Tag Archives: repentance

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.

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Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

A popular progressive blogger recently said that Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” in connection with his yoke being easy and his burden light (Matt 11:28).

So if Jesus’ teaching seems too heavy and hard for folks (Lk 9:23), does this mean that they merely need to reinterpret Jesus or soften his commands in order to ease their discomfort? I sure hope not.

I prefer Bonhoeffer’s sentiment that those who accept Christ’s commands are the ones who find his yoke easy and the burden light, but to those who resist them (him) his yoke is hard and the burden too heavy for anyone to carry. Just ask the rich man, or those listening to the Sermon on the Mount for the first time.

Jesus didn’t say, “accept yourself and take up your sword and follow me.”

Which translates this way today: I’m fine the way I am and I’ll fight (by whatever means necessary) anyone who says otherwise.

This seems to be particularly reflective of our narcissistic, morally relativistic American society still experiencing the destructive political and social consequences of the 1960’s. We can easily see the error of the tactics used by the Religious Right in the 1980’s to promote a power-over, politicized Jesus, but it was the social “hippie” revolution that completely emasculated Christ and transformed him into an anything-goes “love” guru.

If you follow my writings, you know that I’m not down with the cage-fighting Jesus. I’m an Anabaptist. I believe that Christ is love (agape) and peace as revealed on the cross, but these truths are understood in their purest form after letting Jesus define them for us in word and deed, even in the hard stuff.

It doesn’t happen, and will never happen, by shaping Jesus to fit a new cultural trend, what is politically correct, or what the current zeitgeist (spirit of the age) would have us believe about ourselves, the Messiah, and the sacred Scriptures.

Anyone who reads the Gospels will hear Jesus teaching a radical repentance to come into the Kingdom (Matt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 5:32; 13:1, etc.), but our shape-shifting of Jesus to accommodate our cultural presuppositions about ourselves and our world appears to be keeping us from actually repenting of anything.

Jesus didn’t lay heavy teachings on people? No, quite the opposite. But this is where we are today: well-intentioned folks fed up with fundamentalism not realizing how dangerously close they are to reshaping Jesus to further their own interests and agendas—another version of fundamentalism, the libertine sort.

As Jesus said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to those who lived by the law. I’d say it equally applies to those who use fancy-free language that make folks feel better about their sin in order to promote an easy believism, or a moral therapeutic deism. They both stink to high heaven!

To be clear, I don’t think the one who said Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” really believes that the love of Christ is an “anything-goes” sort of thing, but this misleading rhetoric inevitably sets a person on a trajectory of disaster. It’s not the pathway of repentance for the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Christ ought to be forming us into his image, not the other way around. That is the critical difference. It’s certainly what has made all the difference in my life.

What do you think? When you read the Gospels, is Jesus laying down some hard stuff? Do you hear Jesus extending a high invitation and high challenge to those who would join him?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


In the Spirit of Lent

As I prepare to preach through Lent to Easter, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of this season. It’s a time of much-needed inner reflection for the church. It couldn’t come at a better time in my own life right now. And I suspect for everyone else as well.

The season of Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation as the church looks forward to Passion week and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This season involves an intentional focus on inner reflection through prayer, repentance, and self-denial. It is when we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and need for salvation.

Why do I need this season? I need it because I’m often tempted to look at others instead of myself. How can I help others? What is wrong with “the world” and how can I can help to transform it? As a pastor and teacher, it’s easy to live in this mode of existence. It’s easy to ignore what’s on the inside.

Also, I have noticed that as Christians we often need a little balance in our lives—equilibrium in our faith and practice. I think it’s possible to live in God’s love and grace, learning to live in freedom, and then forget something that is critical about ourselves and the gospel: we’re sinners saved by grace.

Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without repentance and the cross. Costly grace reminds us that practicing self-denial and repenting of sin is the call of every Christian.

Sin isn’t to be taken lightly.

Sin is “missing the mark” of God’s holy and righteous character, which is fully expressed in Christ. It’s a misuse of human energies, a breakdown in divine fellowship, and of human community. Sin is rebellion within the human heart against God’s best for his creation. It’s a spiritual distortion within humanity.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 NIV

We can’t be lazy and careless on our journey with Christ in community. We must be intentional in the working out of our salvation (Phil 2:12). We need to remember the sin that is at work in us and the urgency of having it removed from us. This then requires us to look in the mirror, allowing God to chisel away the rough edges. The chiseling may hurt a little.

You can feel it when the cross meets your flesh.

Let us agree with Paul and claim this salvific truth concerning our identity:

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20 NLT

So what about those sinful inclinations? How are we doing with temptation? Are we, by the power of Christ, overcoming sin at work in our lives? What measures are we taking to stamp out our anger, our lust, our gossip, our greed, and our cynicism? Have we allowed anything to become an idol in our lives?

Are we counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ?

I do believe that Lent is also a good time to reflect on the problem of evil. Things are not as they should be. And if we’re going to walk in God’s love and grace through the purging process, we need to know from whence evil comes, and why we struggle with sin in the first place.

“Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.” Rom 5:12 VOICE

If we do not accept that the cosmos is not as God intended it to be, as a result of human sin on the earth and angelic (demonic) rebellion in the creative evolutionary processes of the primordial past, then we will inevitably attribute evil to God, instead of acknowledging the culprits who are responsible—ourselves and Satan who is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Blaming God cuts us off from our only source of strength and salvation.

I submit to you that if there is any place in our hearts that wants to attribute evil to God, including our so-called “natural” proclivities, this makes naming our sins and repenting of them all the more difficult.

We will say things like, “Well, God made me/them this way” or “God is to blame for evil” in my life and the world. But if we accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, we know the truth about the Creator and his good will for us. Christ reveals the divine will for our broken humanity.

We know that God in Christ is bringing order to the chaos. The good news of the Kingdom is that God has taken responsibility for the free world he created by becoming a human being and experiencing the darkness of our fall. He took up our sin and rebellion and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-15).

Jesus was crucified and raised for our sanctification. He calls out a people, a church, to accept this free gift and transform this broken world by the power of his Spirit. He wants us to participate in sorting it all out.

Sin has been rendered powerless. Death has lost its sting! Christ took on the powers of darkness and defeated them through holy living, even unto death. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 NIV

What will we do with the Spirit’s power this Lent? Will we quench the Spirit or will we let him have his way in us? The future of the church is wrapped up in the way we respond to the Spirit that is at work in the world, seeking to reconcile all things to God, and bring healing to the nations (Col 1:19-21).

Be strong and courageous. Call sin what it is and repent of it.

Stop looking at the sins of others, and reflect inwardly toward your own need for sanctification. It is there that we will find healing for our souls in this season of renewal. Blessings on the journey.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality

We just recently celebrated the life and work of the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no doubt that King will forever stand as a symbol of civil and social justice against the menacing tide of racism. He yearned for equality in the United States, and around the world as well.

At the end of last year we remembered the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who helped end apartheid. Two men. Two countries. One passion. It amazes me what God can do through broken people!

I see much of Christ in these men, and celebrate their accomplishments, but I think it is important to remember Christ himself as the purest symbol of diversity and equality. And not just as a symbol, but as a LIVING Spirit at work in the world to draw all men into divine community—which is far different from a world community apart from him. That much is clear today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized in his time the need for authentic community, with Christ at the center.

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” Life Together, p.21

Bonhoeffer went on to say that Christian community is governed by the Spirit, in human community it is psychological techniques and methods (p.32).

There is a difference between the community of sinners and the community of saints. The spiritual love of Christ fuels authentic human community. This is absent in the pop-cultural expressions of love and acceptance.

While I do believe that a world which doesn’t know Christ can share in the abundant overflow of God’s love and grace permeating throughout creation, in sincere pursuit of human community, there will always be a missing Center.

Only community with Christ at its center is restorative, redemptive, LIFE-giving, and everlasting.

This has been recognized throughout church history, beginning with Christ himself. You can’t have community without love, and you can’t truly know love without first knowing the God revealed in Jesus (1 Jn 4:7-9).

Therefore, community for the Christian ultimately comes through separation from the world. In the world, yes. But certainly not of the world (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:12). A truth that we are hearing less and less these days.

The postmodern idea of diversity and equality is not the same as that of the divine Christian community established by Christ. The rhetoric is often the same, but they stand in stark contrast to each other. Think about it.

The former doesn’t recognize sin as a spiritual sickness and therefore denies the need for a savior, for repentance, renewal, and transformation.

In today’s world, this sort of human “community” ultimately explains sin away as merely a genetic problem, external cultural forces, or simply says there was/is NO problem in the first place.

The gospel of Christ, and the whole of Scripture, testifies that human beings have a sin problem. Even as someone who personally believes in theistic evolution, I affirm Christ and the Scriptures about the broken state of human beings and their futile attempts at global solidarity (Gen 3; 11:1-9; Rom 3:23).

When Peter recognizes he is in the presence of a holy Jesus, he falls down and cries, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). Jesus doesn’t reply with, “No, you’re just a product of evolution… your daddy beat you… you just need to accept who you are… the power of positive thinking can help!”

To be clear, I’m confident that Jesus would recognize that modern scientific discoveries can help us understand ourselves better today than in the first century, and that he would suggest some counseling for troubled folks, but it is post-enlightenment arrogance to assign Jesus’ language and teaching to “pre-scientific” ignorance about the human psyche. The spiritual component is no less real than that which can be charted by a neurologist or your therapist. In fact, Jesus saw the spirit, mind, and body as a whole.

So, let’s call selfish, destructive behavior what it is: sin. We all experience sin at work in us everyday. It wars against us (Rom 7). And there is only one remedy.

Jesus was clear that he came, “not to call the righteous, but to save sinners” (Mk 2:17). He actually seeks out sinners (Matt 9:9-13). He tells us to repent of our sins and come into the Kingdom he is preparing for those who are willing to be transformed into his glorious image (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:2-6; 2 Cor 3:18). There is no salvation apart from repentance.

This Kingdom is about the here and the now. This salvation is for today.

God calls us, as broken sinners, into a community of saints who practice repentance and have foresworn all sinful behavior.

This divine Christian community discovers diversity and equality through the salvific work of Christ to transform sinners into saints, not by overlooking our deep human brokenness for the sake of secular tolerance.

The call is for people of every tribe and tongue to repent of their sin and come into the Kingdom of God. This diversity does not allow for a moral licentiousness and a tolerance of all human behaviors (Eph 4:17-32; Col 3:1-17).

Remember, it is a community of Christ. Christ, who shows us what it means to be fully human, must be the Center of community.

There is grace for the journey, even in the church. But the reality of sin and the need for repentance must be acknowledged if divine community is to be experienced. Only then can we know what is part of our God-given humanness, and what is to be repented of for individual wholeness, as well as for the forming of Christ’s Body on the earth.

Let’s agree on that, brothers and sisters.

This is what the communion table represents—a community of sinners-made-saints who are daily repenting of sin, being fashioned and formed into Christ, and celebrate together the past, present, and future of this new reality.

Eat and drink in remembrance of him.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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