Monthly Archives: January 2018

High Stakes

I looked up.

They were gone.

Where were they?

The manager of our fitness center explained that some people were offended and disturbed by the news networks on the overhead televisions and demanded their removal.

“We’re committed to total wellness,” the young man pleasantly explained.

Apparently the news can be bad for our health.

He invited me to put my objections in an email, which he promised to forward to the executives.

I appealed to reason, tolerance and fairness. I suggested MSNBC should go before CNN and Fox News. I invoked Thomas Jefferson’s commitment to an informed citizenry.

Were he a gym member, I said, Tom would side with me.

I doubt it made any difference.

There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “may you live in interesting times.”

We’re living in them.

That’s why some people are so upset at the news, they’re demanding not to have to watch it.

It seems everywhere we look, “things fall apart … the center cannot hold.” There is a growing “passionate intensity” (W. B. Yeats).

How can the sincere disciple of Jesus navigate through the rushing turbulent rapids of our present political discourse and be true both to conviction and to Christ? Without getting capsized and drowned in vitriol and superficial, hyperbolic “talking head” nonsense.

There seems no reasonable escape – nor any escape to reason. We must sail into this.

President Trump’s first year in office has been the wild ride most of us expected. His second promises more uncertainty, midnight tweets, charges, counter-charges and general provocation, denial, frustration, disruption, and confusion.

On both sides.

There appears no civility or normality in the political forecast. We ride upon a national storm of anger and division. We scan the horizon and see only the gathering clouds.

There is likely to be more coarsening and more fraying in our political culture this year.

What’s a Christian to do? Compartmentalize? Never permit the peace of worship on Sunday to interfere with the culture war on Monday? Or do we seek the more difficult and thoughtful path of a holistic, integrated faith that speaks to all of life.

Consistently.

Including politics.

Jesus denounced “an eye for an eye.” He said that loving our neighbors and hating our enemies wasn’t good enough. Instead he told us to love our enemies.

Jesus commanded us to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us. He reminded us that the sun rises on both the good and the evil. The rain, he said, “falls on both the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5: 38-45).

Is this viable? In the world in which we live?

Is it realistic?

In politics?

Most Christians voted for Donald Trump because they figured he’d fight for them.

He has.

Trump has boldly battled the Democrats and the media. He may not share their evangelical faith, but he has championed the Christian causes.

He put a brilliant conservative on the Supreme Court. Like the ancient unbelieving Cyrus, Trump has been a friend to Israel, recognizing its sacred city, Jerusalem, as the nation’s rightful capital.

Given the high stakes, maybe we should make a moral exception in politics.

But is there any place where Jesus doesn’t go? Is there any area of our lives where we’re allowed to check our faith at the door? Is there any arena of human endeavor where Jesus Christ hasn’t already declared, “this is mine”?

As the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper said, every square inch is His.

Christians must seek God’s face and pray. We must ask for divine wisdom to figure this out – to think it through. We must find an answer that honors our faith in Christ before our loyalty to a president or a party.

Must we win – at any cost?

Have Christians ever truly prevailed over the world in the struggles of politics and culture? Must we now – even at the price of our Christian witness? Have we ever actually been a Moral Majority?

Haven’t the followers of Jesus been more often on the scaffold than the throne?

Yes, in the end we do win. Because Christ wins and we’re with him. But do we prevail in this fallen world? Is political power our weapon and election victory our goal?

Is politics our idol? Do we worship at the altar of power?

Are we called to be successful? Or faithful?

“Is this vile world a friend of grace?” asked hymn writer Isaac Watts.

Chuck Colson, who once flew too close to the alluring flame of power, later wisely observed:

“The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.”

Anger, revenge and hate toward others are not signs of courage or conviction. They are sins.

The Church of Jesus Christ prevailed over Caesar in the violent First Century not by electing believers to the Roman Senate.

Wrote historian Will Durant in his seminal work, The History of Civilization:

“There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known.”

The weapons of our warfare are not the world’s. But they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds (II Corinthians 10:3-4).

The stakes for our faith are high.

Let us choose wisely.

“For not with swords’ loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

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The Indispensable Presence

It was a conversation between friends.

One was pleading with the other.

It’s not the first time – nor the last.

Moses talked with God with a greater familiarity than most.

Inside the so-called Tent of Meeting is where God and Moses would come together and hash things out. In that sacred place of divine intimacy, “the Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).

It was a holy intimacy we observe throughout the Old Testament – an intimacy of smoke and fire and clouds and wind – an intimacy rooted in awe.

This was quite unlike the easy familiarity found in many worship services today.

Moses appears before God seeking divine reassurance in the midst of yet another crisis.

God has had it up to here with his chosen people.

He’s fed up.

It’s no wonder.

After liberating, leading and miraculously protecting the people of Israel, God has seen their response: a rollercoaster of broken promises to trust and obey. Once safely on the other shore of the Red Sea, as soon as Moses ascends Sinai to receive God’s commandments, the people decide to make their own god in the form of a golden calf.

Then they party.

“Moses? We don’t know what became of him”, they cry as they dance half naked in a celebration of unrestrained compulsion.

God decides to wipe Israel off the face of the earth for their rebellion. Unfaithful, unthankful and unrepentant, they’ve pushed God too far.

Only when Moses appeals to God’s promise to the nation, and to God’s integrity and his reputation should he go back on that covenant, does God change his mind. Only a leader who knew God and had a close relationship with him would have dared or been able to make such a national intercession.

Now God tells Moses to lead Israel to the Promised Land. “Get going,” God tells him, “you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 33:1, emphasis added).

When God’s angry with the people, they belong to Moses. When Moses pleads for mercy on their behalf, the people are God’s.

Not once but twice, God refuses to go with them. “I will not travel among you,” God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way … If I were to travel with you for even a moment, I would destroy you” (Exodus 33: 3, 5, emphasis added).

God’s hot!

This is more than a mere divine annoyance or even a divine separation – this is the threat of divine annihilation. God can’t be held responsible for what he might do.

God tells Moses: Go – and take these sorry people with you. But don’t expect me to go along.

I’ve had it.

You’re on your own – and good luck! I’ll send an angel along to guide you.

But now Moses, the leader God chose out of the burning bush and commissioned to set an enslaved people free, has come before God again. This time, to argue his case.

Moses reminds God of God’s favor upon him – and of the consistently intimate relationship they’ve enjoyed through all these ups and downs of leading a great but wayward people.

For Moses, the guiding angel is not enough. He wants God himself to go with them – and no one else. He must have the divine presence.

“If you don’t personally go with us,” Moses pleads, “don’t make us leave this place” (Exodus 33:15).

We’d rather dwell in this wilderness desert until we die than try and enter the Promised Land without you.

God’s presence is more than desirable – it is indispensable to the child of God.

With God, his people may go to the uttermost parts of the world. Without him, we dare not venture across the street. The enabling power of the Great Commission is found in the unchanging promise and presence of Jesus Christ: “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

“How will anyone know that you look favorably on me – on me and on your people,” Moses reasons with God, “if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth” (Exodus 33:16).

God changes his mind – once again. Moses persuades him. God agrees to go. His holiness and justice find balance with his mercy and love.

And Israel gets to the Promised Land and becomes – and remains to this day – a great nation.

God’s presence is as indispensable for his people today as it was the day Moses pleaded for it.

His presence sets you apart.

As you look forward to a brand New Year, here’s the greatest comfort you can have this side of eternity:

Every day that you rise from your bed; with every mile you travel; with every problem, challenge or decision you face; every heartache, illness or setback you may suffer, the God of Moses whispers to your heart, “Fear not, for I am with you … I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you” (Isaiah 41:10).

God’s indispensable presence is your strength.

He’ll never leave you.

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