Striking a Balance

If you were to ask me if I’d rather live in any other country in the world, my answer would be No. We have amazing personal freedoms in our nation that many in this world have never seen. We also have a plethora of resources that many people lack. I’ve experienced small bits of life in a third-world country where the average lifespan reaches only into the mid-40s. There is a lot that we have that we take for granted, for which we should be exceedingly grateful.

So, there is a sense of patriotism—the United States has provide many great things for my life.

But if you were to assume that this is a blind patriotism that sees the USofA as God’s greatest gift to man (or even second greatest behind salvation), then you would be wrong. I’ve heard it said that some see the States as Old Testament Israel—God’s blessed land, and others see the States as Babylon—a bastion of sin. I would say that the truth is somewhere in between.

I mean, we have many good things to be thankful for: An undercurrent of liberty, religious freedoms, decent health care, the availability of clean water, technologies that make life better, and the list could go on and on. But we also have our blemishes: Our constitution declared slaves to be only 3/5’s of a person in a population count to determine representatives and delegates; we denied women the right to vote until the 1920s; we systemically treated persons of colors as being inferior to anglos via segregation until the 1950s; and since the 1970s we have murdered millions of children in the womb.

None of these are the marks of a godly nation.

Even today, my experience of life in this country is vastly different than many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as fellow citizens of the States, simply because I am a white male. To say such is not the case is to turn a deaf ear to those who have struggled and suffered injustice because of their ethnicity, gender, or economic background.

It is possible to be a patriotic citizen, thankful for the good of our nation, but also to be a realist and see that nationally we have a great need of repentance and correction. How do we live in that balance? A few thoughts…

One: Let’s celebrate the good but let us not be silent about the flaws. I saw a video of a speech from a man who claims to be an evangelical pastor. He was introducing President Trump and waxed eloquent about what a great man the President is and how he’s God’s chosen man to lead our country. If you read the Bible, being “God’s man” is never about business acumen or policy. It’s always about character.

Some have blinded themselves to the lack of character in the President and other politicians because of a sense of power and policy. Some see it but have chosen to remain silent. This is true about the blemishes in our nation as well. We want to cover our eyes and ears and say, “I see no evil and hear no evil” when it is as plain as day.

That doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We can be thankful for a good supreme court pick. We can celebrate an executive order that ended one avenue of abortion funding. But let’s not fool ourselves to think that makes a person righteous and God’s man. We can be glad for unheralded religious freedoms, but let’s not ignore the systemic injustices that many people feel each day. Let us celebrate and speak out.

Two: Let us pray. This past Sunday our church service was a normal church service. We celebrated our Savior-King and the freedom he offers us from sin. We didn’t emphasize the holiday, but we don’t really emphasize any of the holidays other than Christmas and Resurrection. We did, however, pray for our nation and its leaders. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2 that we should do this very thing regularly, with the aim to live peaceful lives and see many saved.

Our leaders need prayer—from our president all the way down to our city council representatives. They need prayer for wisdom. They need prayer for courage in bringing justice to all persons under their charge. They need prayer for salvation. Some of them do love Jesus supremely and seek to serve their constituents in such a way to love them deeply. We need to pray for their continued spiritual growth. Others play lip service, and still others have no love for God at all. We need to pray for them to come to know and follow Jesus.

The best community leaders are those who love Jesus so greatly that they are passionately consumed with loving their neighbors by seeking the best for those in their community—whether that community is local or national. We need to pray for leaders such as these, and we need to pray for God to raise up men and women in the circles of influence of our current leaders who will boldly share the gospel and not stroke their egos for favors.

Three: Let us fight against injustice. Read the Old Testament prophets and you’ll find some common themes. Among them: God is the God of justice and he calls us to strive to correct the oppressions around us. Spiritually, this means that we start with the basic premise that every single person is made in the image of God, though marred by sin, and is either a brother or sister in Christ or a potential brother or sister in Christ. Physically, this means that we start with the basic premise that every single person is worthy of the same basic dignities that we ourselves cherish and demand.

This means that we advocate for the poor, the homeless, and the refugee. This means that we open our ears to the stories of others who have been hurt because of their ethnicity, gender, age, or economic class; then we weep with them and we join in the push for reconciliation to make things right. This means that when we hear our African-American brothers and sisters cry out, “Black lives matter!”, we don’t glibly reply, “All lives matter,” but we realize they are speaking from the pain of experiences that communicate their lives don’t matter as much as ours. Then we work for ways that we can be a part of the solution and healing.

Four: Let us preach. Along with the things to celebrate, there is a lot of pain and brokenness that we must sort through and deal with. We cannot be silent. We cannot sit on our hands. But we also must not take our eyes off the great Solution. Every ounce of brokenness in our nation and world traces its roots back to Genesis 3. Every bad thing is ultimately founded in sin. And God gave us the Solution: His Son who lived as a poor Middle Eastern carpenter, died as the perfect sacrifice for us, and rose as the eternal King of kings.

All of our brokenness traces back to Genesis 3. All of our hope is found in a smelly manger, a bloody cross, and an empty tomb. We work to right whatever wrongs we can and we declare the glories of the One who will right every wrong in the end. Jesus is our hope, our reconciliation, and our peace. Jesus is the one who can break down the walls of enmity. Jesus is the one who perfectly heals our brokenness. So, we declare his glories.

Tomorrow I will vote, and I will vote my conscience

Tomorrow is election day, and what a year it has been leading up to this point. If anyone back then had said that the two major candidates would be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the rest of us would have nodded in agreement to the first prediction and shaken our heads and laughed at the second. Yet here we are.

To call this election “contentious”, even among evangelicals, would be an understatement. I think most of us are ready for November 9 so we can see the end of robocalls, political ads on TV, and Facebook posts about how civilization as we know it will come to an end if either major candidate is elected, or how it’s morally unconscionable for a Christian to vote or not vote for Trump.

Tomorrow I will go vote. Though this election is about our choice for president, there is also much more on our ballots. In my county, one of the most contested races is for coroner, of all things. And when I vote for each candidate and issue, I will vote my conscience, and then I will go to sleep on Tuesday night trusting that Jesus is still on the throne.

As I make my decision, here are a few things that will guide my choices and I hope may guide yours as well…

First, there are certain issues that ARE that important. In other words: deal breakers exist. Frankly, I’m an odd conservative at times. Though agreeing that the second amendment clearly protects a person’s right to own a gun, I favor stronger laws concerning background checks, assault style weapons, and safety education. I would also like to see an end to fracking, the Keystone pipeline not built, and more money pumped into research and development of “greener” energy sources. Yet depending on the candidate, on these things I am somewhat flexible. These are not deal breakers.

The candidate’s view on the sanctity of human life, on the other hand, is. I could agree with a candidate’s position down to the minutia of every other issue, yet if they are pro-killing-babies-in-the-womb, they will not receive my vote. Human life is human life, no matter how small and no matter where it is located. While there may be rare cases where abortion becomes medically necessary, such as the sure endangerment of the life of the mother, most abortions do not fit into this category. Ultimately, what we need is a pro-life platform that points to solutions for poverty, health care, and other issues that play into the tough decisions women face. But pro-life convictions are a necessity for one to have my vote.

Second, character matters as much if not more than platform. The Bible is replete with examples of good character among the rulers leading to prosperous times within a country and bad character leading to disaster and ruin. Proverbs 29:2 captures this reality well: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” Simply put, it doesn’t matter what a person promises according to his or her platform, if their character is highly suspect and visibly corrupt, they will not receive my vote.

It is amazing the things that some Christians say to defend politicians of poor character. “Nobody is perfect, and we’re not electing a pastor but a president/governor/senator/etc.” True, but character still matters. No one is perfect (including pastors and presidents), but a person can still strive for integrity and other virtues. “God used wicked rulers in the Bible to accomplish his will.” Again, true. But God’s faithful people didn’t vote them into office.

If righteous leaders help the people rejoice and wicked leaders cause the people to groan, then character matters greatly. A person who has demonstrated poor character as a matter of lifestyle will not receive my vote.

Third, in the end, I must act according to my conscience and faith. All of us Christians should hold this principle in great regard. The Bible doesn’t say much about casting votes in a democratic-republic. It gives us certain things to consider, like those mentioned above. As an informed voter, I must search scripture and spend time in prayer. I must look into the candidates and issues while seeking the wisdom of God above the rhetoric of man to guide me. Then I must act in faith and according to my conscience.

In Romans 14:23, after teaching on what we call “Christian liberty”—our views and actions concerning things to which the Bible does not directly speak, Paul concluded: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In terms of God’s commands and laws, it may not be a sin to vote for Candidate X; but if it goes against my conscience to vote for Candidate X, then I have sinned. I have acted contrary to my trust in God.

This is a category that seems to be lacking in much of what Christians have written on the topic of this election. We’re not going to agree on the candidates, that much is for sure. However, we must respect one another’s conscience decision and not judge one another whether or not we agree on a particular candidate and even whether or not we agree on the necessity of voting.

Fourth, when the day is done, go to bed and sleep well. When David was being pursued by his son Absalom, he cried out to God and said:

You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. ~Psalm 3:3-6

No matter who will be president after the vote on November 8, Jesus is still on his throne. The United States is a part of God’s plan, but it is not the center of God’s plan. His plan is for the global exaltation of Christ, and no matter who the rulers are or what they do, Jesus will be exalted above all (Psalm 2, Acts 17, Philippians 2). We do not worry about tomorrow, for God is not worried about tomorrow. So, when election night is over, we can lay down at night and sleep well knowing that Jesus is still on his throne.

Not long ago, I heard a radio advertisement for a conference featuring a particular former presidential candidate as the main speaker. One of the lines in the advertisement was: “If we lose religious liberty, we lose everything.”

We should pray for, cherish, and work for religious liberty in our land as much as we can, but the ad is wrong. Even if the laws of the land declare Christianity illegal, if we have Christ, then we have everything. If we have nothing other than Jesus, then we have everything. Our hope is not in politics and laws, but in the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

So tomorrow, I will vote. I will vote for people who I believe have good character, I will vote for those who are pro-life, and I will vote according to my conscience. Then when the day is done, I will rejoice and rest in the reality that Jesus is King.

A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.

A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.