Regarding Jonah…

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.

Peace.

 

On Disputable Matters

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.”

Sound familiar?

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.

Applied

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!”

Wrong.

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.”

Fast Forward

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.

And…

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.

Echoing Christ’s splinter/plank command, the Holy Spirit states in verse 4:

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.

In Practice…

Some questions to consider:

  • Am I walking in love?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their vote?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their position regarding some policy or cause?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their support for – or opposition against – the current or former presidential administration?
  • Am I asking – publicly, even – how my brother or sister can be a Christian and vote for (or support) the candidate I oppose?
  • Am I destroying the work of God for culture?
  • Am I destroying the work of God for politics?
  • Am I denying myself, daily taking up my cross, and following Christ?
  • What’s more important: following Christ or being a friend of the world?

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.

Peace.

Religion and Politics

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:

<Offense>

“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?”

</Offense>

“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.

What is the end of sin? What does sin do for us?

Romans 6:23 tells us sin ends in death. James 1:14-15 tells us:

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.

“If anyone would come after me…” – 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?

I write these words because I wrote these other words: “I was a Jerk and I am Sorry.

Church, Stop.

Church, I’m calling you out. Humbly, seeking restoration and reconciliation, in the same spirit of Galatians 2:11-14, I’m asking you to cut it out. Repent. Be salt and light. Get back your saltiness. Remove this political-preference basket covering your light.

Stop agreeing with the world. Cease and desist calling your brothers and sisters “uneducated” and thereby committing the sin of showing partiality described in James 2:1-13.

Trump-Sins

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?

I see us behaving poorly, church (like I behaved poorly). I see us tearing ourselves apart.

And I weep.

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.

We should instead deny ourselves.

Unity?

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words to the church at Corinth:

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.

We need to live it.

We are to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, even.

Reconcile

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:

In Closing: Repent, Church

The word “repent” means to turn around and go the other way. Brothers and sisters – conservatives and progressives, Democrats and Republicans – I urge us all to repent, obey the Gospel, deny ourselves, love our enemies, love one another, reconcile ourselves, and thus communicate the message of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ to the world.

Peace.

We All Worship Something

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out we all worship something. I believe he was right about that: Everyone worships something, some thing, someone, or Someone.

If you do not worship God (or seek to), this post is not addressed to you. This post is addressed to Christians and those who claim to be Christians.

Church, Whom Do We Worship?

You may read that question and respond, “Andy, that’s a dumb question.” You may equate church membership with worship. It may be. There are at least four possibilities to consider:

  1. You could be an authentic member of a congregation that worships God.
  2. You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that worships God.
  3. You could be an authentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.
  4. You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.

One thing is certain: Walking into a church building doesn’t make you a Christian any more than walking into McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.

If you seek to worship God, find a congregation that worships God. It’s possible to worship God in isolation. If you are a Christian worshiping in isolation, your heart will yearn to enjoy corporate worship and fellowship. Here, now – not just in eternity.

Church, Whom Should We Worship?

Have you ever wished God would just say something? or do something? He’s the God of all the universe, after all. Why not prove it for everyone and all time? This was the complaint of some who watched Jesus die on the cross:

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” – Mark 15:29-30

God has spoken. He revealed His will to dozens of people over centuries of time in an amazingly consistent manner. His words are found in the Bible. Do you long to hear from God? Read His Word. “Does reading the Bible really work, Andy?” Yes. In fact, God’s Word states:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

We may diligently seek God in His Word. We should worship the God of the Bible.

Who Do You Worship?

If we don’t worship the God of the Bible, we worship some vision or version of God that we imagine. We may imagine an elderly grandfather who is kind and sits on the porch watching the universe unfold as it will. We may imagine a cruel, unfair, and dysfunctional father figure we experienced in our youth. These are extremes. They are also constructs of our own minds. They are examples of a God we make in our image or in the image of some father figure.

God’s Word speaks to this:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3

This is the first commandment God gave to Moses. When we imagine God and worship the creation of our imagination, we are committing the sin of idolatry. In The Church and Idolatry, Jared Wilson states, “All sin is idolatry…” I concur.

To be clear, it’s one thing to be mistaken. I’ve been mistaken and it’s likely I am mistaken now. How do I know the difference between being incorrect and being an idolater? Again, God’s Word:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

What happens when my belief is confronted with God’s Word? How I respond determines whether I am mistaken or practicing idolatry. If I humbly beg forgiveness and change my belief to align with God’s Word, I was mistaken. If I exalt my belief against the knowledge of God revealed in His Word, I am an idolater.

If an Idolater, Then What?

Idolatry is a sin. God’s Word informs us of Christ and His Remedy:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:6-10

Some questions to ask ourselves from this portion of God’s Word:

  • Do I claim to have fellowship with Christ while walking in darkness?
  • Do I walk in the light?
  • Do I have fellowship with other followers?
  • Do I believe and say I have no sin?
  • Do I confess my sins?

If you find you are committing the sin of idolatry, confess and ask God to forgive you. I did.

Conclusion

Many idolaters name their idol “God” and “Jesus.” That does not mean they refer to the God and Jesus of God’s Word. Calling your idol “Jesus” is not the same thing as worshiping Jesus, our Resurrected Savior and Lord.

Don’t confuse Christianity with the religion that goes by the same name.

Peace.

Friends with the World?

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!

Ellicott’s commentary renders the interpretation, “ye adulteresses!”

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.

The world has different motives hence the warning found in 2 Corinthians 6:14:

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 and follow 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?

Final Thoughts

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.

Peace.

Tread with Care, Church

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?

So…

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.

There’s More

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.

Who’s “right?” Who’s “wrong?” Paul gives some very interesting answers in Romans 14, please go read the chapter. I’ll wait.

Done? Cool, let’s continue.

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

And

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

And

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:

  1. Are you judging our black brothers and sisters in Christ?
  2. By clinging to our heritage, are we destroying the one for whom Christ died?
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?”

Peace.

*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…”.

Church or Jesus Club?

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).

For the church the New Testament is the authoritative guide to leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9), corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14:40 and 1 Corinthians 14:32-33), and administration (2 Corinthians 9:12 and Colossians 3:17) of the Body of Christ.

Where is The Bible?

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.

Members of the Body of Christ may leave a gathering encouraged (1 Thessalonians 5:11) but they may also leave under conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). Worship includes the singing of worship songs (Colossians 3:16), receiving a collection for the saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and remembering Christ until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

How Do You Tell the Difference?

Study God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). God is real and He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Pray (1 John 5:14-15 and Matthew 7:7-11). Ask God to lead you to a Body of Christ.

Persist (Galatians 6:9 and Luke 18:1-8). The verb tenses in Matthew 7:7-11 can be more accurately translated “ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking.”

Peace.

Separating Church and State: Confessions of an Idolater

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.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

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.

Mixing Faith with Life, Part 1

Mark 2:1-12 contains a story that is stunning. Jesus lived in Capernaum and he returned home. A crowd showed up and people who arrived later could not hear Jesus preaching. Four men showed up with a paralyzed friend. They couldn’t reach Jesus through the crowd, so they created a hole in the roof of Jesus’ house and lowered their friend.

Think about the scene for a minute.

What was that like for Jesus? He’s preaching – doing what God sent Him to do – and these guys show up and create a large hole in His roof! How would you or I respond? I think I’d be distracted by people tearing a hole in my roof while I’m trying to work. I’d probably holler at them, “Hey! What gives? Can’t you see I’m trying to get some work done here?”

What was this like for the people in Jesus’ house? They’d come to hear Jesus preach; to learn about God. And these idiots are trying to tear down His house!  How rude. I imagine some saying, “We showed up early enough to get a good seat, buddy. You don’t get to tear down the house because you can’t see or hear!”

Jesus had a different response. He didn’t see vandals, he saw faith.

Faith can be messy. Sometimes it’s loud and inconvenient. Faith bothers some people – even some people of faith! People complained, and they had some right and some reason to complain (we’ll cover that later).

Jesus? He had a plan. The hole in the roof? Part of the plan.

Faith is disruptive.

In an upcoming post, we’ll see Jesus Himself be disruptive. He disrupted my life, that much is certain. He wants to disrupt your life, too. I’m sometimes asked, “Why don’t you create separate social media accounts for posting your religious thoughts, Andy?” It’s because Jesus’ love motivates me to write and work and think and share. Someone reading this post will eventually be disrupted by Jesus, maybe that someone is you.

On Principles, Tolerance, and Offense

I moderate comments on my technical blog. I approve almost every comment submitted, even those that are unflattering (such as some of the comments in this thread).

Why? That’s a fair question. I personally believe in the two principles: freedom of expression and tolerance. I use the word “principle” deliberately. I believe much that is done in the name (or guise) of principle is in reality preference masquerading as principle. How can one tell the difference? Apply the thinking to all sides of an argument. Principles hold true when they work for and against one’s argument(s). Preferences apply unilaterally.

There’s nothing wrong with preferences. I have preferences; you have preferences. Neither of us need falsely elevate our preferences to the level of principle for our preferences to matter. The simple fact that one doesn’t like one thing or likes something else more or better – i.e. a preference – is credent.

…I choose to not take offense… because I am commanded, as a believer, to turn the other cheek.

Regarding tolerance and freedom of expression, I find these principles converge when someone engages in name-calling or labeling of any sort. Freedom of expression means nothing if it doesn’t apply to negative expression. We may disagree on where the line may and should be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable speech, or whether such a line even exists. I tolerate more than most, probably.

One reason for tolerance is I rarely take offense. I’ve learned taking offense is a decision on my part. And I own my decisions. I can decide to take offense or to not do so. Part of the reason I choose to not take offense is because I am commanded, as a believer, to turn the other cheek. Another part of the reason is because causing offense is one of the goals of the person posting such tripe. Why would I want to indulge them by being offended?

This book – Unoffendable – helped me reach these conclusions. You might want check it out, especially if you find yourself stressed by those with whom you disagree.