love and life (should we try to be an agent of change?)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Tim Gombis, a New Testament professor, scholar, and writer has a helpful podcast I would highly recommend, Faith Improvised. On this weeks podcast (August 17, 2021) he said something which helped me quite a bit. And what follows is not to be taken as quote from him, or exactly what he meant, but just as my understanding of it.

We have the culture wars especially rampant here in the United States. We have many, including loved ones who reject science and are prone to accept conspiracy theories and seem open to authoritarian, nondemocratic government. And many who do this as if it’s the Christian thing to do.

What are we to do? Should we try to persuade them? Or maybe try to plant seeds so that they might begin to ask questions and have doubt themselves? That is a topic in and of itself, and really beyond me to cover here, nor do I want to. I really don’t care to wade into the politics of the world and controversial subjects on this blog. The dangers I’m referring to really have to do essentially with one thing: The replacement of the good news in Jesus with something which is morphed into it. An easy shorthand of that: US flag and Christian flag at the front of a church “sanctuary.” And this consumes those who follow it, more telling for them arguably and I’m afraid often clearly so then Jesus’s own words and the fulfillment of Scripture in Jesus.

What helped me is just the thought from Tim that we simply just be Christian. Not try to change anyone. Just keep on seeking with other followers to follow Christ. As Paul put it, to “aspire to live quietly, mind [our] own affairs,…work with [our] hands,…so that [we] may behave properly toward outsiders.” And those who are acting like outsiders. And doing so with lives of growing love for the brothers and sisters in Christ and for all.

This is not to say that there’s no time to speak out, as John Lewis put it, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” But by and large, this is what we’re to do, to be about.

In and through Jesus.

nationalism as a part of our faith is idolatry

They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods…

2 Kings 17:33a

For some, probably too many here in the United States, if you don’t vote a certain way you’re not godly, or maybe they’ll say, even a Christian. And Christian metaphors, even Christ himself are routinely replaced by American images. What often happens on a subtle level which may raise some eyebrows then be forgotten, can become blatant, indeed a part of our religion. Anytime you mix anything with Christ and God’s work and kingdom in him, you have syncretism, and that is exactly what we see here. We never place anything on a par with Christ and the reality present in him. To do so amounts to plain old fashioned idolatry.

United States nationalism I believe is part of the religion of many white evangelical Christians, their version of the United States. You start wondering when you see a flag in a church “sanctuary.” That is a part of tradition, and doesn’t at all necessarily mean the pastor or church is caught up in this idolatry. But it’s far better to remove any such symbol to help prevent any of that from creeping in.

Idols don’t come down easily. Just so much as tread on this territory, and you’ll get vehement, long protests, defenses and even attacks. That maybe you are not really grounded in the faith like you ought to be. Well for sure, one is not grounded in their faith, which sadly includes nationalism, yes even patriotism.

We can and I think even should love our country, but never with the attitude of total allegiance. Our one allegiance belongs to our one Lord, Jesus, and to no other. And we should love all other nations, too. We should see our nation as just hopefully a humble contributor to the whole, and at least trying to do good, and avoid what is evil. Unfortunately good and evil will be in the fabric of every nation state. We are mistaken to act as if that’s not the case.

God in Christ with the Holy Spirit is our one God. No other gods beside him. None. Something we’ll have to keep our eyes open for, because nothing can be alongside much less replace God. Only God is God. Everything else is phony in comparison, good in its place, but nothing more, and easily out of place.

May God help us, have mercy on us, that he may purge us, and that we might purge ourselves of all idolatry, and continue to do that. In and through Jesus.