Monday, April 30, 2018

TTT #11 For Christians, Jesus Must Be Lord Of All If He Is Lord At All

Chapters nine and ten of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT) were about the lordship of Jesus, but there is one more thing to be considered about the meaning of that lordship. Christians need to know that when one confesses Jesus as Lord, he must be Lord of all aspects of their lives. Those who are not Christians need to know that about Jesus’ lordship in order to differentiate between authentic and pseudo Christianity.
Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an Enslaving Act?
When Jesus is allowed to be Lord of all, then for the individual Christian believer every area of their life—their personal actions, their family relationships, their financial decisions, their recreational activities, and every other sphere of their existence—will be surrendered to Jesus. 
There are some objections to this idea, though, the first being a push back against something that looks like a loss of freedom. Especially USAmericans have from the beginning placed great emphasis on personal freedom (“Give me liberty, or give me death!”).
Many modern people resonate with the words from “Invictus,” treasured and made popular by Nelson Mandela: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
So how do people react to emphasis on Jesus’ total lordship? For many Christians it results in compartmentalization, allowing Jesus’ lordship to apply only to one’s religious life, not to every aspect of one’s thoughts and actions.
For some or many people who are not Christians, talk about the lordship of Jesus is off-putting. Those who pride themselves on their independence, their self-reliance, and, above all, their freedom as one who is captain of their own soul, why would they possibly want to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?
That sort of response may not often be expressed, but recognized or not, that is likely one of the most basic reasons why some people don’t want to become a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an “Ensmalling” Act?
Some Christians now seem to think that they need a broader view of the world than is possible through Christianity or through Jesus Christ. Talk about the lordship of Jesus is for them a restrictive idea that they want to move beyond.
But I strongly disagree that commitment to the lordship of Jesus is an “ensmalling” act. Rather, rightly understood, it is an enlarging one.
According to an affirmation of the New Testament, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19). If that is a correct description of the true nature of Jesus as the Christ—and that has been a central affirmation of Christianity from its beginning—how could allegiance to Jesus possibly make one’s understanding of the world narrower or more limited?
If the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, then far from causing people to have a more parochial, smaller view of the world, commitment to Jesus as Lord actually expands one’s vision, enlarges one’s viewpoint, and stretches one’s capacity to understand the world that Jesus came to save.
So, What are the Implications?
If Jesus is truly Lord of all, then those who live under that lordship live with the desire to follow Jesus and his will rather than following their own often selfish desires.
When Jesus is truly Lord of one’s life, that person’s purpose for living is focused on the kingdom of God, on doing that which is most beneficial for human society and for the world of nature.
Living with Jesus as Lord is a full commitment to the one who seeks to transform this world into a realm of peace and justice for all.

[Please click here to access the entire eleventh chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now.]

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Renouncing Revenge

Speaking of movies, which I was in my March 25 blog article, last month June and I watched “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Not just because it was one of the movies nominated for Best Picture of 2017, but because we are Missourians we had looked forward to seeing the movie soon after it came out on DVD.
Praise for “Three Billboards”
Clearly, “Three Billboards” was an excellently made movie with great acting—especially by Frances McDormand, winner of the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mildred, the sad, angry central character.
Although the film itself did not win the Oscar, it did win Best Motion Picture at the 75th Golden Globe Awards.
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin declared (here) that at it was the “best religious film” of 2017. He explained that it was “about sin, forgiveness, and redemption.” It seemed to me, though, that it was mostly about the former, and only a very little about the latter two—and even that depended largely on what you think Mildred and the “bad cop” did after the movie ended. 
Criticism of “Three Billboards”
My evaluation of the movie is rather negative. Of lesser importance is my criticism that it didn’t seem authentic to south Missouri—and in fact, it was filmed in North Carolina!
The central motif of there being three large billboards on a two-lane blacktop road outside a small south Missouri town is quite questionable—but not as much as to think they would rent for $5,000 a month.
(Actually, Martin McDonagh, the Irish screenplay writer, got the idea for the film years ago when he saw three billboards on a bus trip down I-10 not far from Beaumont, Texas.)
Also, while there are many foul-mouthed people in Missouri, it is a stretch to think that a small town in south Missouri would have so many--and to think that the police chief would use such foul language even when talking to his young daughters.
On a deeper level, there is the whole matter of how much “redemption” and “grace” is found in “Three Billboards.” On this matter, and with helpful references to Flannery O’Connor, consider this perceptive article in Vox.
I certainly couldn’t see much evidence of forgiveness and redemption. It was mostly about seeking revenge, couched in terms of “penal justice.”
Renouncing Revenge
Revenge is certainly a highly popular theme of movies and TV shows—doubtlessly because it is such a widespread human desire.
That was the main thing, though, I didn’t like about “Three Billboards.” Mildred’s anger was certainly understandable. But her ongoing hatred for those who abused/killed her daughter was making her life, and the lives of those around her, miserable.
Two other popular movies come to mind that, for me, were tainted by their emphasis on revenge. Recently, and for the first time, June and I also watched the classic (cult) movie “The Princess Bride.” It was delightful in many ways—but it was mainly about revenge, so I ended up not liking it.
Then a couple of years ago I went with my grandson David to see the beautifully done 2015 movie “The Revenant.” It was impressive in many ways; the scenery and the performance of the central character played by Leonardo DiCaprio were outstanding. But I ended up not liking that movie either—for the same reason: it mostly based on seeking revenge.
So I renounce revenge, for in the wise words of the noted ethicist Lewis B. Smedes: “The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain.”

Friday, April 20, 2018

TTT #10 For Christians, Jesus Must be Lord as Well as Savior

In the ninth chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), I emphasize that Christians must be careful when they call Jesus “Lord,” but the following chapter accentuates what seems to be just the opposite: Christians must be careful to call Jesus “Lord” and to mean it. In other words, for Christian believers, Jesus must be Lord and not just Savior.
Confessing Jesus as Savior
For historic Christianity, nothing in all the world—or in the world beyond—is more important than being “saved” by Jesus. Although there are differences in interpretation and implementation, confessing Jesus as Savior has been the fundamental basis for Christianity through the centuries.
Beginning in New Testament times and continuing to the present, salvation in Christianity has regularly been interpreted as the redemption of human beings from the punishment of sin (eternal death, Hell) and the gift/promise of everlasting life (in Heaven).
While the Catholic Church has interpreted salvation as the result of receiving, willingly or otherwise, the sacrament of baptism, the Protestant tradition has emphasized personal confession of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation.
In both cases, though, the result of salvation was essentially the same: escape from eternal torment which awaited all the “unsaved” at the time of death.
Objecting to Jesus as Savior Only
Especially in much traditional evangelical Christianity, salvation was (is?) largely presented as a type of “fire insurance.” It was/is a very good policy to have so one will not “fry when they die.”
When I was a boy attending a conservative Baptist church, many of the revival preachers I heard were related, religiously, to the legendary “fire and brimstone” evangelists who did so much to expand the membership of evangelical churches in England and especially in the United States from the 1730s through the 20th century.
They were quite successful in expanding the number of Christians—but they were also responsible for fostering a limited view of what salvation really means.
The revivalists, as well as many (most?) local evangelical pastors, preached effectively about the certainty of escaping Hell and going to Heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. Their main message was almost exclusively individualistic and otherworldly; that is, it was about the salvation of individuals from damnation upon death.
The emphasis was mostly on Jesus as Savior. Little, if anything, was said about the importance of Jesus being Lord now. Similarly, there was hardly any emphasis on the Kingdom of God. Its presence in the present world and the necessity of Christians being a conscious part of that Kingdom was seldom mentioned.
Confessing Jesus as Lord
It was the more liberal churches, and church organizations, that began emphasizing the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ in ways that were largely absent in the conservative, evangelical Churches. That contrasting emphasis led to the formation of competing world organizations of churches.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) was established in 1948, and the World Evangelical Fellowship was established in 1951 and its name changed to World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in 2001.
Through the years, the WCC put more and more stress on social justice issues, but the WEA continued to emphasize that the central mission of the church should be for the primary purpose of evangelism in the traditional sense, that is, saving people for eternal life in Heaven.
As I point out in a later chapter in TTT, the best choice, in this case as in most others, is both/and rather than either/or. That is why I like the following diagram—and why I think emphasizing Jesus as Lord is important for moving traditional evangelical Christians toward the middle. 
[Please click here to read the tenth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT) upon which this article is based.]

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Today

Early this month the news media and the Internet were replete with articles about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination on April 4, 1968. This article is about King’s powerful “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written five years earlier.
King Arrested
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded (with a slightly different name) in February 1957. MLK, Jr., one of the co-founders, was its first president. 
SCLC was a regional expansion of the local work, primarily the bus boycott, that King and his associates had begun earlier in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
In April 1963, SCLC joined with anti-segregation activities in Birmingham, Alabama. The ensuing “Birmingham Campaign” included mass meetings, marches, lunch counter sit-ins, and other nonviolent activities. In response/reaction, on Apil 10 the city officials obtained a state circuit court injunction against the protests.
Two days later, on Good Friday, King was arrested for violating the anti-protest injunction and was placed in solitary confinement in the Birmingham city jail.
King Writes
On the day King was arrested, eight Birmingham clergymen (and they were all men) published a statement in the local newspapers criticizing the protests led by King. In many ways, it seems to have been a good and reasonable statement. (Read it here.)
Those clergymen were the “white moderates” of the city, a cut above the abundant bigots of Birmingham. But still . . . .
In response, using the margins of the newspaper and even toilet paper, King penned what became one of his most powerful writings, his nearly 7,000-word “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
King's lengthy letter was made public on April 16, 1963, and now 55 years later it is still well worth reading—and considering thoughtfully. (Here is a link to it.)
MLK’s letter was included in his book Why We Can’t Wait, first published in 1964—and it was Birmingham's religious leaders' appeal for patience that King objected to the most. After all, the Civil War had been over for nearly a century—and most African-Americans were still by no means fully free.
Here are some of the most important statements in King’s letter:
  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
  • Lamentably,  . . . it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
  • Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
  • Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
  • We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
  • . . . nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. 
King Challenges
Now, 55 years after King first penned his letter, we who bask in the “blessing” of “majority privilege”—the advantages those of us who are white, and/or male, and/or Christian enjoy in this country—need to take MLK’s words to heart.
We need, for example, to listen to the challenge of the Black Lives Matter movement. And we must not excuse present injustices felt/suffered by people of minority by pointing out (’splaining) how things are much better than they used to be.
In many ways, certainly, things are better for people of color now than they were in 1963. But that doesn’t make the injustices of the present any less painful, and those who suffer injustices now won’t be encouraged by hearing that perhaps in another 55 years there may well be full equality, racial and otherwise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TTT #9 Christians Must Be Careful When They Call Jesus “Lord”

Once again I am sharing content only from the first part of a chapter in my unpublished book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). (Readers who have the time and interest are invited to click here in order to read the entire chapter.)
Confessing Jesus as Lord
“Jesus is Lord” is the first and oldest confession of faith by Christians. To present times, that has been a common declaration of faith—and one wonders how different things would be if Christian believers had stuck with that concise confession rather than crafting more complicated creeds.
Back in 1960 when I was a seminary student, June and I became the proud owners of a 1958 Hillman Minx, a British car that looked a lot better than it started in the wintertime. At some point, we pasted a Jesus is Lord sticker on the trunk (or I guess I should say the boot) of our pretty little red and grey car.
In addition to being a seminary student, I was also pastor of the Ekron Baptist Church in Meade County, south of Louisville, and I was happy to witness to Jesus as I drove around the Ekron community.
I had no idea then, and have not realized until fairly recently, that proclaiming that Jesus is Lord can be offensive to some people. But now I understand that Christians must be careful when they call Jesus Lord.
Objecting to Calling Jesus Lord
"Tink" Tinker (b. 1944)
American Indian Liberation (2008) is a challenging book by George E. (“Tink”) Tinker, a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Colorado. Dr. Tinker specifically objects to calling Jesus Lord
While the original meaning of that term was an indication of a believer’s commitment to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, it came to be experienced by American Indians, as well as by aboriginal people in other countries around the world, as a term of conquest and colonization.
What was meant to be a term designating, among other things, the humble submission of believers to Christ eventually came to be a term even Christian missionaries used to lord it over other people.
Proclaiming Jesus as Lord led an imperialistic church to exude triumphalism in contact with American Indians and with many ethnic groups around the world.
That triumphalistic spirit is seen in hymns such as “Jesus Shall Reign” (1719). The first verse of that hymn by Isaac Watts says, “Jesus shall reign where'er the sun / does its successive journeys run; / his kingdom spread from shore to shore, / till moons shall wax and wane no more.”
And then the third verse of Watts’s hymn, one that is not usually found in modern hymnals, proclaims, “There Persia, glorious to behold, / There India shines in eastern gold; / And barb’rous nations at His word / Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.”
The triumphalism of the hymn becomes more problematic when one considers how Persia at that time was ruled by a Shi’a Islamic dynasty.
Confessing Jesus as Lord Today
The preaching of Paul and the early missionaries was clearly about the lordship of Christ. But as Christianity then was a small movement without power or prestige, there was no way that it could lord it over other people the way some missionaries and other Christians did later when Christianity was linked to imperialistic activities of powerful Western nations.
Because of that misuse of the concept of lordship, Christians today need to be careful how they use the words “Jesus is Lord.” That confession must be only a statement of one’s faith in and personal commitment to Christ and never as suggesting or approving domination of others.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Winning a Hearing / Losing a Hearing

A couple of weeks before Easter, a friend sent a link to an Easter sermon to me and others on his mailing list. He said it was one of the best Easter sermons he had ever heard. I listened to it, and it was all right—but I was unable to appreciate the sermon fully because of the preacher’s public political stance.
Winning a Hearing
Among “progressive” Christians, there seems to be minimal desire to share the “good news” of the Christian faith with those who are not Christians. That is a real problem, I think, and I am growing increasingly weary of progressive Christians eschewing anything thought to smack of evangelism.
For much of my ministry as a pastor and then as a missionary, one of my ongoing concerns was trying to win a hearing. By that I mean the desire to engage other people in such a way that they would give some active attention to what I wanted to share about the Christian faith, which I thought of as “good news,” literally. 
Winning a hearing was a real challenge in Japan where most people were reared with a worldview that was definitely non-Christian. Some were even anti-Christian, although most didn’t have what could be called a personal religious faith.
The majority of the students I taught in a Japanese university were negative not only toward Christianity but to all religion—and quite often more negative toward Shinto and Buddhism than toward Christianity.
My constant challenge was to win a hearing, to spark people’s interest and desire to learn more about Jesus Christ and his life and teachings. Such matters were, I thought, for their personal benefit and for the benefit of the society/world in which they lived.
Losing a Hearing
Back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, more than winning a hearing for the Gospel, some of my missionary colleagues in Japan lost a hearing for the “good news” of Jesus because of their support for the Vietnam War.
There were student protests against that war in Japan just as there were in the States, and missionaries who were vocal in their support of the U.S. war efforts in Vietnam mostly lost any possibility of sharing about Jesus to the many Japanese students who strongly opposed the war. Their political position destroyed their opportunity for Christian witness.
As a pacifist, it was not hard for me to agree with the students in opposing the war in Indochina. My anti-war stance was not a ruse to curry favor among the students but a position I took because of my belief in Jesus.
That position, happily, made it possible for me to win a hearing from many of the students I taught and talked with on campus.
The Case of the Preacher
The preacher of the Resurrection sermon mentioned in the beginning was one of the earliest widely-known Christian pastors publicly to endorse Donald Trump for President. 
I first thought that was probably because of his choosing the “lesser of two evils.” As a strong conservative Christian, he was/is adamantly opposed to abortion and LGBT rights, so he doubtlessly thought he had to oppose Hillary.
But this pastor has continued to be one of DJT’s most vocal supporters in spite of all the charges of political, financial, and moral charges of impropriety. Since his continuing support has given him access to the White House, perhaps an underlying motive is a desire for power and prestige.
So, sadly, while the noted pastor’s sermon on the Resurrection may have been a good one, it is not likely to be heard with appreciation by those who strongly disagree with his blatant political stance.