I Want to Be An Ass

My new motivational poster.

Ever since I became a Christian in high school, I have regularly exchanged my heroes. At first, my heroes were men like David or Hezekiah who, in moments of crisis, courageously risked life and limb so God would be honored above all (1 Sam. 17:46; Is. 37:20). Then, as I grew I became enamored with saints like Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17) or Boaz (Ruth 2:1-16) or Anna

(Luke 2:36-38) who carried on with quiet, daily, and humble submission to God in the daily grind of mundane, routine life. More heroes took my attention as the years have passed on.

However, I think I found a hero that may be here to stay, at least for awhile. Unlike the previous examples, I feel I can possibly live up to the standard this one sets.

Os Guinness explains:

On the desk in front of me as I write is a tiny silver donkey, standing awkwardly with its characteristic big ears. It could hardly be more different from a thoroughbred racehorse or a magnificent charger that could carry a knight of armor into battle. The donkey reminds me of the proper role of the apologist. In the apostle Peter’s sequel to the letter mentioned earlier, he refers back to the book of Numbers when the prophet Balaam, en route to delivering a message that God had not sanctioned, was stopped in his tracks by the donkey he was riding. Peter described Balaam as the man who was sharply rebuked for his offense “when the dumb beast spoke with the human voice and put a stop to the prophet’s madness” (2 Peter 2:16).

Balaam’s ass is the patron saint of apologists. Madness, as we shall see, is an appropriate term for the unreality of unbelief. In order to counter it, we play our part, and we do the best we can. But even when our efforts are serviceable, our role is always humble and all too often inadequate and somewhat ridiculous. Christian advocates who understand their calling should ever be too big for their boots. The task is not about us. It’s all about him, and he may be trusted to do what matters.

(Taken from Fool’s Talk, p. 50)

I still admire David and Hezekiah for their courage in crisis. Ruth and Boaz and Anna still challenge me to strive daily not for stunning greatness, but for consistent faithfulness. However, my new hero, the donkey of Balaam, daily challenges me to be the “dumb beast” who speaks God’s glorious word with my inglorious human voice to challenge the world’s madness so they’d see the wisdom, truth, goodness, and beauty of the God of the world.

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Unconditional Affirmation is Not Love

Last night, at our home group, we opened the Word and discussed this last Sunday’s sermon text on 1 John 4:7-21 which offers a compelling picture of where love comes from, what love looks like, and how we can enjoy and express it. It was dope.

One of the questions we discussed was, “What are the definitions of love we often see in the world?” Of the many good answers, it was an answer from one of my brothers that struck me with peculiar force: “Love is unconditional affirmation.”

I think he was right. There is widespread belief that loving someone means always accepting and embracing whatever they choose to think, feel, or do and that it is always unloving to challenge, confront, or correct. This view of love thinks it should be all sugar and no scalpel.

However, in truth, this is a love that is lazy, selfish, and so unlike the love Christ shows at the cross. Kevin DeYoung describes this well:

Love is so much more difficult than the bumper stickers make it out to be. It requires so much more than a general sentiment of good will. It is so much deeper and better than unconditional affirmation.

What does unconditional affirmation require of you by way of sacrifice? Nothing. All it requires is a wave of the hand–“Whatever you do, I’m fine. However you live, that’s fine.” The problem with unconditional affirmation is not that it is too lavishly loving, but that it is not nearly loving enough. When God tells us to love our brothers he means more than saying, “I’m okay. You’re okay. Whatever you do is fine and I don’t judge.” To really love your brother is to lay down your life for him. It requires you to die to yourself, which may mean a sacrifice of your time, a sacrifice of your reputation, and a sacrifice of your comfort. Unconditional affirmation only asks that you sacrifice your principles.

Love is harder than we think. Of course we love our kids and grandkids and those who treat us well. We love nice people. But Jesus says even the pagans do this. That’s not hard. People love people who love them. But will we keep on loving when it means bearing burdens we would rather not be bothered with? Will we love when the people we love do not love us in return? Will we lay down our lives for those who are unlovely, undeserving, ungrateful?

Isn’t that what Christ did for us? When we were unlovely and undeserving and ungrateful, Christ died for us. He loved us not because we were holy, but so that we might be holy. His love was self-sacrificing, sin-atoning, and life-transforming.

He loves us with a love that the world does not understand. And it is so much better than unconditional affirmation.

Christians are products of a love that isn’t unconditional affirmation, but selfless confrontation. The love of Jesus is one that compelled Him to be our sacrifice, but also to convict us of our sin in the deepest place of our heart. His is a love that would not affirm us, but interfered with us. For that reason, His people will sing His eternal praise.

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We Must Not Grow Deaf, Blind, or Callous to the Genocide of Our Unborn Neighbors

Joe Rigney recently tweeted a thread concerning abortion that is well worth your time to read and contemplate.

Below is the full text, complete with pictures and links.

A Twitter Thread on Abortion

Watching some Christians react to election news is a sober reminder of how easy it is to forget the unborn and the horrific evil and injustice that is legally done to them every day in this country. Take this sentiment expressed by a Christian journalist, which is simultaneously ignorant, tacky, and completely callous to the horror of the murder of innocents.

It’s ignorant, because (1) correlation does not equal causation, and (2) a far more plausible reason that abortion rates declined in those years is owing to pro-life legislation at the state level.

It’s tacky, because the primary aim of the comment is to antagonize pro-life Christians who voted for Trump on the ground that he has followed through on many of his campaign promises regarding pro-life policies & judges. Make light of baby murder to own the Trumpsters.

It’s callous, because Biden/Harris plan to aggressively rollback policies that limit abortions. They want to end of the Mexico City policy (which will result in exporting America’s abortion radicalism to the world) and they plan to end of Hyde Amendment (which limits federal funding for abortions), forcing Christian organizations (like Little Sisters of the Poor) to fund abortions under the ACA.

A significant challenge for the pro-life movement is that abortion is out of sight, out of mind. No nightly news updates televising the latest dismembering. A media committed to covering for a billion dollar industry that enriches itself on killing children & selling their parts.

The evil of abortion is evident to natural reason. The humanity of the unborn is established by embryology. The dignity & worth of the unborn is accessible to the consciences of all by virtue of the moral law written on our hearts. But human beings are naturally truth-suppressors. And therefore, it is incumbent on Christians–of all people–to remember the unborn, to refuse to ignore the silent screams, and to resist the impulse to rationalize, minimize, & make light of our country’s gravest moral evil. Because the womb is not dark to God. He sees the violence done in the secret place by our so-called “healers.” He hears the silent screams. And his justice does not sleep. He stores up wrath for a day of reckoning. What’s more, he sees the way that civility and social “decency” becomes a cover for evil. He knows that “the appearance of godliness” can mask heinous injustice.

When I consider our nation’s great evil, I always think of this quotation from the preface to The Screwtape Letters:

“I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps & labour camps [or abortion clinics]… In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars & cut fingernails & smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

And right now I see far too many Christians who are willing to celebrate those quiet, smooth-shaven men [and women]. And what’s more sobering, God sees, and God knows. We would be wise to repent of our apathy in the day of his kindness. Some day the iniquity of the Americans will be complete. Until then, have mercy, Lord Jesus.

A Good Example of Winsome Engagement on Social Media

After this tweet thread, Joe Rigney engaged in a back and forth conversation with a commentator. Pay attention to Dr. Rigney’s civil tone, concise answers, and dedication to not allow the conversation to get off topic. Also, pay attention to the content of Dr. Rigney’s answers in that they are concise answers to common objections.

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A Few Proverbs for Election Week in 2020

So, as you know, America is knee deep in an exhausting and elongated election week. On both sides of the aisle, the tensions are high, the hot takes are plentiful, and the volume is deafening. On both sides of the aisles, wisdom seems to be the minority.

As I’ve walked through this week (or as it has walked over me), I found a few Proverbs to be sobering, corrective, and helpful to my soul and my interactions with others. In hopes they may serve you similarly, here they are in no particular order.

Winsome Words Are Far More Persuasive Than Hostile Words

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

“With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” Proverbs 25:15

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18

Hatred and hollering are this week’s favored modes of political communication. However, if you think you have something important to communicate and truly want to persuade others, you’ll ensure your words are measured, controlled, and winsome. Don’t let your manner eclipse your message. Wisdom will have you think about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.

Don’t Have a Naive View of Human Craftiness and Deceitfulness

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” Proverbs 11:3

This world has wicked people who do wicked things. It’s filled with sinners who sin and liars who lie. This is true of low class, mid-class, and high-class. All people in all political parties have sin within and this reality should temper us from both unthinkingly defending wrongs that are proven or naively denying that wrongs could ever be done. Sin is bipartisan and wisdom helps us be honest in confessing and realistic in acknowledging it’s possibility. If something or someone is shady, wisdom seems to say, “Check it out.”

Seek Truth, Not Something That Will Confirm Your Bias

“The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.” Proverbs 15:14

Folly wants victory and will exult in anything or anyone that brings it. Wisdom wants truth and will exult in anything or anyone that brings it. Don’t ask, “Is this agreeable?” but instead, “Is this true?” Don’t jump on something because it agrees with your narrative, but because it agrees with reality. Wise people love truth more than confirmation.

Love Being Corrected

“Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.” Proverbs 15:32

Fools hate correction and avoid it or attack those who offer it. If your view on something gets corrected, don’t double down on your falsehood or attack the corrector, Instead, buy that guy a beer and say thank you. Wise people love being corrected because they hate being deceived more than being humbled. Those who point out your error should be treated as your dearest friends.

Examine All the Relevant Evidence Before You Believe a Story

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17

Clickbait confirmation is a heck of drug and we love to pass it around. However, wisdom urges us to examine relevant evidence, facts, proofs, and alternative explanations before we cast our judgment. I think Albert Mohler exemplified this well in today’s episode of The Briefing:

Simply out of respect to the complexities of the situation and the uncertainties of the moment seeking not to add to those uncertainties, we’re going to defer conversation about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election until after the weekend. Hoping that during that time, Americans will gain a clearer picture and increased confidence in the entire electoral process. We’ll know more on this huge question as days and hours unfold.

Dr. Mohler could have ensured an incredible amount of listeners if he chose to speak about the claims of fraudulent votes, but wisdom had him make no comment until more was understood. Could there be voter fraud? Sure (see two points above). Should conservatives automatically believe that? Not until the evidence has been investigated more thoroughly than just seeing a curious graph. Because people can be guilty of all sorts of tomfoolery, the claims of fraud should be investigated. But because our first guesses can sometimes be wrong, we should suspend making judgments or believing stories until all the evidence is examined.

Make Sure Your Not Peddling Fake News.

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” Proverbs 15:2

“The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.” Proverbs 15:7

Yes, fake news is a real problem, but it is a problem that exists for Blue and Red. One of the best ways to stop fake news is by ensuring you never share it and that you apologize when you do. Take responsibility for peddling mind garbage. How can you ensure you don’t share it? See the preceding point.

Don’t Accuse Others of Wrongdoing Until You Can Prove.

“A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.” Proverbs 25:18

It is wrong to lead with accusations of a person or a group and then scramble for evidence. Those who lodge baseless or unproven or unsupported accusations are like weapons that only hurt, destroy, and kill. Useless for building anything good.

Make Sure You Fear God More Than the Other Political Party

“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” Proverbs 15:16

It’s always reorienting to ask yourself, “What do I really fear the most?” Everyone has something that tops their list of “Things I Fear.” For some, it’s loss of security or money or health. For others, it is the existence of certain people or the possibility of certain events. There are lots of others. The fact is clear, everyone has something they fear most.

Right now, the fear-soup-de-jour is the other political party. But, it shouldn’t be.

In ten billion years your fear of the Republicans or the Democrats will mean nothing to you. Your fear of God will mean everything. This doesn’t mean political engagement is unimportant, but it definitely means its not the most important. Not by a long shot. As Jesus said

“And do not fear those who kill the body (insert your worst political fears here) but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” Matthew 10:28

Why should we not revolve our life around politics as most important? Because the one who has authority over our soul must be infinitely be more revered and important to us than the silly creatures who can only touch our bodies. Sticks and stone can break our bones, but God alone will judge me.

This week, you and I are being told to more concerned about political agendas than anything else. We’re told to have political agendas weigh most heavily in our thinking, feeling, and doing. But, wisdom says: stop that nonsense. Fear not the Donkey. Fear not the Elephant. Fear only the Lamb. Have your thinking, feeling, speaking, and typing formed most by the King’s who reigns and not President who campaigns. Do not be most concerned with those who sit in the Oval Office for four years more than you fear Him who sits on the throne for eternity. Their reign will last a moment, but his will be everlasting.

Get them priorities straight.

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A Picture of Manliness

Although there are lots of views, hot takes, and controversies about what a healthy, godly man looks like, I hope this is a picture all of us could get behind.

“When a man has a large, loving heart, men go to him as ships to a haven, and feel at peace when they have anchored under the lee of his friendship. Such a man is hearty in private as well as in public; his blood is not cold and fishy, but he is warm as your own fireside. No pride and selfishness chill you when you approach him; he has his doors all open to receive you, and you are at home with him at once. Such men I would persuade you to be, every one of you.”

Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

I want to be a man like this, I want my daughters to marry men like this, I pray my church is filled with men like this, because Jesus is a man like this.

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Your Pastor Has to Be Blameless

It doesn’t take long to hear about pastors who’ve been sexually abusive, used funds unethically, have acted or spoken in reprehensible ways, or lived in hidden addiction while acting like all is well. Recording more names and failings would be difficult, not because there aren’t more examples, but because of how much time it would actually take to type it all out.

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the evangelical church has something of a crises on its hands when it comes to the character of her pastors.

My Gut’s Response to Pastors’ Failures

Each time I hear of pastors who have disqualified themselves from ministry, I am overcome with two deep feelings. First, a deep pain for how these pastors have given the world reason to dismiss the gospel and the church. Pastors represent Christ and his gospel of salvation in an incredibly powerful way to both the world and the saints. When they fall, they take much down with them. The pastoral office is a high stakes calling and that is why not many should become teachers in the church (James 3:1). So, when I see men entrusted with such an important position fall in sin, hypocrisy, or duplicity, my heart breaks in ten-thousand pieces because I love the Savior and the saints they represent.

The second feeling I have is one of anger. I feel pain for the Savior and the people affected by unqualified pastors, but I feel anger at those who seek to lift themselves up even though it crushes others low. I resonate deeply with the woes Jesus charged against the religious leaders of his day:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice . . . They do all their deeds to be seen by others . . . they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others . . . The greatest among you shall be your servant . . . Matthew 23:1-11

No one bears the responsibility to reflect Christ’s sacrificial, shepherd’s love for the church as much as pastors do. They are to be the best imitators of Christ among us. So, when they forsake their calling to benefit from the sheep instead of benefit the sheep, a deep well of anger rises up within me. And, if Jesus still feels the same about such men today as he did in the first century, then it angers him too.

Is there grace left for such men? Yes! Absolutely! If they repent. The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the lost son (Luke 15:11-32) are just as true for the fallen pastor as any other sinner. If any would acknowledge their sin, repent of it from their heart, and bear fruit in keeping with that repentance, they will find a gracious Savior to cleanse them and a gracious people ready to receive them back into fellowship (Romans 10:9; Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). Their repentance doesn’t mean they should become pastors again (as this isn’t anyone’s right), but they should definitely (as long as their church is acting faithfully to Scripture) be joyfully welcomed back into membership with God’s people. The church of Jesus Christ is for repentant sinners! However, unfortunately, genuine repentance for such men seems to be the exception and not the rule.

What Can the Church Do About Failing Pastors?

There is a lot to say in answer to such a question, but one of the first things that must be said is simply: the church must take seriously Paul’s pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 more seriously. This won’t make it impossible for unqualified men to become a pastor, but by taking the qualifications given us in Scripture more seriously in calling men to the position or evaluating men already in the position will go a long way in helping the crises of falling pastors.

It’d be worth taking time to walk through each of the qualifications and I may do that (for my own sake) in the future. But for now, there is one summary qualification for pastors that will do any believer well to meditate on and take seriously. That is, a pastor must be “above reproach” or “blameless.”

Paul said it this way:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. Titus 1:5-7

If the church begins to demand their pastor(s) are men who are “above reproach,” then the church at large will begin making significant steps forward in decreasing the amount of unqualified, ungodly, and dangerous men who fill so many pulpits. The logic isn’t difficult. If a church’s pastor lives in such a way where it would be hard for folks to accuse him of any legitimate wrongdoing, then it’s likely he isn’t doing wrong at all. So, when a church is evaluating pastors either for hiring or keeping, it shouldn’t first look for humor, leadership abilities, vision casting, organizational skills, or inspirational charisma, but for blamelessness.

This prompts the question: what does “above reproach” or “blamelessness” mean?

What Does It Mean to Be Above Reproach?

Simply, it means that pastors should live such Christ-like, exemplary lives that they wouldn’t be charge with wrong doing often or legitimately. I say often and legitimately because even the best of men can be falsely accused every now and then, but the best of men are not accused often or with legitimate accusations. However, if a man is frequently accused of wrong doing by folks who seem to have something legitimate reputation and evidence for their accusation, then the church must start listening and praying hard for wisdom.

To help further color in the qualification of being “above reproach,” I offer two helpful voices. David Mathis says:

As low-bar as “above reproach” may sound in some ears, with just a little reflection we can discover some of the wisdom in it. This banner qualification is not merely “innocent” or “righteous” or “acquitted,” but “above reproach.” We are looking for men above being reasonably charged with wrong in the first place. The term means, writes commentator George Knight, “not open to attack or criticism” (The Pastoral Epistles, 155); “he is not objectively chargeable” (156). He’s not one who makes a practice of dancing around the fine line of righteous reproach.

Whether a man is technically innocent (or not) is not the entirety of the issue for church leadership. He might be unnecessarily controversial in a way that betrays immaturity or lack of wisdom. We want a pastor to be not only forensically righteous but also “the kind of man whom no one suspects of wrongdoing or immorality” (Anyabwile, 57).

John Stott further reflects:

As we approach the question of eligibility for the pastorate, we are struck at once by the requirement of blamelessness, which is repeated. An elder must he blameless (6a); an overseer … must be blameless (7a). This does not of course mean that candidates must be flawless or faultless, or we would all be disqualified. The Greek word used is anenklētos, not amōmos. Amōmos means ‘unblemished’. It occurs in the New Testament only in eschatological contexts; that is, it looks forward to our final perfection. Anenklētos, however, means not ‘without blemish’ but ‘without blame’, ‘unaccused’. So candidates for the pastorate must be people of ‘unquestioned integrity’ (JBP), of ‘unimpeachable’ (REB) or ‘irreproachable’ (JB) character. Paraphrasing the word, they should be ‘marred by no disgrace’; ‘they should offer no loophole for criticism’. All this recognizes that the pastorate is a public office, and that therefore the candidate’s public reputation is important. Hence the requirement in many churches today both of individual references and testimonials and of a si quis, that is, a public statement by the candidate, followed by a public opportunity for the congregation to challenge it.

Stott, John. The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (The Bible Speaks Today Series) . InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Pastors don’t need to be perfect. They can’t be. Even more, they don’t need to be “near perfect.” But they do, they absolutely do, need to be “above reproach.”

A Simple Plea: let’s Adopt God’s Standards for Our Pastors

John Stott, a man who pastored the same local church for over fifty years, taking his que from Paul’s list of pastoral qualifications, offered this challenge to make sure:

When there is a shortage of pastors, the temptation is to lower the standards of eligibility, and accept and appoint everybody who applies, even if they are not blameless in home life, behaviour and doctrine. Virtually all churches have selection procedures. But they do not always maintain apostolic standards. Instead, in some churches today it is no barrier to ordination (if) a candidate has a public reputation for a lack of Christian integrity and consistency; is married, divorced and remarried, even more than once; is a practising homosexual; has children who are both unbelieving and undisciplined; has a serious flaw in character or conduct; or holds liberal theological views with little respect for the authority of Scripture. It is something of a scandal that, in defiance of the apostle’s teaching, such persons are recommended and accepted for (pastoral ministry). So let us do what we can to copy Paul’s strategy and maintain Paul’s standards. The church would be in a far healthier condition if we did.

Stott, John. The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (The Bible Speaks Today Series). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The church is unimaginably harmed when unqualified men lead her. The only way to avoid that is by taking the apostles’ words seriously and putting them into practice. If our pastors are not “blameless,” they should not be pastors.

May the churches of Christ all over the world hold their pastors to the same standard that Christ does. If we do, I think some good will come.

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A Prayer for Those Returning Home From Work

“Love does not insist on its own way…” 1 Corinthians 13:4

Rob Green helpfully applies this characteristic of love to the husband driving home from a long and tiring day at work:

While many people marry because the other person helps them love themselves better than anyone else, biblical love is interested in giving instead of taking, and serving instead of being served. When people arrive home from work, they often feel tired and run down. They are ready for a relaxing, problem-free evening. But when they are met at the door by a needy spouse (one who wants to have adult conversation for the next two hours, one who wants to share her feelings and emotions, one who is crying after a horrible day), there is a tendency to get frustrated. Biblical love does not demand from the other person, but willingly gives. Biblical love seeks the good of the other.

You might ask, “How does this happen?” Most of us, myself included, have a drive from our work to our home. A wise man uses this drive time to pray and confess something like this:

“Lord, you know I am tired. What I want most is to go home and discover that the homework is done, a wonderful dinner is ready, and a relaxing evening of playing outside in the beautiful weather is ahead. But I know that your will might be something different today.

Help me to remember that I don’t need anything because you have given me everything I need. If I get home and chaos exists, help me to gently, kindly, patiently love each member of my family. Help me remember that my wife has probably had a hard day too and you may calling me to serve her tonight. Please help me to use this opportunity to display the reality that Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present ministry are meaningful in my life.”

(Taken from Tying the Knot, p. 31-32)

May God’s men love their families in such a way.

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What Jean Calvin & Modern Secularists Have in Common

Secular progessivism is looking much more like a religion than a movement nowadays. Each passing day provides more and more evidence that the separation of church and state applies only to organized religions and not the religion of secular liberal humanism that saturates progressive media, mindset, and legislature.

Maybe a few small examples could help flesh this out.

Racing for Pink Slips

Recently, California unashamedly rolled out their new public school “Health Education Framework” which brazenly promotes its own tribe’s sexual morality over the historic and common views held by Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Christians, and many other religious constituents.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges, by act of will (p. 3), that the definition of marriage had to be edited (erased completely?) in order for it to fit more snugly within a modern naturalistic metaphysic instead of the definition held by religious and irreligious folks since we started recording history.

Each year, California legislature continues to propose new bills that would greatly diminish or destroy religious liberty (for example).

What we see today is not a battle between those who want church and state to be married (most Christians would be against this) and those who don’t. It’ a battle where one religion in particular, secular progressivism, is racing for pink slips.

Progessives & Jean Calvin

Jonathan Leeman teases this out wonderfully:

People often criticize John Calvin for his argument that the state should enforce the first two commandments (no other gods, no idols), and I would agree with those critiques. Yet it occurs to me that more and more secular progressives do what Calvin did — they publicly promote their gods and prosecute forms of worship that offend them. My friend Andrew T. Walker recently tweeted:

Don’t be fooled: Secularism is a form of theocracy. It’s very jealous for its own glory, commands our worship, & demands a set of ethics.

How do secular progressives do this? Certainly through the ordinary legislation and judicial processes. Yet it’s also worth highlighting the work that public schools and education policy do in making disciples. Education is a society’s “paramount moral duty,” said political philosopher John Dewey, since it is “the fundamental method of social progress and reform.” Through the public schools the children of a nation come to “share in the social consciousness” of that nation.

To put it another way, public schools, as agents of the state, participate in the religious indoctrination of their students. Before the Civil War, schools reinforced a Protestant orientation. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, school lessons began to move in a naturalistic direction. After World War II, secular progressivism became increasingly predominant. Schools today especially work to cultivate students who are conscientious in matters of social justice.”

A member of my church whose children attend a Washington, DC, public school recently received an e-mail announcement from the school notifying parents of the school’s participation in a Gay Pride parade. I appreciate the fact that the school sent an e-mail. That doesn’t always happen now. The letter explained that the school “values diversity and “strives to create a safe and inclusive environment.” The administration believed that participating in the parade would be “a great way to proactively engage your child(ren) in a conversation about LGBTQ people in a way that focuses on acceptance, respect and understanding, promoting the spread of correct and positive information.”

I, too, hope that schools will foster “acceptance, respect and understanding” for all people, no matter how they identify themselves. Yet my Christian faith does not treat every conceivable identity-construct as morally legitimate. Should we foster “acceptance, respect and understanding” for those who identify themselves as thieves, adulterers, or (as I saw on one courtroom television show) vampires? For the people themselves, yes. For their identities as thieves, adulterers, or vampires? Not according to my faith.

What this school e-mail represents, then, is the state’s concerted effort to religiously indoctrinate my friend’s ten-, eight-, and five-year-olds in a different faith. A faith that worships the gods of self-definition and self-expression.

Through the classroom, the legislator, and the courtroom, today’s progressive is only too happy to use the state to enforce his moral and religious codes.

Taken from, “How the Nations Rage,” p. 41-42

As Mary Eberstadt said, “Secular progressivism today is less a political movement than a church.”

We’re All Pretty Darn Religious

The point I think important to walk away with is this: none of us enters the political sphere without bias, underlying presuppositions, or even an agenda. As Leeman says elsewhere, “Either we ask the state to play savior, or, to say it the same thing a different way, we demand it plays servants to our gods” (How the Nations Rage, p. 28). What is important is for all parties, but especially those who fancy themselves “irreligious,” to stop pretending they separate their deepest held beliefs from their political activity and to acknowledge how “religious” they actually are.

Then, we can move forward with at least a little more clarity and honesty.

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Ooh, That Double Vision

He saved perfectly, he’s saving progressively, & he will save completely.

In reading my devotions today, I came across a passage that stirred my heart so I thought it may do the same for yours, my dear friend and pilgrim.

In Titus 2:1-10, Paul issues a series of ethical commands for how Christians are to live and what kind of people they should strive to be in Christ. After explaining how Christians are to live in 2:1-10, Paul then explains why in Titus 2:11-14.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-13

Notice this simple, yet profound truth: what a Christian does today is grounded in what Christ did and what Christ will do. Our present life is a response to the grace of Christ that appeared in the past and the glory of Christ that appear in the future.

John Stott helps apply this in his commentary on Titus.

The apostle, in this short paragraph of only four verses (11–14) brings together the two termini of the Christian era, that is, the first coming of Christ which inaugurated it and the second coming of Christ which will terminate it. He bids us look back to the one and on to the other. For we live ‘in between times’, suspended rather uncomfortably between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ . . .

The best way to live now, in this present age, is to learn to do spiritually what is impossible physically, namely to look in opposite directions at the same time. We need both to look back and remember the epiphany of grace (whose purpose was to redeem us from all evil and to purify for God a people of his own), and also to look forward and anticipate the epiphany of glory (whose purpose will be to perfect at his second coming the salvation he began at his first).

This deliberate orientation of ourselves, this looking back and looking forward, this determination to live in the light of Christ’s two comings, to live today in the light of yesterday and tomorrow—this should be an essential part of our daily discipline. We need to say to ourselves regularly the great acclamation, ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.’ For then our present duties in the home will be inspired by the past and future epiphanies of Christ.

Canon Hay Aitken suggested that the two comings of Christ are like ‘two windows … in the School of Grace’. Through the western window a solemn light streams from Mt. Calvary. Through the eastern window shines the light of sunrising, the herald of a brighter day. ‘Thus the School of Grace is well lighted; but we cannot afford to do without the light from either West or East.’

Stott, John. The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (The Bible Speaks Today Series) . InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The Christian’s present life must be motivated, guided, ruled, and fueled by focusing on both the grace of Christ’s past cross and the glory of his future crown. If it’s not, we’ve lost our track.

As Foreigner once sang:

Ooh, double vision, I need my double vision
Ooh, It takes me out of my head, takin’ me out of my head
Ooh, I get my double vision
Ooh, seeing double double, double vision
Ooh, oh my double vision
Ooh, double vision
Yeah-ah, I get double vision, ooh . . .
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How Ought a Christian Behave in 2020?

A real life picture of a Facebook debate.

Americans are living in a fairly chaotic and volatile time. Our two political parties have never seemed so polarized. Many see the government’s actions in response to the virus as either too weak and insufficient or way too strong and unnecessary. As the election nears, the alarmist rhetoric from both sides of the aisle sounds more and more like a bad counterfeit of the book of Revelation. The prophets are condemning the other side to hell while shouting to the watching world, “The end is near (if our candidate isn’t voted in)!”

Our chaotic time has created (intensified?) a chaotic style of discourse as well. Whether online or in-person, we’re surrounded by people screaming at, accusing, and disrespecting those with different views than them on the big things (e.g. abortion, racism, economic structure) and the little things (e.g. masks). No one seems to know (or care) how to get along.

How Ought a Believer Behave in 2020?

So, this brings us to a good question to ponder, “How ought believers in Jesus behave in such times of governmental controversy and conversational pollution?” What do we need to be reminded of in 2020?

To get straight to it, here are six good counsels to start.

(1) Have a Posture of Ready Submission to the Government

The government is a gift from God for which we should be thankful (Rom. 13:1). The government’s authority is established by God so we should be ready to respect her officials and obey her rules (Rom. 13:7) when it acts legitimately and doesn’t forbid what God commands or command what God forbids (as my pastor likes to put it). Yes, there are times were obedience to Christ demands we disobey the government (Acts 4:18-20), but the default position of a Christian’s heart must be submission, obedience, and honor to the land’s rulers ans laws. For a really helpful sermon on this, see here.

(2) Be Ready for Good Works

Don’t allow the problems “out there,” which you can do little to nothing about make you ignore the problems “right here” that you can do a lot about. By all means, pay attention to what’s happening in our world “out there” and be active, but know this: Christians should be busier in doing good to their neighbor in person (e.g. practicing hospitality, helping someone follow Jesus, etc.) than they are owning the libs online.

(3) Speak Evil of No One

Informed disagreement is vastly different than speaking evil (e.g. disrespecting, slandering, baseless accusations). Christians are encouraged to the former, but prohibited from the latter. This includes (especially) those with different political views than you or those in government positions. Make sure your mouth delivers only light and life.

(4) Avoid Quarreling

Again, informed, civil, and respectful debate is different than engaging in verbal fistfights. The goal of civil debate is to persuade folks who think differently with thoughtful arguments and even being open to learn in the process. The goal of quarreling is to score points with those who already agree with you by using all sorts of soundbites, slogans, and “gotcha” tricks with no intention of seriously listening or learning. Avoid quarreling like you do dumpster fires because, like them, they’re only hot and stinky.

(5) Be Gentle

This must be a hallmark characteristic of any Christian communication whether it be preaching those who believe or attempting to persuade those who don’t; whether it be speaking with those who respect you or those who disrespect you. Allow the world to rant and rave and yell and threat, but Christ’s people must not descend into such juvenile, thoughtless habits. May our speech, in writing or speaking, online or in person, be always gentle (1 Peter 3:15).

(6) Be Perfectly Courteous Toward All People

There is more to being a Christian than being polite, but not less. It behooves those bought by Christ’s blood to show basic respect, manners, and civility toward others who bear his image. This means we should not be known for interrupting, shouting, yelling, name-calling, not listening carefully, or other disrespectful practices. Whether or not folks agree with what you say, they should at least always walk away thinking, “What a respectful person they are.” If you find yourself wary of this, think of the alternative. Do you think it is ever a good thing for a person to walk away from conversation with us saying to themselves, “What a disrespectful and rude person they are.” Remember, there is nothing virtuous about saying true things in a jerky way. Keep the truth, leave the jerkiness.

Four Brief Notes About the Above Counsels

First, if you think the above sounds too politically correct and soft-footed, then take a quick look at Titus 3:1-2:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

If you have issues with the counsels, then know whom you’re disagreeing with.

Second, one good thing about the internet is your writing and interactions are written down to look at later. Consider taking the above list and hold your own interactions up to it. Where are areas in your conversation where you see God’s grace? Praise God for those! What are some habits you need to repent of?

Third, I think we need to realize that a lot of our online and in-person debate characteristics are taken from the world instead of the Lord. Many of us look more like (insert high profile conservative here) instead of Jesus. So, I ask you, “Who is forming you? In whose image are you being conformed?”

Fourth, some may be thinking, “But this is a time to stand up for the sake of religious liberty, the life of the unborn, and other important rights being threatened!” To that, I say: you are absolutely correct! Informed believers should be speaking life-giving (both eternally and temporally) truth and not be cowered into silence! It is important! And that is all the more why the above counsels are needed because our message is muted when we ignore them. If you seek quarrels, people will avoid you. If you speak evilly of people, people will ignore your message. If your life isn’t adorned with good works, people will note your hypocrisy and think your message of little power. If you don’t pay attention to how you are communicating, then many will not pay attention to what you are communicating. Yes, this is a time to speak up and therefore it is all the more important to pay attention to Scripture’s commands concerning our conduct. We should not want to obscure life-giving truth with ugly tactics.

As usual, there’s more to say and more nuance to explain, but here’s the bottom line: God has a lot to say about what we say (our message), but also how we say it (our manner); both our beliefs and our behavior. As followers of Jesus, we want to make sure that we take both seriously.

As a final thought, I think it will help keep us from danger if we make sure we are always more critical of ourselves than we are of others. Let’s not allow the world’s great evils make us blind to our own folly and neglect of Scripture’s commands. As John Stott once said: “We should not ask, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, ‘What has happened to the salt and light?’”

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