Monday, October 31, 2016

Questions to consider with regard to the election

This has been a very contentious election season. Even Christians are horribly polarized between what many see as two deeply flawed primary candidates and not sure what to think about a number of alternative candidates whose paths to the White House seem next to impossible. Some people argue that we should vote for the “lesser evil” though they don’t agree who that is. Some argue that we should vote on a single issue despite the perceived character of a candidate. Some argue that we should abandon the major parties and make a statement for the future by “wasting” our vote on a write in.

The following questions are not intended or designed to persuade anyone about whom to vote for. They are designed to help Christians to have a positive discussion about how Jesus’ followers can best represent Him and the Gospel in a very emotional and strife-filled environment. They will hopefully provide helpful insights beyond this election cycle.

The following are not in any order of priority:

1. How can Christians passionately share their beliefs about the election without turning people off who don’t agree with them so that after the election they haven’t lost the opportunity to talk to them about Jesus and the Gospel?

2. Try to totally forget about this year’s candidates and the divisive campaigns and make a list: What are the most important qualities you would like to see in the candidates for president in a future election? In what ways would you like a candidate to be like Jesus?

3. Two very common warnings in the Bible are: (1) to not be deceived, and (2) to not engage in passing on gossip and slander. This year, both candidates have made many big campaign promises and people from both sides have widely publicized a huge amount of false accusations. How can a Christian discern which promises are likely to be fulfilled and find out which accusations are true or false? If a Christian discovers an accusation is false (for example on Facebook), what should they do about it?

4. Why do you think that many Christians are boldly and passionately speaking out about the election far more than they talk about Jesus and the Gospel?

5. What are some things after the election that pro-life Christians can do in order to reduce the number of abortions (1) in our community, (2) in our nation, and (3) in the world?

6. Polls show that a majority of voters this year will vote AGAINST a candidate rather than FOR a candidate. What can we do to try to have candidates inspiring positive votes rather than negative ones for the next presidential election?

7. In a year when people are saying horrible things about the candidate they oppose how should Christians who feel passionately about the election speak in light of the Bible’s commands to “honor” and “respect” those who govern us (even scoundrels like Nero in the 1st century) and to speak with both “grace” and “truth”?

8. Most Christians agree on what they believe the Bible teaches about abortion. What are some important Biblical principles with political implications about the following issues: religious liberty, poverty, racism, immigration, refugees, wealth/greed, tax reform, attitudes toward other nations, attitudes toward non-Christian religions, unclear proliferation, climate change, response to the LGBT community, criminal justice reform, “Black lives matter,” nationalism, war/nation building, economic policy, the relative place of character in candidates, etc.

9. Some Christians supporting Trump and supporting Clinton make statements like “If you’re a Christian, you can’t vote for __________.” Why is there such strong disagreement this year? How do such statements sound to non-Christians? What might be a better way for Christians to express their strong “convictions” about the election?

10. Being pro-life obviously means to oppose abortion. List as may other issues as you can which are also important pro-life issues which Christians should care about.

11. What are some practical guidelines for Christians who want to use Facebook to engage in political debate but don’t want to harm their relationships or damage their witness to lost people? What are some practical guidelines for political posts on FB?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The antidote to hopelessness

Jesus' followers were understandably devastated by His betrayal, arrest, torture, sham trials, and brutal crucifixion. Their hopes were dashed! All that they had imagined and dreamed had turned into the worst possible nightmare.

At Jesus' empty tomb (Luke 24), the angel decked out in "clothes that gleamed like lightning" challenged their despairing gloom: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! REMEMBER how He told you . . ."

They forgot that He had promised to rise from the dead three days after His betrayal and crucifixion. He had laid it all out for them repeatedly. Obviously they neither comprehended at the time nor remembered when it happened.

Their three days of hopeless grief were unnecessary. They could have spent those days in confident anticipation . . . if they had remembered and believed.

Remembering Jesus' promise wouldn't have made it any easier to witness what happened. It wouldn't have made it any less devastating to see what He suffered or to feel grief over His death.

But remembering His promise would have filled their grief with hope and eager anticipation.

No one can reasonably deny the reality of the pain of living in a sin-broken world. Poverty, injustice, betrayal, sickness, death, and all kinds of suffering are real and they hurt! But the Scriptures bleed with God's promise, guaranteed by Jesus' resurrection, that when He comes again, everything will be made new and beautiful. His people will live happily ever after in God's new earth and heaven.

Remembering the promise won't eliminate the pain, but it changes it. On the other side of suffering is glorious and permanent healing. Remember Jesus -- what He did for our redemption and what He promised for our future.

Me and mine

Remember the story of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)? They were withheld from recognizing Jesus at first and He drew out their thoughts and feelings asking for their take on the momentous events they had witnessed in Jerusalem (the crucifixion). Their response is remarkably provincial, perhaps revealing how much their focus was on their own nation and people to the exclusion of the rest of the world: "We had hoped that He was the One who was going to redeem Israel." It would seem that they embraced the hope that Messiah would bless Israel, but didn't care much whether He would bring anything other than judgment to Romans or other peoples. Apparently in their reading of the prophets and hearing of Jesus' message, they totally missed the universality of God's love and His plan to restore the whole creation to its original perfection, fixing all that sin broke. They misunderstood God's selection of Israel as a vehicle to bless the whole world and assumed that God loved them above all others and that the focus of history was for their nation to the exclusion of all others. The tendency to focus on "me and mine" is all too familiar -- both personal and national. Of course we should prioritize our own family and people (1 Timothy 5:8), but not to the exclusion of others. "God so loved THE WORLD . . ." is the familiar theme of perhaps the most famous Bible verse -- John 3:16. Love of one's own should be the foundation from which love for all of one's "neighbors" both near and far can flow. Selfishness and pride sometimes show in a nationalistic and cavalier apathy regarding the needs and suffering of those beyond our families, our neighborhood, our city, and our nation, even as an appropriate love of family can perversely morph into selfish neglect of others and their needs. The promise of the Gospel -- that Jesus will redeem not just Israel but all nations and peoples -- is beautiful, hope-filled anticipation which should fuel our prayers and actions to match God's global love.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tis the season for accusation

It takes a major world crisis to briefly break the stride of network news and social media obsession with the latest dripping-with-mud accusations being flung around the presidential campaign – either by the candidates or by their loyal supporters. Fact checkers can hardly keep up with the constant stream and the old adage, “If you are going to lie, make it a WHOPPER and many people will believe you,” seems to have risen to an art form. Having at times in my life been the target of painful accurate accusations as well as of horrific false slander, I know very personally how painful and damaging they can be. Charles Spurgeon used to say, “A lie goes around the world twice while truth is putting its boots on.” Proverbs, the Bible’s book filled with wisdom-nuggets, is brutal in it’s condemnation of gossip and slander, as in 26:22-28. It’s very much worth the minutes it takes to read! In my Bible reading this morning I was again reminded how often and how horribly our Savior, the sinless Son of God, was falsely accused (e.g. Luke 23:1, 2). It was a reminder that I should never be quick to believe accusations apart from compelling evidence from unbiased sources or admission from the accused as to their accuracy. It’s often important to try to discern the motivations of the accusers as that can reveal skewed perspective, blinding bias, or even incentive to lie. There is, of course, a legitimate place, even a moral responsibility, for confronting an evil-doer and from warning others of their danger. But such confrontations and warnings must be truth- and love-filled, and must be carried out with humility, integrity, and godly motivation. As a follower of Jesus, I should be committed to not being na├»ve or predisposed to believing accusations, to not inappropriately passing them on to others, to (whenever possible) take the accuser straight to the accused for face-to-face interaction, and to rebuke anyone who wants to dump their accusations of others in my lap unless they are asking for my help in addressing the problem in an appropriate way (e.g. Matthew 18:25-18 in interpersonal issues). And “yes” – just for the record in this political accusation season – I have sent personal emails to BOTH of the primary presidential candidates expressing my concerns. I didn’t think they would take my phone calls or arrange a face-to-face meeting.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Herod in us

When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for judgment, Herod "was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about Him he hoped to see him perform some miracle." Herod's interest in Jesus was totally self-serving. He wanted to be entertained by Jesus performing some supernatural deed in front of him. He had no interest in Jesus other than as it benefited him. It was all about him (Herod) and what he could gain from the connection with Jesus. The possibility that he needed to fall on his face before Jesus and spend the rest of his life following Him wasn't remotely in his thoughts. It's easy to demonize Herod, a vile man who likely deserves whatever criticism which might be heaped on him. But, perhaps there is more of Herod in us than we would care to admit. Is it possible that for some, participation in church is like that? It's all about us - what we can get for ourselves: contact with friends, entertainment (not expensive either), affirmation from others, a self-satisfying sense of "spirituality," connections for our business or social life or children, esteem for being a "good Christian," etc? Is it possible that not everyone connects with Jesus' church for totally unselfish reasons -- in order to love God and love others, to serve, to sacrifice for a cause, to give, to help others, etc? That is not to suggest that it is inappropriate to go to church out of a deep sense of personal need and desire for forgiveness and transformation for oneself. Hopefully the motivation is not merely for relief and feeling good, but springs from a repentant heart full of grief for how one's selfishness has hurt others, from a desire to be made whole in order to please God and serve others. No wonder at the judgment Jesus will say to "many" very religious people, "I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers" (Matthew 7:23). I would be less than honest if I didn't acknowledge that the same self-centeredness and self-seeking is a pervasive temptation for pastors like myself. Motivations may be mixed and complex but I am painfully aware how easy it is to do good things with selfish motives -- secretly concerned more for self than for others. I need Paul's reminder, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a changing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom great mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1ff). P.S. Remembering that we are all "mixed bags" -- beautiful because made in God's image and broken by sin -- it might still be a revealing exercise to attempt to discern the primary motivations of those running for president -- recognizing that we cannot fully know another's heart even though their words and actions are often revelatory. It's THE HEROD TEST: Is the pattern of their lives characterized by self-seeking or by serving and sacrificing to help others? Of course such an evaluation may divide "along party lines" unless we can somehow rise above that sometimes Herodian plague.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

QUESTIONS WE ASK OR SHOULD

In our beautiful, broken world, at some point most people are confronted with suffering, pain, and injustice to the point where they ask an agonizing question, "Where is God?" It's comforting to recognize that throughout the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, that question is asked again and again. The words may be a bit different but the sentiment is the same. The answers aren't always what we would hope for, and too often it seems there is no answer at all. We are left hanging with our questions and doubts. But the acknowledgment of the question's appropriateness is comforting. On the cross, Jesus asked His Father a related question: "Why have You forsaken Me?" It wasn't the same as "Where are You?" Jesus didn't question the existence, proximity, awareness, or ability of His Father, but He did question the purpose for His horrific circumstances. The mystery of Jesus' full humanity coupled with His full deity are encompassed in His question. As a real man yet without sin, He not only asked "Why?" which is on the edge of a tacit accusation, but also He pleaded to be rescued from the pain and injustice -- "Let this cup pass from Me." Quickly Jesus moved from His question to an affirmation. He immediately expressed His surrender to His Father's will: "Nevertheless not what I will, but Your will be done." What a wonderful example to us! Thereby Jesus signaled permission for us to also ask "Why?" without guilt or shame, and also indicated that it is okay to ask to be saved from suffering. But Jesus also modeled faith and full surrender to God's will no matter how difficult it might be. All that said, earlier this week a retired pastor friend, knowing some of the painful things I had experienced, asked me if I had been able to discern the answer to another question in relationship to the time of pain: "What is God doing?" Reflecting on his question I realized that it was a beautiful statement of faith at the same time it was an acknowledgement of the sometimes mysteriousness of God's providence and its apparent contradiction of God's love, goodness, and power. The more I thought about the question, the more I realized how good it would be to ask that question again and again with regard to all that life serves up to us whether good or "bad" -- "What is God doing?" Awareness that God is always at work in everything and that He is always purposeful and always good -- that awareness can help me to look for His always good purpose and cooperate with it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Was Jesus a poached egg?

Jesus stands out from every other person in history. He has no equal or even any similar. His story is unique, His character is unblemished, His justice is unassailable, His power is unlimited, His wisdom is unequaled, His love is relentless. He is surprising, accepting, shocking, encouraging, unconventional, frustrating, incomprehensible, compassionate, uncompromising, just, comforting, disconcerting, affirming, convicting, authentic, frustrating, inspiring, patient, sorrowful, joyful, angry, inviting, consistent, unpredictable, greatly loved, hated, forgiving, judging, kind, truthful, trustworthy, humble, confident, and above all, He is LOVE. C. S. Lewis argued cogently that the alternative to believing that Jesus is God is to believe that He was insane or demonic: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” (Mere Christianity, 55-56) Was Lewis’ logic sound? This blog argues “yes.” https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/02/01/is-c-s-lewiss-liar-lord-or-lunatic-argument-unsound/ Whatever people believe about religion, Bible interpretations, dogma, Christians, or the church, they must still reckon with Jesus. He stands above and over them all. They must all be defined by Him, not vice versa.