Christianity 201

March 12, 2018

Staying on Track When Christians Seek Political Influence

Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
 -2 Timothy 2:4 NLT

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
 -2 Peter 2:20 NIV

Again we’re revisiting the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is current at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link. (Look around her blog for chapters two and three as well!) To read today’s post there, click the title below.

Be Careful: Power Tends to Corrupt…Our Faith

Several years ago, my family and I spent a weekend visiting friends in North Central Indiana. Although this part of the country is home to lots of regular Indiana folks, it’s one of the places known as “Amish country,” a handful of regions in the United States that are home to large Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities. Although we were there to visit friends, not to engage in “Amish tourism,” we did visit the Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center in Shipshewana, Indiana. Part museum, part educational experience, it features interesting exhibits about the history, beliefs, and contemporary experiences of Amish and Mennonite people.

The experience began with a quick multimedia presentation of a couple of thousand years of Christian history, starting with the birth of Jesus and showing how and why the Anabaptist movement emerged in sixteenth-century Europe. Through this perspective, one prominent theme emerged: bad things happen when religion and political power get cozy.

These folks should know; their history serves as brutal illustration. The center’s exhibits highlighted the European experiences of Anabaptists and other minority religious groups. An underground dungeon shows the lengths to which powerful state churches would go to suppress the rights and views of minority groups. A ship, ready to sail for the “New World,” illustrates the lengths to which they went in order to find a place where they might peacefully practice their faith and honor their conscience.

In fact, among those of us with European roots, many are descended from people who came to this land seeking escape from state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. They saw for themselves how political power and religion, when they get all mixed up, can be a recipe for oppression. And we see it for ourselves today, in nations all around the world, where faith and power are used as both justification and tools in the fight for domination. Whether we like it or not, the entire Western world is at war with one such system. How tremendously ironic that American Christians can’t seem to let go of our own appetite for political power.

Now, I’m no separatist. I’ve never even read an Amish romance novel. And I’m a firm believer that Christians ought to be as engaged–and personally invested–in our cultures as anyone else. But I think these Anabaptists got something right–political power has the potential to corrupt our faith as thoroughly as it can corrupt any other area of life. As soon as people perceive a threat to their power, they often begin to lose their way as they focus on trying to cling to it. I’m afraid this is one form of sickness currently infecting the American church.

We are here to live in relationship with God and wield our influence in the direction that relationship leads us. We are not here to make or keep ourselves powerful. That is not part of our calling. Does this mean we ought to eschew power and influence, automatically yielding it all to people who have no misgivings about the relationship between power and faith? Absolutely not. But graciously exercising power is far different from grabbing for it, hoarding it, or wielding it only in our own self-interest. Humbly and generously seeking the common good is vastly different from seeking to hold over others the kind of power that God himself chooses not to exercise.

Many of the people who are quick to point out power’s corrupting influence on people who have disappointed us–like lifelong politicians, corporate kings, and media moguls–are foolish enough to believe it won’t have the same effect on us. Take a look around and think again.

These are messy times, like all other times in human history. I’m not naive enough to believe any one attitudinal shift will bring ideological peace to our society. But clinging to power at all costs has never brought lasting peace or fostered a kinder, more livable culture. In fact, those who refuse to share, without exception, eventually lose everything they worked so hard to amass. Let’s take a lesson from our own stories. Let’s imitate the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).


March 7, 2018


This is what the LORD says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken! ~Jeremiah 9:23-24 NLT

Today we’re paying a second visit to Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click the title below to read at source.

The Heart of a Sinner

In high school I had a friend with very low self-esteem. She always pointed out her accomplishments and waited to be complimented—your standard fisherman of compliments. Even as a teenager, I knew low self-esteem was her problem. I saw that she was broken, but still, I chose not to love her. When she would start drawing attention to her greatness, I would do just about everything but compliment her. I have never been able to embrace a boastful person. I would avoid eye contact with her, change the subject, pretend I didn’t hear—all because I did not think a person as arrogant as her deserved to be praised. The irony here, however, is that this friend of mine was not arrogant. She was anything but arrogant.

Over ten years later, I am an adult—a wife, a mom, and a daughter of the King. However, boastfulness and arrogance still crawl under my skin more skillfully than any other sin. I can’t stand a boastful person. Being in the presence of one causes me to start locating the exits. I want nothing to do with arrogance.

Boastfulness is certainly a sin. God says in Matthew 6:1-2,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Then in James 4:6,

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Seeking validation from anyone but God means we care more for this world than for Him. However, our human nature causes us to crave praise from just about everyone. Some of us seek it more fervently than others, but we are all boastful—small, insecure beings who want someone to notice how fantastic we are. Even though God commands us to not be part of this world, the world’s praises is the very thing many of us desire the most.

Recently in a conversation with an overtly boastful person, God began to heal my own brokenness. As I visited with this person, trying so hard to love her and acknowledge her accomplishments (hating every minute of it), I began to realize that despite the sins and worldly desires of this woman, I, too, was in need of God’s grace. I sat there in judgment of this woman because of her sin, never considering that my inability to embrace her was my sin, equal to her boastfulness. As I judged and ridiculed the heart of a boaster, God revealed the sins of my own heart. Let me worry about her heart, Tara, you must take care of your own.

By God’s grace, my next encounter with a self-conscious person who seeks my approval and praise, will be one where I exhibit the love of Christ. Because this person’s sins are not greater than my own, I will not condemn them nor despise them, but love them.

“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” ~Luke 11:28

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Or the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
But let the humble come and give thanks
To the One who made us, the One who saved us

This song was written by Paul Baloche. You can watch and listen to his original version (with lyrics) at this link, or this cover version:


April 13, 2014

Mental Images End Sermon on the Mount

Today our pastor wrapped up an extended series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount, reading the last half of the last chapter, Matthew 7: 13-27.  We normally put scriptures here in green, because scripture has life. But because every word below is from Jesus — we’ll remove the NLT subheadings — we’ll follow the common convention of putting the entire text in red.

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[*] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

*or road that leads to destruction

There are three primary images in this section:

  • a gate
  • a fruit tree
  • a house (or if you prefer, a foundation)

However, there are five actual word pictures created in this text.

The Gate

There are many entry points that lead to destruction. You’ve heard people say, “there are many roads that lead to God,” but it’s more accurate to say, “there are many roads that don’t lead to God.” (Tweet that!) Our pastor took this one step beyond the text, but I believe you would agree that this works. He drew a funnel and pointed out that if your entry point is the broad one, as you dig down, that life becomes increasingly constricting. Then he drew an upside-down funnel and pointed out that the entry point is narrow, but as you move down, there is increasing freedom. Extra-Biblical visual, but true. Do I correct people when they say, “all roads lead to God,” or do I let the comment pass unchallenged?

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This only appears in one verse, and the NLT subtitles consider it part of the fruit tree analogy. Still, it’s an excellent bridge from the section before to what follows and the visual image would be quite laughable were it not taking place all around us. There are many false teachers out there seeing who they can deceive by dressing up false doctrine to look authentic. Is my discernment meter on so I can identify false teachers? Have I ever through carelessness said something that might lead someone astray?

The Fruit Tree

Most tree trunks look the same to me, and since I’m not an expert on leaves — nor can you see distinguishing detail from a distance — it’s ultimately the fruit that makes you say, “apple orchard” at one scene and “orange grove” looking at another. Our lives will be marked by fruit — love, and eight other fruit of the spirit — and marked by an attitude of humility. Our testimony will be, “I once was lost, but now am found.” The source of our joy will be what Christ has done for us. And yes, spiritual fruit can also be interpreted to represent those we lead to faith; spiritual children. When people look at me, do they see a trunk and leaves that make me hard to distinguish from anyone else, or is spiritual fruit evident in my life?

False Disciples

This is really the core of the teaching, but it does produce a visual image. Our pastor used lips. The passage describes people who do not possess what they profess. This should arrest us in our tracks. Am I giving lip service to a faith that is not real inside me?

The House / The Foundations

The houses in this section are actually identical, but one stands because its foundation is sure, while the other caves in because it’s foundation is shaky. This challenges me because you really don’t know what your response will be until you are in the middle of the situation. Jeremiah 12:5 (GW) asks, “If you have raced against others on foot, and they have tired you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in open country, how can you live in the jungle along the Jordan River?” We need to not only have a solid foundation, but we need to watch for cracks in that foundation. When the rain and winds beat down is my foundation Christ, or am I trusting in some other external, or my own abilities?