Three Dimensional Ministry


Recently, while meditating on Matthew 9:35-38 something quite unexpectedly jumped off the page.

I spent a week at the beginning of this month sitting with these 4 verses at first because I wanted to get inspired and hear what God has to say about evangelism, after all the workers are few as the passage says and we must ask the Lord to send us out.

Here’s the passage as it reads in the NIV:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Did you see what I saw?

I’ll narrow it down.  It’s right at the beginning in verse 35.

Jesus’ ministry was three dimensional. He went through the land teaching, proclaiming and healing.  Some translations render proclaiming as preaching, but the general meaning remains the same.  Throughout seven days of deep meditation on this passage I came to realize that effective evangelism should always contain these three elements.

Teaching

A little over two years ago I wrote a post that that broke down my mission as a writer which said that I am a disciple of Christ – always learning, always growing and always teaching.  While Jesus didn’t need to learn or grow, at least not by the time he started his ministry he was a teacher first and foremost.  He taught what it truly meant to not just follow but to fulfill the law and how to live a just and moral life.

Proclaiming (Preaching)

While teaching digs in to meaning and application and invites debate to further understanding, proclamation does not.  Proclamation is a take it or leave it a statement of fact.  Where proclamation says, “it’s raining”, teaching says rain is necessary for the healthy development of crops and invites debate regarding how much rain is too little or too much for optimal growth.  When Jesus preached he left no room for debate.  That offended many, especially when his preaching flew in the face of tradition and challenged the norms of society.

Just two chapters before this we learn that both his teaching and preaching were regarded by the people as somewhat of a curiosity because he spoke as “one who had authority”.  In other words, he knew what he was talking about.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. [Matthew 7:27,28]

Healing

Teaching and preaching are worthless unless they are accompanied by action.   People who are hungry, people who are sick and people who are oppressed by an evil system of government don’t need to be taught morality or preached to about correct doctrine.  They need food, medicine and political advocacy.

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” [Mark 2:9-12]

Three dimensional ministry must therefore have a practical component.  Saint Teresa of Avila said:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

What’s your three dimensional ministry?  How are you discipling others through teaching, preaching and healing?  Let me know in the comments or via email.

PS – On a personal note, I just learned on the weekend that my High-school English teacher passed away of breast cancer.  She was only in her mid 50s.  As a 20 something teacher on her first assignment she was the first person to see in me a potential for writing.  She encouraged me to journal and hone my voice, that journal evolved into this blog.  It’s been more than 30 years since I was her student, and, in that time, I have written almost every day and completed 2 books.  I skipped my High-school reunion, so I never got a chance to thank her or to show her what that simple encouragement, which she’d likely forgot, has wrought.  RIP Mrs. Favro; a good teacher never fully knows how they quietly shape the future and bring context to the past.

Advertisements

Either Way, You Win


Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you’re going to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi

I recently told a business associate that I tend to read a book a week.

To say that they were impressed is a bit of an understatement.  Shocked is more like it.  How on earth can anyone find time to read a book a week?

Well to be perfectly honest it’s not exactly a book a week.  More like 50 pages a day.  That works out to between 250 and 350 pages every seven days.  We aren’t talking about War & Peace here.  Or Adam Smith’s 900 page opus, The Wealth of Nations. I’ve found that the average hard cover non-fiction book on just about any topic runs between 200 and 400 pages.  50 pages a day therefore is about a book a week.

I have learned that in order to be successful in life and business you need to be a life long learner. The world is changing so rapidly that we need to be constantly learning new things to keep up.  My chosen field of work, the financial services industry, is no exception.  But when you strip it all down just about every business is a people business.  And I can’t seem to get away from spirituality either.

I read everything I can get my hands on that even remotely applies to these areas.  My bookshelf is lined with the latest and classic works of, Business Management, Personal Finance, Sales Theory, Marketing, Behavioral Economics, Philosophy, Psychology, Spirituality, and Theology.

Where do I find the time?  It’s not that hard to read 50 pages in a day.  Unless the typeset is super small it takes me a about an hour.  Turn off the TV for an hour and you’re there – it’s that easy.

An hour a day is all it takes to read a book a week and be a life long learner.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was in the Life Insurance business, in the 1960s.  He was a top associate by the time he was 23 years old and in 1965 he founded Life Management Services and all but invented the Life Coaching industry.  Millions of people have read his books and attended his seminars on navigating life’s most challenging situations.  Most people know him for his famous inspirational quote:

You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.

Nothing has a bigger impact on your life than what you learn from books and people.  That’s why I really like that quote from Gandhi as well.  If I continue learning at the pace of a book a week, and I live forever, I will eventually know everything there is to know.

That’s my plan.

But the first half of the Gandhi quote is important as well.  It’s important to live for today, don’t put things off, enjoy each moment as it comes and be content in whatever your circumstance.  Tomorrow might not come so live for today but if you do wake up in the morning, keep learning and make every day better than the last.  You can’t go wrong.

Live today or die tomorrow – either way you win!

How do you live for today and learn for tomorrow?  Tell me in the comments below.

The First Christmas Carol


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

The early church didn’t celebrate Christmas.  At least not as a special feast day or as the modern-day retail orgy of capitalistic idolatry that we call Christ’s birthday today.  But the early church did recognize that the event of Christ’s birth was a significant event in human history and they celebrated it regularly with the reverent awe and jubilation that it deserves.

Last week, as I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas I had a chance encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness co-worker of mine.  The office Holiday Luncheon as we call it so as not to offend anyone, was held at the restaurant across the street and after I’d had my fill and stayed a respectful amount of time I decided to return to the office to finish up a bit of work before heading home for the night.  As I came back in I noticed that this individual was sitting at the reception desk.  It’s not unusually to see certain admin staff taking a turn at reception when the regular people are away, and I immediately recognized that she must be covering while most of us were at lunch.  As I walked past I casually asked if she had had a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of time with the rest of us.

“I don’t celebrate Christmas”, was her immediate and matter of fact response.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to encounter people who do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.  We live in a multi-cultural society.  At the last census only 67.3% Canadians self- identified as Christians with less than half of those attending services more than 3 times per month.  But a large percentage of people who do not identify as Christians still celebrate Christmas in one form or another.  My next-door neighbour is a Hindu, born and raised in India.  His seven-year-old son knows all about Santa Claus and was all too happy to explain to my wife in detail everything he had put into his letter to the North Pole.  Apparently, Santa doesn’t care if you know anything about Jesus, only if you’re good.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time.

So, when my co-worker, who is descended from Irish protestants and married to a man French Roman Catholic origin stated flatly that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas I was a bit taken aback.  But then I remembered why.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other pseudo-Christian groups do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because there is no historically credible way of pinpointing the exact moment of Christ’s birth.

December 25 was chosen as the date by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D. in part, to combat the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  Prior to Constantine some Christians had estimated the date to fall any where between December 6 and January 6 (the day many Coptic and Orthodox Christians still recognize today), citing historical records of the Roman census and, the reason why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place.

Still others, notably the Jehovah’s Witness and a few other fringe groups, contend that the day was more likely in the spring or summer since Shepherds would not have been tending flocks out in the fields in the winter.  Personally, I think that argument is weak, winter in the middle east is still warm enough to tend flocks outside even if it might have been rare.

Anyway, the fact is, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 6th or some other time the historical event is still the fulcrum on which history turns.  The earliest Christians knew that and celebrated it just as much as we do today.

Which brings me back to the earliest Christmas Carol.

Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse opens with a poem that could have easily been set to music.  To our modern eyes it might not look much like a poem because when it is translated to English it loses much of it’s poetic feeling, but I assure you was originally a poem and likely a song.

This poem tells us four things about the birth of Jesus.  What it accomplished and how it changes history.

1 – Jesus brings God to us

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Colossians 1:15]

He is God incarnate!  If you want to see God and understand what he is like look to Jesus.  If you want to follow God and do his will do what Jesus taught.  Everything up to this point, all the laws and the prophets are mere shadows of what has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus.  Put another way, if the Old Testament conflicts with anything Jesus taught, throw it out, Jesus is the true image of God.

Jesus brings us to life

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1:16]

All things were created through him.  We exist because he made us for himself and all things were created through him.  The law brings death and condemnation.  We have life because of Jesus.

Jesus brings life to us

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:17]

He sustains us.  He breaths life into us.  There is a popular contemporary Gospel song that I hear on the radio from time to time that repeats the refrain, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”

Jesus brings us to God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:19-20]

The ministry of reconciliation brings us back into perfect unity with God.  This unity is a common theme in Paul’s writing.  It comes up again in 2 Corinthians 5 where he says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Ever since Genesis 3 and the so called, fall of man the path of history is a story of mankind’s failed attempts through rules and regulations to reconcile with God.  It wasn’t until God came in human form and showed us his love for us, a father’s unfailing love, that reconciliation became possible.

It is a Christmas, or when ever you choose to acknowledge the historical reality of Christ’s birth, that we can truly celebrate that Jesus came to bring God to us, bring us to life, bring life to us and to bring us to God.  That is the gospel, and that is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Why I Write This Stuff


The following is a excerpt from the introduction to my first book – Meekonomics, How To Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy. 

I’m not sure why, I think it might have something to do with the current political climate around the world, but there has been a recent up tick in interest in my writing.  So I’m going to start republishing portions of my work on a semi-regular basis here.  Questions and Comments are always welcome, and feel free to click the link above to purchase a copy of the book…

I realize that it is an act of sheer hubris to attempt to write a book called Meekonomics. The meek don’t write books do they? Especially Mennonite kids from Southern Ontario with no formal education in either economics or theology.

I grew up in a small town surrounded by family farms and working class individuals. When I graduated from High School I wanted to be a record producer so I spent 19 years in the music business. In my mid 30s I read two books that unlocked my love of economics and theology; The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and Simply Christian by NT Wright.  

There followed nearly 8 years of prayer, research and reflection on two things that have driven me for almost as long as I can remember; God and Money.

Although I have always held a strong faith my relationship with money has been an extreme roller-coaster from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I’m an entrepreneur. I started my first business at the ripe old age of the age of 10, I had an opportunity to become a millionaire before my 26th birthday only to fall victim to an unscrupulous fraudster and ended up bankrupt at 33.

My drive to understand money and reconcile economics with my faith started to take root in the fall of 2005 not long after I first filed my bankruptcy proposal. What I soon realized is that reconciliation of the God and Money issue is not just a personal question, although personal finance is a big part of it, it’s really required on both a micro and macro-economic scale if our society is to survive.

Call it what you will; estate or retirement planning, investments, pension plans etc. It all comes down to the storing up of treasures on earth just as Jesus warned us not to do.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. [Matthew 6:19-24]

What you will find in the pages that follow is a journal of sorts. After my bankruptcy I set out to learn all I could about how this whole God and Money thing works. Anyone who has ever gone through something like that knows how devastating it can be. I was wounded, I needed healing and so I used the study of God and Money as the start of my healing process.

As I studied I took notes, those notes became a blog and that blog became this book. Most authors will tell you that they write for a specific audience, my friend Tim Day, author of “God Enters Stage Left” told me he first started writing for his kids as a way to help explain his faith in case he passed away before he had a chance to teach them in person. If I’m being honest I write just for myself, it’s a way to frame my thinking so that I can move forward in life secure and grounded in what I know to be true.

I first published the blog as a way to share what I was learning with my closest friends and family around the world, I never dreamed anyone else would be interested in what I had to say but I soon had over 100 readers on-line encouraging me to go deeper and publish more. The idea for the book came out of that interaction with the on-line community.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

Save

Save

New Book Project!


writingI’m writing again!

Okay, well the truth is I never really stopped, as this blog attests.  But I have not been nearly as active as I was in the past and I have not been working on a larger book length project for over a year.  There are a lot of reasons for this that I won’t go into right now.  Some of my reasons may become apparent as I work on this new project anyway.

For now, suffice it to say two things.

1) After I published Meekoethics I was mentally spent.  That book is deeply personal to me and digging into parts of my past that have shaped me into the man I am today took a lot out of me.

2) I ran out of things to say for a while.  It wasn’t so much writers block as it was just a lack of significant incite to add to the conversation.  I tried for a while to write about leadership but that effort felt strained.  I was reaching for something that I have very little personal knowledge of.  The work felt academic, not personal and if there is one thing I have learned its that I write best when I have some experience with the topic, some skin in the game so to speak and something personal to say about it.  I prefer to write as though I am trying to send a message to my former self and I really don’t have much to say to myself on leadership, at least not yet.

What I do have something to say about is mental health and spiritual well-being.  I won’t get into a lot of the details as to why this is my current focus now, hopefully as I work it through my reasons should become obvious.

chapter1As I did with my previous works, each time I complete a chapter I will post excerpts here for your review and comment. The following is the first such excerpt from the introduction.  Enjoy, please comment and join the conversation so that we can make this a bit of a collaborative effort.

 

Broken – Our Journey to wholeness through anxiety, pain and adversity

I met my first rape victim in 1992. At least she was the first person I knew who was open enough about it to say so.

I knew the statistics, according to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General Victims Services Secretariat, 39% of Women over the age of 16 have experienced some form of sexual assault.   1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes.[1]

I knew, on an intellectual level at least what that meant. Even in our small town, three or four of the girls in my high-school graduating class, if it hadn’t happened already, would eventually be victims of sexual assault and although I was far from a Casanova myself at least one of the girls I had dated would eventually become a victim.

That last thought turned my stomach.

depressedgirlThe more I got to know this girl the more I realized that the scars left on her soul would likely never heal. She exhibited behaviour that I had seen before, sexual promiscuity, fierce independence, abuse of alcohol and a general liaise fair attitude in the face of some truly traumatic events in her life. I began to wonder if this behavior could point to the fact that the other girls (and a few boys too) I had seen acting in this way were also victims of sexual assault. Truthfully, I may never know but to this day I still wonder.

Eventually my encounters with this young girl began to wane as our lives moved in different directions. I haven’t seen or even thought about her in over 25 years, that was, until today. I wonder if she ever found healing. I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

I doubt it because in the intervening years I have spent time with a number of other survivors of trauma, some of it sexual in nature and some of it not. As I’ve branched out from my relatively sheltered up bringing in a small town surrounded by a community full of “salt of the earth” type people I’ve begun to see the world in a different light.

I’ve taken off my rose coloured glasses as it were and begun to see the world as it truly is, a dark, dreary and often times, downright evil place full of fear, sadness, trauma and shame. In short, the world is broken. But it is also a world of unsurpassed beauty, a world of love, grace and healing.

This is not a book about sexual assault, although my hope is that all victims of trauma of any kind may begin to find some form of healing within its pages. This is first and foremost a book about God, His perfect plan for our lives, His deep pain at our losses and His deeper compassion for our health and mental well-being. It is a book about repairing our brokenness, healing our souls and journeying into wholeness, no matter the cause or depth of our traumas.

imageofgodDr. Greg Boyd, teaching pastor at Woodland Hills Community Church in Minneapolis Minnesota[2] during a Sunday sermon once called all humanity “infinitely valuable image bearers of the divine.” I have unashamedly stolen that phrase and use it constantly in my discussions about God’s grace with the people I encounter.

We all carry with us the image of God imprinted on our mind, body and soul. Even when we are broken, when we are sad, afraid, and full of shame, we are first and always God’s image bearers. And not just image bearers but infinitely valuable, infinitely worthy and infinitely loved by our creator.

We all carry the scars of our past, there is very little we can do about that. May the pain subside and the image of God shine through each and every one of our lives.

Welcome to the journey.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [Jesus, John 16:33]

 

[1] Full statistics available from the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres www.sexualassualtsupport.ca

[2] For more information on Woodland Hills Community Church and Dr. Greg Boyd visit www.whchurch.org

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion to people to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Blessed Are Those Who Wield Soft Power


softpowerPolitical values like democracy and human rights can be powerful sources of attraction, but it is not enough just to proclaim them. Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

It is not my usual practice to write a review of a book that I have not yet finished. However; the events of the past several weeks and months leading up to the “peaceful” transition of power in the United States have compelled me to break with my self-imposed tradition.

Over the Christmas break I have been reading through Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” which was originally published in 2004 at the end of the first term of President George W. Bush. I can’t help but notice a stern warning in these pages against the type of world we may be entering into in the next few weeks. We are standing a crossroads in history in which a populist leader threatens to lead his nation, and by extension the entire world, into a dark age of intolerance, unilateralism and regression the likes of which we have never seen before.

The policies of the Trump administration could set America’s social progress back 50 years and all but destroy their international reputation as an open, welcoming, tolerant and democratic society. As a result the world’s only military superpower could find itself losing key international policy debates in such economically significant and security related decisions as environmental protectionism, nuclear proliferation and terrorist financing to the interests of Russia, China, the European Union and non-state actors like ISIL and OPEC.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

flagworldThe term “Soft Power” was coined by Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Mr. Nye is the former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs under President Bill Clinton and is currently a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. His credentials in international affairs are beyond reproach. He actually developed the concept of Soft Power over a long carrier in academics and government which began in the late 1970s but only started using the term extensively after it first appeared in the aforementioned book.

He wrote:

When one country gets other countries to want what it wants this might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.

Ever since its founding the United States has enjoyed a large proportion of what is now known as soft power. The ideals of democracy, liberty and justice that undergird the US Constitution have been beacons of hope for hundreds of millions of people world-wide for nearly 200 years. It is this soft power, more so than its military or economic might that has helped transform the world from a collection of feudal empires into a largely democratic and capitalist one. American soft power, the attractiveness of democracy and an open society, far more so than the threat of nuclear annihilation or economic isolation is what eventually ended the Cold War.

eagleBut the tide is changing and I fear that a Trump administration and other populist movements around the world are only going to serve to accelerate this change, diminish American influence and usher in an era of instability and violence similar to that which caused two World Wars during the first half of the last century.

The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frame issues; whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy); and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies… To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, America will benefit from the trends of this global information age. But there is a danger that the United States may obscure the deeper message of its values through arrogance. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

Professor Nye wrote those words in 2004, at a time when America was going it alone in an unpopular war with Iraq. At that time when the world looked at America they saw a country that, while it may have started to betray some its founding values in the name of security against religious extremists it was at least consistent in its application of those values at home. Any damage caused to America’s soft power was limited to its politicians and foreign policy. Today I am afraid that the hypocrisy of the Iraq war pales in comparison to the hypocrisy apparent in Trump’s domestic policy. These policies have the potential to betray the very founding principles of “life, liberty and justice for all.”

Just as the Cold War was won through diplomacy and the effective wielding of soft power, I fear that the next war, cold or hot, will be lost through the ignorance, arrogance and cultural ineptitude of populist movements that have no regard for the soft power of liberalism and pluralism that has served progress so well for so long.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsporject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

On Faith, Democracy and The Kingdom of Heaven


Last year, during the Canadian federal election campaign I started thinking about my place in the grand scheme of politics and democracy. This week, as the final days and hours of the US election campaign began to point to a Trump presidency those questions started creeping into my conscience again. Of course this time around I didn’t get a vote but as the world’s biggest economy the decisions of the US electorate have a significant impact on us all.

The gospel in just three words is “Jesus is Lord”. I don’t know any Christians who would disagree with that statement. In fact it is as close to a universal statement of faith that exists in the Christian church. No matter your denomination, Catholic, Protestant, Conservative Evangelical or Progressive, we can all agree that Jesus is Lord.

But in our hyper individualized culture this whole concept of lordship is problematic. Wikipedia defines lord as an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power over others acting like a master, a chief, or a ruler.  By making the statement Jesus is Lord, we are simultaneously submitting ourselves to his authority and rejecting all other individuals and institutions that would seek authority over us.

The democratic process is at its core a game of pick your lord. Every four years the American public is given the opportunity to decide who their lord will be but if Jesus is Lord, then your government is not. The question becomes then, what to do when government and social norms do not align with the Lordship of Christ?

Two Kingdoms Doctrine

churchandstate

Martin Luther was one of the first reformers to champion the separation of church and state and so was also one of the first church leaders since Constantine to wrestle with this question. Before Luther the church was the state so any question of lordship was moot. So when faced with difficult questions about how a Christian should behave as a citizen under the lordship of both a secular government and the lordship of Jesus Luther had to make a compromise. Luther’s compromise made it possible for reformers to retain citizenship in their home countries but would eventually prove to be fatal to the true Lordship of Christ.

What Luther said has become known as the doctrine of the two kingdoms. Again, according to Wikipedia the doctrine states that, God rules the worldly or left-hand kingdom through secular government, by means of law [i.e., the sword or compulsion] and in the heavenly or right-hand kingdom through the gospel of grace. The fatal flaw in this argument should be obvious to anyone who has felt the law of the land precludes them from living out their faith. If God rules the world through secular government what happens when that government contradicts your understanding of the Lordship of Christ?

Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms was developed under a feudal government system and worked well for the kings and lords of the middle-ages. They were able to use it to claim divine authority over vast realms of humanity while functioning in ways that directly contradicted gospel teaching. Romans 13 became a favourite passage of the ruling class as a way to remind the peasants of their place in the world and prevented large scale rebellion.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

But Romans 13 was not written as an instruction manual for how the faithful should live under a “Christian” government. The entire book of Romans, and most of the New Testament for that matter, was written from a prison cell and directed to a minority people without any political power or authority. The New Testament gives no advice to Christians on how to hold on to political power. The doctrine of the two kingdoms therefore is flawed from the beginning. Any biblical instruction on ruler ship is found in the Old Testament and under the old covenant that has been made obsolete by the reign of Jesus.

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. [Hebrews 8:13]

To say therefore that God holds authority over the worldly, left-hand kingdom through law and compulsion assumes that the rulers are godly and returns the Christian to the authority of the Old Testament. We know that is simply not the case but as if that weren’t enough to discredit the doctrine of the two kingdoms it completely falls apart when it is applied to a democratic society.

The Authority of God

freewill

In His infinite love for humankind God has given us the ability to say no to Him. It’s called free will and it is the bed rock of God’s relationship with us. For love to exist there must be the possibility of rejection. No one knows this better than God. The entire story of humanity is the story of love and rejection.

Democracy hands the power of ruler ship, through the free will of the people, to whomever appeals to the broadest segment of society. God’s will is therefore lovingly submitted to the will of the people and God’s authority over the worldly kingdom is muted. Humans do as they please and God is pushed to the margins of society. How then is God’s sovereignty manifest in the world?

Hans Beck was a Swiss Brethen Anabaptist who wrote in response to Luther, his own version of two kingdoms doctrine in 1541.

There are two different kingdoms on earth—namely, the kingdom of this world and the peaceful kingdom of Christ. These two kingdoms cannot share or have communion with each other.

While Luther tried to develop the two kingdoms doctrine as a way appease the church as the primary governing authority of the day, Beck immediately saw the flaw in Luther’s logic and destroyed it by saying simply that the two kingdoms could never coexist. Beck went on to state:

The people in the kingdom of this world are born of the flesh, are earthly and carnally minded. The people in the kingdom of Christ are reborn of the Holy Spirit, live according to the Spirit, and are spiritually minded. The people in the kingdom of the world are equipped for fighting with carnal weapons—spear, sword, armor, guns and powder. The people in Christ’s kingdom are equipped with spiritual weapons—the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit to fight against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, together with all that arises against God and his Word.

According to Beck, the people of the kingdom of Christ stand apart from the kingdoms of the world. While Luther was trying to appease the authorities in order to retain his German citizenship, Beck was renouncing his Swiss citizenship in order to remain loyal to Christ.

Citizens and Ambassadors

citizensSo the question now is where do Christians fit in a democratic society? Is there a moral obligation for the church to seek political power, or at least attempt to influence those in authority for the good of mankind? Or as Beck would have it, do we write civil society off as inherently evil and withdraw completely?

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church that was immersed in a wealthy culture of excess. A culture predicated on power, money and sex.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Paul appears to be saying that the kingdom of heaven can only be achieved through reconciliation with God and His will that this reconciliation comes through Christ. It is therefore the job of the church to be ambassadors of His kingdom in the world. By using the imagery and terminology of ambassadorship Paul at once implies that our citizenship is not of this world. An ambassador is not a citizen of the country or member of the society in which he resides.

When Christ-followers take on the identity of an ambassador the two kingdoms doctrine takes on a new and more plausible meaning for our modern democratic society. As a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom we reside in the world as ambassadors of a spiritual kingdom. The job of an ambassador is to lobby on behalf of their home country, and to a limited degree even participate in without conforming to the culture in which they are placed. This worldly kingdom is not our home, living here is our job.

Jesus laid out the parameters of our job at the end of his time on earth.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Ambassadors are not part of the society in which they reside they do not make policy and the do not enforce laws. They lobby and promote the interests of their king. As Christ’s ambassadors we are called to lobby on behalf of Jesus and the things he cares about. He opened His earthly ministry by proclaiming “good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed”. [Luke 4:18].   He preached love for enemies, healed the sick, and gave dignity to foreigners. And then he gave his life in the ultimate act of submission and sacrifice.

Conclusion

On November 8, 2016 the world held its breath while the United States, the world’s largest economy, strongest army and most culturally influential society democratically elected a man and a party whose policies and rhetoric threaten to set social policy back to the 1950s. This man openly opposes immigration, social security, health care, environmental protectionism, and banking regulations aimed at protecting the interests of the working poor. By some accounts four out of five evangelical Christians voted for him. They felt that his stance on certain moral issues like abortion and gay rights was in line enough with their faith that they could look the other way on the ones that clearly aren’t. They felt that to vote for the other candidate would have been to compromise their convictions too much. What they failed to recognize is that as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven their job is not to make decisions in the worldly kingdom but to lobby for change.

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have voted, (although that is one option open to ambassadors). The sad fact is that no matter who they voted for they had to make a compromise because as ambassadors we have failed in our duty to lobby on behalf of our king.

Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine fails to translate in a modern democracy. Beck’s version is an isolationist fantasy that only works for the Amish or a survivalist cult. In order to be “in the world but not of the world” [John 17:16] we must become better lobbyists and better ambassadors. We must learn to speak truth to power on behalf of our king. We must influence culture without conforming to it. We cannot be afraid to call our brothers and sisters out on their hypocrisy and their compromise. That is our job as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven. If Christ-followers do our job well there is no telling how our influence might grow.

Jesus is Lord!

Save

Save