He is (still) Risen!

I wrote this up for our Easter service this year, borrowing from the Hymn “Christ Arose”. I hope it’s a blessing to you.

Jesus suffered instead of me.
Cursed to die upon a tree,
Beaten, battered, bruised and crushed.

The one who spoke to darkness: “Light!”
And made the morning stars shine bright,
Lay in the valley of shadow’s death.

And dead, He was, they knew for sure.
A seal they placed upon his door.
For many hoped he’d live again.

But death! It cannot keep his prey
Jesus tore the bars away
The victor o’er the dark domain.

Up from the grave, our God arose
He triumphs over his evil foes
Thus now we rise and here proclaim:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

On American Christian Nationalism

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

– Micah 6.8

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

– Romans 13.1-2

Our vision is to be a safe and compassionate, multi-ethnic family of Christians who are building one another up to be the hands and feet of Jesus in South Portland and beyond.

– Hope Community Church Vision Statement

As the Elders of our Church (Hope Community Church), we have found it necessary to address the violence that took place at our nation’s Capital on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 especially as many who participated in Wednesday’s attack professed to be Christians and thought it to be their Christian duty to do what they did. What follows is the letter that is going out to our church family this weekend.

While we believe everyone is responsible for their own actions, it is easy and necessary to see how certain political and Christian leaders in this country have contributed to the idea of American Christian Nationalism on display last Wednesday. To counter this, we offer the following thoughts:

  1. God is not an American

Whether intentionally or not, some teach that God has developed a special relationship with our nation. This is false. The Bible teaches that the Kingdom of God transcends any earthly kingdom. Consider what John writes in Revelation 7.9: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands”.

If God does not hold a special relationship with our nation, it follows that He doesn’t hold a special relationship with any political party. This is an especially important truth that we would do well to remember. There are Christians across America (and across the sanctuary from you) who do not hold the same political views as you do. And this is OK. As we strive to be a people who honor God above all things, we humbly recognize our own inadequacy and inability to know the answer to every question. But the beauty of Christ is that He has called people from all backgrounds to follow Him. So we invite you to join us in listening to one another without judgment and offering compassionate responses to what others are feeling – even if you disagree with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

2. The Church does not need a democratic republic in order to thrive.

The Bible teaches that nothing can stop the church from fulfilling its mission. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16.18). Throughout history, the Holy Spirit has used His Word to grow His Church in countries ruled by republics, monarchies, oligarchies, dictatorships, communists, fascists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and countless other political or religious entities. However, when Christians are led to believe that the church needs something besides the Holy Spirit and the Word to grow and flourish, they can be manipulated into carrying out violent acts on behalf of the church and Jesus. This must not be true of us.

This is not to suggest that Christians shouldn’t vote or have a voice in politics. Paul occasionally used his Roman citizenship to his advantage. Christians in America are encouraged to use theirs by exercising the right to vote and following the means outlined by our nation’s Constitution. But Jesus is also pretty clear regarding what our rights are. We are sojourners in this broken world and must place our hope in Jesus and His Kingdom, not in earthly political schemes.

3. As Christians, our rights are not ultimate.

Listen to how Jesus tells His followers to act when they are insulted or their rights are taken from them:

  • “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)
  • “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
    (Matthew 5:41).

Our duty as Christians is first to serve others. If our rights are neglected in our service of other people, then we can rejoice that Christ will receive the honor He is due in our humility.

            At the same time, we are not outright pacifists. We love our nation and are grateful to be able to worship publicly the way we are. We have several military veterans in our fellowship and are grateful for their service and they should be honored.

We also ought to seek justice where there is none, as James 1.27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We have the great privilege to pursue justice and equity for all in this country, and as believers in Christ, we can follow those who have gone before us in being at the front of that effort.

4. Our Worship Gatherings center not on the mission of America, but on the message and mission of Jesus.

When we gather to worship, we are reminded of the real and eternal kingdom to which we belong: a kingdom made up of those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior from all nations, tribes and languages. We are not anti-American or anti-Patriotic. But we shouldn’t tether the kingdom of God to any earthly nation, however moral that nation is.

We gather around the good news of what God has done for the world through Jesus. Symbols are powerful and the symbols in a church gathering should point people to the good news of the gospel and nothing else. After all, the best place for people to get a tangible taste of the Kingdom of God is through the local church. That tangible taste is made bitter by the sins of people, so we teach the Bible, repent when we err, and point people to Jesus and nothing less.

The most patriotic thing we can do for this country is to seek the face of God on our country’s behalf. We should love all people well. We should seek to grow God’s Kingdom on earth through the local church and we should not settle for anything less.

For further consideration: