If your pastor or church leader is preaching a primarily political message – subtly or overtly – without teaching our role as followers of Jesus as aliens in the natural world, then confront him or her for their own good. If they refuse to respond, then leave and find a church leader preaching/teaching the True Word of God and worshipping Jesus alone.

Note: After I drafted this, Sid Roth (It’s Supernatural) also “apologized,” but it was actually more of a justification than an apology. Moreover, despite seemingly understanding his error, he still couldn’t help himself from making overt political statements. There are good and true prophets out there, but you’ve got to use your discernment to find them.

Illumination and Separation

Our pastor started off this year by announcing that it would be a year of “shaking.” Man, he was right. It’s also been a year of illumination and separation, especially in the church. Some of it hasn’t been pretty.

I imagine some churches are acting exactly like a church Denise and I know about here in Denver. We had gone to this church a couple of times, but we stopped when people began inserting gratuitous political messages into the services. No big deal; we’ve always belonged to Colorado Christian Fellowship, and even though we visit other places, we always have a home there, where the Truth of God is always foremost in the message. Our pastor has been pretty clear that as Christians we are aliens in the world and will undoubtedly find fault with any political party if we look hard enough.

Nevertheless, we had occasionally kept up on this other church to see what it was up to. Well, we noticed in October the church had suddenly stopped doing in-person services, opting to stream online instead. If you scan the various messages in October, you find out that the reason was because several of the staff and congregation had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, the pastor there said the closure was due to his desire to keep everyone safe. Okay, so far so good. There is absolutely no reason that “church” has to be held in a building. Our pastor has been live-streaming since the whole thing began, and we’ve only grown larger as a congregation.

Then – quite suddenly after the election – everything in that other church changed. Despite having closed due to the virus in the church, the pastor now blamed the Governor and county officials for creating rules requiring his church to be shut down (in point of fact, the counties really do these things on their own, and it would actually likely be better to have the Governor issue some sort of a statewide rule). He spoke of being “at war” with those who want to keep people from meeting in person. He spoke of “draining the swamp.” He spoke of the “horrible” and “dark time” caused by the “discouraging” and “disappointing” election. He equated not tithing with “looting,” a word thrown around quite frequently in certain political circles and perhaps hinting at a major reason why churches like his balk at closing their doors. Instead of talking about God’s will, he spoke about meetings with his attorneys, the First Amendment, and civil disobedience. The previous justification of “member safety” was lost as blamed others for their situation. I actually saw him laugh while pondering whether his congregation would ever wear a mask, even if they were asked. This had nothing to do with safety. In short, this church went full-on-political.  

And this is the illumination and separation happening in the churches. Some are focused on God, and some are focused on political ramblings. 

No time for any elaboration today, but we’ll soon have more to say about “political Christians” and churches, like the one above, which has decided to incorporate so much political rhetoric into its message. Moreover, in the future we’ll have plenty to say about so-called Christian “prophets,” who claim to speak for God but who focus mostly on politics and – whether right or wrong in their prophesies – drive people away from their search for God. But for now, just realize that church leaders who emphasize a mainly political message, implying, basically, that God somehow can’t do His will without we humans voting a particular way, have no business being church leaders because they have lost sight of an inclusive and supreme God who is at work with us, in us, and for us.   

Dare to Be Different

While traveling in Jerusalem, our tour guide thanked us for showing our love for the Israeli people by visiting Israel and desiring to see the holy sites. He then told a story that touched the center of my heart about observing a group of Christians from Africa parading through Jerusalem with signs that read, “We love you Israel.” During that parade, our guide said that he overheard a young boy saying to his father, “I thought the Christians hated us.” Our guide said that he felt a deep sadness to hear this question, for he, too, was a Christian – a Messianic Jew – with a deep knowledge of Israel’s history and culture. And yet, he became instantly encouraged when he heard the father’s response to his boy, which was, “Son, not all Christians are alike.”

This father was teaching his son to be discerning rather than to lump great groups of people into uniform stereotypes based on often misleading or incomplete knowledge. And the whole narrative runs somewhat counter to the narrative we have seen in the past and that we sometimes still see in America today. In America, until very recently, if you would have told people you were going to see Israel or that you actually “love” Israel, you might have had a great number of secular persons trying to debate with you over Jewish “settlements.” “What’s the deal with Israel?” one person asked me several years ago. “Why does our country support them so much no matter what they do?” More recently, if you say you “love” Israel, they lump you into the category of so-called “political Christians,” who are often people with a shallow knowledge of their own worldview, but with a firm conviction that self-described “evangelical” Christians are politically required to show their love and concern for Israel. Our notions of what it means to love or support Israel – and why we might do it – seem to sway dramatically in even recent winds.

In Israel, however, the concept of time and history is much deeper. The Jewish peoples’ idea of what people think of them comes from thousands of years of often supernatural survival, glossed with an indescribable hatred that can only be understood through the lens of the Bible. Unfortunately, many in the Jewish community believe that Christians do, in fact, hate them, a notion that is not altogether assuaged when one looks at history. Whether it stems from the completely misinterpreted notion that Jews killed Jesus, the evil ramblings of insane tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, or more subtle understandings of White Nationalist tenets that are moored to a deeper, if unstated, hatred of Jews, the idea that Christians are not necessarily in lock step with Jews is always just below the surface.

Accordingly, in this blog I am asking for all of us to develop a deeper understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. In some ways, I’m merely asking for a stronger understanding of the Biblical worldview, which would automatically call us to love all humans, including Jews and those who hate Jews alike. But we must never forget the Biblical history, which clearly shows a nation chosen by God to achieve His ends for all of civilization.

It’s a call to an understanding that can ignore whimsical changes in attitudes based on political power. It’s a call to love everyone, but with full knowledge of the special nature of the Jewish community and Israel now and in the future. But mostly it’s a call to love God and to trust Him when he makes promises to whom he chooses. Are we so vain that we think we can either slow or hasten God’s plan?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, history is replete with misunderstanding and even hatred of the Jews, but that hatred is often the symptom of a larger community disease. So, as in all things, I rely on the teachings of the most famous and influential Jew ever to walk the earth, Jesus Christ. He said, “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

How can we do that? We must continually assess our thoughts and words to keep our hearts, minds, and spirits clean of the kind of hatred too often seen in the world. We must love others, but we must also be certain that the love we share is grounded in the Truth of the Bible and in the Father’s love rather than in some fleeting political notion or worldly desire. We must study the Word, which provides the Truth not only of a people, a nation, and a messiah, but also the Truth of a universal plan designed to save each of us despite our natures.

Most people don’t take the time to develop a worldview that explains the nuances of belief in Jesus. Dare to be different. Dare to dive deep into the faith and develop that worldview. Dig into the Old Testament. Learn about Israel, the Jewish people, and the supernatural story of their existence. Above all else, though, show your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus through your love. Do your part – however small it may seem at the time – to make the statement, “I thought the Christians hated us,” so absurd that no one will utter it ever again.

Are You Awake? Are Your Eyes Open?

We just returned from a blessed dream vacation in Israel for two weeks. I call it a “vacation” even though it was more like an intense college semester abroad. We learned so much, and we connected with the Holy Land in a way that I’m not sure I can even describe (even though I’ll try in future blogs).

Even before I went, though, I’d been praying for revelation on the things happening in our world and here in the USA, and requesting confirmation that my eyes are open and that I’m not blinded by the worldly propaganda I seem to be seeing. Fortunately, I’ve been getting that confirmation, but it only makes my heart ache from seeing the hate and division being sown by so many people, including those professing to be “Christians.” This blog is about “hate,” and the spiritual darkness it causes.

We know that hate has been a big factor in human history since the Fall. And a lot of that hate has been advanced in the name of God. History is replete with wars, disputes, invasions, conquests, etc., by seemingly well-meaning persons hoping to satisfy their own notions of what God wants for the world. Some of these things “done in the name of religion” are what caused me, ultimately, to refrain from using the word Christian at all. Too much worldly baggage. I use “follower of Jesus” instead.

Through biblical history we see people’s insecurities and imperfections flare up when they’re challenged for their beliefs, and I see a lot of that as a root of the hatefulness in our world today. Importantly, I also see how the enemy is blinding people – using what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” which is a powerful motivator for fueling nascent belief. In short, people seek to confirm the beliefs they already have to avoid cognitive dissonance, which causes even physical discomfort. Confirmation of the Truth can be a very good thing, but knowing the Truth of God often means having a fully developed theological worldview, and I’m not sure a lot of followers of Jesus have that to begin with. People will try to confirm what they believe, but if their belief of the Truths of the Bible is only superficial, they will, instead, confirm notions that occasionally (or even often) go against a biblical worldview. This includes hateful notions, and this makes the whole thing very dangerous. In the world, confirmation of hateful notions has led to all sorts of desensitization and horrible atrocities.

In writing to a group of believers, John reminded them of the slippery path toward spiritual blindness caused by hate when he said, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister] is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” (1 John 2:9-11). Notice the temporal progression: hate causes darkness, and then the darkness causes people to stumble.

And remember, too, that as with all sinful behavior, Jesus set the bar so that we would not be able to justify small or “insignificant” amounts of hatred; even what we might consider miniscule amounts of hate – going even to our thoughts – is sinful to a perfectly loving and righteous God. Indeed, as in other places in Scripture, Jesus corrected our notions of sin by articulating this new bar. For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Love your enemies? Be perfect? Yes, indeed. That’s the bar Jesus set to keep us out of the darkness.

So, in my opinion, just a little bit of hate from a follower of Jesus – such as a random post on Facebook, screaming at another driver, or even wicked thoughts – has the potential to create spiritual darkness, which then causes him or her to stumble further on a myriad of theological tenets. Is it any wonder that a follower might quote the Old Testament out of context when he or she has been blinded by his or her own hateful thoughts? Indeed, is it any wonder that followers might do or say anything unbiblical when even seemingly small instances of hate have blinded those persons to the Truth and Light? If they’re stumbling in the dark, they’re stumbling in the dark. Don’t expect them to do a crossword puzzle. Expect them to break their toe.

We need to be sure that we aren’t in the darkness. To do that, we must pray for revelation of the Light and for recognition of even the smallest of behaviors that can lead to spiritual darkness. Keep your focus on the Lord and his Word. Measure everything against what Jesus taught. Keep your spirit clean. Stay awake. Open your eyes.


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