Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

3 Reasons to Take Your Children to Funerals

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 12:02am

Should you take your child to a funeral? Conventional wisdom would say no. Parents are supposed to provide positive experiences for their children and protect them from dark realities, right? And a funeral (if we even call them that anymore; “memorial service” sounds less ominous) are certainly a dark reality.

But while the impulse to protect or shield our children can seem normal or wise, the wisdom of Scripture suggests an alternative to our conventional assumptions.

Here are three positive reasons you should take your children to funerals.

1. To Help Children Understand That Death Is Part of Life

Our children experience death all around them. Unfortunately, it’s often either glamorized through a round-winning “head shot” in Call of Duty or desensitized by the sheer volume of death in the latest Marvel film. Ironically, the more our kids encounter death in pop culture, the more abstract, surreal, and distant it can seem to them.

Ironically, the more our kids encounter death in pop culture, the more abstract, surreal, and distant it can seem to them.

Meanwhile, the rest of society seems bent on sanitizing or erasing the specter of death. Note the subtle changes, for example, in our vocabulary. “Graveyards” became “cemeteries,” and now we have “memorial parks.” “Funerals” became “memorial services,” and now we have “celebrations of life.” Cemeteries used to be common fixtures in churchyards, reminders for Sunday parishioners that death will come to us all. But most newer cemeteries are hidden away from view, unseen in the day-to-day rhythms of most people’s lives. And consider our cultural obsession with youth, fitness, vitality and anything eaten, oiled, or applied to keep death and decay at bay. Our children aren’t being helped to understand that death is a real evil in this world—an evil that forces everyone to consider how to steward their lives (Ecc. 9:1–12). Funerals help our children recognize the full weight and gravity of mortality.

2. To Model Grief for Our Children

We know how to have fun with our children, but do we know how to weep with them? If we only expose them to life’s joys, but not its trials, are we truly preparing them for a world that groans under the burden of sin (Rom. 8:20)? In the face of death, the cultural extremes of avoidance and stoicism on one hand or emotional collapse and unrestrained grief on the other won’t give our children the full range of God-given emotions that will help them process life and its difficult events.

Our children need to feel loss, to process it honestly, to see us moved by grief, and to watch as we lean upon God, even in his dark providence. As we process the loss together, age-appropriate conversations about his goodness, sovereignty, and the problem of suffering can be broached in a way that strengthens their faith and prepares them for a world where these three doctrines constantly intersect. Funerals help our children learn how to grieve in the face of death and to hope in the light of Christ (John 11:25).

3. To Help Our Children See the Gospel in Darkness

The gospel of Jesus Christ never shines brighter than in life’s darkest moments. No life event makes this clearer than a funeral. I never had to say anything to my children about the importance of the gospel when I took them to funerals, because they could see and hear it for themselves. They could see the overwhelming grief of those who didn’t know Christ—contrasted with the grace, hope, and resolve of those who did. They could hear sobs of despair contrasted with voices of hope.

True, my children may not have been able to articulate these differences when they were younger, but it was clear from their wide-eyed expressions and curious glances that the differences registered at a more foundational level. The effect of such an experiences creates fertile soil for the seeds of gospel conversations to sprout—about life, death, eternity, and why we make much of Jesus and the salvation he offers. Unlike almost any other life event, funerals help our children understand the power and necessity of the gospel.

Unlike almost any other life event, funerals help our children understand the power and necessity of the gospel.

Yes, funerals can be difficult. They are visceral and tragic reminders of sin’s earthly consequences. But that doesn’t mean God can’t use them to cultivate wisdom and hope in our kids (Ecc. 7:1–4). As parents, we hope their lives are marked by God’s goodness and favor rather than life’s darker realities. But in a fallen world we should seek every opportunity—even funerals—to disciple them and grow their confidence in the certain hope of Christ.

Related:

Broken, Authentic, Surrender: The Problem of Christian Jargon

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 12:00am

It’s easy, perhaps even necessary, to mock Christian jargon from time to time. As George Orwell said decades ago, jargon first obscures—and then prevents—thought and communication. And that’s intolerable if we are, in Paul’s words, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

Before the fun begins, however, we must make distinctions. Some jargon comes directly from Scripture. For example, “saved” appears many times in God’s Word, and it generally has the sense we give it in church circles. “Saved” is an important biblical term, and the danger is not that it’s misleading, but that we use it thoughtlessly, so the term loses its heft.

But more often, our jargon has a light connection to Scripture. One thinks of prayer language like “hedge of protection” and “open door.” We pray the Lord will open a door or put a hedge of protection around someone. “Hedge of protection” comes from Job 1:10, and the concept of God easing one’s ministry path appears in Colossians 4:3 and Acts 14:27. Conversely, Acts 16:7–10 shows that the Lord closes doors or paths.

Overuse of a minor concept can deafen us to more prominent biblical concepts.

The difficulty here is that overuse of a minor concept can deafen us to more prominent biblical concepts. In biblical history, sometimes a door is closed and the Lord expects believers to find a way to push it open. In Luke 5:17–26, a group of faithful men encountered a closed door to a house and decided to gain entry by tearing off the roof—a choice Jesus commended.

Broken Jargon

“Broken” is an interesting case. In my circles (perhaps not yours), certain pastors and teachers often tell their people they are broken or need to face their brokenness. Without completing a study of Hebrew and Greek terms, it may be enough to say that “broken” typically appears between 100 and 200 times in standard English translations and that the sense is almost always negative, often sharply negative. To be broken is normally to be useless (a broken bow) or to be devastated, defeated, or despairing, as many passages show (e.g. Ex. 6:9; 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 31:12; 69:20; 102:23; Job 17:1; 31:22).

I believe “broken” has a positive sense one time in the Bible: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). “Brokenhearted” is also positive four times: Psalms 34:18, Psalm 109:16, Psalm 147:3, and Isaiah 61:1. “Broken” or “brokenhearted,” then, appears to be a metaphorical way to say God is pleased when sinners repent, humble themselves, and turn to God for healing. To be broken is a proper response to sin, which leads to God’s grace and restoration.

There are three difficulties with the jargonish use of “broken.” First, “broken” takes on meanings that aren’t quite biblical. So, we sometimes hear a person glorying in his brokenness: “I feel so broken.” They seem to mean they grieve their sin, but it’s an odd way to say it and can have a prideful ring, as if one is glorying in his humility. Second, “broken” drives out other, more biblical terms like “sin.” A disciple once told me, “My campus minister never told me I was a sinner or committed sins. I was simply broken.” So “broken,” which sounds like a disability, not a moral problem, displaces sin and rebellion. I don’t want to banish “broken.” The term can label problems; for example, a broken political system. But a statement like “God comforts his broken children” is ambiguous. Is sin in view? Third, this shows that overusing “broken” can supplant clearer biblical language.

Consider that Scripture commands or encourages believers to “Be strong” more than 30 times (Josh. 1:6–9; 1 Kings 2:2; Ps. 27:14; Isa. 35:4; 2 Tim. 2:1). If we constantly commend brokenness, how can we also say “Be strong”? And might the failure to commend strength cause a communication failure with a certain kind of person—not because we critique foolish self-confidence, but because we fail to urge men and women to aspire to greatness and power in Christ?

Surrender Your Transparency and Authenticity

There is a third category of jargon—terms that have no biblical basis whatsoever and come from secular culture. “Surrender,” “transparency,” and “authenticity” all belong in this category. The Bible never uses “surrender” in the jargon-laden sense of making peace with God through faith. And “transparency” and “authenticity” never appear in Scripture. Still, Christians often command believers to surrender to God and be more authentic. When we adopt opaque concepts, we may baptize secular concepts that sound quasi-Christian.

Consider “transparency,” as in, “You need to be more transparent.” At times, that means, “Tell me what I want to know.” The Bible certainly advocates honesty, but it never promotes telling people everything they want to know. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Gossip need not be false to be harmful. Some matters are private. Why should a pastor “be transparent” about a recent counseling session with Mr. or Ms. Jones?

Precise language is a servant of good theology.

“Authenticity” also seems semi-Christian at first. The Bible teaches believers to be genuine, honest, and sincere, but authentic is not quite the same. Our culture defines authenticity as living life according to the needs of one’s inner being, rather than the demands of society or family. In existentialist thought, authenticity means choosing one’s path and thereby defining oneself. The authentic person is true to the self and rejects the common path; that idea is clearly sub-Christian. God does not want me to follow my path and chart my course; he wants me to follow the path Jesus charted. While Frank Sinatra may sing “I did it my way,” Scripture commends God’s way. The Bible never says “Be true to your inner desires.” It blesses Jesus, who said, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).

A believer’s praise of authenticity may be an innocent lack of precise language. Maybe he or she simply wants to promote sincerity. Yet the praise of authenticity may also be a step toward expressive individualism, which asserts that every person is original and that our unique capacities, stories, vision, and passions dictate the way we ought to live. Sadly, believers all too frequently adopt concepts that seem to resonate with biblical ideals, but actually contradict them.

As Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse point out in Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, professing Christians can reason like this: “God made me and therefore made the desires I have. Everything God makes is good, and therefore my desires are good. Good desires deserve, even ought, to be fulfilled.” Anything less is inauthentic. But Scripture never says all our desires come from God, never says all desires are good, and never even says we should indulge every good desire (I may desire sleep and yet need to stay awake).

Let’s Get It Right

The need to get our language right applies to all sorts of theological and ethical discussions. Approaching them, we remember Paul forbids quarrels about words and encourages a peaceable approach (2 Tim. 2:14, 24–26). Yet we also know that precise language is a servant of good theology. Liberal theologians may call Jesus “Savior” but mean that his teachings and example “save” his followers from an empty life. They may say Jesus rose from the dead, but if they just mean his spirit and teaching live on, we must insist that “resurrection” has a physical dimension.

Someone once said men will fight about important things and that a religion that utters pious phrases but shrinks from controversy will never stand. So let us strive to use the right words in the right way, for the sake of Christ and his church. I don’t ask that everyone guard their every word, but I do propose that leaders draw our language—words and meanings—from Scripture as much as possible, seeking to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

How a Christian Witnesses with Good Deeds

Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:05am

One metaphor our Lord uses to describe the witness of the Christian is light (Matt. 5:14–16). Christians are the light of the world—a world that, by implication, is shrouded in thick darkness.

Jesus talks about two sources of physical light: the light from a city set on a hill, and the light from a lamp set on a lampstand. The first source, the city, is often misunderstood. Some think that Matthew, in recording Jesus’s teaching, became somewhat confused and put in an irrelevant illustration about a city visible from a great distance because of its elevation. The illustration is colorful, it is thought, but out of place in a context concerned with light. Such critics, I think, are only revealing that they live in the industrialized world where light is so readily available. 

Importance of Light

They don’t know how dark nature can be. In Canada it’s possible to go camping hundreds of miles away from any city or town. If it’s a cloudy night, and there’s no phosphorus in the area, the darkness is total. A hand held three inches from your face can’t be seen. But if there’s a city nearby, perhaps 100 miles away, the darkness is relieved. The light from the city is reflected off the clouds, and the night, once perfectly dark, is no longer quite so desolate. Likewise Christians who let their light shine before men can’t be hidden; the good light they shed attenuates the darkness that would otherwise be absolute.

Christians are the light of the world—a world that, by implication, is shrouded in thick darkness.

When once we imagine a world without hundreds of watts of electric power at our instant personal disposal, we’ll understand how darkness can be a terror and a symbol of all that is evil. The light from the city, even if it isn’t as powerful as our modern sources of illumination, makes the darkness a little more bearable than it was before.

Light is so important that it’s ludicrous to think anyone would want to extinguish the flickering flame from an olive-oil lamp by smothering it with a peck measure. That burning wick may cast only a little light by modern standards, but if the alternative is pitch blackness, its light is wonderful, quite sufficient for everyone in the house (Matt. 5:15).

Importance of Good Deeds

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

What is this light by which Jesus’s disciples lighten a dark world? In this context, we read of neither personal confrontation nor ecclesiastical pronouncement. Rather, the light is the “good deeds” performed by Jesus’s followers—performed in such a way that at least some men recognize these followers of Jesus as sons of God, and come to praise this Father whose sons they are (Matt. 5:16).

The norms of the kingdom, worked out in the lives of the heirs of the kingdom, constitute the witness of the kingdom. Such Christians refuse to rob their employers by being lazy on the job, or to rob their employees by succumbing to greed and stinginess. They are first to help a colleague in difficulty, last to return a barbed reply. They honestly desire the advancement of the other’s interests, and honestly dislike smutty humor. Transparent in their honesty and genuine in their concern, they reject both the easy answer of the doctrinaire politician and the laissez-fare stance of the selfish secular man. Meek in personal demeanor, they’re bold in righteous pursuits.

The norms of the kingdom, worked out in the lives of the heirs of the kingdom, constitute the witness of the kingdom.

For a variety of reasons, Christians have lost this vision of witness and are slow to return to it. But in better days and other lands, the faithful and divinely empowered proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (who himself is the light of the world par excellence [John 8:12]) so transformed men that they in turn became the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Prison reform, medical care, trade unions, control of a perverted and perverting liquor trade, abolition of slavery, abolition of child labor, establishment of orphanages, reform of the penal code—in all these areas the followers of Jesus spearheaded the drive for righteousness. The darkness was alleviated. And this, I submit, has always been the pattern when professing Christians have been less concerned with personal prestige and more concerned with the norms of the kingdom.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The FAQs: New Government Rules Protect Conscience Rights in Health Insurance

Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:03am

What just happened?

Earlier this week the Trump administration released two final rules to provide conscience protections for Americans who have a religious or moral objection to health insurance that covers contraception or abortifacients.

The new rules—one religious-based exemption and one moral-based exemption—provide broad protections for individuals, organizations, and businesses that opposed the Obama administration’s contraceptive-abortifacient mandate because of their religious or moral beliefs.

What exactly is this contraceptive-abortifacient mandate?

Under the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as “Obamacare”), employer-provided health insurance plans are required to cover certain “preventative services”—which were defined through guidance by the Obama administration as including all contraception methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including abortifacients and sterilization procedures.

What is the religious-based exemption, and who qualifies for it?

The first of the final rules provides an exemption from the coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. Entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing contraceptive or abortifacient services would be exempt from the mandate and no longer be required to provide such coverage. Entities that object to covering some, but not all, contraceptive items would be exempt with respect to only those methods to which they object.

The exemption is applicable to nonprofits and for-profit entities, including both those that are closely held (such as Hobby Lobby and most small businesses) and also those that are not closely held (such as most publicly traded companies).

The exemption is also applicable to institutions of higher education, insurance issuers to the extent they provide a plan to otherwise exempt entities, and individuals whose employers and issuers are willing to provide them a plan compliant with the individuals’ beliefs.

These rules also apply to institutions of education, issuers, and individuals. Government entities are not eligible for the exemption. Churches and similar religious organizations were always exempt.

Additionally, exempt entities do not need to file notices or certifications of their exemption, an issue that was of concern for some groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.

What is the moral-based exemption, and who qualifies for it?

The second of the final rules provides an exemption from the coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held moral convictions. Entities that have sincerely held moral convictions against providing contraceptive or abortifacient services would be exempt from the mandate and no longer be required to provide such coverage. Entities that object to covering some, but not all, contraceptive items would be exempt with respect to only those methods to which they object.

The exemption is applicable to nonprofits, institutions of education, issuers, individuals, and closely held for-profit entities.

However, the exemption is not allowed for for-profit entities that are not closely held, such as publicly traded companies. Government entities are also not eligible for this exemption.

Why aren’t publicly traded companies eligible for the moral exemption?

The primary reason is because no publicly traded entities were identified that sought an exemption because of non-religious moral objections. The only entities known to express non-religious moral objections are pro-life organizations whose employees share the objections.

The government, however, has said it will reconsider the matter if companies  not closely held seek such an exemption.

What are all the entities allowed some form of exemption from the mandate?

The entities that are allowed some form of exemption include:

• Churches, integrated auxiliaries, and religious orders with religious objections;

• Nonprofit organizations with religious or moral objections;

• For-profit entities that are not publicly traded, with religious or moral objections;

• For-profit entities that are publicly traded, with religious objections;

• Other non-governmental employers with religious objections;

• Non-governmental institutions of higher education with religious or moral objections;

• Individuals with religious or moral objections, with employer-sponsored or individual-market coverage, where the plan sponsor and/or issuer (as applicable) are willing to offer them a plan omitting contraceptive coverage to which they object;

• Issuers with religious or moral objections, to the extent they provide coverage to a plan sponsor or individual that is also exempt.

When do the final rules take affect?

The rules take effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government of the United States that contains government agency rules, proposed rules, and public notices. Since the rules are scheduled to be published on November 15, the estimated date they will take effect is January 14, 2019.

How many companies will be affected by these rules?

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the exemptions should affect no more than approximately 200 employers with religious or moral objections.

Why is the executive branch modifying a law made by Congress?

Regulations, like the contraceptive-abortifacient mandate, are rules that have the force of law and that are issued by various federal government departments and agencies to carry out the intent of legislation enacted by Congress. The executive branch, through the various regulatory agencies, carries out most interpretation of legislation. Regulatory agencies handle administrative law, primarily by codifying and enforcing rules and regulations. When Congress passes a new law it usually goes to a regulatory agency to determine how the law will be put in place.

When did the government begin requiring employer-insurance programs to pay for contraceptives?

According to Becket Law, the trend toward state-mandated contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans began in the mid-1990s and was accelerated by the decision of Congress in 1998 to guarantee contraceptive coverage to employees of the federal government through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).

After FEHBP—the largest employer-insurance benefits program in the country—set this precedent, the private sector followed suit, and state legislatures began to make such coverage mandatory.

Why is the federal government dictating that contraceptives should be covered by insurance?

In 2000, the EEOC issued an opinion stating that the refusal to cover contraceptives in an employee prescription health plan constituted gender discrimination in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). That law was added by Congress in 1978 in response to a Supreme Court decision holding that an employer’s selective refusal to cover pregnancy-related disability was not sex discrimination within the meaning of Title VII, the primary federal law addressing employment discrimination.

As Becket Law notes, “Although this opinion is not binding on federal courts, it is influential, since the EEOC is the government body charged with enforcing Title VII. This opinion led to many lawsuits against non-religious employers who refused to cover prescription contraceptives.” While the federal district courts have split over the issue of whether the PDA requires employers to provide contraception, the only federal court of appeals to reach the issue held that the PDA did not include a contraceptive mandate.

Why should evangelicals care about the HHS Mandate?

In a 2013 interview with TGC, Daniel Blomberg, the legal counsel for Becket Law provided this answer:

On one level, simply because other evangelicals are being harmed by the HHS Mandate. Wheaton College, Colorado Christian University, and Hobby Lobby (which is owned by David Green, a devout evangelical)—among others—have gone to court so that they won’t have to do what the Mandate says they must do: provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs like ella and Plan B. As institutions, they share the evangelical commitment to cherishing the God-given worth of human beings from the earliest stages of their lives. But the Mandate coerces them to provide life-taking drugs, on pain of crushing fines—fines that would shut them down. Thus, evangelicals should care about the HHS Mandate because it coerces fellow evangelicals to violate their duty to obey God and protect human life.

On another level, evangelicals should care because of the unprecedented nature of the HHS Mandate’s threat. Our nation’s Founders made religious liberty our first political liberty because they recognized that it was the foundational political liberty. As recently as last January, in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church case, members of the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that religious groups are the critical shields between the individual and the power of the State, between liberty and tyranny. If the State can broadly force individuals and private institutions to directly violate core religious beliefs, then liberty itself—not just religious liberty—is threatened. For that reason, evangelicals should support the conscience claims of, for instance, Catholic institutions who oppose the Mandate both on sanctity-of-life grounds and because of the Mandate’s contraception-coverage requirement. Even though most evangelicals do not agree with Catholic doctrine on contraception, they can and should support the claims of Catholic individuals and institutions to freedom of conscience. Anything less signals a weak commitment to both religious liberty and personal liberty.

Put Some Clothes On

Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:02am

Nobody likes being inappropriately or inadequately dressed. This is why, when we’re going to an event, we call our friends and ask what they’re wearing, and why we’re embarrassed when we think we’ve over- or under-dressed.

When the Bible’s story opens in Eden, there’s no hint of embarrassment over being undressed. We read in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” They were, after all, made in the image of God, whom the psalmist says is “clothed with splendor and majesty, covering [him]self with light as with a garment” (Ps. 104:1–2). Evidently Adam and Eve were covered with a measure or degree of the radiance of the righteousness, beauty, and glory of God, which is why there was no cause for shame.

But that doesn’t mean there was no need for further clothing. Moses’s ancient Near Eastern readers would’ve recognized nakedness as an undesirable condition for human beings, particularly for royal representatives. Adam and Eve were representatives of the great King, and royal representatives in the Bible are always dressed for the part. Consider Joseph’s coat of many colors indicating he would be head of the family, Jonathan giving David his royal robe  to acknowledge he would be the next king, and Daniel being given a purple robe by Belshazzar when proclaimed the third-highest ruler in the kingdom.

By stating that Adam and Eve were naked, it’s as if Moses intended to prompt some questions in the minds of his readers—not so much whether Adam and Eve would be clothed, but how and when they would be clothed.

Possibility of Being Clothed

In Genesis 1 and 2 we’re reading the beginning of a story that will be interrupted and rerouted when it has barely gotten started. God’s intention for his holy realm was that it be not just good, but glorious. Likewise, God intended that his people would be transformed into a fuller, more complete likeness of God by being clothed in a greater measure of the beauty and glory of God. If Adam and Eve obeyed God’s command regarding the forbidden tree, they would be transformed from glory to glory, from a state of untested righteousness to that of tested and confirmed righteousness. They would’ve been fully and forever clothed with a holiness that would never be sullied, a beauty that would never become marred, and a glory that would never fade.

But, of course, we know that’s not what happened. They fell short of the glory of God, the glory God intended for them. And then came the rumble of footsteps in the garden. They understood that the worst possible scenario for a sinner is to be found in a state of undress before God, so they scrambled to make clothing for themselves by sewing together some leaves. They were meant to be clothed by God in the royal garments of his righteousness and glory, and the best they could do was clothe themselves in leaves from the fig tree in the backyard.

And the fig leaves just didn’t do the job. They were trying to keep their shame from showing, but their uncomfortable, inadequate, self-styled solution to shame clearly wasn’t working.

So what did God do? “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). In clothing them with the skins of an innocent animal, God demonstrated how it would be possible for his people to one day be clothed in the royal splendor he had intended for Adam and Eve. One day he would deal with human sin in a pervasive and permanent way—through the covering provided by the atoning death of one precious, perfect Lamb.

That hope of being clothed—pictured in the clothing of skins made for Adam and Eve, later in the clothing of the high priest, and promised by the prophets—began becoming a reality when Jesus submitted himself not only to being born as a naked baby, but to being stripped naked in his crucifixion. Jesus experienced the humiliation of nakedness so that you and I can experience the glory of being clothed.

Process of Being Clothed

And this isn’t relegated solely to the future. Right now, if you’re in Christ, you’re being made holy, you’re becoming beautiful, you’re being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As we bring ourselves naked and exposed before the Word of God, this living and active Word goes to work in the interior of our lives. The Spirit does his work of transformation so that we’re increasingly wrapped in the robes of the righteousness of Christ—not simply in a judicial sense, but in the reality of our lives.

The Spirit empowers us to leave behind our rebellious determination to flaunt our shameful sinfulness, and our self-righteous determination to clothe ourselves in our own glory, righteousness, and beauty. We want to put on the “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23). What a wardrobe! Who needs Nordstrom? When we put our focus on being clothed in this way, we become less invested and anxious about how we look in our physical clothes. We know that if the one who is clothing the lilies of the field is the same one clothing us, we can only begin to imagine how beautiful we’re becoming.

Because the Spirit is at work in us changing how we think about nakedness and clothing, we embrace modesty rather than exposure. Rather than making a fashion statement with our clothes that will cause heads to turn in our direction, we want to make a fashion statement with our character that will cause heads to turn in Christ’s direction. We want others to look at our lives and ask where we got our outfit because they want to become as beautiful as we’re becoming.

Anticipation of Being Further Clothed

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes the day when we will get the complete wardrobe we’ve longed for: “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (vv. 52–53). This will be the ultimate outfit: immortality.

Our future isn’t a return to the nakedness of Eden. Instead, Christ has made it possible for all who are joined to him to be clothed with immortality.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Hope, a friend hosted a shower for me. Among the many beautiful things I received at that shower was a nine-month-size bunting, purchased from one of the nicest children’s clothing stores in Nashville. When Hope was born a few weeks later, we learned that her life would be very short. The geneticist told us to expect that we would have her for about six months.

A couple of months into her life, we were preparing for a special occasion, and I wanted to dress Hope in something especially beautiful. So I took that nine-month-size bunting back to the store and asked if I could trade it for something else. The sweet woman working in the store said, “Oh, but don’t you want to keep this for when she grows into it this winter?” I had to tell her that Hope was not going to live into the coming winter (the kind of awkward conversation I had many times during Hope’s brief life). I came away from the store with a beautiful smocked gown, and she wore it the next day. Then a few months later, when Hope died, and I handed over her body, the mortician asked if I had a particular outfit I wanted Hope to be buried in, and I gave him the smocked gown.

Hope was beautifully clothed in death. But, oh, how much more beautifully clothed she will be in the resurrection! She and all who are in Christ will be clothed in pure holiness, astounding beauty, and radiant glory. Right now, only Jesus is fully clothed with this resurrection glory. But he is just the first.

Our future isn’t a return to the nakedness of Eden. Instead, Christ has made it possible for all who are joined to him to be clothed with immortality. We’ll be holy through and through, so glorious we’ll need new eyes to be able to look at each other. We’re going to be so, so beautiful—beautiful like Jesus.

Christian Mother Acquitted of Blasphemy in Pakistan Released from Prison

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 11:53am

A Christian mother who spent nine years on death row before being acquitted in Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy case was released from prison late Wednesday night (Nov. 7), sources said.

Sources close to the family and government officials confirmed that Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, was released from Multan Central Jail late last night and is in protective custody after authorities received release documents. But they denied reports that she had boarded a plane and left the country.

She had remained behind bars despite being acquitted of blasphemy charges by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Oct. 31.

Earlier reports circulated in local media that Noreen had been flown from Multan International Airport to Noor Khan Airbase in Islamabad on a private aircraft, and that she and her family had then boarded a plane to the Netherlands. An Interior Ministry official initially confirmed that she was en route to the Netherlands, but later the Pakistani Foreign Office rejected as “rumors” that Noreen had been flown out of Pakistan.

“There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country – it is fake news,” Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Faisal told a press briefing.

Faisal reiterated that Noreen was in Pakistan and “in a safe place.”

“Aasiya Bibi is a free citizen. After the court’s verdict, she can go wherever she wants,” Faisal said. “There is no restriction on the mobility of a free citizen.”

He added that only the Interior Ministry or the law could specify if her name could be placed on the “no-fly” or Exit Control List (ECL) prohibiting her from leaving the country, where Islamic extremists have vowed to kill her.

Leaving Pakistan

Earlier on Thursday (Nov. 8), Noreen’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, had told Morning Star News that he had learned that she and her family were being flown out of Pakistan, but a source close to the family denied it. The source told Morning Star News that Noreen, her husband Ashiq and two daughters were in protective custody and would be flown out of the country on Friday (Nov. 9).

“There’s no truth in reports that Aasiya has been flown out of Pakistan,” the source said. “I spoke to the family soon after receiving information about her release, and they are very much in the country. However, they will be moving out on Friday.”

He said he could not reveal where the family would be relocating.

“Aasiya is well and very happy at being united with her family,” he said. “She will be expressing her gratitude to the Supreme Court in a video message after leaving Pakistani soil.”

Malook, her attorney who has fled to the Netherlands for his own protection, told Morning Star News that the Supreme Court would not admit a petition to review her acquittal.

“Thank God Aasiya is free after nine years of solitary confinement and is now reunited with her family,” he said.

Junior Minister for Interior Affairs Shehryar Afridi on Wednesday (Nov. 7) told Voice of America that the government would not put Noreen’s name on the no-fly list unless it were ordered by the Supreme Court.

Her release had been put on hold after authorities held talks with leaders of the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) who objected to her sentence being overturned and wanted to see her publicly hanged.

According to security sources, the government had decided to remove Noreen from prison in order to ensure her safety. They said jail authorities last month arrested two inmates for allegedly conspiring to strangle her. Noreen’s security was also enhanced after those arrests.

Malook said he had been informed about the plot.

“But this was expected,” he told Morning Star News. “She had a 50 million-rupee prize on her head, so many people were looking for an opportunity to kill her. But [assuming she leaves the country] I am happy that she won’t have to live the rest of her life in fear now.”

Islamic Extremist Warning

In a video statement later in the day (Nov. 7), Pir Afzal Qadri, patron-in-chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), the religious movement of TLP, said that the government and intelligence agencies had assured them that Noreen would not be flown out of Pakistan until the Supreme Court decides on the review petition.

He warned in a video message circulated on social media that Islamist groups will retaliate if the government renegs on the agreement.

“The Foreign Office’s statement is evidence of their claim,” Qadri said. “However, if the government tries to cheat us in any way, they should know that we will come out in full force without caring for our lives and the lives of those who are opposed to the prophet’s honor.”

The Pakistani government on Nov. 2 had agreed to allow the possibility of a Supreme Court review of the verdict to end three days of violent riots across Pakistan provoked by the hard-line outfit.

Soon after a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar announced on Oct. 31 the acquittal of Noreen, thousands of supporters of the Islamic extremist TLP blocked main roads and highways in several Pakistani cities. Some resorted to vandalism and violence to pressure the government against releasing the Christian mother of two children and stepmother to three.

Led by firebrand clerics Qadri and Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP is a staunch supporter of Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy laws and openly justifies violence to safeguard Namoos-e-Risalat, or honor of the prophet (Muhammad).

Noreen challenged the Lahore High Court’s October 2014 verdict upholding a trial court’s November 2010 decision sentencing her to death for allegedly committing blasphemy in 2009.

The Supreme Court’s Nisar wrote, “She has been acquitted. The judgment of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside, and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges.”

False Accusations

Noreen was the first Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and only the second (after Ayub Masih, released in 2002) whose blasphemy case has gone to the Supreme Court and won release.

She was accused of making three “defamatory and sarcastic” statements about Muhammad on June 14, 2009 during an argument with three Muslim women while the four of them were picking Falsa berries in a field in Sheikhupura District, Punjab Province.

Noreen was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. The women later went to a local cleric and accused her of blasphemy against Muhammad.

A trial court convicted her for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death. A month later, Islamist cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi put a $5,000 bounty on her head while the Pakistani state failed to charge him.

The Lahore High Court upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014. She then had challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court, which stayed her execution in July 2015 and admitted her appeal for hearing.

The top court had first taken up the appeal in October 2016 but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the Supreme Court bench. Two years later, the appeal was heard in October, and the Nisar-led bench initially reserved its verdict before announcing it on Oct. 31.

In January 2011, former Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who spoke out in support of Noreen, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 after the court found him guilty of murder. He was hanged in February 2016. The TLP was founded by extremists who believe Qadri’s hanging was unjustified.

Only two months after Taseer’s killing, the only Christian minister in the federal cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down by members of Tehreek-e-Taliban for supporting Noreen and for advocating that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws be amended.

Her case sparked widespread outrage in the international community over the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, but all appeals to abolish the legislation have fallen on deaf ears.

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support group Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

This article has been reprinted with permission from Morning Star News. If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

Your Teenager Needs Discipleship

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:04am

“When children are in middle school and high school, they know what it means to be a student, and yet that is precisely when often in the church we treat their faith as though it is not study-worthy. And so at the point that they are being asked to do calculus and physics, we begin saying, ‘You know what? Just spend 10 minutes each morning doing a devotional with your sacred text.’ I think that’s the wrong message.” — Jen Wilkin

Date: June 15, 2018

Event: The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference 2018, Indianapolis, Indiana

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.

Related:

Find more audio and video from the 2018 Women’s Conference on the conference media page.

How Dr. Seuss Stole Christmas!

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:02am

The Grinch is back.

The Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), written by Theodor “Ted” Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), has been adapted on film for the third time, this time in 3D animation with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch.

This is a good occasion to reflect on the story behind the story—how Dr. Seuss stole Christmas.

The Story

The Grinch in the original book is a Scrooge-like curmudgeon who plots to steal Christmas from the happy Whos in Whoville. After stealing all the toys, food, and trees, the Grinch believes he has succeeded. But then he hears the Whos singing merrily.

It causes the Grinch to puzzle, and realize:

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas. . . perhaps. . . means a little bit more!”
And what happened then? Well. . . in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light,
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he, HE HIMSELF! The Grinch carved the roast beast!

It is a tidy and fitting conclusion, but one Geisel puzzled over for months.

Story Behind the Story

In a biography by Judith and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel, we learn that Grinch was “the easiest book of his career to write”—except for the ending. “I had gone through thousands of religious choices,” Geisel explained, “and then after three months it came out like that” (emphasis added).

It’s not hard to imagine “religious choices” Geisel may have considered—an angelic announcement; a Who prayer circle for the Grinch; a vision of the Nativity.

Christmas books and films of the period still often used overt Christian themes—think Charlie Brown’s Christmas, or the many versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Geisel, though, went to great lengths to keep the Christian themes of Christmas from creeping in.

The 1966 animated film adaptation offered a second chance for Geisel to consider religious choices—expanding the 10-minute book into a 60-minute film. Designer Maurice Noble remembers that “[Geisel didn’t want] a star coming down from the sky, so I had it come from the hearts of the people of Who-ville.” Seuss also wrote all the song lyrics, like “Welcome Christmas”—where the meaning of Christmas is all about the self in community: Christmas Day will always be / just as long as we have we!

The moral of The Grinch is clear: The REAL meaning of Christmas is inside us. God is not involved. We are saved by We.

The moral of The Grinch is clear: The REAL meaning of Christmas is inside us. God is not involved. We are saved by We.

When the 1966 animated version came out, his biographers note it was “a rare Christmas special without religiosity.” Geisel was an early trendsetter: Christmas specials with no Jesus.

Ted Geisel was a persuasion expert, having made his initial living in the 1920s and ’30s in advertising. During World War II he made propaganda films to support the Allied war effort. After the war Geisel, who relished being subversive, applied his considerable skills to children’s books. Geisel has been celebrated for how he tackled Hitler’s autocracy (Yertle the Turtle), environmental issues (The Lorax), nuclear proliferation (The Butter Battle Book), and discrimination (The Sneetches), just to name a few.

Geisel’s subversive take on Christmas in The Grinch is in part biographical. In a 1957 interview, he recounted the book’s origins:

I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.

Geisel as Grinch

It’s not clear when and where Geisel lost interest in the Christ of Christmas.

His childhood family were churchgoers. By age 6 he had memorized all the verses of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” He even invented a rhyme of the Pentateuch:

The great Jehovah speaks to us
In Genesis and Exodus
Leviticus and Numbers, three,
Followed by Deuteronomy

The word “three”—his biographers note—was merely tossed in for the rhyme: “a portent of nonsense to come.”

Perhaps Geisel drifted from faith because of bitterness toward Prohibition advocates for costing his dad his livelihood (he was a brewer); or perhaps it was anger at his younger sister’s death; or maybe he experienced intellectual and moral doubts during his days at Dartmouth and Oxford. Perhaps it was coming to terms with the evils of Hitler and World War II, or the sadness of never having children. Maybe it was all of these things.

Geisel and his first wife, Helen, were childless, but their first 35 years of marriage were happy ones. They settled in La Jolla, California, where Geisel’s global fame grew. He worked tirelessly, and Helen’s primary work was to support him—she was his best editor and shrewd business manager.

In 1962, however, Geisel began an affair with a close friend, Audrey Dimond. Five years later, on October 23, 1967, Helen committed suicide. She had struggled with partial paralysis from Guillain-Barré syndrome, and depression—but a primary cause was a broken heart.

Many of his friends blamed Ted for Helen’s death. Ten months later he was married to Audrey. While shocked by Helen’s death, Geisel showed little remorse. Defending himself, Geisel wrote an old roommate, “I have not flipped my lid. . . . This is an inevitable, inescapable conclusion to five years of four people’s frustration. All I can ask you is to try to believe in me” (emphasis added).

‘Believe in Me’

When Geisel’s life and work touched on metaphysical human questions—What is wrong with humanity? What is the good, true, and beautiful?—his answers are, well, Seussian.

Where does a human heart find ultimate meaning? Again, Dr. Seuss answers: Christmas Day will always be / just as long as we have we.

What to say when we break a covenant? Geisel answers: “Believe in me!”

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!—Geisel’s final book—life’s source of hope turns on consuming experiences and social prestige. He writes: “Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV, Except when they don’t because sometimes they won’t . . .” 

The New York Times columnist David Brooks sees in this popular graduation gift—where the word YOU appears 90 times—only a shallow and meritocratic mentality:

In this book, the boy is completely autonomous. He is free to choose exactly as he individually wishes. He is reminded how wonderful he is. He is not weighted down by any internal weakness.

Every Story Has a Moral

Don’t get me wrong; there is much meat amid the Dr. Seuss gristle. He’s the most celebrated American children’s book writer for a reason. He blended memorable poetic whimsy, surprising storytelling, and captivating pictures in a way that does not condescend but takes children seriously. The fact that Christians find secret gospel in his work is a testament to his persuasive powers.

His books read like fables. The Horton books, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and others are fun and whimsical morality tales. Reflecting on criticism of his moralizing, Geisel shrugged and said, “It’s impossible to tell a story without a moral—either the good guys win or the bad guys win.”

Geisel tried to avoid sounding “didactic or like a preacher on a platform”—wanting the reader “to say ‘surely’ in their minds instead of my having to say it.”

But every story has a moral; everyone is preaching something.

One “surely” I believe Geisel was wishing on readers of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is distinctively modern and American: we are our only source of hope.

Our family hasn’t yet seen the newest The Grinch. But we will. Assuming it’s faithful to the original, we’ll be looking for how the film reflects a now-almost-omnipresent Look Within zeitgeist: instead of “God with us,” it will celebrate “Us with us” and “Me with me.” Human solidarity. Self-reliance. No need for a divine savior.

Geisel was ahead of his time in many ways. A brilliant wordsmith, a master of creative nonsense, and an expressive individualist with little interest in divine authority.

Geisel was ahead of his time in many ways. A brilliant wordsmith, a master of creative nonsense, and an expressive individualist with little interest in divine authority.

The Grinch (2018) will remind us again of his inventive genius. But it will probably not lead us to ponder the beautiful mystery of the incarnation. It will offer a secular hope—the hope of “Me” and “We.” But God offers a better hope—one not achieved by us, but received from him: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

The Peace That Could Not Hold

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:00am

It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. After the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (100 years ago Sunday on November 11, 1918), it would be known as the Great War. No one would have thought to call it World War I, because they could not fathom the even greater horrors to come just a few decades later in World War II. The peace of 1918 would not hold.

Americans pay far closer attention to World War II, even though the country suffered more than 117,000 military deaths in two brief and bloody years from 1917 to 1918. Indeed, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that ended 100 years ago Sunday was by far the deadliest battle in American history, surpassing both the Battle of the Bulge and also the Normandy Invasion in World War II. Neither America, nor any other antagonists that suffered even greater losses, would ever be the same after this terrible and utterly avoidable conflict.

Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history for the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, has written an excellent book on the religious dimensions to this “holy war.” And we corresponded on the occasion of this somber anniversary to consider how the war shaped global Christianity, religious fervor, Christian theology, peace movements, and more. You can also listen to my earlier interview with Jenkins, “How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

Did peace in Europe shape Western or even global Christianity in any lasting ways? 

Well, if not the peace, the war absolutely did have such an impact, and particularly the events of 1918.

The war destroyed ancient centers of Christianity in the Middle East, especially among the Armenians and Assyrians. At the same time, the suspension of missionary enterprises shifted the balance in Africa and Asia to native forms of faith. That movement was massively enhanced in 1918 by the influenza epidemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million worldwide. That event showed the utter inability of Western missionaries and medics, and drove many ordinary people to seek help from healing churches, and from individual prophets and charismatic leaders. The great age of the African Independent Churches dates from this time.

As to the West, I can hardly begin! Contrary to myth, the war did not destroy the faith of ordinary people, but it did drive thought and writing by theologians, above all by Karl Barth. Barth published the first edition of his commentary on Romans in 1919, but it was the second edition, published in 1922, that according to one Catholic observer, “burst like a bombshell on the playground of the European theologians.” The book was a frontal attack on the liberal conventions that had shaped mainstream theology since the Enlightenment.

And that does not begin to talk about the great Catholic thinkers like Henri de Lubac, whose war experiences shaped their lives, and we see their lasting influence transforming the church in the Vatican Council of the 1960s.

Dare I say that the Christian world we know today is the product of 1918?

How did Christian pastors help their congregations cope with the aftermath of the deadliest conflict the world had ever known? Did their reactions vary between victor and vanquished, or even within countries on the same side?

Your question about the diversity of responses is spot-on, but I would focus on one absolutely common theme that we might not think of so centrally today. Obviously priests and pastors had to help returning veterans, especially in a time of social and economic chaos, and open revolution in some countries. But what they had in common was that they all concentrated on the work of commemoration, which occupied so much effort over the next decade or so. That meant designing and building monuments of various kinds—monuments that are richly informative of popular religious interpretations of the war, with all their angels and knights. It also meant commemorative services and rituals, ensuring that the dead would always be remembered. That enterprise shaped for instance the scriptural readings used, and also the hymns. Those activities became a major part of what churches did for many years, and they helped bind ordinary believers to state churches where they existed. Often, too, the pastors and priests themselves had seen front-line services, many of them as chaplains.

That whole work of remembrance is a big reason why we don’t see mass secularization after 1918, contrary to popular myth. 

You single out the Germans as being particularly zealous in claiming God’s favor on their war effort. Did they repent or at least revise and rethink their views in light of their country’s defeat? 

I certainly do not want to attach blame to any country for being uniquely bloodthirsty, though I would make a case that German political leaders (as opposed to ordinary people) should take much of the blame for the war itself. And they received the powerful support of the country’s religious leaders, especially in the Protestant churches. Far from repenting, most of those clerical leaders played a crucial role in developing the sinister “stab in the back” mythology, which provided such ammunition for the Nazis. One of Germany’s legendary Protestant preachers, Bruno Doehring, was a pioneering advocate of these ideas. As he said as early as 1918, God had not abandoned his people, rather our Volk had abandoned him, as sinister elites “treacherously desecrated the altar of the fatherland.” Although he did not single out Jews for blame, other Rightists would soon do so: The Jews stabbed Germany in the back!

The famous Lutheran theologian Reinhold Seeberg composed an epitaph for a war monument that is at once a perfect example of Latin at its most precise and concise, and a chilling manifesto for the generation of 1940. Seeberg addressed the graduates of the University of Berlin killed in the war as Invictis Victi Victuri—to the unconquered, from the conquered, who will themselves conquer.

And here is a bizarre note: Seeberg’s most famous theological pupil and disciple was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the legendary anti-Nazi martyr.

Could the Second World War have been prevented by a different plan for peace in 1918?

When people ask this question, the normal answer is to regret the harsh terms inflicted on Germany. For many reasons, I would disagree. What went wrong in 1918 is that the Allies permitted the German forces to end the war in a way that allowed them to pretend that this was an agreed peace, rather than an outright surrender by armed forces on the verge of total collapse. It also meant that Germany avoided actual combat on its territory, which would have brought home the lesson that they were really defeated and crushed, like in 1945. That allowed German leaders to cook up the “stab in the back” mythology, the whole lie about betrayal.

Much of America’s self-identity stems from the Second World War. But how did peace leave America a different nation from the one that entered the war on the Allied side in 1917? Did that self-identity carry any particular religion overtones?

The war was not so much a new departure, but a continuation of trends that had been much in evidence since the start of the century—roughly, the Progressive Era. These are not directly caused by the war or the peace, but the war provided a critical focus for ideas already in the atmosphere.

Several points come to mind. White Protestants saw the moral crusade of the war as a pivotal moment to impose their ideology on the nation, which especially took the form of Prohibition, and all that meant for sexual ideology and moral purity. Prohibition was justified by the war effort, and it is a 1917 measure, although it does not begin until 1919. Women’s suffrage was part of the same ideological package, which was of course a wonderful example of social progress. The bad side is that it was often linked to an ugly kind of nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Not coincidentally, the Ku Klux Klan revival followed in the early 1920s.

The other great religious effect was in the form of millenarian and apocalyptic ideas, following such events as the British capture of Jerusalem in 1917, and the Balfour Declaration promising the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. That made the 1920s a great era for apocalyptic and fundamentalist thought.

What did peace mean for Christians living in the original homeland for Christianity? And what about in Russia?

Between about 1915 and 1930, we are dealing with perhaps the greatest age of martyrdom and mass killing of Christians in history. That includes perhaps 1.5 million Armenians murdered, not to mention mass slaughter by the Bolsheviks in Russia.

That all had two key consequences. One was the creation of Middle East that was more clearly Islamic, with far smaller Christian minorities.

It also ended the long-familiar tripartite division of Christianity into the worlds of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Although Orthodox believers and thinkers obviously survived, their influence and impact collapsed with the loss of Russia. For the first time, people began to think of Christianity as bipolar—Protestant and Catholic.

When did the world begin to see this war as an avoidable mistake? Does that shift tell us anything about changing attitudes toward religion?

That happens in different degrees in different countries. Despite what we may think from something like All Quiet on the Western Front, most Germans never regretted the fact of war, but they really regretted losing it. The great shift in Western countries happened in the early 1930s, with the growth of pacifist and leftist sentiment.

From a religious point of view, the most important single work was Ray Abrams’s 1933 book Preachers Present Arms, a minor classic of American religious history. The book tries to describe how American clergy (especially mainliners) became such fire-breathing advocates of a literal holy war or crusade against Germany. Abrams himself was writing at a time when the antiwar reaction had set in with a vengeance, and he is incredulous that so many educated believers could have fallen for the view that the Great War was in any sense just. He saw the massive shift to pro-war sentiment as a naïve concession to cynical manipulation by Allied agents, in association with militarist forces within the U.S. government. For Abrams, American clergy gave way to “propagandism” and media-incited panic in a kind of mass hysteria reminiscent of the colonial-era witch hunts.

Abrams’s book had a vast influence on later religious thought, certainly through the Vietnam years.

Developing Healthy Leaders in Underserved Contexts

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:05am

If we’re going to plant healthy churches, we need healthy leaders. 

We see Paul identifying and developing leaders in the book of Acts (Acts 14:23). He also exhorts Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

There are hundreds of leadership-training models. Many are good and helpful. But these programs often fail to give proper consideration to aspiring leaders who live in underserved contexts.

In some contexts, we can’t assume students have access to certain resources (like books and online material) due to financial or language issues. We can’t assume every aspiring leader in underserved contexts has a basic theological understanding of key doctrines. And often our illustrations and applications of ministry principles don’t connect well in poor or dangerous places of ministry.

So how can we train future church-planting pastors in hard places faithfully and effectively?

Today, we have Femi Osunnuyi with us to help us think about this issue.

You can listen to this podcast episode here.

3 Books for Staying ‘Hitched’ to the Old Testament

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:04am

As a follow-up to my recent article “10 Reasons the Old Testament Is Important for Christians,” I wanted to suggest three books that can help you stay appropriately “hitched” to the Old Testament.

1. God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology

Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum

Crossway, 2015

The plotline of Scripture is guided by a progression of covenants between God and humans that move us from creation through the fall to redemption and unto consummation. I believe that Gentry and Wellum’s God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants is perhaps the best brief overview of how the whole Bible progresses, integrates, and climaxes in Christ. The work is an abridged version of their massive Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2018), and it’s exegetically faithful, theologically profound, and grounded in the interpretive patterns of the biblical authors themselves.

Along with unpacking the nature, relationship, and development of the Adamic-Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new covenants, the book offers incisive reflection on Christology, the Christian life, ecclesiology, and eschatology, helpfully charting a course between dispensational and covenant theologies. If you want to get a better sense of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), I encourage you to read this book.

2. Journeys with Jesus: Every Path in the Bible Leads Us to Christ

Dennis E. Johnson

P&R Publishing, 2018

When Jesus opened up the Scriptures for his disciples, showing how the Old Testament pointed to him, their hearts burned with awe and wonder (Luke 24:27, 32). I long for the church worldwide to see and savor the beauties of the divine Son from all Scripture, and Johnson’s Journeys with Jesus is a faithful guide to this end. Building off his earlier volume Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (P&R, 2007), this volume guides readers in how to faithfully magnify the Messiah in the initial three-fourths of the Christian Bible. Johnson shows how the Old Testament points to and finds its terminus in Jesus, and he teaches how to properly trace God’s intended theological trajectories that culminate in Christ.

3. A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised

Edited by Miles Van Pelt

Crossway, 2016

The Old Testament is less like bolts of fabric stacked against a wall and more like an intentionally crafted quilt with each square bearing its own texture and feel (i.e., author, story, and purpose) and with all the squares contributing to a greater overarching piece of art. The divine author worked through multiple human authors using different genres over a thousand-year period to proclaim a unified message of gospel hope and the glories of the coming Christ.

In A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, numerous faculty members from Reformed Theological Seminary, each with a specialization, articulate the message(s) of each individual Old Testament book in the context of the whole canon of Christian Scripture. Van Pelt notes in the preface: “We not only work to understand the meaning of each individual book in the larger context of the Old Testament, but we also recognize, affirm, and submit to the authoritative witness of the New Testament in establishing the full and final message of the Old Testament (e.g., John 5:39, 45–47; Luke 24:25–27, 44–45; Rom. 1:1–3; Heb. 12:1–3; 1 Pet. 1:11).” To me, this hermeneutical approach is beautiful, and it’s how books seeking to capture the Old Testament’s lasting message ought to be written.

Following Van Pelt’s exceptional introduction to the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, each chapter on the various biblical books follows the same six-part structure, bringing a sense of unity to the whole volume. The authors give the bulk of space in each chapter to “Message and Theology” and “Approaching the New Testament,” developing key themes or motifs and trying to capture how they contribute to an overarching kingdom message given through a covenantal structure that focuses on Christ. I’d encourage those readying to dig into an Old Testament book to first read the related chapter in this Introduction, as it will help you better understand how all the book’s parts contribute to the message of the whole and what themes you need to be aware of in order to rightly grasp the author’s point and to faithfully magnify the Messiah. Preachers and teachers should also keep this book handy, as it will aid your weekly exposition. Also, keep in mind that Michael J. Kruger has edited a companion volume titled A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized (Crossway, 2015).

Related:

TGC Korea Provides New Forum for Gospel-Centered Content

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:03am

It is my great delight to announce the launch of our newest international chapter, TGC Korea. I’ve had the privilege over the last six years to network with like-minded men who are committed to gospel centrality, primarily through City to City Asia. Last week, by God’s grace, we were able to establish a TGC Korea Council in Seoul with nine pastors from various denominations.

You might not be aware, but Christianity in South Korea is in serious decline, with a little less than 17 percent of the population claiming to be Christians. And only 1.7 percent of those in their 20s actually attend church. TGC Korea’s vision is to carry out the mission of TGC by creating a platform—through editorial content and training venues—to equip Christians. We want to encourage many to move away from either soft-legalism on the one hand or easy-believism on the other.

Our staff at TGC Korea has been working tirelessly for the launch of our TGC Korea website. It is our desire to provide gospel-centered content for the Korean church and for Korean-speaking diaspora Christians. I’m also happy to announce that Don Carson, Phil Ryken, and Bryan Chapell will be joining me for our first TGC Korea conference, October 30 to November 1, 2019, in Seoul.

Please join us in prayer and help us spread the word about this new network, website, and conference with friends and family members who would benefit from such resources.

Inductive Bible Study Is Not Just for Adults

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:02am

“How do you read the Bible with your kids?”

As a mom, I’ve often had this conversation with other Christian parents. We all want to read the Bible with our kids in a transformative, meaningful way that both increases their knowledge of God and also equips them to engage with Scripture as they grow.

For most of us, this is challenging. In addition to the hurdles of chaotic schedules, children’s differing ages, and spiritual opposition, a common obstacle facing families is simply not knowing where to start.

We’re a resource-rich generation with a trove of family-focused, theologically sound materials. But while such supplemental materials are valuable, many parents and caregivers still feel inadequate when it comes to simply opening the pages of Scripture with their children.

With our own kids, my husband and I have utilized a simple Bible study tool: observing, interpreting, and applying the text. This inductive method is already widely trusted and familiar in the church today. In our family, it provides a framework basic enough for our younger kids to grasp and yet is able to grow with them, even into adulthood.

By making this method kid-friendly and shaping it according to age and learning differences, parents have a starting place in teaching their kids how to think, question, engage, and understand God’s Word.

We begin by reading a portion of the Bible that’s easily digestible for young hearts and minds. Then we follow up with three sets of discussion questions. For each set, we use a hand motion to imprint the concept on our kids’ memories and to make the time of Bible study fun.

Step One: Observation

Question: What do you see?

Hand motion: Kids make little binoculars around their eyes like they’re zooming in close to examine the text.

This first set of questions is essential in laying a foundation for the rest of the time you’ll study the text with your kids. These are the black-and-white who, what, where, and when questions.

For example, you might ask: Who is speaking? What happened before this section? Where does this fit into the whole story of the Bible? The answers here are fairly straightforward—a great opportunity to incorporate very young children into the conversation. Observation questions help kids learn how to slow down and notice the surrounding context and details in the passage before jumping to conclusions.

Step Two: Interpretation

Question: What does this mean?

Hand motion: Kids make a shrugging, hands-open-on-each-side motion.

Here your kids are encouraged to ask, “Why?” The observations made in the first step naturally pave the way for more in-depth, exploratory questioning. Interpretation questions engage their minds and critical-thinking skills as they read and study with you. You might ask, “Are there any words you don’t understand?” or “What do you think ____ means?” In keeping with a gospel-centered approach, you might conclude, “Do these verses tell us anything about who God the Father (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) is or what he has done for the world?

As children develop and mature over time, they learn to ask their own thought-provoking interpretation questions, which help them become careful students of the Word.

Step Three: Application

Question: How can I change?

Hand motion: Kids make a hand-over-heart motion, indicating head knowledge leading to heart change.

As we read Scripture with our kids, we desire them to become not merely hearers of the word, but also doers (James 1:22–25). In this last step, we’re helping kids to take the truths discovered while observing and interpreting the text and apply them to their present lives.

Answers to this question will be different for each child. A 4-year-old’s answer will differ from a preteen’s. For some kids, it may be challenging to put into words an answer to the question, “How can I change?” As parents we can model and encourage this step by openly sharing how the gospel transforms our own lives. Then we can ask: “Is there something in your heart or attitude or in a relationship that needs to change?” And also, “Is there something we can pray about together?”

Lifelong Fruit

Regardless of method, as parents and caregivers entrusted with discipling those in our care, we should commit to a regular time of engaging Scripture with them. As we do so, we’re inviting them along in the adventure of pursuing God through his Word.

Lord willing, and over time, they’ll become more familiar with the Bible—and come to believe it’s accessible, reliable, true, and good. Hand in hand with our kids, we can mature in a deepened understanding of Christ, become increasingly transformed into his likeness, and testify about God’s love to the world.

3 Things American Citizens Could Learn from Christian Missionaries

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:00am

We live in a volatile age.

The last decade in American politics and public life has been increasingly dysfunctional, polarized, and vitriolic. Especially troubling is the incivility that increasingly characterizes public discussion and debate.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

We live in a secular age. Many or most Americans deny transcendent moral absolutes, viewing morality as subjective or as having developed out of the evolutionary process. Thus, when we debate morality and its application for politics and public life, we have no agreed-on point of reference. All we can do is shout each other down.

We live in a polarized age. We find our nation not only more divided politically than at any time since the 1960s, but also divided along lines of religion, race, age, gender, geographic location, economic status, and educational background.

We live in a hateful age. The public arena is viewed as nothing but war, with those on one side of the aisle often viewing those on the other  side as reprehensible persons in whom little or nothing good can be found. The effect is that citizens are tempted to justify unethical behavior—insults, mockery, partial truths, and even lies—as a necessary means toward the end of “winning.”

Learning from Missionaries

As believers we have an irreplaceable opportunity to help our nation find a better way forward, especially in the tone of our public discourse. And, as I argue in Letters to an American Christian [read TGC’s review], all of us—politicians, talk show hosts, and everyday citizens—could stand to learn from Christian missionaries.

A Christian missionary typically moves overseas to minister among a group of people who differ from him or her linguistically, religiously, socially, culturally, and politically. The missionary’s goal is to minister to the people’s needs and to persuade them to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. But in spite of—even because of—these deep differences, good missionaries are known for refusing to caricature the people’s religion, mock their culture, or impugn their motives.

Instead, missionaries generally do three things that we—everyday Americans—ought to imitate in our coffee shop conversations, Facebook updates, blog posts, and other forms of public discourse.

1. Exhibit Genuine Concern

Christian missionaries move their families overseas at great financial cost, sometimes risking their own lives in volatile environments, for one reason: They genuinely care about the people there.

As Christians in the public square, we must exhibit the same genuine concern for the people with whom we discuss and debate public matters. Politics should be done out of a desire for the common good, not to humiliate or crush the people with whom we disagree.

Truthful words without a gracious disposition make us political bullies and jerks. Gracious dispositions without truthful words make us political wimps and nonentities.

A good way to think about this is in terms of truth and grace.

Truthful words without a gracious disposition make us political bullies and jerks. Gracious dispositions without truthful words make us political wimps and nonentities.

But truth and grace together—that wonderful combination exhibited by our Lord—enables us to break society’s ability to classify us and dismiss us as the hypocritical and bigoted special-interest arm of a given political party.

2. Find Common Ground

Christian missionaries work hard to find common ground with their conversation partners. There are always things on which both parties agree. From that common ground, missionaries finds it much easier to persuade their conversation partners on other matters, precisely because they do so from a point of mutual understanding.

Christian missionaries work hard to find common ground with their conversation partners.

As Christians in the public square, we must do the same. Consider economic policy, for example. As a politically conservative Christian, I think a responsible free-market economy is most conducive to human flourishing and poverty alleviation. But instead of demonizing or mocking people who are socialists or big-government liberals, I can start from common ground: the shared desire to see humanity flourish and poverty alleviated.

Thus, even in the midst of a sharp disagreement, we’ll often find we share genuine concerns and commitments despite our divergent solutions or conclusions.

3. Play the Long Game

At their best, Christian missionaries play the long game. If their conversation partner isn’t receptive to their ministry and message, they don’t quit and go home. They don’t insult the person’s intelligence or impugn their motives. They don’t caricature the conversation partner as a thoroughly reprehensible person in whom no good can be found. Instead, genuine concern causes them to persevere in the long run.

Similarly, as we participate in politics and public life, we shouldn’t allow our anxieties and fears to cause us to blow our fuse, compromise our character, or walk away. Instead, we should cultivate a sustained and comprehensive social and political witness over decades.

And if our public posture is characterized by these three things, we won’t undercut our ultimate goal—an objective we share with Christian missionaries—of sharing the love of Jesus with everybody in our nation.

What Gospel-Centered Prayer Looks Like

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:05am

In Philippians 1:4, Paul insists that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. He goes on to give us the content of his prayers for them:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)

This is stunning. Paul’s petitions reflect the priorities of the gospel.

Observe three features of this prayer.

1. Abounding Love

First, Paul prays that the love of the Philippians “may abound more and more.” Paul provides no specific object. He doesn’t say “that your love for God may abound more and more” or “that your love for one another may abound more and more.” I suspect he leaves the object open precisely because he wouldn’t want to restrict his prayer to one or the other.

From a Christian point of view, growing love for God must be reflected in love for other believers (see 1 John 5:1). However wonderful this congregation has been, however faithful in its love even for the apostle himself, Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.

2. Knowledge and Insight

Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable.

Of course, Paul isn’t thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He isn’t hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

His assumption, evidently, is that you really can’t grow in your knowledge of God if you are full of bitterness or other self-centered sins. There is a moral element in knowing God. Of course, a person might memorize Scripture or teach Sunday school somewhere or earn a degree in theology from the local seminary or divinity faculty, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as growing in the knowledge of God and gaining insight into his ways.

The Christian life embraces every facet of our existence.

Such growth requires repentance; it demands a lessening of our characteristic self-focus. To put it positively, it demands an increase in our love, our love for God and our love for others.

Just as knowledge of God and his Word serves as an incentive to Christian love, so love is necessary for a deepening knowledge of God, because it is exceedingly difficult to advance in the Christian way on only one front. Christians can’t say, “I will improve my prayer life but not my morality,” “I will increase in my knowledge of God but not in my obedience,” or “I will grow in love for others but not in purity or in my knowledge of God.” They can’t do it.

The Christian life embraces every facet of our existence. All of our living and doing and thinking and speaking is to be discharged in joyful submission to God and to his Son, our Savior.

So if Paul prays that the Philippians’ love “may abound more and more,” he quickly adds, “in knowledge and depth of insight.”

3. What Is Best

Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1:10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He can’t be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

It takes only a moment’s reflection to see that all these petitions are gospel-centered. These are gospel prayers.

For Paul, this is not an idolatrous prayer. For some people, of course, it could become just that. For perfectionists, perfection, at least in some arenas where they excel, becomes a kind of fetish, even a large idol. But this isn’t the case with Paul. The excellence for which he prays, for himself and for others, is further defined in verse 11: being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Moreover, none of this will be allowed simply to enhance our reputations—for sad to say, some people are more interested in a reputation for holiness and excellence than in holiness and excellence. But all such petty alternatives are swept aside in Paul’s final constraint: his prayer is offered up “to the glory and praise of God” (1:11).

That is what Paul prays for. It takes only a moment’s reflection to see that all these petitions are gospel-centered. These are gospel prayers. That is, they are prayers offered to advance the work of the gospel in the lives of the Philippian believers. And, by asking for gospel fruit in their lives, the ultimate purpose of these petitions is to bring glory to the God who redeemed them.

When You Can’t Buy What You Break

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:04am

“The thing which has been broken through negligence or foolishness isn’t a pretty sculpture crafted by another human being; it’s God’s perfect law. So the question is, the question each of us have to ask God is: ‘What’s the bill? What do I owe you?’ And that’s what the guilt offering is about here. It’s about compensation.” — Adriel Sanchez

Text: Leviticus 5:14–6:7

Preached: October 21, 2018

Location:  North Park Presbyterian Church, San Diego, California

You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.

Related:

The Hidden Sin That Destroys Relationships

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:03am

I blinked in surprise as tears moistened my eyes. A masterpiece sculpture at the Berghese Gallery in Rome towered before me. Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work simply captivated me.

Why did a piece of marble stir my soul so deeply? Oddly enough, a book about envy helped me understand.

Glory and Borrowed Glory

According to Tilly Dillehay in her debut book, Seeing Green: Don’t Let Envy Color Your Joy, you can’t address envy until you grasp how you interact with the hints of God’s glory in your daily life.

People bump into bits of God’s glory everywhere: in nostalgia, love, praise from a superior, the yearning for another land, the desire to be on the “inside,” and, yes, the beauty of art. Dillehay—a homemaker, pastor’s wife, and TGC contributor—argues that God’s glory is wrapped up in “all things meaningful, all things worthwhile, all things beautiful, and all things that quicken the pulse with joy and quicken the mind with sight” (20).

That beauty I saw in the art gallery pointed to God’s glory. As an image-bearer of God, the artist Bernini reflected God’s creative glory through his art. He possessed a measure of what Dillehay calls “borrowed glory.”

God created us to respond to his glory, even the borrowed glory of those around us. Meanwhile, the rather uncomfortable reality is that we have all received varying measures of borrowed glory.

Unequal Playing Field

Dillehay debunks the politically correct myth that we’re all equally beautiful, or “all equally fill-in-the-blank.” We’re not all equally beautiful—some people are better-looking than you are. Some are smarter than you are. Some are funnier than you are. As we encounter such people, we will respond in some form of either worship or hatred.

It’s impossible to get through Dillehay’s book unscathed. If you believe envy isn’t a problem for you, read this book and think again. Seeing Green systematically shows the many ways envy can rear its head: through body envy, charm, influence, intellect, money, options, creativity, competence, control, and relationships.

Though churches often tolerate envy as a quiet lesser-sin, seeing green is poison from beginning to end.

Unlike other sins such as lust or pride, Dillehay explains, envy never lights up the brain with pleasure. Though churches often tolerate envy as a quiet lesser-sin, seeing green is poison from beginning to end.

Creativity and the Warrior-Artist

With her definition of envy, Dillehay explains that the person who has what I envy is “felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it” (32). Among all demographics, Dillehay believes that artists are the most prone to envy.

She may be right. I recognized seeds of envy in myself even while reading her book. Commonalities in our upbringings stirred a sense of comparison in my heart. Unlike the Bernini statue that awakened wonder and worship, this book ignited competition. I subconsciously weighed her writing against my own. I became aware of areas of inequality in our writing—areas where she is superior to me.

God helped me recognize and dismiss those seeds of resentment, and instead benefit from Dillehay’s many insights. Art, she explains, makes us feel “close to touching the meaning of the universe” because it taps into our human need for stories (104). Art connects us to God’s big story, which is a tale of romance and war. The artist, she claims, is a warrior in the middle of God’s story. All artists, whether they know it or not, create works that reflect either truth or lies. Their artistic medium—be it words, music, or a paintbrush—is a tool in the battle.

The big takeaway is that any message of truth communicated through art should cause us to rejoice—as a warrior rejoices with news of victory at another point in the battle. “If we can’t rejoice at genuine strokes of beauty wielded against our satanic enemies,” Dillehay writes, “then we are obviously blind to the battle” (107).

But how do we kill envy, once our eyes are opened to its presence in our hearts?

Seeing Green No More

Dillehay doesn’t leave the reader gasping for help. She includes biblical tips for killing envy and entering a life of freedom. The fight against envy is won through conscious decisions to put on love, diligence, humility, and appropriate transparency. As we choose behavior that pleases God and blesses others, our emotions are likely to shift into their appropriate place.

I remember talking to a mentor about a troubled relationship. She spoke hard yet transformational words: “It’s not your job to pray that God will fix them. Pray that God will bless them.” Dillehay offers similar advice: Thank God for the success of the person you envy. Ask him to further their success. Over the years, I’ve found that praying blessings on someone I’m struggling with is one of the most powerful ways God changes my heart.

True love offers no room for envy.

True love leaves no room for envy. As Paul famously put it, “Love does not envy or boast” (1 Cor. 13:4). As we love, we’re better able to run the race God has entrusted to us. And as we forsake envy and give ourselves to our calling, we’re able to multiply our God-given talents, be they many or few.

Seeing Green takes a step forward in the battle against Satan’s deceptions. Envy is never okay. Envy destroys lives. But by God’s grace, we can fight envy and get on with the work God calls us to do.

10 Reasons the Old Testament Is Important for Christians

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:02am

If Christians are part of the new covenant, why should we seek to understand and apply the Old Testament (OT)?

I’ll give 10 reasons why the first word in the phrase Old Testament must not mean unimportant or insignificant to Christians.

1. The OT was Jesus’s only Scripture and makes up three-fourths (75.55 percent) of our Bible.

If space says anything, the OT matters to God, who gave us his Word in a book. In fact, it was his first special revelation, which set a foundation for the fulfillment we find in Jesus in the New Testament (NT).

The OT was the only Bible of Jesus and the earliest church (e.g., Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:44; Acts 24:14; 2 Tim. 3:15), and it’s a major part of our Scriptures.

2. The OT substantially influences our understanding of key biblical teachings.

By the end of the Law (Genesis–Deuteronomy), the Bible has already described or alluded to all five of the major covenants that guide Scripture’s plot structure (Adamic-Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new). The rest of the OT then builds on this portrait in detail. Accordingly, the OT narrative builds anticipation for a better king, a blessed people, and a broader land. The OT creates the problem and includes promises that the NT answers and fulfills. We need the OT to understand fully God’s work in history.

The first word in the phrase Old Testament must not mean unimportant or insignificant to Christians.

Further, some doctrines of Scripture are best understood only from the OT. For example, is there a more worldview-shaping passage than Genesis 1:1–2:3? Where else can we go other than the OT to rightly understand sacred space and the temple? Is there a more explicit declaration of YHWH’s incomparability than Isaiah 40, or a more succinct expression of substitutionary atonement than Isaiah 53? Where should we go to know what Paul means by “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)?

Finally, the NT worldview and teachings are built on the framework supplied in the OT. In the NT we find literally hundreds of OT quotations, allusions, and echoes, none of which we’ll fully grasp apart from saturating ourselves in Jesus’s Bible.

3. We meet the same God in both Testaments.

Note how the book of Hebrews begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). The very God who spoke through the OT prophets speaks through Jesus.

Now, you may ask, “But isn’t the OT’s God one of wrath and burden, whereas the God of the NT is about grace and freedom?” Let’s consider some texts, first from the OT and then from the New.

Perhaps the most foundational OT statement of YHWH’s character and action is Exodus 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The OT then reasserts this truth numerous times in order to clarify why it is that God continued to pardon and preserve a wayward people:

But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now. (2 Kings 13:23)

For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him. (2 Chron. 30:9)

Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. (Neh. 9:30–31)

Thus God’s grace fills the OT, just as it does the NT.

Further, in the NT, Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. He declares, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Similarly, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (18:6). Paul, citing Deuteronomy 32:35, asserts: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). And the author of Hebrew writes, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26–27). Thus God is just as wrathful in the NT as he is in the OT.

We meet the same God in the Old Testament as we do in the New Testament.

Certainly there are numerous expressions of YHWH’s righteous anger in the OT, just as there are massive manifestations of blood-bought mercy in the NT. What is important is to recognize that we meet the same God in the OT as we do in the New. In the whole Bible we meet a God who is faithful to his promises to both bless and curse. He takes sin and repentance seriously, and so should we.

4. The OT announces the very ‘good news/gospel’ we enjoy.

The gospel is the good news that through Jesus––the divine, crucified, and resurrected Messiah––God reigns over all and saves and satisfies believing sinners. Paul states that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8, emphasis added). Abraham was already aware of the message of global salvation we now enjoy.

Similarly, in the opening of Romans, Paul stresses that the Lord “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (i.e., the OT prophets) the very powerful “gospel of God . . . concerning the Son” that he preached and in which we now rest (Rom. 1:1–3, 16).

Foremost among these prophets was Isaiah, who anticipated the day when YHWH’s royal servant (the Messiah) and the many servants identified with him would herald comforting “good news” to the poor and broken––news that the saving God reigns through his anointed royal deliverer (Isa. 61:1; cf. 40:9–11; 52:7–10; Luke 4:16–21).

Reading the OT, therefore, is one of God’s given ways for us to better grasp and delight in the gospel (see also Heb. 4:2).

5. Both the old and new covenants call for love, and we can learn much about love from the OT.

Within the old covenant, love was what the Lord called Israel to do (Deut. 6:5; 10:19); all the other commandments simply clarified how to do it. This was part of Jesus’s point when he stressed that all the OT hangs on the call to love God and neighbor: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).

Reading the Old Testament is one of God’s given ways for us to better grasp and delight in the gospel.

Christ emphasized, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12). Similarly, Paul noted, “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8, 10). As with Israel, the Lord calls Christians to lives characterized by love. However, he now gives all members of the new covenant the ability to do what he commands. As Moses himself asserted, the very reason God promised to circumcise hearts in the new covenant age was “so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:6). Moses also said that those enjoying this divine work in this future day would “obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (30:8).

Moses’s old covenant law called for life-encompassing love, and Christians today, looking through the lens of Christ, can gain clarity from the OT on the wide-ranging impact of love in all of life.

6. Jesus came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.

Far from setting aside the OT, Jesus stressed that he came to fulfill it, and in the process he highlighted the lasting relevance of the OT’s teaching for Christians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17–19)

What is important to note here is that, while the age of the old covenant has come to an end (Rom. 6:14–15; 1 Cor. 9:20–21; Gal. 5:18; cf. Luke 16:16), the OT itself maintains lasting relevance for us in the way it displays the character of God (e.g., Rom. 7:12), points to the excellencies of Christ, and portrays for us the scope of love in all its facets (Matt. 22:37–40). As Moses asserted, in the day of heart circumcision (Deut. 30:6), which we are enjoying today (Rom. 2:29), all of his teachings in Deuteronomy would still matter: “And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (Deut. 30:8).

7. Jesus said that all the OT points to him.

After his first encounter with Jesus, Philip announced to Nathaniel: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophet wrote” (John 1:45). Do you want to see and savor Jesus as much as you can? We find him in the OT. As Jesus himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39; cf. 5:46–47). “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). After his resurrection, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3), Jesus opened the minds of his disciples “to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:53).

Do you want to see and savor Jesus as much as you can? We find him in the Old Testament.

A proper “understanding” of the OT will lead one to hear in it a message of the Messiah and the mission his life would generate. Similarly, Paul taught “nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23). As an OT preacher, he could declare: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

If you want to know Jesus more, read the OT!

8. Failing to declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ can put us in danger before the Lord.

Paul was a herald of the good news of God’s kingdom in Christ (e.g., Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:30–31), which he preached from the Law of Moses and the Prophets––the OT (28:23; cf. 26:22–23). In Acts 20:26–27 he testifies to the Ephesian elders, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The “whole counsel of God” refers to the entirety of God’s purposes in salvation-history as revealed in Scripture. Had the apostle failed to make known the Lord’s redemptive plan of blessing overcoming curse in the person of Jesus, he would have stood accountable before God for any future doctrinal or moral error that the Ephesian church carried out (cf. Ezek. 33:1–6; Acts 18:6).

The Old Testament, while not written to Christians, was still written for us.

With the NT the Scripture is complete, and we now have in whole “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This “faith,” however, is only understood rightly within the framework of “the whole counsel of God.”

So may we be people who guard ourselves from blood guilt by making much of the OT in relation to Christ.

9. The NT authors stressed that God gave the OT for Christians.

Paul was convinced that the divinely inspired OT authors wrote for NT believers, living on this side of the death and resurrection of Christ. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4; cf. 4:23–24). “Now these things happened to [the Israelites] as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Accordingly, the apostle emphasized to Timothy, who was raised on the OT by his Jewish mother and grandmother (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5), that the “sacred writings” of his upbringing “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). People today can get saved from God’s wrath and from the enslavement of sin by reading the OT through the lens of Christ.

People today can get saved from God’s wrath and from the enslavement of sin by reading the Old Testament  through the lens of Christ.

This is why Paul says in the very next verse, “All Scripture is . . . profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (3:16–17). New covenant believers can correct and reprove straying brothers and sisters from the OT, when read in relation to Christ, for in it we find many “profitable” things (Acts 20:20)––a “gospel of the grace of God” (20:24)––that call for “repentance toward God” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Messiah” (20:21).

Based on this fact, NT authors regularly used the OT as the basis for Christian exhortation, assuming its relevance for Christians (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:8–12; Eph. 6:2–3; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Peter 1:14–16). Because we are now part of the new covenant and not the old, there are natural questions that arise regarding how exactly the Christian should relate to specific old covenant instruction. Nevertheless, the point stands that the OT, while not written to Christians, was still written for us.

10. Paul commands church leaders to preach the OT.

The last of my 10 reasons why the OT still matters for Christians builds on the fact that Paul was referring to the OT when he spoke of the “sacred writings” that are able to make a person “wise for salvation” and the “Scripture” that is “breathed out by God and profitable” (2 Tim. 3:15–16). Knowing this colors our understanding of his following charge to Timothy:

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for the themselves teachers to suit their own passion, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim. 4:2–4)

For Paul, Christian preachers like Timothy needed to preach the OT in order to guard the church from apostasy. While we now have the NT, we can, and indeed must, appropriate the OT like Jesus and his apostles did for the good of God’s church.

Related:

How to Grow Newer When You’re Not Growing Younger

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:00am

My morning began with an early rise to get our five kids moving, ready, and out the door so my daughters could make it to their dance class that meets before school starts.

By the time my phone dinged to tell me it was 10 minutes to 6 p.m., I was arriving in downtown Minneapolis, lugging my book-heavy bag up a couple flights of stairs to enter my evening Greek class. As a classmate asked me how my day had been, I tried to remember back through the work, the errands, the laundry, the cooking, the conversations, the appointments, and the studying—all the way back to that morning, but it was like reaching through time to another dimension.

As I chatted with my classmates that night––some of whom are closer to the age of my oldest daughter than to me––I vacillated between feeling like I, too, was a young 20-something with endless possibilities ahead and a sharp mind at my disposal, or feeling positively ancient, as though with each child I birthed, I had relinquished a good chunk of my brain as well.

It’s worth pondering––this thing called aging—because it’s something that every one of us is doing every moment of every day until we die. This isn’t something to finally turn our attention to in 20 or 30 years when we feel a bit older or enter a mid- or late-life crisis. No matter how old we are, we should be asking: How do we age with wisdom and forsake lusting after youth?

The Speed of Age and the Age That Lasts Forever

As hard as it is to reach back 18 hours to the start of a day, it’s effortless to reach back 18 years. I can hear the sound my rolling backpack made on the tile as I wheeled into my first college class. I’d just had back surgery a couple months prior and couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds, so I looked more like a spritely lost airline attendant than a cool college kid. I can see the faces of the folks with gray hair that I shared a weekly hot tub with—a therapy pool occupied by those of us with “bad backs”—I just happened to be a third of the age of most of the people there. This twist on hot tubbing may not have cured my back, but it did cure a measure of my stupidity: an 18-year-old got to see and know that bodies wear out, but spirits don’t.

How do we age with wisdom and forsake lusting after youth?

When I stand at the kitchen sink to wash up, with my teenage daughter beside me, now eye to eye, taking hold of time is like trying to grasp at water running through my hands. And I wonder, Does she know that my insides don’t feel old? Does she know that she’ll be me in five seconds?

Moms can feel the gray hairs about to sprout as we watch our children become independent from us; we see stretch marks appear and stay long after the baby is born and grown; we see crow’s feet form from laughter and brow indentations from years of perplexity and stern warnings. We also know what it’s like when a few months of disrupted sleep is an eternity, when it seems our child will be 2 years old forever, and when our frustration over how frequently frustrated we are is the redundant black hole of our daily life.

And for those who aren’t moms, the reality is just as poignant. The years of work life and home life, on the one hand, move at the speed of cooking steel-cut oats; on the other, they are like a re-microwaved cup of coffee—nuked to oblivion and forgotten before you’ve even had a moment to enjoy it. For some of us, the ache of waiting threatens to be forever un-soothed as we long for the next stage, the next chapter––whether marriage, parenting, or the career that’s always a step away, a little farther down the road, until suddenly the road is past and gone. The thing we were waiting for will never come.

The brokenness of sin makes time our enemy, both in the slowness and the speed. Sin is why we can’t enjoy this moment as we ought. Sin is also why we all die. It’s the thing that eventually wears us out.

When Age Is Wasted on the Old

It’s said that youth is wasted on the young; and while I’m not sure I buy that, how much worse when age is wasted on the old. It’s one thing to watch teenage children be oblivious to all they don’t know and take for granted the many things they’ve never been without. Yet it’s another thing entirely to grow older, and year after year forsake the wisdom and maturity that should rightfully be taking up residence. That is a grave time-tested sin, indeed.

What does it mean when the sunset years are spent addicted to Candy Crush and the latest gossip? How will gray hairs be our God-given crown of glory (Prov. 16:31) when we’re terrified at the sight of them? What good is age if all it signifies is that the tiny seed of bitterness that sprouted in our 30s has now grown a root system that undergirds our whole life, making sin our sustenance?

But God has never sinned, so he never grows old in the ways we do. Nor is he young, the way we think of it. He is the Ancient of Days, with no beginning or end, without decay, without decrease, and without ruin.

The mature Christian woman is the one who’s been with Christ long enough to have the unbelief of adulthood reworked into childlike faith.

And what we learn in the Bible is that there is only one way to make old, dying, and dead people new: the Son of God had to enter into time, subjecting himself to the curse of aging, decay, sin, and death, so that in his sinless time-bound life, he might burst the bonds of sin and death and put our sin-sick aging souls in reverse.

Now, instead of growing old, we are growing new. The mature Christian woman is the one who has been new for a long time. The mature Christian woman is the one who’s been with Christ long enough to have the unbelief of adulthood reworked into childlike faith. The mature Christian woman is the one who, though outwardly wasting away, is getting newer every single day (2 Cor. 4:16).

Spent Mind, Renewed Mind

Yet how can a mind that’s growing old and forgetful also grow new? We all use our minds on something; perhaps not through relinquishing brain cells via childbirth, but in some form or another, our minds are spent. I have given my mind to storing information like: the location of the stray sock belonging to the 11-year-old, what chapter the 8-year-old needs to finish for history this week, when early bird registration ends for my oldest kids’ youth retreat, who needs new snow boots this year, what meetings my husband has this week. And even more importantly: what area of discipleship needs attention in each child, what godly habits could use further cultivating, what opportunities were missed last week for building up, connection, and growing together. All the data and information at times seem to crowd out coherence! What am I but a jumble of seemingly random, but repetitive, facts and concerns?

But this is a fertile place for newness to grow—in a mind and heart stuffed with the details and rhythms of life, worn out in the work God has entrusted. Our minds aren’t compromised by being used up; they’re replenished with something better than sharpness or quick-wits or brilliance. They’re replenished with a dependent wisdom that only Christ can supply, so that over the course of our lives—as we give away our brain space for the sake of those around us—we gain a mind that holds more than ours ever could have. We gain the mind of Christ, filled with humility, trust, and faith.

The benefit of a renewed mind is that it’s the only way to make peace with an aging body.

That night in class, among young adults and older adults, I was reminded that, in Christ, my age and experience are means of greater vigor and newness as long as I’m growing older in him. Growing up in Christ is how we become young again––not physically young, but spiritually renewed and vitalized. Could it be that, though I am worn from childbirth and years of sleepless nights and a decade of carrying babies, I am actually more of a child now than ever because of the eternal God who takes up residence in my heart and renews me day by day? Could it be that although my mind is slow to memorize Greek––taut as it is, and stretched with the details of our lives––it is still becoming newer day by day, enabling me to persevere in each and every season?

In my wrestling with the limitations of an overstuffed and forgetful head, I have discovered one (but not only one) gigantic countercultural benefit to laying down perfect coherency and taking up humility and childlikeness: A renewed mind is the only way to make peace with an aging body.

Look in the Right Mirror

Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of myself that I almost don’t recognize—usually it’s when I’m staring at my phone, on the camera or scrolling Instagram, and I accidentally swipe and flip the screen to selfie mode, catching a face that’s all chins and more wrinkles than I tend to remember are there.

So then what? How do we cope with being slightly estranged from our appearance? With curves that seem more like lumps and teeth that have decided straightness isn’t a priority and, in my case, a belly that sort of falls out of place if not held in check because it’s housed multiple people? Will age be wasted on the old—while we madly google Botox and pine for former days? How do we age into our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s with grace? We do it with the childlike faith that teaches us that what we really look like isn’t a reflection in the mirror, but a reflection of our Father’s love for us shining out in the face of Jesus Christ.

We get to become like a child, a little girl, utterly secure in her Father’s arms.

There’s a miracle in the wearing on of life. It’s that the everyday grind of caregiving, workouts, clocking in, school schedules, budget spreadsheets, sorting email, nighttime interruptions, meal prep, deadlines, folding clothes, and doctor appointments is where we will be remade over and over, repetition by repetition, tiny moment by tiny moment. Such circumstances are not distractions from the main event; they are the main event. They are how God intends, not to wither us away, but to teach us his relentless newness.

Broken as we are by sin, we can’t conceive of a perpetual newness without thoughts of boredom close at hand. Won’t the newness get old—if not in actuality, at least become old hat? But it’s not newness that gets old, but our appetite for it. When we are finally and fully made new, with a new heavens and new earth to accompany us, not only will all things be new, but our appetite for enjoying newness will also be new. We won’t get bored. It won’t be a grind. Our minds and hearts will be evergreen with an appetite perpetually awakened to enjoy our God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

You might think you could make progress in your Christian life if only you could get away from the agonizing sameness of it all, the drip and rush of time, the cycles of Christmas shopping, bills, relational annoyances, the too-early summons of the alarm clock, and the like. Yet our opportunities for renewal are never more than when we realize that this life is a season, a time, a vapor, and a bloom.

In the long days that never end and in the years that blink by, God is making us new. When we come to the end of our days, spent and old if God allows, may we be newer than ever before in the likeness of Jesus, ready and eager to meet the Lord.

5 Things Christians Should Do After the Election

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 12:04am

Today, Americans will go to the polls to decide the fate of all 435 U.S. House seats, one-third of the U.S. Senate seats, 36 state governorships, three U.S. territory governorships, and more than 300 mayoral races.

Tomorrow, Americans will express jubilation and disappointment over our choices. We’ll call our relatives to gloat or to commiserate. We troll the losing side on social media while journalists write stories about “what it all means.” We’ll sigh with relief and moan in despair. In other words, on the day after Election Day we’ll continue our partisan conflicts in much the same way we did on the day before the election.

Fortunately, there are a few more things we Christians can do, small steps we can take to make things better for ourselves and our country.

Pray for our new authorities

Paul tells us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I’ve often been guilty of following this command in a perfunctory way, with my prayers being as generic as possible. But the election gives me—and you—an opportunity to be more specific in our intercessions and supplications.

After the election there will be dozens of people who will be in “high positions” for the first time. Let’s take the time to learn their names and pray for them directly, asking that God will give them courage and wisdom. We should also pray for leaders in other areas of the U.S. For example, we can pray for the Congressional representatives of the hometown we left long ago, or pray for the new governor in the state where we went to college or visited on vacation.

Heal partisan-inflicted wounds

Throughout our country’s history, there has always been a partisan divide among Americans. But over the past few years the rift has been growing wider and deeper. For example, in 2004, 68 percent of Democrats were more consistently liberal than the median Republican, and 70 percent of Republicans were more consistently conservative than the media Democrat. But according to Pew Research, today almost all Democrats (97 percent) are more liberal than the median Republican, and almost all Republicans (95 percent) are more conservative than the median Democrat.

We also have more venues, such as social media, which allow us to express partisan opinions both vocally and (for too many of us) incessantly. The result is that we Christians are frequently highlighting our partisan differences and downplaying how much we share in common with our brothers and sisters across the political aisle.

If your partisanship has wounded others, whether intentionally or inadvertently, take some time this week to apologize and make amends. You don’t have to agree with your conspiracy minded uncle who thinks Congress has been taken over by interstellar lizards in people suits. But you can do your part to follow Paul’s admonition that, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

Trade-in the pundits for the prophets

The theologian Karl Barth once said he advised young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Unfortunately, most Christians today are more likely to take up their newspaper than take up their Bible. Less than half (49 percent) of evangelicals read even a little bit of the Bible each day, yet almost all have consumed some form of news or punditry.

Scripture makes us wise, while the news makes us dumb. So why not reverse the time we spend on each? For instance, this post-election season is an opportune time to trade-in Sean Hannity, Don Lemon, and Rachel Maddow for Isaiah, Jonah, and Daniel. You’ll learn more about the state of the world from ten minutes with the prophets than you will an hour watching cable news.

As Nancy Guthrie says, we should read the prophets because we “struggle with the same sins: idolatry, disregard for God’s law, empty religiosity, being in love with the world, hard-heartedness, greed, lack of concern for the poor, and presumption as members of the covenant community.” The men chosen by God to talk on his behalf have much more to teach us about topics, such as social justice, than all the talking head on cable news.

Prepare for future action . . .

Our obligations as citizens don’t stop in the voting booth. We cast our ballot to help determine who will represent us. But we also need to let those leaders know how to represent us.

Take some time today to identify your elected officials and how you can contact them. While such information is always easily accessible on the internet, having it readily at hand will help you overcome the inertia that will stop you from actually contacting them. You might also want to flag future dates on your calendar (such as 60, 90, or 120 days from now) to remind yourself to discuss important issues with your representatives.

. . . And then take a break from partisan activities

As soon as the polls close, the 2018 will be over—and the 2020 election race will begin. Politicians will begin fundraising and pollsters will begin taking the nation’s political pulse. But while everyone else scrambles for the next thing, you can rest knowing that God is in control (Col. 1:17).

Take a break from partisan activities and channel your political energy into your family, your church, and your community. Seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7) in ways that are more direct and more practical. Find ways to serve your neighbor that require more sacrifice and less opining on Twitter.

As Christians and Americans we have dual citizenship, and dual obligations. We are exiles, strangers in a strange land, who have duties to both our country and our Lord’s Kingdom. By taking a temporary sabbatical from partisanship we can free up time and attention that can be spent learning from God’s Word and from God’s people. By taking a break to refocus and realign our priorities we can ultimately become both better partisans and better ambassadors of Christ.

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