The Jesus Challenge 2020

Welcome to the Year 2020. In the spirit of actress Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” It is an election year, and after all the finger pointing, scandals, accusations, counter accusations, and impeachment hearings of 2019, we would be naive to think it’s not going to get ugly. Left and Right are moving further apart by the minute, and depending on which cable news outlet you watch, you may find it impossible to even talk to someone on the other side. Both sides care more about beating their opponent than humbly serving the needs of our nation. I write as a United Methodist and our global General Conference is meeting again this spring and it appears that we are headed for a major and permanent schism based on disagreements over human sexuality. Left and Right are pulling away from each other in the Church, too. If we are like the world around us, we would choose our side and fight to the death for our cause against the people we perceive as communists, racists, bigots, heretics, or criminals. If we are like the world around us, we will self-righteously declare the other side to be evil and will work to destroy it. But we are not of this world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we follow a different moral code that cannot be hijacked by any political party or movement.

Here is the challenge I want to lay before you. The vision of the congregation I serve is “caring for our neighbors as Jesus would.” Jesus is the standard by which we judge every opinion we hold, every decision we make, and every action we take. I challenge you to commit to something potentially difficult in 2020. For the next twelve months everything we think, choose, and do must be tested against the question “What is the best way to honor Christ in this situation?” What would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? Go to the scriptures. Read the words for yourself then decide accordingly. We are all guilty of wrapping Jesus around the opinions we already hold then using the belief that “Jesus is on our side” to demonize our enemies. Jesus said it is impossible to remove the speck in our neighbor’s eye when we have a log stuck in our own eye. It is easier to judge the actions of others without holding ourselves to an even higher standard. This challenge requires the humility to admit that Jesus would disagree with some of our opinions, decisions and actions. Then it requires us to find the courage to adjust our lives to match His. We must admit that sometimes our agendas are in conflict with God’s. Sometimes our politics are in conflict with God. For example, Jesus never taught us to stamp out, discredit, or destroy our enemies. Rather, He instructs us to love our enemies, treating them with kindness, compassion, and respect. He taught us to never return evil with evil, but to return evil with good. (Actually the apostle Paul said that, but I’m sure Jesus approved.)

As hard as it might be to hear this, the political wrangling of the United States of America isn’t worth a hill of beans compared to the eternal Kingdom of God. I love my country, but I confess before the world that it is not, and cannot be confused with, the Kingdom of God. Every nation and kingdom on earth will eventually pass away in favor of the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus’ mission was not to take the political throne of Israel over all other nations, but to rescue every human being in every nation from our sin and death. Ours is an eternal mission designed to bring as many of our neighbors on planet earth into the eternal Kingdom with us. To do that, we cannot destroy or discard our enemies, but must hold on to each other despite the conflicts of the moment, and love each other into the eternity to come. If we are the Body of Christ, we must stick together through the election and General Conference. We must demonstrate to the world that what unites us in Christ is infinitely greater than what divides us in our politics and preferences. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything others say, do, or believe. Rather, we develop a different method of working through those differences that includes conversation, scripture, and prayer. The world does not know how to do this. We have to show them how. I can think of no greater gift the Church can give to the world right now than this.

In the year to come, I will be focusing on Jesus as the sole authority for every question in my life, my country, my community, and my congregation. That means we will directly discuss politics in these posts, not to take sides in the exhausting battle of Left vs. Right, but to hold our leaders, our nation, and ourselves to the higher standard of the Kingdom of God. Both sides claim that God is on their side. They are both right, in a way. They are also both dead wrong. The Kingdom of God operates under a very different value system than our current world. It is time we clearly separate the two and discover which kingdom we are really serving. As we lay the qualities of the world down beside the qualities of the Kingdom of God, we will all be in for an uncomfortable shock.

If you have had your fill of politics and can’t stand the thought of reading any more of it in these posts, take heart. We are discussing discipleship to discover what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. At the Name of Jesus every knee shall (one day) bow and every tongue confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” We want every facet of our lives to serve Him obediently. Our candidates for office must serve Him, measuring every decision, bill , and policy against the values of the King of Kings who insists we love our neighbors, forgive without measure, and give to all who beg of you. That will turn Washington upside down. It will turn our lives upside down, if we have have the courage and humility to be wrong now and then and yield to a Higher Authority. That brings us back to the challenge.

The internet is filled with challenges for good causes these days, like the ice bucket challenge to garner support for ALS research, or the pushup challenge to bring attention to military suicides. If it helps you to give it a name, let’s call it “The Jesus Challenge.” (With apologies to Justin LaRosa who published a great book called “The Jesus Challenge: 21 Days of Loving God and Neighbor” Abington Press). For the next twelve months everything we think, choose, and do must be tested against the question “What is the best way to honor Christ in this situation?” What would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? Go to the scriptures. Read the words for yourself then decide accordingly. This is actually not a special challenge, but the heart of what Christian discipleship is meant to be. We need this as the Church. More importantly our world needs this. Join me in 2020. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

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