Friday, December 9, 2016

The Election is Over: Now What?

I meant to post this earlier, but c'est la vie. Here are some thoughts from Dr. Russell Moore on the recent election. 
The 2016 presidential election is now over, and, in what very few could ever have imagined, Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. No matter what our differences politically or religiously, surely we can all agree that this campaign has been demoralizing and even traumatizing for most of the country. So what should evangelical Christians do now?
The first thing, of course, is to pray for our soon-to-be President Trump. The Bible commands us to pray for “all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Moreover, the Scripture tells us to give “honor to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7). Many of us have deep differences with our new president, and would have no matter which candidate had been elected, but we must pray that he will succeed in leading our country with wisdom and justice.
The sort of conservatism that many of us had hoped for—a multiethnic, constitutionally-anchored, forward-looking conservatism—has been replaced in the Republican Party by something else. On the one hand, there’s a European-style ethno-nationalist populism, opposed by an increasingly leftward progressive movement within the Democratic Party.
In both of these movements, moral concerns—certainly personal character and family stability questions—are marginalized. We now have a politics of sexual revolution across the board. This means that conservative evangelicals are politically homeless—whether they know it or not.
That is not the worst situation we could be in. Political power—or the illusion of it—has not always been good for us. Such influence has led us to conform our minds to that of the world about what matters, and who matters, in the long-run of history. We should, as missionary Jim Elliot put it a generation ago, own our “strangerhood.”
What can we do now? We can, first of all, maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture. We can be the people who tell the truth, whether it helps or hurts our so-called “allies” or our so-called “enemies.”
Moreover, no matter what the racial and ethnic divisions in America, we can be churches that demonstrate and embody the reconciliation of the kingdom of God. After all, we are not just part of a coalition but part of a Body—a Body that is white and black and Latino and Asian, male and female, rich and poor. We are part of a Body joined to a Head who is an Aramaic-speaking Middle-easterner. What affects black and Hispanic and Asian Christians ought to affect white Christians. And the sorts of poverty and social unraveling among the white working class ought to affect black and Hispanic and Asian Christians. We belong to each other because we belong to Christ.
The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election—as we have seen in every election in recent years—that this election is our “last chance.” And we can hear it in those who assume that the sort of global upending we see happening in the world—in Europe, in the Middle East, and now in the United States—mean a cataclysm before which we should panic.
Such talk is not worthy of a church that is already triumphant in heaven, and is marching on earth toward the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ. Will we face difficult days ahead? Yes. The religious liberty concerns will continue. The cultural decline we have warned against is now part of every ideological coalition in the country. But the question we must ask is who “we” are.
We are not, first, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives. We are not even, first of all, the United States of America. We are the church of the resurrected and triumphant Lord Jesus Christ. We have survived everything from the rage of Nero to that of Middle Eastern terrorist cells. We have, in fact, often done best when we are, what one historian calls, the “patient ferment” of a church alive with the gospel.
The church must be, as Martin Luther King Jr. taught us—the conscience of the state. But we do that from a place of gospel power, not a place of cowering fear. That means that we—all of us—should see this election as important for our country, but not ultimate for our cosmos.
We should be ready to pray and preach, to promote the common good and to resist injustice. We will pledge allegiance to the flag, but we will pledge a higher allegiance to the cross. We can pray and honor our leaders, work with them when we can, while preparing to oppose them when needed. We do not need the influence that comes from being a political bloc. We have more than influence; we have power—the power that comes through the weakness of the crucified.
Our rallying cry is not “Hail to the Chief” but “Jesus is Lord.” Perhaps this electoral shakeup means that President Trump will lead America to be great again. I hope so. But regardless, whatever happens to America, we must seek the Kingdom first again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Time For A Belief Check Up

Are you believing any of these?  7 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe by Shane Pruitt at Relevant
We don’t often stop to consider the magnitude of what the Bible represents. It is literally God revealing Himself and communicating Himself to mankind in written word.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that the Bible was inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit of God using human instruments. And many Christians believe that—in its original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic—it is without error and fault.

However, there are many things that Jesus-following, Church-going, Bible-believing Christians believe that are completely unbiblical. How does this happen? Often, we’ll hear someone quote a statement that sounds nice to us, and we’ll begin repeating it as though it’s biblical truth without ever researching it in Scripture.

Several of these unbiblical statements have gained enough traction that many people believe they’re actually Bible verses. Not only are the statements unbiblical; some of them teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

Here are some popular unbiblical statements that Bible-loving Christians tend to believe:
1. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
This statement is actually anti-Gospel. Obviously God gave us gifts and talents that we’re supposed to use, but self-reliance and self-righteousness, or the attitude of trying harder and doing better actually gets in the way of the work of God.

In reality, Jesus saves those who die to themselves: “Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16:24).
2. God Wants Me to Be Happy

It’s a common belief that God exists to be our “personal genie” waiting to give us our every wish. It’s amazing how we will justify our sinful actions by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.”

Happiness is tied to feelings and emotions that are often based on circumstances, and those change all the time. God wants us to be obedient to Him, trust Him and know that everything He does is for our good, even if it doesn’t make us feel “happy” in that moment.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
3. We’re All God’s Children

Although God has created everyone, not everyone relationally belongs to Him. Only those who have repented of sin, placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and possess the Holy Spirit of God inside of them can claim Him as their Father:

“But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16).

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ ... If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine in both verses).
4. Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

The people around you may appreciate you staying clean, but this is not Scripture. Parents may use this to motivate their kids to clean their rooms. However, I’d suggest using an actual biblical statement: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). (I can’t guarantee that will make your children want to clean up either, though).
5. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Actually, all of life is more than we can handle. The point of living in a fallen world is not for us to try really hard to carry our heavy burden, but rather realize we can’t do it alone and surrender to God instead. That’s what faith is all about.

Everything is more than I can handle, but not more than Jesus can handle: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

6. Bad Things Happen to Good People

The sentiment of this makes sense, but if we follow it all the way through, the idea of a good person is very subjective. Often, we place ourselves in the judgment seat of what is good and bad, or who is good and bad.

The most popular way to make that judgment is by comparison. For example, Bob is a good guy, because he is not as bad as Sam. However, according to the Bible we’re all on equal ground because none of us is inherently good: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:10).
7. When You Die, God Gains Another Angel
Plain and simple. Humans are humans, and angels are angels. This remains so even in eternity. In fact, angels are intrigued by the interaction between God and His “image-bearing” humans: “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

The fact that many Christians believe these unbiblical statements shows our unfortunate overall biblical illiteracy. Instead of swallowing popular statements hook-line-and-sinker, may we be like the Bereans in the Book of Acts. When they heard Paul preach, they wanted to research the Scriptures themselves to authenticate what he was saying: “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

O Come Divine Messiah

Abbé Simon J. Pellegrin (1663-1745) 

O come, divine Messiah! 
The world in silence waits the day 
When hope shall sing its triumph, 
And sadness flee away. 

Dear Savior haste; 
Come, come to earth, 
Dispel the night and show your face, A
nd bid us hail the dawn of grace. 

O come, divine Messiah! 
The world in silence waits the day 
When hope shall sing its triumph, 
And sadness flee away. 

O Christ, whom nations sigh for, 
Whom priest and prophet long foretold, 
Come break the captive fetters; 
Redeem the long-lost fold. 

O come, divine Messiah! 
The world in silence waits the day 
When hope shall sing its triumph, 
And sadness flee away.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Awake My Soul

I will be posting some hymns and poems from the Advent devotional I'm reading this year entitled A Guide for Advent: The Arrival of King Jesus.  This is the first one.

Awake My Soul, Awake My Tongue 
Anne Steele (1717-1778)

Awake my soul, awake my tongue, 
My God demands the grateful song; 
Let all my inmost pow'rs record 
The wond'rous mercy of the Lord. 

Divinely free, his mercy flows, 
Forgives my crimes, allays my woes, 
And bids approaching death remove, 
And crowns me with indulgent love. 

In him the poor opprest shall find 
A friend almighty, just and kind; 
His glorious acts, his wond'rous ways, 
By Moses taught, proclaim his praise. 

While all his works his praise proclaim, 
And men and angels bless his name; 
O Let my heart, my life, my tongue, 
Attend and join the blissful song.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Not To Say...

Three Things Grieving People Don't Want to Hear
I want to tell you three things that grieving people wish no one would ever say to them again.
One of them is, "I know exactly how you feel." We tend to say that to someone when we’ve had a grief experience of our own, some kind of loss. We’ve had a taste of it, and there are aspects of what they’re going through that we might be familiar with. But when we say, "I know exactly how you feel," it’s like we’re elevating ourselves to their level. It’s like we’re trying to steal the spotlight from them. But we don’t know exactly how they feel. We know how we felt, and we know what our experience was like when we lost someone, but we don’t know what their experience is like. They are a unique person—their loss was unique.
A second thing they never want to hear is, "You’ll be fine." We say that because they seem so devastated and we want to assure them that the day is going to come when the sun is going to come out again and it won’t hurt quite as much as it does today. But, once again, saying "You’ll be fine" makes it sound as if this loss that they have experienced is just another bump along the way of life—that it’s really not all that significant, that it shouldn’t trouble them too much. What it really does is diminish the worth of the person who died. It says that the person who died is not really worthy of being all that troubled about. So don’t say, "You’ll be fine."
The third one is the biggest. Any sentence that begins with, "Well, at least . . ." Whatever you’re going to put after that—just forget it. Things like, "Well, at least you can have more children," "Well, at least you can get married again," "Well, at least they didn’t have to suffer," "Well, at least . . ." The reason we’re saying these things is that we’re trying to help them have perspective. We’re wanting them to look on the bright side. What we’re saying might actually be a good perspective, and it might be true, but the question is: is it helpful in this moment?
Maybe the grieving person says, "Well, at least . . ." If they do that, you can agree. But don’t be the first one to say it. Don’t, in your desire to give them perspective about their loss, actually diminish their loss in the process.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Grieving the Holy Spirit By Politics

Looking back on the 2016 election,  I've been thinking on the message of this article - How We Grieved the Holy Spirit in This Election by J. Lee Grady. Note that this was written beforee Election Day.
We have just endured the most bitter and divisive presidential contest in a lifetime. The whole nation is shell-shocked. Our ears are ringing and our heads are pounding after being bombarded for more than a year and a half with noisy rhetoric.
Imagine if an alien spaceship tried to decipher the jumbled message that has been transmitted from the United States for the past 19 months. "Trump is a racist! Hillary is a nasty woman! Trump gropes women! Send Hillary to prison! The election is rigged! Remember Benghazi! Trump hates Megyn Kelly! Megyn Kelly hates Newt Gingrich! Blah blah blah blah blah!"
I have loathed every minute of it. I'm looking for a T-shirt that says: "Thank God it's over."
My struggle wasn't caused by the bickering about Obamacare, Hillary's email server, Donald Trump's insults or Bernie Sander's liberal lectures. I don't mind the arguments and put-downs on the news, because I can turn off the television when I want to. And I believe there is a place for legitimate political debate. What grieved me most was seeing the hatefulness Christians threw at each other during this election cycle.
I've heard Christians swear at each other, verbally assault each other, and dissect each other in self-righteous Facebook posts. I've watched one Christian demonize another Christian simply because they have different views on a public policy issue. And I've seen how the racial divisions in the church grew deeper when a pastor decided to politicize a sermon or tell people they had to vote a certain way to please God.
About half of our population will be celebrating the winner of this election next Tuesday, while the other half will be licking their wounds. I don't believe the Holy Spirit will be taking sides. I believe He is grieved by the way the church behaved.
What exactly does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? The clue is found in Ephesians 4:30, which says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Then the apostle Paul goes on to explain how to avoid grieving the Spirit.
He writes: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you" (v. 31-32).
The point here is that the Holy Spirit is quenched when we mistreat each other. Our relationship with God is not just about how we act individually. Christianity is not a Lone Ranger religion. If we don't treat each other with love and respect, the Spirit is not happy. He withdraws His blessing and waits for us to repent. He calls us to community.
It's interesting that one of the behaviors mentioned in this verse is "clamor." This is the Greek word kraugē, which means "to shout or cry loud or insistently." It refers to the volume level of an argument. Yes, you can grieve the Holy Spirit with your tone of voice.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But when our disagreements become shouting matches, and our tone becomes harsh or vindictive, the Holy Spirit tunes out. He does not like it when we shout, scream, rant and spew venom at each other.
Yet many Christians today defend this behavior. We have been trained well by the sharp-witted commentators on Fox News and CNN. We have the idea that standing for truth requires us to blast our opponents out of the water. We wield our verbal swords and skewer our enemies like Roman gladiators in the coliseum. And the crowds cheer when we slay our political opponents with snappy one-liners. Touché!
God, forgive us. We have called what is evil good. We thought we were exhibiting moral courage when we brashly attacked a brother who had a different opinion about immigrants or health care policy. We thought God was pleased when we shouted down the woman who disagreed with us about transgender bathrooms. We thought God was on our side when we angrily quoted the Bible and waved our fists in the air.
We didn't have a clue that the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from us. He was grieved. We didn't realize that just because a person is right about something does not mean they have God's blessing. Moses was a great man of God, but when he struck the rock in anger he forfeited his chance to enter the Promised Land.
If you have allowed anger to take control of your life during this crazy political season, pull away from the ruckus and let the Holy Spirit adjust your attitude. Go on a fast from ranting and raving. Stop being outraged and encourage somebody. Forgive those who disagree with you. Love those who voted differently from you. Set politics aside and act like a Christian.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Strength in Lamentation

A faith that does not know how to lament and still believe may turn out to be no faith at all. True faith discovers that Lament  Helps Us to Hold On To Him (By Vaneetha Rendell Risner)
When pain almost strangles us, and darkness is our closest friend, what should we do?
For years, I thought the best response was cheerful acceptance. Since God uses everything for our good and his glory, I felt the most God-honoring attitude was to appear joyful all the time. Even when I was confused and angry. Even when my heart was breaking. And especially when I was around people who didn’t know Christ.
But I have since learned the beauty of lament in my suffering. Lament highlights the gospel more than stoicism ever could. Hearing our authentic, God-honoring lament can draw others to God in unexpected ways. I first noticed the power of lament in the book of Ruth.
Naomi’s Trust in God
I had long seen Ruth as the undisputed hero of the book that bears her name, and Naomi as the grumbling character with weak faith and a negative attitude. But having walked myself in similar shoes now for a fraction of her journey, I have a new respect for the depth of Naomi’s trust in God. Ruth was an eyewitness to Naomi’s faith. She saw her faith hold fast, even in horrific circumstances. And behind Naomi’s faith, she saw the God who heard Naomi’s lament and didn’t condemn her for it, even as Naomi spoke frankly about her disappointment with God.
Lamenting to a god would have been foreign to Ruth. Ruth’s first god, the god of Moab, was Chemosh. No one would have dared lament or complain to him. Pagan gods were to be appeased; there was no personal relationship with any of them, especially not with Chemosh, who demanded child sacrifices.
But Ruth sees a completely different God as she watches Naomi. Naomi trusts God enough to tell him how she feels. Though she says, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13), Naomi doesn’t walk away from God in anger. She stays close to him and continues to use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, asking him to bless her daughters-in-law. Naomi doesn’t stop praying; she believes God hears her prayers.
Naomi’s trust is further evidenced by her determination to travel to Bethlehem alone. If Naomi felt that God had truly abandoned her, she never would have begun that journey. She would have stayed in bed, pulled the covers over her head, and died in Moab, bitter and angry at God. But she doesn’t do that. She acts in faith, trusting that God will provide for her.
Naomi’s trust is extraordinary given the tragedies she has endured. She and her husband had left Israel for Moab with their two sons in search of food. While they were there, her sons and husband died, and she was left alone. A widow. A grieving mother. A foreigner. With no means to support herself.
I understand why she felt that the Lord’s hand had gone out against her. In my own pain, I have cried out to God, “Why do you hate me?” I have retraced my life, wondering why God had turned against me.
Naomi’s Honesty with God
But to my regret, I’ve always been very private about my pain. I have hesitated to voice my anger and fears, concerned about what others might think. Lament can be messy, and I want my life to look neat. And I foolishly think my bleached prayers somehow make God look better.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Cliff's Notes Bible

The "Cliff's notes" version of the entire Bible:

God: "All right, you two, don't do the one thing. Other than that, have fun."
Adam & Eve: "Okay."
Satan: "You ssssssshould do the thing."
Adam & Eve: "Okay."
God: "What happened!?"
Adam & Eve: "We did the thing."
God: "Guys..."

God: "You are my people, and you should not do the things."
People: "We won't do the things."
God: "Good."
People: "We did the things."
God: "Guys..."

Jesus: "I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don't do the things anymore."
Healed people:" Okay! Thank you!"
Other people: "We've never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking."
Jesus: "I have never done the things."
Other people: "We're going to put you on trial for doing the things."
Pilate: "Did you do the things?"
Jesus: No.
Pilate: "He didn't do the things."
Other people: "Kill him anyway."
Pilate: "Okay."
Jesus: "Guys..."

People: "We did the things."
Paul: "Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things."
People: "Okay."

People: "We did the things again."
Paul: "Guys..."

John: "When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime....STOP DOING THE THINGS!!!"


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father Prompts

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

    - J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Living With Integrity

“There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy, To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity.”

    - Erik Thoennes, quoted in Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?

BTW - This is a very good article which I highly recommend.