On the National Election (Part 2)

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”
(Matthew 22:21 (ESV)

(This post is an update of an original that ran 4 years ago.)

The presidential debates are (mercifully) over and November 8th is rapidly approaching. And while there will, no doubt, be more cringe-worthy moments and some grand revelations that comes out in the next two weeks, chances are, you’ve already made up your mind and know who you are voting for – in fact, with early voting, you may have already voted.

But here’s something to think about: Has your faith influenced your decision at the polls this year? Interestingly, the Family Research Council reports:

many believers don’t even consider their Christian values when voting, often choosing candidates whose positions are at odds with their own beliefs, convictions, and values. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life a few years ago showed that 62% of Americans say their faith has little to do with their voting decisions. That’s tragic because Jesus expects us to influence every part of culture and society as salt and light-including the democratic process.

Too often, we connect ourselves with a political party, and then begin to project our values and beliefs into that party. We think, ”Well, if I believe this, and I’m a member of the party, then surely the rest of the party believes it too.” We look to the “religious right” or the “progressive party” to affirm and fight for our values, when in reality, neither party can perfectly represent that which makes up the Christians hopes and expectations. We must remember that we are sojourners here, that our nation, while perhaps the best experiment in freedom and liberty man has known, is governed by fallen man, and is, as such, liable and even prone to fall and fail at times.

The Family Research Council goes on to say,

Obviously, Christian “rulers” would have Christian values, right? Not necessarily. There are a lot of folks who use Christian lingo, but when you look at their positions and votes and their associations, it becomes evident that they do not line up with biblical values. That’s why it is so important to do your homework on the candidates. Don’t just listen to their campaign rhetoric, look at their records in office. Don’t just watch their political ads, look at their positions on the issues. Think about this: Every candidate has his or her own set of values and positions on important issues. Don’t you think that where a candidate stands on moral issues is far more important than the party he or she belongs to or the campaign ads and promises? Shouldn’t we vote for candidates who share our moral values?

So I encourage you to vote your values. This may be a risky vote, because it may mean voting for a third party candidate, (which seldom has a chance to win a national election), or even leaving the ballot blank. The point isn’t who wins or loses, but rather, our loyalty must be with the Lord Jesus; we must vote in a way that would honor and glorify Him. This means, at the very least, voting for those who protect and defend the sanctity of human life, especially that of the unborn. This means voting for those who protect and defend marriage as between one man and one woman, and will support the central institution of our society, the family. This means voting for those who will defend the freedom of religion, the freedom of religious expression, religious practice, and religious assembly.

Be informed.  Be diligent in your civic duty. But most of all, be faithful in your walk with Christ.


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On the National Election (Part 1)

(This is an article written prior to the election 4 years ago, but is important for today.)

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers,
intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
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 (ESV)

My grandmother always told me it wasn’t polite to talk about religion or politics.  Thinking back, I find it curious that she would say this, since she was one of the fiercest Democrats I have ever met, and a dyed in the wool Methodist.  Maybe she was warning me that I shouldn’t discuss either topic with her, since she knew that I was both a Republican and a Presbyterian.

Ignoring my dear grandmother’s warnings, however, over the next few weeks leading up to the Presidential Election I’m going to write about how our faith (or religion) and our politics come together.  We’ll start today, speaking in rather basic terms, and go a little deeper each week leading up to Election Day.

It is a Christian’s responsibility to vote

This is one of those lessons that must be inferred from scripture because you will not find it written explicitly.  There is no 11th Commandment saying, “Thou Shall Vote.”  When the scriptures were written, there was no such thing as a democratically elected government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ (though one could rightfully argue that the foundation of our representative government has its foundation in the elder-centered government of the early church).  There are occasions where lots were cast to choose a representative, or a consensus was reached after prayer and deliberation, but no general vote as we know it today.

But while you will not find hear St. Paul exhort you to “Get out the Vote,” we are told to be good citizens.  St. Augustine said those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are best equipped to be citizens of the kingdom of man.  In Romans 13, Paul teaches us that we are to be subject to the authorities in the land, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  As Americans we are blessed to be governed by consent; those in authority have been elected by the people.  Participation in the process of election, then, is essential to effective governance, a vital part of our citizenship, and a key component in our duty of submission to those in authority.

It is a Christian’s responsibility to vote responsibly

While it is the Christian’s responsibility to vote, it must also be said that the Christian must vote responsibly.  I must confess, there have been times when I have gone to the booth and did not recognize the names of the people on the ballot.  Usually these were uncontested races for local or county positions – and I probably just filled in the circle because, the vote really didn’t matter.

Usually, however, the vote does matter, and you have to stay informed to know why and how each candidate is different.  I don’t have cable or satellite  TV, so I have been mercifully spared from the onslaught of political advertising this year. (And I am so happy to no longer live in Iowa, where it was a constant, multiyear campaign.)  But I do know this, you cannot trust the ads.  Put two political ads back to back and you will hear them say two conflicting things.  To get to the truth, you have to do the research on your own.  Read a paper (if that can be trusted), watch the debates (if you can stomach it), talk to your friends… Find out as much as you can about the candidates (and the referendums in South Dakota) so that you can make an informed decision.

It is a Christian’s responsibility to pray for elected leaders, regardless of whether you voted for them.

Most importantly, it is the Christian’s responsibility to pray for their elected officials.  Paul urges our “prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Often, we need to remember this especially when our candidate did not win.

We must pray for those in authority over us; praying with the hope and conviction that God’s hand will guide and guard his people, realizing that no power that we face here can undermine the sovereign will of God.  We must pray graciously for those in authority, knowing that God works in, and often, in spite of, our elected officials.  And while it may be hard to pray for someone you completely disagree with, the very act of faithful and humble prayer will change your heart – you cannot continue to pray for someone without coming to love that person.


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A Word Fitly Spoken

I stumbled across this today in Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live?”

What of tomorrow?  In the United States, for example, a manipulating authoritarian government could come from the administrative side or from the legislative side. A public official in the United States serving at the highest level has wisely said, “Legislative dictatorship is no better than executive tyranny.” And one would have to add that with the concept of variable law and with the courts making law, it could come from the judicial side as well. The Supreme Court has the final voice in regard to both administrative and legislative actions, and with the concept of variable law the judicial side could become more and more of the center of power.  This could well be called “the imperial judiciary.” Cut away from its true foundation, the power of the Court is nothing more than the instrument of unlimited power. This is especially so when it is tied into what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “the dominant forces of the community.”

As the memory of the Christian consensus which gave us freedom within the Biblical form increasingly is forgotten, a manipulating authoritarianism will tend to fill the vacuum.  The central message of biblical Christianity is the possibility of men and women approaching God through the work of Christ.  But the message also has secondary results, among them the unusual and wide freedoms which biblical Christianity gave to countries where it supplied the consensus.  When these freedoms are separated from the Christian base, however, they become a force of destruction leading to chaos.  When this happens, as it has today, then, to quote Eric Hoffer, “When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order will destroy freedom.”

At that point the words left or right will make no difference. They are only two roads to the same end.  There is no difference between an authoritarian government to the right or the left: the results are the same.  An elite, an authoritarianism as such, will gradually force form on society so that it will not go on to chaos.  And most people will accept it – from the desire for personal peace and affluence, from apathy, and from the yearning for order to assure the functioning of some political system, business, and the affairs of daily life.  That is just what Rome did with Caesar Augustus.

Keep in mind, Schaeffer wrote this in 1976.  Don’t we see this playing out before us even now?  Nominations to the Supreme Court sway elections, because the court now has the power to legislate from the bench.  The gospel of salvation is no longer welcomed in the public square, but the freedom and liberty found in only in Christ are demanded still, becoming a force of destruction in chaos.  The madding crowds desire not peace, but just to be left alone, and for politicians to maintain the status quo, regardless the cost.

How we need the message of Christ!  How we need the peace only He can afford!  May we turn to him in prayer and seek His face today.


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Our Common Salvation

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
(Jude 3)

I was re-reading the letter of Jude yesterday, you know, that little one just before you get to the Revelation according to John.  It’s only 25 verses long, but it is loaded with an incredibly deep and timely message.  It takes little time to read, but a lifetime to exhaust the richness and depth of its teaching.  (If anyone’s interested, I’ve got recordings of Dr. John Gerstner teaching through the letter of Jude, in a mere 12 lessons.)

Jude starts his letter telling us that he was eager to write about our common salvation, but instead found it necessary to write an appeal to contend for the faith which was under attack.  The rest of the letter has Jude revealing the destructive influence of the false teaching of those who had crept into the church, and a call to persevere for the faith that is demonstrated in love, prayer, and holiness.

This reminds me of something I heard a while back about Pastoral Ministry: It is the ministry of interruptions.  A pastor plans his day and works to meet the goals he’s set before himself, but often finds the real ministry comes in answering the unexpected phone call or visit.  Most real ministry happens in the interruptions.  I think Jude’s letter is a good example of this. 

As I was reading, however, my mind wandered, as it often does.  I kept thinking, “I wonder what Jude’s original letter would have been like?”  We’ll never know, but I think it is helpful to stop and consider what is meant by his phrase, “our common salvation?”

The word here for common is “koinos.”  When you study Biblical Greek, you are studying koine Greek, the common Greek that was spoken in the marketplace of all the nations conquered by Alexander the Great.  So “common” suggests the ordinary, everyday stuff of life – things that are shared or common among all people.

So what is our “common salvation”?  There is nothing common or everyday about our salvation.  It is the glorious gospel of God’s redeeming work for His beloved in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:7-10).  Paul talks about the height and breadth and depth of God’s love for us (Eph 3:18), the mystery of the gospel of Salvation – surely no common stuff!

But it is common in that this salvation is shared by all who are in Christ Jesus through faith.  Salvation is the free gift of God’s grace to all who are in Christ (Rom 3:22-24) regardless of race, status, gender… regardless of the depth of sinfulness before Christ, those who are in Christ are saved from their sin and the wrath of God’s judgment upon them.

I read somewhere once, “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are all short of [the glory of God]; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.” There is a common sinfulness – and there is a salvation that is shared by all who are in Christ.  Everyone falls short, but everyone can be justified freely by His grace.

Matthew Henry once wrote, “The gospel salvation is a common salvation, that is, in a most sincere offer and tender of it to all mankind to whom the notice of it reaches… Whoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely, Rev. 22:17. The application of it is made to all believers, and only to such; it is made to the weak as well as to the strong.”

We share a common salvation for the redeemed have “one body and one spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-7).

Jude could not write at length about this because he had to address a false gospel that had crept into the church, threatening the very heart of that common salvation. It is pure speculation what he might have said, but we can see from other letters what he might have included.

Philippians 4:4–7 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 12:9–13 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Romans 15:7 “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Hebrews 10:23–25 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Ephesians 5:1–2, 21 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Colossians 3:12–17 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Those are just a few that came to mind.

Jude could not write the letter, but praise the Lord others could, and that God’s Word still speaks to us of our common salvation, and of the uncommon life we are called to share.


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The King in His Beauty

“Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty…”
Isaiah 33:17

I am preaching tonight at a celebration of life service for a sister in Christ.  Family members are sharing the eulogy and reflections on her life, and I was asked to give a message of hope and encouragement.  This is a welcomed privilege and honor, and I pray that God will be glorified and our spirits blessed by our time of worship and reflection upon God’s word.

In preparing for this service, my eyes kept turning to the title of a book that I’ve been reading by Thomas Schreiner called, “The King in His Beauty.”  It is a Biblical theology book that unfolds the revelation of God through the Old and New Testaments.

The title of the book, and the passage of Isaiah from whence it is taken, captivates me.  How often do we think of Christ our King as beautiful?  Sure we call upon Him as gracious, loving, mighty to save, and faithful.  We acknowledge that He is the only begotten of God, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, that He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.  But do we say that He is beautiful?

I think we have lost something in our appreciation of who Christ is when we fail to reflect upon His beauty.  It’s not surprising, but the Puritans were able to articulate the beauty of Christ brilliantly.

As the Word of God through whom all things were created, all the beauty we see today is derivative of Christ’s beauty.  Johnathon Edwards wrote,

“When we are delighted with flowery meadows, and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees, and fields, and singing of birds are the emanations of his infinite joy and kindness. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of his beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams are the footsteps of his favor, grace, and beauty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of his glory and goodness, and in the blue sky, of his mildness and gentleness. There are also many things wherein we may behold his awful majesty, in the sun in his strength, in comets, in thunder, in the hovering thunderclouds, in ragged rocks, and the brows of mountains. That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day, is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness, and happiness and delight in communicating himself; and doubtless this is a reason that Christ is compared so often to those things, and called by their names, as the Sun of Righteousness, the morning star, the rose of Sharon, and lily of the valley, the apple tree amongst the trees of the wood, a bundle of myrrh, a roe, or a young hart.”

Our eyes are naturally drawn to that which is beautiful, and there is nothing more wonderful that the beauty of our Savior.  The promise that we will one day look upon our King in His beauty is a glorious assurance.  It is the fulfillment of our heart’s desire.  Psalm 27:4 says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

May we know the King in His Beauty.  May we long for the King in His Beauty. May we see the King in His Beauty!



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Yakkity yak, don’t talk back…

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Romans 9:20

I have written before describing how our relationship with our children are good reminders of our relationship with God.  Your child’s dependence on your provision as a parent is a tremendous sign of your own dependence upon God for everything.  Your child’s begging and pleading for the desires of their heart is how we ought to come to God in prayer.  Your child’s disobedience illustrates our own disobedience from our heavenly Father.  Your love for your child, even your disobedient child, is but a glimpse of the steadfast and unfailing love of God.

As I was reading through Romans 9 today, I was reminded of another correlative aspect of the parent/child and God/creation relationship: lipping off.  I don’t know if there is a more frustrating thing as a parent than to have a child talk back in disrespect. As a parent I’ve learned the meaning of pain by stepping barefoot on a lego on the bedroom floor.  I’ve learned humility through cleaning up sick in the middle of the night.  I have re-learned Algebra, History, Biology and the Arts to help guide and shape my children through their education.  And what thanks do I get, “Whatever, Dad!”

I am not a perfect father, far from it.  I have a lot to learn, and I will readily admit when I am wrong, and often have.  But when a child starts talking back, questioning not just my decision, but the very intention of my heart, that’s too much.  It is as if they think I’m making this up as I go (which, sometimes I am), but even worse, that I don’t want what’s best for them in the long run.  I doubt that I’m alone; this is one of the most frustrating things I have faced as a parent.

And yet, aren’t we like that with God?  This evening I’m attending a Presbytery Seminar on “The Future of the Five Points,” in which 5 of my colleagues in ministry will be discussing the 5 Points of the Doctrines of Grace and how they continue to be relevant today.  What I find fascinating is that whenever Calvin or Reformed Faith are even mentioned, the automatic question is, “What about my free will?”

Okay, what about it?

By insisting upon your freedom of will, what are you making of God’s will?  Shall the will of the sovereign of the universe bend to yours?  Are you questioning the wisdom of God?  Are you doubting his heart?

The apostle Paul has laid out the gospel throughout his letter to the Romans, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and that “God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do by sending his own Son… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”.  This is God’s sovereign work of salvation in Jesus Christ for all who are called according to his purpose.

As Paul anticipates the rejoinder from his audience, arguing “Well, if God’s will is sovereign and you cannot resist Him, why does he still hold us accountable.”  And his answer, Because God is God.  “Who are you to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”  Ultimately, Paul’s solution to the question of free will is to compare the will of created man to the will of the eternal God; and there is no real comparison.

This is the answer that God gave Job when Job questioned the Almighty:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:4)

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:8)

Ultimately, who gets the glory? Who’s will is sovereign?  If it is mine, then we’re all done for, because I cannot even plan a trip to the grocery story without something going wrong. He holds my breath in his hands (Dan 5:23).  So who am I to think that I have the strength of will to determine the outcome of my existence in eternity?  God is sovereign, therefore His will must reign supreme and work all things for the purpose of His good pleasure.  Will I not honor Him?

Please don’t think that I am being flippant or dismissive of the real struggle that many have in regards to our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. But in the end we must acknowledge that He is God, and we are not.  Will you, will I, continue to question his love, his mercy, His sovereign will?  He has ordained all things according to His will, things for wrath and things for mercy, that He might be glorified in all things.  This great mystery ought to lead us, not to divisions among us, but to join in the wonder and praise that Paul shares in Romans 11:

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

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We Stand in Christ’s Triumph


Today I offer another gem from A.W. Tozer:

Among evangelicals it is a commonplace to say that the superiority of Christianity to every other religion lies in the fact that in Christian its a Person is present, active, filling, upholding and supporting all. That person, of course, is Jesus Christ.

That is what we say, and say truthfully, but my own experience has shown how difficult it is to make this belief a practical force in my own life.  And a little observation reveals that my fellow evangelicals for the most part are not doing much better. This mighty world-beating truth gets lost under a multitude of lesser truths and is allowed to lie forgotten while we struggle, must unsuccessfully, with the world, the flesh and the devil.

The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. “The Lord,” they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ who a short while before had been among them but was not gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate.

It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men.  Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought.  They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven.  They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell.  How it could be they never stopped to inquire. They trusted Him absolutely and left the detail to their triumphant Lord.

Another marked characteristic of the witness of those first Christians was their insistence that Jesus was Lord and mover in a long-range plan to restore the earth and to bring it again under divine control. He is now sovereign Head of His body the Church, they declared, and will extend His rule to include the earth and the world in His own good time.  Hence they never presented Him as Savior merely.  It never occurred to them to invite people to receive “peace of mind” or “peace of soul.” Nor did they stop at forgiveness or joy or happiness. They gathered up all these benefits into one Person and preached that Person as the last and highest sum of every good possible to be known and enjoyed in this world or that which is to come. “The same Lord over all,” they said, “is rich unto all that call upon him.” The seeker must own Him Lord triumphant, not a meek-eyed Lover of their souls only, but Lord above all question or doubt.

Today we hold the same views, but our emphasis is not the same.  The meek and lowly Jesus has displaced the high and holy Jesus in the minds of millions.  The vibrant note of triumph is missing in our witness. A sad weeping Jesus offers us His quiet sympathy in our griefs and temptations, but He appears to be as helpless as we are when the pressure is on.  His pale feminine face looks at us from the “holy picture” of the Catholic and the Easter card of the Protestant.  We give Him our sympathy, but scarcely our confidence.  The helpless Christ of the crucifix and the vacuous-countenanced Christ that looks out in sweet innocence from the walls of our evangelical homes is all one and the same.  The Catholics rescue Him by bringing a Queen of Heaven to His aid. But we Protestants have no helper. So we sing pop choruses to cheer our drooping spirits and hold panel discussions in the plaintive hope that someone will come up with the answer to our scarce-spoken complaint.

Well, we already have the answer if we but had the faith and wisdom to turn to it.  The answer is Christ Victorious, high over all.  He lives forever above the reach of His foes. He has but to speak and it is done; He need but command and heaven and earth obey Him.  Within the broad framework of His far-looking plans He tolerates for a time the wild outlawry of a fallen world, but He holds the earth in His hand and can call the nation to judgment whenever He wills.

Yes, Christian pilgrim, we are better off that the sad Church can see.  We stand in Christ’s triumph. Because He lives we live also.  Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tozer, A.W. The Root of the Righteous. (Harrisburg, PA, Christian Publications Inc., 1955), Pg. 70-73.

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