Crime and Punishment

crime-and-punishmentIf you want to know what a particular culture or society thinks about specific crimes, look at the punishment that is meted out for the crime. The more heinous the crime, the stronger the punishment. Throughout history, each culture has decided what they believe to be the most fitting consequences for those who refuse to abide by societal norms.

Similarly, if you want to see what God thinks about certain behaviors, look at what He says should happen to those who violate what He declares about those behaviors.

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…” (Titus 3:10)

If he keeps being divisive — and note that he doesn’t even get three strikes, just two — have nothing more to do with him. Stay away from him. Don’t talk to him. Don’t associate with him.

It should be noted that the letter to Titus is one of the leadership epistles or pastoral epistles. Paul was writing to a fellow church leader. These words were directed toward someone who helped to oversee a congregation.

In that context, these words are even more poignant. Not only should Titus avoid a divisive person, but the implication is that he should also warn others in the flock to do the same. He should advise his congregation that they should keep away from this person.

And Paul even goes on to explain a bit of the why question, helping to give Titus — and us — a more complete understanding. Why do we avoid such a person? Because we know that he is “warped and sinful; he is self- condemned. (Titus 3:11)

Warped. Sinful. Self-condemned. Those are strong words, aren’t they? Paul apparently has no desire to be politically correct on this issue. He’s not lowering the standard to try to keep people from being offended. No, he’s being straight-forward and clear, making sure that the severity of this issue is understood. If you are being divisive, you’re warped, you’re sinful, and you’re self-condemned.

Being divisive is a serious issue with God.

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“Put on then…”

put-on-thenColossians 3:12 begins like this: “Put on then, as God’s chosen one, holy and beloved…”

In other words, as those who have been joined to Christ, as those who are a part of His Body — of who He is. So, because you’re a Christian … do what? “Put on then…”

Put on what?

Compassion. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. Love.

Those are the qualities that demonstrate that you belong to Him. Those are the character issues that show that you’re part of His Body.

But there’s something we should all note — and note carefully — about these qualities: they are all demonstrated outwardly. In other words, I can’t demonstrate compassion between me, myself, and I. It has to be targeted toward someone else. Same thing with kindness. All of these. They’re not about me sitting at home alone. They’re about how I interact with others. They’re about how we treat one another.

And, again, why do we put on these character qualities? Because we belong to Christ.

Do you belong to Christ? Are you putting on these character qualities?

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This is the Last One — I Promise

helpingOne final post regarding politics. This is the last one. Really.

C.S. Lewis once said that human beings live forever, while the state is only temporal. Because of this governments of any sort should have far less significance for the Christian.

Lewis added, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.”

When it’s all said and done, can we say we acted like the Body of Christ? Can we say we demonstrated loving concern, even those that we may not agree with politically? Even those in the Church with whom we may not agree?

That is clearly a much higher consideration than who is ultimately elected.

But here’s why I am sharing this with you: When historians write the story of 21st century America — assuming Jesus tarries a bit longer — what will they say about us? That we had a preoccupation with politics? That we were more focused on maintaining our comfortable lifestyles than on heavenly matters? That we spent more time talking about politically conservative issues than we did praying for our neighbors?

See, too much of the Church has bought into the affluent lifestyle, that we almost take for granted today in this country.

Former missionary, Lesslie Newbigin, said:

“If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society, if Christians are to occupy the ‘high ground’ which they vacated in the noon-time of “modernity,” it will not be by forming a Christian political party, or by aggressive propaganda campaigns…. It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel.” (

Wow! I think Lesslie is exactly right.

What if we acted more like Christians who truly care about people, rather than those who make derogatory comments about everything we don’t embrace? What if we loved as God loves?

(No this does not mean that we don’t speak of – or even confront – sin. But Jesus often did that in way that was amazingly disarming, didn’t He?)

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Further Election Thoughts

voteSo many people commented to me about my last post, that I felt compelled to add some further thoughts.

A big part of why I shared my last post – a rare-for-me political post – is because of the panic and fear that I see and hear today as we approach the election.

Author and pastor, Charles Drew, said, “Those who bemoan the moral and social disintegration of American culture are often right. But when they speak to us in such a way as to stir up fear and panic in our hearts, they are wrong. Our God reigns, and therefore we need not – we must not – be afraid as we exercise our civic responsibilities, no matter what seems to be going on around us…. When I choose political and social action because I am afraid, even if I can justify that action from Scripture, I am denying God at a deep level. I am acting from unbelief. I am taking his majestic name in vain.” [Charles Drew, Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012, pg. 5 (Kindle version)]

Wow! Think about that. “When I choose political and social action because I am afraid … I am denying God at a deep level.”

It’s true!

If we make choices out of fear – If I don’t do this, here’s the calamity that may well befall me/us – what does that say about our faith, about our trust in God? If we’re more motivated by panic than by right and godly choices, maybe there’s something wrong.

The Bible declares:

“The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Psalm 93:1-2)

If you read that passage honestly, who’s in charge? I mean ultimately and totally in charge? It’s God! Even when everything looks dark, God is still in control.

Remember Joseph in Egypt? Unjustly accused. Thrown into prison. And then – in a single day – he went from being in prison to being the number two guy in charge of the most powerful nation then in existence. Who caused that?

It was God. Oh, his brothers were the humans involved, but remember what Joseph said?

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

God brought about that scenario.

Or think of Daniel in Babylon. He was hauled away into slavery, into a corrupt and pagan culture that was known for their wanton indulgence. And when it looked like Daniel was doing well, all of a sudden his life was unjustly threatened. But he was rescued from the mouths of hungry lions because … he was such a kind man, right?

No! It was because God was with him, watching over him. And God, through Daniel, radically transformed the heart of the king. It was after the incident with the lions that King Darius made an amazing statement:

“I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.” (Daniel 6:26)

God does not need perfect political or governmental systems to bless and take care of and provide for His people.

So, as you vote this year, don’t make your choices out of fear. Instead, make an informed decision that you have prayed over and one where you have considered the precepts of God’s Word.

But in the end, remember that neither the burden of transformation, nor the future of our nation, rests on your shoulders. We have a civic duty to perform. Ultimately though, God’s wisdom and power will prevail.

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“My kingdom is not…” (Some thoughts on the election)

kingdom-of-godWhen Jesus visibly came to earth, He came to a setting that was a long way from a democracy. Roman rule was absolute. Caesar was not questioned. This wasn’t just not democracy; it was the antithesis of democracy.

Yet, what did Jesus tell people? “Render unto Caesar…” He didn’t say to overthrow the government. He didn’t suggest that the people should try pushing for a democracy.

Instead, He said something far more radical. “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) That’s crazy talk.

Well, unless He was far more interested in eternal things than temporal ones. Unless He was more interested in the souls of people than in earthly governments. Then it’s not crazy talk. Then it all makes sense.

He didn’t come to overthrow that evil government. He could have. But He didn’t.

He came to redeem people. To make dead people alive. To bring people back into a right relationship with the Father. When you hold that picture up against a particular form of government, there’s not much comparison, is there?

For centuries, people – including Christians – have lived and even thrived under socialist regimes and even totalitarianism. In fact, it was in the culture of a pagan ruling monarch – who had delusions that he was a god – that the Holy Spirit prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)

In context of the history of that day, I really don’t like those words. But they’re in the Bible.

Honestly, as I read the Bible, I think God is far less concerned about the form of government than we are. Again, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

In the Old Testament, God was upset when the people wanted a king. But it wasn’t because in God’s mind that was a less-desirable form of government than, say, if the people had requested a president. No, it was because they had rejected God.

Any form of government we have is so far below what God wants for us that to suggest that one form of earthly government is vastly superior to another seems to miss the higher plans and purposes of God.

From our perspective, democracy – and its twin brother, capitalism – is often seen as a good and godly idea. But there is nothing in Scripture that would suggest that democracy – every person getting a vote in whatever happens – is God’s choice for government. And, the fact is that capitalism helped bring about the greediness of Wall Street, and that greed was a major contributing factor to a number of serious social issues, including the housing collapse of several years ago and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. In fact, many would suggest that it is that disparity that has helped fuel the growing terrorism of this century.

Now, please hear me. I am not saying that capitalism and democracy are emphatically, across-the-board wrong. But they are not necessarily always right, either.

And don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I greatly appreciate the government and even the culture in which I grew up. It has afforded a dimension of ease and comfort and stability that is nice, even intoxicating. Having been immersed in such a setting for so very long, we can think this is God’s best. And I will say that I do think there is a dimension of God’s blessing on us as a nation. But when that blessing is turned inward – when the things that God gave as gifts, including great blessings like freedom and prosperity, when those become the objects of our affections in place of Him – then maybe there’s a problem.

“We have allowed our vision for America to capture our hearts more deeply than God’s vision for us as his ambassadors.” [Charles Drew, Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012, pg. 50 (Kindle version)]

See, I think we have to ask ourselves, “What is most important?”

Think about it. Why is the Church flourishing in China today, when, in many ways, it’s floundering here? In large part it’s because our life of freedom – of ease and comfort – has made us far-less committed disciples.

And, again, don’t misunderstand. I don’t want to leave my children or grandchildren in a culture where they don’t have the freedoms that we have enjoyed. I really don’t like that idea at all.

At the same time, if given the choice to give them an environment where they will be more likely to prosper materially or one where they will be more likely to prosper spiritually, that isn’t a difficult decision.

Honestly, I am far less concerned about the outcome of this election than I am the process. The name-calling and demeaning comments from Christians toward those who are not of “our fold” is damaging to the message of Christ. That – far more than our lifestyle options or long-term comfort here – should be our higher interest.

We’re only here on earth for a short time. According to my calculations, eternity is going to be a lot longer than whatever time we have here.

If it comes down to two options: souls being saved or our comfort here and now, which do you think should be the higher priority for us as His people?

(By the way, before you write to correct me, let me add this: I am not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t vote, nor that Christians shouldn’t speak up about right and wrong. I do think we have put too much effort into politics and not enough into the Kingdom of God.)

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What a Good, Good Father!

girl-rescued-in-chinaI recently read an article about the tragic collapse of a group of decrepit homes in eastern China. Apparently, the homes were built right next to each other. They were said to be of poor quality construction — a common occurrence in the outlying areas in China — when they were originally built, forty years ago. But the problem was compounded over the years when extra floors were added, making the buildings even less safe. Twenty-two people died in this catastrophe.

Fifteen hours after the collapse, workers were digging through  the rubble. Much to their surprise, they found a three-year-old girl alive. She was wrapped in the arms of her mother and father. The girl had only minor injuries. Her parents’ bodies had shielded her from the brunt of the falling debris.

Firefighter Sun Jing said, “We found them together, with the mother and father facing down and the little girl between their bodies facing up.”

When I read the story, I was immediately reminded of what Jesus did for us. He took the weight of our sins. He took the wrath of God so that we wouldn’t need to. His death gave us life.

What a good and loving Father we serve!

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The Final Apologetic

francis-schaefferFrancis Schaeffer once referred to Christian community as “the final apologetic.”

The word apologetic is used often in the Church today, but I find that few people could define it. So, let me explain, so we don’t miss the point of what Schaffer meant.

The word apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia. The original idea was that it was a defense or an answer given in response to a charge. We could best think of it in an ancient Greek courtroom scene where, after an accusation is made, the accused would attempt to refute the charges.

In the Bible, the word is nearly always used as someone making a direct defense for their faith, or at least explaining why they did what they did because of their faith.

So in Christian apologetics, we’re making a case as to why what we believe is true and accurate and logical. (The second part of the word apologetic comes from the same word as logic.)

So when Francis Schaeffer said that community — Christians demonstrating to one another in tangible ways the love of Christ — is the final apologetic, what he’s saying is that when all of the words have been spoken, the demonstration of true biblical community is the last and best defense to show people that what we believe is really true.

And that’s what Jesus clearly said when He was praying in John 17. “…that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)

As we are more and more unified, as we are more and more united as the Body of Christ, the world will more and more believe the truth of the message.

I think Francis Schaeffer was right. Christian community really is the final apologetic.

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