What if I don’t like our president?

At the end of eight years, the general population is almost always ready for a change.  In the history of our country, it has only happened a couple of times that one political party was able to see their candidate take office after eight years.  We see ourselves getting too progressive and long to return to our heritage and then we feel so stuck in our ways that we need some serious change.  New generations rise up and consider their values earth-shattering and they rock the country, only to get bogged down in the mundane and a new generation rises up.

For the next month and a half we are in a unique situation where we still have an acting president but the next one has already been chosen.  This means something profoundly true:  almost everyone very strongly dislikes one of the two men.  The voting world who chose President Elect Donald Trump is sick and tired of Barack Obama, while many others still consider him to be one of the best presidents our country has known and fear that Trump is going to single handedly destroy our nation and “undo all the progress we have seen” these past eight years.  In short, if you are neutral about both men – or possibly even like both men, you are probably very far removed from politics.

One of the attributes that makes our nation unique and great in many people’s eyes is our first amendment:  our freedom of speech.  We can say whatever we darn well feel like saying and no one can harm us for it – or judge us, as the culture now states.  There are some tricky aspects to that as we can still be legally protected from slander and harassment, but none of us lives in fear that our daily conversation, our social media posts or even our blog posts will land us in jail.  We have an inalienable right to our opinions and we will make them known.

God, however, has a different opinion about all of that.  Slander, gossip and disrespect are all sins – which are fundamentally rooted in pride, arrogance and selfishness.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

– Ps 101.5

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”

– Prov 10.18

“Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

– Titus 3.2

God simply and profoundly commands us to speak evil of no one.  Not only that,  he clearly and profoundly commands us to respect our leaders:

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.17

One might object to this commandment because of how wicked our current or upcoming president is.  We simply cannot respect or honor a man who (fill in the blank).  But Peter was writing to the early church who was being persecuted and murdered.  The people were “scattered” across the known world – they were running for their lives.  And Peter’s command was to honor the king:  the king who would murder them for loving and serving Jesus.  Is Obama murdering us?  Is Trump threatening to murder us?  Are we running for our lives?  Even if this were the case we would still be commanded to honor the president.

One may object further and cite our form of government which allows us a voice in choosing our leadership and laws.  “We must speak out and help others make informed decisions.”  “It is our civic duty to have a strong opinion and to play our role.”  Yes, I whole-heartedly agree that we live in a unique and wonderful country whereby we are granted a part (albeit a very small part) of the decision making process.  This is why presidential candidates spend months and millions of dollars campaigning:  they must win our vote!

I would also argue, however, that there is a good and right way to make informed decisions and even to disagree with the values and positions a candidate would take while still respecting and honoring him (or her).  There is even a godly way to recognize a candidate’s moral failures, sin and perceived lack of qualification without slander, gossip and sin.

The reality is simple.  We live in a fallen world.  We are functioning in a fallen and broken system.  Democracy is not God’s form of government!  We are allowing ourselves to be governed by fallen and broken people.  Even if our president were the most mature and godly man to walk the face of the Earth, he would still be a sinner and a man.  He would make mistakes and we would disagree with him on something.  And each of us are fallen and broken people.  Imperfect people will choose imperfect leaders and mistakes will be made.  Period.  And yet we are commanded to respect and honor one another, and we are commanded to respect and honor our leadership.

Scripture does clearly command us to fight sin and pursue holiness.  Thus we see the example of Jesus, the apostles and many others to disobey the leadership when they would have us sin or not follow God (Acts 4.19. 5.29).  We also have the example of some of the greatest forefathers in our faith standing up against political sin, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abundance of people who fought against the slaughter of the Jews and non-Arians in WWII.  We must never follow blindly, we must always evaluate our own actions and our government by Scripture, and we must refuse to sin even when we would be commanded to by men.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we might be able to make an impact and bring about change!

But this in no way changes God’s expectation of us that we love all men and that we honor the position of king (or president in our nation).

So let me simply ask you this question:  Are your facebook posts and your political conversations Biblically loving, respecting and honoring the president?  Have you slandered Trump, Hillary or Obama?  Sure, you might do a better job.  Sure, you might know better.  But God does not give us a pass to disrespect or not love someone just because we know better.  He sovereignly and intentionally places every king and president in power.  Do you trust Him for that?  Do you follow His leadership when He gives you an opportunity to make a positive change?  Do you obey Him and respect authority?

You do not have to like your leader.  You do not have to agree with him either.  In fact, you are expected to weigh your actions and obedience against Scripture an never sin in the things that you do – therefore you should intensely evaluate your leadership  But you must love him.  And you must respect him.  Otherwise, we bring the condemnation of God upon ourselves:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

– Rom 13.1-2

Slander is still slander when spoken against our leadership.  Gossip is still gossip when spoken against our leadership.  Whether you distrust or dislike our current president or our future one.  Let us examine ourselves and remember our tongues.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

– James 1.26

What is a relationship with Jesus?

relationships

If you have been to pretty much any church, Christian concert, Spiritual rally, Bible study or para-church meeting in the last fifteen years, then you have probably heard that Jesus Christ wants to have a relationship with you.  The twenty first century Church has thrown away religion with the mantra of relationship.

I am no longer a Christian, I follow Jesus.

Don’t label me.

 What exactly does this mean, however?  What does a relationship with Jesus look like?  How do I start a relationship with Jesus?

First of all, we must understand that while Jesus does desire to have a relationship with us, there is a barrier in between us.  Every human being who has ever lived is by nature a sinner.  The Bible teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23).  And every single sin, no matter the scope, deserves the present punishment of death and the eternal punishment of damnation (Rom 6.23).  So we, as sinners, have an impending judgment (Heb 9.27), and the verdict has been warned in advance.  But not only that, we are incapable of having a relationship with Jesus now because that sin is an offense against Him and has put a barrier between us (James 4.4).  As long as we love the world, continue to sin, and are guilty, we cannot enter into God’s presence, we cannot have a relationship with Him, and we are bound for an eternity of suffering in Hell.

But since God loves us, He sent His only son – Jesus – to live a perfect life on Earth without sin, and then died on the cross taking the punishment that you and I deserve.  Since Jesus never sinned, He did not deserve to die.  But He died in my place, and He died in your place (John 3.16, John 15.13).  The good news is that God loves us so much that even though we are wicked, guilty, and deserving of death and damnation, Jesus paid our penalty so that we would not have to.  In essence, if we receive the free gift of salvation, our verdict from the Heavenly court will read “Time Served” or “Paid in Full”.

But the most beautiful part of the exchange is that when Jesus assumed our guilt, He covered us in His blood and we became righteous.  Holy.  Acceptable before God.  We cannot rid ourselves of sin on our own and be acceptable before God, but by confessing our sin and asking Jesus to forgive us, and turning away from that sin, Jesus’ blood covers us and we are now not only forgiven, but righteous.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

When we come to this moment, we have now been forgiven we have now been made acceptable before God, and we can now begin that relationship.  We cannot start a relationship with God until we have gone through that experience.

So, I ask again, what is that relationship?

Consider any relationship.  How do you get to know someone?  You talk to them!  There are a variety of ways that we talk in today’s age:  face-to-face, over the phone, emails, letters, etc.  We tell them about ourselves and we listen and learn about them.  We as Christians are really good at telling God about ourselves in prayer, but we do quite poorly listening to Him.  God created the world and has been at work in His people throughout all of history.  He Himself had scribes write down everything that He felt it necessary for us to know about Himself and His plan for redemption, salvation and the future.  It is all contained in a single book:  the Bible.

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

– 2 Peter 1.2-3

Imagine if your new boyfriend or girlfriend wrote you a letter and you only skimmed a bit of it.  Imagine if you kept writing letters to him or her, and never read what your significant other had said to you.  Imagine your embarrassment if you were asking questions that had already been answered in the letters you had!  This would be a one-way relationship that would not last long, because you would be going to get your needs met and not caring about the other person.  Both people need to hear and be heard.  Both people need to love and be loved.  Both people need to be engaged in the relationship, giving and taking.

God is only different in the fact that He does not need us.  But He wants us.  He will not, however, entertain one-sided relationships.  We cannot ask Him to forgive you and then just keep living as though He does not exist.  We must abide in Him, get to know Him, enjoy Him, read His book to us, trust His promises, apply those promises.  We must also talk to Him, confide in Him, tell Him what we are thinking and feeling.  Imagine our embarrassment if we get to Heaven and do not know the things He revealed about himself to us in His word!  Imagine trying to walk through a difficult situation with Him, when He has told us how to handle it in His word, and yet we have not read it yet!  What must God think when we enter into a trial and we pray out, “God I don’t know what to do!” and He has given us clear instructions in the Bible?

And as we get to know Him, through His revealed Word and enjoying His presence, we will learn the majestic reality that Jesus Christ, while He calls us friend, is also King, and Priest and prophet (Heb 7).  Yes, He grants to us to become part of His family, part of His body, and we can approach God in great confidence and crawl up in His lap and call Him “Daddy” (Rom 8.15).  But He is still holy, He is still God, He is still King, and He is still our Lord.  Lord, while an outdated term, is still easily understandable as the one who has final say.  He is in charge and He expects us to do what He says.  If God has defined pride as sin, He expects us to die to our pride and quit sinning.  If God has defined getting drunk and living with someone who is not our spouse as sin, He expects us to stop getting drunk and move out or get married.  If God has defined worldliness as sin, then we need to quit looking and acting like the world and acting like people who love and know God!  He is our Lord, and He expects us to act like it.  That is a facet of the relationship that we hold with Him.

He is also our priest.  This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp, but it is ultimately one of the most comforting.  When we understand the punishment for sin and when we grasp the price Jesus paid to ensure our eternity, the Spirit will convict us greatly when we do sin.  The role of the priest is to stand before God and make a sacrifice to pay for our sins.  He is the one who appeases God’s wrath.  He is the one who intercedes for us.  The doctrine of justification teaches us that Jesus’ death on the cross covered all of our sins in completion, but the ongoing relationship we hold necessitates that Jesus stands before God and acts as our advocate as Satan stands before God as our accuser.  Every time we sin, the accuser says to God, “Did you see that?” and Jesus holds up his hands and says, “It has already been punished”.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

And lastly, He is our prophet.  He has promised us salvation in the end, and He has even given us a foreshadowing of the coming events.

There are many ways that we need to relate to God: through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot enter into a relationship with God until we take care of our sin problem by confession and repentance.  We cannot get to know God unless we spend time with Him both speaking to Him and listening to Him.  He has given us everything that He desires us to know about Himself in the Bible – and He has even promised that He will not give any new revelation of Himself until He returns to take us home (Rev 22.19).  We must read His Word and we must spend time in prayer.  We also see that God has created us to serve, love and worship Him.  So we will, as believers, spend time praising Him.  Singing of the wonderful things that He has done in history, in salvation, and in our lives today.

Get to know Him.  Read His letter.  Let Him change you.  Spend time with Him.  And Praise Him.  Let Him know what you are thinking and feeling.  And when you need direction, turn to Scripture.  This is a relationship with Jesus.

Keeping Christianity Cool

“I’m not religious, I follow Jesus.”

Have you heard the fad?  Christianity today is no longer a religion.  We have relationships with God.  We follow Jesus.  We do not choose a denomination because these things that divide us are of man.  Doctrine is old and stuffy and something scholars study in a dark room, it has nothing to do with us.  I’m going to tattoo Greek words like slave and love on my biceps, play the guitar leading music on Sunday mornings and go on a two-week mission trip to the third world to show my devotion.

doulos

That is, after all, what Jesus wants, right?

Jesus was indeed extremely concerned with external and false religion.  He regularly condemned false religiosity and used terms to describe it like “white washed tombs”, “brood of vipers”, and even “Sons of the Devil” (Matt 23.27-28, Luke 3.7, John 8.44).  He also emphasized a relationship with Himself, specifically saying that our hope is found in abiding in Him (John 15.1-11), and the way that we abide in Him is to have the Holy Spirit living in and through us (Gal 2.20).

However, Jesus was extremely concerned with doctrine and religion.  He spent three years of His life teaching, and after He died and rose from the dead, He spent His time explaining how the Old Testament pointed towards Him (Luke 24.26-27).  James makes a bold statement:

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27

He sets the standard for pure and undefiled religion, such that honors God, and it is to care for the needy and to not look like or be caught up in the world.  Through the power and leadership of the Spirit!

Christianity is different from all other major world religions because all other religions focus on how I, by my own strength, can get right with God or escape the problem of evil or suffering.  Christianity admits that I am incapable of getting right with God on my own, but God Himself made a way for me to be reconciled with Himself, through the death and life of Jesus Christ.

But we need to be very careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The term theology might sound stuffy, but it simply means “the study” (-ology) “of God” (Theo)”.  Can you know someone if you do not talk to him or hear from him?  God has given us His written Word, the story of history and how He plans to redeem us through salvation and redeem us at the end of time, all in one book!  He is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33), but has told us many things about Himself, His character, His desires and how we can honor Him.  And doctrines are simply themes and applications that are present in Scripture.  Every time we say something about Jesus or the Bible we are saying something doctrinal or theological.

But we are so afraid of being forced into a mold that we reject the structures that God established for us while unknowingly floundering around in them, unable to define our beliefs and systems.

So what are you?  A Christian?  A follower of Jesus?  Did you get on His Twitter account and click “follow” to see His pictures and hear His stories on occasion?  Or have you sold out your life to devotion to Him and His ways?  The term religious carries connotations of piety, holier-than-thou mentalities and elitism and we realists want to reject all of that and embrace our sinfulness as realness.  Genuineness.  But is there anything wrong with piety?  Surrendering yourself to devotion to God?  Not being caught up in the world?

The heart is the key.  False piety – devotion for the sake of your reputation or appearance – is worthless.  But so is “following” Jesus and tattooing “slave” on your arm if you are not truly His slave.  Most people know you should not wear a wedding ring if you are not married.  Singing in the praise band is just as fake as preaching doctrine that is not life transforming if you are not dying to sin everyday and walking your path to the glory and honor of God.

And please.  Do not go to the third world to take pictures with starving children and come back thankful for what you have.  Most churches in the non-Western world pity us because we are enslaved to all that we have.   Just stay home.  And send your money to help missionaries who have devoted their lives to seeing those people saved.  Or better yet, devote your life to reaching the lost.  Go on a strategic short-term trip where long-term personnel can use you to get the Truth out to people who have never heard before.  Or give your life.  Be the real deal.

Call it whatever you want.  Be a follower of Jesus.  Be religious.  Be a theologian.  When I was a kid it was popular to be a “Jesus freak”.  Christian trends come and go.  But it all hinges on the foundation of a radical change form the core:  We must be made a new creation.  Many generations past were concerned with religion in terms that our hipster Christianity rejects, but they wrote songs like this:

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul, I come to him,
He’ll never cast me out.

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The written Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
Salvation through his blood.

My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost he came to save;
For me his precious blood he shed,
For me his life he gave.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

Is it enough that Jesus died, and that He died for you?  Will you give your life in complete surrender to such a Savior?  Or will you follow Him on Facebook, watching what He does but never engaging in true, full relationship?

Resolved V

I have come back to the fifth set of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions for encouragement today.  I like to chew on them in bite-sized pieces to best impact my heart.  Here are the first four sections:

This section is varied, as are they all, but Edwards reflects much on his foundational commitment to God and to those in his immediate family here.  I have to daily preach the gospel to myself.  And live knowing that I am not my own.  He uses the term “Religion” in his writings to represent his relationship with Jesus Christ.  The word did not yet have the negative connotation which we affix to it when he lived.

Let us resolve to know, love and honor God.

41.  Resolved, to ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.
42.  Resolved, Frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism, which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church, and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1723.
43.  Resolved, Never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s; agreeably to what is to be found in Saturday, Jan. 12th. Jan. 12, 1723.
44.  Resolved, That no other end but religion shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan. 12, 1723.
45.  Resolved, Never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12 and 13, 1723.
46.  Resolved, Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved, to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye; and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.
47.  Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, temper; and to do, at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done. Sabbath morning, May 5, 1723.
48.  Resolved, Constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or not; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
49.  Resolved, That this never shall be, if I can help it.
50.  Resolved, That I will act so, as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.