It’s a War Out There

The title of this blog can relate to almost any area of life today.

If you are over 50 you can probably remember a time when life was much calmer; people weren’t so uptight; the news wasn’t so depressing; political parties tended to work together in congress for the good of the people; and for the most part, everyone got along with everyone else.

Did everyone agree? Of course not, but there was a certain civility and respect that permeated our society.

The 60s change a lot of things. Many of the changes had ripple effects into other areas of life that I’m not sure we understand even today. Since then it seems that we have become more uptight, less peaceful, less respectful of other people, less tolerant not more, and less hopeful – as a nation and as individuals.

Many people – mostly the older crowd, remember life before the 60s nostalgically and long for the good ol’ days, while those who were born after the 60s scoff at the thought of every going back to the days of Ward, June and Beaver.

The post-60s crowd is right – you can’t go back. But does that mean that we’re destined for ever-increasing bickering and division in our society? Isn’t it possible for us to move forward and do it in a civilized manner, respecting our differences and honoring those with whom we disagree?

Here’s where I take issue with my own tribe. As Christians we have failed to set the example. In fact Christians have often been at the forefront of the political wars – and it’s difficult to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. We’ve made things worse not better. That shouldn’t be.

I’m not suggesting that Christians avoid controversial issues – I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t do battle the way other people do battle. Our attitudes, methods, responses and reactions are to be distinctly Christian. If they aren’t then we may will the battle but we’ll end up losing the war. Not the cultural war perhaps, but the more important spiritual war. The war for the souls of men.

Over and over the Bible implores us to be careful how we walk through life (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). In fact we are not to act like other people act (Ephesians 4:17) and we’re not to act in ways that fulfill our natural desires (Romans 8:1).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

What would happen if Christians actually began to act like Christians? If we approached the political-cultural issues with a Christ-like attitude, spiritual weapons, and dependence on God instead of on a political party?

What would happen if we really understood that the war is essentially spiritual in nature and began to fight it that way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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A Word of Caution to the Church

There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

Thankfully the 2016 political season will soon come to an end. I get the sense that America is weary of the advertisements, political posturing, and the rancorous atmosphere that has engulfed our nation.

Sadly we are a divided nation with a lack of respect for those on the other side of the divide. And no matter who wins the presidential election, half of our nation will declare themselves winners and the other half as losers. The winners will gloat and try to force the losers to accept their worldview and corresponding policies and the losers will respond in anger and attempt to stymie the advance of the winners at every conceivable juncture. This scenario will play itself out regardless of which party wins and which party loses.

Strangely, both parties will use the same terminology and arguments. They are destroying our country. They don’t represent me. They are evil.

Sometimes it’s difficult as a Christian not to get caught up in all of the rancor and bitterness.

But it’s important that through all of the acrimony of the next eight days, even of the next 4 or 8 years, that we keep a heavenly perspective. Not just a view OF heaven but a view FROM heaven. A view INFORMED by heaven.

So here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1. This world is NOT your home. You are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. Make sure that you are acting like a citizen of heaven.

2. There are more important things in life than who is elected president. Such as the gospel, the Word of God, the church, your testimony, and the Kingdom of God. Keep your priorities straight.

3. Don’t allow the darkness of the political world to dim your light. Too many Christians been caught up in the anger that is sweeping our country that it has affected their light. Keeping a bright light is more important than electing a president.

4. Prayer is more important than voting. I’m not suggesting that voting isn’t important. It’s just that prayer is vastly more important. Here’s a thought. Try to spend more time praying about the election than posting your views on Facebook or trying to persuade your friends to vote for a particular candidate.

5. No matter what happens God is still in control. You’ve heard that said often. It’s still true. Trust Him to bring good out of the present chaos. And trust Him to bring in His Kingdom no matter who is elected president.

As a Christian, Keep Perspective. No matter who you vote for. No matter who is ultimately elected.

And remember the words of an ancient ruler:The most high rules in the kingdom of men, [and] gives it to whomever He will (Daniel 4:17).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Everyone Needs to Calm Down (Especially Evangelical Christians)

I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians were so uptight (many, not all) about the political landscape, unless it was back in the 60’s when they wanted to impeach Earl Warren (yes, I’m old enough to remember it – and they were uptight).

You would think that God had just stepped off of His throne and Hillary was taking over the universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God is still in control.

We like to say that He’s in control but the evangelical blogs, the Facebook posts, the Twitter feeds, the emails and the scare tactics seem to indicate otherwise.

The way that many evangelical are acting you would think that if Clinton wins this election, the world as we know it will come to an end. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but I’m sure of this – God will still be in control on November 9th and every day after that.

I’m not making light of the importance of this election. It may well signal a sea-change in our nation. And, yes I believe evangelical Christians should exercise their freedom to vote for the candidate that they believe can best lead our nation.

But where’s our faith? Is it in the political process? Or in our ability to elect the “right” candidate? Or is it in God, who by the way is still in control.

The writer of Hebrews didn’t tell us to keep our eyes on the Republican Party; or on Donald Trump; or on passing the right laws or policies. He told us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s a reason for that. God is still in control.

Hey, we believe that God will bring about His will no matter who’s in the White House. We believe that He will bring about His will no matter who sits on the Supreme Court.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want – God’s will?

I’m not ignoring our responsibility to get involved in the political process. I’m just questioning the panic (even hysteria) that is the result of an unbalanced view of the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is in control we are confessing that He is sovereign over all things, including the election of our president.

So here’s my suggestion: Everyone just needs to calm down. Stop with the scare tactics. Stop telling people who God wants to be president. Stop pontificating on the end of civilization if your candidate isn’t elected.

Go ahead and try to persuade people to vote for your candidate; vote your conscience. But get a grip on reality! God is still in control.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter

The debate between those who say Black Lives Matter and those who respond All Lives Matter has moved in a direction that should make every Christian feel not only uncomfortable but frankly ashamed.

I cannot tell you how many of my white Christian Brothers and Sisters have posted things on various social media sites that are less than charitable in this issue. It grieves me and I believe it grieves the heart of God.

Before I say more, let me add this disclaimer: I am white. To be more specific I am a white pastor who has pastored an interracial church. I have many friends both white and black that I would stand up for and defend. Yes, I understand the white culture. No, I don’t totally understand the black culture. No one who is not black can.

Now with some reservations I want to go where angels fear to tread. I’ll probably get shot by both sides.

I think that both sides in this rancorous debate need to agree on several basic issues:

1. Innocent black men and boys have been killed by police officers. No one can deny it. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t raise their hands or obey an order (they should have). They were innocent and did not deserve to die.

2. We need to support our police. They are there to keep us safe and not all of them are bad. In fact most of them are good and a few are bad, as in every profession or group of people.

3. Some police are racists. Again, not the majority, but some.

4. You can’t cry racism when it’s a black officer who shot a black man. That’s just not racism.

5. Everyone needs to respond to the police in the proper way, even when they think that they are in the right and the police are wrong. This may not solve all of the problems but it will help in many situations.

6. There are racists white people and there are racists black people (and every other color). And some of them are Christians.

7. It’s not right to take sides, scream, protest, or burn and loot things until you have all of the facts. That takes time. (No I’m not suggesting that burning and looting is ever right, although our forefathers at the Boston Tea Party may take issue with me).

8. It’s not right to condemn those who take sides, scream, protest, (I draw the line at burning and looting) until you know all of the facts. That takes time.

I’m sure that there are other things that could be said but this is enough.

First let me talk to our black Christian Brothers and Sisters.

The first thing I want to say, and please hear me, is I love you. Please do not doubt my sincerity or my love. I am not trying to be an apologist for the whites.

I’m attempting to be an apologist for Jesus.

When you say Black Lives Matter, what most white people hear is, “Black lives matter more than white lives.” “Black people deserve special privileges.” “Black people don’t have to follow the law like white people.”

I’m sure that is not what you mean, but that is what we hear. Sadly.

You have to admit that the Black Lives Matter movement started out rather violently and without clear directions. White people look at them as thugs and looters. It’s going to be difficult to change perceptions. It’s important that you try.

It’s important because white people have some justification for their views. Black crime; violent inner-city neighborhoods; black men who father babies but don’t stick around to raise babies, to name a few.

I know that you can point to a history of slavery, generations of oppression, lack of job opportunities and, yes, racism. All of these are true but they should not define who you are.

Many races have come to America and faced these or similar obstacles and made a better life for themselves. Not even all black people have been held captive by their history or circumstances.

I want to affirm, and I believe it’s the right thing to do: Black Lives Matter.

Now let me talk to our white Christian Brothers and Sisters.

Again I want to say, I love you. Please do not feel that I am condemning you. I am not trying to be an apologist for blacks.

Remember it’s about Jesus.

When you say All Lives Matter, I think what most black people hear is “Black people don’t matter.” “You don’t value our lives the way you value white lives.” “We are expendable.” At the very least they hear “You are trying to dilute our message.”

It’s true that All Lives Matter, especially to God who is not limited by color, race or nationality (Galatians 3:28). But when you say it you are missing a huge point.

The slogan Black Lives Matter is a way to draw attention to one critical issue that most black people feel passionately about; the death of young black men. Some of them died innocently. Some were shot justifiably, but many, and this issue goes back many generations, were not.

We single out issues all of the time in our society and draw specific attention to them by wearing a certain color ribbon, sponsoring a golf tournament, or running a race. That is what the black community is trying to do.

That does not demean any other issue. It simply draws attention to one issue.

So here are my suggestions for how we should act as Christians facing this issue.

1) Let’s stop imitating the world and throwing our slogans in each other’s faces. Let’s try to understand the other side. It’s important, and I cannot emphasis this enough, that we as Christians act like Christians.

2) Let’s begin talking. I know that the black community has all but given up on dialog – they’ve been trying it for too many years. But the alternative has not worked.

3) Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt (1 Corinthians 13:7, love believes all things good about the other person).

4) Let’s begin loving each other, not when the other side does the “right” thing, but even if they don’t.

Yes, it is true that All Lives Matter. It is also true that Black Lives Matter.

Let the bullets fly (at me).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Perspective on the Future of SCOTUS – and Our Country

Reactions to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have been all over the map. Those with liberal political leanings are mostly hopeful and excited about the prospect of another liberal judge on the high court while conservative reactions have varied from hand-wringing to militant.

Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered his perspective in a recent article. I have always found Dr. Mohler to be serious minded and Biblical. You can find his article, which I would encourage you to read, at:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/02/14/a-giant-has-fallen-the-death-of-justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-future-of-constitutional-government/

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve