Subjects of King Christ

This past January I began studies toward a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. This semester I am taking a systematic theology course on the doctrines of Man, Christ and Redemption. As a part of our course work, we post to a discussion forum each week on a question set by the professor. This is my response to the questions from a couple of weeks ago, which were “How should Christ’s kingship guide and direct our lives?” and “Why then is it so hard to fight against sin?”

If Christ is our king, then we are under his authority.  This has several implications for us.  First, we are under his authority as subjects in his kingdom.  This demands obedience to the commands of our king.  Our lives, then, must necessarily be guided by those commands, and our decisions and actions must be toward the end of obedience to them.

Second, we are under his authority as citizens of his kingdom.  In this present world we are expatriates; our home is somewhere else.  We are no longer subject to the ruler of this world, but to the king of the kingdom in which we are citizens.  This means that we must resist conformity to the standards of this world in favor of conformity to the those of the kingdom of Christ, not concerning ourselves with comparisons to those who are outside that kingdom.  Our citizenship also means that we have access to the benefits of Christ’s kingdom in the Holy Spirit indwelling us, empowering us to be obedient and to understand what the King requires of us.

Third, we must understand that Christ won a victory of conquest over sin at the cross.  This was no negotiated settlement, nor a surrender on the part of the enemy, but an absolute victory.  As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, under his authority, we have the benefit of this victory that we are obtaining through the process of sanctification through the renewing work of the Spirit in us.

I think fighting against sin is hard for us because we forget that we are under authority in our daily lives.  It is easy for us to imagine being under Christ’s authority as an abstract concept, but more difficult to live in this reality minute by minute.  An answer to this problem is to work to live more aware of the kingship of Christ daily, to have a vision of him on the throne ever before us. By looking to the throne of Christ in this way we are able to keep our perspective on who and whose we are and continually appropriate the absolute victory our king has won over sin for us.  We need not fear defeat in this, for the battle is won and, as Proverbs 21:31 says, we must prepare for the battle but the ultimate victory belongs to Christ our king.

I am an alien

Although I’ve intellectually grasped the idea that we as Christians are alien to this world we inhabit, the past few days have unexpectedly brought that reality home to me. The inauguration of President Obama has brought with it a great deal of talk about new hope and optimism. He is a new, fresh voice in our nation’s political life. But there is a subtext that accompanies all this that has made me aware of how little I have in common with the worldview of those whose hope is in Obama (or any other man).

Nothing fundamental has changed about the nature of hope or its availability in this present world. Man on his own is without hope no matter who occupies the White House or any other seat of leadership. Our only hope is in Christ and our real citizenship is in heaven through him.

While this is a milestone in the history of our country, and it is good to be a citizen of a country that has taken such an important symbolic step in the equality of all, it has little significance from an eternal perspective. My hope is in my citizenship in the home to which I long to go and the King who rules both there and here.

What are we and why are we here?

I’m referring to us “the Church.”  There are lots of people across the whole spectrum of our culture asking these kinds of questions…including me.  The Anglicans, and others, are struggling with big issues like “Can we be a Biblical church and include homosexuals as priests, bishops, and in other leadership roles?”  The Willow Creek Church in Chicago is wrestling with data that indicates that they have led people to the table of the Lord, but not taught them how to eat for themselves, leaving many as unweaned baby Christians starving for more nourishment than milk can provide.

See my friend Bethany Mendenhall’s posts on the Willow Creek thing here and here at Where the Grey Lives for the kinds of questions we should be asking about this whole thing.

Matthew 28:16-20 could hardly be clearer in what we are supposed to be doing.  Making disciples doesn’t involve our selling the Gospel or closing the deal or any other kind of marketing-speak.  That stuff is the Holy Spirit’s job.  Our job, as Bethany rightly says, is to live the Kingdom; to be disciples so we can make disciples.  That means knowing what Jesus told us so we can teach it to others in our words and our actions.

That probably, no – that definitely means church, and Christians individually, should look a lot different that it does today in most places and people.  Maybe devoting ourselves to the word and to prayer will lead to a more communal lifestyle like it did is 1st Century Jerusalem…I don’t know.  I’m not sure that is the point anyway.  The real point is to devote ourselves to the Mission, to the word, and to prayer and see where the Spirit takes us.

What Would Jesus Really Do

I finally watched a program I had recorded Easter weekend from CNN entitled “What Would Jesus Really Do?” The host, Roland Martin, is a commentary contributor to CNN. This program was advertised as a discussion of how Jesus would respond to a series of contemporary issues in our society. The guest list was brief, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling A Purpose Driven Life; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; Frederick Douglas Haynes, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX; Bishop T.D. Jakes and preacher Paula White (whom I had not heard of before). All four of these very different different individuals were presented as representative of evangelical Christianity, and Mr. Martin himself claims this moniker, introducing himself on the program as being married to an ordained Southern Baptist minister…yes, you Southern Baptists read that correctly.

As the program played out, the only one of the five guests that gave anything close to what I understand as a biblically founded answer to the main question was Rick Warren, who talked most about the decision he and his wife have made to be reverse tithers (90% given/10% to live on), but in the end the main question was left unanswered. There was lots of conversation around prosperity gospel in the love fest between White and Jakes. Falwell talked more about politics than Christianity. Haynes brought in a dose of liberation theology, describing Jesus’ clearing of the temple as a political action. In the end, however, the viewer, at least this one, was left with a picture of incoherence in the message of evangelical Christianity.

Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the state of the modern church. The term evangelical Christianity is tossed about as if there was clarity as to the range of groups and individuals to whom this term applies. This program is only one more illustration that the term evangelical Christianity has lost any meaning. It is no longer a reliable label either for a coherent group of people or for a set of beliefs, and has become more disparaging than defining in its usage, used as profanity by opponents of the gospel (You evangelical Christian!).

What words should we use to define who we are these days when even the term Christian has become unclear? How are we to help people understand what biblical Christianity really means when the necessary words in our language have been co-opted by our great enemy? I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems to me that our prayer, sadly, has to be that God will cleanse and purify his church in our day. We seem to be in need of a great reformer, on the scale of a Luther or Calvin. Pray that God is preparing such a man for such a time as this.

Can Community Exist Virtually?

The Community Group I lead has been studying the book of Ephesians these past few months. One of its main themes is what the church ought to be like, so I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about that as I prepare for our sessions. Along side this, I’m a regular listener to William Bennett’s morning talk show, Mornings in America. While listening one morning last week, I heard a discussion about how the current war in Iraq is perceived by folks here at home, with the point being that, as a society or community we don’t feel that we’re very involved in this unless we have a family member or friend over there. We’ve lost some sense of the larger community as a culture. So all this converged to get me thinking about community and today’s church.

At the beginning of my professional career in the mid-1980’s, I remember when the first personal cassette tape players came out, dominated by Sony’s Walkman. Personal computers were a relatively new idea, not widely used or even available. Cell phones were not really around yet, and a car phone was an unusual thing to see. Communication was by telephone over land line, FedEx was in it’s infancy, and faxes were not widely available. Letters were still written and sent by mail as a routine way of keeping in touch. Face to face communication was still the norm.

Today, we primarily keep in touch with each other electronically. Virtual community is what it’s called, and I’m certainly a participant as I sit in the food court across the street from my office and write this on my new MacBook. (No I don’t have my iPod – today’s Walkman – plugged in.) But as I look at the condition of community in our culture more broadly, and in the church specifically, I think something really important has been lost.

God intended for Christians to gather together, to live in community, as his design for the church. This is very clear from both the Biblical example of Acts and from Paul’s writing in Ephesians. This is to be a face to face community, not a virtual one, because there is something very important about actually being together. Without being together, we lose half of our communication media, the non-verbal. We can’t see facial expressions when we talk together (emoticons just don’t cut it, and besides, they can be lies). We can’t reach out and touch someone when the comfort of an embrace, or the unspoken “I’m here” of a touch is the best way to communicate the community’s support. Contagious laughter or joy is impossible virtually because it can’t be heard or seen. And we’ve all experienced the misunderstandings that can occur without the nonverbal parts of our language.

This applies to meeting together for worship as well. Television church attendance from the comfort of your easy chair is no substitute for the gathering together of the saints. Experiencing worship with other believers can lift us to a place where we never will go alone. Hearing the Word spoken and taught live and in person forces us to listen at least a little bit more. And the power of the Spirit at work in a corporate worship setting can be life changing.

Can this kind of community exist virtually? I don’t think so, and I would argue no kind of real community can. We are called as Christians to be counter-cultural. Maybe how we do community is a place we should begin.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The "Worship Experience"

Driving home from a meeting one night recently I heard an advertisement on one of our local Christian music stations that used a phrase I had heard many times, but that had never stuck out to me. The ad was placed by a mega-church in our area looking for musicians and worship leaders to help create a “worship experience” at this church. For some reason I began wondering what was meant by the term “worship experience?” Is it only an alternative to the more traditional “worship service?” I expect that is the case, but are the users of such a term unwittingly, or intentionally, changing the nature and objective of corporate worship? Such usage certainly seems to reflect the growing, and to me disturbing, trend toward experientially grounded faith in the contemporary church.


So is it right to use the term at all? Well, I suppose that it depends on whose experience we’re talking about. The only person whose worship experience we should be concerned with is that of God, who should be, but all too often isn’t really, the object of our worship. I fear that what most mean by “worship experience” is their own pleasure in it: whether their favorite song was sung, the musicians were skilled, the prayers were eloquent, thing started and ended on time, and the sermon was entertaining and/or made them feel good about themselves. Nothing at all to do with whether God was glorified or pleased with the service of worship.


As I read and study more and more of the Scripture, I am struck by the Bible’s emphasis on God’s perspective on things. The study we’re doing on Isaiah at Orange Hill points to this again and again. Whatever we may want to think about the reason we gather and what we do when we do, God’s idea about this seems to be that we are there to give praise and honor to him, not satisfy some want of our own. In fact, the real shame, and I mean that in the sense of how we should feel when doing wrong, is that our main want should be what God wants rather than all these other things.


Next time I wonder why the Sunday worship was unsatisfying, I need to remember to ask myself why I was there and who I was trying to satisfy with the songs or prayers or anything else that was done that day. Most importantly I need to ask myself if my heart was pleasing to God. Did I want what he wants…to worship him? That’s the “Worship Experience” we need to be concerned with…God’s and God’s alone.

Thoughts About Work

Work. Something we all do. We spend the majority of our lives engaged in it, yet we think so little about why we are doing it and how we should be doing it. In the essay “Why Work?” Dorothy Sayers raises both of these questions for us.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my work. Is this what I want to do for the remaining twenty or so years before retirement? Should I follow a different path? Why am I doing what I am doing? The usual things one asks when things are not going so well at the office. Reading this essay was a timely reality check for me.

Sayers has several main points, first, that we were made to work. God made us in his image, and he is a creative being, working to create us and the universe in which we exist. As beings made in that image, to work is a part of our nature.

Second, we need to do our best, to do the thing we do well in order to be true to our nature. God made what he made for his own sake and for his own benefit. In a similar way, our work needs to be soul-satisfying to us, no matter what it is. Obviously there are limitations on this. For example an excellent thief would not be true to the nature God gave him. Doing what is evil well is not good or moral.

This also means that our primary motivation should not be income, a hard concept in our culture. We should choose our career or job based on our passions and the skills God has given us. This is his plan for being fulfilled in our work.

The implications of this are huge, and provide some important clarifications to how we talk about work. What this all points to is finding your calling, and yes I mean that in the Scriptural sense. Calling is a term equally well applied to pastors, tradesmen, and professionals.

Unhappy with your work? The question to be asking is not about salary or hours or responsibility. The question is really “What’s my calling?”

Thoughts on Sin from Dorothy Sayers

Once again, as I read “Letters to a Diminished Church,” I am struck by the dullness of most of the work of contemporary writers. Yes, it is somewhat about style; Sayers has a wonderful way with words. But it is really the thoughtfulness behind the style that is so engaging.

In the essay “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” she first laments the modern reduction of the term “immorality” to being equated with lust, referring only to sexual sin. (And today, the teeth are being pulled from that category as well.) What follows is a wonderful exposition of the nature of the other six traditional “deadly sins” and how they build on one another. Beginning with wrath, moving through gluttony, covetousness, envy, sloth, culminating finally in the “head and origin of all sin,” pride, Sayers pulls no punches.

Gluttony makes us drive for more and more of everything regardless of need. This leads us the want what others have that we do not, covetousness. When we can’t get it we turn to envy simply because we see that someone else might be happier or have more than we do. When we see that having more doesn’t satisfy, we abandon hope, belief, knowledge, etc. and fall into the torpor of sloth. Finally we decide that we must be master of our own destiny and judge of our own actions, making ourselves god of our little universes, taking up the original and master sin, pride.

This piece is well worth a thoughtful, brutally honest read. Sayers asks some hard questions about how these sins are applicable to Christians and the Church. We do well to ask them of ourselves in these times.

Creed or Chaos?

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of
Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the
fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma
does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose
that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist
that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is
hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple
and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex
doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal
to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a
little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this
Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the
Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

-Dorothy Sayers in “Creed or Chaos?”

Thus begins essay number four in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” This essay was the title piece of a collection of essays Sayers published under the same title in the late 1940s. Yes, that’s right, sixty years ago. (By the way, you may have noticed I skipped over the third essay in he book. Its title is “Creative Mind,” and while it was interesting in its own right, I have yet to figure out exactly what the editor thought it had to do with arguing the relevance of Christian doctrine.)

When I read this over my dinner at the office tonight, I about choked on my chicken finger, and I had to stop work for a bit to write this. And this is only the beginning. Sayers goes on to elaborate on the nature of the ninety-nine percent with a razor sharp perceptiveness and prophetic relevance to us that will take your breath away. She describes three classes of people: frank and open heathens, whose ideas about Christianity are a jumble of “rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense;” ignorant Christians, whose idea of Jesus is based on a mild, gentle sentimentality combined with “vaguely humanistic ethics” that she associates with the Arian heresy; and, finally, more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know what the Bible says about some things, but whose battle readiness on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic is comparable to “a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.”

This is unbelievably good, relevant, challenging stuff for us to soak in. Besides Sayers wonderful skill with words, her laser focus on perhaps the most crucial issue for the church of our day make her work must reading for all of us. We have two choices–two ways–creed or chaos. There are no other options.

An Anthem for Today’s Church Culture

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may know, I don’t care where they may go

I don’t care what they may know, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


Jesus, he’s my friend; Jesus, he’s my friend

He took me by the hand; led me far from this land

Jesus, he’s my friend


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


My wife and I went with a group of friends to see the Doobie Brothers in concert last night. Wow! So many of the reunion concerts you go to just show how the artists skills have declined over the years, but these guys were amazing. I guess after playing together thirty years you get to know each other’s moves pretty well. Three of the guys in the band were early members in the 1970s and are still on top of their game.


Of course the song “Jesus Is Just Alright” was one of their early hits, and when they started it up it occurred to me that these lyrics, taken literally, are the perfect anthem for most of today’s evangelical culture.


More and more today, those who identify themselves as “Christians” are taking the view that Jesus, my friend, my buddy, who I hang with sometimes when it’s convenient, or talk to when I need something, is OK with me. That is, so long as he doesn’t do or say anything inconvenient about his Lordship, or doesn’t interfere in my life too much.


My reading of the Bible leads me to the conclusion that Jesus is a lot more than “just alright.” Jesus is all right, if you’ll forgive the word play. Jesus is and never intended to be “just” anything, but he will be just in the end, to the great dismay of many who think that they will be alright when that day comes.


My friend? Yes, but not primarily. Jesus is my friend and brother in God’s family, but more importantly and first he is Lord, Savior, and God. In these roles, he demands things from us by right. Things like obedience, reverence, and worship; not just a call now and then to check in.


I DO care what they may say, because wrong thinking about who Jesus is on the part of the church is one of the big reasons people don’t see the difference between Christianity and every other world religion. They see it as just another menu choice, another brand of eternity insurance just in case God is really out there. We have to see the real, biblical Jesus and act accordingly so that the world around us will see that Jesus is far more than just alright.