The Unpardonable Sin & Family Identity

Apparently, tracing family history is a big thing in my new home state of Utah. But it’s not a new phenomenon to me: my great-aunt was into lineage study and her work is legendary in our family, though not necessarily in the way she would have wanted. See, she traced our family line back to Squire Boone, Daniel Boone’s brother. Interestingly enough, Squire Boone was the first Baptist preacher in Kentucky and Indiana, where I worked and studied for about 10 years. It seems somewhat prophetic given my calling. But our line of the Boone’s didn’t stay real committed to the faith beyond Squire. In fact, when I moved back to Kentucky for school, my grandpa suggested I look up some of our ancestors. I asked where he suggested starting and his reply was “with the prison records.” Anyways, my aunt did all this research, traced us back to Squire Boone and then back across the pond to England. Apparently, the family had been a pretty inconsequential bunch, but some ancestor had done the king of England a favor at one point and was granted a land holding and title, leading to our last name. Fascinating stuff.

But it’s all hearsay at this point. I don’t have any details on any of it, and a lot of what I think I know could be made up or exaggerated. Why? Because my aunt saved all her research in cardboard boxes. Apparently, she had a ton of material, stuff she’d mailed out to people for, traveled to get, years of research. And this is pre-computer days, so it’s all paper files, which take up a lot more room than a flash drive. She needed a place to store the files, so she took them to my grandpa’s place in Tumalo, OR. My grandpa and grandma have a ranch there with lots of space and they even have a well-maintained cabin/bunkhouse on the property that they store stuff in and visitors stay in too. Well, my aunt put her file boxes in there. Quite a while later, grandpa decides to clean out the cabin. He doesn’t look in the boxes, just tosses them all in the burn pile and lights them up. My grandpa’s still alive, but it was touch and go for a while! My grandma was able to find some stuff that grandpa didn’t and she put together a binder for all of us to have a copy of what was left.

Why? Why did my aunt give so much time to putting that all together? Why was it such a big deal that grandpa burned it? Why did grandma take the time to put as much as she could together for us all?

Because in our disconnected, highly-mobile, and increasingly confusing world, having a family identity is important. Understanding who you are requires understanding who you came from.

In Matthew 12, we find Jesus providing some family research for his followers. He’s walked them through a lot, and they’re getting ready to head into a lot more, and he takes the time to establish who they are, what Jesus’ family looks like, what’s their identity, how’d they come to be a family when they didn’t share a mom and dad?

What we find is that Jesus’ family is marked out by a series of encounters and teachings from Jesus. He paints a picture of his family, not in bloodline and heritage, but in faith and work.

1. Jesus’ family is made up of those who recognize God’s work in the world through his Son, not those who see it and try to explain it away.

[22] Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. [23] And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”

The crowds are amazed! For heaven’s sake, we just read it and we should be amazed: Jesus healed a man who couldn’t see, couldn’t speak and had a demon. If you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve seen in Matthew to this point, those three miracles are like the trifecta. This is amazing! It’s like Jesus is working up to a finale: “you’ve seen me heal a blind man, you’ve seen me heal a mute man, you’ve seen me drive out demons, now watch as I do not one, not two, but all three of those miracles at once, in one man!” Those who saw this miracle would have no choice but to acknowledge both Jesus’ power and the truth of who he was.

The crowds get it: this miracle should cause everyone who sees it to at least consider that maybe Jesus was the Messiah, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven, come to earth, Immanuel, the Promised One. The crowd could get it, we can get it, anyone who hears it should get it.

Except the Pharisees didn’t.

[24] But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. [30] Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. [31] Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that many get sidetracked and confused by this idea of the unpardonable sin and many, myself included, have wrestled with the question: “have I committed the unpardonable sin?”

Let me say this: If you are worried about possibly having committed this sin, you haven’t committed it.

The unpardonable sin comes to us in a context that clarifies its meaning. Jesus is not talking to his disciples, he’s not even talking to the crowds following him; he’s quite clearly referencing the Pharisees who just saw him do this amazing miracle. And the Pharisees turn away, like “meh. He’s only doing this because Satan’s doing it through him.”

That’s the unpardonable sin: to see the clear demonstration of the unfathomable power of God, and to turn away from it in stubborn, hard-hearted rebellion.

If you’re a Christian, in other words, if you’ve repented of your sins, committed to following Jesus, and are seeking to submit every area of your life to his Lordship, you can’t, by definition, commit the unpardonable sin. You’ve already recognized God’s work in the world and you rejoice in it. You can’t commit the unpardonable sin if you’ve acknowledged your sin and Jesus’ solution: you’ve submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is refusing to submit to the clear work of God in the world.

2. Jesus’ family is made up of those who speak the truth of the gospel, not those who speak with the cynicism of the world.

[33] “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. [34] You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. [35] The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. [36] I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, [37] for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Those who rejoice in the work of God are those who speak of the work of God. Have you ever met a triathlete? How do you know someone is a triathlete? Talk to them for five minutes. Even if you just met them, they’ll tell you. Why? Because anyone who can swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles is awesome! They’re doing something amazing and they want to tell others. Is it motivated by pride most of the time? You better believe it! And dare I say, that pride is, if not permissible, at least understandable? If I had a triathlete family member, I’d be proud and I’d tell everyone before they could.

And yet what is a triathlon compared to what God is doing in the gospel? What is a race compared to a universe-redeeming, comprehensive, unimaginably glorious, plan of God for the ages? Those who get it, those who see it and submit to it, can’t help but tell others about it. If you’re one who constantly is complaining, cynical about the work of God, running down the ministry of the church with words and actions, stop and ask yourself: “Do I really believe the gospel? Have I really grasped the truth, the goodness, the completeness of it?” Because if you have, if you’re part of Jesus’ family, the good treasure of the gospel inside you can’t help but bubble up in your conversations! It’s going to happen!

3. Jesus’ family is made up of those who submit to his superiority, not those who demand his performance for their satisfaction

[38] Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” [39] But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. [42] The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Do you get the irony here? Just a brief moment earlier Jesus had hit the trifecta healing and the same Pharisees and scribes who heard that one dare ask him for a sign!? “Like, Jesus, the dude walking around seeing, speaking, and not slobbering at the mouth anymore, that’s cool and all, but could you really show us a sign, I mean, like a for real sign?”

Do you hear Jesus’ indignation? “An evil and adulterous generation” – “Evil” because they weren’t asking because they were submitted to him and longing to see him work again, but asking because they had no intention of every submitting and were hoping that maybe he couldn’t do it again.” “Adulterous” because these were the Bible scholars who were supposed to be giving their lives to understanding scripture so that when the Messiah came, they would recognize him, yet when the Messiah came, they were so busy loving their position and authority that they couldn’t see what was obvious: He’s here.

Jesus says, “No. There’s nothing more I could do than what I’ve done. If you don’t believe yet, you won’t. I’ll give you the sign of Jonah, I’ll die and be raised to life three days later, but most of you won’t buy that either.”

When they ask for a sign, how different are they from us when we do the same? I wish I didn’t do this but have you ever had the conversation with God: “God if you’ll prove yourself by doing what I want you to right now, I’ll really believe, I’ll really commit my life to you, etc”? It’s no different than an atheist insisting that if God were real, he’d prove it by healing all the sick people in a hospital. The atheist isn’t really concerned for the sick people, he’s demanding personal satisfaction. God hates self-centeredness, he bows to no one and nothing, and he owes you nothing.

Get this one statement and you’re close to getting the central message of Scripture:

There is a God, you’re not Him, and He owes you nothing. But He loves you anyway.

Those who are part of Jesus’ family don’t demand that God becomes some sort of trained monkey there to entertain and serve them. That’s Pharisee stuff. Christians hope that God would be willing to use them as his monkey. There is nothing that the Christian wants more than to be useful to God, to be submitted to God as his slave, to serve, to love, to die if that’s what is required. To forgive, to pass overlook an offense, to crucify self-interest on the cross of Christ’s love.  Something greater has come, something greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, great than you, greater than me – it’s Jesus. It’s the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth sacrificing everything for and nothing is worth losing it over.

4. Jesus’ family is made up of those whose allegiance is given to him alone, not to those who leave space in their hearts for idols.

[43] “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. [44] Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. [45] Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Jesus, perhaps reminding his audience and the man he just healed, but still addressing the scribes and Pharisees, makes it clear that it’s not enough to recognize the work of God if you don’t embrace the one who did the work: God himself. God can do amazing things for a person, but unless they are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will end up filling themselves back up with idols.

I’m reminded of a comedy bit I heard once in which a comedian said he got off cigarettes with a nicotine patch, got off the patch with marijuana, and got off marijuana with cocaine so he was pretty well tobacco free.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens in a lot of people’s lives. Maybe not falling into drug addiction out of tobacco addiction, but simply replacing certain idols with other idols. This can happen in the church. In Colossians, we are told to put off sin and put on Christ. Too many of us take off our blatant external sin and trade it for an internal, insidious, and just as deadly a sin. We quit getting drunk, but we judge the girl whose insecurity causes her to dress inappropriately. We quit cheating on our taxes, but refuse to listen to counsel from other believers.

If we’ve given our allegiance to Christ, there is not part of our life we get to mark as off limits. We don’t submit to Jesus as king by marking off sanctuaries for our favorite idols. We don’t get to decide which parts of God’s Word we’re going to obey and which ones we’re going to ignore.

5. Jesus’ family is made up of those who do what he commands, not those who can quote him.

[46] While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. [48] But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” [49] And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! [50] For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I don’t know. Scripture’s pretty clear that only an individual can make that decision, “to confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and to believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead.”

So I can’t know if you’ve done that. But I can ask you this: “Are you doing what he commands?”

We wrestle with this all the time: Are we saved by faith or by works?

I think Ephesians 2:8-10 is particularly apt here:

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We are saved by grace through faith. It’s not something we did or that we do, it’s the gift of God. We can’t boast that we’ve saved ourselves or contributed to it in any way. But that’s not the end of the passage:

[10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Those who have been saved by grace through faith aren’t saved to sit on a shelf; we are saved, created in Christ Jesus, for good works that God decided in advance we should do.

In other words, the only thing you have to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is Savior and submit to him as Lord. And then everyone who does that will get to work at obeying their new Lord. And we know what he’s commanded, right? “Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples.” Put it another way: Do everything you can to demonstrate the amazing worth of God, do everything you can to demonstrate the love of God to others, and teach others how they can love and serve God and others too.

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Keep the Sabbath?

unsplash_52ce2b0530dab_1The concept of Sabbath rest is arguably a major theme throughout Scripture, particularly the Old Testament. There is a rich imagery associated with this concept underlying much of the New Testament as well. Understanding the critical role that the idea of Sabbath rest played in the Old Testament  is important if we are going to understand how it fits into our Christian lives today. We also have to understand the misconceptions that have grown up around this idea of rest in the Christian community. Only then can we understand Jesus’ teaching on the subject.

Sabbath in the Old Testament: A Brief Synopsis

  1. Creation: God rested on the seventh day and he invited his creation to rest with him.
  2. Law: The Sabbath is given as a reminder of God’s sovereignty.
  3. Relational: The presence of God with his people is an assurance of Sabbath rest
  4. Physical: The entrance to the promised land is pictured as entering into God’s rest.
  5. Broken: Mankind is constantly losing their place of rest before God.
  6. Promised: One of the signs of the Messiah is that he would give his people rest.
  7. Eternal: Sabbath rest is a crucial element in fulfilling the eternal promises of God.

The Need For Sabbath

How appealing are Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:25-30?

[25] At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; [26] yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. [27] All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. [28] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It sounds so refreshing and yet this is the place where it is incredibly hard for us to get. We are so busy working and playing and making sure everyone knows that we are busy. But Jesus is inviting us to rest. Jesus is inviting us into Sabbath rest. And that invitation is couched in terms that serve to de-center our lives from self and to re-center them on Christ.

Throughout his gospel, Matthew is telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like so that we can tell others. Here, he tells us that the kingdom of heaven is a place of true rest, true Sabbath.

Do you think that’s a message of hope for our time? Do you think that Sabbath rest in Jesus Christ would be good news to share with your neighbor who is running herself ragged with keeping a list of rules in order to please her religious leaders and progress in self-righteousness? Do you think that this idea of coming to Jesus because he isn’t there with a list of rules, but with a humble heart of love would appeal to someone who is concerned with climbing a ladder and not being stepped on along the way?

God paints this picture of Sabbath rest throughout the Bible and intends it to be this wonderful, clear, compelling, enticing, stunning, counter-cultural reality in the life of his people. The rest that he promises, the rest that he gives, should be a cause for celebration in our lives, for praise on our lips.

Too often, though, we have neglected it entirely. We have followed the lead of our culture that measures success by the hours we work, that demands 24/7 engagement with the world through social media. Our minds never shut off anymore. We face a never-ending stream of news content, print, audio, video, paper and digital, headlines and sound bites vying for the prize of being the most disturbing and disrupting to our lives, just so that they can get our attention so they can sell another advertisement. Those advertisements beg, cajole, intimidate, and dare us to buy the product to find the peace we are looking for: this shampoo really could magically transport you to Shangri-la, this soda could really refresh you like the Fountain of Youth. We are in a constant battle inside our own minds, comparing our lives to those of our co-workers, our Facebook friends, and our church family. We come to church to fight for control, to check and make sure the decorations, the lighting, the music, and the sermon are acceptable to our preferences. We paint on smiles and make small talk and all the while we are trampling on the good news that Jesus Christ provides us with rest.

How can we share the good news that Jesus Christ can give us rest if we’ve never taken a moment to avail ourselves of the rest he provides? The world needs to hear of the rest the Jesus offers and we need to learn to live in that same rest. But first, we have to clear up some Christian misunderstandings.

Sabbath Misunderstandings

 

1. Sabbath rest is a moral obligation.

There are denominations and individuals within Christendom who continue to advocate Sabbatarianism (the idea that the Sabbath, as a created institution rather than an Old Covenant statute, is still binding on those who follow Christ). In other words, Christians are as morally obligated to observe a strict Sabbath day as they are to not murder someone.   There is certainly an appeal to this position as it seeks to bridge the gap between Old and New Testaments for the believer. Nonetheless, I don’t believe this is an appropriate reading of Scripture and neglects the central role of Christ and his commands in establishing his people’s ethics.

2. Sabbath rest is about personal well-being.

There is another response from Christians that sees Sabbath for the Christian as a largely private enterprise. God ordained the Sabbath, in this view, as a reminder to us that we need margin in our lives. So, as New Covenant people, we are not morally obligated to observe THE Sabbath, but we benefit by observing A Sabbath. Not a specific day, not a specific length of time, but just a reminder from our Father that we need to take time for ourselves, to rest from our labors. While this conception is popular, particularly among American Christians, it fails to give proper weight to the biblical text or, again, to the role of Christ in Scripture.

3. Sabbath rest is an aid to personal righteousness.

Finally, many still think that keeping a Sabbath, whether strict or flexible, serves to help develop personal righteousness. This idea has merit, although it must be carefully caveated. Because too often this approach can benefit us but quickly turn to legalism: Sabbath as a spiritual discipline at best, but, at worst, as showcasing self-righteousness. There can be an immense spiritual benefit in Sabbath rest, but we have to be careful that it does not become an opportunity for pride.

With these misconceptions about the Christian life as it regards the Sabbath, what are we to do? Thankfully, we don’t have to guess.

Jesus Brings Clarity – Matthew 12:1-21

  1. Sabbath rest is not about keeping specific rules on a specific day, it is about being with Jesus.

 [1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” [3] He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? [6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. [7] And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. [8] For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees were ticked that the disciples were violating their understanding of what keeping the Sabbath meant. Jesus isn’t having it. He clarifies for them, and for us, that keeping the Sabbath isn’t about doing or not doing certain things during certain times; it’s about being in the presence of God. The disciples were free to grab some 1st-century fast food because they were practicing what the Sabbath really meant: they were hanging out with Jesus.

  1. Sabbath rest is not about personal well-being, it is about seeking others well-being.

            [9] He went on from there and entered their synagogue. [10] And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. [11] He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? [12] Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” [13] Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

The Sabbath isn’t a self-serving break from doing good: it’s preparation for doing good. Jesus heals on the Sabbath to model what we ought to use the Sabbath for – an opportunity to serve others. Some days that might mean skipping a shower after work and heading over to help someone pack to move. Other days, it might mean taking a nap so that the next day you can help someone move. If your view of Sabbath rest is wrapped around you, then you’ll resent any intrusion into your special time. But if it’s wrapped around serving others, you’re free to work to serve or you’re free to rest in order to serve another time.

The only thing the Sabbath cannot be is all about you. It’s a vehicle for loving God, loving others, and making disciples, through active participation or passive preparation.

  1. Sabbath rest is not demonstrating self-righteousness, it is trusting in Christ’s righteousness

 [14] But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. [15] Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all [16] and ordered them not to make him known. [17] This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

            [18] “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,

                        my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

            I will put my Spirit upon him,

                        and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

            [19] He will not quarrel or cry aloud,

                        nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

            [20] a bruised reed he will not break,

                        and a smoldering wick he will not quench,

            until he brings justice to victory;

            [21]     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel weighed down by the weight of responsibility and work and trying to be perfect? Jesus won’t beat you down, he won’t add to the burden, he calls you to come and be healed, to sit at his feet, to experience the Sabbath rest you were intended to experience. It only happens, though, when you are willing to quit trying to prove your own righteousness and trust in the righteousness of the one Matthew and Isaiah speak of – Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The Sabbath wasn’t given to be a strict rule, it wasn’t given so you could pamper yourself or display your righteousness. No, the Sabbath was given to point us to Jesus. It is essential that we regain a Christocentric view of the Sabbath as Christians for the sake of our mission – taking the good news of God’s promised rest through the Messiah to the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you want to experience Sabbath rest? Spend time with Jesus. Serve others in the name of Jesus. Trust in the righteousness of Jesus. And, finally, tell others about Jesus.

Doubt, Faith, and the Christian Life

3534516458_48e4e8595f_bAt some point, we need to have an honest conversation about the Gospel. Yes, the all-encompassing truth that the God of the Universe is actively working to redeem all of Creation and remaking it as the Kingdom of Heaven under his sovereign rule. The good news that he invites us to join him in that work, to be his ambassadors and his servants, actively bringing the Kingdom into reality through our thoughts, words, and deeds. And the best part is we are invited to tell others, many of whom have never heard or thought of any of this, of the truth that will set them free.

All of this sounds good, all of this stirs the blood, and it gets us excited. And if it doesn’t get us excited, it may be that we don’t understand it.

But we also need to understand that this excitement is not enough to sustain us. We can get all jacked up about God’s Word, the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus’ authority, Jesus’ mission, and run with it. Some of us can run a marathon on excitement, some of us can only run a couple feet, but eventually, we fade. Faith is exciting, but all the excitement will eventually exhaust us. And when excitement fades, doubt creeps in.

The strangest thing about Christianity is not that some people doubt its claims, but that some claim they never do. Eventually, doubt affects all of us, whether it’s doubt about our salvation, doubt about the Bible, doubt about the truth of the gospel itself, or doubt about God and his character.

And too often, the church has made this anathema. We’ve belittled those who doubt, we’ve acted incredulous that anyone would ever doubt, we’ve pretended that we don’t doubt. Nonsense. Doubt is a reality and it’s dangerous and downright harmful for us to pretend otherwise. If we are not honest about our doubts, we cannot trust the sincerity of our faith.

But, even as real and as inevitable as doubt is, it’s never where we ought to stay. There is a difference between honest doubt and self-serving doubt. Some people use “doubts” to serve their own agenda. Honest doubt is grounded in the hope that God can bring you through that doubt to a deeper, more genuine, stronger faith. Self-serving doubt is grounded in the hope that your doubt will free you from the obligations of a faith centered in a holy God.

But what is doubt, generally speaking? Doubt is the natural result of faith’s ideals running up against the world’s reality. In Matthew 11, we see the faith of John the Baptist run smack into a pretty brutal reality:

[1] When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. [2] Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples [3] and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John, who believed in Jesus, who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” who was willing to decrease that Jesus might increase, sends his disciples with a question that reveals his doubt: “Are you the One or not?”

5 Causes of John’s Doubt

  1. Persecution: John is in prison for declaring truth to power. Is it any wonder that he begins to question things? He declared the truth and it got him in trouble – was it not true enough?
  2. Isolation: When John was mixing it up with his disciples and his religious opponents, he had both positive and negative reinforcers for his faith. Now that he’s in prison, he’s isolated from all that. He’s able to get lost in his own head, isolated with his thoughts, and that leads to doubt.
  3. Inaction: John seems to have been a pretty intense guy. And now he’s forced into inaction. The frustration of going from doing something about his faith to being unable to do anything added fuel to the psychological fire.
  4. Jealousy: This may or may not have been the case, but look at what spurred John to act on his doubt: “when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ.” The deeds of Christ may have represented a challenge to John’s ego now that he was sidelined.
  5. Accusation: There is an accusation inherent to John’s question in response to hearing of Jesus’ deeds: “You are doing all this good stuff for them, but if you were any kind of real messiah, you’d make getting me out of jail one of your works.”

These 5 causes of doubt in John’s life find their correlation in almost every Christian’s life at some point.

Persecution: While most Christians in America have not experienced prison time for their faith, many around the world have. Others have been killed, had family members killed, or worse. Many have lost homes, jobs, security – everything they have. And in America, there are many who grow weary of constantly “contending for the faith” against those who seek to belittle and tear it down. Some have faced opposition in their place of employment, in their family, or in their education. It’s not the same as state-sponsored persecution in other countries, but it is challenging and can lead to doubt.

Isolation: Many Christians find themselves isolated in their faith at one point or another. Maybe it’s the demands of providing for oneself and one’s family that requires long or odd hours that prevent consistent Christian fellowship. Maybe it’s a new baby in the house who’s sleep schedule or health keeps one or both parents in a state of exhaustion and away from the church. Or maybe it’s poor decisions that have led to an unwillingness to engage with other believers. But whatever its source, isolation begins to sow an introspection that can quickly devolve into doubt.

Inaction: Isolation and inaction can go hand in hand, the result of circumstances out of our control. That job requiring so much time takes time away from gospel engagement. That new baby demands all we have to give with nothing left for service. Those decisions made make us feel inadequate to work. But inaction is not always a corollary to isolation. Sometimes, we are in the midst of the swirl of God’s work in our families, churches, and circumstances. But for one reason or another, we just sit it out. We feel like we already served our time, we feel like someone else should step up, or we’re just plain stubborn. But if our faith is not put into action, eventually we start to doubt its reality.

Jealousy: This seed can grow into a deadly fruit. When we look at what God is accomplishing in other lives and we start comparing it to what he is accomplishing in ours, our doubt can take on a hard edge. We get frustrated by other’s success in the Christian life. We start to question the motives and hearts of servants who are doing the will of their master. Jealousy rears its ugly head anytime we start to compare our life with that of others. And that comparison is simply watering the seeds of doubt we plant in our minds.

Accusation: This is the ultimate result of jealousy – it arises out of jealousy:

“God, why are you making me struggle financially every month when they’re not?” OR “God, why won’t you give me a spouse? Why won’t you give me children? I see all these perfect families on Facebook, but you haven’t provided them for me.” OR “God, my kids don’t listen to me. Why can’t you make them more like so-and-so’s kids?”

“God, are you the One who’ll provide for me or should I look for someone else?”

How Does Jesus Answer Doubt?

 [4] And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: [5] the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. [6] And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus answers John’s doubt (and ours) by pointing us back to the power of God working through the gospel. In doing so, he answers the question, doesn’t he? Every cause of John’s doubt (and ours) is answered implicitly in Jesus’ response.

  1. Persecution: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” means that there will be those who are offended by Christ and by his work in his followers. Don’t let persecution surprise you into doubt: expect persecution so you can prepare against doubt.
  2. Isolation: Just because you’re not out there working, doesn’t mean God is working. As a matter of fact, the fact that God doesn’t need your presence to demonstrate his is good news! The kingdom of heaven’s advance is not resting on your shoulders. Rejoice in what God is doing when you’re not there.
  3. Inaction: Just because you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not out here going toe-to-toe with the Pharisees right now: others are able to work. Here’s a thought: use forced physical inaction as an opportunity to exercise spiritual action – pray!
  4. Jealousy: Don’t be jealous, it’s not about you: look at all the good that’s being done for others. Don’t get so wrapped up in your own head that you think God’s work has to be done through you or it doesn’t count. Rejoice that others are seeing success in their ministry.
  5. Accusation: God doesn’t always work how you want, but that doesn’t mean you give up on him. “What right has the pot to say to the potter, ‘Why did you make me this way?'” Understand that angry accusations against God ultimately reveal your heart instead of actually bearing effect on him.

Doubt in the Christian faith is assuaged not by self-deluding introspection but by remembering Jesus’ life and work. Focusing on our circumstances, our fears, our desires only reinforces our doubt. Focusing on Jesus, his life and his work, overcomes our doubt.

Learn to Recognize the Difference between Honest Doubt and Self-serving Doubt

We have to do a better job in the church of making room in our faith for doubt. The gospel is no small truth claim! It has universal implications and anything that big will incur doubt along the way. Just as finite humans cannot comprehend the entirety of this enormous universe, we will not be able to comprehend at all times and in all ways the entirety of the gospel. There will be gaps in our knowledge, in our understanding, and in our experience. And doubt will fill those gaps from time to time. When it does, however, we need to make sure it is honest doubt not self-serving doubt. In the heart that desires Christ, doubt is a motivation to seek him. In the heart that desires self, doubt is an excuse to abandon him. Honest doubt will own the gaps and seek to fill them with faith through the provision of God’s sovereignty. Self-serving doubt will seek to widen the gaps in order to free us from the constraints of that same sovereignty. We have to recognize the difference between the two:

Honest doubt sees Jesus’ work and praises him

Self-serving doubt sees Jesus’ work and demands more.

Honest doubt sees Jesus’ holiness and repents

Self-serving doubt sees Jesus’ holiness and ignores it.

Honest doubt sees Jesus’ kingdom first

Self-serving doubt sees oneself first.

Honest doubt will be rewarded

Self-serving doubt will be destroyed.

Ultimately, let me encourage you: don’t feign faith for the sake of others but don’t flaunt doubt for your own sake either. Instead, be honest, be seeking, and look at Jesus! Doubt is a reality, but it doesn’t have to define yours indefinitely.

*Image by Marco Bellucci

When the Church Counts

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There is a great deal of angsting going on right now in the evangelical church. You can see it in our social media bubble, read it in our blog posts, and hear it in our Sunday morning conversations. This angst seems to have its genesis from several factors:

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election going on in the USA. And it’s not pretty.

There’s also an increasing devaluation of Christian values in the public square.

Oh, and millennials are leaving the church in droves apparently.

Our consternation seems driven by the numbers in each instance. Politically, we are counting Supreme Court Justices and votes. Socially, we are counting lawsuits and editorials that go against us. Ecclesiastically, we are counting worship attendance and seeing a lot more gray hair. In each area, the numbers frighten us. But they shouldn’t.

We need to remember that the church counts best when it doesn’t.

Politically, we need to remember that God is not unaware of what is going on. We need to remember that while, as citizens of a democratic nation, we can and should vote our conscience in the election. But fear, hand-wringing, and anger leading up to, during, and after the voting should have no place amongst us. Whoever is elected president gets four years, maybe eight. Supreme Court justices get a little longer, with the average tenure being about twenty years.

The church has survived centuries. It has survived brutal persecution. It can handle anything this country or any other throws against it.  The next four, eight, twenty, or even one hundred years are not going to be the stone that sinks the ship of the church.

Let’s not try to count votes, or justices, or anything else politically as essential to the future of the church. Instead, let’s rejoice in the surety of Jesus’ faithfulness to fulfill his promise…

“…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 16:18, ESV

Socially, the proverbial handwriting is on the wall. Christian morality, formerly an assumption for many, has been rejected. This reality has led some to propose that the church exercise “The Benedict Option“, which means to concede the public square and focus on creating communities of faith similar to monastic orders. Others have doubled down against the decline of influence with a pugilistic defiance. Still others seem paralyzed by the reality of a secular culture supplanting the “Christian” one they grew up with. Whether this is due to the church’s frustratingly inconsistent practice of biblical ethics or to the rise of the cult of the self doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it will be increasingly clear where the church stops and culture starts.

And that’s only ever a good thing for the people of God. And not in a throwaway, making the best of a bad situation, kind of way: consider Jesus’ words in Luke 6…

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets…Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”

Luke 6:22-26, ESV

We get it backward when, as the people of God, we count societal approval as blessing and persecution as woe. Jesus says strike that, reverse it. Now live it.

Ecclesiastically, we tally up the numbers of people attending our worship services each week and compare that to demographics data and we freak out. Young people are not coming, or if they did, they’re not coming back again is the common narrative. The church’s situation seems remarkably like that of Elijah:

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

1 Kings 19:9-10, ESV

Many in the church, particularly the older generations, feel like they have nothing left to do but to crawl back into their stone edifices and glower out at the pagan youth.

God comes and asks, “What are you doing here, Church?”

“Lord, we have been so faithful. We have studied your Word in Sunday School, we have made sure we maintained our buildings, we have dressed respectfully, we have kept our music wholesome, and even more! But Lord, this new generation doesn’t seem interested. They don’t want to meet in our fluorescent cubicles to study the quarterly, they don’t seem to care about preserving our buildings that get used twice a week, they come to church dressed just like they are every other day, and they don’t even know the words to ‘In the Garden’. We are all that you have left.”

Perhaps God’s response is similar to the one he gave Elijah:

“Go, return on your way…I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:15-18 ESV

In other words, “Church, go back to the beginning. Go back to what I actually told you to do: love me, love people, and make disciples. You’ve confused how you do church with being the church. The methods have to change in order for the message to be received. And don’t worry about the numbers: I’ve got more millennials to save than you can shake a stick at.”

We’ve gotten so concerned with counting heads that we’ve forgotten about reaching hearts.

I believe that if we will stop counting politically, socially, and ecclesiastically we may just start counting where it matters: in obedience, in faithfulness, in Christ-likeness.

The 2016 Election, Trump, and Conservative Christians

united-states-of-america-flag-1462903884fhxNo election in recent memory can hold a candle to this one for sheer spectacle. And that’s not a good thing. In Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two major parties in American politics have given the American people a choice between the two most singularly unfit and disliked candidates in history. As an American citizen, as a Christian, and as a father, I have been deeply troubled by this situation. But as a leader in a local church, I have also considered what my responsibilities are for sharing my personal thoughts with others.

I have watched as many conservatives have thrown their hat in the ring for Trump. I have watched as Christian leaders have resorted to desperate contortions in an effort to defend the indefensible and I have lamented the fear-based rhetoric they employ to herd the masses into conformity. Assuredly, not all conservative Christian leaders took this path; some were vocal in their opposition from the beginning. But the simple reality is that many were not. Men like Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr, and James Dobson and more all spoke in affirmation of Trump’s candidacy.

I don’t believe they did it in bad faith. Many of these leaders seem to have set out to marry Rachel only to wake up and realize Leah was in the bed. They endorsed what they thought was a conservative candidate for president only to suddenly realize that they were endorsing a misogynistic, race-baiting, narcissistic strongman who has no intention of respecting women, the weak, or basically any other person not named Donald J. Trump.

Recently, they were given another reason to regret their deal with the devil. Some have abandoned ship. It’s as if there weren’t enough warning signs, not enough evidence, and everything before this was just leftist propaganda. What brought this turnabout about? It wasn’t the race-baiting, the clear examples of inciting violence, the blatant disregard for Constitutional authority, the disability-shaming, or any of the countless examples of dishonesty, greed, and corruption. Instead, it was a leaked hot mic taped a decade ago in which Trump not only objectifies women but admits/brags about actions that are, by definition, criminal sexual assault. I guess that was a bridge too far.

Except it wasn’t for many.

Many still feel their hands are tied politically and that they have to support the Republican nominee. There is a sense of resignation in the air as Election Day draws near.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As far as I can tell, an individual Christian conservative’s support for Donald Trump hinges on one of the following rationales:

  • He’s not Hillary
  • He’ll appoint conservative justices
  • He’ll “Make America Great Again”

Each of these is given at various times and by various persons as a reason to vote for Trump, “no matter what.” Let’s look at them one by one.

He’s Not Hillary

First, an analogy. I hate hot weather. I am not one of these summer-fun and lovin’-it guys. Several reasons: 1) I’m whiter than a bar of Dove soap and burn quicker than gasoline. 2) I’m not currently in possession of a body that benefits from fewer articles of clothing – sub-arctic layers are more suitable to my form. 3) I’m genetically predisposed to struggle with the heat (not scientifically proven, but highly likely in my mind. 4) I just don’t like the heat.

Give me a choice between 100 degrees in Houston, TX and 120 degrees in Phoenix, AZ and I’ll be hard pressed to choose. Sure, they’re different kinds of heat, but they’re both miserable.

If such a choice were presented to me, I’d have several options.

  • I could choose 100 degrees in Houston, TX. I’d go and sweat. And sweat. And sweat some more.
  • I could choose 120 in Phoenix, AZ. I’d go and sweat and dehydrate and hydrate and sweat and dehydrate.

OR

  • I could refuse the artificially limited options presented and move to Jackson, WY with its annual average temperature of 39.7 degrees.

“But, but…that wasn’t one of the options!”

Only if you’re blinded by a map that insists Houston, TX and Phoenix, AZ are the only “viable” cities in the United States of America.

In other words, only if you ignore the literally thousands of other options available.

In the 2016 election, the two major party candidates are different but equally abhorrent. It was inevitable, I guess, that in a two-party system, this would happen eventually. And while there are those Democrats who will vote the party line, regardless of candidate, and Republicans who will do the same, the vast majority of Americans are in a quandary as to what to do.

That is because while voices from both sides are saying “hold your nose and choose one of them,” there is a nagging little thought that keeps creeping in: “is this what it’s supposed to be like? Is this what our government is supposed to look like? Choosing the lesser of two evils?”

That voice is pointing us to the reality that American democracy was never intended to be about choosing the lesser of two evils. It’s only ever been about providing the people with the powerful right to choose representative leaders who do just that: represent their constituents and lead the entire country towards mutual benefit and well-being.

The entrenched two-party system is partially to blame for this situation. But the voters, in turn, are to blame for the two-party system. Any lie, repeated frequently enough, becomes believable. And so, constituents have let themselves be duped into believing what they were told: “Don’t vote third-party, they’ll never win.” Why? “Because not enough people will vote for them.” Why? “Because they’ll never win.”

And they may be right. But, since when was “winning” the only acceptable goal? Since when did Ricky Bobby’s infamous dictum, “if you’re not first, you’re last”, come to define all of the American reality? It’s a false narrative that’s been bought wholesale by a pop-culture public.

What that narrative ignores is the times in American history that which two parties are in power have changed or the two major parties’ platforms have been significantly altered by third-party pressure.

If any election season is the right one to exert third-party pressure, this is it. Stein, Johnson, Castle, and McMullin are all there, all gaining in the polls, and waiting to be voted for. They may not win, but voting for the one whose views most nearly align with yours could get their platform enough attention to significantly shape future lawmaking, party platforms, and even new parties.

Donald J. Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton. But they’re not the only options we’ve been given. They may be the only ones with a statistically significant chance of winning the 2016 election, but the inevitable conservative reorganization to come needs to be influenced by third-party votes. We must avoid betting the farm on a lame duck in 2016 and start looking at 2020 and beyond.

Supreme Court Justice appointments

This is the Trump card (pun fully intended). This end, for many Christian leaders, justifies any means. (Here, here, and here, along with many others).

But pinning all our hopes on this single star is foolish, at best, and deadly at worst.

First, it is foolish because of a seldom-mentioned historical reality: there are no guarantees with justice nominations, whether they are appointed by Democrats or Republicans. In his resignation statement, motivated by Trump’s latest debacle, Brett Farley, who was the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Republican Party, said this:

“Never before has our party so willingly turned a deaf ear to history and practical political reality until now. Even in our best days, Presidents Reagan and Bush, solidly conservative Republicans, managed to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who gave the deciding votes in some of the most egregious decisions in the Court’s history.”

There’s absolutely no guarantee that conservative appointed judges will make decisions that conservatives like. And that’s a good thing. The balance of power inherent in the Constitution means that the executive shouldn’t control the judicial or the legislative. I know, I know, there’s been a significant blurring of the lines in the last fifty years, but the bones are still there.

Farley points out the second problem with voting for Donald Trump because of justices:

“Yet these same colleagues argue that we can trust a man who has broken promises to customers, business partners, wives and God himself to uphold his tentative pledge to nominate conservative justices.”

When conservatives say that we should vote for Donald Trump because of the justices he will appoint, it’s often presented as fait accompli. It’s a done deal, right?

Ask Donald Trump’s first two wives about “until death do us part”. Ask the contractors and employees he has stiffed about “fair compensation for finished work”. Ask any Trump University alumni about “learning the secrets of personal success”.

Here’s a man who has demonstrated absolutely no integrity, no follow-through, no ability to keep his mouth from writing checks that his character can’t cash, and yet we can trust him on this one?

Nope.

There’s a third problem with letting justice appointments be the guiding rationale for a Trump vote and that’s the single-issue voter trap.

Conservative Christians have let themselves be painted into this corner before. I know that this will not be a popular opinion, but when we made abortion the only pro-life position we cared about, we lost everything. For example, prior to that moral majority decision, you could be a pro-life, conservative Christian and be a Democrat. You could be a pro-life, conservative Christian and be a Republican. Why? Because there was variety in the parties. Abortion was part of the Democratic platform but it wasn’t the main pillar. Then, in a fit of righteous indignation, the Moral Majority declared that the only issue that mattered was abortion. All of a sudden, pro-life Democrats were demonized for their party identification rather than their personal views and voting record. The Republicans gladly took up the mantle of the pro-life cause, but to what end? There’s been no significant change, no real effort made to reverse Roe vs. Wade, but Republican candidates could count on the pro-life vote just by tossing a few sound bites into their speeches and platform. Frankly, they duped us.

Had we not let that single issue define our voting patterns, we may still have had viable, pro-life Democrat candidates, we may have had continued influence on both parties’ platforms, we may not have ignited the rabid hatred of those who disagree with us.

Or not.

But we’ll never know because we let a single issue define us. And when a single issue defines you, you’ll excuse anything in the person who promises to represent you on it. And so, whoever controls that issue, controls you.

Donald Trump recognizes this. For all his faults, he’s not stupid. He knows that if he can pay lip service to the single issue that matters to us, in this case, conservative justices, he’s got us. Early in his campaign, he bragged that he could walk out in downtown New York, shoot someone in cold blood in broad daylight, and still not lose the conservative vote. And I’m beginning to think he’s right. That says a great deal about Donald Trump, but it says more about conservative Christians.

We’ve been down the single issue vote path before. Maybe it’s time we wised up. On the basis of history and character, we’ve got to wise up. It’d be great to have conservative justices, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that voting for Trump will magically ensure them.

He’ll “make America great again”

 While the Supreme Court justices are the flag most conservative Christians fly for Trump, I suspect that there’s a much more prevalent if a much less quiet reason for the support of many. Much of the current rhetoric from the right, calling for support of the Republican nominee ultimately stems, I suspect, from a resonance with Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” There’s a hunger amongst conservative Christians for the power and influence we used to have. We, who hold the gospel, are held captive by a catchphrase that promises to fulfill our secret lust for lost prominence.

It’s a mirage.

Contrary to the huffing and puffing heard in many pulpits and places, there is no golden age of American greatness. There is no glorious American heyday that we can “return” to if only we could get the “sodomites” and “slaughterhouse doctors” back into the back alleys. The Great America that many want to return to is a myth, conjured out of the rose-tinted memories of a communal, conservative, white, wish-dream.

Lecrae, a Christian rapper, recently shared the following lines that sum up the problem of conservative Christians condemning our current culture in order to bring about a return to a glorious past.

They tellin’ us make “America Great Again”

I’m like hol’ up, when was America great again?

Was it when they took us from our native land?

Or maybe it was when they took the natives’ land?

Harsh? Maybe. True? Definitely.

So, America was great when we were at the forefront of industry, when we were leaders in manufacturing? Oh, you mean when bosses exploited their laborers in extravagant and ghastly ways for pauper’s wages? When a few magnates controlled the lives of their thousands of employees down to where they lived, where they shopped, where they worshiped, and how they were buried?

Or, America was great when we were a Christian nation? Oh, like when we used the Bible to defend kidnapping, buying, selling, raping, and beating human beings for economic gain? Or were you thinking of later when we made sure the children of those human beings, while technically free from chains, nonetheless understood their place and couldn’t drink from a white man’s drinking fountain?

Maybe America was great when we first started? Oh, by “we” you must mean white, European settlers who brought civilization to the savages? All “we” asked in return was their land, their health, their way of life, and their silence, that’s a fair deal, right?

Christians in America need to recognize this fact before they will ever sway from supporting Donald Trump: there is no Great American past to restore.

There are plenty of admirable qualities, there are lots of good ideas, but at no point in our history as a nation could we be called categorically “great”. We can’t make America great again in any comprehensive sense. “Again” is defeated by the non-existence of “before”.

What conservative Christians fail to recognize, is that we cannot tie the gospel too tightly to partisan politics and a narrow understanding of history. When we do so, we inevitably set the stage for the gospel being thrown out in the revolution that inevitably comes. Conservative Christians have spent so much time soaking the baby of the gospel in the bathwater of Republican politics and the American dream that even we’re confused as to where one starts and the other stops. In fact, at times, it seems like we’ve come to value the bathwater more. So no matter how much we protest, it’s at least partially on us when both get thrown out.

Rather than seeking to return to some kind of American glory day by any means possible, maybe we should recognize that the future, not the past, is where hope lies. We shouldn’t sell out our hope in Christ for cheap and temporary political “gains”.

On November 8th

The conservative Christian has four options: vote for Trump, vote for Hillary, vote third-party, or don’t vote.

So what do we do?

First, I’d suggest taking the fourth option off the table. Not voting as a protest makes about as much sense as preparing for retirement by investing all your money in Chuckie Cheese tokens. It may seem personally satisfying, but it doesn’t count in the real world.

So we’re left with voting for Trump, Hillary, or third-party. And it’s here that the rubber meets the road. It’s important. Don’t just rely on my word, on evening news soundbites, on the echo chamber of your Facebook and Twitter feeds: educate yourself! Each citizen needs to carefully examine each candidate’s character, their platform, and their history, including third-party candidates. If you’re not sure character matters in leadership and you’re a conservative Christian, read this resolution (it’s only a few years old). Take a quiz like this one to help determine where you stand on the issues relative to the candidates. Read as many articles, blogs, and candidate websites as possible to evaluate each candidate’s background and track record.

Finally, in an election year as crazy as this one, let me say that my intent is in no way to condemn anyone’s vote. If you choose to vote for Trump, I will assume you made what you honestly believed to be the best choice, even though I believe he is unfit for leadership. If you vote for Hillary, I will assume the same even though I believe the same about her as I do Trump. But for myself, I cannot do either. So I will vote for Evan McMullin and pray that vote demonstrates a commitment to a different vision for the future of American politics, one that can shape not just 2016, but beyond. A commitment to true representative leadership, a commitment to character and values, and a commitment to hope.

*photo from publicdomainpictures.net

See, Pray, Go: Embracing Jesus’ Mission

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the unavoidable conclusions drawn by anyone who reads the word of God and then looks at the world is that there is a vast gap between what we read and what we see. The ideals with which God imbued creation are everyday trampled on and ignored, inside the church doors and outside of them.

The question facing the church is not whether or not we can recognize the lostness of the world in relation to the clear teaching of Scripture, but rather, what response does that lostness draw from us? What do we feel when we see created norms overthrown, the name of God disparaged, and sin creating heartbreak in every direction?

Many Christians respond with condemnation. “I can’t believe they said that, I can’t believe they’d do that, I can’t believe they think that way.” Whole books, conferences, and churches are organized around throwing stones at a culture that has “turned its back on God.”

But what this movement misses is that it’s not culture that has turned its back on God. Culture has no back to turn, it’s not animate. When it’s over 100 degrees and I’m miserable, I don’t write op-eds decrying my thermometer. Culture’s not the problem, humanity is. Culture is, at most, the thermometer for humanity, showing what the state of our rebellion against God is at any given point. Every single one of us, every single breathing human is born in rebellion against God and continues in that rebellion apart from the grace of God.

Christianity is not at all about condemning culture. It’s not about approving culture. It’s about transforming individuals, communities, the world with the selfless message of hope in the gospel.

We need to look at Jesus. Time and time again Jesus calls us to something more than cultural approbation or condemnation.

Jesus calls us to personal engagement.

See when Jesus sees lostness, he doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t wish for a return to some Jewish heyday. He is moved to compassion. Lostness compels compassion in Jesus. It ought to compel the same in us.

Lostness Compels Compassion

[35] And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. [36] When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Why did Jesus have compassion? Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The other day I was driving with my family and saw a herd of sheep going down a side road. There were dogs, and herders, and a couple of trucks following who may have simply got caught behind the herd. But the sheep had direction.

What would those sheep have been doing without the guidance? Whatever they wanted.

What do humans do when no one is telling us what to do? Whatever we want to do.

Jesus compassion for the lost is motivated by his recognition that left to their own devices, they would do whatever they wanted. And Jesus knew that the end of that self-centered lifestyle would be death.

When we see the lost, do we see delinquents who we have to guard ourselves against so they don’t mess up our lawn or do we see those who without the life-giving direction of the gospel will mess up their lives?

If you are one who sees a fire burning in your neighbor’s house and your first response is to go hose down your roof, you don’t understand what it means to be a neighbor.

If your primary response to the sin of a lost person is to condemn and write them off, may I humbly suggest that you may not understand the gospel?

When Jesus’ eyes see the lost, he is moved to compassion. When our eyes see the lost, that’s where we should go as well. To a heart moved by compassion.

But compassion by itself is simply hypocrisy.

Lostness Demands Intercession

[37] Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; [38] therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus points his disciples to the lostness and he says, “you need to be concerned about this. And once you’re concerned about it, start praying about it.”

A professor once asked a class I was in a convicting question: “If God answered every prayer for missions, evangelism, and discipleship you had ever prayed, how many get saved, how many are going, and how many are growing?”

It is interesting to me that Jesus goes from awareness to prayer. I think in the American church we would be more inclined to go from awareness to a committee meeting to a business meeting to begging for volunteers for a couple months and by then we’d have forgotten what we were supposed to be doing so we’d do something that looked like what we were supposed to do.

Jesus says no.

Awareness of lostness needs to be followed by prayer. Why? Because only God can do anything about lostness! We can go dig wells when we see people without clean water, and we ought to. We can go set up agricultural cooperatives when we see people without adequate food, and we ought to. We can go and share the gospel, in word and in deed, and we ought to, but we can’t save a single person. We can do so many things, good things, Christ-like things, things we ought to do, but we cannot bring a sinner to repentance, we cannot move a man from being lost to being found. Only the Holy Spirit can.

So prayer is the obvious next step because Jesus makes us aware of a problem we cannot ultimately fix. He opens our eyes, he sends workers, and he saves souls. Prayer is essential.

But prayer is not enough.

There is something that cracks me up about where Matthew goes next with this. Jesus says beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send workers. We often stop there, because the chapter stops there. But the very next thing is, “And Jesus sent the twelve out.”

Who is the Lord of the Harvest? Jesus.

Who are the laborers he sends? The ones he just told to pray for laborers to be sent.

Lostness Compels the Intercessors to be the Sent

[1] And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. [2] The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; [3] Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; [4] Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. [5] These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, [6] but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [7] And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ [8] Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. [9] Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, [10] no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. [11] And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. [12] As you enter the house, greet it. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

“These Jesus sent…”

Too often our prayers for missions, our giving for missions, indeed our whole conception of missions is that someone else is going to do the going. Baloney! Jesus says to pray and then he answers the prayer: you go! You go tell your neighbor, your coworker, the homeless man in downtown SLC, the Hindu in India, the atheist in Australia, the Muslim in Dubai. You go!

You are the answer to the prayer.

Do you think the disciples got it? I bet they did. That chapter division throws us off. But it wasn’t there for them – they heard Jesus say “Pray” and then they heard him say “Go.” It’s like the shortest prayer meeting ever. It’s like Jesus sitting down at the dinner table and saying, “someone bless the food.” Peter, you know it’d be Peter, launches into this soliloquy: “Most exalted, gracious, ever-beneficent, Mysterious, sovereign, almighty, L…” and Jesus is like, “Alright already, pass the grapes would you!”

Just because our compassion for the lost turns us immediately to prayer, that doesn’t mean we have to stay there for long. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “don’t pray like the heathens, who assume that they will be heard because of their many words.” I’m afraid some of us may have missed that. We spend so many words praying for the lost that we apparently don’t have any left to share the gospel with them.

Prayer is never the destination for our compassion: taking the gospel is the destination. Prayer is the kick in the pants we need to get going.

But I get it. One of the reasons I struggle to take the gospel is because it’s not easy. I know that’s why many of us fail. It’s hard to put yourself on the line for something that you have no control over the success of. But God doesn’t ask us to succeed in making converts: he’ll do that. He just asks us to be faithful to go, faithful to tell, and faithful to disciple those that he reaches.

Even then, it’s still hard. In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing anyone could ever ask you to do.

You’d think Jesus would make it easy. That he’d try to alleviate the fears of the disciples, our fears, before sending us out. He doesn’t. In fact, it seems like he is doing the exact opposite.

Jesus Doesn’t Try to Sugarcoat the Difficulty of the Task

  1. We are severely handicapped in the tactics we can use.

[16] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

  1. We will be treated just like Jesus was treated.

[17] Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, [18] and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. [19] When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. [20] For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [21] Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, [22] and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [23] When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. [24] “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. [25] It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

  1. We will be tempted to deny the faith.

[26] “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [27] What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. [28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [29] Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. [30] But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. [31] Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [32] So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, [33] but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

  1. We have to be willing to lose peace, family, position, and our very lives

[34] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

  1. We go for the sake of others, not ourselves.

[40] “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. [41] The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. [42] And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Jesus isn’t telling his disciples that they will be rewarded; he’s saying that those who receive them will be rewarded. He isn’t telling them to do this so they are blessed, he says “do it so that those you go to are blessed.”

Conclusion

With the difficulty inherent in the mission we’ve been given, why in the world would we ever agree to go? Because if we are truly transformed by the gospel, we realize that it isn’t about us. The gospel is not about me being saved; it’s about me glorifying God. It’s about loving God, loving others, and making disciples. It’s not thinking less of myself, it’s not thinking about myself at all. The fact that I get eternal life is essentially just a bonus to the fact that I get to tell others about eternal life.

Look at what Paul says in Romans. He’s talking about the gospel going to his countrymen, his fellow Jews. He says, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.”

Do you hear that? That’s someone who gets the gospel. That’s what Christian maturity looks like. Christian maturity isn’t knowing a bunch of Bible verses, it’s not knowing the difference between supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism; Christian maturity is looking at the lostness all around us and saying, “I wish God would damn me to hell if only they would be saved.”

Until we look at lostness and want with every fiber of our being to see it redeemed, so long as we look at lostness and condemn rather than love, we are not following the example of Jesus. In other words, we’re not truly his disciples, whatever else we claim.

*All verses from the ESV, except Romans citation which is NIV

Three Links to Think On

forward-thinking-bannerChristians Can Vote For Trump…

Key Quote: “Christians of sincere faith come to different conclusions about health care, LGBT rights, taxes and immigration. Some Christians oppose all war, and cite scripture to back up their position. Others believe war is sometimes justified — and they, too, support their stance with scripture. There are some things, though, that a Christian can’t support: torture, greed and blatant immorality.”

Is There Such a Thing as Church Authority?

Key Quote: “In our day and age, it’s at least mildly controversial to say the local church isn’t just a voluntary association of Christians, or a resource center for your Christian life, or a means of fellowship that you’re free to take advantage of if you want. It’s probably equally controversial to say that, in fact, the local church plays a unique and vital role in God’s work of redemption because it is the embassy of the kingdom of heaven in this dark and fallen world.”

The State of Theology in America

Key Quote: “Exactly half (50 percent) agree that the Bible has the authority to tell us what we must do.”