Kingdom of God Within You? – Luke 17:21 Revisited

“The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is among (within you).”  (Luke 17:21 NRSV)

No one will say, See here! Or There! For you see, the Kingdom of God is in your midst.  (Luke 17:21 CSB)

Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!  Don’t you see?  God’s Kingdom is already among you.” (Luke 17:21 CEB)

Nor will they say, ‘Look here it is! Or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21 ESV)

As you can see from above, I quoted four different interpretations of the same verse of out Luke 17.  The question is does the Kingdom of God reside in every person?  Some scholars say yes it does, and other say no it doesn’t.  It all relates how a person translates and interprets the phrase, entos ymon.  With no doubt all scholars believe that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees that he himself embodies the Kingdom of God.  The debate is if all humans have the Kingdom of God within them whether or not they believe in God at all.  According to Frank Viola from his book entitled the Insurgence:

Consequently, the kingdom of God is not an internal, private thing.  It’s a public, social reality that shapes our entire lives, both inside and out.  It is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence.  The Christ who lives inside you wishes to be manifested with the other citizens of His Kingdom. (Viola, page 115). 

Thus Viola like many other scholars interpret this passage in a more social context.  How could the Pharisees whom Jesus was speaking to have the Kingdom of God within them if they were his enemies and enemies of his Kingdom?  Jesus was basically saying, you look for signs and wonders of the coming Kingdom, but the Kingdom is right here in front of you embodied in me.” 

David Bentley Hart, and Eastern Orthodox Christian Scholar disagrees with this translation and interpretation of the passage.  He believes it is private and internal.  He writes:

Entos ymon – it is occasionally argued that this phrase would better translated “among you” or “in your midst”, especialy by those who instinctively prefer social to mystical construals of Jesus’s teachings; but this is surely wrong.  Entos really does properly mean “within” or “inside of,” not “among,” and Luke, in both his Gospel and the book of Acts, when meaning “among” or “amid,” always uses the phrase “en mesoi” or just en, followed by a dative plural; his phrase for “in your midst” is en mesoi ymon, as in (Luke) 22:27 below.  He uses entos only here, with a distinct and special import.  (David Bentley Hart – New Testament).

Thus, according to David Bentley Hart, entos ymon literally means within you.  Even the Pharisees have the Kingdom of God within them (even though they do not know it). 

I believe that this passage can be interpreted both ways.  Both meaning that the Kingdom of God is within our midst and the Kingdom of God is within you.  I believe that they can both be interpreted in a social context referring to the body of believers aka the Church, and mystically that God’s Divine Presence is within every human being.  In the historical context, Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees and means that the Kingdom of God is within their grasp (referring to Jesus himself). 

According to the Orthodox Study Bible, “The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality present within the Christian believer and within the community of the Church.” (Biblegateway app).

According to the First-Century Study Bible, the Gospel of Thomas quotes the same passage:

If you leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky, ‘ then the birds of the sky will precede you.  If they say to you, ‘it is in the sea, ‘ then the fish will precede you.  Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is with you and it is outside you.”

Jesus Kingdom was both internal (in the heart of every believer) and external (within the Church), as well as present and not complete (NIV First-Century Study Bible – Biblegateway app).

For those that have a mystical bent in their relationship with God, the Kingdom of God being a present reality within every person can bring empowerment, joy, hope, gratitude, and union with our savior (John 17:21).  For those that see the Kingdom of God “being in our midst,” that is external, then God’s Kingdom is present within the Body of Christ, or the Church.  As people gather together and are unified under one accord, the Kingdom of God is present. 

Thus is it’s not an either/or but a both and.  First and foremost, Jesus embodied the Kingdom of God.  Any person that accepts Christ as Lord and Saviour has the Kingdom of God within them.  Thus, for those that actualize the Kingdom of God through their communion and union to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God is within them. According to Richard Rohr, contemplation opens us to the absolute union and love between God and the soul, and is the means by which the Kingdom of God is actualized. Secondly, it refers to Jesus being within their presence.  The Kingdom of God was not external through signs and wonders, but through Christ himself.  Why would the Pharisees embody the Kingdom, if they were against Jesus?  For those that translate the passage ‘in your midst’ have a dualistic thinking that a person onto-logically cannot be holy apart from God.  For those that translate the passage “within you” like David Bentley Hart, the passage has an ontological meaning relating to how humanity is divine since it is made within the image of God.  Many New Age Christians (like Depaak Chopra) take this perspective just like those that were Gnostic Christians in the early church.

This is a difficult and highly debated passage.  I believe that God’s Kingdom is within every person that is regenerated (Titus 3:5 and are born again John 3:3).  God’s Kingdom is also manifested socially within the Church.  I believe that every human being has a divine spark within them that is the essence of God (panentheism), yet isn’t awakened until they come into contact with the living Jesus.  

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What I am Reading – Blogs

There is so much out on the internet, so much material to grow our faith and connect us with God.  Here are some blogs that I have been reading.

Derek and NT Wright

I have been reading Derek Vreeland’s new book BTW which is about Christian Discipleship.  It is in line with other great books about discipleship such as the Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.  In his article for Red Letter Christians, entitled “The Jesus Truth The Jesus Way”, he writes:

Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and get people saved.” He didn’t say, “Get people to ask me into their hearts.” He didn’t say, “Go make good citizens of the empire.” Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). His words conveyed a clear command: Go into every person’s world and invite people to become followers of Jesus. We are not called to manipulate people into making a decision. The way of Jesus is the way of invitation, not the way of manipulation. The constant call of Jesus wasn’t “ask me into your heart,” but “come follow me.” The question we ask is not when did we “get saved,” but when did we start participating in the life of salvation? Faithful followers of Jesus will make good citizens because Jesus teaches us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). However, making good citizens isn’t the primary task of the church.

https://www.redletterchristians.org/the-jesus-truth-the-jesus-way

Derek is an Associate Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph Missouri.  Derek taps into something that is lost in most American Churches.  That is discipleship.  Jesus call is to come follow him.  The charge he gave to his disciples was to go out to all nations and make disciples, not converts (Matt 28:19-20).  I recommend his new book entitled, BTW: – BTW-Getting Serious about Following Jesus.

Keith Giles is one of the heretics from the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast, is an author with Quoir Press, and has a truly loving heart.  He has a series of books on Jesus.  His first one is called Jesus Untangled which is about keeping politics out of Christianity.  His second book is entitled Jesus Unbound which is about how the Bible is conduit to Jesus.  We worship Jesus not the Bible.  His third book in the series which was released last month is entitled “Jesus Unveiled” which is separating Jesus from the church, and is a how to book to start an organic house church. 

In this blog post, Keith writes about seeing Jesus in everyone.  By seeing Jesus in everyone, we can become more loving.  He writes, “Still, Christ is in them, as the verses above affirm. In the case of those who have yet to recognize Christ in themselves, Christ is dead, or dormant, and waiting to be inevitably resurrected within them.”  I love that even in those that claim not to follow Jesus, we can still see Christ in them, because the Universal Christ is waiting to be awakened in them. 

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/keithgiles/2019/07/christ-in-everyone-yes-every

Like Keith, I also read Richard Rohr’s book entitled, “The Universal Christ.”  The risen Christ is in all of us whether or not we are regenerated (Titus 3:5).  This is a radical statement because many of us grew up believing due to our sin, that our sins separate us from God.  Yet at the same time we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  As image bearers of God, there is a God spark within all of creation that needs to be lit and awakened.  This is exactly what Keith wrote about in his latest blog.

Richard Beck is a college professor in psychology at Abilene Christian University and is an author.  He is from the Restoration Movement (The Churches of Christ), yet is both an Evangelical and Progressive Christian.  I can relate to him in that arena because I am both of those as well.  I like what he writes about here:

“I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that salvation in inherently political, social, and economic, that salvation involves, in the words of Jesus, release of the captives and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4.18).

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that we are all sinners in dire need of grace. Every one of us is lost and trapped within “the kingdom of darkness.” And not just politically, but emotionally, spiritually, and metaphysically. I believe that our sins have been forgiven and that grace comes to us in the substitutionary and atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross. And I believe that the grace and mercy we receive in Jesus is the only thing that can keep the pursuit of justice on earth free from darkness and blood.”

https://feedly.com/i/entry/uuvafTiJTrXpIOH1hDcHwENnbAwKWItmwc2GS2m5rC8=_16bdb538173:921b6b:d044c787

He is right that most Progressive Christians only focus on systemic sin and not on individual sin.  Most Progressive Christians are loving, inclusive, and do not speak about Jesus saving those caught in their sin very often.  Yet, we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God and cannot save ourselves (Rom. 3:23).  Jesus death is more than just an example for us to follow.  His death conquered both sin and death.  There is a holy tension between Progressive Christianity in its desire for inclusiveness and its fear of judgment, and Evangelicalism with its hypocrisy and insistence on discussing our individual sin.  I do believe like Progressive Christians that a right cruciform theology reveals a need to free the oppressed, marginalized and bring God’s justice to social causes (Luke 4:18-19). I also believe that for true freedom to be experienced, the discussion about a need for a personal savior and why Jesus came to save the world from sin and death (John 3:16-17; Col. 2:15) is also important.

Acts 18 and Road Blocks

My friend Jay Pathak who is one of the pastors from Mile High Vineyard was our guest speaker yesterday at Delaware City Vineyard.  I have known Jay for over twenty years and it was a delight to hear him teach.  His sermon on Acts 18 is part of our sermon series, “Around the World in 80 Days” (after a title to a Jules Verne novel).   Paul was in Corinth from about 49 CE to 51 CE.  Luke gives us a clue that in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla who were also followers of the way and were living in Rome until Claudius kicked out all of the Jews living there.

The main theme of Jay’s message is how do we deal with road blocks in our relationship with God, with others, and in our personal ministry.  As was Paul’s custom, when he entered Corinth, he went to the synagogue to share that Jesus was the messiah (Acts 18:4-7).  When the Jews heard Paul’s message they threw him out of the synagogue, and Paul went next door and stayed at the home of Titius Justus who was a worshiper of God.  Also Crispus who was leader of the synagogue also believed including his whole household (Acts 18:7-8).  Paul was so discouraged, the Holy Spirit spoke to him in a dream to not be silent, that God was with him, and that God had given Paul many in this city (Acts  18:9-11).

According to Jay, God does not want us to remain silent when we witness what God has done and is doing in our lives.  We are to proclaim the good news that “Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead.”  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he writes:

1 Corinthians 1:23 – but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,


1 Corinthians 2:2 – For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Just as Paul felt rejected, we also can feel rejected when our ministry does not go the way it has in the past.  Petty arguments over theology with church members, the cult of personality, rejection of the gospel by coworkers, family members, and neighbors can be discouraging.  Especially when we look like a fool sharing what God is doing in our lives.  Just as Paul left the synagogue, God brought others into his life to share Jesus with.  God brought Crispus and Titius.  God will do the same with us as we are faithful in our relationship with Jesus. 

One of Jay’s points is that religious people can be the most difficult to reach for Christ.  Religion brings a sense of certainty, inflates the ego, and brings judgment when people are divided over those that are “in” (those that believe in the right dogma, doctrine, and have said all of the right prayers) and those that are “out” (those that are marginalized, those believers that are messy and socially, and those that might be the religious other).  Jay shared two incidents when he felt defeated, and when God showed up to encourage him.  One was after a difficult meeting with leaders from church, God led him to a person who he was hanging out with.  In the midst of that meeting, the young man accepted Christ as his messiah.  In another instance, Jay was a guest speaker at an inter-faith conference where he shared the basics of the gospel at a church where both Muslims and Jews were present.  Both an Imam and Rabbi shared with Jay that they sensed his presence when he was sharing the gospel.  Both of them didn’t understand Jay’s message yet experienced God’s presence as Jay was giving the message.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that all of us will face road blocks in our relationship with God and with others.  Many will reject us not because of who we are, but because of whose we are.  We are children of God bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Because of Christ’s work defeating sin and death on the cross, Jesus is Lord.  In Paul’s day, the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23), and is still the same today.    Jesus desires our allegiance.  Caesar is not Lord, neither is our false idols of money, sex, and power.  Because of the cross, many will reject us and our message.  Also, we fear losing relationships because of our allegiance to King Jesus.  We are afraid if people really knew who we are and our identity with the cross of Christ, that we will be rejected.  Yet God promises us grace, and because of the cross, we are free to love, to be inclusive to those that are marginalized, and to accept others as Christ has accepted us (Rom. 15:7).  Sometimes fear and anxiety reveal themselves in our lives because our life and relationship with God hasn’t turned out the way we wanted.  We have been divorced, have been diagnosed with a disease, had suffered loss in our careers, and might have suffered loss with a family member that has passed away.  Paul even admitted that he came to the Corinthians with fear and trembling, and his preaching and speech was not very persuasive, but a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power (1 Cor. 2:1-4).  Sometimes all we have to do is show up, and God is faithful to do the extraordinary in our lives when our words do not make much sense.  The Holy Spirit demonstrates God’s power in and through our lives as we remain faithful to what God is doing in our life.

Fear and Immigration

Deu 10:18-19 ESV – He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (19) Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

It has been hard to ignore the issues at the southern border in the United States.  Deplorable inhumane conditions housing individuals from Latin America seeking political asylum where people are drinking out of the toilets, and toddlers and children are left unattended by adults.  There has been different responses by both the political right and the left.  Even, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and Trump supporter, says that separating children from their families at the border is wrong. Nationalism says, we need to take care of our own first, not immigrants or foreigners.  This is not an old issue, all nations have struggled with this in the past.  Yet the bible is clear we are supposed to look after the foreigner, the orphan and the widow:

“The stranger who resides with you shall be you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Even the National Association of Evangelicals in the 2006 resolution had made a declaration about taking care of immigrants:

While we recognize the rights of nations to regulate their borders, we believe this responsibility should be exercised with a concern for the entire family in a spirit of generosity and compassion (Deut. 10:19; Lev. 19:34). As Evangelicals responsible to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:39), we are called to show personal and corporate hospitality to those who seek a new life in our nation.” (Joshua Jipp, Saved By Faith and Hospitality, page 143)

So how can separating children from their families at the border showing Biblical hospitality? How is rounding children up like cattle and putting them in inhumane living conditions showing Biblical hospitality? It is not!

What is driving policy by Homeland Security and Border Control is fear. Fear of the other. Fear of those that are different than we are. Fear is spirit that drives violence, war, racism, discrimination, and hate.

Fear that the other will pollute the purity of our nation, then, often produces all kinds of irrational ethnic stereotyping and scapegoating as a means of protection from the filth and blame of societal problems. The stereotyping can take many forms – We vs. Them, Civilized vs. Barbaric, Moral vs. Wicked…And this can be seen now, both literally and symbolically, through the violent tactics used to police the U.S Border. This cycle – fear which leads to ethnic stereotyping which leads to exclusion and violence – is played out over and over again. (Jipp, page 126)

For those that are Evangelical, fear drives them as the main motive for what breeds nationalism. 

This is also echoed by John Fea in his book Believe Me, The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, evangelical scholar and Messiah College professor of history John Fea explains it like this. This election, while certainly unique and unprecedented in American history, is also the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life. This political playbook was written in the 1970s and drew heavily from an even longer history of white evangelical fear. It is a playbook characterized by attempts to “win back” or “restore culture.” It is a playbook grounded in a highly problematic interpretation of the relationship between Christianity and the American founding. It is a playbook that too often gravitates toward nativism, xenophobia, racism, intolerance, and an unbiblical view of American exceptionalism.[2]

Zahnd, Brian. Postcards from Babylon: The Church In American Exile . Spello Press. Kindle Edition.

As Christians, we are supposed to practice hospitality and welcome the foreigner, orphan and the widow.  Jesus even echoes this in his call to ministry which Luke records in his gospel (Luke 4:18-19).

According to Trump supporter, Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family:

Things start off appropriately enough, with Dobson detailing the horrors he witnessed at the detention center. “The children looked traumatized and frightened,” Dobson writes. “Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children.” Dobson says he asked an agent to tell the migrants that “God loves them.”

This matches the reports we’ve heard from other people who’ve witnessed the detention centers along the border. It stands to reason that such a scene would move the heart of anyone who saw it, but it moved Dobson’s heart in a counterintuitive way: “I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin?”

From <https://relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/james-dobson-gives-into-fear-at-the-border-update/>

As we can see from Dobson’s response to the Border crisis, it isn’t Christlike, but nationalistic.  His words say, “you are not welcome here.”  Again his response is more or less driven by fear, not love.  His words have more in common with the Pharisees than with Jesus.  The prophet Isaiah writes about foreigners praying at the temple:

As for the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord and to become his servants- all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold firmly to my covenant- I will bring them to my holy mountain and let them rejoice in my house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and sacrifices are acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)

Again, it is appalling what has happened at the border.  Even though illegal immigration is lower than it was during the Obama and Bush administrations, how we are handling the humanitarian crisis is not as Jesus would have us love our neighbor as ourselves.

Again, Joshua Jipp has some suggestions how as Christians we can take action and become more hospitable towards immigrants:

Christians should evaluate political rhetoric and candidates running for public office with the framework of what the Scriptures say about the immigrant rather than personal economic, national and racial ideologies;

Christians should educate themselves about migration-its causes, legislation, and so on- so that they can advocate for just and equitable legislation regarding national immigration policies;

Churches and Christians can engage in meaningful relationships with immigrants and refugees by volunteering with programs such as World Relief, Church World Service, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, and more (Jipp, pages 144-145)

Thoughts on Patriotism vs. Nationalism

9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.  (Romans 10:9-10 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/rom/10/1/p1/s_1056001>

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”  (Acts 2:36 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/act/2/1/s_1020001>

This week is fourth of July week.  As Americans, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain on July 4th.  In 1776, the Declaration of Independence crafted by Thomas Jefferson was signed inaugurating the 13 colonies to leave the United Kingdom and form their own nation.  We celebrate liberty and the right for all humans to have dignity.  It is one of the values that our nation was founded upon.  Yet, as sinners, the manifest destiny and other beliefs about patriotism became more nationalistic and broke from scripture.  Indigenous peoples from North America were exterminated or forced to live in captivity or on reservations because of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.  The Civil War was fought over the Southerners right to economic freedom by their practice of slavery as a means of economic stability.  Many Americans believed that slavery was a violation of human dignity that all human beings are created equal in the eyes of the creator.  America’s bloodiest war (the Civil War) was fought over so that this belief can be upheld.

In America today, our nation is torn between the right and the left.  The right is characterized by nationalism which mixes Christianity and empire.  The left is characterized by globalism and a belief in secular government protecting people’s inalienable rights.  So the question is

What would Jesus do?

How does Jesus supercede any political agenda whether it is from the right and the left?

What is the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

Brian Zahnd writes in his new book, Postcards from Babylon:

What about patriotism?  Is it permissible for a Christian to be patriotic?  Yes and no.  It depends on what is meant by patriotism.  If patriotism we mean a benign pride of place that encourages civic duty and responsible citizenship, patriotism poses no conflict with Christian baptismal identity.  But if by patriotism we mean religious devotion to nationalism at the expense of the wellbeing of other nations; if we mean a willingness to kill others (even other Christians) in the name of national allegiance; if we mean an uncritical support of political policies without regard to their justice, then patriotism is a repudiation of Christian  baptismal identity.

(Brian Zahnd, Postcards from Babylon, pages 39-40)

To combat our temptation to slide into nationalism from patriotism, one must pledge their allegiance to King Jesus.  With the early Christians, when they confessed that “Jesus is Lord” as a political statement against Caesar, they were signing their death warrant.  According to Frank Viola:

To say “Jesus is Lord” in the first century, then was to declare one’s allegiance to a different kingdom and a different empire.  For this reason, the early Christians were persecuted.  They lacked patriotism and loyalty to Rome, refusing to pledge their allegiance to Caesar.  They pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone, not to any nation, empire, political ideology, or party. 

(Frank Viola, The Insurgence, page 134)

Nationalism is different from patriotism because nationalism is always Jesus and Empire.  It is a mixture of Church and State, and the state does not look much different from the church and vice versa.  The church uses the state to enforce ecclesiastical law (which was rampant in the middle ages), or the state uses the church to enforce secular law.  They both have their eyes fixed on “The Kingdoms of This World”, not Jesus as Lord and King.

Brian Zahnd continues:

Today religious nationalism (which is disturbingly connected with white nationalism) is on the rise.  In such an environment the church faces a stark choice:  Will we comport ourselves as pious promoters of religious nationalism, or will we summon the courage to act as a prophetic witness against the idolatry of nationalism?  Will we remain tangled up in red, white, and blue, or will we lash ourselves to the cross of Christ and willingly endure whatever suffering that may demand of us.  We need to make it abundantly clear that “America First” is incompatible with a global church whose mission it is announce and embody the Kingdom of Christ.  Now is not the time for gaudy star-spangled Christianity; now is the time to wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb so that we can live as citizens of New Jerusalem. 

(Brian Zahnd, Postcards from Babylon, pages 46-47)

Brian has some pretty strong words against a lot of Christians who fall into American nationalism which is Jesus plus empire.  Many of us do not know what our identity in Christ looks like.  In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul has said that we are Citizens in Heaven (Eph. 2:19; Phil. 1:27; 3:20; Rev. 3:12).

When we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, it is more than just a political slogan like it was for the early church against Caesar.  We are declaring our allegiance to him and his Kingdom.  We acknowledge that we are citizens of a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and submit to the rule of loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We celebrate and love all of humanity, not just those that belong to our tribe and nation.  We accept people regardless of their nationality, language, gender, or sexuality.

So what about patriotism?

I am thankful that I live in a nation where every person has human dignity being created in the image of God and are worthy of respect.  I celebrate what our ancestors and forefathers fought for so that we can be a free nation.  I celebrate that racism was repealed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and am thankful for our service men and women who defend our nations values and norms.  I am thankful for the rule of law, and that totaltalitarianism and being ruled by a monarchy is not present in our nation.  I am thankful for the separation of church and state, and that people have the freedom to believe or not believe in God in our nation.  I also confess and do not hide America’s sins of slavery and racism, and that we need to do better on gender equality in the work place and in government.  I celebrate with LGBQTI people who have a different sexual orientation than I do and have a right to the same marital benefits as straight married Americans. 

Death and Resurrection – Part 1 – New Hope

Romans 6:11 – So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. From <https://www.esv.org/search/?q=dead+to+sin>

Philippians 3:10 – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, From <https://www.esv.org/search/?q=resurrection&sort=reference&exact=no&source=bible&product=&category=&book=&page=2>

We may then spend our whole life trying to avoid any kind of death, including anything that’s negative, uncomfortable, difficult, unfamiliar, dangerous, or demanding. But at some point, we’ll discover that life and death, negative and positive, are part of the same unavoidable reality. Everything is living and dying simultaneously. (Richard Rohr – Meditation , November 14, 2018) From <https://cac.org/the-illusion-of-separation-2018-11-14/>

The dying process at every stage of life is a natural opportunity to let go of the small, separate self and return to the fullness of True Self. (Richard Rohr, Meditation – November 15, 2018) From <https://cac.org/becoming-who-you-are-2018-11-15/>

This has been a difficult year.  My brother passed away in January, and my friend Chad’s father recently passed away in the past two weeks.  Our cat Tigger died last summer, yet even in death there is hope.  This has also been a year of change even though on the surface, nothing looks like it has changed.  Most of us fear the unknown and change. 

Yet, I am learning how to embrace change as I learn to trust God in areas where I have never trusted God before.  Just as Richard Rohr says above, everything is living and dying simultaneously.  Nadia Bolz-Webber calls this the process of death and resurrection.  She writes:

And the truth of our beliefs is centered on death and resurrection. I think the church is experiencing death and resurrection right now in a way that can be frustrating and actually terrifying, but is actually the core of our beliefs. From <https://lancasteronline.com/features/faith_values/death-and-resurrection-defines-christianity-the-rev-nadia-bolz-weber/article_984abfa6-43f7-11e8-b44a-3727f79f6e93.html>

Danielle Kingstrom writes from her latest blog post:

In the exploration of the Gospels, Alexander Shaia illuminates Mark’s powerful and vivid imagery in the masterfully written book, Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical TransformationShaia points to the way “Mark wants the Messiahnians to understand the nature of fundamental change—and to understand that serious conflict is one of the necessary and predictable steps of all transformation.”

This makes sense. Change comes from conflict. A conflict; with either internal or external impositions; compels us to look at things from a different lens. We cannot transform unless we are willing to confront the conflict, and from such confrontations, change emerges.

From <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/daniellekingstrom/2019/06/the-center-of-the-storm-the-second-path-with-alexander-shaia/>

My prayer has been “Holy Spirit, disrupt me again…”, and learn that everything is dying and living at the same time.  Letting go is part of transformation.  It is sort of a death.  As I experience letting go of significant relationships, especially those that have passed, like my brother and my friend Doug, their memory becomes different and transformation is present.  When I enter the storm of life and sit in the midst of conflict, I find peace in letting go of the hurt and the anger that can feel so overwhelming.  Same thing with grief.  The Apostle Paul writes that we are dead to sin, but alive in Christ. 

According to JD Myers, “death and resurrection is the means by which God accomplishes redemption and restoration” (JD Myers, What is Hell?: The Truth About Hell and How to Avoid It (Christian Questions Book 4), Kindle Loc. 1483). 

Sometimes, I believe Pagans have it right in their spiritual beliefs about the lunar and solar cycles, the celebration of the seasons.  With the coming Spring, and celebration of the Spring Equinox, new birth and new life starts.  As Christians, we celebrate Easter in the Spring, not only because it follows Passover, but because of the fertility rights of Spring that have been incorporated into our Easter Celebration.  Easter is about resurrection, new life and new hope.  Paul writes to Titus:

Titus 3:3–7

[3] For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (ESV)

The hope of eternal life that the Apostle Paul is referring to is the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit poured out on us through Jesus Christ. 

What Would You Do? – Acts 16:1-5

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers[fn] in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/act/16/1/p1/s_1034001>

One of the TV commercials that was catchy and that is now being recycled is Klondike’s “what would you do for a Klondike Bar?”  This commercial had a funny jingle which would stick in your head.  It also proposed the question that Robb, our pastor asked us which was “what would you do for the sake of the gospel?” 

The background of this passage is that Paul came back from the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem with the results of the council as it relates to Gentiles being part of the Kingdom of God.  Gentiles who came to faith in Christ and received the Holy Spirit did not have to become Jewish, that is males being circumcised and following the ritual purity laws in the Torah.  As a result of this, the churches that Paul planted in Asia minor especially in Lystra and Derbe were strengthened with the news coming from Jerusalem.  The people could rejoice that they were truly free in Christ (John 8:32).  They could imitate Paul as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).  In Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes:

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Gal. 5:1 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/gal/5/1/s_1096001>

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[fn]   (Gal. 5:13-14 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/gal/5/1/p1/s_1096001>

Yet, at the same time that Paul was giving the good news of the results from the council in Jerusalem, he was asking Timothy a young disciple from Lystra to be circumcised.  So why would Paul who champions being free in Christ and not having to be under the law, ask Timothy to circumcised?  It was because Timothy was half-Jewish, and Paul needed a fellow Jew to accompany him on his missionary journey into the synagogues throughout the Roman Empire.  Timothy’s parents were well known throughout the area.  So Paul was asking Timothy to laydown his rights and freedom in Christ to become circumcised on behalf of the gospel.  For Jews to accept Timothy and Paul and welcome them into their synagogues, they had to be Jewish.  By Timothy being circumcised, it removed a barrier and paved the way for the gospel.  Yet inwardly, both of them had their hearts changed and circumcised (Ez. 25:36-27; Rom. 2:29).  Just as the verse says above, we need to use our freedom to serve one another in love.  (Gal. 5:14)  Again, the question is “what would I do for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the Gospel?”  In 1 Corinthians, Paul was dealing with a messy church which was highly divided by those that followed a cheap grace gospel (licentiousness), and others that were more legalistic in their faith.  Paul argued that flexibility was needed when sharing the Gospel.  He writes:

19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,[fn] I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.  (1 Cor. 9:19-23)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/1co/9/1/p1/s_1071001>

Application

So Robb called some of us forward for prayer, especially for those that wanted a radical change for the sake of the gospel.  Those that would lay down their freedom for the sake of others.  Again, since it is PRIDE month, I have become Gay affirming in the past year.  Yet for the sake of the Kingdom, and to be part of Robb’s church, I need to lay down my right to affirm Gay couples for the sake of those that are in the church that believe contrary (that homosexuality is a sin).  He prayed that I would choose people over theology and the right to be right.  There definitely felt like a weight was lifted off of me.  Even when someone is going off about homosexuality as a sin, that I would be able to hold my tongue and not argue with them.  Yet at the same time to encourage those that see homosexuality as a sin to welcome and accept everyone as Christ as welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).  Even though the church may be traditional with its standards of human flourishing (supporting the traditional view of sex is to be practiced only in marriage), I can love those that believe differently than I do about it.  As someone who sees himself as a bridge builder, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-21) is important to me which means laying down my right to be right for the sake of others.

Part of that freedom that Christ offers is to use our freedom to serve others in love.  Sometimes, serving others is doing things that we may not want to do (like helping people move, cooking for the homeless, doing housework for the elderly and shut ins).  For those of us that are introverts, it may be having lunch with the annoying coworker, sharing the Gospel in the grocery line at the grocery store, etc.  It is sharing God’s love in a practical way that is tangible that points people to Jesus as our Lord and King.