Cultural Engagement

When you hear Christians speak of “cultural engagement” they are speaking about something Jesus never did. Jesus engaged people – particularly sinners. He was a friend to them, he talked with them, he ate dinner in their homes, he healed them, he told them Good News and he invited them to believe. At the same time, Jesus didn’t give a rip what Caesar was up to. Jesus was proclaiming a different kingdom.

Today, “cultural engagement” is code for when Christians try to bend a sinful culture until it conforms to Christian norms, whether they believe the gospel or not. “Cultural engagement” involves passing laws that force sinners to act like Christians. “Cultural engagement” means preserving the Christian façade of America so that we Christians can continue to live comfortably without fear of persecution, so that we can bear the Name of Jesus with little or no personal cost, so that we can pursue the crown without bearing the cross.

Our actual mission – to preach the gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, be a friend to sinners – gets lost as we pursue our cultural agenda. Sinners think we hate them, while we think that America’s fate hinges on electing the right President.

Something’s wrong, folks. “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev. 2:5)

~ Don

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Jesus and the Constitution

I know we all like to say that America was founded on “Christian principles” and that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians, and this gives rise to the faulty notion that America was founded as a “Christian Nation.” But the truth is – now brace yourself – the U.S. Constitution does not specify that those seeking Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness must also agree to abide by Christian morals and norms.

It’s true. Although the Founders didn’t foresee the incredible moral decline of American society, they pretty much enshrined “equal rights” for all people into the Constitution, and when you give unsaved, un-regenerate people the right to “pursue happiness” you open the door for many non-traditional, sinful, or just plain whacky behaviors to be tolerated and protected by law.

As fine a document as it is, the U.S. Constitution does not proclaim or support the Kingdom of God, and it is absolutely powerless to curb our human appetite for sin. Rather it enshrines our right to sin, if sinning makes us happy.

Christians today are putting a lot of misguided faith in the Constitution to set things right in America. “If only the President obeyed the Constitution! If only judges would interpret it correctly! If only we passed amendments banning abortion and gay marriage! Then America would be great again.”

But Jesus doesn’t call us Christians to make America great, but to make His Name great among all people. And we can never accomplish that by passing laws that force unbelievers to act like Christians. There was a time when the Church ruled Europe and people were persecuted, jailed, and tortured for disobeying Church laws. Is that our vision for America? Because that is exactly where a “Christian nation” will lead us.

Unbelievers are incapable of living like believers! If you don’t agree, at least consider God’s Word which declares that “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7,8).

You see, it is impossible to establish a “Christian nation” on earth based on God’s Word and His commandments. Israel is the obvious example of this, who having God’s Law and prophets nevertheless descended into immorality and idolatry.

Jesus, on the other hand, never compelled anyone to obey or believe in Him. He showed love and compassion toward sinners, taught them with gentleness and respect, and invited “whosoever will” to believe and follow Him. This is also our job and pattern for building God’s Kingdom. The U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with our calling in Christ. We are fighting the wrong battle to achieve the wrong result.

The Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is not of this world, and we are citizens of that Kingdom. It is not upheld by the force of human documents or laws, or politicians, but by Jesus Himself. It is manifested wherever the Church lives out the radical Kingdom precepts laid down by Jesus.

We manifest and build God’s Kingdom by consistently eradicating lustful and angry thoughts, turning the other cheek when insulted, faithfully loving our spouses, giving to others without expecting any return, always going the extra mile, showing love toward our enemies, always acting as peacemakers, sharing the gospel of salvation. In short, by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This is what it means to be “salt and light.” Not voting Republican or Democrat. Not passing laws and prohibitions. Not changing our Constitution to better suit our Christian morality. And certainly not picketing, protesting, and insulting the very sinners that Jesus died to save. None of these is able to accomplish what Jesus has commissioned us to do.

So Christians of America, if you really want to transform your nation for Christ, then drop the divisive politics, re-read the beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, and personally start acting like a citizen of God’s Kingdom by obeying the King in every attitude and action. Start fighting the right battle in the right way. Any other approach is not of God and destined to fail.

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I Am Blessed and Not Ashamed

A friend recently shared a post wherein the author adamantly insisted that Christians should immediately stop saying “I am blessed” when asked how we are doing, and we should stop referring to any material possession as a blessing, e.g. “Our new car is such a blessing.” He gave his reasons for making this claim – you can read his article here. I completely disagree with his reasoning and his conclusion. I am blessed, and here is why he is wrong.

First, the author says that calling any material goods a blessing “reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.“ How so? It is a biblical fact that God is among other things, Provider, and that He promises to “add all these things” (food clothing, the stuff of daily life) to those who seek Him first. This doesn’t “reduce” Him to anything, it’s just a part of His nature.

Nor does God stop at the bare necessities of life, as demonstrated by His promise to Israel to “open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store it” (Malachi 3:10) if they would only be faithful in paying their tithes. If the author calls that “positive reinforcement” well, apparently God uses it.

Furthermore, when Paul specifically addressed the matter of giving money for poor believers, he stated that God “who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor 9:10,11). Here is a straight-up statement that God will materially recompense the Corinthians as a result of their generous giving, with the aim that they can be even more generous as time goes by. You can’t spiritualize this, he is talking about money.

But perhaps of more concern is the author’s second reason for insisting that we not say we are blessed: “It can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $1 per day.” In other words, since many Christians worldwide do not have the same level of material wealth that I do, I ought to refrain from giving God any glory for my own “blessings.”

There are several problems with this reasoning, not the least of which is that other cultures and communities measure wealth differently than we do in America. A mud hut with a tin roof and fifteen chickens is considered well-off in some parts of the world. Just because others seem impoverished by our standards doesn’t mean they have not been blessed by God.

Even in the most arduous of circumstances God may still bless with fresh water, a morsel of food, an article of clothing – whatever is available under those conditions. God can materially bless anyone, anywhere, and the degree of that blessing may depend, in part, on the surrounding circumstances and conditions. Does that mean that those who are in a position to receive more ought to not thank God for it? 

This is important to understand: Our blessings from God do not come because of our own worthiness or God’s special favor toward us but not others. God blesses according to His will and purpose. Sometimes He does so in response to prayer or faithfulness. Sometimes He does so in spite of our coldness and faithlessness. And His blessings may be tempered by our earthly circumstances. None of that negates the fact of His blessing.

Regarding Jesus, it is certainly true that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” because the poor tend to be more dependent and trusting of God for their needs, and God wants that from all of us. Still, some poor folks are thieves, cutthroats, and liars. Simply being poor does not, in itself, make one “blessed.”

Jesus also said, “Woe to you who are rich.” Yet some wealthy believers are very generous toward the poor or anyone who is in need. Simply being rich does not consign a person to suffer “woe.”

The bottom line is this: If we are to stop saying “I am blessed” then we must also stop thanking God for anything at all. You see, when we thank God for our food we are acknowledging that He had a hand in providing it. In other words, God blessed us with food.

When we thank God for our job, or our promotion, or our wife / husband, or our children, we are implicitly stating that God has brought those things into our lives, i.e. He blessed us with them.

Giving thanks to God for anything implies that it has come from Him, and therefore He blessed us in the giving of it. And that is the real truth of Scripture, that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (Jas 1:17).

The author is right about one thing: We will be called to account for how we have made use of our blessings. Those who have been blessed with much ought to look after those who have not. That is one reason God blesses anyone at all – to test their faithfulness and give opportunity to show practical love to others. Yes, I am blessed by God, and I am also responsible before God.

So don’t be ashamed to testify when God has blessed you. Give Him the thanks and the glory He deserves, acknowledge His generosity, and always be generous toward others.  

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The Gift of Being Peculiar

What does it mean that Christians are a “peculiar people?” defines peculiar as: strange, odd, unusual, distinctive in nature, belonging exclusively to some person, group, or thing.  Now, although some believers are no doubt odd, and even though we ought to be unusual – by the world’s standards – in our attitudes and behaviors, our New Testament designation as peculiar (Greek: periousios) actually describes us as belonging exclusively to God as His “prized treasure” or “special possession.”

In other words, God owns all of creation, but believers in Christ are especially precious to Him. We have heard that God is a jealous God, and that the Holy Spirit is grieved when we sin, and both of these statements are better understood when we realize just how much we mean to our heavenly Father. It’s as if your own beloved husband or wife is flirting with someone else, or deliberately doing things to hurt you. You are jealous; you are grieved. So is God.

Being God’s prized possession means that we can always be confident of His love for us, His willingness to forgive, His promise to supply our needs, and His desire to order our steps as we navigate the circumstances of this life.

Yet for all of this, we so often disregard God’s love and the special place we hold in His heart. It’s as if God offers us everything – Himself – and we respond with a ho-hum, uncomprehending attitude, pursuing other interests, money, worries and cares, fumbling our way through life, never drawing near to God or receiving all that He wants to give us. At the same time we manage to indulge our sinful nature in various ways, insulting the Spirit of grace and treating the death of Christ with contempt. Sadly, the Bride of Christ is often a pretty lousy spouse.

Nevertheless, we remain precious to God. His patience and grace toward us are beyond comprehension. He will never stop pursuing us with a jealous love, to rescue us from our own self-destruction. If we require discipline, God will discipline us as a Father disciplines His child, for our own good and salvation. Thank God that He does not “divorce” us in the midst of our unfaithfulness, but tirelessly works to turn us toward Himself.

Some people – mostly theologians – will insist that eternal life cannot be gained and then lost by anyone, but Scripture makes clear that it is possible to be “enlightened” by the gospel, to “taste the heavenly gift,” to “share in the Holy Spirit” and the “goodness of God” and the “powers of the coming Age,” and then to fall away. Likewise, Peter tells us that it is possible to escape the corruption of the world by “knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and then to again become entangled and overcome. Knowing Jesus here implies a very personal relationship beyond mere belief in some facts, and so, yes, any of us can fall away if we persist in disobedience and, eventually, unbelief.  Nevertheless, God will work mightily to prevent such a falling away from happening, because we are – each one of us – His “prized treasure” purchased by the blood of His own Son.

How can you make your calling and election sure? For starters, wake up from your slumber! Recognize God’s great love for you as His “peculiar” son or daughter. Place a high value on your status as God’s “prized treasure” by pursuing love, righteousness, and obedience to His life-giving Word. Flee from sexual immorality, lust, greed, hatred, drunkenness, and every earthly pursuit that draws you away from God. Show God that He is your beloved, your “treasure of great value” and that when it comes to making time for prayer and fellowship with Him, everything else can wait. After all, being “peculiar” is a wonderful gift!

Ref: Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 10:26-31; Hebrews 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 2 Peter 1:3-11

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A Letter to Christians in America

I’ve noticed an awful lot of upset Christians since the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Reactions seem to stretch from a simple affirmation of traditional marriage to angry condemnations of the court and warnings of God’s impending judgement on our nation. Some Christians are literally outraged.

The first thing I want to say is this: As Christians, we have no business being outraged by sin. Heartbroken, maybe, but not outraged. All sin is an offense against God (not Christians) and it is God’s business to be “outraged” if He so chooses. Jesus directed His own outrage toward religious folks who were outraged and offended by the sins of others. Let’s not be imitators of them.

I understand it’s upsetting when your country begins legally accommodating sins that were at one time unlawful, and you may feel that your Christian faith is under attack. For over 200 years we Christians have had it pretty good in America. We have enjoyed a cultural model based on Christian principles, with laws that often supported Christian morality. We have taken comfort in the Christian veneer of our society, but that illusion is over folks. The United States is and always was an earthly kingdom governed by the Constitution – not the Bible – and led by men, not the Holy Spirit. Now, in 2015, we are finally seeing the fruition of what it really means to grant sinful man the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” apart from any relationship with a Holy God.

And let’s be clear – gay marriage being illegal doesn’t stop anyone from being gay, doesn’t lead anyone to repentance, doesn’t inform anyone of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Instead, it simply helps maintain the “Christian veneer” of America so that Christians can feel comfortable believing that they live in a Christian nation.

As followers and disciples of Jesus – a friend of sinners – we aren’t commissioned to pass laws requiring sinners to behave like Christians, and we aren’t expected to maintain a “Christian nation” on earth. Instead, we are commanded to invite sinners into a relationship with the living God through faith in Christ Jesus, and to exemplify the Spirit of Jesus by bearing the fruit of love, compassion, forgiveness, and humility. Many of the Christian posts I see online right now essentially say, “Gay people, we oppose you! Gay people, you offend me! Gay people, your right to marry is an abomination!” It seems that some are hating both the sin and the sinner, forgetting that at one time, such were you.

Please, Church, get on your knees before God, repent of your self-righteous hatred and start thinking, speaking, and acting as children of God, who loved sinners so much He was willing to die for their salvation.

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