Category Archives: Culture

The Unseen Wrath of God (Divine Justice in a Culture of Miscreants)

underwater-jesusI’m not a Christian fundamentalist. I’m not a conservative fundamentalist or a progressive (liberal) fundamentalist. I try to be very intentional about that. I increasingly see the problems with the attitudes and biblical interpretations of both my conservative and progressive brothers and sisters on a range of theological and political issues.

I survey my Facebook newsfeed and see the stuff coming from my conservative and progressive friends and I’m like, “Say what? Huh? Seriously? You believe that? Are you reading your Bible? What about this other verse? Jesus said more than that. C’mon, really?” (facepalm)  Jesus, where are you in this mess?

I’m active, but I’m not a hipster activist. I don’t think I have to weigh in publicly on every hot button social issue. I don’t think my opinion is that important, nor do I think it matters as much as my ego would have me believe some days. I don’t want to add to the noise. (sigh) Really, I don’t.

One of the reasons I continue to blog, for now, is that people tell me all the time how I write what they feel but have trouble expressing. So it appears that I’m connecting with an overlooked audience. If I can be a voice for the voiceless and encourage others, I’ll keep sharing my views via the blogosphere.

It’s unfortunate that the voices in the middle often get drowned out in the debates between polarizing extremes. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I’d like to think I see this happening most of the time. I’m trying.

My sincere desire is to help call us back to the center.

While I often question the effectiveness of posting anything to the web, especially on social media, I do feel that I have a responsibility as a pastor to people and a teacher of the Scriptures to bring clarity, if possible, in an effort to encourage and challenge the church where I see it’s needed, knowing full well that it’s the Spirit that changes us. I’m just a conduit of God’s grace.

For me, that often means addressing neglected or misrepresented theological and biblical issues, even if it’s a bit risky in doing so. I think it comes with the pastoral territory. It’s also part of the prophetic ministry.

We’re looking for faithful followers of Christ, not nice comfy fans.

God Doesn’t Freak Out, But He Is Concerned

In response to the recent SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the progressive blogger Benjamin Corey posted on how God isn’t freaking out.

It’s clear that Corey is trying to challenge the conservative fundamentalists who think God’s wrath is about to be unleashed, as if all of the other American atrocities haven’t been enough to trigger it. He makes an excellent point.

It’s true. God looks like Jesus, not Zeus.

I’ve sat down face-to-face and listened to Corey’s heart for the church at a joint in PA. He is an extremely nice guy. That doesn’t always come through on his blog. While I don’t agree with all of his positions, like celebrating the SCOTUS decision as progress, I’d like to simply respond to what I sense is the theological pendulum swinging too far to the left to make his point.

In this case, you might read Corey’s post, and others like it, as saying Jesus has done away with wrath altogether (i.e. if it hasn’t come yet, it never will). Maybe he doesn’t think that, but you could be led to believe it. So let me respond to the biblical “wrath” idea, because I think it’s too often misunderstood.

To be clear, this isn’t about my brother, Ben. It’s about the biblical concept of wrath. Please allow me to challenge the thinking that there is no such thing.

The Way Wrath Really Works

Regardless of what you think about the SCOTUS decision, I’d like to try and bring some clarity and balance as it pertains to God’s wrath, in light of Christ and the NT. For what it’s worth, here is how I understand it.

Jesus’ central message was about the coming Kingdom–salvation of sinners, release for the captives, sight for the blind, the year of favor and blessing (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:14-20). He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, welcoming all those who would believe (Jn 3:16-17). Good news, right?

He showed outrageous love and mercy to the worst of the Jewish community, and taught us to do the same for Romans (Gentiles). God then extends his agape fellowship to the whole world–initiated with Abraham, made evident in Jesus, to be lived out by his church. That’s the story in a nutshell.

As so far as he is quoted in the gospels, the Jewish Jesus reserves judgment and “wrath” language for Jewish religious skeptics and hypocrites (Matt 23:13; Lk 10:13). This ought to be sobering for all of us who count ourselves among the “chosen” and elect of God. His harshest words are for the religious.

But did you catch that? Jesus’ primary audience was Jewish. He even said that his ministry was to the children of Israel (Matt 15:23). So, Jesus isn’t interacting much with Gentiles, certainly not with all of the particular vices common among them, including homosexuality.

Yes, that’s why, “Jesus doesn’t say a word about it.” It wasn’t an issue among religious Jews. It was clear and settled for them. But he did talk about the original design for sexuality and marriage (Matt 19:1-12), and its eschatological trajectory (Mk 12:25). It’s his Kingdom effect on human sexuality.

Jesus referred back to what God intended before the Law, allowances, concessions, and “no fault” divorce, before humanity brought on confusion caused by rebelling against the good order of God, and then he pointed us forward. It’s his love his way that truly wins.

Now back to wrath.

Jesus said some tough things that are not politically correct, nor do they sit well with our individualistic, post-modern, nice, therapeutic, new-age spirituality that’s so prevalent today. Have we really accepted this? He said there will be sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). At the end of human history, some will be turned away for not being true followers (Matt 7:22-23).

I’d call that “wrath.”  This is Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s deal with it.

The OT presented shadows of God. Christ in the NT is the reality (Col 2:17). We know what God is really like by looking long and hard at this Jesus—the Jesus who does warn of a final judgment. There’s no way around it, folks.

And we can’t leave out John’s depiction of Jesus in Revelation. Here we have an apocalyptic vision of Jesus judging the nations by the power of his word (Rev 19:15). He merely sorts it all out in the end by the word of his mouth.

In the meantime, something that often goes “unseen” is happening to evildoers.

Let’s consider Paul’s words about “wrath” in Romans 1:18-32. Look at verses 18 and 24. How does Paul describe God’s wrath in his context?

Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (v.18) and a few verses later says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (v.24 – italics mine).

Paul says wrath is indeed being revealed. How is this happening?

According to Jesus and Paul, it’s built into the very system of creation and fall. Wrath is revealed as people get their way and do their own thing to the point of consequence. No fireballs from heaven. No divine warrior or butt-kicking stuff. Just sowing and reaping.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Paul, Gal 6:-7-8).

Greg Boyd describes it as God’s “boomerang justice” or us getting what is coming to us. Hindus call it karma, the Scripture calls it wrath. It’s the great cosmic equalizer. It’s God’s universe correcting itself.

Therefore, Paul can say that God gives people over to their sin in order to experience the natural consequences of exchanging the glory of God for lies of the devil and the flesh. He means to say that indulging in and celebrating sinful behaviors as a society and culture is in and of itself revealing (in time) the wrath of God. We sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

The wrath doesn’t always come immediately, it comes slowly and is perpetuated by more evil that in time brings about hell on earth—chaos, destruction, and ultimately death. Whether it be slavery or sexual licentiousness, if not repented of, it leads to more evil. The “wrath” that follows is part of God’s divine program, if you will, coded into his good creation, working to self-correct.

We call it “God’s wrath” because it’s his holy programming, his divine laws, his order to the cosmos. He wired it that way, so he takes full responsibility.

An Invitation to Enter Grace

God’s grace to us is that Jesus absorbs the wrath of the system that we violated. The full consequences of our sin have fallen on him, because he chose it. He took our sins to the cross, then the grave, and set us free in his resurrection triumph. We broke his world, but he is fixing it.

The NT does not teach that we’re being saved from God, as if the Father is someone other than the Son revealed in Jesus (Jn 14:9), but instead from the wrath we essentially store up for ourselves as a result of our own rebellion against the Creator of everything, who knows better than we do.

Therefore, the invitation is to come into this Christ, to be safe and secure from all alarm, and to join him as agents of new creation. This is what God’s grace affords us! We weren’t meant to be objects of wrath, but persons of his love and affection. We were made in his image to reflect his glory into the earth, and then back to himself in worship and holy living.

To my conservative friends, if we take Jesus seriously, we need to see that God is not going after anyone with bloodthirsty vengeance. And to my progressive friends, you’re right to speak that message, but please don’t gloss over passages that bother you. To suggest such a thing is to remove any need for repentance, discipleship, and the gift we have in Christ. Let Jesus be Jesus.

Finally, I thank God for his grace received through repentance, the only way to escape the wrath we all deserve. For followers of Christ, that “wrath” meets grace and is experienced as loving discipline. For all scoffers in the culture who spurn God’s good will for human flourishing, his love will in time no doubt be experienced as wrath, in one form or another.

As long as we’re alive we can know for sure that there is hope for all of us miscreants, in this life and the next. I pray that we all will step into that costly grace and find the peace that the church and the world so desperately needs.

Shalom.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Flags of the Heart (The Real Problem)

I’m an Anabaptist pastor. So I’m not a big fan of flags, certainly not as a sticker on my car or sitting on the stage meant for the worship of Jesus.

I left the Southern Baptist Convention largely because of its love affair with politics, flags, and nationalism. You can read about that here.

Our last SBC church was in Texas, but it wasn’t the Confederate flag that was the problem. It was the American flag–the flag that flew over a racist, genocidal nation a hundred years before what is known as the “Civil War” between the “Union” and the Confederacy.

I understand the desire to want to respond to the AME church shooting in Charleston, SC with a boycott movement to rid the country of the Confederate flag, so proudly worn by the racist who killed the beautiful people who welcomed him into their congregation. We want to do something. I get it.

We can exorcise a flag simple enough.

While I don’t accept the official story of the glorious North defeating the evil South, and that the Confederate flag represents racism, anymore than the American flag, at this point, it should come down because of its current offensiveness to our black brothers and sisters. We owe it to them.

But here is the thing. Why do we not find the American flag equally, if not more, offensive? In the 239 years of US history, there has only been about 20 years of peace. We now profit from war. Therefore, we’re seeing more of it.

The US military-industrial complex and her flag has been on a slow march of imperialism since the very beginning.

We expect that of empires, but not of the church. What’s most disturbing to me is that the US flag is worshipped in thousands of churches every year around the sacred 4th of July, while drones around the world kill innocent men, women, and children for “freedom” and justice. Does this not offend you?

And why is it that nobody seems to be bothered that the US Flag Code says it’s a living thing. Yes, you read that correctly. Give it a look. Let it sink in.

Folks, the American flag is an idol. If this isn’t idolatry and offensive, nothing else should be. There are rednecks all across the South who are saying the same thing some of you patriots want to say, “But that’s not what it means to me!”

Sure. Right. OK. That one doesn’t fly (pun intended) with me. Simply put, both flags suck. They both are full of meaning, the good, the bad, and the ugly. As Christians, we don’t need them. So let’s be consistent.

Where am I going with this post?

As I surveyed my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I thought, What if we all repented of our sins and the darkness within us with as much fervor that goes into protesting flags and boycotting other “evil” products? Both sides of the political isle do this believing that it will somehow change things in their favor. But it seldom has the intended result. The real problem still remains.

I do understand the power of symbols, but I think attacking, even destroying symbols, can merely give the illusion that the evil has been removed from us.

In reality we’re all flying flags of the heart that can’t be eradicated by legislation, protests, and social media outrage. It might make you feel better, like you’re making a real difference, but I have serious doubts about that. Real change goes much deeper, down into the human heart.

This is why “social justice” without Christ’s call to repentance is just humanitarian work, not the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Christ alone has the lasting power to transform the human heart.

Let’s do the hard work of repentance and root out the sin that begins in the hearts of men and women, beginning with your heart. One is the way of Christ, the other can be a cheap substitute, a religious show of self-righteous emotion. One is the root cause, the other is just symptomatic of the real problem.

Now go hug your neighbor and pray for your enemy, and tell them that you’re working to take down the flags of the heart. Because Jesus wants you to do it.

David D. Flowers, 2015.


Overcoming Cynicism (Sermon)

Overcoming CynicismI’ve written on cynicism a few times here at the blog. If you follow regularly, you know this is something I’ve admitted to struggling with myself. I consider myself a recovering cynic. I must repent of my cynicism daily to follow Jesus faithfully.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m not alone in my cynicism. In fact, I’ve gotten more response through personal correspondence on this one issue than any others. It no doubt strikes a chord with folks today. And I’m not surprised.

I’ve found that cynicism is the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that is a compilation of stuff I’ve written, as well as new thoughts, on the subject of struggling with and overcoming cynicism. This one sermon was probably the most relevant message I gave all year. It connected with our congregation like no other.

In Overcoming Cynicism, I specifically take on the growing cynicism toward the church, the Body of Christ. It’s something we desperately need to address as we seek to emerge from the “evangelicalism” of the last 30 years.

Here are a few excerpts from the sermon:

“Cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of. Maybe you know the feeling. Disillusionment has been described as the “dispersal of illusions,” and many Christians are finding themselves passing through disillusionment only to drown in a sea of cynicism.”

“Cynicism is a sickness… it leads to despair. We must repent of it… repent by believing that God is greater than the evil at work in the world, for he calls us to be people of hope. We repent of it because it’s not consistent with the people we’re called to be.”

“Let’s be clear. It’s not cynicism simply to acknowledge reality. It’s just that we can’t fully know what’s real without considering the God fully revealed in Jesus. Reality must conform to the good news of Christ. If we’re not doing that, then why bother with being a Christian. Hopeful realism is about resurrection and the promise of new creation. And this is what I believe we’re being called to embrace in the gospel message. It allows us to see the Spirit of God at work, and it empowers us to join him in shaping God’s good future.”

You can download the sermon and view slides (PDF) here at our archives. Listen to Overcoming Cynicism and learn about practical steps you can take on your way to becoming a hopeful realist this Advent season.

Grace & Peace,

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

 


Play-Doh & the Multi-Racial Kingdom of God

Play-Doh-1We just got our two-year-old son a new Play-Doh kit that came with an assortment of colors and little plastic tools to cut, shape, and mold clay objects. Who doesn’t love Play-Doh, right? I still like to feel it in my fingers and get a good whiff of it. I’ve even seen Kainan pretending to eat it. He puts it to his mouth and says, “Yum, yum, yum.” Play-Doh is the stuff childhood is made of.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like things to be orderly, in their place, and without spot or blemish. If something is out place, I sense an urgency to fix it. Maybe I’m a tad bit OCD like that. Not nearly as bad as Bill Murray in What About Bob?, but my wife says that it is noticeable.

So Kainan was recently playing with his Play-Doh. I was trying to show him a few things (you know, the proper way to play with it), but he kept insisting on smashing the colors together. He’s not color blind. Why is he doing that? Clearly he just doesn’t understand that you can never get them apart again if you mix the colors like that. I just need to show him how it works, I thought.

Well, needless to say, our toddler didn’t like me messing with his work of art. He new exactly what he was doing, and it didn’t make sense to him why I was up in his business. After a couple attempts left him in tears, I left him alone.

And then I had a thought.

Is the church failing to be as imaginative as my toddler? I don’t mean in the arts, though that is important. No, I mean when it comes to our insistence upon keeping races, ethnic groups, and cultures separate from one another.

Maybe we’re not doing it on purpose. Maybe it’s just built into us like me wanting to keep the white, black, and brown Play-Doh from mixing. I suspect we’ve been conditioned not to see a greater beauty with God’s colors.

I think the only way to correct the problem is for us first to become aware of it and then begin the process of reconditioning our thinking, reimagining beauty. You know, rethinking the multi-racial Kingdom of God.

In John’s heavenly vision as recorded in Revelation 7:9-17, John sees people from every nation, tribe, and language worshipping God in perfect unity around the throne. He learns that these people “dressed in white (pure) robes” washed clean by the blood of the Lamb are those who made it through the great tribulation on earth. They paid the ultimate price.

Let there be no doubt. There is a price to be paid.

Think about this. Everything we need to envision a multi-racial, multi-cultural Kingdom has been given to us as children. Is it any wonder that Jesus calls us to embrace the sort of faith that children exhibit (Matt 18:3)? There is much that we can learn from the perspective of the little children.

“Red and yellow, black, brown, and white… they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

That’s a powerful truth captured in a children’s song. We will never outgrow this one, folks. This is the Kingdom. This is where it’s all going, sooner or later.

It’s the oppressive, even demonic, powers of this world that teach us to group ourselves according to like kind and distance ourselves from the other. It’s time the church—the church from every nation, tribe, and language—bring John’s vision of heaven to earth. Reversing Babel is all a part of the Kingdom program.

If we want to reverse Babel, we’re gonna have to be willing to join the oppressed in the margins. Jesus lived in the margins where the mess is obvious.

Where are the margins in your community? Where is the racial segregation? Where are the cultural roadblocks to peace and harmony? Look for Jesus. He is there calling us forward to respond to injustice, and conform it to the Kingdom.

Remember this: It is Satan who scatters, but it is the God revealed in Jesus who is the holy unifying force that brings peace and harmony to our broken world. God is always against dehumanizing systems that tear apart his creation.

If Jesus lived in the margins of society, and calls us to live there too, then he is clearly saying that God lives there and it’s in those places that he creates beauty. The margins can be a womb for the Kingdom, if only our lives are planted there as gospel seeds intent on birthing new creation.

This takes courage. It means risking everything for the gospel.

Our “safe” religion is nothing more than the sanitized, sterile mechanism of infertility. It doesn’t make disciples or birth Kingdom movements. While it may be easy, comfortable, and “safe” for our churches to remain segregated on Sunday mornings, it is aborting the colorful life of the Kingdom of God.

Take it from my toddler and his Play-Doh. It’s time to mix it up.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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