No Fear

Fear

While I will be the first to admit I kind of lost my mind during and after the 2016 election, I was genuinely upset by what was happening to the Republican party in it’s choice of Trump. You may really like him, or you may really hate him, but this is an important book that you should read. Bob Woodward is a highly respected journalist who became famous for breaking the Watergate story on President Nixon. Since then he has written many books about the presidents and the government. I’ve also read “Bush at War” when it came out.

While I believe that character matters, especially when it comes to our leaders, this book shows exactly the opposite with what is going on in the White House. Democrats dismissed President Bill Clinton’s moral indiscretions back in the ’90’s, while the Republicans seem to be doing the same with Trump.

I believe pretty strongly that we are living in a time where we have a lack of leadership in the government as well as the church. Morality and character seem to have been replaced by power and control by any means. I personally miss the days when the two parties, while having their differences, seemed to have enough respect for each other that they worked together for the common good of the country.  My belief in where we have failed was in the creation of the 24 hour news cycle. News transformed to be more commentary than factual reporting, thus creating news that tailors to your specific politics. If you are conservative, you have Fox News. If you are liberal, you have MSNBC. Truth has been hijacked to become truth AS I SEE IT. Facts don’t matter anymore. I just interpret things as I want them to be. We are truly living in post-modern times where truth is relative. Truth is what I make it to be, regardless of actual facts. And this is one aspect of Trump that deeply concerns me. He defines his own truth regardless of facts. And the scary thing is, his base (not saying all Republicans) eats it up. This concerns me. Again and again in the book, people in his own cabinet claim that Trump is incapable of the truth. Instead, he creates the narrative he wants.

The interesting thing here is that I grew up in the evangelical church that warned me about post-modernism and truth becoming relative. What is shocking to me is how 80% of the evangelicals embraced Trump. So what were Christians to do? Vote for Clinton? I don’t know what the answer was but I can say when it came to character, both parties picked candidates with glaring character flaws which made this election difficult for a lot of people. I have a relative that made the decision to not vote at all, and I have to say, now that time has passed, I have more respect for that decision. In every election I have been a part of, I always hear the phrase, “I am voting for the lesser of two evils.” Well, this election might have been the epitome of that more than any other election.

While there is a lack of character, integrity and truth from those in government, this presents an opportunity for the church to rise up and lead in these areas. Instead, you have a large percentage of evangelicals identifying themselves with Trump, and there are incredible moral failing playing out in the evangelical and Catholic churches, and many denominations are not leading in the way of Christ because they are too enamored by the “way of Caesar” with power and control.

My hope is that we as a church, the Bride of Christ, wake up to the history of when the church tried to identify itself with political power. Every time it failed. The church lost in a big way, again and again. It is time we find our main identity with Jesus and the kingdom of God more than any other system. It is that which should unify us above the mess that our country finds itself in.  Truth matters. Character matters. Jesus matters.

If we want to have any hope in reaching younger generations we need to show them the way of Christ lived out through the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Jesus. We need to be able to talk about what is true and false in both political parties allowing the Bible to be our standard. We need to model what it means to serve the least and the lost. We need to lead through servant leadership, empowering others to live lives of community, love and respect. The church needs to be counter-cultural in this respect. So my encouragement to you is to tread lightly when it comes to politics. It would be nice to have moral leaders who live out character that you would want your kids to look up to.  Unfortunately that is not the case. So instead of finding our main identity in political parties or leaders, let’s get serious about finding our main identity in Christ, and Christ alone. And let’s be honest, Jesus would not easily fit into either political party. My fear is that we would not recognize him if he were to appear and we would crucify him all over again.  Let’s get back to the business of the church being the bride of Christ and live such counter-cultural lives that actually ATTRACT people to Him instead of repelling people away from Him because of our political affiliations. We must rise above this.

 

It’s Time to Repent

Crisis-Ahead-rIf anybody is paying attention to the news in politics and faith it is quite certain that we are in a crisis right now. I wasn’t old enough to remember the Nixon administration but I believe that we are in a much more critical point in our history right now. Our government is caught up in one scandal after another. And this is not just typical politics. This is a crisis of integrity, leadership and ethics on a scale I have never seen before. But then we look at the church and in several pockets we see the same type of crisis playing out. Willow Creek, a very influential church to the global church community, is in one of their own scandals as well as the Catholic church having yet again another pedophile ring that was covered up. This is not about being a republican versus a democrat or a protestant versus a Catholic. Instead, what I am seeing is a massive failure of leadership on a national scale. Our government is a mess, (and if you don’t believe that your ignoring facts and labeling it as fake news), and I would say the church in America is a mess also.

So what are we to do?

Take sin seriously. The first thing we need to do is to understand how our sin can be a major factor in not only harming ourselves but in harming others. Our culture is rampant in creating a culture of fear. We see this in immigration, we see this in our idolatry of the gun, we see this in politics, and on and on. We must be afraid of “the other”. If they infringe on our rights we demonize those who disagree with us. Jesus states in Matthew 18:6-9 that:                                                                                               

 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

This passage is not necessarily endorsing killing perpetrators or self-mutilation. Instead Jesus is making the case that we need to take sin very seriously. What we do will have ripple-effects and consequences. I am reminded of the incident in which King David took it upon himself to rape Bathsheba then cover it up by murdering her husband. He suffered the consequences for those action when the prophet Nathan confronted him, but little did he realize his children were watching all this play out. The very sins of David impacted his children as they too became complicit in rape and murder. We need to take sin seriously by realizing the importance for us to be examples for the next generations. And if all we do is harm others through hate, fear, violence and division then it would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and drowned in the sea.

Also when we see sin taking root in our own lives Jesus doesn’t mince words in that we need to CUT IT OUT. By all means take it very seriously and get help to stop it in it’s tracks so that it doesn’t lead to destruction.

Now this may seem contradictory, but the second thing we need to do is humble ourselves and realize we are sinners in need of the mercy of God. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people in the temple. Here is what happened:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All to often we want to look at ourselves as better than others. With social media it is even easier now to compare and contrast everything about you in relation to others, hoping that you will get more likes than you last post. Many of us portray the perfect image of ourselves. We like to think that we are basically a good person. But when we look at this parable we see the Pharisee gloating in his own self-righteousness while the tax collector begged for God’s mercy because he understood the heart of his problem, he was a sinner. Imagine if the church made it a practice, just like many say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, if we also said the tax collector’s prayer, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” First of all this prayer does not shy away from the root issue: we are sinners. But also, it is a merciful God that takes care of us. We need more humility and more mercy. We also need to be people who show mercy to those affected by sin, especially victims of sin.

And finally, we need to be people of unity and peace. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Jesus has brought peace and unity creating within us a new humanity. We need to stop giving into generational categories or political categories or any categories that separate us and cause us to judge others. Jesus came to unite the Jews with the Gentiles thus creating a new humanity that demonstrates peace. We are called to be people of peace. The church of all places needs to be a place that people know they can receive mercy and grace. Yet too many feel that the church today is too judgmental, and too political, and too self-righteous. This should not be who we are. Those who are struggling with sin and those who are victims of sin need to find a safe place for confession, repentance and restoration. We must get back to the roots of who we are as the people of God, people of grace, mercy and peace where there is no more division but unity among one another.

May God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Reflections on The Prophets

prophets1I just finished reading through the prophets in the Old Testament. What made an impression on me was the way in which God held whole nations accountable for their actions. He held them accountable for their violence, their greed, and how they treated their own people as well as other nations. Special care was directed at the people on the fringe: the alien, the stranger, the poor.

Reflecting on this, it scares me how God must view America right now. What we have done at the border separating families and abusing kids is reprehensible. Nationalism has risen it’s ugly head and become it’s own religion. The idea of “America First” flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching that the first will be last and the last will be first. The idea that we are a “Christian Nation” is really laughable. America needs prophetic voices to call out injustice and hypocrisy right now. Unfortunately over 70% of evangelical Christians approve of where we are politically. Then there are churches who do not connect the dots from Scripture to our modern day problems as a nation. Instead they preach a Gospel devoid of justice. To show any type of criticism toward our nation could alienate you from a percentage of your audience. But we need prophetic voices that call out the injustices that are happening right under our noses. A church that just preaches a feel-good message without ever calling for justice is the very thing that some of the false prophets throughout the Old Testament were called out for and were held accountable.

I worry about the American Church. It has become seduced with political power and has mixed religion with nationalism. This is just out-right idolatry. We are guilty of some of the very same sins that Israel was guilty of and were held accountable for throughout Scripture. And to think that there are those who believe that our religious freedoms are under attack. Once again, we need to look at all the examples throughout Scripture and history of those who were really persecuted and executed for their faith. That was real persecution. Yet story after story you see how God brings beauty out of the ugliness of Christian persecution. They were willing to suffer and be executed for their faith. Yet in our country we are told we can now say “Merry Christmas”. Really? Was that really a thing?

It is time for an Awakening. For a new generation of Christ-followers who love God and love people, but are also willing to call out injustice and seek ways to mobilize the church to be more prophetic. These are dark times we are living in yet either we are oblivious to it or we are complicit as we praise our national leaders, demand our rights, and demand that we are first. I honestly wrestle with what I am seeing with our nation as well as the contemporary church. It is ironic that we live in the information age yet the church is becoming more and more biblically illiterate. We want our own personal Jesus that makes us feel good about ourselves but we ignore the God who holds nations accountable for their sins. It time for the church to revisit the Prophets and realize that we have a responsibility to care for the alien, stranger, poor, outcast, the people on the fringes. We need to get back to reaching out instead of protecting the base. The church ought to be the consciousness of the nation, not a complicit partner with the nation.

There is a reason why so many people are walking away from the American Church and I believe that one of those reasons is that we have become irrelevant. We are not seeking justice, we are not offering mercy and we certainly are not acting humble. We have drifted a long way from what Scripture teaches us. May God have mercy on us and may his Spirit awaken us to the truth.