The Gospel, or Politics?

Matthew 28:18-20

“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.'”

Last night on the television I watched a conversation between a conservative Christian and the minister of a very liberal congregation from the same denomination, which I choose not to name but will say that it is an older, mainstream denomination. The heart of the debate was the fact that the liberal minister and his church were openly pursuing a very liberal social and political agenda to the point of posting harsh political signs in front of the church, while at the same time the congregation was in decline. I won’t burden you with all the back and forth, but I did see a very important comparison in the story, relative to my own personal experience. The minister’s church, like so many in our time, had wandered from a Biblical presentation of Jesus and into a pursuit of social and political change, while the number of people attending was dropping significantly. Meanwhile, I know a church that had been crawling along seven years ago with only twenty members, but when they got a new pastor who preached Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, the Lord grew that church and today they have an average attendance of over 1,000 people spread out among three services. What is the difference? One church preaches politics, the other preaches the gospel. One follows a humanistic philosophy loosely based on the teachings of Jesus, the other teaches the great love of Jesus expressed in His setting aside the glory of heaven to come among us and die a horrible death to pay the price of our sins. Now the shifting of focus within churches from the eternal to the temporal is not limited to the liberal, theologically muddy branches of Christianity although it is most apparent there. There are many reasonably conservative Christian churches that have also strayed into the elevation of politics and social change. When I first became a Christian in the mid-80s one of the big subjects of debate within the church was what to do with the new-found political power that evangelical Christianity had discovered. For the majority the answer was clear: politics must always take second place to the work of carrying the gospel of salvation to a lost world. Yet, decades later, many in the church seem to get that order of importance backwards. Being politically aware and active is important, but it has not been lost on me that nowhere in Scripture does it exhort us to put politics first, to make social change the whole point. We are encouraged to obey the authorities so long as they are not trying to force us to disobey God, and we are told to pray for our leaders that we may have peace. But the notion that the church must use politics to bring about the Kingdom is heretical and became popular during the 19th Century. Jesus didn’t come among us to start a program of social justice, although if we follow Christ and preach His Word society can improve; compare the “anything goes” madness of today with the relative social stability of earlier ages when the faith was more important to the majority of people. But the whole purpose of His coming was to atone for our sins and turn our hearts back to God in repentance. Jesus changes lives, you bet, He changed mine in some very dramatic and fundamental ways; politics mostly just changes who governs us and how. Jesus saves our souls, politics does not. So always put sharing the Biblical truth of Jesus Christ before trying to change the world through human effort. Keep politics where it belongs, and promote the gospel of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. For only Jesus can changes the world in the ways that matter.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.


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Stay Loving Even in Debate

2nd Timothy 4:2

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on things, seeking the Lord’s gentle guidance, and He gave me an answer through something my pastor said a couple of weeks ago. One of the greatest problems facing the Body of Christ today is not from the outside, but from the inside: we sometimes are so busy attacking each other over doctrines or practices that we do Satan’s work for him. Case in point. I know of a group on facebook created as a forum for discussing the Bible. This group has over ten thoussand members, most of whom are not Biblical Christians. Yet, in spite of the fact that said group is filled to the brim with unbelievers and cultists of every stripe, most of the fighting I see and sometimes got caught up in was between Christians of different groups. For every Muslim that has attacked even just the Scriptures I’d post, I usually got attacked by several “Christians” all wanting to argue their particular set of doctrines. Some of the bitter, hateful fighting between people claiming Christ made it very easy to understand why the wars in Europe between Catholics and Protestants were so bloody. Now I have always had a heart for apologetics, for being able to explain the resons why we believe what we do and defending our faith, but that passion for the faith was used to drag me into some very hot and harsh debates…no, arguments.
When I read people teaching obvious, un-Biblical doctrines, it was always so easy for me to jump in and “set them straight”. As Pastor said, my heart was in the right place but I wasn’t following the Spirit very well; I was reacting from my flesh, not the Spirit. We should be able to correct and reprove, and obviously we are not to let slanders and lies pass unchallenged, but we are exhorted often to do it in a spirit of love, gentleness, humility and patience. We should never let ourselves get dragged into the bitter hatefulness that surrounds us, for when we do, we give Satan a perfect opportunity to discredit our witness as a whole. One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the Christian faith I hear is “you preach love yet hate each other.” They have a point. Jesus said the world would know us by our love for each other. Where is the love when the debate sinks to the level of name calling and hateful judgements on each other? During the Arian controversy of the early church bishops condemned each other in the most vile terms; riots ran in the streets and Christians killed Christians. We may tell ourselves that we are much better than that, but human nature hasn’t changed in 1600 years; look at the blood that has been shed in Northern Ireland in modern times by Protestants and Catholics who hated each other. Back to the present, Dave… I have resolved that from now on I will not fall into that trap. I will state the truth, and if you wish to press your attack in the name of proving how right and clever and learned you are, you may do so without me. All that matters is Christ crucified and resurrected in atonement for our sins. I don’t need to prove how clever and eloquent I am, for I am the least of God’s children. Argue and hate if you must, but do it without me.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Christmas 2017

Luke 2:6-7

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

It seems to me that this time of year brings out the best, and paradoxically the worst, in people. It can bring out the best because it is a time of year when many people perform acts of kindness and generosity they might not otherwise do. Of course we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to our friends and families, but often we also give to those we don’t know, either through charities or churches or just giving something to the homeless guy on the streetcorner. It is a time when many families come together, hopefully lay aside the usual petty differences that can arise within families, and celebrate Christmas together. But it can also be a time when tempers flare in the malls or in traffic, when rudeness and impatience and greed take over. A time when some people get judgemental when seeing how their family member has set the table or the neighbor has decorated their house. And it can be a time when a lot of well meaning people argue over what Christmas is and what it should be, and even whether it should be celebrated at all.

There are so many arguments out there online over this and that aspect of Christmas that I’m not going to rehash it here. Yes, it is primarily a religious holiday, and to many people who are atheists or Muslims or whatever they repudiate it as something religious being forced upon them; if seeing a manger scene in someone’s yard offends you, then don’t look, go home and shut your eyes for a month. But it seems to me that most of the harshest arguments are between two people or groups who both claim Christ and can’t resist the temptation to argue over various aspects of Christmas. Yes, no one really knows on what date Jesus Christ was born, no matter how brilliant a case they can make in support of one date or another. Yes, there have been a lot of pagan influences from Northern Europe that have been incorporated in the celebration of the birth of the Savior; so do what I do, don’t practice them. Yes, in the last century especially there has been a great deal of commercialism and avarice and materialism come into what should be a humble and peaceful time. But should we reject the holiday completely because there are flaws in how or when it is celebrated? No.

The entire, sole reason why people began to celebrate this as a holiday was to commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In that manger 2,000 years ago lay the perfect union of God and man, who came into our dirty, wicked world to pay the penalty of our sins so that we imperfect, sinful mortals could receive the gift of eternal life through Him. That’s all, but then it was more than enough. Another name given to Christ in the Bible is Immanuel, which translates as “God Among Us”. He entered our world because He loved us too much to allow us to march blindly to our destruction without an exit ramp. Personally, I believe that the more important event was the death of Jesus on the cross, for that is when He atoned for our sins. His resurrection was a close second, for it is the sign to all of us that He had defeated sin and death for good. But for Him to have led a sinless life to pay for our sins at Calvary He first had to be born, and that is why we celebrate Christmas.

So let’s stop arguing over this point and that point and just celebrate the birth of our Savior. The date doesn’t matter; the fact of His birth does. Stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. And if you don’t believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, please resist the temptation to revile those of us who do. Love one another, as Jesus told us to do. Be kinder and more patient. Be a bit more restrained in how much load you dump onto your credit cards. Argue less. And consider, even if only for a moment, the reality that on what was possibly a cold winter night in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus, a child was born that was the union of the mortal with the immortal, of the created with the Creator. Consider the possibility that was true and not a myth. Try not to remove Christ from Christmas, for without Christ, what difference would it all make?

Merry Christmas to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Jerusalem the Capital of Israel? Yes!

2nd Samuel 5:6-10

“The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here, even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here’. Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. On that day, David said, ‘Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water water shaft to reach those “lame and blind” who are David’s enemies. That is why they say “the blind and lame will not enter the palace.”‘ David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him.”

King David captured the ancient city of Jerusalem around 1000 BC, and that city remained the Jewish capital until the Roman sack in 70 AD and, in a sense, beyond. The Israelites were in possession of Jerusalem for slightly more than 1000 years before the Roman sack; since then the city has been at the heart of the Jewish religion and an important city for the Christians. From the time of the Muslim conquest in 638 AD until the end of World War I the city remained under Islamic control by various caliphates and then the empire of the Ottoman Turks. From World War I until the creation of the modern Jewish state of Israel in 1948, the city was governed by the British authorities. Since the war declared by her Muslim neighbors immediately after Israel’s independence, the Israelis took possession of West Jerusalem and then in 1967 they captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War.

Today President Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to begin the process of moving the American embassy there. Making a rare political statement of my own, I fully support this move. For almost 2,000 years the Jewish people have longed to return to Jerusalem, and now the city is once again recognized as the capital of Israel, at least by the American government. Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is 3,000 years old, while Christianity has revered the city as the location of where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God Among Us, suffered and died for our sins, for 2,000 years. Islam has revered Jerusalem as one of their holy sites for 1400 years. The Jewish people have a definite historical precedence in claiming the city. The Palestinian Authority has for decades seen East Jerusalem as their capital; now, thanks to their intransigence in refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace, East Jerusalem is lost to them. So be it. In the 69 years since Israel has controlled the city (at least the western part), they have peacefully given Christians and Muslims full access – in a peaceful manner – to their holy sites within the city, to the extent of even restricting Jewish activity, including prayers, on the Temple Mount in deference to their Muslim population. They will continue to do so; can the Palestinian Authority state honestly that they would do the same if they had full control of the city? Very doubtful. I fear that given the chance they would follow the example of the Taliban and ISIS and destroy all non-Muslim sites.

So in short, hurrah for Israel and well done to President Trump for making a difficult and unpopular decision that was long overdue. Of course the Jew-haters of the world will condemn this move, they are already starting to. But perhaps the apparently now permanent loss of even East Jerusalem will wake up the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to the fact that Israel is there to stay and that further refusal to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with the Israelis will just cost them more in the future. And since Islam claims at least parts of the Old Testament as valid (the parts they agree with), perhaps they would do well to remember what was said in Numbers 24:9, “May those who bless you be blessed, and those who curse you be cursed!” Jerusalem will forever be the Holy City, the center of the Kingdom of God and the seat of a returned Jesus Christ, ruling the nations with an iron scepter.

To borrow a phrase from the fictional Borg, “resistance is futile”.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. And to all my Jewish friends, a heartfelt shalom!

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Defending Our Faith…Civilly

1st Peter 3:15-16

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; having a good conscience; that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

When the Holy Spirit led Peter to write these words almost 2,000 years ago he was not writing to just pastors, priests, ministers or bishops. He was not writing to theologians because at that time perhaps the only Christian theologian was Paul, and he certainly needed no schooling in defending the faith. No, Peter was writing to every believer in every age. The apostle was charging every one of us with the responsibility to give a better answer for our hope than a simple “that’s just the way it is”. Peter was telling us that we all have the responsibility to know what the Scriptures teach about Jesus and to be able to explain our faith in a clear and coherent way. In the Body of Christ we have many members with different callings and testimonies; not all are called to be pastors or theologians or apologists. But all are expected to be able to give the reasons why we believe the way we do. But a very important part is to do it with “gentleness and respect”. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance in this matter, for often the way in which we respond has a powerful effect on the listeners. A reply given in an angry or hateful way is but wasted breath, for the listener will rightly decide that our words are meaningless when we preach about loving people because we ourselves don’t practice it. I am a member of a number of Christian groups on Facebook. Most are warm and loving communities of believers, but in at least two there are many people who don’t know Christ or His love and spend a lot of time and effort belittling or arguing against Biblical Christian faith, and often it is done in a harsh and mocking way. I expect that when dealing with unbelievers. But it is heart rending to see so many people who claim Christ, some of them even teaching Biblical truth, answering in such a harsh, hateful way, ridiculing the person they are debating and calling them vile names. We are called to better than that. We are admonished to not respond to evil with evil. I freely confess that it is very easy to get drawn into pointless arguments and exchanges of harsh words; I have been led into that trap before and asked our Lord’s forgiveness for that kind of behavior. My dear brothers and sisters, when they call us ignorant fools and other, often worse things, do not respond in kind, respond with patience and love. Remember that they called Jesus drunkard and demoniac and fornicator, and He warned us that as the world hated Him it will hate us. Let it go. Please don’t let our enemy Satan drag us into pointless arguments about often arcane points of Scripture. Don’t get pulled into meaningless arguments over geneologies and points of the Law, as Paul said. Answer the question or the charge as the Spirit leads you, but do it in a spirit of love and with great patience like our Lord did. If we do that, then our words will be far more effective, if not to our attacker then perhaps to someone we aren’t aware of who is listening to the conversation or reading the replies on an online post. If we speak the truth in love then God will use our words to bear good fruit whether we ever know it or not. And what matters most is not proving how right we are or how clever and eloquent, what matters most is being a good witness and pointing others to our loving Savior, who awaits them with open arms and boundless grace.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.


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A Look at “The Benedict Option”

Romans 12:1-2

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

“I have written the Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and practice. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.”

– Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Recently I read one of the most talked about books in the Christian community of 2017, titled The Benedict Option, written by Rod Dreher. I will start by saying that I recommend this book highly to any and every Christian of any denomination who watches the news at night and is apalled and worried for the church. Dreher points out clearly that we are now living in a post-Christian world that is trying to drag Bible believing Christians down with it. As he says, don’t be fooled by the number of churches that you see. He provides much evidence showing that even in the Christian churches there are more and more people who know little about the teachings of the Bible, who go to church because they feel that they should, but somehow fail to live the kind of lives that our Lord and Savior and His apostles taught us to live. Dreher suggests that to preserve our faith intact we need to prepare ourselves to disengage with the mainstream of modern society and form our own tightly bonded communities of believers who can count on each other as we live in an increasingly hostile world.

Critics of Dreher have claimed that he is advocating a return to monasticism or something like it, citing his drawing on the inspiration from the Rule of Benedict, a monk who was very influential in defining what a religious community should be like. While Dreher does recommend insulating ourselves against the pervasive influences of consumerism, moral laxity in society, and the humanistic self-centeredness that has risen since the Enlightenment in the 1700s, he is not saying we should all become hermits or go to live in modern monasteries. What Dreher is saying is that as the world strays further and further from the ways of the Lord we have to pull ourselves back, to stand for our morals and beliefs in the face of severe opposition. We have to become a people separate, living in the world but not being of the world, firm in our commitment to stand for righteousness even in the face of highly motivated and determined opposition. We can no longer afford to live compromised lives.

Really the only aspect of The Benedict Option that I disagreed with was the implication that this age of moral and spiritual decay is a passing phase and that the world will one day want to turn back to the truth and need us to help them along. I think this may in part be because a widespread belief in Christianity is that we will keep going and convert the world. That is not what the Scriptures say. Our world is in a death spiral of rebellion against God and no amount of human effort will be able to correct it at this point. We are now in the last days and Bible believing Christians are in the minority, and that will not improve; look at all the churches that follow false doctrines and other gospels. It is imperative that we be aware and focused on our Lord and on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as recorded in the Bible, for our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for those of us that he can devour.

My friends, we need to return to the kind of humble, loving but uncompromising faith that the early church had, the kind of faith that conquered the Roman Empire from within and spread over the face of the earth. We need to return to the kind of faith that enabled our spiritual forebears to enter the arena singing praises as they faced lions armed with only a prayer. We need to return to the kind of faith that will not compromise our principles in the name of career, that will rely on God and not politics, that will stand for good morals and Christian ethics even though they are no longer accepted in our society. It is time for us to make our stand against a rising evil that the world calls good, because if we don’t we are lost. We need to pray and study the Scriptures and help each other along and stand, and then, as Paul said in Ephesians 6:13, “after you have done everything, to stand”. The time for half-measures and going along to maintain acceptance is over.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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At the Heart of it All…

Romans 1:28-32

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to see this at work in the world around us today. Look at the news lately. It has become a seemingly endless litany of murder, hatred, perversion, rampant immorality, greed and wickedness of every kind. People get murdered going to church on a Sunday; hate-filled jihadists slaughter hundreds for the crime of believing a little differently. Sex scandals in the halls of power fill the news daily, simply because some are unable to control their own lusts; and those are just the natural lusts, I’m not even going to dignify the unnatural ones by detailing them here. Materialism and greed are now the norm, and unfettered consumerism has grown from it’s beginnings in the 19th century and earlier to become the apparent goal of billions. People glut themselves while half the world starves. Madmen in horrid totalitarian regimes threatens others with nuclear destruction (yes, I’m talking about Rocket Man in North Korea). Old fashioned paganism is on the rise along with the occult and eastern mysticism. Cults flourish while apostates fleece their flocks for billions and turn away from the truth of Scripture. What is the answer? The world around us has been telling us for over three centuries that the answer is science and humanist philosophy, but it doesn’t seem to me like that is working out very well. Atheists say we should do away with all religion, but in practice it seems they want to abolish Bible-believing Christianity and leave groups like Islam and the Satanists alone. Humanism tells us that we if we can just become enlightened enough, or educated enough, or sensitive enough, or collectivist enough, we can solve the world’s problems by our own efforts. That is utterly impossible! The truth of the matter is that the problem at the heart of all of the world’s ills is a rebellion against the God who created us and a rejection of the Savior who died for us. Period. People who ignore God and reject Jesus Christ are the real problem. Yes, I’m fully aware of the sins of the religion of Christianity, my avocation is a study of history from the earliest times on, but I can show you in every case that those excesses and sins were caused by those who chose to do it their way in the name of religion instead of following the teachings of our Lord. I could go on for hours, but the bottom line is very simple: humanity cannot fix our own problems by our own efforts for we are flawed and marred by sin, every one of us. No matter what new scheme we cook up we will never fix the world on our own. Not even by “converting” everyone to the religion of Christianity can we bring about the Kingdom of God as some claim. All we can do is submit to God, trust in Christ as Lord and Savior, and follow His teachings to do the best we can. And wait, for He will return as promised and put an end to all the evil that fills our world to the brim. As Scripture says, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord and Savior, so we are all faced with the choice of following Him now or acknowledging His Lordship under protest when He returns, but choose wisely. If we follow Him we enter into an eternity in the presence of God in a world no longer ripped apart by the wickedness of this age. If you continue to reject Him and try going it on your own you will receive only an eternity of suffering. The choice is yours, but as Joshua said so long ago, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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