Postcards From Babylon

Brian Zahnd: Postcards From Babylon

So I’m writing my postcards from Babylon calling on Christians tangled up in red, white, and blue to renounce the idolatry of American civil religion. America is not an object of reverence — it’s just the latest in a long line of here-today, gone-tomorrow empires. I can love America like I love hamburgers and rock ‘n’ roll, but I can’t love America like I love Jesus. America as my residence within this world is fine, but America as the savior of the world is heresy. The gospel of the American dream is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are antithetical to one another. It’s either the story of Jesus that gives meaning to life or the story of America that gives meaning to life, but it’s not both. Lincoln, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and all the rest can claim America is the “last best hope of earth,” but it’s not true. That’s just the sort of thing that empires say; but it’s also the sort of thing Christians must never say.

America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.

As with anything, our nation, its symbols, and our loyalty to it can be idols that draw us away from Christ.

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3 Reasons To Regularly Get Others To Preach

J. A. Medders: 3 Reasons To Regularly Get Others To Preach

Preachers love preaching, but they shouldn’t love it too much. A potential idol for preachers is the act of preaching. You can crave the pulpit too much. And while we preachers can talk to the sheep about not finding their identity in their work but in Christ, this is a word we preachers need to preach to ourselves.

We are not our preaching. We are not our sermons. We are disciples before we are pastors.

A congregation that helps and encourages its members to fill the pulpit is a stronger congregation.

#MeToo Must be #WeToo

Timothy Archer: #MeToo Must Be #WeToo

Beyond society in general, I think the church needs to increase efforts to make church a safe haven and a refuge for those who have been abused. To do such, I think that we need to:

  • Condemn any and all abuse of power in the church.
  • Condemn any and all sexual abuse in the church.
  • Stop the ridicule of safety measures.
  • Reject all questioning of a victim’s complicity in the abuse.

Be sure to visit the link to see these suggestions in greater detail.

All I can think is this: if we’re failing to help victims of sexual aggression and violence feel welcome in the church, what are we even doing?

Moloch

an engraving of people offering their children to the idol Moloch

In the midst of commands regarding sexual purity in Leviticus 18, we can find this directive from God to His people:

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

– Leviticus 18:21 (ESV)

Moloch is a Hebrew name for a Canaanite god. (It’s also known as Molech, Milcom, or Malcam in various translations.) Later in Israel’s history, Moloch is most often associated with the Ammonites. Solomon actually brings Moloch worship into the borders of Israel at the behest of one of his many wives in I Kings 11:7, and Jeremiah 32:35 specifically condemns some of the children of Israel for continuing to worship this idol or any idol that requires human sacrifice.

What made Moloch unique among the other idols we read about in the Old Testament is that those who worshipped it sacrificed their children, seemingly by burning them before or on the idol. Cleitarchus describes similar sacrifices to Cronus in this way:

There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing. (trans. Paul G. Mosca)

We don’t worship statues any more, but the New Testament writers speak time and again about fleeing idolatry. Paul, in Colossians 3:5, goes so far as to define covetousness as idolatry. In other words, anything for which we are willing to sacrifice our spirituality to obtain, material or otherwise, becomes an idol to us. They are replacing God in our hearts.

Often, from the pulpit, we draw direct comparisons between Moloch and modern abortion, and the comparison is obvious. Both involve children; both involve death. The big differentiator being whether or not the mother involved views their unborn child as a sentient being as most of us Christians do. In the case of the sacrifices to Moloch, there was no doubt that the child was living, sentient, and capable of pain. Yet they would go through with it in hopes that they would receive safety, security, and victory from this god. And that’s where the application opens even further.

Our culture has grown comfortable with sacrificing the lives of “others” in order to preserve security, uphold political ideals, or to obtain some perceived victory. We turn away refugees and their children because welcoming them makes us feel unsafe. We advocate for health care laws that will rip affordable coverage away from those that need it most for some sense of “liberty.” We criticize those who wish to put diplomacy before violence, and praise said violence as strength.

In all of these cases, we’re putting our ideas of security, safety, and victory before the lives of others. We deem our ideals as more important than their existence. But we seldom feel the effects of our own callousness because we’re not the ones affected. Incidentally, sacrifices to Moloch never involved throwing yourself in the fire; it was always someone else, even if that meant your own child.

So challenge yourself with this question: what ideal or victory are you willing to sacrifice the lives of others to obtain? If we’re all honest with ourselves, we might all find forms of Moloch we’re still serving.

Focusing On the Family Doesn’t Help the Church…Nor the Family

Focusing on the family doesn’t help the church… nor the family

Far too often, our children grow up with a church focused around them. Children’s church so they don’t get bored. Youth ministry designed to keep them entertained. Campus ministry that isn’t designed for discipling, just a desperate effort to somehow keep our kids going to church once they leave home.

Family focus has led us to value youth sports over church attendance, family meals over pot lucks, school plays over midweek gatherings. If we find time in the midst of all of our family activities, we’ll go to church. If not, well… family is the most important, right?

Our families need to understand that they need the support of a strong church to grow as they should. If we want to build our families, let’s do so through building our churches.

Want strong families? Teach people to be like Jesus. Want good parent-child relationships? Let them bond through serving other people.

It’s a fine line between focusing on any demographic and pandering.

Regret

ducks on a misty pond
image by Goran Vučićević

I recently ran into somebody whom I haven’t seen in years. Actually “running into” may be exaggerating things. It was more like seeing her in passing, taking ten or so seconds to actually recognize her, and then getting hit with a small tsunami of regret.

I have to admit, that last part surprised me.

When I knew this person, I was not in a good place in my life. I was mentally and spiritually struggling, and I did not treat her well as a friend or Christian should. We had a pretty bad falling out, and it was entirely my fault. This happened half a lifetime ago. I’d like to think I’ve made a good deal of progress as a person since then. I’m much closer to Christ now than I was then, and I’ve prayed over those errors of my past. I thought I’d moved on. I was surprised how little it took to open that old wound again.

Demoralizing Regret

That’s the trouble with worldly regret. Paul speaks about godly regret that leads to repentance in II Corinthians 7:10, and certainly the regret I felt over how I treated this individual prompted me to repent and seek to better myself. But the regret that kicked me the other day wasn’t that kind of regret. It was harsher, demoralizing, and spiritually weakening. It was the grief that produces death in the second half of II Corinthians 7:10.

Removing Regret’s Power

We simply cannot let regret have power over us as Christians — no more than we allow anger, fear, or hatred have such power. Certainly Peter regretted denying Christ. He certainly regretted his behavior leading up to the cross. I’m sure he had plenty of time to dwell on that regret prior to the resurrection, but he never let that regret consume him like Judas had.

By John 21, Peter is moving on with his life. When Christ then reveals His identity to Peter by way of a miracle identical to that of Luke 5:1 – 11, Peter doesn’t shirk away. Instead, he jumps in the water and swims ashore, so he can get to Jesus as quickly as possible. He had sinned. He had regretted, but now he was ready to move on and heal.

Even when it catches us by surprise, regret does not have to consume us, nor should we be afraid of or ashamed of it. We have to face it. Where Judas shows us an extreme example of the dangers of regret, Peter shows us another way. We can lean on God in our times of regret and grow stronger by working through those feelings. Like Peter, we may need to lean on Christ or fellow Christians to help us on the journey.

Every regret is a spiritual challenge to do better, and we move past that regret by facing the challenge and overcoming.