I just finished listening to the audible version of Timothy Keller’s latest book titled The Prodigal Prophet. I’m actually most of the way through listening to it again.
It’s that good.
And that convicting.
As when I read Radical by David Platt, I started guarded. I follow Keller on Twitter and, although I know him to be a fair-minded person, some of his tweets seemed… biased. While I can understand biased tweets from most, Keller always struck me as above-the-fray.
We need more above-the-fray in the church today. Amen?
I suspected my evaluation of Keller’s tweets could be due to my minuscule Twitter participation these days. After listening to The Prodigal Prophet – guards up and everything – I had little to be concerned about.
Keller remains above-the-fray in my humble opinion. His insight and message spring from Christ and Him crucified, as ever. Is his message convicting? It is. His message is also clarifying and goes to the heart of our highly-politicized US culture in 2018.
“Who is my neighbor?” Keller repeatedly asks, and then answers from the book of Jonah.
I love that he acknowledges the fish in the room (or the story, or the ocean) early on and then moves on, rightly labeling it a distraction. there’s so much more to the story. More – and important – lessons to unpack and apply.
I recommend The Prodigal Prophet to all Christians and pre-Christians.
I’m observing an unhealthy pattern of behavior in the church on social media. It unfolds in this manner (see if this sounds familiar):
President Trump says something offensive.
Christians become incensed.
Christians share their incensed-ness on social media.
Incensed Christians then accuse everyone who doesn’t share their incensed-ness of racism, hatred, agreeing with every wrong thing President Trump has ever said or done, not being a good person, and generally not being a (good) Christian.
Church? We’re cool right up until step 4, where we become very uncool. And by “uncool,” I mean we sin.
That’s a great question. Check out Christ’s words found in Matthew 5:22:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus delivered these statements as part of what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. You can tell Jesus is serious because He says, “…will be liable to the hell of fire” right there at the end.
“Shouldn’t I correct my brother/sister?”
If they need correcting, and if you are mature-enough in the faith to deliver correcting, absolutely. But you should realize there are even thoughtssuggestionsrules commands about correcting your brother / sister, as well. I share some in this post titled Don’t Read This Post.
Let’s also keep James 3:1 in mind:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
That’s one reason I admonish all Christians (and remind myself) to Tread With Care.
When we level such an accusation at anyone, it’s akin to throwing a tantrum – stomping feet and waving fists included. We’ve abandoned discourse of any kind at this point, much less civil discourse. We want our way and we want it now (whine whine whine stomp stomp stomp wave wave wave)!
Does that sound child-ish (aka immature) to you? It should because it is.
And it’s a sin.
“What About What My Brother / Sister Believes, Then?”
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul in Romans 14:4
Bonus: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” ibid, Romans 14:22
If you believe it’s your job to correct your wayward brothers and sisters, you may be correct. One symptom of being correct will be your fruit in correcting your brother / sister. Hint: Castigating your brothers and sisters publicly – on social media, for instance – is a deal-breaker.
I learned some things in 2017; some things about God, myself, and others. Some of what I learned was awesome and awe-inspiring. Some of what I learned broke my heart and broke me in ways I didn’t know I could be broken.
I often respond to posts on social media with, “Praying.” I never post that I am praying without, in fact, praying. I also don’t post on social media every time I pray about something. Does prayer make me holier than thou? Nope. Am I informing God of something He doesn’t know when I pray? Not according to God’s Word (He knows what I ask before I ask it).
Then why all the prayer?
That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
I depend on God. For everything. That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
Here are some prayers for 2018:
Hear our prayers.
Thank You for Your many blessings.
Let there be peace on earth.
Reveal Yourself to those who do not yet know You.
Draw those who knew you, call their hearts to return to You.
Grant our leaders wisdom.
Heal Your church.
Lead us to unity.
Fill us with Your Spirit.
Let all that we say and do bring You glory.
Strengthen and encourage and embolden our teachers and shepherds.
Convict us of our sin, help our unbelief, grant us the courage to repent of our sins, renew a right spirit within us, and let us be salt and light to our cultures.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul penned what we now refer to as Romans 14 to a church thriving in a culture that hated difference and tolerated everything except intolerance. Roman culture wasn’t against Christianity, it was instead very much for itself – so much so as to not accept nor condone deviation from things considered the “norm.”
The Holy Spirit begins this passage admonishing those strong in the faith. How do we know? Because the Holy Spirit tells some to “accept the one whose faith is weak.” the English Standard Version renders this phrase,
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him…” – Romans 14:1a
The Holy Spirit is speaking about those whose faith is weak, He must be addressing those whose faith is not weak.
Note the Holy Spirit does not describe those with weak faith as “new to the Way” or some such, there’s no indication that weak equals new when it comes to faith. Tenure isn’t a thing in Christianity. I’ve had conversations with people who claimed to be “in the Way” for some number of decades… I’ve secretly wished some of them would get “out of the way,” but that’s another post…
The Holy Spirit continues, “without quarreling over disputable matters” (NIV) and “but not to quarrel over opinions.” (ESV). The next part of Romans 14 gives two examples of opinions and disputable matters: eating meat and celebrating holidays.
I first encountered Romans 14 while attending a non-denominational charismatic church. There was an emphasis on “stuff.” Some of the stuff was spiritual gifts, some was strong faith indicated by discipline in spiritual matters. When I read this passage, my first reaction was, “What?” Verse 2 undid me:
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. – Romans 14:2
That was completely backwards. The strong would exercise such discipline and forego eating meat – especially for the reason they abstained (some meat was from animals sacrificed to false gods). My reaction, “Come on, those are the strong people!”
The chapter closes with:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23
Faith. Faith is the key. Before ending the chapter, the Holy Spirit shares:
The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:6
So, wait: It’s possible to do two different – opposite, actually – things in practice and both activities and beliefs are acceptable?
According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”
Is it then possible for we Christians, in our culture today, to believe opposite things? Might we practice support for progressive politics in Jesus’ Name? Might we practice support for conservative politics in Jesus’ Name?
According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”
How Then Ought We To Live?
The Holy Spirit commands us thus:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. – Romans 14:14
What? Nothing is unclean in itself? The Holy Spirit here speaks to conscience. We know this because the strong in the faith are instructed in the very next verse:
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. – Romans 14:15
Please Don’t Miss This:
We Christians may hold mutually exclusive and completely opposing opinions when it comes to matters of culture – including politics – even if those beliefs intersect how we practice faith. This does not mean we (or they) are not Christians. It means our and their conscience leads us and them to differing opinions on disputable matters.
We are to walk in love.
And Please Hear This:
Our command – from the Holy Spirit – is found in Romans 14:20:
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.
Fast-forwarding to today: “Do not, for the sake of culture or politics, destroy the work of God.” This is why I wrote “Cut it out” to the church in this post on Religion and Politics.
Please note this applies equally to both cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. If, in your opinion, the “other side” is “going to Hell,” I beseech you to examine your beliefs in light of the Holy Spirit’s commands recorded in Romans 14.
When I was younger I was told to never discuss religion and politics in polite company. I understand and agree with that sentiment. I fear some of my brothers and sisters have departed the realm of polite company.
This post is addressed to the church. If you’re not a Christian I am not addressing you. In this post I would like to help my brothers and sisters in Christ understand the impact of their words, spoken and written. If you agree with the tweet pictured above I would like for you to imagine reading the following or hearing it in a sermon:
“Have you repented of voting for Hillary Clinton? She’s a sinner! She advocates expanding abortion on demand which destroys human flourishing by killing the unborn and emotionally devastating the mother of the unborn. Clinton was under an active investigation days before the election – she is morally corrupt. So I ask again: Have you repented for your vote for such a person as this?”
“Why Would You Write Such a Thing, Andy?”
At the time of this writing, I’ve been hearing this message for almost 11 months. The target of the discussion hasn’t been Hillary Clinton; it’s been President Trump.
What’s Right With This Sentiment?
President Donald J. Trump is a sinner. As am I. As are you. Romans 3:23 tells us plainly:
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…
Hillary Clinton is a sinner. Former President Obama is a sinner.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Sin leads to death. We all sin, we do so when we are led by our desires instead of surrendering to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Him (Luke 9:23). When we sin we have an Advocate with the Father – none other than Jesus Christ, our Lord.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
What’s Wrong With This Sentiment?
We, the bride of Christ, the church, are commanded to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
What does “denying ourselves” look like when it comes to living during the presidential administration of a president with whom we disagree on almost every issue? Does denying ourselves mean we have to agree with a president we do not prefer? Does denying ourselves mean we have to support policies we find abhorrent? Does denying ourselves mean we need to be “polite company” and be silent about dissent?
I believe not.
Should we judge one president (or former presidential candidate) as “righteous” and another as “unrighteous?” Do we have that authority? Do we have that right? I ask as a Christian and an American citizen – what say you, church?
Should We Condemn Those We Don’t Like?
How then ought we to live when an administration with which we disagree is in office? Should we agree with the world? Should we judge our brothers and sisters who voted for President Trump, tell them they should repent, and ask, “What about them?”
For eight years (2009-2016) you preached tolerance and respect for the office of President of the United States. What has changed? Has God changed? Has God’s Word changed? Or have you changed? Is God’s Word different because you are offended?
We have invented a new class of sins: Trump-sins. When the Supreme Court discovered a right to homosexual marriage in the Constitution of the United States we preached that homosexuality was a sin but not a special sin. “We’re all sinners,” we said. “We all need Christ,” we called. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” we preached. But racism? That’s a special and intolerable sin. It’s a Trump-sin. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on “Love the racist, hate the racism”? I’m going to guess never.
Racism is a particularly heinous sin. I wrote about racism in a post titled Tread With Care, Church. The sin of racism is an ugly, hate-filled sin that has no place in the Body of Christ.
The sin of judging our brothers and sisters who voted for President Trump is an ugly, hate-filled sin that has no place in the Body of Christ.
Should we oppose racism? Yes, vehemently.
Should we oppose abortion on demand? Yes, vehemently.
Should we preach the truth of the Gospel to every creature? Yes!
Should we let our preferences – personal and political – dictate the Gospel we preach? Absolutely not.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Unity is not uniformity. In fact, the Holy Spirit goes to great lengths here to describe just how different each member is from other members. And yet we are told “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (emphasis added)
Brothers and sisters, we are not going to feel the same way about political candidates and issues. It’s just not going to happen. And our disagreement is by design: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (emphasis added)
How did this happen? Who lumped together all these people who disagree? “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (emphasis added)
What, Then, Does Unity Mean?
Clearly, unity doesn’t mean uniformity in beliefs, passions, gifts, and preferences: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (emphasis added) Let’s face it, the Holy Spirit beats this horse a lot. Why? We need to hear it.
Reconciliation needs to begin with us, church. We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters.
We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters who voted for the other candidate.
We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters who are members of a different race.
We need to reconcile ourselves first so that we remove the plank from our own eye. Everyone, on all sides, needs to repent – to uncover the light and be salty again. Then we can see clearly to remove splinters from the eyes of the world who are watching us. How important is loving one another? This is how we show the world we are His disciples:
James warns the young church in chapter 4: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” His characterization of such a relationship? “Adulterous!”
The phrase may seem to flow naturally after the former ones, but the Received text, from which our version was made, is wrong. It should be, ye adulteresses! as accusing those who have broken their marriage vow to God.
“What If I Agree With the World?”
It’s possible for a Christian to agree with worldly endeavors, at least on the surface. Efforts to alleviate poverty are a good example of overlap between Christian and secular goals. As Christians, we often speak of “human flourishing” and cite the words of our Lord in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
While we agree on the surface, motivations of the church and world are likely at odds just below the surface. The church is motivated to obey our Lord’s command to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. We love our neighbors. We seek to serve.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Paul’s words echo the words of James: “friendship,” “partnership,” “fellowship.”
Warning: When I Agree With the World
Church, I urge us to examine our own motives when we find ourselves in agreement with the world. Some questions to ask ourselves:
Are we loving the Lord with all our strength? (Mark 12:30)
Are we loving our neighbor? (Mark 12:31)
Are we loving our enemy? (Matthew 5:44)
Are we denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Christ? (Luke 9:23)
One ploy of the devil is to begin with God’s Word and then ask, “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1). When we listen to Satan we may find ourselves in idolatrous sin. Some questions to ask ourselves:
What is more important to me, this cause / movement or Christ?
Do I feel led to participate in this cause / movement andfollow Christ, or is my participation in this cause / movement simply me following Christ?
If I have to choose between this cause / movement and following Christ, do I want out of the church?
Satan has millennia of experience ensnaring humans. He is an expert at manipulation. He never approaches with his end goal, he often begins with God’s Word. Peter, who experienced this firsthand, describes him thus:
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Idolatry is an easy sin. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” Peter’s words, again. Remember:
God is just, but justice is not God.
God is love, but love is not God.
I write this in the wake of marches and counter-protests in Charlottesville that included violence along with tragic and needless injury and death.
It is to my shame that I admit I became aware of institutional racism in just the past few years. Institutional racism is real. Data about the treatment of black males in our society makes this case. More heartbreaking (for me, at least) is data included in the book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.
In the book, OKCupid Data Scientist Christian Rudder shares “hot or not” type experiments conducted on images of men and women. When rated by others, black men scored lower.
The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.
That’s not the heartbreaking part. The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.
I’m not a psychologist but I know how you feel about yourself affects how you behave and think and, ultimately, what you do. In my humble opinion, black men rating themselves lower than men of other races is a problem. It may even be the problem. At a minimum, it’s close to the heart of the matter, close to the root cause (if not the root cause).
“Who is this Helping?”
I’m tagging this post and promoting it on social media in the hope that these words help someone – some white person of faith struggling with squaring “bear one another’s burdens” with “the destruction of our heritage.” I’m also hoping to confess to my black brothers and sisters in Christ that slowly, too slowly (in my case), some white people and people who are mostly white and appear white (like half the residents of the US east coast I’m 1/8 Cherokee) – me and some like me – are beginning to understand.
I apologize for taking this long to understand. I want to help others understand, especially my white brothers and sisters who now believe as I once believed, that tip-of-the-iceberg heavily-reported incidents of racism can be excused and explained away with “just do what the officer says.”*
My Story: A Brief History
I began researching racial data after Michael Brown was shot and killed in August 2014. There was very little data to be found, which was troubling in itself. Crime statistics were available along with incarceration rates. The rates of incarceration struck me. When balanced for other factors, black men are jailed at a rate of three times their white counterparts.
That fact, combined with the statistics supplied from OKCupid by Christian Rudder, changed my thinking on the existence and severity of institutional racism in the US.
Church, Bear One Another’s Burdens
I want to specifically speak to Christians here. Mostly white Christians and Christians who appear white. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:26-28:
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. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)
The Holy Spirit inspired these words. The Holy Spirit’s point here? Race doesn’t matter in the church. Social and economic status doesn’t matter in the church. Genitalia doesn’t matter in the church. We who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. We are all one. In Christ.
How should we treat one another? The same Holy Spirit inspired Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
This sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? “Bear one another’s burdens.” How does that work? What does that look like in practice?
An historical issue with Bible interpretation – or misinterpretation – is taking God’s Word out of context. So let’s look at Galatians 6:2 in context:
Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3
The context here is sinning – being caught in any transgression. And then restoration with the help of others. Who are the others? The body of Christ; the church. What is “another’s burden” then? Is it their sin? Am I supposed to bear the sin of my brother or sister? If I didn’t sin, I think not. But what if I am guilty of the same sin? I think so. Especially if we have been delivered from said sin. Isn’t this why we suffered in the first place? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 states:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
We suffer – sometimes at our own hand. God delivers us, perhaps with the help of our brothers and sisters who are obeying Galatians 6:1 – the church – who restore us in a spirit of gentleness. Then we comfort others who are suffering in the same way. We are wounded healers.
Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.
“Bear one another’s burden’s” includes bearing with our brothers and sisters as they struggle with sin. This is hard. Bearing with our brothers and sisters while they sin requires a tolerance that only the Holy Spirit can supply. Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.
The test of tolerance is the intolerant. Tolerating a sin of intolerance is not possible without God’s help. We are commanded, though, to bear this burden. That’s why I am writing this post: to reach out to my (currently-) intolerant white brothers and sisters.
To My White Brothers and Sisters:
To my white brothers and sisters who think “they bring it on themselves,” I would say two things: There is data you must explain. The data says institutional racism exists and that – all other things being equal – black males are three times as likely to be incarcerated for the same crime. No one wants to be incarcerated; no one brings that on themselves, so that’s wrong-headed thinking. But let’s suppose for just a moment that you’re right about our black brothers and sisters bringing all this on themselves; aren’t we commanded in God’s Word to bear their burden?
If you believe that our black brothers and sisters are suffering unjustly, we white Christians ought to speak up.
If you believe that our black brothers and sisters “brought this upon themselves,” we white Christians ought to bear their burdens and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.**
There’s no “out” for us, white brothers and sisters.
Do you feel your heritage is being destroyed? Let’s say you’re right about that (for the record, I believe you are. [While this is a fine quote to take out of context, I implore you to read on first…]). What does God’s Word say about it?
Romans 14 speaks to people who believed eating meat was a sin because some meat sold in the market came from sacrifices to idols. Others thought eating meat – even meat sacrificed to idols – was acceptable because they gave thanks to God for the meal before eating it.
Did you catch the Holy Spirit’s conclusion on the matter? It’s all over the second half of the chapter:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:13
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:20-21
Please bear with me as I ask some pointed questions:
Are you judging our black brothers and sisters in Christ?
By clinging to our heritage, are we destroying the one for whom Christ died?
Is it good to not have statues that cause our black brothers and sisters to stumble?
What’s more important, our heritage or our testimony as Christians? It’s fair to ask, “Why can’t we have both?” We cannot. Here’s why:
The Holy Spirit does not say, “if your brothers and sisters are offended, re-educate them.” The Holy Spirit does not say, “If you brothers and sisters are offended, share with them the error of their ways.”
I don’t know how much more plain the Holy Spirit can make this: If our heritage offends our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must let it go. In Jesus’ Name, we must let it go. This is the commandment we are given: Let. It. Go.
Why does the Holy Spirit command such a thing? 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 points out there are arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “against the knowledge of God”:
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:5-6
How are we to respond to arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “raised against the knowledge of God,” church? They are to be destroyed. They are to be taken captive to obey Christ.
I urge every white brother and sister who feels hurt by losing our heritage to pray and to consider their consciences before Christ in this matter. I am not denying your pain, I promise. I am – humbly – suggesting to you a better way: obedience to God’s Word. God’s Word is clear: When faced with a choice between what we want – when what we want is a sin, surely; but even if what we want is not a sin – and offending a brother or sister, we are commanded to let what we want go.
“It’s Not Fair”
Brothers and sisters, I write this with much love, I promise: Fair left the building when Christ died for your sins and my sins on the cross. Consider Christ’s example, brothers and sisters:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:4-8
Have the mind of Christ. Please.
I have prayed over this matter of heritage and legacy and history and reached this conclusion: If statues that commemorate my heritage offend my black brothers and sisters, then they must go.
Tread with Care
And so I urge us all, church, to tread with care. There are warnings for me and for those who agree with me:
Let’s not ignore the Holy Spirit’s warning in Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Let’s not deceive ourselves.
Let’s not play the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 and thank God we are not like our brothers and sisters who struggle with the sin of racism.
Let’s instead follow the Holy Spirit’s command in Galatians 6:1 and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.
Let’s echo those who heard the message of the disciples on the day of Pentecost and re-ask their vital question, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
*To be fair, I tell my children “just do what the officer says.” But my children, who appear white and are mostly white, do not face the same level of hostility as black children.
**I do not believe black people are “bringing this upon themselves.” I share this advice in prayerful hope that white Christians who do believe this will begin communicating with their black brothers and sisters about racism – both overt racism and institutional racism – and that God will use this communication to change the hearts of white Christians who believe thus.
Post-post Note: I continue to examine my heart over the issue of race relations. I do not have all the answers; but I know The Answer. Like all idols, idols of privilege (“that’s the way it is”) and pride are insidious. Calvin said it well: “…man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols…”.
I’m concerned that too many churches in the US are merely weekly meetings of a local Jesus Club. “What’s the difference?” you ask? That is the purpose of this post.
What is Church?
At a Jesus club meeting, “church” is synonymous with the building where the club meets.
For the church, “church” is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). It is the gathering together of members of Christ’s Body in obedience to encourage one another to continue in love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The church is not a building, although some refer to the building in which the church meets as “the church.” The church is made up of its members (1 Peter 2:4-12). We are a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). When the church gathers, Jesus is praised. (Revelation 4:11).
A Jesus club meeting usually includes an inspirational message in which a messenger quotes from the Bible. The quote supports the inspirational theme of the message. The quote may or may not be shared in context, but it is usually shared in isolation (additional Bible passages are not cited).
When the church gathers the Gospel is preached; the Good News Jesus is proclaimed (Matthew 28:18-20). Since God’s Word contains the Good News, Bible passages are the message (2 Timothy 3:16-17) – expounded by applied etymology, exegesis, and hermeneutics. The gathered are taught from the Bible (2 Timothy 3:10-17) via expository preaching.
What is the Outcome?
Attendees usually leave a Jesus club meeting feeling good about themselves. They’ve heard a positive inspirational message with some scripture sprinkled in. They may have been entertained by a group of professional musicians and singers. It was an altogether good experience.
Some friends and brothers suffer from an allergy. They’re allergic to works. They’re Calvinists. Not Puritanical Calvinists because, well, those people “were so square, man.” (Apologies, I think I just confused hippie and hipster…)
I read your posts online, hipster brothers and sisters. I watch your videos and read your memes about short-term missions being “glorified vacations.” They’re cute. They’re lies, but they’re cute.
I read your 140-character-or-less sermonettes about how grace-trumps-works (with an apology for using a verb that reminds you of your hatred and/or shame for the current President of the United States [I’m writing this on Independence Day, after all]) and how works will not garner favor with God nor gain anyone entrance into Heaven. And I agree with you. Sort of. Mostly I fear sermonettes are only useful for attracting Christianettes, but I digress…
Let’s examine a passage of Scripture – a quote from Jesus Himself – that’s way longer than 140 characters and would definitely not be legible if printed in a social media meme:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is the English Standard Version rendering of Matthew 25:31-46. I consider this passage one of the scariest in Scripture for a number of reasons, but I will focus on but one reason today. And that reason is:
When I imagine this scary passage playing out at some future date, I imagine some people overjoyed and other people astonished and terrified. I try to imagine the lives these people lived on earth. I wonder if those who spent time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned (aside: do you think this is an exhaustive checklist? Is this THE literal list or is our Lord merely suggesting ways to serve the least of these among us?) were accused of trying to work their way into Heaven? I wonder if they were accused of misunderstanding God’s Grace? I wonder if they were, basically, judged.
I also wonder, are those who didn’t spend any time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned wearing t-shirts with Ephesians 2:8-9 printed on them in Instagram Gospel font with “not a result of works” in big emphasized characters?
All throughout the New Testament Christians are urged to do good works.
All throughout the New Testament Christians are commanded to not rely on good works for salvation, but rather to rely of God’s Grace.
Are people who do good works trying to work their way into Heaven, then? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works relying on God’s Grace? I’m sure some are. Are people who do good works responding to the gospel? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works seeking an excuse to do nothing? I’m sure some are.
How are we to sort out the good from the bad? We aren’t – unless we want to be judged. This is why Jesus – again breaking the 140-character limit – tells us in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Most aren’t equipped to judge for at least two reasons. First, we cannot see around our own faults clear-enough to judge the faults of others due to our own eye-logs. Second – unlike Jesus – we cannot see inside the hearts of others (another aside: Jesus cares way more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your shirt or where you vacation [glorified or not]) but must rely on an examination of the fruit of one’s life.
Jesus spent some time in Matthew 13 explaining that metaphorical weeds and metaphorical food-bearing crops are to metaphorically grow together until judgment, and that that judgment will be accomplished by those better qualified to judge. Go read the chapter. It’s a beaut (even though it’s too long to be printed legibly in a social media meme…).
On the Other Hand…
Let’s say you’re nailing it. You’re publicly calling out losers who are clearly and obviously doing-it-wrong. What fruit are you seeing from this work (yep, social media posting is a work)? Are you watering? Are you discerning? Is that your excusereason justification?
Returning to Jesus’ list in Matthew 25, where do you believe your activities fall – in the “doing good” or “not doing good” to the least of these category?
What if your brother or sister is truly sinning?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
This is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. It’s an important teaching about the Body of Christ, the church. It contains another list – a list for us when we observe a brother or a sister sinning. So, another list of questions to ask ourselves:
Is restoration my priority?
Am I being gentle?
Am I watching myself?
Am I being tempted?
Am I bearing my brother’s/sister’s burden?
Do I think I am something?
Do I think I am nothing?
Am I deceiving myself?
Have I tested my own work(s)?
Am I boasting in myself?
Am I boasting in my neighbor?
Am I bearing my own load?
Believe it or not, I asked myself these questions as I proofread this intentionally-provocative blog post. I also asked myself “Who is this helping?” If you read this far, the hope in my heart is that you will hesitate before posting things that refer to works of all kinds as evil; that you will consider your potentially (probably) imperfect view into the hearts of those who may read what you post; that you will not be one who speaks evil of good.
In 2011 I was participating in an online Bible study group with some friends. We studied the Bible, prayed for each other, shared struggles and inspirations, and recommended extra-Bible reading.
It was during one of these sessions that one friend recommended the book Radical by David Platt. I downloaded the book to my Kindle and… let it sit there. For over six months. Why? I was put off by the subtitle: “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”
Why did that put me off?
That turned out to be an excellent question to explore.
My faith was wrapped up in the American dream. The two were so coupled that, to me, they seemed one and the same. I was, as I now describe it, an “American Christian.”
Being an American Christian meant that I:
voted for one set of candidates, from one party
was a consumer of christian culture
was a fan of Jesus
I read the book very cautiously. I kept waiting to find the flaw in the logic, the exaggeration, the false positive correlation, the peg on which to hang my reservations and cling to my old rugged ‘Merican dream.
Instead, through much angst, conviction, and (finally) repentance, the Holy Spirit used brother Platt’s words to change my heart. It was perhaps the most powerful transformation since confessing Christ in February 1982.
Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’ve overcome all that now, that I have (finally) arrived. Rather, I want you hear my confession:
I became aware of my sin of idolatry. I was mixing Christian faith with faith in my nation and its government.
The movie The Usual Suspects opens with the line, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It’s an interesting quote that’s applicable to my condition prior to conviction of my idolatry in this manner: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was simply unaware I’d coupled being a conservative American with Christianity.
But I had. It was a kind of blindness, denial, and lack of self-awareness.
In 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (emphasis mine).
I’m writing this confession because some of you are suffering as I was. I promise I’m not judging you, any more than a physician who tells you that you have the flu is judging you. Like the physician, I want to help.
If you, like me, find yourself believing that your support of our nation is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully examine that belief. Perhaps read the book Radical. Especially if you are a conservative. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American conservatism to become an idol.
Also, if you are not a conservative and you believe that your resistance to the current administration is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully consider that belief. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American liberalism to become an idol.
This is a test. If you agreed with one of the preceding two paragraphs and disagreed with the other, that’s a strong indication you are suffering idolatry.
Many progressive brothers and sisters rightfully champion God’s attributes of justice and love. So do I. More now than ever. God is love and God commands us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (emphasis mine). Although God is love and God is just, love is not God and justice is not God. I humbly submit that it’s possible to misunderstand God’s love (I am Exhibit A) and justice (ditto). It’s possible to put these awesomely good and cool attributes of God ahead of God.
It’s happened before.
In Numbers 21 we have an account of Israel in the wilderness becoming impatient. They complained about Moses and his leadership, and God punished them by sending “fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” At God’s command, Moses made an image of a fiery serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. When people were bitten, they looked at the bronze serpent and lived.
Fast-forward 1,000 years to 2 Kings 18. Hezekiah, king of Israel, destroys the bronze serpent because “until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”
The point? God commanded Moses to make something that was perverted into an idol.
Was the bronze serpent evil? Nope.
Did the bronze serpent become an idol? Yep.
I struggle with idolatry daily. When I pray, “Lord, today help me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow You,” I’m asking Jesus to reveal idols in my life, help me put them away, and help me recognize Christ as King of my heart, mind, soul, life, money, work, and everything that I am. My experience in 2012 made it abundantly clear to me how blind I can be to idolatry, and to how insidious a sin idolatry is. Kyle Idelman’s book, Gods at War addresses idolatry. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more.
Something to consider: Idolatry might just be the root sin of every sin.