Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Have you ever been betrayed by someone close to you? If not, wait for it. If you live long enough, one day you will feel the sharp and surprising pain of betrayal like a sucker punch to the gut that takes your breath away for not just a moment, but for a very long time, leaving you gasping and sputtering for air. The rug gets pulled out from under your blessed life and you are left reeling as the status quo irreparably shatters into myriad shards of memory.

Of course, the betrayer does not feel like they betrayed you, justifying their behavior with carefully crafted half-truths and excuses readily supplied to them by the Enemy. Denying their responsibility for your wound, they go on with their life, blissfully unaware of and unconcerned about the atomic aftermath of their actions for you. The truth between their reality and yours is often somewhere in the middle, beyond either of your line of sight.

You are left stunned, confused, and alone, the severity of the wound exponentially intensified because it is unexpected, delivered by someone you cared deeply about and who said they cared about you. Shocked and raw from the betrayal, you are at risk for the twin chronic infections of bitterness and resentment. You need immediate and long-term treatment to avoid permanent damage.

More than once I have been betrayed by someone I loved. Shocked, I felt the excruciating, life-sucking pain of betrayal pierce my heart and permeate the marrow of my soul. Over the years I have learned that time and the hand of God will cauterize and heal those broken places in my heart, but that I alone am responsible for deciding whether to nurture or to fight the infectious toxins of bitterness and resentment that threaten to invade and take hold. I have done both, and consequently have either delayed or expedited my healing and restoration.

I have learned that I cannot trust my feelings to help me do the right thing. It is an act of the mind and will, not the emotions to let go and let God take control, to forgive and release myself from the prison of bottled up self-righteous anger. Forgiveness is not saying the other person was right or that they did not hurt you. It is acknowledging that what they did was indeed wrong and brutally painful, but choosing not to dwell on the wrong that has past and instead concentrate on the hope that is ahead.  When you forgive, you purge the poison from within that threatens to destroy the life God wants you to live for your good and his glory. You abandon if only and embrace what will be.

Forgiveness is rarely a one and done event, but something you often must choose to do daily as you resist picking back up that which you have already placed at the foot of the cross. This morning, as I struggled yet again with forgiving someone I had cared about for betraying my trust, God spoke to me through his Word:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” —Ephesians 4:31-32, 5:1-2.

God wants me to forgive so that I am not destroyed by the malicious emotions that unforgiveness cultivates in my heart. He is thinking about what is best for me, not just the other person. His desire is that I leave the fragrant aroma of Christ behind wherever I go, and he knows that I cannot do that if I am harboring a spirit of bitterness or resentment. Because I am human, selfish and sinful, it is only through Christ in me that I can forgive and begin to fear less and love more.

As I close my Bible, today, like always, I write these thoughts to myself and ask God to use them to speak his truth and hope to you, too.

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Time to Count the Cost

“There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice—which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.” —J.C. Ryle

“Things that will destroy man: Politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice.”—Mohandas Gandhi

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”—G.K. Chesterton

In much of the world, being a Christian will cost you something. You may be ostracized by your family or society, arrested or even killed because of your decision to follow Jesus. In America, up until now, Christians have not faced serious persecution for their faith because they have enjoyed a religious majority.  It has been easy and advantageous to be a Christian living in America.

The only sacrifices required of American Christians were to show up at church occasionally and avoid gross moral sin. Religious liberty was something we took for granted, enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by our national government. American Christians cruised along in life, characterized by their avoidance ethic more often than their love—focusing on the “thou shalt not” rather than the “thou shalt” commandments of their faith. For many, Jesus was just a convenient religious add-on, “useful for escaping hell in the end, but [who] doesn’t make much difference in what we live and love here.” John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” p. 108.

There has always been a social benefit to being a Christian in America. It has been easy to blend in with and be accepted by a culture that looked a lot like you. Because the values of our society mirrored Christian values, being salt and light rarely demanded that Christians stand apart from their countrymen who did not call Christ their Lord. They could trust their unbelieving but morally like-minded neighbors with the responsibility of establishing, enforcing and interpreting laws that were at least consistent with a Christian worldview.

No more.

Over the past several years, America’s society and legal system have adopted humanistic ideals and abandoned foundational Christian principles. Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile toward God and Christian beliefs related to sexual morality, the sanctity of life and the foundation of the family. Christians will soon find themselves not just socially rejected for their religious beliefs, but facing civil or criminal sanction for speaking and acting consistent with their Christian faith. This should not come as a surprise to believers. Jesus promised us that this time was coming:

“Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Mark 13:13.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Matthew 24:9-13.

“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.” —John 15:18-19.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Matthew 5:10-12.

Being Christian in the America of tomorrow will mean daring to be different from most Americans, standing on Biblical truth no matter the personal cost. It will involve being intentional about following Christ, getting to know who Jesus is so that they can become more like him and join him on his mission to save the lost. Christians cannot hope to influence the world for Jesus by simply avoiding badness and taking care of their families.  Even many unbelievers do that. Nor can the church continue to be known only by what it is against, but must begin to communicate by the way they live what Christianity is for—the gospel message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and redemption, where there is no room for fear and its corollary, hate.

Christians will soon face a crisis of faith. They will be called on to decide whether to embrace their identity as strangers and aliens in this world, standing on absolute Biblical truth and grace and refusing to comfortably fit in with a culture that contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of the real-life consequences to themselves and their families, or they will conclude that the cost of following Christ — social ostracism and civil and criminal persecution — is simply too great and will instead assimilate their values to those of the world.

May we not be found among those who shrink back, but among those who have faith in a good and sovereign God to save them. And may that gracious God transform us to live and love like his Son, so that the whole world will know there is a God who loves them. It is time to count the cost and be prepared to pay it.

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.’”—Luke 9:23-26.

Christians First

 

As a conservative, evangelical Christian, what was more disturbing to me than the conduct of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential election was that of certain evangelical leaders who jeopardized their influence for the cause of Christ by compromising Biblical principles for the sake of political expediency.

As a pro-life Christian, voting for Clinton was never an option. Even if I had trusted her and supported her policies (which I did not), anyone who champions herself as the protector of women and children and yet believes that it is just fine to kill a helpless, innocent baby as long he resides in his mother’s womb, including up to the day of delivery, lacks the moral capacity and judgment to lead a nation.

The other option was Trump, a man who flaunted his disregard for Biblical principles, shamelessly belittling, mocking, insulting, intimidating and personally attacking anyone who disagreed with him. Unrepentant, he claimed to be a Christian who had done nothing for which he needed to ask for forgiveness. His life was built on the love of money, which the Bible deems the root of all evil. Sexual immorality, greed and gambling were his trademarks. Donald Trump repeatedly demonstrated that he was unrestrained – a particularly dangerous character trait for a President and Commander-in-Chief.

The two major political parties told the American public and we in turn told each other that we had to vote for one of these two candidates to be the next President of the United States of America. To do otherwise was to throw away our vote or worse, to vote for the greater of the two evils rather than the lesser, as if the lesser was easily distinguishable. Those who declined to endorse either Clinton or Trump and voted instead for someone else were chastised for their naivety or, in the case of evangelical Christians who refused to board the Trump train, accused of spiritual snobbery. In a nation where we are supposed to be free to vote for the candidate of our choice, this election sure did not feel like it.

With the potential for the next President to appoint several Supreme Court justices, I understand why my pro-life brothers and sisters felt compelled to vote for Donald Trump, despite his immoral character. While we did not agree on that excruciating decision, under the circumstances neither do I fault them for voting for a candidate who at least professed to support the right to life. On the other hand, I was dumbfounded that some of my friends could, with a straight face, describe Trump as a humble or Godly man.

My greatest disappointment with this election, however, was not with these people or even the candidates themselves. It was watching a parade of Christian evangelical leaders line up to trade their biblical family values for a highly speculative seat at the Trump White House table. I was stunned as they abandoned the belief that the character of a President matters and enthusiastically embraced situational ethics, waving off the Republican nominee’s deliberate disregard for biblical morality, and accepting the proposition that the suitability of a candidate is relative only to who they are running against.  These evangelical leaders strained to justify their position by suggesting that Trump’s moral deficiencies were all in the past, despite clear evidence to the contrary from his own mouth. They misused the gospel of Jesus Christ to pressure Christians to vote for Donald Trump, arguing that God could use an evil man like him but implying that God could never use an evil woman like Hillary Clinton, as if either candidate had the power to limit the sovereignty of God.

As Brian Haynes, Lead Pastor at Bay Area Church in League City, Texas blogged on October 9, 2016:

“What makes me angry are “evangelical” leaders who rally behind Trump no matter how egregious or indefensible his latest escapade might be. It is as if we are willing to shout “liar” at Hillary Clinton while embracing the foolishness of Donald Trump. This is a double standard formed in partisan politics not gospel centeredness or in light of a biblical worldview. It is not as if we Christians can simply apply our worldview to one candidate but not the other.”

Despite what certain evangelical advisors led us to believe during this election, character still matters in the political arena because what a person thinks, believes, says and does in his private life will necessarily impact his politics. It is the height of hypocrisy to denounce former President Bill Clinton for lacking the personal moral integrity and character to run a country, and then twenty years later endorse another man for President whose sexual mores appear to mirror those of the former President, simply because that man is on “our side.”

When both candidates lack even that minimum level of character reasonably expected of a President, the solution is not to discard the belief that character counts, but to pursue an alternative. If the best the major political parties can offer are immoral options, conservative Christian voters should refuse to choose either, regardless of the political cost. Otherwise, Christians lose moral credibility, which has profound consequences not just for our nation but for all people.

Beyond sacrificing moral influence in the public arena, evangelicals who adopt moral relativism risk losing the ability to influence the culture for Christ. As Christians, we must remember our mission and purpose—that we are not called to save a nation or a culture, but to join Christ in his mission to save lost souls. Christians are strangers and aliens in a world which is at odds with the kingdom of God. If Christians hope to be salt that seasons the world with the gospel and love of Jesus, then they must remain distinct. In a world that is becoming angrier and darker, people need to know they can find hope in an unchanging God who will light the way with love.

If we are Christians, then we must be Christians first and stand on the absolute authority and wisdom of the Word of God rather than a political party platform. As we turn the page on this election, please join me in praying for reconciliation and healing among our citizens and for the next President of the United States of America. As Christians, let us remember our mission that we may be recognized not by our rhetoric, but by our love and our fruit.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” John 14:21. “This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5, 8.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22─23.