Posts about American culture.

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The Growing Danger of White Supremacy, pt. 1

The events in Charlottesville this past week have brought the topic of white supremacy to the forefront, and for good reason. Many are under the impression that white supremacy is an old danger and no longer poses a threat to the future, but events like the one in Charlottesville are waking people up to the reality that this form of racism is still alive and well. It is a major long-term danger.

I speak out a lot about “reverse racism” in our culture today, and some immediately interpret that as being motivated by my own White privilege/prejudice against minorities. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is a strong sign of how their own mind has been warped by the racism that has become popular in our culture today.

Rather, my continual point is that racism, on both sides, springs from the same root. One kind impassions and emboldens the other. Satan cannot cast out Satan, and fighting against White racism by appealing to victimization only exacerbates the overall problem. In fact, the “reverse racism” that has become entrenched in progressive politics today is just as dangerous for stirring up racial strife. Moreover, it is tearing down societal safeguards (such as free speech) that I believe will pave the way for white supremacy in the coming decades if not stopped.

But how can I be so sure that my view of racism is the correct one? I challenge all Christians to submit to the authority of Scripture and seriously consider what it has to say on this issue.

Firstly, Scripture does warn about the dangers of the rich oppressing the poor. This is a real danger that the progressive wing of our nation rightly recognizes. There’s little disagreement here, so I won’t go in depth on this topic.

The controversial issue is that the Scriptures also tell wives to submit to husbands, slaves to submit to masters, and oppressed people to “turn the other cheek” when they are wronged. This is not fair, and the Bible never claims that it is… until the Day of Judgment. The reason that we are to bear unjust treatment in this life is because (1) God promises he will compensate all injustices and right all wrongs on Judgment Day, (2) God forgives us a much greater debt in Christ, and (3) Jesus set the example for us to follow. The biblical teachings on forgiveness and ultimate judgment must be the foundation upon which all prescriptions to the problems of oppression flow. Why do we honor and submit to unjust rulers? Because God promises that He will judge, and in the meantime we show trust in Him when we forgive. The biblical gospel is that we can be free *now* through faith in Christ and forgiveness. We don’t need to stay in inner bondage until our oppressors repent. If we bear unjust treatment we are taught not to rage but to rejoice, for we are promised eternal reward if we bear it rightly. This is most clear in passages like 1 Pet. 2:

18 You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19 For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.

21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

Those with little faith will complain that obeying these instructions enables and empowers oppression. That would be true, if freedom was primarily an outward thing. But from the biblical perspective, freedom is something we have on the inside. Jesus said that if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. He said this as a member of a conquered and oppressed people group. He never preached a vision of freedom that was about being free of foreign oppressors–he preached about freedom from the effects and consequences of sin, of having abundant life on the inside in the midst of outward persecution and suffering. Karl Marx preached a freedom that came from forcefully taking it from oppressors, but this is not the way of the Kingdom. We forgive, are freed inside, and trust God to right all wrongs at the Judgment.

Misunderstanding this biblical priority makes us vulnerable to unrighteous judgment. In Mat. 7 Jesus warns that we cannot remove the speck from another’s eye unless we first remove the planks in our own eyes. This speaks of offense that clouds our understanding and perspective of others. The nature of holding on to offense is that it becomes unrighteous judgment within us. When we are hurt by the words of another, and it is never dealt with through forgiveness, it will turn into a judgment about how that person is mean/bigoted/stupid/etc. and eventually can morph into “those kinds of people are… mean/bigoted/stupid/etc.” Most Christians I know severely underestimate the importance of forgiveness in their own lives. Think about it! Jesus taught that if someone refused to forgive others then their own sins would be held against them (Mat. 6:14-15). This is an incredible warning. Even a relatively small amount of unforgiveness can warp our perspective of others in a major way. It is a gaping, open door to demonic influence. We must be relentless to remove all offense from our hearts, to be ruthless in forgiveness. Only then can we see clearly and help others see clearly as well.

Any solution to racism in America starts with the preeminence of forgiveness and God’s judgment. There is a God in heaven who will right all wrongs. He will remember the deeds (and misdeeds) of all people, and reward those who obey His commands to forgive and love those who oppress them. In fact, Scripture says that we should rejoice if we undergo undeserved persecution, because if we bear it rightly we receive great eternal reward. Why do we get great reward for this? Because it is both the most difficult response and the most effective in destroying embedded hatred. The great temptation for Christians is to think like the World, to believe that we must have justice now, to nurture offense, and to lose sight of our calling to disciple the nations and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.

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Police Racism in America?

With every new shooting of a Black American comes a deluge of Facebook posts calling for an end to racism in policing. In the latest shooting, a white, female police officer fatally shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, in what appears to be a bad shooting. I’ve seen the videos and it does appear that there was little cause for lethal force, although I do think it is important to refrain from judgment until an investigation can be done.

If this was a bad shooting, which seems likely at this point, it is indeed a tragedy. I mourn, as I think we all should, the death of a man who probably did not deserve it. The officer, if guilty, should be prosecuted under the law. That being said, I think it is a mistake to lump this shooting in with the raft of other white-on-black police shootings that further cement a narrative of police racism. Here’s why:

  1. Many of these shootings have been woefully misrepresented. The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson is probably the prime example. Personally, I went from deep sadness to near rage when I actually took the time to investigate the facts of the case. The media portrayed a narrative where Michael the gentle giant was shot with his hands up by a clearly racist officer. That story basically created months of rioting in Ferguson. In fact, Brown was a criminal who had charged Officer Wilson and was rightfully gunned down. This is a major problem. The mainstream media has become so entrenched in a liberal bias at this point that it seems to be intentionally crafting a bird’s-eye-view narrative of this issue that is false. And this is demonstrated in the data.
  2. The statistical fact is that cops shoot almost twice as many whites as blacks (50% vs 26% of police shootings). Though some will argue that blacks are only 13% of the population, this is misleading because they commit the majority of violent crimes. Heather MacDonald writes that “the black violent crime rate would actually predict that more than 26 percent of police victims would be black.” Furthermore, a 2015 DoJ report shows that Hispanic and Black officers are more likely than white officers to shoot blacks. The greater point here is that white on white or black on black police shootings don’t make good TV, but white on black ones are trumpeted on every news network and re-shared ad nuaseum via social media, hence the number of comments on my Facebook wall saying, “how does this keep happening?”
  3. Our media and university system have embraced a deeply flawed concept of racism. I do not refute the fact that racism exists in our police and court system, because racism exists everywhere. On the other hand, I absolutely reject the notion that the only racism that matters is the systemic racism of oppressive groups. It is racist when someone assumes that an officer acted out of racist intent, without actual evidence. It is bigoted when Colin Kaepernick likens cops to pigs. The fact that these racist attitudes are not held by white people does not make them less racist or bigoted.

And this is where the gospel comes in. We live in a flawed world, but God, the great judge of all, promises to judge each person according to his/her deeds and situations. This is a glorious truth. He will make all things right and reward those who bore unfair treatment in faith. He never promises that this world, in this age, will be totally fair or right, but he promises he’ll take all these things into consideration when he judges.

This is important to know, because this truth gives us grace to repent for our own wrongs, and forgive those who wrong us. In forgiving, we free ourselves from offense that locks us in pain and causes us to judge others falsely. My call, especially to my Christian brethren, is to let go of offense in this area so that we can see clearly. Offense and anger cannot cast out wickedness, it only makes it worse.

From that perspective, let’s evaluate each of these shootings in turn. Let’s refrain from condemning all police or making accusations of racism without evidence. Let’s fight for the guilty to be punished, the innocent to be saved, for police reform where needed, and for justice for each person.

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The Most Misunderstood Chapter in Scripture: Romans 9

I’m listening today to Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology podcast, which is pretty good for a summary of biblical theology. I appreciate Grudem’s even-keeled temperament and clear exposition. I also like that he marries serious intellectualism with charismatic practice, which is a wonderful trend to see in the Church.

I just listened to his section on election though, and it’s so frustrating to hear this brilliant man run right into the plain-as-day logical incompatibility of Calvinism, over and over again, like a gif of the titanic hitting an iceberg on endless repeat. God pre-ordains man to sin; God punishes man for sinning. God saves some for no meritorious reason so he gets all the credit; this, of course, is not a random selection. Our evangelism or prayer cannot actually affect the identity or number of anyone being saved; we are still told its vitally important for us to do them. and so on and so on. Of course, Romans 9 is the cornerstone for Grudem’s (and every other major Calvinist’s) argument for why, even though it seems criminally unfair, we must bow before the “clear teaching of Scripture” that God is both just and loving to predetermine men’s sinfulness and then condemn them to eternal torture for their sin. God is the potter, and who are we mere men to question his choice to make vessels for destruction? What other explanation could there be?

How about one that actually makes sense in the context of the passage! In fact, the Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 makes almost no sense if you actually understand the sweep of Paul’s argument in that chapter.

Look at the chapter’s bookends! Paul introduces the topic in verses 1-5, “I have great sorrow… for the sake of my people…Israel.” Then, at the end, he summarizes his thoughts in vs. 30-31, “What shall we say then? (What does all this mean?) That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.” The chapter is not about individual people; it’s about Israel!

Let me give an overview of Romans 9.

v1-5. Paul is sad about Israel’s rejection of Jesus, and will now explain why it is happening even though God promised them a glorious future as his chosen people.

v6-13. He starts off by explaining that Israel was chosen by grace, not by its own merit. Jacob’s descendents (Israel) were chosen over Esau’s, as the prophecy Paul references was “Two nations are in your womb…and the older will serve the younger.”

“Is that unjust?” Paul asks (v14). No! Because He “will have mercy on whom [he] has mercy.” Why does Paul bring this up? Because this is what the Lord tells Moses right after the golden calf incident, when he chooses to have mercy on Israel because of Moses’ intercession and not wipe out the nation. God’s purposes, therefore, do not depend of human effort, but on God’s mercy. Israel failed its holy calling about 5 minutes after it was commissioned at Sinai, and yet the Lord gave mercy for the sake of his purposes.

Then Paul brings up Pharoah, whom God hardened as a judgment for his decision to refuse to obey God’s commands. Why? Because God used Pharoah’s disobedience to glorify himself through a miraculous exodus. God used a sinful man to accomplish his good plans to bless Israel, whom He had chosen.

The flow of his argument here is really important to understand. You see, God has mercy on who he will, but also hardens whom he wants to harden. Why is this relevant? Because now, in Paul’s time, God is hardening Israel in exactly the same way he hardened Pharaoh, to accomplish his purposes for those whom he has chosen among the Gentiles.

v19-21. Then why does God still blame us (Jews)?” This is where Paul brings up the Potter, which is directly from Jeremiah 18. There, God tells Jeremiah that Israel is like a lump of clay that resists the will of the potter, so the potter has the right to refashion the lump for an appropriate use in his plans. He also says, though, that if that nation repents he will relent from his planned disaster. (Let me be clear here: God’s sovereign choice is in hardening Israel! The lump of clay that is used for “common use” is Israel!)

v22-25. The objects of his wrath, born with great patience, are Jews, who are judged harshly by the Lord in AD 70 and scattered among the nations, but preserved for a great purpose in the future, as Paul will explain in Romans 11. Gods scattering of Israel fulfilled God’s purposes as a righteous judgment against Israel and a blessing to the nations as the believing Jews brought with them the gospel of their messiah Jesus.

Paul finishes the chapter by referencing numerous OT prophecies about the Gentiles coming to faith and summarizes by saying: “What shall we say then? (What does all this mean?) That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.” This conclusion makes perfect sense if the topic of the chapter is the election of Israel. 

This overview of Romans 9 makes perfect sense in the flow of Paul’s argument until chapter 11, and I lovingly challenge any Calvinist to seriously consider this interpretation. I understand that rethinking a Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is not easy at all for those who have long held to such a view, but I contend that Calvinism seriously distorts Paul’s intended message here, and forces the adherent to adopt a picture of God’s sovereignty that is both logically incompatible and deeply unloving according to the testimony of the rest of Scripture. It makes a mockery of Christ’s true offer of salvation for all and his deep longing that all men be saved.

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My favorite podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts. In fact, since I’ve turned 30, the only time I listen to music these days is if I’m studying or praying. Most of the time in the car, or when I’m doing semi-mindless tasks, it’s either an audiobook or podcast that I’m listening to, and I go through a good deal of them. I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed to many over the years, and here are the ones that remain. So I’ll give my take on each, and if you think you know of any I really should be listening to, let me know!

  1. Line of Fire Radio. (Theology + Politics) This is Michael Brown’s podcast, and there really isn’t a theologian in the world that I align more closely with than him. I think Brown is one of the most credible, balanced, knowledgable, and passionate Christian thinkers out there. He has an incredible handle on Scripture and how it applies to both Christian life and politics, and I’ve learned a lot from his books and youtube debates as well. His podcast format, though, sucks. It’s basically a recording of his national radio show, and the constant commercial interruptions make it a chore to listen to. His formatting and music also seem like they’re stuck in 1980. So, A+ content in a C- format. I’ll go with B. Time to hire a modern producer please!
  2. Equip the Saints. (Church Ministry) This is one I just started listening to. It’s hosted by Chris Cruz, who’s the Young Adult Pastor at Bethel, and basically seems like conversations about a host of ministry topics. It’s too early to give a real opinion on this, but so far it’s been pretty awesome. N/A
  3. Bethel Church Sermon of the Week. (Weekly Sermons) To be honest, I’ve been listening to this one less and less over the years. I still greatly love and appreciate Bill Johnson and Kris Valloton, but I think my preference in listening has changed. In the past couple years of my life I prefer more hard teaching/theology to weekly inspirational sermons. They have great insights on a lot of topics, I just want more hard facts than catchy revelations lately. For most people, I think this is a pretty great podcast to listen to regularly. B+
  4. The Ben Shapiro Show. (Politics) If you care about politics at all, I highly recommend this one. Shapiro is a fount of knowledge; he has like a conservative encyclopedia in his head, and there’s just no one that I’ve found that marries incredible eloquence with fact-backed logic like he does. Just check out some of his youtube videos if you’ve never heard of him. He does tend to stray a bit too much to mockery for my comfort, but unfortunately so do most political commentators. A.
  5. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. (History) This is an amazing history podcast. It’s well researched and entertaining, which is pretty important when trying to learn history. He does a good job trying to be historically objective, and just really has a knack for creating a narrative out of the historical data. The only real objective I have is that he’s really slow at adding more episodes. A-
  6. Freakonomics Radio. (Pop economics/culture/politics). What we’re seeing everywhere right now is the infusion of statistical analysis into all walks of life, which is a good thing. I love how data-driven analysis is combatting conventional wisdom in sports, politics, and, who knows, maybe even religion (one day). Freakonomics is probably the poster-child of this movement, and they occasionally find great insights, like how no one can taste the price of wine, or how abortion is primarily responsible for the drop in crime rates in the 90s (though this one has been academically challenged). It’s insightful; it’s fun; it’s well produced; it just has a lot of topics I don’t care about often. B
  7. The Tim Ferriss Show. (Leadership). Ok, I have to confess, I’ve been subscribed to this one for several months and have yet to listen to an episode. His guest line-up is just amazing, and the topics look fascinating; I just haven’t really taken the plunge to really test it out. Blame it on the thousands of other great things I could be listening to. I read 4 Hour Workweek several years ago and loved it, so I do plan to eventually listen to this. N/A
  8. The Lowe Post. (NBA). This is the best basketball podcast out there IMO, as I think Zach Lowe gives the best consistent basketball analysis. He knows his stuff, articulates it well, and has on knowledgable guests. I like that he appreciates and incorporates saber-metrics, but isn’t overly reliant on them, and isn’t afraid to challenge his guests when he disagrees. I miss his interaction with Bill Simmons, as Simmons has the best narrative eye (he creates compelling stories out of what he sees) and then Lowe would anchor the discussion back in reality. A-
  9. The Grey Nato. (Horology). I’m a closet watch nerd, like, those things that people used to wear on their wrists that tick. James Stacey, who does some of the best reviews for Watch Report and a Blog to Watch, talks about watches and I nerdily listen along. Most people would not enjoy this one at all, but if you know the difference between a Speedmaster Pro and Reduced, check it out. A-

That’s it! I keep hoping that Mike Bickle would put out a decent podcast (come on Mike!) as his online teaching library is just clunky to use on a phone, or that Rick Joyner would do one (though I’d have to use the 2x speed feature for him). Let me know if you know of any great ones!

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In the Wake of Orlando

America has just suffered its worst terrorist attack since 9/11 and, like everyone else, I’ve been digesting the event and the various responses for the past couple days. Many things about this attack are notable, including the fact that the target was a gay club, that the shooter was American and ISIS-inspired, that the weapons were obtained legally, and that the responses of American leaders differ significantly. Events like these often serve as catalysts for societal change and both political sides have attempted to use the event to fuel their message, which is understandable. So here’s how I see it:

  1. Christians must be vocally compassionate in this hour. I’ve been encouraged by the outpouring of Christian sympathy, prayers, and support for the gay community. Events like these have the potential to fuel fires of antagonism and misunderstanding, which is why Christians should be the first to offer support, and do so vocally. Though many Christians leaders have done this, I’m especially encouraged by Chick-fil-A, whose support is being picked up by major news publications across the country. It’s notable that the reason they have such a powerful voice now is because they held fast to biblical values before and came under heavy criticism. Because of their former courage, they are now uniquely positioned to demonstrate how Christians are to be both truthful and compassionate. In this hour, it is vital that Christians refuse to give in to the temptation to compromise biblical morality or biblical compassion. We must speak the truth in love. Right now we do that by mourning with those who mourn, and refusing to delight in evil.
  2. Shame on those who promote extremist views as though they speak for the majority. I’ve seen a couple articles that have published tweets from the Westboro Baptist ilk as though they represent Christian sentiment. I’ve even seen some Christians do this as a means of shaming those who oppose gay marriage, as though their “hate” is responsible for this attack. This is despicable and divisive. All groups have their extremists, and we all must refuse to judge one another by each groups most radical elements. Likewise, it is necessary to reaffirm the truth that the vast majority of Muslims are not radicals. The left’s concern on this point is valid, though I also think it’s also important to appreciate that despite these latest terrorist attacks, there have been almost no hate crimes against Muslims reported.
  3. Gun control is not the answer. The Democrats have begun another strong push for gun reform, and it is understandable why. From their perspective, the abundance of guns in America is to blame for gun violence, and many are genuinely heartbroken and pushing for what they see as the most likely solution to the problem. I sympathize with them, but I want to strongly warn against jumping to gun control as the answer, especially when most advocates that I know don’t really understand the conservative argument for gun rights. There are hundreds of articles detailing the pros and cons of gun rights, so I’ll just link this one that describes some of the reasons why more gun control would probably not help decrease the murder rate. I’ll also say that we can look at the UK, where guns were made illegal in 1997 (even most police there have tasers now) and the murder rate actually rose. But my real argument is not even about traditional murder. Gun control might actually save some lives in the short term (though I’m fairly skeptical that it would), but it will absolutely expose us to the two greatest dangers in the world today: terrorism and government tyranny.
  4. This is just the start of the global terrorism threat. There are no current signs that radical Islamic ideology is decreasing, but in fact just the opposite. ISIS is extremely important, not because of its size, but because of what it represents in the evolution of the Middle East.  The current borders of Middle Eastern nations were largely created by the British and French after WWI when they controlled the region, and were designed to keep the region internally divided. Iraq, for example, was drawn to include large populations of Shiites and Kurds to check the Sunni population. Moreover, secular leadership assumed power and have mostly remained in power until the present time. Iran was the first of the Middle Eastern nations to have an Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Western-supported secular dictator in favor of a religious government. The U.S. did everything it could to stop this, but the mitigating factor is that Iran is dominated by Shiite Muslims, which make up only 10% of all Muslims internationally.

    The truly great threat is the consolidation of Sunni Muslims (which make up the other 90%) under a radical theocracy. This is the dream that is ISIS, a new Islamic Caliphate that will unite all Muslims under a theocratic regime to launch global jihad. The reason why Republican leaders fought so hard to keep troops in Iraq was to prevent this at all costs. Without a strong local dictator, they knew that the radical Islamic leaders would likely fill the power vacuum and begin to consolidate their power. The point: ISIS was not unforeseen. The big problem is that this version of the Caliphate-dream has some truly smart leadership that is exploiting social media and modern communications technology to try to radicalize Westerners via the internet. And it’s working. San Bernadino and Orlando are significant because they are among the first successful terrorist attacks by home-grown Americans on U.S. soil in response to ISIS propaganda efforts. Again, the terrorist threat is not diminishing; it is increasing. To now suggest that the answer is for law-abiding Americans to voluntarily surrender their arms is madness at this point. We’ve had only a handful of terrorist attacks here in the U.S., but globally there have been almost 30,000 of such attacks since 9/11.

  5. The greatest reason for the 2nd Amendment is because of the threat of oppressive governments. America was founded on a dream that a free people could rule themselves. It was such a crazy dream at the time that it was called the “American experiment” because the prevailing sentiment in Europe was that common people needed nobility to rule them or they would destroy themselves. The American experiment proved a great success, however, and has essentially been copied throughout the world with varying degrees of success. This is why American culture is obsessed with liberty and freedom. This is our contribution to the world and at the center of our way of life. But freedom has a key. At the center of what made American freedom possible was Christian morality. Alexis de Tocqueville famously said that American is great because America is good. A strong moral culture has always been the key to American greatness because it is what enables American freedom.

    So what does this have to do with gun control? The right to bear arms is, in many ways, the guarantor of every other right, because it protects all the others. Without firepower Americans are one bad government away from losing all their rights because they would have no way to defend them against a government that decided they didn’t need them any more. What if Trump was actually the kind of mini-Hitler that some fear he is? His chance of winning the White House is not insignificant. Or what if increasing terrorism unleashes a political candidate that makes Trump look like a teddy bear? The fact is that no one can tell the future with any certainty, but this constitutional right in particular was designed to protect American liberty against all these threats. Should we surrender it so willingly when the benefits are dubious at best? Of course not.

My Take on the Primaries so far

Now that the Iowa Caucus is done, I think it’s a good time to give my perspective on the primaries:

  1. We dodged a Trump bullet. If Trump had won Iowa as he was predicted to do, it was very conceivable that he could have run the table for the Republican nomination. Iowa plays an outsized influence on the nomination, and Iowa is a state that normally would not be won by someone like Trump. His winning there could have been a huge victory for him. The fact that he lost and that both Cruz and Rubio outperformed their polls gives me real hope.
  2. Donald Trump is not a conservative, and he is pretty clearly not a Christian. The reason why that needs to be said is because he has been masquerading as both to win votes from those camps. What he is is a fighter, and conservatives have been craving one so badly that many have bought into his vague promises. I don’t necessarily think it would be a disaster to nominate him, as unchecked immigration may be the single greatest danger to our national security (and that seems to be the one issue he is seriously committed to), but he is also a wild card that is dangerous.
  3. Personally, my choice for President would be Cruz or Rubio. I have misgivings about both of them, but they are both solid conservatives and I’d be thrilled if either won the nomination. Cruz is the most conservative candidate in the race, and is probably the most hated by the national media and Washington establishment because he’s actually trying to bring conservatism to Washington and refuses to compromise his principles. I really appreciate almost all his positions, but he has one big problem: it will be hard for him to secure the nomination, and even harder to win the general election. He’s just not charismatic enough. Rubio is much more electable, and probably tied with Trump at this point in terms of likelihood to win the nomination. His problem is that he has flipped on immigration and is much more controllable by the Washington establishment. This scares lots of conservatives because we see the big problem with Republican politicians is that they have compromised way too much with Democrats and refused to stand for conservative values.
  4. Lastly, I’ll just make a comment on Bernie Sanders, since he’s become so popular amongst younger people. His ideology is extremely dangerous, because it’s built on idealism and not reality. The greatest danger to our republic was foretold by the founding fathers: people voting themselves other people’s money. The founders warned that if the American people gave into this temptation, the republic would be doomed. When Bernie Sanders declares free college tuition for all, he is tempting the American people to steal. Let’s call this what this is. The government cannot give away these services for free – he’s talking about taking more money from “rich” people by force to give to “poorer” people. This is evil. To then call it “equality” makes a mockery of the word. My challenge to all Christians: preach the value of true charity, and demonstrate it by your own generous giving. It is not love to force rich people to “give” their money to the poor. That is a perversion of charity, as true charity requires freedom.
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A Theology of Judgment

I saw a quote by Bill Johnson the other day, saying “Let God’s goodness be the cornerstone of your theology.” Let me preface my reaction to that quote by saying I have the utmost respect for Bill Johnson. I am incredibly thankful for his influence on my life and have learned much from his teachings and lifestyle. In short: I love this man. But that does not mean that I cannot respectfully disagree with a position or two of his.

Now I actually want to agree with this particular statement of His, just not with how I think he intends it to be understood. Kris Vallotton summed up Bethel’s position on judgment in this article, where he does a good job of highlighting the real dangers of false judgment. My problem with the article, however, is that no where in it does he state how to discern true judgment. In fact, the overall thrust of the article is to discourage any kind of warning of judgment, implying that all negative things that occur are the work of Satan. So here’s my big question:

If it was clearly God who judged nations in the OT through Noah’s flood and the Canaanite genocide (telling Israel to kill women and children), were those judgments made from God’s goodness? Were those judgments expressions of His love and mercy?

My understanding is that Bethel (and many other Christians) would say that the cross has radically changed how God judges in this age. The problem with that argument is two-fold.

Firstly, it ignores all the prophesies that speak of future judgment (including Revelation) including those where God judges the nations in terrible ways. Isaiah 63 speaks of God “treading the winepress” of the nations, killing multitudes. This prophecy is repeated in Rev. 14 and 19. Psalm 2 speaks of Jesus dashing the nations to pieces like pottery. If the cross has atoned for all sin, and God no longer judges nations, why then does Scripture speak of future judgment against nations? Sadly, many here resort to spiritualizing everything, which reinforces the second problem.

The second problem with this argument is that it fails to provide real understanding of why God executed those judgments in the OT. How could a loving God command genocide? Many Christians have no idea how to answer that question, and their lack of understanding here is what really drives them to a theology that cannot comprehend judgment in this age.

So, let me offer what I think is a biblical understanding of why God judges nations, both past and present. He judges them to ensure that sin does not get out of control. It is essential to understand that death in this life is not the true tragedy, biblically speaking. Though such a comment may seem callous, the focus of Scripture’s warning is the second and final death at the Final Judgment. As Jesus said, “it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Therefore any treatment of judgment—including Canaan’s conquest or the Great Flood—that fails to see God’s mercy as the motivating source is misguided. The principle is simple: God will destroy people groups rather than allow the corruption of their sin to spread to ever more people and so doom all to everlasting condemnation. In bringing judgment, the spread of sin is halted and others are humbled. Such a paradigm is necessary if one considers that God gives true freedom to men to rebel against His ways. If such freedom actually exists, then judgment is the means by which God ensures that rebellion does not get out of hand.

“Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” Psalm 96:13, NIV.

 

We should recognize that God’s judgments are good and true. Nothing He does is evil. He never rejoices in destruction, and neither should we, but we should recognize that His judgments are necessary and good because they put an end to evil. When Christians fail to see the goodness in judgment, they give a mixed and confusing message. Today, our culture is actively trying to redefine the biblical God in its own image, and the Church’s lack of understanding and discernment on this issue are exposing it as a weak moral compass. Jesus speaks of this also:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mat. 5:13) When the people of God are no longer influential in a culture, they are thrown out and “trampled,” which is a judgment. This is the same thing repeated in John 15 for unfruitful branches and Rev. 3 for lukewarm water. Make no mistake, the Western church is currently being pruned, which again, is not a bad thing! His judgments are to be treasured more than honey or gold.

The decrees (judgments!) of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

By them your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:9-14

Honoring Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, the controversial pastor of Mars Hill Church, is getting hammered lately. Many of his faults as a leader are being exposed right now and I have to think this is a pretty difficult season for him.

So I just wanted to take a minute and honor him. Pastor Driscoll isn’t one of my heroes or someone I listen to often, but I’ve always admired his amazing boldness and courage in wading into very tough territory, spiritually speaking. He’s spoken out on many social issues, on charismata, on sexuality, and many others. He’s challenged both the Church and the World in many important ways. The decisions that he’s made to engage in those battles are coming full circle in this time, as he’s being attacked from a variety of sources, but I for one am glad for his example.

The reality is that no leader is perfect. As many of his weaknesses are being exposed, it’s important to keep a balanced perspective of him. It seems wise to me that he take some time off from ministry and ask the Lord to heal some of these issues – but that’s so that he can come back twice as bold and with a greater capacity for leadership. He’s not a failure, and I’m believing that his future fruitfulness will far outweigh the past.

It is not easy to lead effectively. There is a temptation to use controlling tactics to get stuff done. The opposite extreme is the very real danger of allowing contrary opinion to distract from accomplishing the mission, and many leaders struggle to have influence for this reason. I am not intending to excuse controlling behavior, but it important that we understand it and be able to give grace and forgiveness when required, and honor where it is due.

It’s also important to honor those who have been hurt by Driscoll, and it seems there’s a good amount of people in this camp. It’s important for these types of things to come to light and I’m glad for this exposure, but I call on the Church to show honor and commitment as we confront error. I pray that there would be complete restoration to all those who have been hurt, and that there would be grace for understanding and forgiveness.

“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Gal. 6:1

Homosexuality and Judgement

I just read a great article by Vicky Beeching, a recently out-of-the-closet Christian musician that I had the pleasure of meeting once. It was great because it was a deep, honest look into a person who truly loves God and has struggled with same-sex attraction. Her story, and those of many others, is a rebuke to the Church and it’s important that we understand her perspective. Though I disagree with Vicky’s conclusions, my heart goes out to her and the many people who are struggling as she has.

In many ways, the issue of homosexuality is *the* test of the western Church in this hour. It is exposing many of the deeply rooted problems in the Body. How devoted to the Scriptures are we? How far does grace reach? How well can we uphold God’s standards of love and judgment? These issues are at the forefront of today’s spiritual battle for America, and the manner in which we handle the issue of homosexuality will in some ways decide the future of America.

Firstly, I must say that I am absolutely convinced that the Bible clearly calls homosexuality sin. There is a great effort today to make the case that the Bible does not condemn committed, monogamous homosexual relationships, but I believe this is just not an honest reading of Scripture. For anyone struggling with this question, I highly recommend you read Michael Brown’s book Can You Be Gay and Christian? Brown is a serious scholar and has studied the arguments in depth and answers them with wisdom and compassion.

Even if we know what Scripture says on this issue, we must understand that lots of people (roughly 2% of the population or so) feel same-sex attraction. Can we understand these people, and speak to them and about them in such a way that brings freedom rather than bondage? Jesus appeared to be very gracious with those in sexual sin and most harsh with those in self-righteousness. We must understand why if we are to imitate him properly. Though I’m focusing in on homosexuality, let me be clear that all people are sinful and we all struggle with different sins.

I believe that sexual sin is generally tied to a struggle with loneliness. To the degree that we’re lonely, but don’t know how to get real intimacy, we will be tempted to turn to lust (which is improper sexual attraction). Lust looks like intimacy, feels like it, but is only an imitation. Nevertheless, people are drawn to it because they want the real thing but don’t know how to get it.

But why do some people struggle deeply with loneliness? The human heart was created to thrive in an environment of intimacy. Without strong relational bonds growing up, that person wonders deep down if he/she is truly lovable. We all struggle with this to a degree, but for some the wound is deep, especially if they’ve had strong rejection experiences. Struggles with lust, including homosexuality, are one manifestation of this type of rejection. This is why I think Jesus was generally very kind with those who struggled with sexual issues. He was communicating invitation and acceptance to them, because their struggle was with feeling rejected. It is important to note that he did not lower the standards – he told the woman in adultery to “sin no more,” for example. But he spoke tenderly to them because it was necessary. Conversely, he spoke harshly to those in self righteousness, because that was appropriate. Both these tactics must be used by the Church in this hour in dealing with homosexuality.

Most people who feel same-sex attraction struggle with feeling rejected by others. This is not necessarily because other people actually reject them, but the rejection wound will make them sensitive to it. As a Church, we must be wise with how we speak here. We have to pour out love and acceptance, and be personally devoted to those who struggle with sexual sin. It’s important that we keep our tone kind and that we be aware that those who struggle with this will easily feel rejected. In his book, Michael Brown says:

“when I’m asked by parents what to do when their child comes out as gay, I tell them this: Sit down with them and say, “You know that we don’t believe that God made you gay or that homosexuality is His will, but we want to make it clear to you that we love you unconditionally, that you are our child no matter what, that we will always be here for you, that we are totally committed to you, that we want to be involved in your life, and that what you shared with us doesn’t change your relationship with us or diminish our love for you in any way.” After that I encourage them not to bring the subject up to their child but rather to pray for him or her and demonstrate that unconditional love.”

The Church has to do a better job engaging people who are same-sex attracted. In the ways that people grow up with wounds of rejection, the Church is called to step in as spiritual mothers and fathers to embody the love of Christ in people’s lives. My spiritual father led a young man to the Lord in prison during an outreach there, and then continued to mentor him–visiting him in prison every year on his birthday–for thirty years until he was released. I think this is one of the most amazing testimonies of love that I’ve ever heard, but this father’s heart needs to be released in the Body in a general way. I believe it is an important thing that the Spirit is doing in our times. People have cravings for mentors, for a mature person to be personally devoted to them–not for a season but for life–and we must answer the call.

Though this kind of love and grace for the immature is essential, it’s equally important to understand the difference between immaturity and rebellion. Immaturity is recognizing that something is wrong but not knowing how to stop. Rebellion is refusing to accept sin as wrong, and leads to self-righteousness. There is great pressure in our culture to “come out” as gay, which is to identify with one’s homosexuality and declare that it is not sinful. This is the path to self-righteousness, and will harden a person to conviction and make them oppose God’s plans. It’s important that the Church defy the chorus that is declaring that homosexuality is not a sin. This is part of our God-given responsibility to be a light to the world. Doing just this kind of thing is what got Jesus crucified, because he testified to the world that its deeds were evil; it was the self-righteous that put him to death.

There is a great need in our time to know God’s glory as judge. Judgement gets a bad rap in many Christian circles, but I believe it is only because it is so misunderstood. Judgement is not evil, as nothing God does is evil, and if we are to imitate Christ we must understand this aspect of his heart. Christ came first as the sacrificial lamb to die for the sins of the world, but He’s coming again to judge the living and the dead and to rule the nations with a rod of iron. He is both lion and lamb, and it is a misrepresentation of God to point only at the lamb.

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Dancing in the Streets

My youth kids gave me an unexpected picture of the kingdom the other day in the parking lot of Kennedy High School. We had just finished prayer walking the school with students from other churches in the area, and in true Korean fashion, were loitering in the parking lot afterwards. Someone started blasting worship music from their car and bam! mini dance party. I, of course, kept my dancing to a minimum.

Worship music has undergone a true transformation over the past forty years. Maranatha music, Vineyard, and Hillsongs set off a powerful creative expression of new worship music across the world. That music has evolved over my lifetime, from the British invasion of Delirious and Matt Redman, to the prophetic infusion of Jason Upton and Rita Springer, and maturing into the sounds of Jesus Culture and IHOP that we have now. It’s lightyears from where it was, and pastors are recognizing that the worship portion of the service is just as essential as the sermon – which is quite a shift considering that over the last thousand years sermons have clearly been at the center of Christian worship services.

Pastors often say that we do corporate worship to prepare our hearts to hear His word (ie the sermon). I tend to think this notion is terribly backwards though. From a kingdom perspective, the ministry of the pastor through a sermon should really help people to worship. Worship is, after all, the state of the heart that should motivate and fuel all our daily activity. From that perspective, it makes sense that the expression of worship through singing is taking a greater place of importance in our services – it should. But I think there’s another evolution in worship that’s about to explode: dancing.

I’m a terrible dancer. I dance almost every day, but only with my family. I do a little dance for my wife every morning, because it puts her in a good mood. She loves it when I look dumb. And my kids love it too when I dance; it’s an invitation for them to join in. We have lots of mini dance parties in the Cole household, complete with my amateur beat boxing. I say all this because even though I’m a terrible dancer and its really not my thing, I can see the amazing potential to having dance become an integral part of our worship services.

First of all, it’s thoroughly biblical. Psalm 149:3 “Let them praise his name with dancing.” Any objections to dancing should be recognized as religious legalism, because in truth those who do not dance are practicing a less biblical form of worship than those who do (and I raise my hand here). To the argument that dancing tends to be sensual and sexually enticing, let me just say that it doesn’t have to be. This is a huge theme in the Church (and in my blog): if something (like dancing) is associated with evil, it’s because the Church has not revealed the true glorious expression of that medium. The answer then is not to run away, but to boldly jump in and find the Spirit-led expression. There’s no reason dancing has to be associated with lust except that the Church has not shone the light here.

With that being said, let me shine some light. Dancing has just as much potential as singing for worship, except that because we haven’t understood it we haven’t created music that has been conducive to dancing. You can’t dance well to most worship music, but that is changing. I’m listening right now to Hillsongs Young and Free, which is awesome! It’s a sign of what is coming in worship. Our worship services will have just as much dancing as singing, and it won’t be lame dancing like jumping or the weird stuff that goes on sometimes today (flags! sorry!). It’ll be creative and free, and beautiful to everyone.

It’s just like with singing. When people first started trying to sing spontaneously, it was terrible and awkward. That’s why we’ve used carefully arranged songs for the past thousand years. But as the gift matured corporately, people began to express themselves skillfully in spontaneous worship. Jason Upton blew me away when I first hear him. He was singing such a pure expression of his heart and it was skillful! And it didn’t sound bad; it sounded great (with some weirdness occasionally). Now we’ve reached a whole nother level. There’s no comparing skillful anointed prophetic singing to normal singing. It’s the most glorious expression in music anywhere in the world. Once Christian musicianship catches up to the world (which will happen in the next couple decades), we will have the most compelling music in the world and it will be obvious to everyone.

And the complement to this music is dancing. We will not be able to have chairs soon, let alone pews. We’ll have to devise some way, but when dancing really takes off we’re going to need space. Our services will be better than any club – it will be the holy expression of the club. (Note: some people cringe at that, because they think of cheesy Christian attempts to imitate the world. That’s not what I’m talking about – that’s all religious garbage). Can you imagine? How can a club compete with the Presence of the Lord, creative and free dancing, joyful celebration, and prophetic spontaneous momentum? There’s no way. It will be compelling to people – naturally. It’s a picture of heaven, the kingdom of God on the earth.

In the Church, we’ve tried to entice people to God with a message, and we’ve tried to package the message in different wrappings. But the message is a kingdom! The message is the reality of heaven being experienced on earth! I’m not just saying this thing with dancing could happen, I’m saying it will happen. It’s only a matter of time until Christian worship services surpass the club experience. But that’s not the final expression.

The second aspect of our parking lot dance party that revealed the kingdom is that it wasn’t happening in a church building. This is what Martin Smith prophesied through “Did you feel the mountains tremble?” It was a vision of the church having mature worship outside the church building (Note: recognize that songs usually become popular because they have spiritual anointing given to promote the message – whether demonic or holy). Dancers that dance on injustice. Streets resounding in singing. The future Church will be increasingly free of the church building. It’s not about the building – it’s about the Presence. The building is a crutch that we need right now because we struggle to break through into the Presence and stay there. As the Church matures in its ability to carry the Presence with them, they will get out of the building more and more.

It’s about a holistic lifestyle. The revelation of the kingdom is about breaking down the divided life that Christians live in. Church and school. Church and work. It’s like 2 different worlds. But that barrier is coming down, and with it, producing genuine natural Christians who experience God outside of church just as much as inside, who are comfortably Christian, who prophesy as often as eat, who dance at service and in the parking lot.