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

Christians and Civil Discourse

One of the areas that Christians seem to shy away from discussing is Christians and Civil Discourse. Put simply, civil discourse has to do with how we verbally (in person, in writing, on Facebook or Twitter etc) engage people with different opinions (often held passionately) in a kind and courteous manner.

As I began to look at the information available online several things stood out. The first thing that I noticed was that there are a number of organizations who make the concept of civil discourse a major aspect of their focus. The Nation Institute for Civil Discourse, the Project Civil Discourse, the Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy, and Citizens for Civil Discourse (whose primary goal seems to be to stop politicians from making robocalls! – I think they may be onto something!) are just a few that I found.

The second thing that I quickly noticed in my brief survey was that I only found one Christian organization that addressed this issue. There may be more, and probably are, but I didn’t find them. That shouldn’t be. As Christians we should be at the forefront of the discussion. After all, our faith directly addresses this issue.

I recognize that the issue of civil discourse can be used to intimidate people into silence by their opponents. The minute something is said that disagrees with their position the label of intolerant is hung on them and they are accused of violating the laws of civil discourse. Christians can run up against this in the areas of same sex relationships and abortion. That in itself, however, should not stop us from addressing those who disagree with us in a Biblical, i.e. civil manner.

Several passages are worth noting here. In Colossians 4:6 the Apostle Paul writes: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. The each one is defined in the preceding verse as those who are outside, that is, unbelievers. As Christians we are to speak to those who disagree with us with grace and in a way that is purifying to the culture around us. Too often we have equated purifying speech with confrontational speech, but God equates it with graceful speech.

Another passage, and there are more, that applies here is Ephesians 4:29-32:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

While this was directed to believers interacting with other believers, do you think that God has one standard for how we talk to each other and another standard for how we talk to those outside the faith? Our speech is ALWAYS to impart grace to the hearers. There is NEVER to be a time when what we say can be characterized by bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor or malice. Unfortunately Christians are often the ones accused of ignoring civil discourse, and sometimes it’s true.

I’m not advocating silence. Christians need to speak up on the cultural issues of the day. But we need to do it in a way that is consistent with the Word of God. After all, true civil discourse is simply Godly discourse. In this area we need to be known as people who practice speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

How Should Christians be Treated in an Unredeemed Culture?

Pastor Louie Giglio is in the middle of a firestorm that he never saw coming. For those of you not familiar with Pastor Giglio, he is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia and a leading evangelical voice exposing the modern day slave trade (it is estimated that there are as many as 27 million slaves around the world today!). His Passion2013 conference drew 60,000 young people (you could not attend if you were over the age of 26 except as a group leader) to rally for an end to slavery.

Because of his exemplary work in the area of slavery, Pastor Giglio was invited by the White House Inauguration Committee to deliver the benediction at the end of the presidential inaugural ceremony. It didn’t take long for him to be denounced as “anti-gay” because of his biblical stand on marriage. At this point it’s unclear whether Pastor Giglio removed his name from the program voluntarily or whether he did so at the request of the White House. The end result was the same.

The battle lines have been drawn. On one side are those holding the banners of tolerance and equal rights – on the other are those waving the banners of freedom of speech and discrimination against Christians.

While I find the political arguments interesting, there is another angle to this debate that Christians need to consider and that is how should Christians expect to be treated in a secular, unredeemed culture? On issues such as life, marriage and morality we are the minority; we are the ones struggling against the current. We are the ones pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

Why are we surprised when an unredeemed culture screams for tolerance but at the same time is intolerant of our beliefs? Why do we find it disturbing that an unredeemed culture views us as hate-mongers for telling them that God loves them so much that He wants them to live a godly lifestyle? Why does it shock us when our rights are diminished in favor of the rights of others?

God has laid things out rather clearly – in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). It’s even worse than you think. Matthew used the term perilous to describe the savage nature of two demon possessed men (Matthew 8:28) who were exceedingly fierce to the point that no one could approach them. We live in a culture that is very much like that – dangerous, even savage, to any kind of spiritual perspective on the issues we face.

When people treat Christians as the problem rather than as the answer to the issues of our culture they are simply acting out of their sinful nature. They are doing exactly what we should expect them to do. We should not be surprised. We should expect no less.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve