Pilate: Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus: My kingdom is not of the this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.
Pilate: Are you a king then?
Jesus: You say rightly that I am a king.
The current political landscape makes for great TV. The debates. The media. The personalities. Sometimes it seems a lot like a reality show in which we all have to call in to decide who to “save” and who to “cut” from the show.
With good reason, a lot of people are scared. Clearly there are some frightening scenarios. Christians should be deeply involved and make our vote count. We should think culturally from a biblical perspective and vote for leaders who represent our values. We have a civic and spiritual duty to make a godly influence felt in this election.
With that said there is one outcome that is the most dangerous of them all. I fear this outcome more than any other. What is it?!?! The worst thing of that could happen is if the church forgets who we are and what we are destined for. So here are some reminders:
(1) We are members of the kingdom of God, not a voting constituency. When we are nothing more than a group of people with influential votes, the result is that we will be a demographic stat for the media and a group to cozy up to by the candidates instead of inheritors of the unstoppable reign of Jesus. The gospel is our greatest weapon, not our vote.
(2) Our hope is in King Jesus and His kingdom, not the kingdom of this world. Please don’t post a comment that says I am saying not to be politically involved. I’m not saying that at all. I think we must be involved. However, many Christians are placing their entire hope in the political process rather than the kingdom that is coming through Christ. The result is paralyzing fear. Jesus is supreme over every power and principality and His coming kingdom is our true citizenship and destiny.
(3) The hope of our country is the gospel of Christ declared through His church. While there are candidates that I think will lead in a better direction than others, I do not believe any candidate will transform our country to what it should be. That’s the church’s job. If the church forgets this and lacks a clear understanding of our mission, then that is the most devastating outcome that could occur.
(4) No leader can stop God from being glorified. The first 300 years of Christianity may be the greatest period of growth of the church in history and it all occurred under pagan emperors and anti-Christian governments. In fact, when wicked leaders oppose God they often unwittingly contribute to His cause (Acts 4:27-28). Is our goal safety and abundance or the spread of the kingdom of God?
(5) Participate in and influence the kingdom of this world, but live in the confidence of the kingdom of Christ. The joy and peace of every believer comes through certainty in the final reign of Jesus. Then we will ask “Why do the nations rage and plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1; Acts 4:25). Believers are citizens of this kingdom before they are anything else. We live in our future hope right now. If the church loses this perspective then we simply cease to be the church and citizens of the coming kingdom. Nothing could be more devastating than that.
Vote and vote well. But as you do, don’t lose heart. Remember who you are and who you ultimately will be. That’s what Jesus did as He was questioned by Pilate. He lived for the kingdom that is not of this world. We should too!
It’s clear by now the strategy of Planned Parenthood concerning their response to public outrage, due to the videos of top level executives in flippant conversations about selling the tissue of aborted babies, is to attack the accuser rather than justify their position. It probably isn’t surprising that I oppose abortion considering I am an evangelical pastor. Let me assure you, it isn’t political or social affiliation that drives me. I couldn’t care less about being conservative. I care about being Christian. I recognize not everyone is a Christian; many will not agree with me because their worldview is different from mine.
I am writing this because I have yet to see a response from Planned Parenthood that even acknowledges what my (and many others) concern is about abortion. I really don’t think they care because it is clear that Planned Parenthood has no desire to listen to or address the concerns of those who are pro-life. They are doing damage control to galvanize those who are pro-choice. My assumption is that my concern doesn’t matter. I still want it to be clear what the true concern of my heart is so that those who disagree with me will not make a caricature out of my position. If you are going to disagree with me, at least show me the respect to disagree with my true position on the matter and not some straw man.
The issue is not:
- The issue isn’t video editing. It is true that video can be manipulated. However, I cannot think of one contextual factor that could ever make me at peace with the idea of “crushing” a fetus (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/07/21/planned-parenthood-abortion-fetus-parts-kirsten-powers/30426475/).
- The issue isn’t the value of medical research on human tissue. I have no problem with human tissue being used for medical advancement as long as the specimen came from someone who died rather than a voiceless child intentionally killed for this purpose.
- The issue isn’t political activism driven by an agenda. First of all, aren’t we all supposed to be active in the political arena, and don’t we all have an agenda? Rhetoric! Does Planned Parenthood not fit this description? Soiling the reputation of critics is a defense mechanism as old as the hills. Maybe some are obsessed with the political side of this, but for most pro-life people, this is about people not politics.
- The issue isn’t tone of voice. Planned Parenthood is outraged at the lack of compassion in the tone of voice of the recorded doctor. I didn’t like the tone, either. But that’s not the issue. If she has a compassionate tone it would not suffice because abortion is an act without compassion. Sweet words that mask brutal acts lack power.
The issue is:
- Women’s rights. My view of women’s rights includes the rights of females to be born and not be aborted. It includes the opportunity to live in a society that will protect that most basic right. Abortion takes this right away.
- The rights of children trump those of adults. When someone is considering an abortion the freedom and rights of two individuals are opposed to each other. The woman who is pregnant has all the power in the situation. Abortion chooses the rights of the adult over the rights of the voiceless child. The only way those who are pro-abortion can justify such a thing is by deciding the baby is not a person yet. The reason they must do this is because, in every other situation, we as a society deem the rights of voiceless and powerless children to trump those of adults.
- Functional organs that are saved and sold remind us that they come from functional humans. This is the heart of the matter, and it isn’t just conservative or pro-life folks who see this. The humanity of abortion’s victims is seen clearly by all. Ironically, Planned Parenthood has done more to humanize abortion through these videos than anyone else. They personalized the issue. They aren’t simply harvesting tissue, but livers, lungs, and hearts from actual people. The value of fetal tissue and organs reminds us all of the value of the child they came from.
I know how this works. If you are in favor of legalized and government-funded abortion then you hated this post and find it rubbish. If you oppose it, then you loved it. I don’t expect to change minds. However, I would like to help bring clarity to the debate – at least clarity concerning what the real issue is for those of us who oppose abortion.
On September 15, 1999 I waited up through the night to see if my best friend was still alive. Dax Hughes was my college roommate years before and at the time of the shooting both of us attended the same seminary. He was also college pastor at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas and was on campus that night when Larry Ashbrook opened fire in a crowded sanctuary at a See You At the Pole rally. I left phone message after message (this is before we had cell phones) for him in hopes that he, and his wife Christi were still alive and not injured. It was around 3:30 a.m. that I finally received a call from him and although my fears were briefly relieved, the carnage left by this event would rock a church and community. It would also mean that Dax would forever be linked to any other massive violent event, especially church shootings. Today, Dax and I serve as senior pastors together in the same church. When I saw the news of the Charleston shooting, I immediately went back to that fateful night.
I’m so disturbed by the Charleston shooting. As a pastor I can’t help but think about my own vulnerability. As a church goer I’m hit by the irony that the church is supposed to be a place where broken people can find love. Love certainly makes us vulnerable. As an American I fear the violence and hate all around us whether it is motivated by race, religion or some other source. As a Christian I seek to understand events like this from the perspective of my faith and the Scriptures that I have so diligently studied to shape me.
With that in mind, here are my initial thoughts that I pray are shaped by a truly Christian perspective.
(1) All people should grieve this event. Black, white, Christian or not – this is pure tragedy.
(2) I don’t blame anyone for thinking that race might have played a large role in this tragedy. No, not every act of hate or injustice is racially motivated. Hate is a human issue not just a race issue. Many acts of violence are against people of the same race. However, racial violence has been an epidemic since the world began. If you are a Christian and don’t take racism seriously then you haven’t read your Bible closely enough. It is a major biblical topic including the dominant question of the New Testament church (Acts 15, Galatians 2:11ff). This is the reason that part of the glory of Jesus will be gathering people together of every race, tribe, and language.
(3) Our culture struggles to believe in God but how can it deny the existence of sin? The culture’s view of humans rests on a philosophical assumption very different from the Christian one. The culture tends to believe that we are born neutral or good. When things like this shooting occur we want to find what went wrong in the shooter’s environment. From a Christian perspective, we will never deal with the root cause of hate, violence and injustice until we look within ourselves. Sin is breaking the world. It breaks individual hearts and communal harmony.
(4) Unfortunately, every public place must prioritize security, including churches. I’ve been told by many people, “we have a small church so we don’t need a security plan like large churches do.” This is just naive. Shooters rarely use any logic at all meaning every church must consider security a priority.
(5) If you are a white Christian then the victims of this shooting aren’t “their” people, but rather “your” people. I have more in common with a follower of Jesus whose skin is a different color than mine than I do with another white person who rejects Jesus. My primary identity is Christ not color (Gal. 3:28). My spiritual family includes all those who have also been adopted into God’s family by Jesus. These are the people with whom I will spend eternity.
(6) The gospel means that God is the greatest victim of violence and injustice in the history of the world. Instead of ending injustice, God entered into it through the cross. He didn’t end violence with force; but instead, He countered it with love. At the cross the only sinless one that has ever existed was violently executed. In doing so, He redeemed injustice and turned it into saving love. For me, there is no answer to injustice more beautiful and satisfying.
“The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” (Psalm 139:12b)
Private eyes…are watching you…they see your every move. Hall and Oates might not have liked rich girls very much but they did get one thing right way before their time. Secrets don’t exist. They aren’t real. Secrets are imaginary. Complete privacy is a myth. Sorry, Mr. Roboto…you don’t really have a secret.
Sony found this out the hard way. If you haven’t heard, the movie making mogul was hacked. Materials they thought were private are now very public. The CIA now believes that the hacking was done by representatives of North Korea in efforts to get Sony to drop the forthcoming movie The Interview. The plot of this movie poses kings of comedic bawdiness Seth Rogen and James Franco as two buffoons who are set to interview Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, and are instructed to assassinate him.
The threat worked. The movie is being at least delayed if not completely dropped.
There are no secrets. Not really. We didn’t need advances in technology for this to happen. Secrets didn’t exist way before “big brother” did. There have never been secrets. Secrets are nothing more than another defense mechanism created by the human need for protection. We think that we can bury the things we don’t want others to see, but it’s a lie. Secrets will be exposed one way or another. The Bible has been clear on this for some time. In fact, there are two reasons that secrets will never remain incognito.
(1) God sees and knows everything about you (Psalm 139:1-6). Even if you think you have bamboozled everyone else, you haven’t fooled God.
(2) The hidden things inside of you will eventually come out of you (Matt. 15:19). Even if the secret doesn’t get fully revealed to others, it can express itself in various ways. For instance, it takes a great deal of emotional energy to keep a secret. Mental gymnastics are necessary to deal with the fear of exposure and the management of guilt. No wonder we are so depressed and fatigued. Family secrets find their way to influence even those who don’t know the secret, like water finds cracks in a container. Secrets contribute to broken marriages, ability for intimacy, stress level, fatigue, depression, and even physical illness.
Is there any good news? Of course. God is full of grace for the humble who acknowledge the truth about themselves. If we could only see the love of God we would no longer exhaust ourselves trying to apply fig leaves to our nakedness. We can find peace in confession, which can only occur when we are convinced that God’s response to our honest assessment is love. The gospel is not an image based attempt to earn God’s love, it is a resting in the truth that He already loves us. It beckons us out of our shadows and secrets, to find peace in the truth.
You know the story. A married couple falls out of love. There used to be a spark, but it’s gone. “We just fell out of love – it happens” is the mantra of this culturally-accepted narrative in which marriage supposedly kills romance.
This is backwards. It isn’t marriage that is killing romance; it is romance that is killing marriage. No other society in the history of the world has so inflated the importance of romance for the sake of life fulfillment like we have. Having an explosive, chill-creating, heart-fluttering romance is now a civil right…no, it’s more than that – it’s a human right! We need it like we need air to breathe. (I believe it was The Hollies who told us that “all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you;” and wasn’t it LeAnn Rimes who wondered “how can I breathe without you?”)
Romance, in and of itself, is a good thing given by God to create bonds. However, like all things God has created, we turn it into an idol. We are so intoxicated by romance that our joy and worth are based upon whether we currently have a thriving romance. When we don’t, life doesn’t feel worth living. What was meant to be a tool for us has become a toxin. Toxins kill, and this one kills marriage in particular.
Here’s how the homicide takes place:
Step 1: Romance idolatry creates inflated expectations that one’s spouse could never live up to.
Step 2: Romance idolatry creates dissatisfaction in the marriage because those expectations were not met.
Step 3: Romance idolatry creates the idea that the spark of romance is available outside of the marriage (affair or divorce).
What’s the answer? We have to view marriage according to God’s design. Marriage isn’t built upon emotional or romantic intensity. It is built upon intimacy (“two become one flesh”) – the sharing of life together. Intensity is not a bad thing, but it should be the result of intimacy not the cause. Intensity is the joy of being known and knowing someone deeply (intimacy) and graciously. It is the joy of true intimacy in which life is shared with your spouse uniquely because he or she is set apart from the other 7 billion people in the world.
When intimacy is the cause of intensity, then love grows because time affords more shared experiences to value. When intensity if the cause for intimacy, then it will dwindle because it will value the relationship on fickle emotions.
On the commute to my office this morning, I was listening to ESPN radio, as I often do. Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) is filling in for Colin Cowherd today and discussing the activity of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that has filed a complaint and called for the firing of Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Football Coach, over allegations that he has forced his religion upon players. Coach Swinney has apparently distributed Bibles, encouraged prayer and devotion exercises, and even baptized a player. The FFRF claims that his actions are a violation of Church and State given that Clemson is a public institution.
So go ahead and do it. Tell him that he cannot involve his students with certain religious activities and conversations. That’s fine. As an evangelical pastor and a follower of Jesus I can be fine with that IF YOU SHOW SOME CONSISTENCY BY CALLING OFF ATHEIST PROFESSORS WHO PREY ON CHRISTIAN STUDENTS. Jorge Sedano’s “take” is that you can’t push religion on these “kids” as a football coach who is the “gateway to your future.” Well, Sedano, what do you think is happening every day to Christian students who enter the class of an atheist professor? Atheism is a take on religion, isn’t it? It makes a claim about God and a philosophical viewpoint of the world. Are professors not also gatekeepers to a student’s future? Do they not also have power over their students? As a pastor, I have seen scores of students launched out of our church to attend a university only to be inundated with atheistic or anti-religious beliefs by professors. They distribute atheistic material to these students (just like Coach Swinney distributes Bibles) and they make a joke out of people of faith. What a DOUBLE STANDARD!
Some will say that college is a place to explore worldviews and to be challenged. It’s a place for a free flow of ideas, therefore the atheist professor is covered by academic freedom. Then we must say the that the same is true for Coach Swinney. You can’t have it both ways. You can either tell Coach Swinney and others like him that they cannot use their position to influence people toward faith, and then do the same with atheism, or both must be free to express their views. I’m not asking for Christianity to be given the freedom to violate anyone’s conscience. I am, however, asking for consistency.
A study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reveals that selfies are responsible for a rise in plastic surgery. If you don’t know, a selfie is a picture taken of one’s self using a phone. Apparently, selfies have resulted in leading many people to criticize their appearance to a greater extent, which has led to more plastic surgery.
How do you see yourself? I’m not talking about your physical appearance alone. I’m talking about how you see the entirety of your life – your attitudes, priorities, relationships, behaviors, and soul. This is an important determiner for each of us concerning how we live our lives. For Christians, it is especially important because the Bible has much to say on the topic. Here are a few thoughts about self knowledge.
(1) We all have blind spots (Psalm 139:6; Matt. 5:3-7; James 1:23-24). There are things you don’t see or know about yourself. Physically, you have never seen your own face directly with your eyes because the placement of your eyes won’t let you. You and I are limited to know ourselves just as easily spiritually and emotionally.
(2) Other people can harm our view of ourselves (James 3:1-12). Toxic and ugly words flung by injured people can infiltrate our minds and blur the foundational worth we have of being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).
(3) Other people can help us come to see the truths that escape our own sight. A person who loves you and can speak the truth (Eph. 4:15) can help you come to know your self better. Accountability and soul-reflection are universally needed. Blind spots hurt us. They keep us in destructive patterns. But exposing the truth (Eph. 5:13), as difficult as that can be, sets us free.
(4) The Christian gains self-knowledge in Christ (find the phrase “in Christ” throughout the NT). Christ reveals three things about us. First, Christ reveals the truth of our sin by exposing it on the cross. Destructive blind spots are revealed and our denial is challenged. Second, Christ reveals our worth to God through His gracious love that cannot be stopped by our sin. Third, Christ reveals wisdom about the best way to live, in that He shows us the goodness of a selfless life. The example of Jesus is the wisdom of God right before our eyes.