[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.
Yesterday while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera–namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.
I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.
It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that He did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust Him with my all. I trust Him to be who He says He is–the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.
It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 CSB
We’ve spent a lot of time on various podcasts talking about the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Jarod and I have discussed it from perspectives of big-picture government responses, doctors and researchers exploring the spread of the virus and how it may be stopped or treated, and of course, the ways churches have tried to respond to this in a way that balances respect for local government authority and safety of their congregants with the need to gather and worship the Lord. It has produced for so many of us an intense time of longing for a return of the community we’ve been denied for several weeks now.
As all this has progressed, I’ve also watched individual responses and interactions, both close friends as well as far, laymen as well as leaders. I have wrestled a lot with how to speak to what I’ve seen. I’ve started writing many times on different platforms and deleted it, left it alone, rather than speak in anger and frustration or without trying to be fair in considering different viewpoints. Where I’ve landed is honestly not about where one falls on the spectrum of “open it all now” to “not until there’s a vaccine and even then I’m gonna wait a couple weeks.” Rather, my heart has been heavy with frustration more about the way I’ve seen us, believers in Christ, interacting over this.
I’ll be real honest with you people. I am very disappointed with how we as Christians have dealt with this. This experience should be a time for us to shine. Christians everywhere who have any kind of means should be out searching for any neighbors who are just hurting right now whether from lost work or illness or something else and pouring themselves out. They ought to be devoting themselves to service, to prayer, to crying out to the Lord to protect the sick around us and to provide for the poor.
But what I have seen has not looked like that, at least not from so many who have a high degree of visibility. I have seen leaders, godly men who I have looked to for wisdom and truth on so many issues and circumstances, arrogantly reacting unlovingly to everything from gentle correction to news stories. I’ve seen good brothers and sisters who previously had been gentle and sweet to each other now turning against one another in bitterness and division. And it has me deeply saddened and hurt to see so many not walking even remotely in a way that demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ words above: His desire that we would be recognized as His disciples by our love for one another.
Love one another
I’m not going to screenshot stuff. I’m not going to “get receipts” or whatever it is that the gossip-mongers and drama channels say when they dig up the latest dirt on someone with even the smallest amount of clout. Instead, I want to speak directly to each person who takes the time to read this: it is time for us as people who profess to love Jesus Christ to put up or shut up. It is time for us to stop regarding the Scriptures as a series of technicalities that allow us to disobey one thing in order to obey another. It is time, in short, for us to feel the weight of the Lord’s discipline on our hearts and to look to His example in giving up ourselves for the sake of love.
If you are new to this blog and podcast, you may not know that I spent the better part of last year working through the concept of unity in the Christ for the church. If God is willing, I am not done doing that either; Jarod and I are making plans for other projects that will involve this central and critical topic. If there is one thing that I hope is clear from all that, it is this: unity involves both a definition of what we are unified around, as well as a clear view of what walking in that unity looks like.
I’ll tell you what it doesn’t look like: it doesn’t look like “owning the libs.” It doesn’t look like your favorite TV or radio host Snarky McSmartAleck who cracks wise in precisely the right way that lets us look at those who disagree with us and go “Yeah, ya big idiots!” It doesn’t look like screaming like a lunatic about the president, no matter who it is. It doesn’t look like circular logic that begins with the conclusion you desired in the first place. And it doesn’t look like assuming the worst about your brothers and sisters.
“Aren’t you kind of doing that now?” you might ask. But I don’t want to assume anything. I just said: many of the people (on both sides of this fight) are men and women I respect and love. They aren’t people who are normally across the ideological or evangelical divide from me, but those who I have always regarded joyfully as fellow servants of Christ and brethren in the faith. And it is my desire that all of us in Christ, no matter where we fall within that aforementioned spectrum, would recall to mind that the one with whom they are speaking is like themselves: human firstly, saved by grace secondly, an heir of a greater gift by the blood and the Spirit.
Firstly: are you serving? Are you giving, and asking, and looking for those around you who are hurting? Or, are you so busy thinking about the fear of government takeover that it prevents you from seeing the hurting before you? Are you so driven to argue that it prevents you from listening and considering?
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks of the truth that even thought he had the right to the same kind of life that others in the church had, he desired to surrender those rights for the sake of those who he so diligently sought after for the sake of Christ. And he was willing to follow the path of Jesus in giving up all of himself for the sake of Christ’s people. He knew what he needed in order to live. He knew that God was aware of that fact as well, and he trusted fully to the Lord for those things. Yet he was willing to sacrifice it all if it meant Christ would be glorified and hearts would be transformed.
So at the end of this frustrated and frustrating exercise in responding to a whole myriad of arguments, the question I want to put before you the reader and myself is: how are you dying to yourself for the sake of Christ in the midst of this? Is the way you speak to and of others during this time showing a heart that trusts that God is a better provider, or do you cling to His gifts even as He tugs them away? Are you more fearful about losing your freedoms than you are about dishonoring the name of Christ before unbelievers?
I’m not saying I’m flawless in this. But this is certainly weighing deeply on me, and I hope more people will stop bickering and complaining and start thoughtfully considering the best way we can live in these deeply uncertain times with the only certainty that matters. We have an eternal weight of glory before us that ought to press in heavily on the way we consider these things.
Don’t mishear me: I am not saying it’s bad to disagree. I think that disagreements had properly, with love and gentleness, and with our hope fixed squarely on the eternal, are a reality of this world. Even if we agree in faith, we are going to disagree over earthly matters that the Bible doesn’t speak to. You can’t flip to a page and see “Oh, well, it says right here how to handle this outbreak” except perhaps in the sense that Levitical law speaks to quarantining in certain situations.
But you can see how to disagree, and my desire is that those who actually take the time to read this post will perhaps slow down and think about the questions I’ve raised. Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can disagree in love and unity, and serve our neighbors faithfully. Let us turn our efforts to love, service, prayer, and repentance, as we ought to, and seek to give glory to Jesus as the one who stands in the way of life, even when death and fear lurk.
After making a few references to it before, we are finally starting our discussion of the book Power Religion: The Selling out of the Evangelical Church? The book is actually a collection of essays from various authors, edited by Michael Horton. The book is from 1992 so some of the specific references in the book are a little dated, but the issues they discuss are very much applicable today.
We are starting with part 1, made up of essays by Charles Colson and Kenneth A. Myers. The topic is one that is perennially hot amongst American Christians especially in years like this one, where a presidential election is looming and in the midst of ongoing strife. For many years Christians have been trying to make headway in “the culture war” politically, and have been feeling defeated as they see the nation trending away from Judeo-Christian values and towards secular humanism and a more hedonistic view of pleasure and self-seeking.
But this is not what Jesus has called the church to devote its resources towards. We aren’t to take up the same methods used by the world to try to change the world. Jesus didn’t come to raise up an army and drive out the Romans, so He could establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, He defeated death itself by dying on the cross, the king becoming a humiliated and executed servant for the sake of His people. We are called to live and work like Him, while the world looks on in confusion that someone so great would give up His position for such lowly people. Our testimony of the blood of Christ is our greatest weapon of conquest.
On November 5, a little over two weeks ago as of this writing, a man named Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and proceeded to murder almost half of the congregation. Of the 50 attendees of that church, he killed 24 of them. When this happened, I was worshiping with my own church in Denton, about five hours north, and the horror of the tragedy struck close to my heart. Not because I was afraid someone was going to appear at our door next, though that thought certainly did cross my mind, but because of the immense pain that such wickedness brings to God’s people. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and certainly many precious lives were lost that day, even as they were welcomed into glory.
The response of those around me was the response that any Christian should have to such acts: to cry out to our Father in grief, in seeking justice, and in need of the strength and wisdom to move to action. Yet just as quickly as Christians moved to pray, the response that has been growing louder to that in popular culture came: sneering responses of “instead of just praying, why don’t you actually trying doing something.” “I’m sick of thoughts and prayers.” And so forth.
Life and death in Christ
The man who murdered those people took their lives, but he could never take them away from their Lord. And a Christian who goes to God in prayer is not sitting in inaction, but is in fact performing the most important and primary action anyone who truly believes in Jesus as Lord should follow: going to God for direction, for strength, and for a reminder of Who truly rules even over the tragedies, Who will achieve His great purpose even when and even through man’s wicked acts, because no one can escape the will and design of God. I wrote to my church in a request for prayer that day for FBC Sutherland Springs:
This is such a dark and wicked act, it is hard to think about how to react. Anger and sadness both seem appropriate. But I wanted to post this here and ask for prayer, and take a moment to talk about prayer in particular. I am not a pastor or elder, but I don’t believe I am out of line to say that prayer is one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of the Christian. The world sees “thoughts and prayers” and sneers at what they believe is inaction, but in fact we have taken one of the greatest actions a believer can take: going into the throne room of God and asking Him for intervention, for protection, for strength to act and wisdom to know how.
I hope we can all take time to pray for the people of this town, with 400 people living there and a church of 50 who just had almost half of those lost. Prayer is not inaction, it is a deep and meaningful act Christians take to call upon the name of the Lord and seek the good mercies He pours out upon His children even in times of turmoil and hardship.
Doing all things
One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13. We’ve all seen it plastered on motivational posters, athletic t-shirts, and all kinds of places with the completely wrong understanding of what is being said. We tend to take it in a “Yeah, you can do it, you can achieve anything!” sort of way. Paul, however, is not using it in a “rah rah, let’s go team” sense. He is giving thanks to the church of Philippi for their prayers, because it was those prayers which cried out to God to give Paul strength to endure much suffering, and it was through those prayers that God ministered to the hearts of both the apostle and the church.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.I can do all things through him who strengthens me.–Philippians 4:10-13
No matter what the world may believe about prayer, about the power of God shown in weakness, we the church must persist. I must persist, even as I am weak in my pursuit of holiness. We must persist in seeking after the Lord, because in that we are putting our hands to the plow and stirring up the soil. And when we are done praying, we must stand up, and go out into the world and serve, and love, and minister to the broken and downtrodden.
This is what frustrates me so much about the thoughts and behaviors that tend to typify American evangelicalism, because so much of it involves running from the world around us and hating it, not in a “I hate sin and how it destroys my life and therefore I will preach the gospel” way, but in a “I am more righteous than the world and don’t want to get my precious hands dirty touching it” way. The former brings a drive to serve and love your neighbor. The latter causes you to hate and hide from your neighbor.
I encourage you to hear the words of Charles Spurgeon, and cry out to God every day, whenever it comes into your mind, to strengthen the church, to feed His sheep, and to lead us to righteousness. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to obey Jesus in making Him first and foremost in your minds as you seek for answers to tragedy in a dark and sinful world. And I encourage you: no matter what it is that you are facing, do not let yourself become discouraged, nor let yourself grow idle. Walk through all of life looking to the cross of Christ knowing that He is the one all things come from, and to whom all things point.
Every morning at work I have a basic routine to kick things off, before I actually clock in and start to business. I fire up my computer, get all the basic programs I need loaded, and pop up a browser window to glance at Google News for what’s going on. It’s interesting to see what gets pushed to the top, and the other day one appeared that really caught my eye: “Trump: ‘We’re Saying Merry Christmas Again.‘”
President Trump reignited the “war on Christmas” on Friday, telling a crowd of supporters that “we’re saying merry Christmas again” now that he’s president.
Speaking to a packed crowd at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Trump argued political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday.
“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct,” he said to strong applause and cheers from the audience at the Christian public policy conference, sponsored by the Family Research Council.
So I am in a position where essentially I find myself at odds both with my very traditional-minded conservative brethren as well as my friends on the left. The latter is probably more normal for my experience, but as I have tried to push forward in seeking Christ in obedience to the gospel, I have noted many times that what often passes for Christianity in the US is, unfortunately, very much the opposite in various ways.
Those ways differ from place to place, but they work out the same way: rather than worship God boldly and joyfully, obeying the commands to not fear and to rejoice in all things, they instead are seeking after themselves. They use the name of Jesus, they claim to love and believe in Him. Yet they operate in fear and they do not rejoice, at least not in Him, not the way modeled by the early church. They put immense weight on cultural expressions of Christianity (like visible decorations and holidays) but their handling of such issues rarely reflects the heart of Christ towards others.
The apostles left the beatings they received at the command of the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” Are Western Christians similarly ready to truly suffer loss and pain for the sake of Jesus? Or are we fleeing from pain for the sake of our comfort? Are we trusting to God in all things or are we trying to control the world to our tastes?
When I see the President or any other public figure standing in front of a group that has declared itself to be Christian and delivering the line “We’re saying merry Christmas again” as though it is demonstration that victory has been won over the godless pagans who only say “happy holidays,” I am deeply concerned. I am concerned that for many in the West, Christianity has been reduced to platitudes and traditions. I am concerned that the Jesus worshiped in the hearts of many is not the Savior who died on the cross and the mighty King who sits upon His throne, who will one day dispense both justice and mercy perfectly.
What I see is many evangelicals trying to build a fortress to hide themselves and their families inside, lest they be impacted by a society that is darkening around them. They are doing exactly what Jesus said not to do, and hiding their light under a basket. And when they do try to drag it out, there is little love in it. Rather, there seems to be a great deal of arrogance and self-righteousness.
Brethren, if the thing that excites you is the idea that “Now we can give Christmas-specific greetings rather than generic holiday ones because the federal government is slightly less antagonistic towards Christians,” I would suggest you need to stop for a moment and examine your own heart. As Christians we ought to be thinking about things like “How can we look at the people near us who are hurting and lost and serve them in a way that glorifies Jesus? How can we make the gospel our speech and walk every day?”
And if we’re going to talk about Christmas, then perhaps ask yourself, “How can we use this celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God to show what it really means to worship a God that is so mighty He requires nothing, and yet cares so much about His creation that He became flesh to pay the price for our wicked and sinful deeds?” We should be able to live even in a society that truly despises us and still be serving and loving, because that is the model Christ set even as He was despised and rejected.
The point of this post is not to hate Trump or rag on him. I do not hate him and to despise him like that would likewise be un-Christlike. But I believe that it is unwise and just as un-Christlike for believers to attach their affections and hopes to a man who is so manifestly manipulative and who clearly has no interest in the faith beyond what it can bring him in the moment. Hope in God alone.
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.–Psalm 146:3-7
This sermon is a hard and harsh one, and understandably so. And this is one of Charles Spurgeon’s earlier sermons, so it is perhaps a bit “rougher around the edges” than some later ones, after he has spent years experiencing the grace of God amidst the peaks and valleys of life. But I read it because I find it immensely relevant, because God’s justice is a subject that must be discussed if the gospel is to have true meaning.
The justice of God is such a hard subject to talk about, and it is one that is unfortunately neglected in many places. The simple reason is that there are many who fancy themselves teachers of the flock who believe, for one reason or another, that to speak at length on the holiness of God and His wrath against sin somehow dishonors the work and life of Jesus, or maims the testimony of God’s love. But I want to take a few moments here and refute that idea, and speak to why it is just as important to do exactly what Brother Spurgeon here has done and speak boldly to the truth of the coming punishment for sin.
Firstly, because it is a reminder that though tragedy continues to infect our world, it is not so simple to look at death in any form or fashion today and say “This right here, this is God’s punishment for sin.” Though death came into the world through sin and was defeated at the cross along with sin, tragic death is a reality of life in this sinful world and not something you can necessarily use to draw a straight line from Sin A to Death B.
It was a little over a year ago that a man shot up a nightclub in Orlando, and I wrote a few blog posts discussing issues related to that. I also read a sermon based on a text that was read in this sermon, Luke 13:1-5:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Now let’s be clear: Jesus is not saying that if you repent, you will not die. He is calling the hearers to prepare their hearts lest they experience their own tragedy, and denying the superstition of the day that said that one could clearly see who had sinned, by what ill befell them. Jesus called His disciples to serve the brokenhearted, the sick and needy, the widows and orphans. He commanded them to lift up the ones who were laid low, and to make themselves low to serve the ones who desperately needed it most.
All of that is tied in to the fact that God is a God of justice, just as much as He is a God of mercy. He is a God of wrath against sin, as much as He truly is love. And all of you who feel the deep pain of injustice in our world, I would point you to this truth: firstly, because there is absolutely hope of justice. Secondly, because if you seek that justice apart from the truth of God, then all will you do is create a new injustice in place of the old, one stamped with your image and one that will be burned up on the day of judgment as a structure built out of straw and twine. And finally, because if you cannot right an injustice in your time but must endure, you can endure knowing that perfect justice will be done on the Day of Judgment.
Charles Spurgeon was a man who despised the injustices of his day and preached boldly against them. Indeed, this sermon was recommended to me by someone as a sermon that upset Southern slave owners, perhaps because they felt the barbs of conviction pricking very deeply. Of slavery Spurgeon once said,
By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.
If you’ve listened to this podcast for more than thirty seconds, you know Spurgeon preached boldly and unapologetically against the evils of sin in his day and for repentence and faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. My brothers and sisters, we must do the same. We must be balanced and biblical in our judgments, we must model mercy and pour out love on those who hate us, but we must remember that love and truth are equal partners in the worship of the One True God. Therefore we must preach the truth about the evils of our time, not because they win us political points (because often they won’t), not because we love to shame our neighbors (because apart from the grace of God we join in that shame), but because we love God and we love our neighbors, and we desire most deeply to see them know Christ and live.
Next episode: a special observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
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The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.-1 Timothy 1:15
There is so much that could be said about this verse. It is, perhaps, one of the phrases of Scripture that could be said to best describe the whole of a Christian’s confession and walk: the command to listen and believe, the confession of faith in the one hope any man has in this life or the next, coupled with the cry of insufficiency and guilt. It seems that the Gospel is always that dual cry–I am unworthy, I am a sinner, I hope in Christ alone!
And hope is what I want to talk about a little here, in the context of everything that we’ve been going through lately. I started working on this episode over a week ago and it’s taken me a while to have the time to finish everyone and do the editing I needed to do. In that time, the US inaugurated a new president, that president has begun to take actions in his new office, and the reactions I have seen in the media and amongst my friends have been…well, I don’t think “shocking” is the right word. But I think words like “disappointing” and “frustrating” are up there.
It is not my intention to support or attack Donald Trump. Neither is it my desire to discuss the ins and outs of particular political issues. What is my desire, is to speak firstly to my brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of this issue, and then to my friends who are not of the body of Christ.
My brethren: come on, guys.
I don’t mean to make light of this or act like it’s no big deal, because it is. This life, this world is real, and everything we do has consequences. You, I and Trump will stand before God to account for our lives and how we used what He has given us. At the same time, I feel that both Trump supporters and detractors within Christianity have forgotten something very important: namely, the source of our hope. This is true no matter which side you find yourself on. I have seen his detractors absolutely lost, awash in despair and fear–and these are Christians. Yes, my friends, I know many of you believe that supporting a liberal political agenda in certain areas automatically makes you a heretic who would just as soon attend a Unitarian Universalist church as believe in the God of the Bible, but it has been to my great blessing in my time living here in Denton to get to know many men and women who I disagree with on particulars of law and government, and who worship the one true God with me every week.
And at the same time, I see Trump-supporting evangelicals who are being very unloving and unkind to those who are not, by posting nasty memes and jokes, attacking and fighting extensively online, and in general not displaying an ounce of the grace they have been shown by our King. That is inexcusable, and deserves rebuke. You are living as though the hope you have in this life and for the future of this country lies solely in the hands of Donald Trump. Let me assure you right now: that is untrue, and if you truly believe that, you are hoping in something foolish. Not because Trump is or isn’t good, but because he is another sinful human who will ultimately only be able to accomplish what God allows him to.
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.-Psalm 146:3-7
We do not hope in a man who is going to be dead some day. We don’t hope in a man who is dead already. Nor do we simply hope in some kind of theoretical idea that may or may not actually be true or realistic. We hope in Christ, and Christ alone.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.-1 Peter 1:3-9
So am I saying that we should just give up on caring about politics? No, certainly not. But we need to be very careful that as Christians, we do not engage this debate as unbelievers who have no hope beyond this life. We can engage each other in love, we can show tenderness, mercy and even, yes, weakness, knowing that even if what we go through leads to suffering, it is suffering that leads to greater joy. We ought to follow our consciences, we ought to make our cases boldly and with truth in hand, recognizing that ultimately both the left and the right in this country have at their core a humanist line of thinking that believes, “If I use the power of government in just the right way, I can perfect man at last. We can be free from pain and want, we can live perfect comfortable lives and be happy forever.”
Ultimately, neither will be able to achieve their goal, as long as that hope is based in humans and not in Christ alone. When Christ is King, all other things fall into place perfectly, rest and work and pain and joy all function in their right way, until the time comes for Jesus to set all things right, to wipe every tear and judge every injustice. We cannot, and should not, use the tactics of secular humanists, because those tactics insult the truth of the Gospel. I would be talking for hours here if I detailed this more, but I want to move on to my friends who have not believed the Gospel.
My message to you is not largely different, except that I do not bring with it an expectation that you will hope a certain way. Rather, I bring an invitation, a command even: repent, of your sins, your fears, and your faithlessness, and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone is King, and Savior, and Friend to all who are hurting and in need. Do not rage against the truth. Do not fear the One who made you. I am calling you to let go of your foolish ideas of autonomy for yourself, and realize that you are much more “you” that you could ever be when you are with your Father, who made you and knows you.
This too shall pass, for good or ill. Trump will leave office one way or another, and someone else will be there. If God is willing, this country will see another day and will repent of the wickedness that is spread across the land in so many hearts. I sincerely hope, because of the hope I have in Jesus, that you will be one who turns in faith in our living hope, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
I’ve already mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but due to an equipment failure unfortunately production on future episodes both of this and the Morning & Evening podcasts are on hold for the time being. My laptop was apparently damaged somehow in transit while I was on a business trip and the screen no longer works. If I can’t fix it, I’ll have to replace it, which probably means next month some time. Apologies to everyone, especially those of you who have been so encouraging through the production of the M&E podcast at Theology Mix (and to the other guys who have produced recordings for it). I will update as soon as I am able to get everything back up and running.
I have really, really been thinking about if I even want to say anything about the election. Friends who know me from years past are probably amazed, because they know me as a guy who was always up for a debate, always reading and engaging. But this election has been absolutely off-putting and bizarre for a lot of reasons, and I do want to enumerate at least a few of those, as well as give a few thoughts on how I want to move forward, as a Christian and as a man who has often identified himself as a conservative and a Republican in one form or another.
This was probably the biggest disaster of an election I could have ever conceived of. I made the comparison several times on Facebook that for Christians, this election was the equivalent of the infamous Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek.
On the one hand, you had a candidate who was overtly antagonistic to Christians, whose leaked emails revealed a campaign with not only no regard for believers but who openly opposed them, and intended to continue the Obama administration “pen and phone” efforts to force leftist social changes onto the country. And on top of all that, before the campaign even began she was carrying enough scandalous baggage to make Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln. So for a lot of Christians, trying to avoid the consequences of Hillary’s victory was a major issue.
On the other hand, however, you had what amounted for many Christians to a big question mark. Donald Trump mouthed a lot of the right platitudes and shook hands with the right people, he was photographed bowing his head and closing his eyes with American evangelical leaders…but he had a long and unsavory history of being after number one more than anything else, of doing whatever it took to squeeze the last penny out of a business before jumping ship and letting whatever was left sink in bankruptcy court. And of course there’s this:
“So what?” a lot of people said. “Who cares if Donald Trump isn’t some perfect Christian, we’re not electing a pastor.” “He’s repented of that and we should forgive him,” others said. And above all, the droning repetition of “We have to stop Hillary. If you oppose Trump you support Hillary. You don’t want her as president, do you?”
But by supporting Trump, many evangelicals stood completely at odds with their own positions on presidents with similar records of debauchery, infidelity and covenant-breaking…who happened to have a D after their names. Well, name, because we all know who I’m referring to–the husband, ironically, of the candidate who claims to be running to defend the rights of women, who has made a name for himself as a serial cheater and possible rapist.
And so, we have the Kobayashi Maru. We can enter the neutral zone and find ourselves the targets of Klingon torpedoes with #ImWithHer emblazoned on them, or we can just be on our way and support a man whose behavior and political positions up until recently have really not set him apart at all from Hillary’s husband and…hope for the best?
For the record, I did not vote for either of them. I have found myself saying many times over the course of the last few elections that my hope does not lie in votes or candidates, and this election perhaps more than any other has forced a realization of the truth of that statement. In an absolutely stunning turn of events and against all expectations, Donald Trump won the presidency, and my social media feeds have exploded with a lot of different messages. I have friends all over the political, social and religious spectrum, going back to school days in Minnesota up to today in work and church.
What I have heard has been a range of fear, anger and frustration on one side, and hope, happiness and even some optimism on the other. What I don’t see much of, though, is any meaningful interaction between the two. I don’t say, no interaction at all, because there has been interaction–it’s just been pointless. One guy going into a thread to call someone else a “libtard” or someone else posting angry screeds on someone else’s wall telling them that they’ve chosen racism and hatred over being a good human being does not make for thoughtful discussion. It makes for building up walls, it makes for simply digging in deeper to preconceived opinions, and it certainly made for more anger for everyone involved. Anger from my friends on the left as they continue to perceive their political opponents as racist, hate-filled, and irredeemable. Anger from my friends on the right as they see their political opponents as completely entrenched and unwilling to think beyond a media message.
And me? I don’t believe either candidate deserved the position. My thoughts on this entire matter are probably summed up best by this quote from the 16th century reformer John Calvin:
Biblically this is certainly true. God turned the Israelites over to evil rulers, kings and governors and conquerors when they would flee obedience and seek after their own desires, until they repented and He would set them free. When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders chose to turn Him over to the Roman leaders as an accused opponent of the Roman emperor rather than follow after Him as the true King of all. And we still see this happening throughout history, as nations embrace the boot that crushes them so many times, before the glimmer of first hope shines in repentance.
So from my perspective, even more so there was no winning with either candidate. No matter who won, we had a leader who was not a servant of the people, but a ruler who wanted what he wanted. The only question was which flavor of tyranny the people would choose.
But even with that I have to be careful, because the temptation is to dive headfirst into cynicism and disconnection, from people and from loving others. The challenge grows ever greater for a Christian who takes the faith seriously to remember: this is not about winning elections. This is not about “saving the culture” or “advancing an agenda” or any of the other myriad of things people say about political action. Our goal as believers, saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to serve, to love and to preach the Gospel faithfully.
If you are afraid, if you are hopeful, if you are simply ambivalent, I’ve found representatives from all these camps in Christ. And for all of us, the same truth remains:
I can’t tell you “Feel this way. Don’t feel that way.” But I can say, trust your Father, and know that even if what we are seeing is His judgment on a wicked nation, it is a judgment that is happening with us here to continue serving as ministers of reconciliation, to carry the Gospel forth and to love our neighbors. If you are afraid, remember that not a sparrow falls without your Father knowing it and reigning over even such small consequences. If you are excited, remember that your God is the one who sets up and casts down kings, and let your worship rest on Him, not on the tools He uses. In all things, let’s love our neighbors and our enemies, and do good to the ones who curse us.
I need to remember that myself more than anyone. Friends, I pledge to you that I will do my best to avoid mocking, belittling or ignoring in any way. That does not mean that I will agree with you, but I will listen to you, and I hope that in the end what we find is a chance to overcome needless division and find peace.
My wife came up to me yesterday and asked me, “Does the Bible say we should kill gay people?” I was rather taken aback, since this subject doesn’t exactly come up on a regular basis. But as we discussed the issue, about what Scripture says and what a Christian response to an evil act like the Orlando nightclub shooting looks like, the discussion turned more to the responses she had seen on Facebook. And there are many understandable ones: What kind of person does something like this? How can we hope to stop this from happening again? Then there are ones that ask very pointed questions of Islam, as the shooter was a claimed adherent of Islam and, according to police, called 911 before or during the shooting and pledged allegiance to both ISIS and al Qaeda. Then there were some responses that involved Christians, both from the Christian side (such as “How should we be serving these people in their time of pain and loss?”) and from the secular side (most pointedly, “How can you say you love these people and pray for them when you say they are living in sin and condemned to hell?”)
I think these all deserve discussion from a Christian point of view. Most especially, they deserve discussion because when those around us experience pain and suffering, we should be ready to engage with them meaningfully–not with a pat answer and phony Christianese sunshine, but with the only real answer that matters, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it provides even in the darkest moments. I don’t intend to make this “the definitive Christian response” but I want to do my best to answer questions I know many of my friends have. I highly recommend listening to Dr. Albert Mohler’s excellent Briefing podcast episode from yesterday, as he calmly yet lovingly discusses some of the specifics from this issue. The Gospel Coalition also has some excellentposts, including one by Nabeel Qureshi, who converted from the Ahmadiyya denomination of Islam and is now a Christian apologist working with Ravi Zacharias’ ministry.
I’ll be putting up several posts over the next couple of days. I want to let this series of posts stand as a place to discuss the questions, responses, and frustrations of many, both Christian and not. I may update it as time goes on. Please feel free to post your own thoughts and anything you would like to see addressed in the comments below. I do moderate for spam and trolling, but I will never turn away honest and heartfelt questions and disagreement.
I want to divide this up into sections, beginning with the subject of the shooting itself and branching out to broader issues. For example:
What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?
The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim? Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter?
Does the Bible say we are supposed to kill homosexuals?
How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?
This is my prayerful and thoughtful attempt to bring a meaningful gospel response to a horrific and wicked act. I hope my readers can recognize this, and are willing to engage in that spirit.