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The Kingdom of God

In this election year marked with so much arrogance, fear, and rage, it is good for us to consider the Kingdom of God as an alternative.

Jesus began his earthly ministry by telling people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 4:17), but it wasn’t the kind of reign most were looking for, one in which an oppressive government would be overturned and a new nation would come forth in power. Christ explained that the “kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21).

Pilate, the Roman official who ordered Jesus to be crucified, asked him if he was a king. Jesus acknowledged that he was, but added, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over” (John 18:36).

Those who are followers of Jesus truly have a new citizenship in a heavenly kingdom and must view any earthly allegiances as utterly secondary to Christ and his Lordship. He compels us to come unreservedly and completely to him, so much that our own devotion to country and family and even ourselves must pale by comparison.

Jesus declared that “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). Jesus made it clear elsewhere that we are to love others completely and well, but that love could considered hate in comparison to the love we reserve for Jesus.

This love is not just a warm or sentimental feeling, but a consecrated devotion. Because we have seen Christ and his way to be the source and goal of all that is eternally valuable, we can willingly forsake everything for him. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

In another parable, Jesus represented himself as one planting wheat in a field, but his enemy sowed weeds among the wheat. Here the field is the world, the wheat represents the “sons of the kingdom,” and the weeds are the “sons of the devil.” Both weeds and wheat grew together in the same field, but removing the weeds would have uprooted the wheat as well, so he chose to let them grow together until harvest, when the wheat would be gathered into the barn and the weeds would be burned. This indicates that at some time in the future, the true believers will be separated from those without faith, who will be consumed in judgment, and “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43).

In the meantime, however, the kingdom of God coexists among that which is anything but godly. It is only reasonable to conclude that those who belong to the kingdom of God ought to live differently from those around them. Such people are called to be “the light of the world,” and Jesus exhorts us: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

Therefore, I refuse to be swept up in the septic tide that is politics in 2016.

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Trump, the Falwells, and culture wars

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the largest evangelical college in the world, Liberty University, has not only endorsed Donald Trump in the presidential primaries, but has also actively campaigned for him. I can understand that some of my brothers and sisters in the faith see Trump as an alternative to something worse, though I beg to differ with their views.

What I can’t fathom, though, is enthusiasm for a man who seems the Sermon on the Mount’s antithesis. Trump is brash, arrogant, and at times downright crude. His speech regarding migrants, refugees, immigrants, the poor, and the downtrodden in general has been spiked with contempt.

Of course, he is a successful businessman, and maybe that gives him some credentials for leadership, but much of his money was made in ways that don’t exactly resonate with Christian virtue. The man is best known for his reality television shows and casinos that feature not only gambling, but strip clubs, too. Dig a little deeper, and one finds his business style is marked by an uncharitable degree of egotism, bullying, and ruthlessness.

Unfortunately, American Christians are easily manipulated. Way back when Jerry Falwell Jr’s father was first coming to national prominence, touting something called the Moral Majority, American Christians were led into a culture war. Many believed that our country was falling away from its Christian roots, and the “majority” needed to stand up and make its voice heard.

Reclaiming our alleged spiritual heritage and gaining political clout was supposed to bring revival to this depraved land. We backed candidates who gave lip service to ending abortion and other moral causes, and too many Christians became single-issue voters in an increasing complex political world.

We wound up losing the culture war anyway. Not only has abortion continued to be legal, but gay marriage is now the law of the land. In the meantime, our own churches are rife with sexual immorality, divorce, scandal, materialism, and greed. America doesn’t need a new type of politician to implement reform from the top down; our country needs average Christians who truly believe Jesus is Lord and live their lives accordingly, which could transform society from the bottom up.

Back in the 80s when the Moral Majority was flexing its muscle, I was part of a campus ministry at the University of Maryland. When I tried to share the gospel of Christ with a particular student, he completely dismissed the message, vehemently proclaiming that the church was a hypocritical institution with a political agenda.

I told a brother who was with me at the time, that if real persecution came to Christians in America, it wouldn’t be because of our faith in Jesus, but because of our political allegiances.

I hope I wasn’t right about that.

 

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