26 October 2016

Why SCOTUS is not the Most Important Thing

I have read opinion pieces, listened to commentary on the cable news networks, and had personal conversations about why Christians should vote for Donald Trump. And it is basically summed up as, "It's all about the Supreme Court stupid."  Okay, I embellished the "stupid" part, but that seems to capture the sentiment, even if the word isn't employed.
The evangelical case for Trump appears to have been reduced to this single issue for many voters of faith, probably because one is hard pressed to find positive reasons to vote for him. But I don't want to focus on that. What I want to suggest is that if you feel like you are compelled to hold your nose and vote for a candidate simply because you think the moral destiny of the country is in the hands of the next few Supreme Court appointments, then I would like you to consider a couple of reasons why that thinking might be misguided.
First, if true, biblical Christian moral reform is going to take place in our country, it is unlikely to happen through the Supreme Court. We know that the court is charged with interpretation and application of the law and the Constitution. When our local laws and lower courts fall into disagreement and contradictions, then the Supreme Court steps in and makes a ruling. I believe that by the time such divisive issues reach this point the culture has already shifted. 
It is disconcerting to see the court overrule state laws, mandating the legal killing of the unborn and legitimizing same-sex marriage across the land.  But these decisions only became realities because of the cultural momentum that carried the debate to that level.  These decisions do not mark the beginning of moral decline, they represent the inevitable result of such decline. 
Many, believe that if we just get conservative justices on the court, then these decisions could be reversed, or at very least prevent future poor decisions.  However, this is not the solution within our political system.  Reversal of such decisions might be a moral victory of such, but it would simply send the issue back into the states, where possibly not much would end up changing.  Some states may revert back to making abortion illegal and not recognizing same-sex marriage, but it probably wouldn't be a surprise to find that this wouldn't happen as easily or enthusiastically as we might imagine.   
To arrive at real corporate repentance, resulting, for example, in the protection the unborn and upholding of biblical marriage through the civil government, it will have to happen through the legislature.  Whereas SCOTUS makes rulings about the proper application of the law and the Constitution, the congress of our country has the ability to amend the Constitution and create the law that the court would then be compelled to uphold.  It is the senators and representatives that most directly represent the people, and they are the ones that, according to our Constitution, can amend the Constitution.  It takes an enormous amount of consensus and cooperation to amend the Constitution.  I don't think we would want it otherwise.  But it has happened (27 times to be exact, the first 10 all at the same time), and it could happen again if the will of the people and their representatives had enough conviction about the importance of any given issue.
To hang your vote solely on the hope of SCOTUS being the function of government that will execute real moral change is misplaced.  You and I might want to focus more on who we send to congress, and then lobby for them truly to represent us and do what is congruent with biblical principles.
Second, for real moral reform to occur an ideological shift must take place in the citizens that would then be represented and reflected in our government.  How could that happen?  It has to come from the impact of the churches in America.  It must emanate from the people of God submitting to the Word of God.  It can only come through the power of the Gospel genuinely transforming lives one by one until the ideas of biblical Christianity begin to get infused into our thinking and actions.  Real moral change in this country can only come to pass when churches are revived to greater and greater faithfulness and move away from compromise and worldliness.  When enough of this happens, then the conscience of a nation may begin to be affected.  When that begins to happen, then laws and policies may begin to change that reflect that new reality.   

We need to admit that our government and leaders reflect us.  Like the moon has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun, so those in government reflect the nature of the people as a whole who elect them. We tend to think that a real moral course correction in a country can come from the top down, but I believe that is wrong.  Such change must flow from the bottom up.  It starts with us and our immediate families.  It happens first in our local churches and home towns.  It builds through having the conviction to send the right kind of representatives to state capitols and Washington D.C. 
It has taken some time for the Christian underpinnings in our country to erode to where we are today.  It may take some time to see a spiritually renewed and awakened country.  But I believe it can happen.  But it starts right where you are, not in DC, and certainly not with SCOTUS.

21 October 2016

Being Christian and American

I think one reason many American evangelicals get in such a twist in regards to politics is because we fail to put into proper relationship our being Christian and being American.  We possess both identities simultaneously; however, we need to keep in view some key differences that will help at least keep our hearts calmer, our mouths milder, and our hope affixed to the right source.

The proper relationship between Christian and American rests in which identity I allow to encompass the other.  Christians have lived for the last two millennia in different places within different kinds of political realities.  They have lived in environments that have been hostile to their faith, some more friendly, and some shaped to some degree by it.  Regardless, Christians are always first and foremost followers of Jesus and citizens of heaven.  They are secondly, citizens of the places in which they physically reside.
For me, this means that I always view my citizenship as an American through the lens of my faith, and the lens of my faith is only in focus as far as it is true to the precepts and principles of the Bible.  Here are few truths that flow from this perspective. 
1. I am a Christian forever, and I am an American temporarily
My identity in Christ stretches back to the foundations of the earth and will extend beyond this life into eternity.  Before I was formed God knew me, and the life I live now in Christ is imperishable.  I became an American on January 12, 1967.  When I die I will no longer be an American.  That reality will forever be in the past.  My identity in Christ is now and forever. 
2. I am a Christian with an infallible guide, and I am an American with a flawed political system
My identity in Christ comes with a completely trustworthy guide in the Bible.  It is the God-breathed revelation that will endure forever to which I can go to know God, myself, and how to live in proper relationship with Him and others.  As an American we have guiding documents that men have produced. No matter what quality of sound reason, intelligence or enlightenment that went into them, they have been and always will be imperfect.  Our laws and policies always have been inequitable to some degree.  All the systems that come from man are limited and susceptible to corruption.  We work for justice, but understand that justice will falter and fail when leaders do not walk with God.    
3. I am a Christian whose conscience belongs to God, and I am an American who has a duty to country.

My eternal life in Christ necessitates that my conscience has a sole owner.  This ownership is absolute and final.  Therefore, my decisions, both small and great, are submitted to Christ’s lordship.  My fear is reserved for Him alone.  He must exercise complete dominion over my every thought and action.  As an American I have a God-given responsibility to my country and its leaders.  I am to submit to the authority God has granted them and to pay my taxes.  I am to pray that they will govern righteously.  It is the responsibility of leaders to reflect His righteousness in the manner in which they govern.  However, no matter what I think of the job they are doing, I am called by my only master to submit and honor my government, seeking to be the model, law-abiding citizen. 
4. I am a Christian with inalienable rights, and I am an American whose rights and freedoms can change.

I think this may be our most glaring blind spot.  Political freedoms for American Christians are typically perceived as a God-given right.  It’s one thing to know that the founders of the country may have thought this, but it is another thing to point to the Word of God and make the case.  I find this idea in the Declaration of Independence, but not in the Bible.  In actuality, my freedoms, privileges, and even my life can be taken away from me by governing authorities.  This has been true for many Christians.  If you could ask the black Christians living in our country throughout most of our history, they might indeed testify to this reality.  The earliest Christians living under Roman Emperors could confirm the same, as well as many others from history and in places in the world today. However, your freedom in Christ and your inheritance as a child of God is inalienable.  An earthly government might take away your physical freedom or even your life, but not what you possess in Christ.  This is all that is truly inalienable.  It is nice to live in a context with freedom and justice, but it’s not the ultimate treasure for the Christian.
We must be careful to be grateful for our American heritage and the freedoms that we enjoy.  It is certainly appropriate to work to defend those freedoms and protect them in a respectful manner honoring to God.  However, we must never turn the American ideal, American individualism, or personal freedom into an idol.  We must only worship God with our whole lives while we live as honorable citizens of our country.

06 October 2016

God is Bigger than Trump, Hillary or My Vote

We are only about a month away from one of the most strange and divisive presidential elections I can remember.  I’ve struggled with the choices we’ve been handed next month, and I’ve listened to people I respect give their thoughts about the situation. With Hillary on the far left and Trump on the far right (I think), the choice would seem to be clear.  But I’ve observed that the problem for some is a genuine struggle to give either their vote. 
I’m a Christian who has the wonderful privilege to vote.  Not every person on the planet has that privilege.  It just feels wrong to want not to vote - like I'm disrespecting that privilege.  But I think many find both candidates unsuitable for different reasons.  Fortunately, the Bible is my source for helping me to know what my duty is, not as an American, but as a citizen of heaven.  This is not downplaying the importance or privilege of the election, but it helps me keep all this in perspective.
In 1 Peter 2:11-17 I read what God, through Peter, told early Christians was important as they navigated their culture.  Because I believe in the relevancy of God’s Word, I think it’s just as applicable today and a particularly timely help for all believers.
Peter was encouraging Christians who lived in a hostile environment. Many did not understand them, slandered them, and mistreated them.  He basically reminded them that their identity was bigger than their earthly citizenship and their responsibility extended beyond earthly leaders. 
First he acknowledged that they were truly “aliens and strangers” to this world.  He urged them to a proper behavior, but he put their lives into a spiritual context first.  A Christian’s true home is heaven, the city of God.  Believers have been and will always be spiritual refugees always on the move to their real home.  So, for now if we feel that we are just out of step with our American culture, we might just want to remember the reason.  This is not our true home.
Second, Peter urged Christians to possess a blameless character.  He pleaded with believers to be diligent in abstaining from “fleshly lusts” and to keep their “behavior excellent.”  He told them to do this in spite of hostility toward them.  In doing so, he said that some will ultimately give God glory because of such excellent behavior.  Some people will become Christians, who were once hostile to Christianity, because God will use the undeniable good character of believers as a witness and opportunity for the Gospel.  This should remind us that our greatest impact for the greatest good is not at the ballot box, but in our walk with Christ and witness to others every day.  The power of the Gospel to transform lives and even culture will flow from the church house, not the White House.
Lastly, Peter instructs Christians in regards to their responsibilities to God and country.  A Christian’s duty to his country involves submission and honor.  God wills for believers to submit to governing authorities and to honor those in charge.  Ideally, government protects the innocent and punishes those who do evil.  And it’s nice when government gets this right. 
This submission is given freely as an act of trust in God.  We are to pray for leaders, honor, and obey as far as we possibly can without compromising obedience to God.  If government demands Christians to violate the conscience concerning God, then we must answer as Peter and others did in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Here, we pray for the wisdom to know when to submit to government and when to defy it in order to obey God. 
Peter makes clear that the Christian’s responsibility to God is to fear and obey Him.  We are to give our ultimate allegiance to God.  He has the priority.  He has ownership.  Christians are “bondslaves of God.”  Therefore, even though I have a duty to my country and the government that administers its affairs, my conscience and my ultimate allegiance is only God’s.  And I must diligently protect my conscience because God is bigger than country. 
So, how does this inform me as November 8th quickly approaches?  Here it is:  God is bigger than Hillary.  God is bigger than Trump.  His providence over the affairs of men is bigger.  His grip on my conscience is bigger.  His claim on my life is bigger. 
I believe we are greatly blessed in this country.  And, of course, we have problems too.  However, God is bigger than America.  Getting to vote is a privilege of citizenship and moral responsibility, but I don’t think it is a divine right.  I think for the Christian voter the key concern should be about conscience because this is where we are truly free in Christ.  Vote your conscience concerning these presidential candidates.  And as you lay your head down on November 8, with that clear conscience, keep it all in perspective.  Remember that God is so much bigger than your vote or whoever becomes president.  God is in the process of making a people of the nations for Himself for all eternity no matter what earthly emperor, king, dictator, prime minister or president rules for a brief time in a particular place.  Church, our mission is sharing the Good News and making disciples.  Come January 2017, no matter who is taking the oath of office and becoming our new president, this will still be our mission.  God will still be in control.  And our hope will still be in Him as it always has been and always will be.

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