Wednesday, July 7, 2021

What Was Missing at the PCA's 48th General Assembly

I had the wonderful privilege of serving as a commissioner at the 2021 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in St Louis Missouri. Many important and controversial matters were discussed and voted on by the assembly. One of those matters had to do with the issue of same-sex attraction and whether or not such an attraction disqualifies a man from ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America. Many speeches for and against codifying our position in our Book of Church Order were presented. Many expressed concern about how such a decision will hinder our ministries and reflect poorly on our denomination as being “homophobic.”

Now, I am sympathetic to this concern. It frustrates me that the world considers me a “hater” and a “homophobe” because of my Christian convictions. My personal inclination is to do everything in my power to show this is not the case about me or the church I pastor, nor of my denomination. I believe most of my brothers are expressing their objections for similar reasons. I believe most of them only want the PCA to be known as a denomination that welcomes sinners and loves them well in order to see them come to faith and maturity in Christ. They see these overtures as stumbling blocks. I get that and believe it is vital that we “put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…” (2 Corinthians 6:3) We ought to remove every hindrance to people coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

However, removing ALL stumbling blocks is not actually possible because Jesus himself IS a stumbling block. He is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (1 Peter 2:8) Paul also makes this point saying, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24) The gospel itself is offensive to the self-made, autonomous human heart. As a denomination, it is naive of us to think we can avoid offending the world when the very gospel we proclaim is designed to offend those who remain in rebellion against God. 

But this brings me to what was missing. It seemed many of the brothers who spoke against the overtures regarding same-sex attraction, have forgotten what our Lord taught the Apostles about the hostility they will experience from the world simply because they are his disciples.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18–20, NIV)

According to Jesus, the world which already hates him will hate his friends also. Consequently, Christ’s friends can expect to be persecuted. They can expect to be personally harmed economically, spiritually, and physically. Some of those who afflict them will even believe they are serving God by their actions. (John 16:2) They might even be members of one’s own family. (Matthew 10:34–36) Jesus certainly experienced this firsthand. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5) In fact, they were convinced he was certifiable. (Mark 3:21) When he visited his hometown Luke states they spoke well of him while he taught from Isaiah 61. But minutes later they tried to throw him off a cliff! (Luke 4:22-29)

Why was there so much hatred for Jesus in his own day? Hear his own words: “The world…hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7) He has come as a light into this dark world. (John 3:19–20) They hate Jesus because he is the Light and they love darkness and want to remain in darkness. The light is an intrusion therefore it is not welcomed. Welcoming the light would mean coming out into the light and agreeing with Jesus your deeds are evil and that you need salvation. And it would mean you acknowledge that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus! And it means you agree he is the ultimate rule of truth, righteousness, and goodness.

But therein lies the problem. Those in the world want to be their own authority and their own saviors. They want to remain in control of their lives. They want to decide for themselves what is true and what is false; what is good and what is evil. This is the original sin in Genesis 3 which has prevailed in the human heart to this day. And this is why all humans apart from God’s grace, hate Jesus, hate the Father, and reject the Gospel. If this is how the world feels about Jesus, then what will prevent the world from feeling this way about his friends? Only one of two things: conversion or compromise. Christians cannot serve God and the World at the same time, yet it sure sounds to me this is what some are trying to do. The only way those in the world can be on friendly terms with the Church is if they join the Church, or if the Church joins the World.  I have no doubt conversion is what my brothers desire and are striving for. I am certain they too agree compromise is to be avoided. But I am not convinced they think they are capable of compromise. I have read several posts about how fear is the driving force behind it all. But sometimes fear is what keeps you alive, or in this case from compromise. In our present day, the world is pressing in hard against the Church demanding that it change and get with the times. 

This is what was missing in the debates and speeches made by my brothers who spoke against these overtures: the awareness that following Christ involves carrying a cross, enduring persecution, rejection, being called names and considered to be the scum of the earth. (1 Cor. 4:13) 

It was not until I heard the final sermon preached on the final night of the General Assembly that I noticed this was missing. Ironically, the sermon was from 2 Corinthians 2 which speaks to this truth.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)

Most of what my brother preached I agree with. However, there was a point in which he lost the plot of 2 Corinthians 2. He rightly stated that we are to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere. Yet, he seemed to forget that fragrance does not smell good to everyone and even implied that if this fragrance smells like death to some, we may be doing it wrong. He also rightly stated that “True power in the kingdom of God looks like weakness in the world.” Yes, it does! But then he states “The ethic of compassion and the aroma of Christ.” He goes on to describe this aroma further as standing with the marginalized, the hurting, and the broken of society. So what is the problem? 

The problem is not with doing such works, but with interpreting Paul’s words to say what he is not saying while simultaneously obscuring what he is saying. What Paul has in mind when he refers to the “fragrance of Christ” is the gospel itself: the good news about forgiveness and life in Christ’s name contrasted with the bad news about sin and judgment and how one can escape it. It is the glorious news of his coming into the world, of his life, death, resurrection, ascension and his coming again to judge the world at the last day. It is the message of hope that says anyone who comes to Jesus in faith, confessing Jesus is Lord and believing in their heart God raised Him from the dead will not be turned away but will receive the forgiveness of their sins. THAT is the fragrance Paul speaks of which ought to fill the air everywhere we go. And in this passage, Paul explains how this delightful and glorious fragrance will be the sweetest aroma to those who are being saved. But to those who are perishing, it will smell like a rotting corpse. And when they smell it they will hate it and anyone who is spreading it around. According to Jesus, they may even want to kill the bearer of this bad odor. A survey of the preaching of Paul in the book of Acts shows this to be the case. After his conversion and baptism, Luke tells us,

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Acts 9:19–25, NIV)

Paul experienced similar hostility in Jerusalem.

“Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. (Acts 9:27–29, NIV)

It always seems to escalate quickly with Paul. Perhaps Paul, being new at spreading the fragrance of Christ did not understand how to do this properly? Maybe he should have read Tim Keller's book on preaching so that his hearers would not be inclined to kill him on the spot? No, this was the pattern of his entire ministry. According to Luke, the fragrance that filled the air was always “Jesus and the resurrection”. (Acts 17:18) It was not a social message, but a message of life and death. While social action may accompany the preaching of the gospel and commend the message, these things are NOT the gospel. Also, engagement in social action does not communicate strength through weakness. The world considers social action the correct (strong) message and action. However, the message of the crucified and risen Savior it considers to be foolishness (weak). Again, this does not mean we are not to engage in social matters where appropriate, only that we must not define the aroma Paul speaks of here as social engagement. The aroma of Christ is Christ. 

With all due respect to my brother and fellow minister, his sermon on 2 Corinthians 2 failed to prepare God’s people for the challenges ahead which I see as highly dangerous. Jesus saw the importance of preparing his disciples for the hostility they would soon experience. Yet this was absent from the message in a time when hostility to the Christian message is growing. It seems to me the message was this: hostility from the world was irregular and meant I was not being faithful. It sounded like he was saying Christians should seek to be friends with the world and to impress it with our social action. It seems he had forgotten that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

If I were to sit down with him and discuss this issue, I am sure he would say he only meant we are to love our enemies, seek the welfare of our communities and do all we can to avoid unnecessary offenses. He would say we should be servants. And I would wholeheartedly agree with him. Amen! It is far too easy to use this truth as an excuse to be a jerk. We should remove all unnecessary offenses, not so the world will like us, but so it will be plain that what they oppose is Christ himself and us because we are his disciples. But it seems to me many of my dear brothers in Christ are far too concerned about what the world thinks of the Church. 

And that is really the point I am trying to make. What was missing was the awareness of the fact that to belong to Christ is to bear the badge of dishonor in the eyes of the world. The world hates Jesus and will hate us also. May we all take Jesus’ words to heart and not be surprised when we are persecuted as if something "strange" were happening. (1 Peter 4:12) We are called to faithfully spread the fragrance of Christ and leave the outcome to the work of the Spirit who alone can provide new noses so they can smell the sweet fragrance of Christ. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019


"As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea." (Acts 27:33–38) 

The scene above takes place on the ship which was carrying Paul to Rome. Paul had warned the captain and officers that there would be danger if they set sail at that time. But they paid no attention to him. But that all changed when they ran into trouble. A vicious nor'easter came upon them which threatened to claim every life on board. They realized Paul was right and had some bizarre insight into future events. But Paul had good news. No one was going to perish so long as every person remained on board. Some wanted to escape and get off the ship but seeing that Paul had been right once, they trusted that he would be right again.

That brings us to this beautiful moment which I quoted above. The situation is very grim. The sea is violently pounding the boat while the wind is driving it towards what they fear could be rocks or reefs. The crew has jettisoned nearly all of the cargo and supplies. They are in suspense, not knowing how this will work out.

And then Paul does that thing he does so well. He boldly declares his faith in Christ to 276 people. But he does more than declare it: he demonstrates it by facing this dire and seemingly hopeless circumstance with a peace and a hope unavailable to the worshippers of the Greek and Roman pantheon. The Roman sailors and soldiers likely took this to mean Poseidon or Neptune was unhappy with them. But Paul knew that those gods were no gods at all, and that the God he worships is sovereign over all things, including this storm and the day of each man's death. And this is why he could assure each of them that they would not perish in the storm and why he could give thanks in the midst of the storm.

I wish we had a transcript of Paul's prayer so I wouldn't be tempted to speculate, but I suspect that Paul gave thanks for more than just the food. I suspect his prayer included thanksgiving for the present circumstances, for God's mercy to each one thus far, and for the opportunity to represent Christ Jesus to a captive audience which was not only hungry for food but for hope. I say this because of what we know about Paul's faith and perspective on the world.

This is the same Paul who said, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)

And, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6–7)

When we gather with family and friends today we will do so in the midst of many different storms: financial storms, marital storms, health storms, spiritual storms or some other personal storm. But we all share in the suspense of the social, political, moral and theological storms currently pounding on our hull and threatening to drive us into the reef. We see this on both the national level, and the global level. Christians are being persecuted all over the world. Evil is on the rise everywhere, even within the Church.  
From a human perspective, it doesn't make sense to be "thankful". Yet, despite all of this, we have access to the same peace and hope which Paul had in the midst of a powerful storm on a doomed ship.

Paul's offering of thanksgiving made no sense from a human perspective. But Paul could thank God because he did not see anything form a mere human perspective. Paul saw everything from a heavenly perspective. This enabled him to see that the suspenseful situation they were in was ordained by God for his glory and for the good of all 276 people on board. 

We can give thanks today in the midst of these storms with full confidence that in the same way God will manifest his glory. Even if the ship breaks apart, He will preserve his people and bring them safely to shore! Let us give thanks to the Lord today that he is sovereign over the storms, that he is working our his perfect will in our lives and in the world. Let us give thanks in all circumstances!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Forgiving Sins and Debts in the Lord's Prayer

“...forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)

Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is slightly different in many ways from Matthew’s version. Some critics of the Bible see that as reason to doubt the reliability of the scriptures, but truth is it is more likely Jesus taught on this more than once. This was more of a Sunday School lesson with his disciples whereas Matthew’s version was his Sunday morning sermon.

But even in Luke’s version there is an interesting difference in the petition to forgive sins that sheds some light on the severity of debts. The word used here for sin is the standard Greek word meaning, wrong-doing, guilt, evil actions. But when referencing the sins of others against us he changes words. The word there refers to what is owed to someone. Matthew only uses this word in his version of the prayer.

In our day, most of us have debts of many kinds. We have student loan debts, credit card debts, mortgage debts and so forth. If we do not pay them, it could result in bad credit, foreclosure, repossession, lawsuits and such. But the repercussions are never life-threatening nor a threat to your family. But in Jesus’ day and age, to be indebted to someone was to risk losing so much more.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant recorded in Matthew 18, Jesus tells of a king wanted to settle his accounts with his servants. One in particular was in well-over his head in debt: 10,000 talents. One talent was equivalent to 20 years of wages for an average laborer. Today the average day laborer makes about 30,000 per year, so that would be 300 million dollars today.  Because the man could not pay it (who could pay back such an absurd amount of debt?) the king ordered that he and his family be sold into slavery.

As the story goes on, the man begs for mercy, promising to pay him everything back in time. And the king is moved with compassion and instead forgives the debt. But what does this man do with his freedom? He goes and imprisons a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii which was little more than three months worth of wages. The point I am making is debts in Jesus’ day were more severe than we think of today. There was no bankruptcy court or refinance options. It could actually have landed the debtor AND his family in a permanent state of slavery.

In the parable, we are like the servant who owed 300 million - we can never pay back the debt we owe. And when he taught us to pray “forgive us our sins” (or debts) we are reminded anew that we cannot pay him back but are entirely dependent on his mercy. I think of an old song I learned in church growing up: He paid a debt he did not owe; I owe a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. But God has done more than show mercy, he has actually paid the debt entirely!

But that doesn’t mean we are not indebted to him anymore. We are now debtors to mercy. We owe God a debt of gratitude and one of the ways we pay this debt is by forgiving those indebted to us; those who sin against us. That is a major point in the parable and in this petition in the Lord’s prayer.

But I think one reason Luke uses a different word is to highlight the fact that all sin is ultimately against God, and all sins against God deserve the wrath and curse of God. We usually take our sins so lightly, and frequently excuse ourselves for our actions without any qualms, but deal with the sins of others with severity. But that shows the gospel has not penetrated the depths of our hearts, just as it had not penetrated the depths of the unforgiving servant. And praying this petition is meant to help the gospel get down in there deep so that we can live out of the gratitude of the mercy and forgiveness we have received!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Calling God "Father"

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come." (Luke 11:1-2)

It's difficult for us to appreciate how radical the Lord’s prayer actually is because we are so far removed from the religious and social culture of Jesus' day. The term “father” for example was a term that made the religious leaders of his day furious and want to kill him.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because...he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)
It’s not that Jews in Jesus’ day did not think of God as their father. We do see evidences of this concept in the OT. The name “Abijah” for example (one of the kings of Judah) means “My Father is Yahweh”.

For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. (Isaiah 63:16)

Most of the Old Testament usage of the term however was likely understood as a royal title, not as one of deep intimacy.

And Jesus was clearly going beyond the royal usage. There was a claim of deep intimacy and familiarity in how he spoke of God that struck them as blasphemous and presumptuous. Who does this fellow think he is to claim to have such a close relationship to God...closer even that the High Priest, or the most pious teacher of the Law?

In one sense, the Jewish leaders were right in that it would be presumptuous, arrogant and perhaps blasphemous for any mere man to claim such a deep, personal relationship. But Jesus was no mere man! He is the only-begotten Son of God and his claim was not some delusional human fantasy, but absolute reality! He had every right to call God his Father, because it’s the truth! And by teaching the disciples to address God as Father he was granting the same right to them.

So when you pray and address God as father, remember that this right has been granted to you through faith in Jesus! Don't take it for granted - but marvel at this glorious privilege you have been given and let this glorious truth be fodder for your prayers. Never cease to be filled with amazement that to you brother, sister has been given the privilege of intimate connection with the God of the Universe!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Act Like Men

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

I think it goes without saying that Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to “act like men” is primarily directed at the men of Corinth. Certainly he is not telling the women to act like men! But neither was he telling the ladies to tune out what he was saying - so ladies keep reading!

The reason Paul targets the men is they are the ones ultimately responsible for leading their homes and leading the church. That doesn’t mean women play no role of leadership, but that at the end of the day, the responsibility is laid at the feet of men. Men have a duty and calling before God to love their wives, to lead their homes spiritually and to make sure they are spiritually healthy themselves. When he exhorts them to stand firm in the faith, he is also exhorting them to be sound in the faith. Spiritual health is assumed in the same way physical health would be assumed if Paul was a football coach exhorting his team to play hard and win the game.

God wants Christian men to take their roles seriously, in the home but also in the church. But part of the reason Paul is compelled to say this is because the tendency for men is to do the opposite. Men tend to leave the spiritual responsibilities of leading their families and leading in the church to their wives.

According to a 2016 Pew Research report, “In the United States...women are more likely than men to say religion is “very important” in their lives (60% vs. 47%)...American women also are more likely than American men to say they pray daily (64% vs. 47%) and attend religious services at least once a week (40% vs. 32%). On all the standard measures of religious commitment examined in the study, Christian women are more religious than Christian men

Often when I have talked to families about what their spiritual lives look like in the home, I have found if the wife/mother does not initiate family devotions, or prayer and so forth, then it doesn’t happen. The husband is willing to go along but he is not willing to take the lead. This is to follow in the way of Adam who deferred the matter to Eve who then ate of the fruit they knew they were not supposed to eat. He failed to stand firm in the faith and to act like a man. So now there is this tendency in men to neglect their God-ordained responsibilities and to cast them off on their wives. Brothers this is not good for your families, nor is it good for the church.

Here’s another example. Many years ago I was involved in a church plant. The pastor was working on identifying potential elder candidates. I was with him in a meeting with another pastor who asked if he had any potential candidates. He quickly and jokingly replied “I have a few women who would make great elders!” Though we chuckled about it, it revealed a very sad reality - that men were not taking their faith seriously, and not growing in Christ.

1 Timothy 3:1 - "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task."

I believe every man in the church ought to aspire to leadership in the church. That doesn’t mean every man will be called upon to lead, or that every man is qualified and gifted but every man should have a willing heart and even pursue meeting the requirements in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 regardless. And I say that because technically these qualifications are more than the standard for qualified leaders - these qualifications describe the ideal Christian man! So Christian men shouldn’t say “I don’t aspire to be an elder or deacon, so I don’t need to strive to meet these requirements.” No - every man in the church should be striving towards the level of maturity, faithfulness and godliness described by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Now, I will be the first to say it is hard to serve in leadership on many levels and sometimes this deters men. I get that but Jesus made it clear that following him involved self-denial and carrying our own cross. This cross represents many things and one of them is bearing the burden of leadership. In fact what was Jesus doing when he went to the cross? He was leading! And so we should not expect leading in the local church to be easy. Jesus has shown us leadership involves our dying to self and following him down the path of suffering that leads to glory!

The point is there is no better example of what it means to “act like men” than Jesus. He is the man every Christian man should desire to be like. And that naturally includes being men who lead.  Men! Brothers! I urge you to take Paul’s words to heart. Be men of God. Lead your families. Teach your kids. Seek the Lord and strive for spiritual growth. Make it a priority to grow in the faith so that you can stand firm in the faith, and so you can be in a position to lead God’s people when he calls you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Paul’s exhortation to “be watchful” is a reminder to them they are in the midst of a spiritual battle which has two battlefronts: the inner which deals with the sinful nature and temptations that we encounter inwardly (which I dealt with in part 1), and the outer which is the focus of part 2.

There are a number of ways we may be assaulted outwardly. We might be tempted outwardly (peer pressure to do something sinful), but also false teaching, false religions, worldly values, & viewpoints and such. We are constantly assaulted by these things through the media, politics, education, science, philosophy, ideology, the arts and so forth. Paul provides some insights into some of these ways in Colossians 2. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) “See to it” bears the same idea as “be watchful”. These things are all around us and coming at us all of the time - see to it that you identify them, and protect yourself from being deceived. Unfortunately, many Christians fail to identify them and instead accept them with open arms.

Here are a few examples of what I mean: For quite some time, Disney was seen as “safe” and “family friendly” moral but spiritually benign. It was not until the Disney company came out in support of homosexuality that Christians saw Disney as a problem. And suddenly there were calls for boycotts. But truth is, Disney was never the friend of Christianity. I say this not because I don’t like Walt Disney or think Christians should be boycotting everything Disney - not at all. In fact I think Walt Disney was an amazing animator and visionary. I have great admiration for what he accomplished. However, I also recognize that he had ideas and beliefs that came from a man-centered outlook, despite his Christian upbringing. Though he spoke highly of his upbringing, and believed in good morals and would have stood against many of the things which the company that bears his name puts out today, he was more a product of human philosophies and traditions than of the truths of Scripture. Walt Disney once said “If you can dream it, you can do it.” He also said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” That sounds safe and acceptable on the surface, but what does it really mean? Simply that you can be the master of your own future. You control your destiny - that is if you have the courage to make your dreams come true. Yet when we read the Scriptures we encounter a God who is in complete, sovereign control over all of our destinies. While he does encourage us to dream and to pursue those dreams - it is all to the glory of God. Not to mention human history is full of broken, unfulfilled dreams that no amount of courage could protect. But the overarching philosophy behind much of Disney’s work has been the supremacy and self-determination of mankind.

Here’s another example found in the realm of politics. Many Evangelical Christians tend to vote along Conservative/Republican party lines, myself included. There are understandable reasons for this - we often find we share certain moral convictions on things like abortion and gay marriage. I personally cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who supports the extermination of the most vulnerable members of humanity.  But what concerns me is that evangelical Christians have been quite watchful when it comes to something like abortion or other liberal positions, but have given the keys of the city to conservative positions which may or may not line up with scripture. A pastor friend of mine said to me years ago: “It is possible to be more conservative than the Bible.” And he is right. Yet there seems to be this assumption that if it is a politically conservative idea, then it must be biblical. And the further to the right we go, the closer to Jesus we will be. And this leads us to embrace just about every “conservative” idea that we hear without searching the infallible scriptures to see if these things are so. And of course this spills over into the media, the news outlets and radio and television personalities. If the conservative news outlet says it, or we hear the conservative radio host say it - it must be true. It seems when it comes to political conservatism, we lack alot of discernment and fail to see the dangers all around.

In Acts 20 Paul told the Ephesian elders to be watchful against ferocious wolves who would seek to scatter the flock, and that some of these wolves could even come from their own ranks. In 1 Thessalonians 5:20–22, Paul said: “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”  Now, he was speaking about dangers within the church that could come through wolves posing as elders, or false prophets and teachers within the church. Are we to assume the political dangers are less of a threat, or are not to be scrutinized and tested? We are to hold to what is good and reject evil in all its forms, including the ones found in conservative politics.

How do we keep watch on this battlefront?
First of all, we need to be people of the truth. Only God’s word has all of the truth and so our minds need to be shaped and conditioned by the infallible Word of God, not by fallible radio personalities or news outlets. We need to be cautious about what influences our positions on various issues and examine EVERYTHING through the lens of scripture. We need also to recognize that each one of us have already been affected by the empty philosophies of the world. No one is purely objective - no one is unbiased. We all have presuppositions that need to be challenged by the Word.

Second, we need to be wise as serpents though innocent as doves. Think about how the Enemy tries to infiltrate your thinking, or the church? His approach is to slowly boil the frog in the pot, not usually a direct assault. He uses stealth - has his wolves wear sheep costumes. Things are not as they appear! And he uses red herrings to keep us occupied and distracted so he can make is more lethal move. He wants to present himself as our ally, to get our guard down so he can infiltrate our thinking and turn us against the very things we ought to be defending.

Thirdly, we need to be clear on our identity, and the identity of the enemy. Our identity is in Christ. We are citizens of his Eternal Kingdom, his brothers, sisters, and mothers, members of his body. That needs to come first before any political affiliation, or even before our national identity. Christ must be first. His Kingdom and his eternal purposes must take priority in how we interact and seek to influence our world, including politics. Just to be fair, all of this applies to the left side of the political spectrum and everything in-between as well.

But please do not misunderstand me - I am not calling for anyone to stop watching certain news outlets or to vote a specific way. I am urging Christians to be discerning about what they are hearing, watching and reading so that they are not taken captive. I am also urging Christians to allow themselves to be exposed to opposing viewpoints and to get out of echo chambers and allow their positions to be challenged. Most importantly I am urging Christians to look at everything through the lens of scripture and to recognize that it is far too easy to have our worldview shaped by unbiblical ideas. We need to remember that as Christians we are in this world, but we are not of it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

There are two general battlefronts that we must watch: there is the battlefront within, and the battlefront around us.

First, let’s talk about the battlefront within. This is perhaps the most important. If I am not watchful over my own heart, and I fall into sin in some way, others are affected - the church, my family, and society.
Being watchful over our own hearts requires first and foremost that we understand that our hearts are sick.
Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Mark 7:21–23 - For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Granted - when we are converted to faith in Christ - we are given a new heart.
Ezekiel 36:26–27 - And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

But understand that your old heart - the one that is sick is still in you and is at war with your new heart, which is why Paul says…
Romans 7:22–23 - For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

This is why we must be watchful - there is  war going on within every Christian. If there is not a war, then you may not be truly converted.

Being watchful requires introspection through the Word and through prayer. David explains it best:
Psalm 139:23–24 - Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

What this shows us is how impossible it is to watch our own hearts apart from the soul-piercing gaze of the Holy Spirit who alone can illuminate the depths of our our hearts and show us what’s in it.

The better we know our own sick hearts, the more effective our watching will be - for we will be keenly aware of how deceitful and conniving our old hearts can be. We know that our old heart lies to us about many things, and seeks to justify all sorts of behaviors, attitudes and motives. We know when our heart is lying to us, when it is trying to allure us away from the truth and getting us to believe lies. We are on guard against those attempts - we know the kind of tricks the heart likes to pull to get us to do what it wants us to do.

Being watchful involves regularly questioning our motives, desires, attitudes and inclinations. And it also involves strengthening our new heart created in us by the Holy Spirit through regular communion with God through prayer, the Word, fellowship and the sacraments.

So I encourage you to make it a regular habit of asking what David asked in Psalm 139 - search me and know my heart. Show me if there is any grievous way in me.