As I was listening through the last four chapters of the Gospel of John this morning, these words impressed me:
He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:9-11 ESV
This was part of the interchange between Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judea, and Jesus. Pilate exercised the authority given him over the province of Judea in the Roman empire given him by the Roman authorities, but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
I am reminded of God’s sovereignty. Jesus came to die. That was his plan. Pilate was just part of the plan. We tend to think of Pilate in negative terms as we look back at the story, but he was just part of God’s plan, like Judas.
Of course, Barack Obama was also our president. So was Bill Clinton. If we really believe the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate, these men would not have authority as presidents of the United States unless it was given from above.
I feel like I have been a broken record lately, coming back to the same themes, but I think they are important for such a time as this. I am finding that I am not alone. Just this weekend, David Platt, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, said:
“We have not gathered today, even on July 4th week, to celebrate our U.S. citizenship. That’s not what the church does because that’s not who the church is. The church doesn’t unite around an earthly citizenship. The church unites around a heavenly citizenship.”
“We have more in common with a Syrian Christian sitting next to us than an American atheist. Far more in common forever. Which is why when we gather as a church, we put aside national, even political differences.”
I strongly believe he is right. Following is an article with more details:
The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, recently stated that churches in the United States are supposed to focus on Jesus Christ and not nationalism. Preaching at the Virginia-based McLean Bible Church on the Sunday before Independence Day, Platt focused his sermon on the issues of “God and government” and […]
I recall a sermon preached back in the 1980’s in the church I attended at the time in New Hampshire. I don’t remember the scriptural passage or references, but I remember the gist of the message, and it has stuck with me ever since.
The gist goes something like this: As God’s people, we need to be informed and take our direction primarily from God and God’s will as revealed to us in the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are in the world, but we are not of the world, and we should be careful not to be influenced by the world in our thinking.
The key point that I remember, however, is that we can focus so much on trying not to be influenced by the world that we become reactionary to it. If the world goes right, we go left. If the world goes left, we go right. If all we are doing is being reactionary to the world, we lose our focus on God. In the process of trying not to be like the world, we allow ourselves to be defined by the world nevertheless.
If our direction is dictated by nothing more than going in the opposite direction of the world, we are no more directed by God than if we are going in exactly the same direction of the world. Either way, we are focusing on the world and allowing the world to influence our direction.
Much of the positioning and politicking about immigration focuses on crime and fears that immigration brings crime into the country. Donald Trump famously said of Mexican immigrants, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” (Remarks from the speech by Donald Trump when announced his run for the Republican nomination for president at Trump Tower Atrium in Manhattan on June 16, 2015)
Crime is obviously a very big societal concern, and one we shouldn’t take lightly. Most Americans are in agreement on that point. Protecting law abiding citizens from criminal behaviors is a top priority, one that often justifies using a significant percentage of local tax dollars in support of law enforcement. If immigration increases crime in our communities, tightening up the immigration laws makes sense from the standpoint of protecting citizens from crime. But does it?
Does immigration increase the crime rate in our communities? Are immigrants more likely to commit crimes than citizens?
I wasn’t at all sure what the studies show so I set out to determine for myself the answer to the questions. These are important questions because our immigration policies should be informed by the facts. As Christians, especially, we should be guided by truth.
Everyone has a hierarchy of values. Whatever is at the top of your hierarchy of values is your God, says Jordan Peterson. Although he hesitates to call himself a Christian, he has a good understanding of the Bible and its positive impact on society and people, individually. This particular statement rings with the purity of truth.
Jordan Peterson also claimed in the course of the discussion that the first pronouncement of the ideal of the separation of church and state came from Jesus when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Modern Christians (many of them) seem to think that the separation of the church and state is a bad thing. A common assumption seems to be that the “wall of separation” between the church and state is a way for politicians to keep Christians out of politics and to keep politics from being influenced by Christians. What do you think?
Over the weekend, I posted a simple message on Facebook: presidents don’t say things like that. I am referring to the “sh*thole nations” statement of course. That simple post spawned hundreds of comments, and many of the comments were from Christians defending Trump, or at least not denouncing what Trump might have said.
Durbin might have mistaken what Trump actually said. It’s possible. It’s highly likely that Durbin was motivated by his dislike of Trump and by political objectives when he reported what he claimed Trump said. While it’s possible that Trump didn’t say those words, at least not exactly as they were reported, it also doesn’t really matter.
It’s one thing to question the veracity of Durbin’s report, but it’s another thing to defend or overlook what was claimed to have been said. If he said what he is accused of saying, we shouldn’t be defending it.
I find the continued, unquestioned support for the president, no matter what he says or does, by the Christian community to be disturbing. Are we following Christ? Or are we following a political party? I can’t tell.
Some of the things that have been said include the following: 1) yeah but look at the good that he is doing; or 2) he’s not perfect, he’s a flawed human being; or 3) other presidents have said much worse, and 4) all presidents have said things in private meetings that they would not say in public (to repeat some of statements I have seen).
Those statements may be accurate (or not), but regardless of that, let’s look at these things from a Gospel perspective.
“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… standing firm in the spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith.” (Philippians 1:27)
Paul’s earnest instruction to the Philippians was that their “manner of life” (conduct) be worthy of the Gospel of Jesus. The Greek word translated “manner” means, among other things, “recognized as fitting”. Paul is talking about what we see in people, the outside appearances. In essence, Paul is saying let your conduct and the way people perceive you match the fruit of the Spirit that is working within you.
The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” Jesus warned about false prophets, adding that we would know them by their fruits. Jesus said by contrast the world would know us by our love, which is the greatest of the fruits of the Spirit.
In this context, how do we, as Christians, respond to the things that Donald Trump says and does? Why do we defend him? Why have we tied our destiny to him? Are we making a mistake?