What Should I do: Thoughts on Political and Cultural Engagement

I’m struggling.  I’m struggling with how to engage culture for God’s glory.  The recent nomination fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh forced that struggle to the front of my conscience.  There are five realities guiding my decisions on cultural engagement, and five action steps I’d like to take in the future.

5 Realities

  1. I have friends who I want to influence with the gospel:  This reality hits me hard.  I have many friends who don’t think like me, vote like me, share my background, etc…  I want be a Christ like influence in their lives.
  2. I see our society moving in a counter gospel direction:  I’m concerned about the direction of our culture.  We’re not moving toward the gospel.  We’re not moving toward Christ.  We’re moving away from Christlike values.
  3. I have opinions:  I have opinions on politics and on other aspects of our society.  I have biblically informed opinions that I’d like to share. I’d like to be a part of the conversation.
  4. My political party does not always align with my opinions:  This has become abundantly clear in the past two years.  The Republican party has moved farther to the right, and has left me feeling like a man without a party.
  5. God is neither republican or democrat:  I may feel like a man without a party, but I am never without God.  There will be democrats who spend an eternity with Christ.  There will be republicans who do not.  This is the most important reality.  It connects back to the first reality.  My heart’s desire is to see all my friends spend an eternity with God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

What am I to do?  These realities are difficult to navigate.  I’m not the only Christian struggling with the correct biblical posture for cultural engagement.  Here are five action steps I’d like to recommend to those who are struggling with this issue, both democrat and republican.  I’m committed to following these steps in the future:

  1. Do not be a stumbling block:  When Southern Baptists met for our annual meeting  in St. Louis in 2015, the messengers debated a resolution supporting a ban on the display of the confederate flag on public property.  There were emotional speeches on both sides of the issue.  Dr. James Merritt said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “If the confederate flag causes my brother or sister to tune out the gospel, then the confederate flag must go.”  If the voicing of my political opinions causes my brother or sister to miss the message of the gospel, then I should keep my political opinions to myself.
  2.   Engage with purpose and grace:  I always need to ask myself, why am I engaging this person on this issue?  Am I just looking for a fight?  Am I just looking to prove someone wrong?  Christ never engaged just to fight someone or prove someone wrong.  He always engaged with purpose and with grace.  The message of God’s grace was always on his lips, and He offered forgiveness while simultaneously standing against sin.
  3. Cultivate more relationships with people who do not think like me:  I can’t engage in meaningful discussion in an echo chamber–see reality number one.  I want to cultivate more of those relationships.  I want to genuinely listen to arguments.  Those arguments may not change my mind, but they give me an insight into people and their thoughts.
  4. Those who have different values are not my enemy:  There are too many conservative Christians who treat non-Christians as enemies.  They are not our enemy. The Bible says our fight is against the ruler of this atmospheric domain.  I want to always be careful not to treat those who ideologically oppose me as my enemies.
  5. I will not belong to either political party:  I’ve found myself in the position of not belonging to either political party.  I will still vote for a certain type of candidate, but I will not vote republican just because I’m a Southern Baptist Pastor.  The Republican or Democratic, or whatever party will have to earn my vote.

This is where I’ve arrived in my struggle.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3, verse 12 and following, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brothers I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2–an overview

I opened my bible for devotion this morning and it fell to Isaiah 12. I normally have a plan for my devotion time, and it doesn’t typically involve letting the pages fall where they may. This morning, however, I decided to just read and meditate on the first passage I saw. Isaiah 12 reads, “On that day you will say: ‘I will give thanks to the You, Lord, although You were angry with me. Your anger has turned away, and You have comforted me. Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust Him and not be afraid, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.’”

When I read Ephesians 2, those words from Isaiah 12 resound in my ears; God is my salvation. I know a pastor who preached from Ephesians 2, and his sermon was titled, “All the buts of the Bible.” The main idea was that the conjunction but, that three letter word, was the most important three letter word in the Bible. There is hardly a more important three letter word in scripture than the “but” found in Ephesians 2:4. Ok, maybe God is a more important three letter word, but who wants to nit pick. (That was an attempt at sarcastic humor for those of you who don’t know me.)

When we come to Ephesians 2, we see the most glaring contrast of who we were before Christ and who we are now. Who were we before Christ? We were dead. We were toe tagged, heart stopped, flat lined dead. Paul uses a very technical Greek word here for the state we were in before Christ. That Greek word means DEAD and without life.

We often use the term lost to describe those who are without Christ, but Paul uses the term dead. His word choice is very important here in conveying the message of the gospel. If he had chosen to use the word lost, then we could reasonably assume that we could find our own way back. There are numerous stories of lost people who found there way back to where they were supposed to be. The word dead is a more accurate description. We cannot find our way back from the grave. We cannot find our way back from the condition we were in before God called us back to life. We cannot resuscitate ourselves. That would be a pretty neat trick if you could do it.

This seems simple. I know we were dead before Christ. I’ve known we were dead before Christ since I was eleven years old. I often forget this simple truth. I act as though I have always been alive. I see others who are dead in their sins and I shun them aside as though I’ve never been in their condition. I want God to give me a heart for the deadness that surrounds me.

This spiritual deadness, in my ministry context is the most difficult truth for the dead person to accept. David Platt once said that he prefers to spend 80% or more of his time while he’s sharing the gospel on sin and our condition before Christ.

Then we get to verse four. This is the part that makes me want to shout like Isaiah chapter 12. We encounter the two greatest three letter words in all of scripture, but God.

He made us alive. He made us the exact opposite of who we were before Christ. He not only made us alive, but He made us alive with Christ so He could bless us some more. He made us alive for good works. I’m sensing a pattern here. He made us alive for so much more than we realize.

We preachers fall into this trap of knowing more scripture than we practice, but God made us alive in Christ Jesus to live out His word. We live out our ministries, but how are we doing at living out His word? How are we doing at living out those good works for which we were created in Christ Jesus?

These posts are supposed to be devotional in nature, and I’ve enjoyed reading what the other contributors have written as we’ve been walking through Ephesians. My task was to write a devotional overview of Ephesians 2, so I’ll leave the technical details and word studies to the other writers.

I want you to be encouraged because this chapter is one of the most important chapters in scripture with the two most important three letter words in the Bible; but God. You were dead and now you are alive in Christ. Now let that precious promise percolate in your heart and soul.

The end of Isaiah 12 reads, “Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things. Let this be known throughout the earth. Cry out and sing, citizen of Zion, for the Holy One of Israel is among you in His greatness.” Ephesians 2 makes me want to cry out and sing to the Lord, and I implore you to contemplate His grace, and meditate on His goodness today and every day. May God bless you real good today.