The empire has no clothes. The King has colors of hope

In my last post I wrote: Until I’m willing to see both the idolatry and insufficiency of the present “McWorld” system, I’ll also fail to see the radically hopeful nature of the gospel, which provides an exit strategy from these false hopes as it invites us into so much more than a ticket to heaven.

Assuming that I do see the insufficiency of the present worldview (no matter who’s in power), only clears the deck of false hopes.  It deconstructs.  It exposes.  And, if left alone, creates a generation of cynics and nihilists, who might well see the gods of consumerism as the destructive idols they are, but lack the moral imagination to offer any alternative.  The results aren’t pretty, as indicated by declining marriage and birthrates, and rises in rates of addictive and destructive behaviors.  We need compelling alternatives.

This, for me, is what makes the Gospel so compelling.  Far from being some sort of limp, ‘get out of hell for free’ card, the central theme of the gospel is that in a world of failed narratives, God is inviting people to join Him in writing a better story, a robust, life giving alternative, on the pages of history.  Participants in this story take seriously God’s declaration that, in the resurrected Christ, a new world has begun because a new king and kingdom are now present.  It was the new king himself who reminded us of the important principles that will help us live into this far better story:

1. You can only have one allegiance – Jesus was clear that you can’t serve two masters, that Jesus can’t be your King and Ceasar also.  The entire New Testament is full of guidance about how to live in the midst of one kingdom while maintaining a clear and unswerving loyalty to another, higher, eternal King.  The notion that we can live in a paradigm of Jesus + Capitalism, or Jesus + Nationalism, or Jesus + Socialism, is entirely false.  No “ism” will ever bow to Christ, because all “isms”, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx declare themselves to be final solutions.  And in every case they fail to deliver.  So we vote, we participate in the civic world, as much as possible we obey civic authorities and pray for them.  But we know better than to believe that a change in parties is any sort of solution.

2. You should only have one obsession -When Jesus said “don’t worry about tomorrow” he used a word for worry that means “to be divided”, which is a way of saying that when we’re trying to find our role in the story of hope God is writing in the world, AND we’re also trying to buy into the pursuit of the consumerist American dream, or any other dream, we’ll be hopelessly divided, and the results will not be pretty.  Like an artist obsessed with his subject (as I write about in the Colors of Hope), we must pay close attention to the values of the kingdom so that we can make them visible on the canvass of our lives.  When we do this, the colors of generosity, justice, celebration, simplicity, joy, hospitality, bleed together creating a unique expression of Christ in each of us.  When we do this together… it’s called church.

3. You’re an artist – so get on with it. The best reasons to believe are, for me anyway, always rooted in the colors of hope I see painted on the canvass of other lives.  Whether it’s Gahigi in Rwanda and the countless stories in the stunning book, “As We Forgive”, or beautiful lives like Sophie Scholl‘s or Paul Brand‘s, I know that the pages of history are painted with the colors of hope.  Those colors exist as a foretaste of a world that will, someday, burst forth with these colors painting over all injustice, and oppression, and rape and violence, and environmental degradation.

That’s a world I want to be a part of it and the incredible news is that world has begun already, and I’ve a role to play, by being a unique expression of hope.  Finding that expression and living into it is the only thing that matters.  So, even though it’s an election year, I’m not losing sleep over who wins, because the reality is that, whoever’s in power, I serve a different, better king, one who, as Handel reminds us: “…shall reign forever and ever” To which I can only respond:  Hallelujah!

IMPORTANT:  I happy to share that my book “The Colors of Hope” won Christianity Today’s selection for Best Book 2011, in the “Christian Living Category”.  It’s FREE ON MAY 1st as a kindle download, and the study guide is free here (it makes a great group study)  Enjoy!  And please share the news with your friends.

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    We used Colors of Hope for our small group study and it provided deep, thought-provoking discussions each week and challenged everyone in the group to take a look into their own personal worlds. The words used to express the thoughts presented, flowed themselves like a brush on a canvas; a true work of art in the way it is written. The spirit and beauty of the words challenged readers to let Christ work in them and encouraged and enlightened us to go out and be the hope and color in the world around us. We loved the study and have continued as a small group encouraging each other to play our roles. I think everyone should read this book and use the study guide for deeper insights.

  • Larry

    The idea of living a God and others centered life ordered by and filled with Jesus is compelling and biblical. Coupling it with either/or false dichotomies is not … in fact, its unhelpful and annoying.

    It strikes as more of the detached and “above-it-all” silliness that now passes as spiritual and enlightened by the hip and trendy Christians who disdain staking out positions that might be *gasp* conventional.

    “The notion that we can live in a paradigm of Jesus + Capitalism, or Jesus + Nationalism, or Jesus + Socialism, is entirely false” … uhm … might as well write ” Jesus + food, Jesus + marriage, Jesus + taking out the garbage, Jesus + modern modes of transportation and communication” … it would be just as nonsensical.

    We live in a world that demands best practices and proven models. Sometimes the world in which we live demands digging in and taking positions that require total commitment. The remarkable freedoms we enjoy are a product of such actions taken nearly three hundred years ago by another group of Christians (well, some deists as well).

    My faith and hope are in Christ and His coming kingdom … that doesn’t relieve me of my other responsibilities. It does, however, empower me to conduct those affairs with wisdom, commitment and His power.

    Jesus commands us to seek first His kingdom … He did suggest that we seek it to the exclusion of all other worthy, indeed, essential pursuits. In fact, His language suggests that He is most mindful of that necessity.

  • changeling

    I quote this threadhead :

    “When we do this, the colors of generosity, justice, celebration, simplicity, joy, hospitality, bleed together creating a unique expression of Christ in each of us. When we do this together… it’s called church.”

    Well, actually, belief in christianity and religions like it are at the core of the unrest that prevents the bliss you imagine. What it brings is the Crusades, and 911. It brings the war between the Protestants and Catholics in northern Ireland. It brings the Middle East Crisis in Israel. It brings the wars between the Sunni and Sheite muslims. Religion, and any belief in mythological god brings war and hatred. Even your Bible proves it, as Joshua went through the promised land and killed everyone who could not be sold as a slave. All sanctioned by your god. Now you may want to take a knee in fear. I hope to meet him so I can puke on his shoes, then spit in his face, then kick him in the balls. I would kill him, but he doesn’t exist, which makes that difficult.


  • Cliff Wonsettler

    I’d just like to make a very general comment that I’m very thankful for this thought provoking blog, Richard. My best friend (who lives across the country) and I have excellent conversations about the content. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you that ‘either/or’ dichotomies are unhelpful. Yet I’m puzzled because you wrote: “We live in a world that demands best practices and proven models. Sometimes the world in which we live demands digging in and taking positions that require total commitment.” That sounds very ‘either/or’ to me, and is the very kind of thinking I’m seeking to address. The notion that actions taken, as you wrote, ‘three hundred years ago’ can adequately and fully address the challenges of a global economy degraded by industrialization and environemental threats is naive at best, wholly destructive at worst.

    I’m advocating, not for an either/or proposal, but for an acknowledgement that no single system or world view can adequately address the challenges we’re facing – neither free market capitalism, nor various socialist models. The Christian needs to bring the kingdom ethic to bear on the situation, and when they do, the solutions will defy our current categories.