a bit monkish.
I still further desire to know why He came to us, and we didn't go to him. The need was on our side, and it's not usual for the rich to go to the poor, even though they want to help them. It would have made more sense for us to go to him, but there were two obstacles in our way: 1) Our eyes were darkened while He dwelt in light inaccessible; and 2) We lay as paralytics on our beds so we couldn't raise ourselves to the Divine height. This is why our most gracious Savior and Healer of souls both descended to us from His lofty throne and dimmed His brilliance for our weak eyes. He clothed Himself with His most glorious and spotless body as like a shade around a lamp, thus clouding His splendor from us. This is that bright and shining cloud upon which the Lord was to descend upon Egypt, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 19:1)
-- Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Lord's Advent, 1.8
It’s the greatest Presidential speech never given. In the film Independence Day, as the President of the United States stands on ruins of a nation after an alien attack, he speaks through a bullhorn to the ragamuffin pilots who would soon attack the evil spaceship. “We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight…” It’s a cheesy, goose bump cinematic moment.
On Friday, October 7 in Chicago, there was nothing cheesy about the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). It was a day of praise and worship, rousing preaching, fellowship, and, like this fictional presidential speech, a declaration that United Methodists who uphold the doctrinal teachings of Church are not only standing firm, they’re going on offense. No longer will they be bullied by those who blatantly disregard the doctrines and discipline of The United Methodist Church. They love the UMC too much to allow that to happen. The event concluded with two bishops presiding over the Lord’s Supper. Following the event I had a few hours by myself to process the day. What follows are some of my scattered, unpolished thoughts.
First, I’m tired of being called an extremist because I uphold nearly 2000 years of church teaching and the doctrines and discipline of the UMC. By definition, an extremist is someone who exceeds the bounds of restraint by holding excessive opinions or views that are outside of the mainstream. The real extremists in the UMC are those who disregard the Church’s teachings and discipline, not the ones who uphold them. It doesn’t matter what label we use to call ourselves: Conservatives, evangelicals, moderates, or whatever. It’s time to stand unashamedly for Jesus Christ because of our love for Christ. Those who are attempting to hijack the UMC away from the truth of God through our historic Wesleyan heritage want to bring the moral fashion trends of the culture into the church. Scripture tells us the influence should go the other way. God is love, but God’s love is a holy love.
The presence of Central Conference representatives at the WCA event was a reminder of the sacrifices we must be ready to make for the cause of Christ. Even though they face occasional physical persecution in Africa, our United Methodist sisters and brothers courageously share the saving message of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is blessing them. In North America, evangelicals in the UMC have sometimes cowered when extremists call us names and we retreat to our church offices to hide. We must be ready to stand and then endure suffering, for if we take a stand, the suffering will surely come. However, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:29, we’ve been given the privilege of both trusting in Christ and suffering for him. It’s through suffering that we find joy.
Second, I left the event with the impression that by having 1) 1700+ clergy and laity in attendance from all corners of the Church; 2) an affirmation that the entire UMC in Africa stands with us; and 3) the presence of at least two bishops (and the names of Bishops who could not attend due to schedule conflicts), the WCA is making a statement to the Judicial Council and the forthcoming special commission that they are a large, organized, unified force in the UMC who cannot be ignored.
The event could have been a day of “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” Conversely, it was a day of positive preaching, classic Wesleyan teaching, Christian love and fellowship, and a desire to see pre-Christian people around us transformed into the image of Christ. I don’t know what the future holds for the WCA or what the organizers do next. The hiring of staff with membership dollars signifies they’re here to stay (I did not join on Friday). Attendees at the event affirmed several statements of mission and purpose, but the organization’s primary purpose is still a mystery to me. However, I stand with them, for they are advancing nothing more than what is already in the Book of Discipline and historic Christian teaching.
For years, in talking with church members about events in the UMC, I’ve tried either to hide or to explain away the extreme actions by agencies and individuals in The UMC as not really affecting the work of the local church. However, the consecration of Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy was, in the words of WCA presenter Jeff Greenway, a “stake in the sand.” This blatant violation of the Book of Discipline has gone too far. It’s time to stand for the truth of the Gospel and our commitment to the doctrines and discipline of the UMC.
The WCA is a declaration that despite what extremists in the UMC might be trying to force upon us, like the citizens in Independence Day “We will not go quietly into the night.” We must never retreat, for as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-5, NRSV).
May the love of God the Father be our guide, the salvific work of Jesus be our motivation, and the power of the Holy Spirit be our strength.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
“To get here, do not take the road to Moussey!”
These words were included in the email directions to our chambres d’hôtes (B&B) near Troyes, the capital of Champagne, in July 2006. As my dad, my son, and I drove north, we saw the road to Moussey; and, faithfully following directions, we avoided taking it. About a kilometer north of the Moussey turnoff, we found our quaint accommodations for the night at the Domaine de la Creuse.
In some ways, I’m still a child. If someone tells me not to push the button, my finger will immediately be drawn towards it. Such was the case with Moussey. Because we were told not to go there, I had to go there. As we returned to our chambres d’hôtes one evening after a day in the Troyes cathedral and the final resting place of St. Bernard of Clairvaux's remains, we approached the Moussey turnoff. My dad looked at me, and getting my consent, applied the brakes and slowed down. From the backseat I could hear my 12 year-old joking (in his best French accent), “Do not go to Moussey! Do not go to Moussey!” We made the right turn and headed down the narrow farm road.
Before we ever saw the city-limit sign, I was already in love with Moussey. Towering above the little village was a crumbling, Romanesque church tower. As we approached, we realized this was a working church. Standing about three-stories high and covering an entire city block, the church dominated the sleepy village. Despite the frail appearance of its stone blocks and clay stucco, this 12th Century church had survived the Hundred Years’ War, the French Revolution, two World Wars, and countless other abuses. The building was still being used as the village church, and would be celebrating its 900th anniversary the following week.
How many Mousseys do we miss in life because we’re seeking the best, the latest, the trendiest, the largest, and the most convenient? No one visits the church in Moussey. It’s not in the tourist guide books or travel web sites. It just sits there, serving as the spiritual center for the people of the village like it has for 900 years. It’s difficult for us in North America to process history before the the American Revolution. When Paul Revere made his famous ride, the church in Moussey had been holding Sunday services for roughly 700 years.
In theological disciplines, it’s fashionable to find some new aspect of a theory or teaching. We get bored presenting the same ideas of the Trinity, the atonement, or even the nature of God, so we construct new understandings to keep our scholarship fresh. The same goes for preaching, or church growth, or other aspects of the Christian life and ministry. It’s as simple as “New is good. Old is bad.”
For me, I prefer Moussey. Its 463 residents don’t think their town is on the societal cutting edge, but that’s probably why they live there. Sure, the stucco of the church has been patched and repainted several times, but the building is the same one built in the 1100s.
The next time you’re tempted for the popular, trendy aspects of life and ministry, maybe it’s time to take the road to Moussey.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I don't usually post sermons on this site, and I don't typically preach topical sermons. So this post is a double-anomaly. Below is the full text of the sermon I preached on August 21, 2016 at Centenary United Methodist Church in Danville, KY.
"Life in a Post-Christian World"
Text: Romans 13:1-7
I’ve spent more time preparing to preach this sermon than any I can remember in several years. And to be honest I don’t really want to preach it. You see, it would be much easier to preach a sermon on how Jesus loves the little children than to tackle what we’re going to today. But I’m preaching this sermon today because I love you, and I feel we need to hear this message.
It’s understood by most folks that how we function as the church needs to be tweaked from time to time as the culture changes around us. However, in these changing times in the United States we need to realize that how we function as a church is changing in ways we’ve never seen before. That said, in the midst of this change, the timeless truth of the Gospel revealed in Scripture never changes, because God doesn’t change.
One of my favorite TV commercials is about a rental car company. In the commercial, some employees noticed that the lines to rent a car were extremely long and customers were getting frustrated. So a manager came up with a solution: Give the people in the line stress-relieving squeezy balls. That way, they wouldn’t be as stressed or frustrated as they stood in the long lines. While that company focused on squeezy balls and didn’t address the real issue at hand, another company eliminated the need for lines and allowed customers to go straight to their rental car. The first company was so focused on maintaining what they’d always done that they couldn't see shift in customers’ desires to eliminate lines altogether.
You see, there’s a shift happening in the United States like we’ve never seen before in our nation’s history. We are living in a post-Christian world. Let me explain what I mean by that. The United States isn’t a Christian nation, but we’ve been given the freedom to worship however we want without the government establishing an official religion like England has. However, we’ve had Judeo-Christian values in our nation since our founding. Throughout our history, the value of churches in the country has always been respected, and Christianity was the dominant worldview for much of our nation’s history.
However, we’re living through a major shift in our nation today. The role of churches in society is de-valued. Some studies now show that committed Christians who regularly attend Sunday worship have minority status in the United States. Increasingly, evangelical Christians are becoming the minority in America. We’re disrespected in the media. We’re being called narrow-minded and all sorts of other names. We’re ridiculed for taking our faith too seriously and for saying that Jesus is the only way to God. And my response to this? “Praise God. It’s about time.”
We’re living in a post-Christian world just as the first generation of Christians were living in a pre-Christian world. People in Paul’s day didn’t have any idea who Jesus was. Just like many people right here in Danville have no idea who Jesus is. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been hanging out with pre-Christian people enough. At Camp in the City this summer, 2/3 of the children who participated weren’t Centenary kids. The counselors shared stories of children who didn’t know what a Bible was. They thought Jesus was the subject of a fairy tale. These are children from right here in Danville, and their ignorance about the basics of the faith indicate their parents don’t know God either. Yet this is why we hosted Camp in the City in the first place, so I’m thankful that by the end of the week, these children came to know Jesus.
Because we’re increasingly living in a post-Christian society in America, Christians have two options about how to respond to this phenomenon: 1) We can try to change society by electing Christian people we believe can bring the change we desire to see. 2) We can change the way we do things as a church.
As someone with a high view of the authority of Scripture (as is the historic Methodist norm), it’s important for us to look at the Bible to see how we should address this situation.
This morning we’re looking at the first several verses of Romans 13. In these verses Paul tells us that Christians have a responsibility to obey the government and its laws, even if we don’t respect the leaders or agree with the laws. We should do this 1) Because God placed them there, 2) So we don’t get punished by the government and 3) Because it’s the right thing to do as citizens. In these verses we find a separation between the work of the church and the role of the government. I’ve searched the New Testament and I can’t find a single verse that says the role of the church is to get Christians to run the country.
For example, Jesus says in Matthew 22 that regarding taxes we should give to the government what belongs to the government and to God what belongs to God. Notice the separation there. Jesus made it clear: the role of his followers is to focus on life in the Kingdom of God. Let the world do what the world is going to do. Let the politicians do what they’re going to do. We Christians have other, more important things to focus on. Paul writes in Philippians 3:17 that we’re citizens of heaven, not citizens of the earth. To me, that’s an important distinction.
I’m certainly going to vote this fall, and I love this country, but my time and energy will always be on issues related to the Kingdom of God. And I think we need to be honest: Kingdom of God issues crisscross the platforms of our 2 major political parties. We can’t honestly say that Jesus would have been a Republican or a Democrat because both he and the historic narrative of Scripture itself addresses issues that are popular with both parties. The truth is that no matter who wins in November, it’s not going to change the issue of what it means to live faithfully for Jesus Christ. I love this nation, and I’m thankful to live here. But I’m not going to stress, worry, or go on Xanax because of what happens in Frankfort or Washington DC. That’s because my love for the United States will never be greater than my love for Jesus Christ.
I scroll through Facebook and I see so many Christians obsessed over political issues and then get into messaged arguments with others about candidates and political issues. I wish they’d spent that much energy telling their next door neighbor about Jesus!
You can probably tell why I didn’t want to preach this sermon today! However, I feel that as your pastor, it’s my responsibility to address these issues because this has everything to do with our growth as disciples of Jesus.
Since we’re seeing a shift in America to a post-Christian age, and because our focus should be on life in the Kingdom of God, it’s important - no, essential! - that we do things differently if we’re going to be a faithful church. Just opening the doors is not going to get people here anymore. We can no longer have a big event and expect anyone to ever come back. We can’t just publicize ministries in the newspaper and expect anyone to take interest because we’re a church. We’re living in a different world now. It’s a world very similar Paul’s in the first century Roman Empire. That’s why Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and make disciples. He didn't say, “Build a church building and when they come to you, make disciples out of them.”
Church family that I love so dearly, if we’re going to continue to be a faithful church, we’re going to have to go out and get folks. We’re going to have to focus on making disciples, not on recruiting members. When Peter, Paul, and other Christian leaders did this, by the Holy Spirit the church grew faster than they could keep up with it. Many were persecuted and even killed for their commitment to Jesus, yet they didn’t whine or complain about it. They didn’t say their rights were being violated. The persecution just made the church grow even faster. Within a couple of hundred years, Christianity was the dominant belief group in the Roman Empire. It was a movement of the Holy Spirit.
But then something happened that hadn’t happened before: the Emperor of the Roman Empire became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. And that Holy Spirit movement came to a standstill. Soon we entered the Dark Ages of our faith. The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 13, and in other places had been replaced with the political power of an earthly nation. National politics came first, and the Kingdom of God was in the background.
Can you see why I’m excited about ministry possibilities in a post- Christian world? We finally have something in common with the Christians of the New Testament. We have proven, Holy Spirit strategies for making disciples.
However, it also means that we’re going to have to do things differently, because many churches are organized and have ministries that fit well in a Christian world, but not necessarily a post-Christian world. If we’re going to be relevant and faithful in our mission to make disciples in a post-Christian world, we’re going to have to rethink how we do everything.
I understand that Christians like change as much as Frosty the Snowman likes the beach. But we have to remember that our relationship with Christ isn’t for ourselves. The existence of this church isn’t just for us, but for the people who don’t yet know who Jesus is.
We’re here in this time in history, in this generation of Centenary’s long history, to share the love of Jesus with people in the greater Danville area. Our goal should be to bring them into our family and grow as disciples with us. Not ministries to people or for people, but ministries with them. If we don’t start viewing the world and the church’s context in the world with honest eyes, churches in America will become like churches in Europe: museums that reveal a past glory.
I’ll say it again: I’m excited about the opportunities for ministry in a post-Christian world. It allows us to focus on life the Kingdom of God as Jesus intended us to do.
Tomorrow night, the church council is going to receive a report from a 4-person task force that has been meeting since January. They’re going to present to the council a comprehensive strategy for how we as a church can be strategic in making disciples. If you’re on the church counsel, I prayerfully ask you to be at this meeting. If you’re not, I ask that you pray for us tomorrow at 7pm.
The world around us desperately needs Jesus. The world around us desperately needs Christians who will lead them to Jesus. Life in a post-Christian world is certainly different, but the opportunities for ministry are exciting. Our primary responsibility on this earth is not to be a good citizen or committed church member. It’s to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. So let’s make sure we don’t live our lives with an earthly focus, but with a heavenly one. Because our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.
Being united doesn’t mean we’re always in agreement. Unity is nothing more than a coalescence of ideals and purpose. The United States of America, for example, is united, but its citizens are certainly not of one mind. We disagree, sometimes over important issues, but in the end we have a greater good in mind: The preservation of the republic. I'm in unity with my fellow Chicago Cubs fans, but we don't always agree on the best winning strategy.
From voices across The United Methodist Church, we hear talk of unity and disunity, and whether or not we can continue to live under the same ecclesial roof. The primary, contentious issue has to do with human sexuality. But human sexuality is a surface-level issue representing deeper matters, such as of the natures of God, humanity, and Scripture.
Why does The United Methodist Church exist? The Book of Discipline states our purpose is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Yet when we look at the statistics of the denomination, we’re losing disciples, not making them - at least in North America. The Central Conferences are making disciples at an exciting rate while it seems that many United Methodists in North America seek to transform the world through facility expansions, saving the environment, and personal fulfillment.
I like to describe myself as an optimistic realist. I have great hopes for the people called Methodist. However, until we can find theological unity in our disagreements, we’re going to remain shackled by issues that divide us. And while those of us in North America bicker over matters that are clear in Scripture and 2000 years of church history, our African United Methodist sisters and brothers are transforming their cultures, one new disciple after another. They might disagree on discipleship methods from time to time, but they’re unified in the task of making those disciples. Just like Jesus (and the Book of Discipline) tell us to do.
Perhaps the formation of The United Methodist Church 48 years ago was a great theological experiment: Can Christians with conflicting theological views live in unity? The answer is 'yes' if everyone abides by the same covenantal framework. However, once the breaking of covenant is seen as courageous and noble, all that's left is chaos, especially when the covenant breakers are the very ones who are supposed to be leading us.
What used to unite us was our covenant to live together in theological tension, even if our personal views didn't always align with official church teachings or policies. Without faithfulness to our United Methodist covenant, we're no different from the people in the book of Judges, who did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). And we know how well that turned out for them.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
This week, Danville Centenary UMC is hosting Camp in the City, a ministry of Pine Cove Camps in Tyler, TX. Camp in the City brings a Christian camp to a local church, transforming the church into a summer camp for a week.
The love of Jesus has flowed through our church during Camp in the City. What has inspired me the most are the counselors, who have boundless energy, deep love for their campers, and hearts of servants. Camp in the City counselors have a relationship with Christ (vertical faith) that extends to others (horizontal witness). To be honest, they have an exuberance for God and others I haven’t seen in a while, and they genuinely want to see their campers fall in love with Jesus.
Having Camp in the City here this week has allowed me to process the various issues facing the United Methodist Church. It seems that many in the UMC are trying to see a horizontal witness develop into a vertical faith. That’s why in North America, the UMC is in many ways, failing in our mission. When what unites us is polity and church laws and not the Apostolic, Trinitarian Godhead, we’re just another 501(c)(3) non-profit trying to do good works in the world. When our goal is to appease every people group so as not to offend them and not to share "the way, the truth, and the life" message of Jesus Christ with people who have no idea who He is, we’ve become something other than the church depicted in the Book of Acts.
When the vertical gets replaced with the horizontal as the focus of the church, we cease to be the Body of Christ because Christ is no longer our head (Colossians 1:18). This principle is the same for progressives who desire to create their own morality as it is for conservatives who focus solely on denominational standards and policies.
I’m longing - praying! - for a renewal in The United Methodist Church that is focused on a vertical relationship with Jesus Christ that extends horizontally into the lives of others. If this spiritual leadership is not going to come from the Council of Bishops or other denominational personnel, then it’s time for us to stop waiting. Let's be the holy people of God the Bible tells us to be: not united with the values of the world, but united for the transformation of the values of world by the Holy Spirit.
What the world needs is not United Methodist clergy and laypersons who are simply obedient to the Book of Discipline. What the world needs is United Methodist clergy and laypersons who are so in love with God the Father, so committed to Jesus Christ, and so empowered by the Holy Spirit that they count it a privilege to be called fools for Christ and to be scolded by the world. May it begin with me.
It’s in our Wesleyan heritage: Without personal holiness there is no social holiness. Only good works.
Thank you for your vertical witness, Camp in the City. You've inspired me to remember what constitutes real ministry in the world.
** ADDITIONAL NOTE: The violence in our country - police shooting citizens, citizens shooting citizens, and citizens shooting police - is not going to be stopped by new laws or heightened protests. The answer to these and other issues in society is Jesus coming alive in people's lives. Horizontal solutions will always be limited in their effectiveness. What the world needs is an increase in vertical relationships becoming horizontal.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
Around the world, metacommunites exist that are exceptions to our longstanding definitions of ‘community.’ These metacommunities play smartphone and tablet games together and have friendly relationships in off-game chat apps. When I heard about the existence of these friendships, I was skeptical. These folks don’t know each other’s real names. They don’t know where their friends really live. They don’t even know if these friends are the gender they say they are. Aren't these groups filled with predators? Can these people really develop lasting friendships and true community? And if so, what are the implications for those of us in the church?
So about four years ago, I dove in to discover this phenomenon for myself.
After a co-worker briefed me on the basics of online etiquette, I assumed the name “Bernard” (not surprising for those who know me) and started playing a game on my smartphone. I joined a guild/clan and instantly became part of a gaming community. I was introduced to people with names like Avalon, Bigspin, DaShadiest, Killabee, and NinjaBill. We played the game together, chatted with each other, and shared in each other’s lives without giving out too much information about ourselves. These folks said they were from Chicago, Eastern Canada, and California.
Before I knew what was happening, our little band of friends disbanded to play other games. However, three of us: Avalon, DaShadiest, and myself found ourselves in the highest ranking game guild in the world. We met new friends, like Jade, Flagg, Zedsta, Ruby, and Lee. When the app developer suddenly deleted the game, we were left without a game to play! But we had each other through our off-game texting app, so we continued to be in each other’s lives until we found another game to play.
I wasn't a gamer. I only played the games to be in the lives of the friends I'd made. I never revealed that I am a Christian (or a pastor/professor), but I was committed not to deny it if I was ever asked. No one ever did. They knew I was Bernard from the Louisville area with a PhD in medieval history. All true.
It’s amazing how well I knew these folks. In private messages I learned of marriage breakups, recovery from alcohol, I counseled them about relationship issues, helped people process job transitions, and where to go on vacation. I completely realize that all or some of these personal issues could have been fabrications. They could have been fantasies from people I only thought that I knew. However, my experience was that these people really were being honest with each other. I do remember one person from England named BillBob who briefly joined our game. After three days, BillBob said, “I’m not actually a guy. I’m using my boyfriend’s game name.” In my experience, BillBob was the exception. People were generally honest and were simply longing for friendly gaming relationships with each other.
And then came the news from my close gaming friend DaShadiest last December: He had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and had just a few months to live. I didn’t know “Shadi’s” real name. I knew he lived in California, but I didn’t know where. Yet when I learned of his cancer I was as devastated as if I had heard this news from someone I knew face to face. What began as a social experiment to see if online communities have merit had taken a very real-life turn.
Shadi's cancer produced in me the most surreal emotions I had ever felt. I was grieving for a friend and I didn’t even know his name. I didn’t know what he looked like or where he lived. I didn’t know the sound of his voice. Of all my gaming friends, I had only talked to Avalon on the phone once, and discovered that he, too, was facing some serious health issues. My online friend Shadi was facing a life-threatening situation and I was completely helpless to do anything.
Over the next few months, I had a decision to make with Shadi. I wanted to be sure he had a solid support system wherever his home was, and that he knew how deeply I cared for him. I also had some eternal concerns. Do I risk alienating him by sharing my faith? If I did that, would I be crossing a social line? Would he feel that I had used our friendship only to push my Christianity on him?
I finally decided to open up to Shadi a bit. Here’s part our conversation (Shadi's words are in white):
Over the next few months, Shadi wasn’t chatting as often as before, but we still kept in touch. I shared with him that God loves him no matter what he believes and that God had sent his son Jesus to the world to take the penalty for all the wrong things we’ve ever done. He thanked me and expressed his gratitude for our friendship.
In early May, I messaged Shadi to check in with him. Days passed and he didn't reply. I began to worry. My good friends Jade and Lee joined me in trying to find out if Shadi had died. I scoured California obituaries, but how do you find if someone has died when you don’t even know his name?
We had a phone number Shadi had used to register the chat app, but it’s considered an invasion of privacy to ever call someone’s number. I decided to send a text message instead, and addressed it to Shadi or someone in his family. A couple of days later, I received a message from his girlfriend stating that he had died.
As I continue to process Shadi’s death and my relationships with these online friends, I’m becoming more and more aware of the longing people have for friendships. We're so hungry for any type of community with others that we're willing to have relationships with people we don’t even know.
My experience with this online community has not been with the darker side of the Internet. I can’t express enough how cautious people need to be in these metacommunities. I’ve been very careful in choosing folks to befriend (although I must admit that a few of these gamers have seemed a bit creepy at times!).
Online friendships certainly can't replace face-to-face relationships. Recent studies have revealed that despite the interconnnectedness of people today through technology, we're feeling more isolated than ever before. We've been created by God to be in community with one another. Online friendships are just one way for us to do that. But online friends can't give us a hug when we need one.
Now that I’m facing my own, albeit pretty tame, battle with cancer, I’ve been amazed at the support and prayers coming from my online friends. They’re gifts of God in my life. I don’t know their names, or where they’re from, or information about their families, but I know God does. And I know God has brought them into my life, just as God has brought me into theirs.
And through it all, my understanding of the word 'community' has just been blown up.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
Is it just me, or are Christians in the United States more vocal this Presidential election season? Perhaps it’s the volume of Donald Trump’s voice and his dominance in the polls over the evangelical candidates. Maybe it's the images of filled stadiums cheering for unlikely candidate Bernie Sanders. Whatever it is, something seems to have awakened Christians to the political process in the United States, and the tone is somewhat angry.
In evangelical circles (particularly among Republicans), the idea seems to be that having an evangelical Christian in the White House will solve the nations erring ways. The focus is on a person’s character rather than a person’s competence. Many evangelical Christians who are seeking a candidate with solid Christian character so do because they have a deep commitment to the Bible as God’s revealed Word.
So what does the Bible say about the government and those who run it? In looking at the image of the Emperor on a coin, Jesus famously said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus seems to be setting up a separation here between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God. In fact, as he’s standing on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells him,“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
In Romans 13, Paul writes that we’re to submit to the authority of those in government, for God has placed them over us. Paul sees the governing authorities’ roles to be collecting taxes and keeping the peace by punishing wrongdoers. Paul writes that Christians are to submit to the governmental authorities because God has allowed them to rule. Paul gives no exceptions to this. The implication is that even when the government or governmental leaders might persecute Christians, we are still to obey them.
From a New Testament perspective, we see a separation between what Jesus ushers in as the Kingdom of God and what the world sees as the kingdoms of the earth. Paul never writes that if the Emperor accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord then the Roman Empire would prosper (centuries later, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, little changed socially).
This is where I’m confused by evangelical Christians in the United States. According to what I read in the Bible, our primary citizenship is not in the country where we reside, but in the Kingdom of God. To be a disciple of Jesus is to have a Kingdom identity, not a political party or national identity. The government and the Body of Christ have different roles in society. That’s not just my opinion. It’s in The Book.
Yes, I’m a proud American. Yes, I have political opinions. Yes, I’m going to vote. But as a lifelong student and follower of Jesus Christ with a high view of Scriptural authority, I know where my true identity lands: I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God. With that citizenship comes responsibilities that are above my responsibilities as a United States citizen. I hope Christians put as much money and focus into missional Kingdom issues as they do political issues.
As a wise person once told me, “Do you want to hire a so-so plumber who is a Christian, or a master plumber who is a pagan and can fix your leaky toilet?” I want the next President of the United States to be the person best equipped to run the Executive Branch of the federal government and who will uphold the constitution as the presidential oath stipulates. If that person does not know Jesus, I’d cherish an opportunity to share the Good News with them. But I desire the most qualified person to be President, regardless of his or her faith.
Whoever the next President is or whatever political party is in control, my hope is that it’s not going to affect my life in the Kingdom of God. Whether in times of blessings or under threat of persecution, I pray my commitment to Jesus Christ will be the same. My allegiance is to the Savior of my soul, and His Kingdom will outlast any political party or nation.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts