What Does the Church Have to Do with Judging Outsiders? Politics, the Gospel and Whose Side Is God On?

Paul said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”

Paul said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Cor. 5:12) This is where my mind went when I watched An (Un)Civil War: The Evangelical Divide posted online recently by CBS News. The next question in mind was the question Joshua asked the commander of the army of the Lord: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13)

If you know the answer to Joshua’s question, think about it for a moment. The subject here is the modern form of evangelicalism that is highlighted in the CBS piece linked above: hyper patriotic, nationalistic and political. I will come back to the angel’s response to Joshua before I conclude.

I hardly watch the news anymore, and CBS is certainly not my “go to” news source. I don’t have one. The portions of the CBS piece that are ringing in my head are the clips of the evangelical leaders preaching and explaining themselves in their own words.

I do understand that these clips are selected and don’t represent all that these leaders stand for or all that they might say. What they reveal, though, is enough to move me to write.

The clips show various preachers unapologetically “speaking the truth” from the pulpit, which the commentator calls “sermonizing a brand of social conservatism defined by conspiracy and apocalyptic rhetoric”. The words of the commentator are not what catch my attention, but they should be noted for the way they are perceived.

The piece focuses on a what is described as a “power struggle” in evangelical circles. That is how the world sees the difference in opinions by evangelicals: a power struggle of Christians “at war within itself”.

One firebrand pastor (Greg Locke) touts the amount of support for his position, seeming to affirm the perception that it’s all about power and influence.

In the world of politics, the number of evangelical constituents (over 1 in 4 Americans) is a matter of power and influence to political pundits. Locke’s comment and the concern expressed in the media piece align on that basis.

One pastor is heard saying, “But we shouldn’t talk politics in religion. Says who? Satan?! That’s the only way they control us!”, he says. “To get us to be silent.”  

Indeed, power, influence, and control are at the center of this phenomenon.

At the same time, Locke claims that the Bible is the issue, “Here is what the Bible says. Boom! We’re going to go with it!” He views himself as fighting for the Bible, fighting for ‘God and country”, trying to wrestle the United States out of the grip of the left and Satan.

But, is that really what is going on? What about the Bible? Are they just preaching what the Bible says?

There is so much to be said here, but I want to focus on just three things: 1) what the Bible says; 2) what the message of the Gospel is; and 3) whose side God is on in this struggle.

Continue reading “What Does the Church Have to Do with Judging Outsiders? Politics, the Gospel and Whose Side Is God On?”

Coming Out of the Shadow of the Law and the Mystery of Parables into the Light of the Gospel

What does it mean that the Law is only a shadow of things to come?

I just posted an article imagining a modern parable: The Kingdom of God Is Like an Autostereogram. Today, I am going to write about actual parables that Jesus told. Matthew 13 contains a bunch of them, and they individually and collectively tell a story about the kingdom of God.

Interestingly, Jesus ties the teaching of the law into becoming a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 13:52) We don’t normally associate the precision of a code of laws with the imprecision of parables. It’s almost like a left brain/right brain kind of association.

We tend to categorize and distill things down into neat packages, like a code of laws, but parables don’t seem to fit into our neat packages. Laws and parables seem, at first blush, to be polar opposites, but they aren’t. In fact, the Mosaic Law, which informs the Judeo-Christian tradition, isn’t (perhaps) what we think it is.

We think of the Law of Moses as a code of laws, a list of prescriptions, of do’s and don’ts that must be followed precisely. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day also viewed the Law that way, but Jesus took them to task for it:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone (Matt. 23:23)


Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (Luke 11:42)

The Mosaic Law wasn’t (isn’t) simply about following a prescription or recipe to achieve eternal life. The Law was meant to point to something, to point beyond it to God and His purposes.

Jesus said the Law (and the Prophets) “testify” about him! (John 5:39) On the road to Emmaus after he rose from dead, Jesus explained to some of his followers how Moses (the Law) and Prophets were written about him. (Luke 24:27) (Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on that wall?!)

Wait a minute! Does that mean we don’t need to follow the Law? What about the Ten Commandments? Why did God get so angry at the Israelites for not following the Law?

Jesus told the Pharisees they should do both: follow the Law and not neglect the “weightier matters” of the Law (justice and mercy and the love of God). What does that even mean? Why would he say that?

I will give you “my” answer – the way I understand it – informed by the totality of Scripture. In the process, we will see that the Law and the parables Jesus used are really more similar than dissimilar.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Shadow of the Law and the Mystery of Parables into the Light of the Gospel”

Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,

I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.

At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.

I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.

The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.

Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.

About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”

Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”

This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.

His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.

Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

Continue reading “Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,”

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

Continue reading “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs”

Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

Continue reading “Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds”