There Will Be No Savior In Washington

dc

I know that title may cause you to scratch your head but it is true. There will be no Savior in Washington regardless of what the political candidates promise.

They do not have all the answers. In fact, they don’t even have all the questions. It is really quite an interesting predicament.The nature of politics is tricky. The name of the game is to over-promise and under-deliver. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter if they deliver at all. They are salespeople. Every candidate is attempting to sell the American public on a particular vision for the future.

One side is selling a robust economy and strong national defense. The other is selling free college tuition and accessible health care. Neither is telling the truth. Remember, the name of the game is to make promises…not keep them.

I enjoy politics. I will vote in this presidential election and on election night I will be watching the election results with great anticipation. But, my faith does not rest in any particular candidate.

You see, I know that none of these candidates will be America’s Savior. I’m not at all saying that the election does not matter. It does matter and you should vote.

But, I am encouraging you not to get so wrapped up in this election season and lose sight of reality. There is only one Savior. He promised and he delivered on his promises. His name is Jesus.

 

Advertisements

A Tale Of Two Worship Services

It is a cool, crisp fall day. Everyone is up early this Saturday morning looking forward to the upcoming worship service. This is not just any normal worship service. Thousands of people show up early so that they put up tents and cookout in anticipation. Many drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars just to get there. They love to get together, strangers even, to talk about past worship services and dream about what may happen at future ones.

As the time for the worship service draws near people pile in to the worship center. It will hold 80,000-100,000 people and you can be certain that every seat will be filled. Those filling the seats will scream and jump and sing and cheer for the entire three hours during the worship service. What’s even better is when it runs long….they call it overtime. No one complains – they actually love when this happens. When the worship service is over, people linger almost as if they don’t want to leave. They take pictures and talk to strangers, sometimes high-fiving and hugging people they’ve only just met. Interestingly, those who did not make it to the worship service in person watched it on TV with friends. In fact, they say they would “never miss one!”

The other worship service it a bit different. It happens on Sunday mornings and few people are anticipating this gathering. They roll out of bed groggily wishing they could get just a few more minutes of sleep. When they are finally dressed they casually make their way to the service, usually showing up a few minutes late. Few speak to people that they do not know and, unlike the day before, people don’t seem all that excited about this worship service. In fact, it seems like they are ready for it to be over so they can go about their day.

As the worship service starts, the people who were cheering and singing yesterday are subdued. If they do sing, it is with very little emotion. If they do clap, it is done half-heartedly. There are plenty of empty seats but it has come to be expected because there are other more important things that need to be done on Sunday mornings. After the singing, the people sit and listen to someone for a while. Many times they get distracted thinking about other things and they get fidgety if the worship service goes into overtime. At the previous worship service they willingly spent hundreds of dollars for travel, tickets and food but don’t seem to contribute much at this service. When it is over, they bolt out the door instead of mixing and mingling like they did the day before. Those who didn’t make it this week may make it next week but only if nothing else is going on.

What Should The Church Expect In The Years Ahead?

As we witness our culture turning further and further away from God’s Word, I have often wondered what should we, as believers, expect in the years ahead? Will the day come when verbal persecution of believers in America turns to physical persecution as many of our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world? Will we be imprisoned for speaking God’s truth? It is certainly possible.

I have been reading through the book of Acts lately and came across a verse that, I believe, answers the question of what we should expect. It can be found in Acts 12:24 but before I give you the verse I want to put it into context. The church was born just a few chapters earlier in Acts and God was moving powerfully. But the Jewish religious leaders and the secular Roman government began to persecute the church. They were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were beaten and jailed. Immediately leading up to Acts 12:24, James the brother of John had been martyred for the faith and Paul was imprisoned.

Yet, here is what we read in Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” During one of the most intense seasons of persecution of believers in the history of the church, the truth of the gospel was preached and it increased and multiplied! I think this is what we should expect in the years ahead. But we must be faithful, as God’s people, to be who he has called us to be and do what he has called us to do.

Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my heart and life? Can I echo with David, the Psalmist, that the word of God is “more to be desired than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:10)?
  2. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my family? Am I following the Lord’s command to teach my children diligently the truths of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)?
  3. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my other spheres of influence (family, workplace, neighborhood, etc.)? Am I the “light of the world” and the “city set on the hill” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:14-16?

Many Christians are lamenting where we are as a nation but I’m much more concerned with where we are as believers and as Christ’s church. We may very well face intense persecution in the years ahead, both verbal and physical. But if believers are saturated with God’s word, if the church holds fast to the Scriptures regardless of which way the cultural winds blow, if we see people the way Jesus did as sheep without a shepherd, if we love the lost and boldly proclaim the glorious gospel, then I believe we will experience what the early church experienced. We will see the word of God increase and multiply throughout this world. And God’s promise is that His word will go forth, it will not return empty and it will accomplish what he intends for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). That is good news!

Do You Believe?

amoveofgod-title

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see an amazing move of God in your life, the life of your church and in your city? I have been thinking about this very thing lately. After all, his Word says that he is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). I will be honest; I can imagine some pretty amazing things that God could do. So why doesn’t he move in such a powerful way?

I think part of the answer can be found in looking at a scene that plays out in Jesus’ ministry. He is in his hometown ready to teach and heal but Mark records these words, “And he could do not mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6). Jesus’ ministry was hindered because of the people’s lack of faith.

Now don’t misunderstand what the text is communicating. Jesus was not powerless in this moment (after all he did heal some people) but he did not unleash his miraculous power because he knew they did not believe he was the Messiah. He knew that no amount of miracles would rouse them from their spiritual apathy.

I readily confess that sometimes we don’t see a mighty move of God because it is not in his timing. But, I am also convinced that there are times we don’t see a mighty move of God because of our lack of faith. We have become so complacent in our Christian lives and in our churches that we are comfortable with the status quo. We don’t see God do great things because we don’t expect him to do great things. We don’t believe.

Will you join me in believing that God can move in a mighty way in your life, your church and your city? Will you ask God to do what only he can do, believing that he can? If it doesn’t happen I want it to be because it is not in God’s timing not because of our lack of faith!

Hope For The In-Between

My heart broke as news came out about the 21 Coptic Christians murdered by ISIS in Egypt. This poem was written soon afterwards. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

I continue to watch the story unfold,
A front row seat of loss untold.
Cries of pain shatter hopes and dreams,
The innocent are dashed so it seems.

The blood of the saints is spilled on the ground,
“Evil wins” is cry of the crowd.
Despair creeps in, all is lost it appears,
Yet, I’m comforted by hope that draws near.

Hope secured on a bloody cross,
Victory assured in spite of the cost.
The promise of all creation redeemed,
I cling to hope for the in-between.

The Savior’s words ring out, ring true,
We are but pilgrims, strangers passing through.
Struggle and toil in this world is our lot,
The Spirit groans when our strength is naught.

We long for a shout and the trumpet sound,
When the heavens split and peace reigns down.
All is made right, the righteous sing,
As every knee bows before the risen King.

Hope secured on a bloody cross,
Victory assured in spite of the cost.
The promise of all creation redeemed,
I cling to hope for the in-between.

The Church In A Secular Society (A Response to Current Events)

Let me say up front that this post may upset you, though that is certainly not my intent. I love our country. We are a privileged people to live in the good ol’ US of A! But, as believers, our ultimate allegiance is not to this country. Our ultimate allegiance is to our Savior and his kingdom.

We are witnessing a major shift in our society. As a student of history, I know without a doubt that our country was founded on Christian principles. It is impossible to study our founding fathers without encountering within their writings a Judeo-Christian mindset concerning government and morality. Some were not believers (this is well documented – just look at the Thomas Jefferson bible) but even the founding fathers who were non-believers argued that the best form of government and society would follow biblical principles. The shift is towards an increasingly secular society. Believers, who were in the majority for much of our nation’s history, have increasingly become the minority on social issues.

Here is what I believe we will see in the coming years unless something changes dramatically:

1. Same sex marriage will be legalized in all 50 states. This week President Obama (who originally personally opposed same sex marriage and then changed to personally agreeing with same sex marriage) has declared that he believes same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Recently, the Supreme Court decided not to take up this issue thereby upholding a lower court’s ruling that same sex marriage was legal in certain states. Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage while 26 states have laws against same sex marriage. At some point the justices will have to rule on this issue and I personally believe they or Congress (through enacting a federal law) will make same sex marriage legal across our nation which is approved of by the majority of Americans.

2. Christian businesses will choose to close their doors or face lawsuits, fines and jail time. This week a couple in Idaho who run a for-profit wedding chapel were told that they must conduct same sex weddings or face fines and possible jail time due to violating non-discrimination laws (this previously happened with a baker, florist, and photographer). In my opinion, the courts will rule that the wedding ceremony must be allowed to happen at the chapel but the Knapps will be able to recuse themselves (because of religious conviction) from performing the ceremony. Another person (licensed to perform marriages and who does not have this religious conviction concerning same sex marriage) will be brought in to conduct the ceremony. Christian businesses (bakery, florist, wedding chapel, etc.) operating in the secular marketplace will be increasingly required to abide by secular laws. They can stand up against these laws because of religious conviction but will likely face lawsuits, fines and jail time.

3. Pastors will be removed as agents of the state in regards to performing weddings. Currently ordained pastors operate as agents of the state when it comes to conducting wedding ceremonies. This is why at the end of a wedding service a pastor will say, “By the authority invested in my by the state of ______________, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” While churches are exempt from non-discrimination laws currently with regards to marriage, I believe this will be the next thing challenged. The argument will be made that ordained pastors, as agents of the state, must abide by state laws regardless of religious conviction. The likely result will be that pastors will not be able to act as representatives of the state. They will be able to do Christian weddings in the church but the couple would then need to go to the court to be officially married in the eyes of the state.

Here is how I think we should respond:

1. Pray. Unfortunately, prayer is often thought of as a last result. We attempt to do things to affect change until we feel like there is nothing else we can do…then we pray. Our temptation in this society will be to busy ourselves doing things and fail to pray. However, prayer should be our first response – we need to hit our knees! We need to ask God to move in a powerful way in our churches and in our culture. We should intercede for those lost in their sin. We need to ask God to search our hearts and our motives. Prayer is not the spare tire in our lives; it must be the steering wheel that drives our lives.

2. We, as believers, should seek to defend our religious liberties both in the ballot box and in the courts. We do not need to bow down and retreat at this point. We need to take a stand through both the courts and the ballot box. I believe religious freedoms need to be preserved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up our responsibility, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” We cannot and must not remain silent as religious liberties are stripped away. Houston has given us a glimpse of what is to come and we must be prepared to stand together.

3. Recognize that God may be allowing persecution to come so that his church would be purified and more effective in reaching people with the gospel. I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk recently. Interestingly, Habakkuk begins the book asking why God has failed to turn His people’s hearts back to him and bring revival. God responds that he is at work but it will not be what Habakkuk expects (God will bring in the Chaldeans to take Judah captive and lead them into exile). He then tells Habakkuk “the just will live by their faith.”

Have you considered that God might be allowing persecution to come upon the church to purify it (when it costs to follow Christ, you find out who the true believers are)? Could it be that this world needs to grow darker so that the light of the gospel can more effectively shine through the church? Throughout church history, the gospel has exploded when Christians were persecuted. We, as believers, are called to live by faith…trusting God is at work to bring about his glory and our good regardless of what happens around us!

A Jesus I Don’t Recognize (My Response To Brian Zahnd)

This past week, as I scrolled through my twitter feed, I came across this tweet from Brian Zahnd (Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO)

I followed the link to his blog post and opened up a twitter dialog with him concerning his position. During this dialog my friend Derek Vreeland (Disicpleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO) jumped in and after several tweets back and forth, I suggested that we write on this issue. After all, it is difficult to flesh out a position in 140 characters. So what follows is my initial response to Zahnd’s post.

Brian Zahnd’s Thesis: Waging war is incompatible with following Jesus.

My Response: First, let me say that I am all in favor of peace. It is unfortunate that a great deal of world history (I have a Bachelors degree in History) can be summed up in one word – war. So, by all means, I agree that war should never be our first option but to say that “waging war is incompatible with following Jesus” hints of a naïve utopian vision of the world at best and fundamental misunderstanding of God’s justice at worst. Let me explain:

Championing a Jesus of peace without emphasizing the justice of God is problematic.

Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. Zahnd would lead you to believe that the gospels present a Jesus whose primary concern is peace. But it is never peace without justice. The entire reason Jesus came to this earth was to satisfy the justice of God. In fact, Jesus drank the entire cup of God’s wrath poured out against sin – the innocent one, Jesus, for the guilty ones, all of us (2 Cor. 5:21). Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ (a gruesome and peace less event), we all stand condemned.

This same justice led Jesus to call the religious leaders vipers and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23). It is the basis for him clearing out the moneychangers in the temple by force, driving them out with a whip and overturning their tables (Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). One could hardly consider these examples promoting a Jesus who cared only about peace. The argument has been made that no one was killed during this escapade but if Jesus’ primary concern was peace don’t you think he could have gone about these encounters in a more peaceful way? Why did he not exhaust all means possible to accomplish his objective (returning God’s house to a house of prayer) peacefully? The reason is clear – the justice of God.

We are both Jesus and Pilate.

One of the specific questions Zahnd mentioned that he always receives is concerning home invasion. How should you respond in that type of situation? His attempt at an answer to this question is riddled with problems. First, he puts forth the argument that this is a fictional scenario. Yet, turn on the news and you will see that exact scenario play out across this country. The reality of home invasion is true for too many people throughout our nation and to make light of it is pastorally insensitive. Second, he uses his “imagination” to respond to this scenario in a way that I hope is meant in jest. Providing for and protecting your family is a biblical responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8)!

What Zahnd fails to recognize is that we, as citizens in a democratic republic, are both Jesus and Pilate (as we encounter their roles in the gospels). Pilate was the Roman governor in authority at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus willingly submitted to his authority though he reminded Pilate that his authority came from above. God instituted government and gave government the responsibility to exercise justice (by force if necessary – Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) by punishing evil and rewarding good. Here is the rub: Zahnd says we are to model Jesus and he would respond peacefully to the above scenario but the government (our elected officials) has transferred to us (citizens) the responsibility to defend ourselves and our family, with force, in that same scenario. I don’t believe there is a contradiction here – we, as believers, have the God-given right and responsibility to uphold his justice (punishing evil/rewarding good) which was entrusted to the government and then to us through legislation. To insinuate that it would be sin for a person to defend himself and his family in a home invasion scenario has no biblical basis.

With the groundwork laid for this dual perspective (we are both Jesus and Pilate) it is necessary to consider how this applies to us as a nation within the world. I do not think it is a jump to see our role in the world as a promoter of justice. In our fallen world, it is necessary for someone to stand up against evil. While Zahnd, in my estimation, has muddied the waters concerning Hitler it was imperative for someone to stand up against the madness. I agree that Christians in Germany should have taken a stand (though it has been documented that many tried through peaceful and less than peaceful means and were executed – Bonhoeffer for example) but it is inconceivable to dismiss the Allied response as unbiblical.

Zahnd offered the possibility that a German Christian could kill American, British, French and Russian Christians fighting on behalf of his country and stated, “This is the problem with Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory.” Here is the problem: the German Christian was wrong. He, first and foremost, had a duty to obey God rather than his government when his government told him to do something directly against God’s commands (the Third Reich was murdering innocent people by the millions). He should have objected to this atrocity.

Zahnd would have us believe that “Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory” requires Christians to wholly submit to the government regardless of what the government requires. We have biblical support (the disciples in Acts 5:29) that this does not have to be the case and, in fact, should not be the case. We submit to our government until the government requires from us what we cannot do as citizens of the God’s kingdom. Our ultimate allegiance is to King Jesus but we must never forget he requires that we submit to the government he has established over us. This is, in fact, exactly what he did (1 Peter 3:18).

In every war, there is a side that is right and a side that is wrong. There is a side whose basis for being in the war is biblical (preserving justice) and one whose is not biblical. Even if both sides believe they are right and God is on their side, we know that this is impossible. In a fallen world, sorting this out becomes problematic but it remains true. If no one stands for justice in the world we risk millions upon millions of people being murdered (think Somolia, Rwanda, Iraq, South Vietnam, South Korea, etc.). Edmund Burke was right when he said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Sounds similar to Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Lasting peace will only be present when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom.

Finally, my greatest concern with Zahnd’s thesis concerning war/peace is that the Scriptures are explicitly clear that true lasting peace will only be present on this earth when Jesus sets up his earthly kingdom (Revelation 21-22). Now, you may be tempted to think that this is merely the fulfillment of Jesus’ “peace campaign” which began during his earthly ministry but to do this you must overlook Revelation 20. What is clear in this chapter is the lasting peace promised is made possible only through Jesus exercising justice against Satan, his demons and all who have rejected him. It is impossible to read this along with Philippians 2:9-11 (“every knee will bow” – if not willingly, they will be forced to bow before King Jesus) and see the “peaceful” Jesus put forth by Zahnd. Lasting peace will come (for which I am thankful) but it will not be peaceful for those opposed to Jesus. In perfect justice and righteousness they will be cast into Hell for all eternity. After all, John’s vision of the Son of Man (Jesus) in Revelation 1:16 with a tongue like a “sharp two-edged sword” harks back to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The sword of God’s judgment will prevail upon evil and bring true and lasting peace. Jesus wields that sword.