Being A Christian In Babylon: A New Reality

I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American any more.”?

We have previously looked at three different ways in which being a Christian in Babylon may tempt us to respond: assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), isolation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation), and rebellion (Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion). I have argued that these were not the ways in which Peter counseled his original audience nor us to respond, and now comes the part where I tell you what I believe to be the “right” way. I’m supposed to share with you how I believe we are to live as a people without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused? This has been burning in my heart for quite a while, and frankly, other than in conversations with close friends; I’ve never tried to articulate it before. It runs contrary to what most are saying these days, challenging our very concept (American/Western) of identity and reality. I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American anymore.” How do you deal with the understanding that what culture says is right is wrong, that your idea of freedom is actually slavery, that you have actually been called to suffer as Jesus did, that you are not who “they” told you you were? See what I mean? But I do believe that our coming to terms with all of these questions is essential to being a Christian in Babylon. So, we’ll go slowly, a step at a time, asking Jesus to make his truth, his reality known to us.

For the Christians in Babylon during Peter’s day, in coming to terms with their reality, it had to be hard not to adopt a defeatist mentality. By all appearances, they were defeated, marginalized, and excluded from mainstream society. That was their reality, and their suffering would have made it very obvious. Babylon had declared them outcasts. But Peter wanted his early readers to remember that their reality was not defined by the way in which they were classified by Babylonian culture. Peter reminds them that they were personally chosen by God. Their “dispersion” across the Anatolian peninsula was not to be viewed as a scattering by the winds of fate, but rather an intentional sowing of seed by the hand of God. And as people of God’s choosing, people baptized into a new reality in Christ, the hardships endured within Babylon did not define them, but rather served to refine their faith as fire purifies gold.

I guess it’s a little different for us today, especially us American Christians. Really, it was probably easier for those 1st century Christians to see themselves as “other than,” being in, but not of so to speak. Their suffering at the hands of Babylonian culture would have made it obvious that they were not held in great affection by mainstream society. But we have, for the most part, been accepted by Babylonian culture and to our detriment defined by it as well. We have come to see ourselves as Babylonians who happen to be Christians instead of a holy nation, a new ethnicity, strangers and aliens who happen to reside in Babylon. Because we derive our identity from the culture in which we live, we tend to react as “Americans,” not Christians when suffering and trials come (or appear to be headed) our way. In order to mask our fear and the pain of separation from a culture we have mistakenly called our own, we protest and demand our rights, ignoring the reality to which we have been called- the reality in Jesus which defines suffering and trial as those things that result in glory and honor and praise. “By his stripes we have been healed.”

We are beginning to see that being a Christian in Babylon can make you feel like the world has crumbled to pieces around you. As the normal ebb and flow of life is replaced by the storm of opposing realities, the disciples of Jesus can be dismayed at the ruin of monuments they once held sacred. But our “security” is found in the understanding that our lives are built upon a Cornerstone that Babylon has discarded, and the bricks with which they are constructing their ziggurat are lifeless stones, its glory like the flower of grass that withers and falls. We must see ourselves as living stones being built up as a spiritual house upon the Living Stone, rejected by Babylon, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. It is in this “house” that we serve as priests, proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us into his marvelous light. We are not called to serve in the Tower of Babel, to somehow prop it up and ensure its survival. On the contrary, we understand the reality that Babylon is doomed to fall, and as alien priests we extend mercy, grace, and hope to any who would seek refuge in the temple not made with hands.

I’m tempted to go on, and maybe I will . But we’ll stop here for now. Being a Christian in Babylon is inextricably linked to our relationship with Jesus. It is in the context of his life, death, and resurrection that we receive clarity, definition and assign value to our stay in Babylon and the suffering we are bound to encounter, that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe are already enduring. By “assimilating” Jesus’ reality, we neither isolate from nor rebel against Babylon. But as we see ourselves as he has declared us to be, men and women called to follow in his steps; we count it all joy that we share in his sufferings, glad when his glory is revealed.

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Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion

It is Submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being, at its very core, in opposition to God. How do you make sense of the inevitable suffering that comes with living in a culture that is diametrically opposed to everything you believe in? When you are without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused, how do you make sense of it all? How ought Christians to respond to this type of environment? Is the answer to be found in some form of assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation )? Maybe isolation is the key (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation ). I think it’s safe to say that we decided against those two responses. But we still have a third to consider before we go on to what I believe is the answer to being a Christian in Babylon. So, let’s take a look at rebellion. Should we simply overthrow Babylon and take over the whole shebang?

As with assimilation and isolation, you have to agree that rebellion had to possibly be one of the things that crossed the minds of the Christian communities to whom Peter had written back in the mid-60s AD. The suffering we are just now beginning to suspect may come our way was their everyday reality. Surely the thought of rebellion had to enter some of their minds. After all: “Peter, we are Christians. We know the truth and walk in the light. We could take over, infiltrate every facet of Babylonian culture, and use their own system to bring about righteousness and justice. How could we go wrong with Jesus as our King?” I’ll be that line of reasoning sounds eerily familiar to a lot of you. Hey, it doesn’t sound that far fetched, really. And it definitely would put an end to suffering. But Peter advised them and us against rebellion, and even counsels for a totally opposite response- submission.

Now, I realize that I just lost half of my American readers, but it is a disposition of submission (not rebellion) that Peter, that the Holy Spirit desires for Christians living in Babylon. Remember, Peter was writing to people living under the tyranny of Rome (Babylon). They had no say so whatsoever as to how things worked. Also, the culture in which these Christians lived had religiocultural activities in which they as disciples of Jesus could not participate. This made them outcasts of mainstream society. And in the midst of such tension, Peter says, “Submit.” Say it aint so. Peter, you can’t possibly mean that we are just supposed to take this abuse. Submit? You have to be out of your mind. Maybe they/we need to know what true submission is, and what it accomplishes.

Though Peter uses governments, slaves, wives, husbands, and the Church itself as examples of submission, it is Jesus he portrays as the ultimate example of submission:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Do you see it? I know it goes contrary to everything we (especially we Americans) have had ingrained in us, but this is the holiness of true submission, with all of its glorious consequences. If anyone has ever been “railroaded,” lied about, and falsely accused, it was Jesus. If anyone ever deserved to rebel, get a good lawyer, and stand up for himself, it was Jesus. If anyone ever had the right to organize protests, and bring to light the injustice that was being perpetuated against him, it was Jesus. But it was his submission that resulted in our very salvation. And this is how we are to respond to the injustice and suffering that we encounter being Christians in Babylon. We must view our suffering as reconciliatory, just like Jesus’ suffering. Like Jesus, wholly submitted to the Father, we stand for righteousness, truth and justice. And like him, we must also know that living such lives may cost us greatly. It cost Jesus his life. To the government that tells us that we can’t do such and such or that we must do such and such, and we know these actions to be contrary to what Jesus tells us, we say, “I must obey God rather than man, and I submit to whatever it is you feel that you must do.” It is submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord. And just as by his beautiful stripes we have been healed, our own suffering can be that which God uses to bring salvation to those around us.

Being a Christian in Babylon is not about assimilation, isolation, or rebellion; there’s another way. We’ve touched on it today, and next time we’ll see that it challenges our very concept of reality and identity.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation

Holiness is not a call to isolation from Babylon, but rather the “mode” in which we are to engage it.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being at its very core in opposition to God. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to some 1st century Christians who found themselves scattered throughout Babylon (a.k.a. the Roman Empire), and they were suffering in ways we 21st century “Babylonian Christians” are only now beginning to perhaps identify with. They were without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused. How were they to understand and react? And how are we to be Christians in “Babylon” today?

I’ve suggested that there are three basic ways in which people respond to such conditions as those mentioned above: assimilation, isolation, and rebellion. I believe Peter offers another way, a way for us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him. But before we get to that other way, we decided that we would explore our three other options. We’ve been through the first one (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), so let’s move on to the second- Isolation.

If as we previously discussed assimilation is not the answer for being a Christian in Babylon, then isolation is just the other side of the same wooden nickel. (You younger readers will have to google that reference.) But for those Christians dispersed on the Anatolian peninsula in 1st century AD, it did have  to be tempting to withdraw.  It would ease the suffering, provide a buffer-zone against assimilation, and besides, “Hey, the world hates us; they won’t miss us if we’re gone. And anyway, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, let’s just close our eyes, and hold on ‘til Jesus comes back.” Makes sense, right? Even sounds like some of our thinking today doesn’t it?  But that’s not what Peter encouraged them or us to do.
Peter took interaction with Babylon for granted, even necessary. But today, many Christians have withdrawn into their own little worlds. We hide in our churches, take our cars to “Christian mechanics,” use only “Christian plumbers,” and sequester our kids in “Christian schools.”  We have taken Peter’s admonition to be holy as an incentive to have nothing to do with those around us who are not followers of Jesus. But a closer look at what Peter had to say will reveal that holiness is not a call to isolation, but rather the mode in which we are to engage Babylon.

Really, it’s ironic. The definition of “holy” is being separate and/or apartness. Taken at face value, that in itself would seem to promote isolation. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. After all, was it not the Holy One himself who came and lived among us- who became as we are? So it is that Peter makes Jesus and our inclusion in him the center of our understanding regarding our lives in Babylon. The holiness to which God has invited us to partake of in Jesus is to be the defining characteristic in the lives of Christians in Babylon. This holiness is not one that isolates in some pharisaical fear of contamination, but rather one that engages the culture with a desire to be contagious. Holy lives, separated to God, demonstrating the excellence of the One who called them from the darkness of Babylon into his light. We are a people who have received mercy, and therefore in mercy, we offer Jesus to those who dwell in Babylon, in gentleness and respect.

We don’t fear the wounds which may be inflicted upon us by a godless culture, but like Jesus whose wounds were the means of our salvation; we offer our own lives as a sacrifice through which others may be reconciled to God. Instead of fear, we offer hope, because in our hearts, Jesus is Lord. We resist the lusts of the flesh and the enticements of Babylon in which we once participated not so much to be holy, but because we are holy in Jesus. And all of this is done out in plain sight, in full view of Babylon, so that they may see our lives and “glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Next, we’ll look at the “rebellion option.” Because hey, if assimilation and isolation aren’t the keys to being a Christian in Babylon, perhaps we should just rebel, and take over the whole shebang!

Abide in Jesus. Watch & Pray.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”

In the introduction  to this series (Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction), I mentioned that I think that the readers of Peter’s first letter and we 21st century Christians living in “Babylon” are tempted to respond to the culture in which they find ourselves in basically three ways: assimilation, isolation, and/or rebellion. I believe that Peter offers a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and our relationship with him. But before we get to that, I want us to look at the three alternatives I mentioned above. So today, let’s begin with assimilation.

For a moment, let’s go back in time. We arrive on the Anatolian peninsula in the mid-60s AD. There are various communities of believers who have found themselves scattered throughout this area, and they are experiencing what Peter calls  “a fiery trial.” They have no political influence what so ever. Their relationship with Jesus has caused them to be ostracized by mainstream society. They are misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled and assaulted. They are suffering. We don’t know whether or not they are enduring officially sanctioned persecution by the Roman Empire or more of a localized form or a combination of the two.  But we can infer from Peter’s comments to them and the underlying theme of suffering in his letter that they are indeed suffering. One writer describes their circumstances in this way:

“[They] would have distinguished themselves from the general populace by their nonparticipation in public festivals (cultural affairs imbued with religious, political and social consequence). Failing to associate themselves with these religiocultural activities, their behaviors would have been perceived by the general populace as atheistic, perhaps even bordering on unlawful.” (Joel B. Green)

I don’t want to spend any more time with historical background, but I think you can see from our brief look back how assimilation might have appeared attractive? Being the “assimilator” or the “assimilatee” could have eased some of the pressure. Incorporating a bit of Babylon into their communities or allowing Babylon to assimilate them back into the mainstream populace would have relieved some of the suffering. Perhaps some even felt that a little Babylonian assimilation would have made them more relevant, more effective in spreading the gospel. Perhaps some even commented, “Hey, didn’t we hear of this guy named Paul going around saying that he becomes all things to all men so he can win them to Jesus? What good are we going to do if we wind up dead?” Assimilation had to have been an attractive idea. Can you blame ‘em?

It’s in this climate that Peter urges the believers to stand firm. He tells them that they shouldn’t go back to the way they lived before. He reminds them that they have become obedient to the truth and are no longer to be shaped by their “former ignorance.” Peter describes them as sojourners and exiles who have been called out of darkness into light. Their very lives are to be lived in such a way that “silences the agnosticism of foolish people.” They are not the “assimilators” nor “assimilatees,” but rather priests who mediate God to those around them in grace and humility.

Each new day seems to bring news that bridges the gap between the communities to which Peter wrote so long ago, and 21st century Christians living in Babylon today. We are only beginning to experience some of the pressures of living as strangers in Babylon. We are only beginning to suspect the cost of being a disciple of Jesus in this hour. Our “fiery trial” has just begun. And though the motivations may vary (fear, desire for relevancy, etc…), the temptation to assimilate or be assimilated is so very alluring. Sadly, I believe that for a very large portion of those who call themselves Christians, the assimilation has already begun.

We have for the most part ignored Peter’s admonition to “not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance.” We have seen it as easier to assimilate Babylonian culture than to live our lives in such a way that would influence it. “The passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls” have been redefined and dismissed as archaic, draconian, pharisaical moral paradigms that no longer have relevance. We have assimilated the Babylonian definition of spirituality and love and hidden our deception behind words like tolerance and inclusion. The grace and mercy in which we are to be mediators of God have instead become a cloaking device behind which we conceal our desire for acceptance and our fear of exclusion. Many of our ministers more closely resemble Babylonian celebrities than servant shepherds who humbly lead the flock by example. We have ignored Peter’s admonition, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Our assimilation only obscures the revelation of Jesus and points those who need him back to themselves.

I don’t think assimilation is the key for being a Christian in Babylon. In fact, the reality is that it actually does more harm than good and undermines the very things we say we desire. So, what is the answer? We’ll get to that. But before we do, we’ll next consider whether or not the appropriate response for being a Christian in Babylon is isolation.

Abide in Jesus. Watch & pray.

Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction

“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” (1 Peter 5:13)

Babylon. Peter’s code-word for Rome. All through the Hebrew scriptures, from the plains of Shinar, to the deportation of the Jews, Babylon is depicted as a world system whose opposition to God was manifested in every facet of its culture. At its very core, Babylon was anti-God and for Peter- anti-Christ. Writing from the “belly of the beast” to the believers scattered across Asia Minor who were also living under Babylon’s domain, Peter wanted to tell them how to be Christians during their “exile.” How were they to exist in an environment in which they possessed no political influence? How were they to understand the suffering they endured in a culture that was diametrically opposed to everything they believed in? As we “continue to live out the biblical story,” we 21st century American Christians need to understand that he was writing to us as well.

I think there are basically three major “knee-jerk” ways in which the Christians who inhabited Peter’s Roman Babylon and we “present day Babylonians” tend to respond in such an environment : assimilation, isolation and rebellion. But I also believe that Peter offered them and us a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him.

There’s absolutely no way I can include everything I’d like to say in one article, so, I’ll break it up into a series of articles: “Being A Christian in Babylon.” We’ll first look at the three “knee-jerk responses” and then conclude with what I believe to be Peter’s fourth way. I’ll publish part one shortly, but in the interim, I encourage you to read the book of 1 Peter, not as a stale historical letter to some obscure community of believers, but as a fresh word from the Spirit to you.

Lord, as we look at 1 Peter, by your Spirit, speak to our hearts and let us hear what you would say to us right here and now. Be glorified Jesus, and strengthen the hearts of your people.

A Dream and A Word

I want to share with you two things that happened to me back in 2010. One is a dream, the other, something the Lord spoke to my heart. Both the dream and the word have stuck in my heart, always somewhere in the back of my mind. Although I’ve shared bits and pieces, sneaking them in various articles, conversations and what not, I’ve only told a few people of the actual experiences. I don’t know, I guess maybe I didn’t want people to think I’m any crazier than they already do, and I’m honestly not one who’s all into dreams. Could be it was just pride and fear. But I talked with a brother today, a brother who I respect and trust, who has walked with Jesus a lot longer than I have, and he suggested that I share. So, without even knowing what it will accomplish or anything, I felt like I should.

The dream:
I was sitting in a room with sliding glass doors, adjacent to a swimming pool. I was seated at the end or head  of the table. (I don’t know which, the other end was vacant.) To my right was President Obama, to my left, a woman I didn’t recognize. I heard a voice say, “Is she trying to make me think I’m the false prophet or something?”
I next found myself standing outside by the pool. There were military men all around, high ranking if the medals on their chests were any indication, and we were all looking into the evening sky that was filled with war planes.
That’s it.

The word:
My dog woke me up about 3:00a.m. When I woke up, I felt the presence of the Lord in a very intense way. Being the spiritual man I am, I said, “Lord, I’ve got to get up in a couple of hours, so I’ll get with you then.” I figured I’d just ignore my dog (and the Lord I suppose), but neither the dog nor the Spirit would relent. I KNEW I needed to go before the Lord. I went back to my little prayer room, and got on my knees.
The Lord led me to Genesis 11, on the plains of Shinar. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’”
He impressed upon my heart that mankind is “back there,” at Shinar again. And this time, they will “succeed” for a “moment.” Then I heard in my spirit, “The beginnings of the rumblings of the beast.”

That’s it. I welcome any feedback.

Stay sober and alert. Watch and pray.

The REAL “Game” of Thrones

“Signs, signs everywhere are signs…”

It is your throne Lord that is established forever. Give us, your people, wisdom. Give us discernment that we might recognize the times in which we live. Give us hearts that burn for you! Stir us by your Spirit that we may be roused from our sleep. O Lamb of God, you are Lord of all lords and King of all kings!

“Come out, come out from her my people.” As it was in the days of Noah, Genesis 11, the plains of Shinar, Nimrod & Semiramis, Mystery Babylon, mother of prostitutes and earth’s abominations, I.S.I.S…

“One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls came over and spoke to me. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters.  The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.”

“So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it.  The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality.  A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.”  I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement.

“Why are you so amazed?” the angel asked. “I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns on which she sits.  The beast you saw was once alive but isn’t now. And yet he will soon come up out of the bottomless pit and go to eternal destruction. And the people who belong to this world, whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made, will be amazed at the reappearance of this beast who had died.

“This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings.  Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief.

“The scarlet beast that was, but is no longer, is the eighth king. He is like the other seven, and he, too, is headed for destruction.  The ten horns of the beast are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. They will be appointed to their kingdoms for one brief moment to reign with the beast.  They will all agree to give him their power and authority.  Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.”

“Then the angel said to me, “The waters where the prostitute is ruling represent masses of people of every nation and language.  The scarlet beast and his ten horns all hate the prostitute. They will strip her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her remains with fire.  For God has put a plan into their minds, a plan that will carry out his purposes. They will agree to give their authority to the scarlet beast, and so the words of God will be fulfilled. And this woman you saw in your vision represents the great city that rules over the kings of the world.”