The Enemy doesn’t get to define us

One thing about the Trump era: it’s caused a lot of people to confront the misplaced notion that Christians are supposed to be all about inoffensive sweetness and niceness, and only support politicians of that variety:

There are innumerable examples of people who are wonderful but unaccomplished just as there are many notable examples of people with serious personal failings who nonetheless have excelled in other parts of their lives: artists, scientists, parents, and even politicians.

And yes, I’m not so subtly making a point about President Trump. His private failings have been made very public prompting some Christian pundits to say that not only do those failings disqualify Trump from office, but they are so egregious as to make supporting him sinful for Christians.

It should be obvious that support for a political candidate does not mean a blanket endorsement of every aspect that candidate’s life. It is merely an endorsement of that person’s policies and an assessment of his ability to perform in office. What’s more, it’s often not even a blanket endorsement of that, it’s a practical decision that Candidate A, while imperfect, is preferable to Candidate B…

The question is, by what standard should a Christian judge a candidate or an officeholder? Part of the answer is that the Christian and non-Christian ought to judge in the same way: what can the candidate do to protect the peace and prosperity of the nation and its citizens? Christians would add that they require political leaders that will protect the right of the Church to worship freely and its members to practice their faith in peace.

If personal sin were disqualifying, who could lead? Christians in particular, for whom recognition of indwelling sin is both a predicate and a sustainer of faith, should know this. I suspect what the Frenches really want is a prophet, a priest, and a king to rule in this secular age, a political leader in which they can invest their highest hopes. But in doing so, they are placing upon liberal politics a weight it cannot hope to carry and are headed for disappointment.  The good news is, if they want a prophet, a priest, and a king, they already have one . . . in Christ.

As a presidential candidate in 2012, [Mitt Romney] was weak and ineffectual, letting Barack Obama walk all over him and run away with the race. But vote for him because he’s polite and he doesn’t curse!  Voters, many of them Christians, decided that the time for beautiful losers is over.

Exactly.  As I watch my country overrun by uninvited invaders, beset by hostile ideologies growing within and enemies gathering without, I am really not concerned with parlor games and political pleasantries anymore.  It’s no exaggeration to say our birthright freedoms are in a fight for their very survival.  In such a situation I’ll take a committed patriot with the manners of Genghis Khan over a manicured globalist who’s a disciple of Ann Landers; a Patton, not a Pope.

And as for Christianity requiring a milquetoast demeanor… our adversaries would have us forget that Our Lord’s example includes such pleasantries as flipping tables, driving people with whips, calling deceivers ‘vipers‘ and children of Satan, and calling down woe on feckless leaders more interested in themselves than in those they were called to lead.  Christ isn’t just the Lamb… He’s also the Lion of Judah.  “Not a tame lion,” either, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out.

So despite his many past moral failings, maybe… just maybe… Trump’s on to something here.  I’ll certainly never confuse him with Christ.  But Twitter aside, regarding the manner in which he is governing I’ll say he is more Christ-like than many of the false-faced Wormtongues who surround him in Mordor.  It’s amusing: the Left always screeches that Christian faith should never influence public policy.  But faced with Trump, who has committed the unpardonable sin of actually trying to govern as he campaigned, the Left — which recognizes no restraints of civility on its own quest for power — is more than willing to use a watered-down, denatured vision of the Christian walk to try to shame people out of supporting him.

I mean it literally when I say “to hell with that.”

The Name they will not say

Can you spot the difference?

57503453_10219595711068436_9062596425824600064_n

I don’t know anyone who worships Easter.  Do you?  Apparently a lot of Democrats do:

Former President Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and several other leading Democrats denounced terror attacks on what they called “Easter worshippers” — not Christians — Sunday in Sri Lanka.

Suicide bombers murdered nearly 300 people and wounded 500 more in attacks on three churches, three hotels, and a housing complex. Many were killed as they attended Mass for Easter Sunday. The government reportedly suspects that the bombers, all Sri Lankans, were members of “a domestic Islamist terror group named National Thowfeek Jamaath.”

Yet Obama, Clinton, and other Democrats — including 2020 presidential contender Julián Castro — could not bring themselves to identify the victims of the attacks as “Christians,” calling them “Easter worshippers” instead in eerily similar responses.

Of course they’re similar.  Satan is called “the Father of Lies,” so it stands to reason he’s pretty good at message discipline in his deception.  In his playbook, Christians can only be mentioned if they’re tarred with nefarious accusations, deserved or not.  Can’t have people sympathizing with them — that’s reserved for minorities and the “Religion of Pieces.”

At the same time, anyone who recognizes the prevalence of jihad and Christian persecution is just some angry right-wing extremist:

Screen-Shot-2019-04-22-at-16.18.03-517x600

As Glenn Reynolds points out:

They don’t want you to be angry, even though they know you have things to be angry about. They want you to be ashamed, all the time, for disagreeing with them about, well, anything. Meanwhile they want to keep their own base angry and inflamed 24/7. News spin revolves around this to a huge degree.

I refuse to be ashamed for disagreeing with people who can’t seem to figure out there are only two genders.  As for anger… Christians are never told in scripture not to be angry — only to be careful that in our anger, we do not sin.  Given how much we’ve had to become angry about since 9/11, that’s increasingly difficult.  At least for me.  I take some solace in this, though:  if this prayer was good enough for David, it’s good enough for me:

The righteous will be glad when they see sinners punished;
they will wade through the blood of the wicked.
People will say, “The righteous are indeed rewarded;
there is indeed a God who judges the world.”

Those who refuse to say Christ’s name today will one day bow at the sound of it.  May that day come soon, both here and abroad.  My waders are ready and waiting.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11

The empty tomb, not the cross

…is the most significant symbol of the Christian faith.  The cross is where Christ took our place, judged and condemned for our sins.  The pivotal moment, that.  But the empty tomb proved he wasn’t just a madman on a fool’s errand with delusions of grandeur.  Christ claimed to be the Son of God, equal to the Father.  Thus, as C.S. Lewis famously wrote, there are only three ways to respond to Him: call Him a liar, call Him a lunatic, or call Him Lord.  Eternity hinges on which one you choose.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:14-22

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

A More Merciful God?

I’ve just finished reading a book that really provoked me into a closer examination of Scripture and my understanding of it.  It’s humbling to realize that even as I close in on five decades on this earth, there are things I’ve never considered and discussions of which I’ve been ignorant all this time.

The book coveris “A More Merciful God: Truth is Older Than Tradition.”  It’s a powerful critique of the common traditional view that those who fail to put their faith in Christ will suffer an eternity of conscious pain and torment.  Prior to reading it, I was only aware of two schools of thought about the destiny of the lost: the aforementioned traditional view, and universalism, which posits that even the lost eventually are relieved of their suffering and restored after a period of punishment.  The latter view being patently unfounded in Scripture, I’ve held to the traditional view, as horrifying as it is when you really stop and consider it.  In “Amazing Grace” we sing of how after 10,000 years of praising God we’ll have “no less days… than when we first begun.”  This is rightfully an encouragement to the believer, an anticipation of our future with our Creator.  Left between the lines of that great hymn, though, is the thought those same 10,000 years leave “no less days” of agony and torment for the lost in eternity.

What if tradition is not only wrong, but slandering the character of God in the process, making it more difficult for people to come to faith in Him?

There is another viewpoint of which I’ve been unaware till now: conditional immortality. … Continue reading

Struck down, but not destroyed

Christians around the world today face persecution from many sources.  Nevertheless, we always have this hope: we are not forsakenand He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

Iraq has made Christmas Day a national holiday, its government confirmed this morning.

The Iraqi Cabinet approved an amendment to its national holidays law which creates a new official one ‘on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ‘.

Previously, Christmas Day had been designated as a religious break only for the Iraqi Christian community, but the amendment extends the holiday to everyone.

There are thought to be only around 300,000 Christians remaining in the country, the vast majority of whom are Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians.

Before western countries’ invasion of the country in 2003, Iraqi Christians numbered around 1.4 million, but the onslaught of violence forced hundreds of thousands to flee, either to Iraqi Kurdistan or further abroad.

They have also found themselves persecuted on religious grounds by so-called Islamic State in recent years.   Christians living areas under ISIS control were ordered to pay a large tax, convert to Islam, or be killed.

But now their Lord is being recognized officially.  The Iraqi people have suffered tremendously for decades, first under a ruthless dictator, then in an international crossfire between the West and radical Islamists.  But it is just like our God to bring beauty from such ashes.  I was one of thousands who served there, what seems like a lifetime ago, and I pray this is but the start of a great work by the Spirit in that land.

Merry Christmas!  The Christ Child is still in the business of setting captives free.

Tigris River

Note: there’s an observation made by the composition of this photo I took. See if you can find it.  If you do, feel free to share it in the comments.

Saturday Sounds

This is not usually considered a “Christmas” song.  And yet, Christmas has no meaning apart from the message it conveys.  One of our ministers shared last week at church that his daughter’s coworker, upon being wished a “Merry Christmas,” said she couldn’t remember whether Christmas was whether we “celebrate the birth or the killing of our God.”

Yes, it’s a shocking commentary on how ignorant of the basic doctrines of the faith our country has become.  But it’s also a reminder: neither the birth or the killing of Christ has any meaning without the Resurrection.

What a work we have, to tell those around us what all this really means.

Substituting factions for faith

A person’s life is meant to have meaning, and for that meaning to derive from a relationship to their Creator.  It’s no surprise, then, that those who reject God are driven to seek meaning anywhere they believe they can find it.  Some turn to self-destructive vices in an ever-more-vain pursuit of moments of perceived happiness.  Other alternatives, though, while not as immediately and physically destructive, ultimately lead to the same futility.  One important current example is in our political climate.

Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning…

But none of this material progress beckons humans to a way of life beyond mere satisfaction of our wants and needs. And this matters…

[S]ocial-justice ideology does everything a religion should. It offers an account of the whole: that human life and society and any kind of truth must be seen entirely as a function of social power structures, in which various groups have spent all of human existence oppressing other groups. And it provides a set of practices to resist and reverse this interlocking web of oppression — from regulating the workplace and policing the classroom to checking your own sin and even seeking to control language itself. I think of non-PC gaffes as the equivalent of old swear words. Like the puritans who were agape when someone said “g–damn,” the new faithful are scandalized when someone says something “problematic.” Another commonality of the zealot then and now: humorlessness.

The same cultish dynamic can be seen on the right. There, many profess nominal Christianity and yet demonstrate every day that they have left it far behind… This is why they could suddenly rally to a cult called Trump. He may be the least Christian person in America, but his persona met the religious need their own faiths had ceased to provide. The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.

This is why they are so hard to reach or to persuade and why nothing that Trump does or could do changes their minds. You cannot argue logically with a religion — which is why you cannot really argue with social-justice activists either. And what’s interesting is how support for Trump is greater among those who do not regularly attend church than among those who do…

And so we’re mistaken if we believe that the collapse of Christianity in America has led to a decline in religion. It has merely led to religious impulses being expressed by political cults… And this is how they threaten liberal democracy. They do not believe in the primacy of the individual, they believe the ends justify the means, they do not allow for doubt or reason, and their religious politics can brook no compromise.

I found these to be interesting thoughts, particularly coming from a writer who seems to believe he can reconcile his Roman Catholic practice with being an openly gay political pundit.  One of my first thoughts is that perhaps the Spirit is getting through to him.  I hope that’s the case.  He is correct about politics replacing theological faith as a source of meaning in our culture.  He is also correct about the effect of that on both Left and Right.  I supported Trump in 2016 because I thought that, even with his personal baggage, he’d do less damage than Her Hillariness.  I still hold a modest hope that he’ll be able to enact long-lasting reforms in some critical areas.  But unlike other Trump supporters I’ve encountered (who’ve made me very uncomfortable at times), I do not see him as America’s secular messiah, and I remain well aware of his flaws.

Sullivan may or may not have grasped the deeper point of his ponderings.  Reading the entirety of the piece, I’m not sure.  He compares the “Great Awokening” of modern times to the “Great Awakening” of old.  Only if we have another “Great Awakening” will our people once again channel their energies toward pursuing Christ.  And it is that pursuit that produces the fruit which previously sustained our society.  May God grant us revival, from “Awoke” to “Awake.”  As we’re painfully finding out, finding our identities in anything other than Him is a very poor substitute indeed.