God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign

Scripture: Judges 21.25
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

No more kings! — Schoolhouse Rock, Music & Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

Reflection: God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign
By John Tillman

Throughout Judges the tribes of Israel had no king and each did as they saw fit. If one had not read the previous chapters one might assume a libertarian utopia would result, but the Israelites were unable to sustain community in the face of their idols, sin, and greed.

Despite American cultural disdain for monarchy, we tend to reject the “no kings” political structure of Judges, equating it with spiritual disobedience, and for good reason. Looking backward in the text, we see civil war that is triggered by a shocking crime-drama that captures the nation’s attention, and prior to that event is only more unrest, chaos, and tragedy.

Judges is most likely written during the reign of kings so it is not surprising that its summarizing statement carries the implication that the monarchy is an improvement on previous history. But from our perspective, we can see clearly that the coming of kings, of governmental authority, and of hierarchical enforcement of religious practices was equally unsustainable and an abject failure.

As Christians today, we are often tempted, as the Israelites were, to put faith in shaping society through the exertion of governmental power. Both progressives and conservatives are guilty of this—left-leaning and right-leaning Christians merely disagree about which biblical values should be legislated and which should be ignored.

Seeking God’s Kingdom does not equate to seeking political power. God steadfastly refuses to be the king of something so insignificant as a nation. He wishes to reign in our hearts, not our houses of government. Jesus fled from being crowned king and rebuked those who wanted him to head a new religiously aligned government.

Christ repeatedly asserted that God’s kingdom was paradoxically “in your midst” and “not of this world.” Yet that somehow doesn’t keep us from attempting to redeem the earth through worldly means, baptizing political activism and equating it with spiritual warfare.

God doesn’t seek an earthly kingdom to reign. Christ is not the head of any nation, but rather is head of the Church, and it is not our government which should exemplify the teachings of Christ, but our lives, and the life of his Church.

The Morning Psalm
O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob — Psalm 99.4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 21 (Listen – 3:47)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

Lingering Hope

Scripture: Acts 22:21
Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

Reflection: Lingering Hope
By John Tillman

In Acts we can track the Holy Spirit’s systematic destruction of the racism inherent in the early church. This is a reminder that we must allow the Holy Spirit freedom to do the same in each generation.

Racism has not proven to be something that any previous generation can solve once for all time. It comes back, season after season, like tares among the wheat. Each generation must root out the weeds of racial prejudices on their own.

In Stormy Road for This Pilgrim (published in 1978), Nelson Hayashida writes about the partial successes of the Civil Rights movement and his hope for the future.

Although our dilemma may still exist in lesser or greater degrees throughout the country, there appears to be glimmering signs of a brighter tomorrow. With the increasing ease of communication and travel the world is rapidly being transformed into a “familiar community.” Generally speaking, American young people today are more knowledgeable than previous generations about the hurts and struggles of the varying ethnic groups in America. In fact, it seems the whole American populace have now a sharper sensitivity toward minorities. They are more aware of the pains and injustices imposed upon ethnics and are voicing stronger disapproval for discriminating situations. There appears to be greater understanding and acceptance of Oriental-Americans today than there were twenty or thirty years ago.

It’s true the American amalgamation of races has not been an altogether euphonious process, but ethnics are here to stay in this country nevertheless. This right to remain and live in this great land is not only our constitutional birthright but also our moral birthright. Racial or ethnic relations in America may not be near what it should be, but when there is an increasing understanding and acceptance for one another among all Americans, hope lingers on the distant horizon.

Our hope is not in a political movement of the past or the present, but is in the movement of the Holy Spirit, that in each generation has stirred the hearts of believers and the heart of the church to seek justice, reconciliation, and redemption in every broken part of our culture, including racism. When the church marches toward the hurting and seeks justice, society follows. When the church stumbles, so does our culture.

The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance… — Psalm 90:8

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52) Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)
Judges 20 (Listen – 7:13) Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)

The Success of Redemption :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Acts 10.34-35
Peter said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Reflection: The Success of Redemption :: Throwback Thursday
By Jonathan Edwards

Soon after Christ had entered into the holy of holies with his own blood, there began a glorious success of what he had done and suffered. Never had Christ’s kingdom been so set up in the world.

The glorious success of the gospel among the Jews after Christ’s ascension, began by the pouring out of the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost. So wonderful was this effusion, and so remarkable and swift the effect of it, that we read of three thousand who were converted to the Christian faith in one day.

Thus the Christian church was first formed from the nation of Israel; and therefore, when the Gentiles were called, they were added to the Christian church of Israel, as the proselytes of old were to the Mosaic church of Israel. They were only grafted on the stock of Abraham, and were not a distinct tree; for they were all still the seed of Abraham and Israel.

After the success of the gospel had been so gloriously begun among the Jews, the Spirit of God was next wonderfully poured out on the Samaritans; who were the posterity of those whom the king of Assyria removed from different parts of his dominions, and settled in the land which had been inhabited by the ten tribes, whom he carried captive.

The next thing to be observed is the calling the Gentiles. This was a great and glorious dispensation, much spoken of in the Old Testament, and by the apostles, as a most glorious event. This was begun in the conversion of Cornelius and his family.

Thus the gospel-sun which had lately risen on the Jews, now rose upon, and began to enlighten, the heathen world, after they had continued in gross heathenish darkness for so many ages.

This was a great and new thing, such as never had been before. The Gentile world had been covered with the thick darkness of idolatry; but now at the joyful sound of the gospel, they began in all parts to forsake their idols, and to cast them to the moles and to the bats.

They now learned to worship the true God, and to trust in his Son Jesus Christ. God owned them for his people; and those who had so long been afar off, were made nigh by the blood of Christ.

The Call to Prayer
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)

Racial Identity Crisis

Scripture: Acts 20.21
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Reflection: Racial Identity Crisis
By John Tillman

No one is immune from the effects of race in our culture. As a child growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s I experienced first the racial melting pot of Hawaii, and then the racial homogeneity of northern Arkansas. This caused unique problems in learning about and dealing with race. In Hawaii, many times, I was the one tormented for my differences. I went through a period when I hated my “yellow” hair that drew taunts and sometimes blows from my dark haired classmates.

Then in Arkansas everyone looked like me. Yet, majority status didn’t suddenly make me popular or accepted. If anything, I felt less popular, less accepted, and was more of an outcast than ever. I discovered it was better to be the haole kid than the new kid.

Many of the best lessons I learned about race came as a result of struggling with this confusion.

Dr. Nelson Hayashida’s book, A Stormy Road for This Pilgrim begins with the story of Dr. David Hirano’s family being separated by internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack. It goes on to detail Dr. Hayashida’s own struggle to reconcile racial identity and inequity with his identity in Christ and the equity of salvation available for all. These are, of course, still relevant struggles today.

I have found not only my salvation but my help in Jesus Christ. Christ has revealed to me my “true identity,” an essential and fundamental base from which I’m learning to cope with ethnic anxieties and gain victory over apparent defeat.

In addition, it’s my prayer that the remarks I make in challenging ethnic minority Christians and Anglo-American Christians will result in better understanding on the part of both—for it is only in unison that Christians can bear witness for God’s greatest glory!

From the deep south, to Honolulu, to the heart of New York City, racism clings to all of us because it is embedded in the identity given us by our culture. Only the identity that Christ brings can begin to overcome our defective cultural identity and move us toward freedom and unity as believers.

The Refrain
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:47)

Mistakes of the Past

Scripture: Matthew 23.30
And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

Reflection: Mistakes of the Past
By John Tillman

After Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor roared over their church, three miles from the base, the Hirano family, like every other Hawaiian family, set about a new rhythm of life—building bomb shelters and helping their community. But then, due to their Japanese heritage, their experience diverged from the rest of America.

One day there was a knock on the door. I answered it and there stood two men with rifles. They asked me where my father was. I told them in the back yard. When he came in they told him to get his toothbrush and underwear and come with them. My father did as instructed, and that was the last we saw of him for the next four years. — Dr. David Hirano, from passage included in Stormy Road for This Pilgrim, by Nelson Hayashida

Temporal provincialism tells us to blame mistakes of the past on our grandparents, asserting that we’ve progressed so far as to never make such errors today. Christ rebuked the Pharisees for such attitudes (Matthew 23:29-32) and we must listen to his rebuke as well, resisting our tendency to judge ourselves more righteous than our forbears simply due to our having the benefit of hindsight.

Christian theology confesses that humanity and governments are flawed and Christians should be willing to confess rather than deny our part of the sins of both. We also should recognize that in the midst of these conflicts, there are Christians imperfectly living out their faith, following Christ.

Though little is written about it today, there were protests and opposition to internment, much of it from Christian leaders in the Pacific region. In Hirano’s account, the people who reached out to take care of his family in the midst of their injustice, were Christians. Historian Gerald Sittser notes that although churches failed to stop interment, they organized to meet the needs of the Japanese community.

Our situation is not so different today. Christians living out their faith will always be in tension with cultures, industries, and governments, as in today’s reading from Acts. Though Christians are called to be good citizens, we must remember Jesus never asked Peter (or by extension, the Church) to lead a country, he asked him to feed lambs. No matter the errors of current or past governments, feeding lambs and sheep—taking care of the vulnerable—is our path to influence in our culture.

A Reading
…It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13)
Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)

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