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The “Kingdom Now”: Reflections on Magical American Christianity
One major problem American Christians face is that we tend to embrace a magical view of the Christian faith. We assume that if a person “prays the sinners prayer,” “surrenders their life to Christ,” and “accepts Jesus as Lord of their life,” this somehow magically “saves” them and will sooner or later magically transform them – if not in this life, then in the next. This is why most evangelical churches place so much emphasis on the “conversion experience.”
The trouble is, this magical view of faith doesn’t work. Research shows that, in terms of their core values and behaviors, Christians differ very little from their non-Christian neighbors. On the whole, American Christians do not manifest the Kingdom of God, for they do not look like Jesus, sacrificially serving others and offering up their lives, even for their enemies. They rather look very American.
The truth is that the Christian faith isn’t about magic: It’s about reality. And reality is always in the present. The present alone is real, and the life we pledged to Christ is nothing more than a series of present moments. Kingdom life, therefore, is always in the present. It’s always now.
When you initially surrendered your life to Christ, you were not engaging in a magical ritual. You were rather making a pledge. But your pledge to surrender your life wasn’t itself the life you pledged to surrender.
Pause for a moment and think about that statement.
Again: Your pledge to surrender your life wasn’t itself the life you pledged to surrender. The actual life you pledged to surrender was the life you’ve lived every moment after you made the pledge. For the only life you had to surrender was the life you live moment-by-moment.
Think of it like a marriage. Twenty-seven years ago I looked into my wife’s gorgeous eyes and pledged my life to her. But my pledge wasn’t itself the life I pledged to her. My pledge didn’t magically give us a good marriage (if only it was that simple!). Rather, the actual life I pledged to my wife was the life I have lived every moment since making the pledge. For the only life I have to give to my wife is the life I live moment-by-moment.
The quality of my marriage therefore isn’t decided by whether or not I made a pledge twenty-seven years ago. It’s decided by how I live out that pledge now, on a moment-by-moment basis.
So too, the quality of our relationship with God isn’t decided by whether or not we made a pledge twenty-seven years ago – or yesterday. The quality of our relationship is decided by whether or not we are living out that pledge now, on a moment-by-moment basis. Whether we’re talking about marriage to another person or our marriage to Christ, our pledge is without content except insofar as we are living it out now…
in this moment.
in this moment.
Unfortunately, because of our magical view of Christianity, we tend to mistake the pledge of our life to Christ for the life that we pledge to Christ. We assume that our lives are in fact surrendered because we once pledged to surrender them. But they’re not. And this, I believe, is the most basic reason we don’t consistently manifest the unique beauty of the Kingdom of God. It’s why we tend to look so American.
Kingdom life isn’t a theoretical reality, it’s a real reality – and reality is always found in the now. If we are going to experience and manifest the life of the Kingdom, therefore, we will have to completely alter the way we consciously live moment-by-moment. We will have to wake up to the now.
Nothing could be more challenging than this, for it requires nothing less than a complete alteration of our moment-by-moment consciousness. And yet, nothing could be more rewarding than this, for this is the way that leads to LIFE.
I encourage you to try to stay awake today, consciously aware that you are each and every moment surrounded by the presence of God. Surrender this moment… and this moment… and this one. For the only life you have to surrender is the one you live…
Kingdom Reconciliation is Not About Politics (But it is Political)
In the broader culture, the social and political discussions about racial reconciliation are usually focused on people’s rights and privileges as a means of making the world a fairer place. The criteria such efforts at reconciliation appeal to are common decency, fairness and reason. The enterprise is certainly necessary, and all decent, fair minded, rational…
Smack Talk on the Idolatry of the Family
Ben Ponder doesn’t pull any punches in his article Idolatry of the Family. He argues that, contrary to some evangelical claims, “Jesus didn’t die on a God-forsaken cross to preserve your horn-rimmed vision of 1950s Americana.” Can a marriage or a family become an idol? Ben thinks so. What do you think? From the article:…
What is your stance on abortion?
*This is an edit of a post published in 2008. Since we continue to get questions along these lines, we thought we would repost it. Question: I’ve heard that you lost members of your congregation because you refused to take a stand in the abortion debate. If this is true, I’m deeply disappointed in you.…
God’s Big Toes
Last weekend, Greg preached a sermon on what it means to function as the body of Christ. You can visit the Woodland Hills Church website to download audio or video as well as presentation slides. We hope you’ll enjoy this call to serve one another the way Christ has called us to serve.
Does Nonviolence Work?
The teaching of Jesus on nonviolence strikes many as ludicrous, impractical, unpatriotic, irresponsible, and possibly even immoral. “Surely Jesus expects us to take up arms against Muslim extremists to protect our country and families!” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like that response, I’d be a fairly wealthy man. The…
Responding to Critics of a Pacifist View of the Syrian Crisis-Part 2
United Nations Photo via Compfight Yesterday I posted a response to Tyler Tully’s criticism of some of my thoughts on the Syrian crisis. The second blog I’d like to review is Two Friars and a Fool by Aric Clark. Like Tully, Aric approved of much of what I said, but also like Tully, he raised several…