I am an evangelical Christian—but I do not support Donald Trump.
I am a registered Republican—but I will not vote for Donald Trump.
I will not vote for someone who has so little respect for the Constitution of the United States that his response to protestors is to say, “I wanted to punch that guy in the mouth.” I will not vote for someone with so little respect for women that he equates the terms “political light-weight” with “bimbo” when speaking of a female reporter. I will not vote for a man who has so little respect for human life that he claims he could shoot a man on a crowded street and not lose votes because he’s so popular. I will not vote for someone who mocks anyone who is different from him, responds angrily to anyone who disagrees with him, and refuses to participate in anything that doesn’t give him the spotlight.
And I am very, very disappointed in all the “evangelical Christians” who stand behind this man.
Politics is hard. Government is hard. Living in a nation of over 300 million people from every race, ethnicity, and religion on the planet is hard. Throw into the mix a national heritage that says all people are created equal and a national constitution that says all people should be treated as equals, and being an American gets even harder. It’s so much easier to say ‘what’s in it for me?’ or ‘who is looking out for people like me?’ But the government of the United States is not supposed to be picking and choosing who gets respect or who gets a voice. And the President of the United States—the representative of ALL the people of the United States—should be the one raising the bar, not lowering it.
I have long stood against the idea that the United States is a “Christian nation.” My reasoning has been on theological grounds as well as historical and legal. But in recent months, the people of this country who have flocked en masse to support the biggest bully on the block have proven that we are not a Christian nation in any way. Christians are supposed to follow Jesus’ teachings to love their enemies, to put others ahead of themselves, to care for the weak and the outsider, to put living for God ahead of monetary gain, to be peace-makers, to be forgiving. Jesus stood boldly for what he believed, and so should we—not to ridicule others or throw punches against anyone who disagrees with us, but to love them enough to be beaten by them, enough to die for them.
I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will do my research, read articles, listen to the debates, and cast my vote for someone who can build bridges in Washington, DC, not walls. I will look for someone who will uphold the Constitution, not trample it underfoot to the thunderous applause of supporters who find freedom of speech and freedom of religion a little hard to take when it’s not their speech and their religion which are being protected. I will speak out against political candidates and their Christian supporters who think it’s okay to say anything and do anything as long as the majority goes along. The majority—among them many evangelical Christians—may support many things which neither the Constitution nor the Bible would permit. So if Donald Trump is the big “winner” of this year’s race for the presidency, please ask yourself what we as a people stand to lose.
I read an interesting Bible passage today. It’s at the beginning of the story of Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. In Genesis 12, God makes his first covenant (or promise) with Abraham, who was still called Abram at the time. God said, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV)
In the very next verse, we see Abram taking God at his word and acting on it. Abram moves, taking his wife, nephew, and all his possessions. Stopping in the land of Canaan, God again makes a promise to Abram to give him all the land around him (Genesis 12:4-7). But then, three verses later, Abram and his wife, Sarai, leave the land that’s been promised to them to go to Egypt to escape a famine. Entering Egypt, Abram makes a most amazing statement to his wife: “You’re a beautiful woman, Sarai, and I don’t want somebody here to kill me to get to you, so it would be better if you tell everyone I’m your brother instead of your husband.” (Genesis 12:11-13, paraphrased)
Abram put his wife in a terrible position and even allowed her to be taken into Pharaoh’s household (i.e., harem) all “so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:13). In my opinion, there are few better examples in the Bible of someone failing to live as if they believed what God had promised!
In the first place, Abram didn’t need to be “treated well” by Pharaoh or his people. The Almighty God had promised to give him a large extent of land and to make his name great. Abram also didn’t need to worry about dying before he had any children because God had promised to make him into a great nation of people. The Bible doesn’t tell us how much time passed between the promises in verses 2-7 and Abram’s act of cowardice in verses 11-13, but it would be pretty hard to forget being told directly by God himself that he would take care of you, bless you, and give you a multitude of descendants!
Abraham wasn’t the only person in the Bible to face a scary situation. David went through numerous wars and was pursued as a young man by a king intent on killing him. But God had promised David that he would be the next king. Again and again through the book of Psalms we hear David crying out in fear, frustration, anger, and impatience, but in each and every one of these Psalms he ends up remembering the power, love and faithfulness of God. Then his fears and frustrations melt away.
Today, as Christians we have a choice: to live like we believe in God’s promises and his ability to make those promises come true, or to give into fear, frustration and anger because our lives at this very moment aren’t everything we think they should be. We can live our lives focused on protecting our own interests or focused on caring for others and showing God’s love to the world.
It isn’t always easy to live like you believe, but it is always worth it! What will you choose?
It’s been a horrible week.
A few days ago, a man and woman, motivated by radical religious beliefs, entered a meeting room in San Bernardino, California, and opened fire with automatic weapons. When they were done, 14 people lay dead on the floor with another 17 injured and dozens more fleeing for their lives. Yesterday, federal officials declared the mass murder an “act of terrorism.” Although there is no evidence that this act was organized or directed by a foreign terrorist organization, it is now clear that it was inspired by the hateful rhetoric and call of “jihad” coming from foreign shores.
Across our nation, people are scared – and they’re angry. Someone asked Donald Trump yesterday what he would say to President Obama about this, and his response was “You’re fired!” While some are calling for better gun control in America, many others (including Trump) are claiming that more people with guns would solve the problem of mass shootings. Let’s all get guns, so we can shoot at anyone who seems like a threat – including everyone else in the room who pulled out their guns to address the same threat. Or why wait for anyone to start shooting? Let’s just round up all the suspicious characters and kick them out of the country before they can do any harm.
In the midst of the horror and the hysterical reaction to it, there have been a few moments of clear-headedness. There were heroes at the scene of the attack who kept their heads and helped others get out of the line of fire. There were capable, well-trained officers and emergency personnel who responded to the scene quickly, helping the wounded and bringing calm in the midst of chaos. The two shooters were tracked down within hours and died making a last stand for their radical beliefs. Their home was searched, and investigators continue to work on tracking down anyone else who might have been involved and who remains a threat to our security.
I am thankful today for the law enforcement officials who stood before the press yesterday and reminded everyone that they were doing everything within their power – and within the constraints of the United States Constitution – to uncover the truth and neutralize any remaining threat. I am thankful for the FBI agent who said, “We can’t gather any information we want on people. We have to follow the Constitution.” I am thankful that our government doesn’t keep a list of all people who have potentially radical religious beliefs – because I would be on that list.
Here are some of the radical beliefs I have pledged myself to:
There is one God – only one – and he will judge all people, separating the good from the evil.
There is one way to be “good” – only one – and that is to be forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The one true God is sovereign and is in control of everything.
I may not understand what is happening in the world, but I need not fear anything, because God is using everything – yes, everything – for his glory.
Jesus calls his followers to be radical in their living as well as their thinking by loving their enemies, praying for those who persecute them, caring for the needy, forgiving others, living righteously, and being joyful in all circumstances. For me, that means not carrying a gun, not hating every foreigner who dares to enter my country, not instantly looking for someone to blame when bad things happen, and not throwing aside the Constitution and all moral constraints to battle evil.
It’s easy to talk about love and forgiveness when you are living in comfort and safety, with the bad guys far away on distant shores. It’s a lot harder when the gun fire is in your own backyard. That’s when it becomes radical – and isn’t that what Christianity was always supposed to be? So fellow Christians, let’s be radical today – not hysterical, not hateful, not fearful – but trusting in God, loving others, quick to help, quick to forgive, and letting the people around us know that there is still light in this world and it comes from the one true God.
I had dinner tonight at a strip mall that has three small restaurants next to each other and a large patio with lots of tables for outdoor dining. The patio was crowded with people eating, talking, laughing, and smoking. It reminded me of times I’ve been in Europe, eating at a street-side table in a busy city like Rome, London, or Paris.
Except in Paris tonight, no one is sitting outside enjoying an evening meal, some good conversation, and a little people-watching. In Paris tonight, there is a curfew. People have been told to stay in their homes, to keep off the streets. In Paris tonight, over one hundred people lie dead in a theater, in a restaurant, or outside a stadium, victims of at least six terrorist attacks across the City of Lights.
The people around me at the restaurant tonight seemed to care little for what was happening on the other side of the world, but I’m sure many people who have the news today paused at least once to ask, “Can it happen here? Are we safe here in the United States?”
Different people will answer that question differently. Some people believe in the power and might of the United States and think our enemies are too afraid to make a major terrorist strike here (another major strike, I should say, considering the loss of almost 3,000 American lives on 9/11/11). Others believe that the United States is under God’s protection, that he has promised a special blessing to this nation since its founding, so no great evil can happen here. Since 9/11/11, the number of people in both those groups has been dropping, especially the second one, but I think there are still some Christians out there who think God has a special plan for the United States because we are a “Christian nation” and it is our job to spread the blessings of Christianity throughout the world.
We should realize by now, if we have paid any attention to world news in the past year, that Christians are not immune from persecution and violence. Many who called themselves Christians have paid for that title with their lives – not just in the past year, but for the past two thousand years. God does not promise peace and protection to his followers. Obedience to his law is no guarantee of security. Not even if our whole nation were to seek God in humility and repentence could we hope to be safe from all harm threatened by foreign extremists or home-grown terrorists.
Isn’t that what the Bible promises, though? In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promised to heal the land of Israel, the people called by his name, if they would “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” but that promise is not repeated in the New Testament. Jesus made a different promise: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Read Matthew 24:4–14 if you want to know what else Jesus said was going to happen at some point in the future. It isn’t a pretty picture, and Jesus made no exceptions about who would be affected by the dire events he foretold. He did make many other promises though, including to be with us until the end of the age and to prepare a new place for us beyond all the evils of this world.
So what do I think? I think what happened in Paris today can happen in the United States, and it probably will eventually. Our nation has made a lot of enemies, at least as many as France has, and there will always be limits to our national security. There is violence all around us, and illness, and accidents, and uncertainty. Our job is to stand firm in our faith, to trust God, to spread the gospel, and to live our lives according to God’s law – not to obtain security and peace here in this country or anywhere in this world, but to store up treasure in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” or where terrorists threaten and kill (Matthew 6:20).
Today I would like to give a different answer to the question: “How does demanding that welfare recipients, etc. pass drug tests, etc. before providing them with aid square with Christ's words about taking care of those in need. (i.e., when He talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., he didn't give conditions that had to be met before providing those things.)”
I think there is ample evidence in the Bible that Christians should care for the poor and needy, although that is not our primary mission in this world. As Christians, then, should we also demand our governments (local, state, or federal) to care for the poor and to do it without setting conditions? As a representative of the people (the majority of whom still call themselves Christians), should the US government carry out such Christian ideals as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick?
The battle between caring for people’s needs with more government and preserving their freedoms with less government has been waged for decades in this county, and I don’t want to get in the middle of that political battle. But let me try and settle one small piece of the argument about what we should expect from our government.
Just last week, a terrible event at a community college in Oregon led to a heated debate over which will keep Americans safer—more gun control or more people with guns? We all want to live in a place where we are free from the threat of violence. We would like to see an end to hunger and poverty. We want to have no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more tears, and we look to our governments to solve all these problems for us. It seems like a Christian thing to do, to try to alieve suffering and fear—but is it?
I have no problem with asking our governments to work on the difficult problems of poverty and violence and find the best answers they can, but I’m not looking for a perfect place to live here on the earth. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are “foreigners and strangers on earth” but that God has prepared a city for us—“a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16). In Revelation we see “a new heaven and a new earth” where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4).
Today, we still live under “the old order of things.” We are separated from God by sin and we live with its consequences—violence, sickness, poverty, suffering, and pain. As difficult as it is to bear with these things, they are the very things which cause us to turn our eyes heavenward, to look for God, and to accept his offer of forgiveness and redemption. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). He also said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …Blessed are those who mourn …Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:3-5). Are they not the ones most likely to find their comfort in God rather than in the things of this earth?
Please don’t think I’m being callous and saying we shouldn’t be concerned with the poor or needy in our land. As Christians, we should have the same heart of compassion and love for others that Jesus had. It was Christians who started the first hospitals in the nations where they lived. Christians started schools not just for the rich but for any who would come. Christian organizations today continue to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and rescue the addicts, the prostitutes, and the victims of modern slavery. In doing so, they point to a better ending to all suffering—one that comes from God, not the government.
Last week I mentioned that a friend of mine posed two questions. I responded to one last week, and I would like to respond to the second today. The question is this: “How does demanding that welfare recipients, etc. pass drug tests, etc. before providing them with aid square with Christ's words about taking care of those in need. (i.e., when He talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., he didn't give conditions that had to be met before providing those things.)”
To begin with, I have to ask, “Who is providing the aid?” because it makes a difference in how I would answer the question. First let me answer as if the “who” is Christians and Christian organizations.
It has often been said that God’s people should care for the poor and disadvantaged. In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel were instructed to leave some of their crops unharvested so the poor and foreigners could come and take what they needed (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22). They were commanded: “Be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). In the New Testament, Jesus told a rich young man to sell all he had and give to the poor (Mark 10:17-21), and he said that being generous to the poor was more important than ritual washing to make one “clean” on the inside (Luke 11:39-41). Yet he also found it proper that expensive perfume should be used to honor him instead of being sold to feed the poor (Mark 14:1-9).
Jesus never directly instructed his disciples to care for the poor, but he did say that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners were ways we could show our love for him (Matthew 25:31-45). Jesus’ own mission on earth was validated by his acts of caring for others, but note in these verses what gift he gave to the poor: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). (See also Luke 4:14-21.)
Although it isn’t our primary mission, there is ample evidence that Christians and Christian organizations should care for the poor and the disadvantaged. We must remember, though, it is not what we do that matters but why we do it. Paul said, “If I give all I possess to the poor…but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
If love is to be our motivating our factor—love for God and love for all those made in his image—then just giving money or food or needed items is not enough. We should want the best for the people we are caring for. We should help others in ways which allow them to reach a better place in their lives—and sometimes that calls for the tough love of not giving help to people who will squander that aid on drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self-indulgence or self-destruction.
Paul clearly set conditions for the care of others by the church. His instructions for caring for widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 provides a good template for caring for anyone in need. First, let them care for themselves if they can. Second, let them be cared for by their family or other individuals in the church. Third, if neither of these is possible, the church should care for them, but only if they are found worthy by their history of good deeds and faithfulness. Setting these conditions ensured that both the financial stability of the church and its reputation in the community would be preserved.
“The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). What we do to care for the poor says much about what we believe as Christians. However we choose to care for the poor, whether as individuals or as a church or denomination, we need to make sure we are being motivated by love for God and real love for others—not just the appearance of caring.
So what is a Christian to do if he or she believes that that law of the land is inconsistent with or contrary to the law of God? The answer is both very simple and very difficult—“Give back…to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). As Christians, our first loyalty must always be to God, and there are somethings we cannot do even if required by the secular authorities God has placed over us. Daniel knew that and refused to pray to King Nebuchadnezzar instead of God (Daniel 6). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that and refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue (Daniel 3). The apostles and early church fathers knew that and refused to stop preaching the gospel, even though many of them were jailed and/or killed by Jewish leaders, Romans authorities, and angry mobs.
It’s simple. When you’re sure it would offend God’s law to do something or to refrain from doing something, you should choose to follow God’s law regardless of the opposition or consequences.
The difficult part is being sure of what God’s law requires us to do or to refrain from doing. Each of us is responsible for making decisions about how to live our own lives, and we must apply the teachings of the Bible to those decisions as best we can. Parents also have a duty to instruct their children in God’s law and those children have a duty to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:104). In addition, we are instructed to teach our fellow Christians to follow God’s law and to strive for righteousness within our local churches (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 4:2).
Outside the church is a different matter. Jesus refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery, and he shared the gospel with another woman living with a man she wasn’t married to (John 8:1-11; John 4:7-26). Stephen prayed for forgiveness for men who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-60). And in the same chapter where Paul says to not even eat with an unrepentant, sinful man within the Corinthian church, he declares: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
So what is a Christian to do when in the course of his work “outside the church” he is asked to do something which would enable another person to do something in violation of God’s law? Should he pay for his employees’ medical insurance which might make it possible for a woman to have an abortion? Should he provide medication which a patient can take to commit suicide? Should he (or she) issue a marriage license to a couple so they can enter a same-sex marriage? Are these things just part of doing business in a secular culture – similar to eating meat that was sacrificed to a pagan idol? Or at some point do they cross a line and involve the Christian directly in the bloody pagan rituals? (Read 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 if you didn’t understand that reference.)
That is the difficult part and something Christians and churches need to seriously consider, often on a case-by-case basis. Something else they need to seriously consider is whether they are really concerned with following God’s law or if they are being motivated by something else, such as fear of or hatred toward people who are different from them. After all there are many things which offend God’s law, including remarriage after a divorce, but I’ve never heard of a clerk refusing to issue a license to a divorcee entering a second or third marriage (Matthew 19:8-9).
““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4).
A friend of mine who read my posts last week posed a couple of questions on Facebook and asked for my opinion on them. Both were great questions, and I wish I had more space to answer them then just a short blog post, but let me give it a try. I need two days to answer the first question, and then I’ll tackle the second.
First, let me point out that we should never try to build an argument about how Christians should live by relying on only one verse or passage from the Bible. The Bible is not easily broken down into lists of “do this” and “don’t do that” that can be applied in any circumstance. The Bible is not so much an instruction manual on living as it is a tool for getting to know the living God. So the question should not be, “Doesn’t the Bible say….?” It should be “What does the Bible tell me about God that will help me live in a way that pleases him?”
When asked about paying taxes to the Roman government, Jesus looked at the image of Caesar on a Roman coin and said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). He quietly passed on the opportunity to take a political stand against the Roman invaders ruling over the people of Israel – a stand that would have thrilled the political zealots in his audience while giving the religious leaders cause to have him thrown in jail by the Roman authorities. Some might say he was using Solomon-like wisdom to stay out of trouble. Others might say he was promoting tolerance and unity, as if to say, “It’s okay to be religious, but don’t let it affect the way you deal with other people.”
These are both tempting approaches to difficult situations where our faith and our culture seem to clash, but I don’t think either of these interpretations is consistent with everything else the Bible teaches us about Jesus. He wasn’t afraid of stirring up trouble for himself, and he had a lot to say about living in a radical way that really reflects your belief in God. Jesus’ real meaning in this passage is found in the rest of his sentence: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The real trick is figuring out what we owe to “Caesar” – the government and any other secular authority over us – and what we owe to God.
First of all, we owe to God obedience to his word, and that includes obedience to his command to “submit…to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), to “pay taxes” (Romans 13:6), and to pray for “all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We owe him trust in his sovereignty and a recognition that “the authorities that exist have been established by God” and they are “his servants” (Romans 13:1-7). Yet we also owe God our undivided loyalty and allegiance: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3); “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). So there will be times when we have to ask, “If I give to Caesar what is demanded by Caesar, will I be failing to give to God what is demanded by God?” Then, like Peter and John, we will be required to say, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?” (Acts 4:19).
Many people throughout the ages have chosen to listen to God rather than earthly authorities and they have been ridiculed, blackballed, thrown in jail, tortured, and even killed. Jesus was one of them. If that doesn’t get you thinking deeply about the choices you make in life, I don’t know what will.
What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.