Monday, July 3, 2017

Baseball, Ice Cream, and Hope

This summer it has been my privilege to coach my son's 9-10 year old little league baseball team. It's been a long and rough season for the West St. Paul A's, as we started the season 0-14.  Problems at the plate and in the field have plagued our team, but our players have been improving as the season goes along, which is really the most important thing.  But wins have been hard to come by for our team.  

A couple of weeks ago we played our regularly scheduled game, and something strange happened: we took the lead in the first inning.  After the inning was over, we were ahead 3-2.  And then the next inning came and we added on to that lead.  By the last inning of the game, the score was 13-4 in our favor.  As the coach I was excited because I really wanted our team to get a taste of victory, and to be able to celebrate a job well done together, and to finally be able to say that we won a game.  
I had previously told our team that at the time of our first win, I would buy them all ice cream from the snack bar located at the ballpark.  So during this game, before the last inning, I called my wife over to the dugout and told her to get ready to buy the treats for our team at the conclusion of the game.  "But don't buy them yet," I said.  "I don't know yet if we're going to win."  The other team had not yet completed their last turn at bat.  I hoped we were going to win, but I just couldn't be sure.  We had had leads in games before, but the other teams came back and beat us.  Could we hold on to this lead and secure the victory?  I didn't know, but I hoped so. 

Then the opposing team came up for their last at-bats.  They scored a run.  Then another.  Then another.  But finally, we were able to shut them down and came away with the win, 13-7.  Now that our victory was certain, I looked over at my wife and gave her the signal to go buy the ice cream!  There were smiles all around.  

When the Bible talks about hope it does not talk about it in the way that I hoped for our team to win that game.  My hope for winning was uncertain - it was a possibility, but it was never guaranteed.  The Bible talks about hope in a very different way: biblical hope is a confident and eager expectation of something certain.  

The foundation for biblical hope is not the skill of little league baseball players or the law of averages, but the character and nature of God.  If I hope that our baseball team will win the season tournament at the end of the summer, my hope will be founded on the ability of the players to win baseball games (which has not been a firm foundation thus far!).  Or, think about that promotion at work that you are hoping to get.  What is the foundation of your hope?  The approval of your boss, or your sales numbers, or your seniority level, or whatever.  When it comes down to it, those are all very shaky foundations upon which to place your hope. 

Biblical hope is founded on the character and nature of God.  God is always faithful to his promises, and he will always do what is right.  As Christians, we look into the future with hope that is founded upon who God has said he is in his word, and what he has said he will do.  This means that when we are in trouble and hope that God will deliver us, our hope is very secure because God has promised to deliver us, and he is always faithful.  Or if we are unjustly treated we hope that the wrong will be made right, and our hope is very secure because God is a God of justice.  

Psalm 43.5 says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."  As the author of these words thinks about the problems in his life, he knows that there is no reason for his soul to be down cast, or for him to suffer inner turmoil if his hope indeed is in God.  Because hope in the one, true, faithful God of the Bible is not "iffy."  It's not a gamble; it's not a 50/50 chance.  Instead, it's a sure thing, because that's the kind of God that God is.  He is a God who keeps his promises and does what he says he is going to do.

It would have been foolish of me to buy the ice cream treats for our team before the game was even played, because my hope of winning would be based on their ability and effort.  But living and walking in hope in God being true to his promises is not foolish - in fact, it's wise and prudent, because God never slumbers nor sleeps.  There is nothing that will keep him from keeping his promises to his people.  We can know that we are hoping in God when our lives begin to take on the characteristics of someone who is looking forward to a future "payoff" of God's faithfulness with eager and confident expectation, whether that happens in this life or the next.  The question is, what should my life look like if I am living with an eager and confident expectation for God to be faithful to his promises?  This is what it means to hope in God, and to live a life that is characterized by hope.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Exclusion of Inclusion (or, The Intolerance of Tolerance)

One can't help but chuckle to oneself when considering how often those who hold to the "tolerance" and "inclusion" doctrines find themselves in violation of the same.  Inclusion of all people and all causes simply isn't possible (it's a logical contradiction), and it's funny (and sad) to see when those who fight to be inclusive come to the grim reality that their worldview collapses in on itself when taken to its logical conclusion.

The most recent example of this played out locally this past week.  Gay Pride Parade organizers uninvited the Minneapolis Police Department from participation in this year's pride parade, much to the chagrin of the Minneapolis Police Chief, Janee Harteau, who is herself a lesbian.  Parade organizers uninvited the police department because of the recent verdict in the Philander Castile shooting.  The reason the police department was uninvited?  Because parade organizers don't want to exclude those offended by Castile's shooting and the not guilty verdict given to Geronimo Yanez - a police officer.  Parade organizers apparently felt that to "include" the police department would "exclude" those who protest law enforcement in general.  In order to "include" those who were affected by the Castile shooting and verdict, parade organizers decided to "exclude" the police department.

Chief Harteau, however, took exception to this "exclusion" and said that she was "beyond disappointed" by the decision of the parade organizers.  It became a flap in the media, and parade organizers reversed their decision and re-invited the police department to take part in the parade.  Parade organizers released a statement that said, in part: "...we received input from impacted parties and through this input we recognize this decision has made members of the law enforcement community feel excluded, which is contrary to our mission to foster inclusion.  Our intent is and was to respect the pain that the people of color and transgender communities have experienced as of late, but our original approach fell short of our mission" (emphasis mine).

So, initially Pride leaders excluded law enforcement in order to foster the inclusion of people of color.  But now, having been snubbed, law enforcement put pressure on the Pride leaders to be re-included but at the expense of people of color, whose sensibilities have now been excluded.  So much for "inclusion."

Whenever you try to include some, you will - by necessity - exclude others.  It's just the way the world works.  A child is able to follow this logic, and also to find the fatal flaw in a worldview that goes against it.  But nevertheless, this is the prevailing worldview for a startling amount of people in our society.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Death Is the Ultimate Form of Healing

When I was a teenager in high school I had an unofficial spiritual mentor named Al.  Although I had grown up in the church, I was a baby Christian at the time, and Al was a fount of biblical wisdom that I quickly latched on to.  Al even spent some of his time in an informal discipleship group with myself and a few other teenage boys, talking about science, God, the Bible, and anything else we wanted to talk about.  Al was a retired biology teacher at Henry Sibley High School, so the conversations of the group often turned to matters of science and faith, particularly within Al's discipline of biology.  

Once, during a discussion on biology, Al said something that has stuck with me ever since.  We were talking about the human body and its ability to heal itself and be healed by medicine, but then Al said, "Death is the ultimate form of healing."  To be honest, this statement perplexed me initially, as the notion that the physical process of death could be considered a form of healing was completely foreign to me at the time.  When I thought of healing, I thought of a person getting better, or recovering from an illness or injury through time and medicine.  And when I thought of death I thought of disease or injury so severe that it caused the body to cease its functions, and that medicine had failed.  To me, death seemed like the exact opposite of healing.  

But as I've considered Al's words over the years and have continued to study the Bible, it has become apparent to me that Al's words can only be understood and appreciated from a Christian worldview.  The Bible teaches that Jesus has defeated death, and that Christians who are trusting in Jesus will inherit eternal life at the time of their physical death.  In heaven there is no pain, no disease, no injury, and no death.  Those things exist on earth, but not in heaven.  On earth we are plagued by illness and disease, injuries and weak bodies that are susceptible to germs and bacteria.  In heaven, none of those things exist.  When a believer goes to heaven, all of those earthly afflictions that plague our bodies are instantly healed through physical death.

There are many biological and medical conditions that can plague our bodies on earth, for which there is no cure.  Speaking personally, I have a skin condition that I've been told will linger on for the duration of my natural life.  There is no cure.  But some day, when I die, I will be healed of this condition, and the means by which I will be healed will be my death.  My death will result in my ultimate healing.  Similarly, my dad has lived with the effects of polio since he was seven years old.  At his death he will be healed of his affliction.  He doesn't want to die, necessarily, but I know that he is looking forward to this healing.  

Just this last week, a 98 year old saint and member of Riverview passed on to be with God in heaven.  For years she had been struggling with the effects of living in a 90+ year old body, and she was tired and ready to go to heaven, so she had been praying for that to happen.  A couple weeks ago, however, she fell and broke her pelvis, and was put in hospice care, suffering from severe pain every day.  She continued to pray that God would heal her - by allowing her to die.  And God did.  God healed her of her pain by taking her to be with him, where there is no such thing as old age and the complications that come with it, and there is no such injury as a broken pelvis.

In Psalm 40 David describes himself as having fallen into the "pit of destruction" and a "miry bog." (Psalm 40.2)  He's not speaking literally here, but rather that the circumstances of his life are like living neck-deep in a slimy swamp.  He asks God to help him, and as he awaits God's deliverance, he considers truth about God's mercy, love, and faithfulness.  He says, "As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!" (Psalm 40.11)

When we think of our physical healing, I think it's safe to say that we don't often think of being healed through death.  We tend to think that God's unrestrained mercy and steadfast love and faithfulness will manifest itself in our lives through the restoration of our physical bodies.  We think of God using doctors and medicine to restore our bodies to their original health before we became ill, and indeed, this is often the case.  It seems evident that David expected God to deliver him from his physical circumstances and restore his body and condition to the way it was before he suffered this affliction that tossed him into the "pit of destruction."  And if and when we are restored to a healthy physical disposition, then we declare that God's mercy has indeed been unrestrained, and that his steadfast love and faithfulness have preserved us.  

The error we make in this thinking, however, is that God would be any less merciful or loving or faithful if he healed us of our afflictions through death.  In fact, as my mentor Al implied, God's mercy, love, and faithfulness are most fully realized in death, when a believer is removed from this life and is joined with Jesus in paradise.  God does indeed use the process of physical death to heal us of our afflictions, and healing through death is a good thing.  

But then, why seek physical healing?  If death is such a wondrous release, why not just speed along the process and take my own life?  Just a couple of years ago, Brittany Maynard gained widespread attention for her assertion that she would end her own life if and when the circumstances surrounding her cancer became too difficult to live with.  She fulfilled her plans, and took her own life as a means of ending the pain and suffering she was experiencing.  The act of taking one's life, however, is not a result of a Christian or biblical worldview.  We do not have power over life and death and healing. Only God does.  Only God gets to make those kinds of decisions.  Even when we suffer, we trust that God knows what is best in matters of healing, life, and death.  We have no authority to take our own lives.  Only God has the power and authority to give life, and only God has the authority to take it away.  We must not presume to be God and take life.  

This way of thinking should help us to reframe the way we think about death, especially when a Christian dies who has been suffering from an illness or unpleasant circumstances.  In the example of my 98 year-old friend who passed away this week, her death brings sadness, but also much relief and joy that she has been healed of her pain.  When we find ourselves in the "pit of destruction," we remember that God's mercy toward us will be unrestrained, and that his steadfast love and faithfulness will ever preserve us.  And we pray that God will restore our bodies to a good physical condition in the here and now.  But if he does not, we await and long for his unrestrained mercy to us at the time of our death, trusting that God will give us the exact kind of healing that we need. 

Just a couple of years after I left high school, my mentor Al was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away shortly thereafter, forever healed of the cancer that afflicted his body.  He was pulled up out of the pit of destruction once and for all.  In his death, the Lord's mercy was fully unrestrained, and his steadfast love and faithfulness was proved in its most full way.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Voice

I woke up to terrible new today.  My sister and a friend of mine both texted me to tell me that Chris Cornell had died.  I couldn't believe it.  I have been following Chris Cornell to one degree or another for the past 23 years.  I couldn't believe he was dead.  One of the greatest rock and roll voices of my generation was gone.  And in the hours that followed, it was discovered that his death was a a result suicide by hanging.  What a tragedy.  I'm still having trouble accepting it as I write this.

It's interesting how things affect you.  I've never met Chris Cornell personally.  I've seen him in person at four concerts over the past 10 years, but that's it.  It's not like we were close, or that he even knew I existed.  But following him and listening to his music for the past 20+ years makes me feel like I know him.  And as recently as just a couple weeks ago, I was listening to his most recent album and thinking to myself about how much I was looking forward to whatever it would be that he released next.  The man truly had a musical uniqueness that would be difficult or even impossible to duplicate.

That being said, I've tried to duplicate it.  There are several musical artists that I've tried to copy in my own musical pursuits - people that I have tried to emulate in my own singing and guitar playing.  Chris Cornell was number 2 on that list.  The way he sang was perfect.  I tried to sound like him when I sang (although, of course, I paled in comparison).

Equally tragic was that he seemed to have his life together in a way that many of his peers from that same era of music didn't.  Curt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Scott Weiland all died, mostly due to drug and alcohol problems.  Chris Cornell also went through a time of substance abuse, but came out of it.  He seemed to be doing well in his personal life.  He was married and had two children.  Apparently there was more going on than anyone realized.

23 years ago my seventh grade year was coming to a close, which coincided with the grunge music explosion of the early 90's.  Grunge music was all the rage, and anyone who was anyone at my junior high school was growing their hair out and wearing flannel shirts, and I was one of them.  I scooped up the very little money I had made mowing the lawns of neighbors and went to the local music store, intending to purchase my very own piece of grunge culture.  I had heard Pearl Jam and Nirvana before, and was a fan, but thought that purchasing one of their albums would be too risky, as my parents still kept a somewhat short leash on the music I listened to (although, as the third child the restrictions placed upon me weren't as tight as those placed on my sisters), and I thought they wouldn't approve of me owning an album by either of those bands - they were common enough that I think my parents had heard of them by that time, and didn't approve.  I decided to buy an album by a lesser-known band, and I hoped the music would be innocuous enough so as to not draw the criticism of my parents.  The album I choose was "Superunknown" by Soundgarden, on cassette.  It was the first album I had ever purchased with my own money, of my own accord.

I brought the tape home and showed it to my sister Susan, who was also into grunge music, although she was in high school at the time.  Her initial reaction was one of displeasure, as she thought it would be laden with foul language and immoral themes.  Before showing her the tape I had gone through the lyrics to scout them out for any cuss words.  I assured here that I only found two: "D*mn" and "P*ss" (I suppose the latter isn't technically a cuss word, but it was considered to be vulgar back then).  Believe it or not, that seemed to assuage her concerns, and we both listened to it.  A lot.  I would watch MTV at friends' houses (we didn't have cable at my house), just waiting for the video for "Black Hole Sun" to come on, or "Fell on Black Days."  And thus, my journey into grunge and rock and roll music had begun.  (Although, to be honest, I've never considered Soundgarden to be "grunge" music.  It's always had more of an "alternative" or "modern rock" sound to me.  And yes, I am that kind of music snob.)  But it wasn't just the fact that this was the first album I had ever purchased that made "Superunknown" special - it was also a fantastic album.  And the singer was amazing.  There was no one else in the music world like him.  Soundgarden became a regular part of my listening experience.

That tape led to others, which led to even deeper forays into the world of music.  My tastes expanded and deepened over time, as is common for most people.  But that was the start, and that album in particular held a special place for me because of its significance in the development of my musical tastes and expressions.

Soundgarden's next album, "Down on the Upside," came out when I was in high school.  I remember being blown away by their live performances on Saturday Night Live, which happened to be hosted by Jim Carrey, which spawned the "Night at the Roxbury" comedy bits that became so popular.  I remember it in particular for the performance of "Burden in My Hand."  By that time in my life, I don't think I had ever heard a song like that.  "Pretty Noose" was the other song they performed, and was equally mesmerizing to me.  I didn't buy this album, but my sister did, and I copied it onto a tape and listened to it like crazy.  (As an aside, I remember finding the liner notes from her copy of the CD lying around once, and I looked through them at the lyrics of the songs.  Susan had crossed out all the swear words from the liner notes!)  I remember that the drumming on "Burden In My Hand" was a revelation to me.  I had never heard anyone play the drums like that.  And again, that voice was unmatchable.

Not long after "Down on the Upside" was released, Soundgarden broke up.  I was a bit bummed, but certainly not too dismayed, as there was plenty of other music out there to be listened to, and listen I did.  Time went on, and Soundgarden faded from my mind as other music likewise came and went.

Not long after Soundgarden broke up, Chris Cornell started his solo career.  I'll be honest: I wasn't impressed.  I heard a song or two, and that was enough for me.  It seemed like it was too "easy listening" - too much of a departure from the Soundgarden sound.  I knew he was out there, but I wasn't really interested.

But then, in the early 2000's, Chris got together with the band members from Rage Against the Machine to form the band Audioslave.  I was not excited about this at all.  Rage Against the Machine was a band - also from my youth - that was known for its extremely leftist political positions and protest songs against anything with even a veneer of conservativism.  While this didn't surprise me, it bummed me out.  Chris Cornell had always been what I would call an "honest" entertainer.  I once read an interview with him in which he said that during Soundgarden's heyday, MTV had asked him to be a spokesman for their "Rock the Vote" campaign.  Cornell declined, however, and he said it was because MTV seemed to be clearly trying to get young people to vote for Democratic candidates.  He felt that MTV's efforts to get people to vote was actually a front for helping to elect Democrats.  He didn't state his own political leanings in this interview, but I appreciated his honesty and integrity in the matter.  Additionally, Cornell has gone on record that he prefers not to mix political messages in with his music (which makes this song stick out like a sore thumb to me, as though he was forced to record it).  He feels the two are best left separate, and I wholly agree.

And then, here he is teaming up with the guys from Rage Against the Machine - the most militantly leftist band in history (they were banned from Saturday Night Live for attempting to burn an American flag during a live performance on the show).  Hmmm.  I didn't know what to expect.

Then the first single dropped: "Cochise."  I was blown away.  Incredible song.  It has what is probably the second best scream in any song I've ever heard (Cornell owns the top space in this category as well, with the scream in "Drown Me" from "Superunknown.")  You may not think screaming is something to be admired, but believe me, there's an art to it, and Chris Cornell mastered that art.  To my surprise, the first Audiosoave album was a masterpiece.  Every song was great.  Every song was innovative and new.  Every song featured his unmistakable voice.  And none of the songs contained any leftist political commentary, which was an added bonus!

Audioslave produced two more albums, both good, but they didn't match the quality of the first.

Cornell then went on to do more solo stuff, and finally reunited with Soundgarden in 2010, producing the album "King Animal," which was classic Soundgarden.

There are a million other things to describe about Cornell's voice, and I'm certainly no expert, nor his biographer.  Time would fail to talk about Temple of the Dog, his covers of "Billie Jean" or "Nothing Compares 2 U," or his most recent and most brilliant solo work, and the other stuff he has done (like when I accidentally and pleasantly discovered his work on the "Machinegun Preacher" soundtrack). For example, show me another song written in the past 40 years like this one (not only does it sound like it comes from the soundtrack of a 1960's "spaghetti western," but I'd love to know what kind of guitar that opening progression is played on).  Or listen to the soulful, bluesy genius of "Bend in the Road."  Masterpiece.  Find out what I mean about his ability to scream in a way that is musical and adds depth to a song like "Murderer of Blue Skies."

That was another thing about him that was extraordinary: his ability to cross genres.  In the beginning he was mostly the grunge or hard rock guy, but that quickly branched into other genres of music, proving that he was capable of mastering the vocal style of any kind of music he put himself to.

Cornell's voice has always been the signature of Soundgarden, or pretty much anything else he's done.  The guy could sing like no one else you've heard.  His Wikipedia page says that he had a four octave range, and I believe it.  He could sing exceptionally high, and the sound of his voice was so unique.  As time went on and he got older, his voice got better, taking on a more gravely tone and texture.  He lost a bit of his range, but the gravel added a ton of soul.  His voice simply can't be duplicated.  And now we'll never hear his voice again.

As I stated earlier, I was fortunate enough to see him in concert four times - thrice as a solo act, and once with Soundgarden.  I attended each of those concerts with my sister Susan.  See here for her account of the first time we saw him in concert.  We then saw him perform an acoustic set at St. Katherine's University, of all places.  Then we saw Soundgarden perform in support of the release of "King Animal."  The most recent time we saw him was in October of 2015.

The most tragic part of his death is, of course, the lack of any assurance that he knew God.  Most of his lyrics included a lot of deep spiritual finagling, but never anything consistently Christian (although he ironically and accurately and identified the hypocrisy of the so-called "prosperity gospel" in the song "Wooden Jesus").  But as with anyone who dies without any assurance of salvation, there is always hope that somehow, someway, God made himself known to Chris and he put his trust in him before his death.  That's what I hope anyway.

In conclusion, an associate of mine (and fellow Chris Cornell fan), Levi Secord, posted this very well-written and apt reflection on his Facebook page today, which accurately expresses my feelings as well:
I was saddened today when I woke up to the news one of my favorite artists had died, Chris Cornell, apparently from suicide. I enjoyed his hauntingly wonderful voice, but also his honesty in his lyrics. He openly struggled with the world as it was, a fallen and broken world. Much of his lyrics reflected a mourning of the brokenness of this life and the seemingly hopelessness of it all. This resonates with me, for I recognize the world is not as it should be.  
His band mates described his music as "poetic existentialism," and his struggle with finding meaning in the world ultimately lead to nothingness. Though Cornell often struggled with religious themes, especially Christianity in his lyrics, he still could not seem to find truth or hope in it. He was looking for meaning and purpose, but was unable to find it under the sun without God. This is why his lyrics often portrayed a dark outlook with little hope.  
This lack of hope, and his struggle with trying to find ultimate meaning are found in much of his work, especially his later work songs like Show Me How to Live, Like a Stone, Out of Exile, Doesn't Remind Me, Light My Way, No Such Thing as Nothing, Dead Wishes, Higher Truth, Circling, and so many more. Sometimes he even quoted from Scripture (I am the Highway). But in the end, everything remained meaningless and hopeless for him.  
Take these lines from "Before We Disappear" found in his latest album (video below):
"Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast
Taking everything that you ever had
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth" 
There is no hope in these lyrics and they reflect a man who looked at the world honestly through his worldview and thus stared into the abyss. You will get nothing out of life but a grave in the end. I just said the other week that this line sounds familiar to some in the book of Ecclesiastes. Chris was a tortured artist to the core. 
The loss of life in such a tragic way, especially leaving behind a wife and children, is terrible news. But let us reflect on this--there is no hope under the sun if there is no God. If Christianity is a myth, if there is no truth to God becoming man and dying to save man and redeem creation, then we are to be the most pitied people on earth. If Christianity is false, then the grave is all we get. Chris was more honest in his worldview than most are today, and this honesty in the face of hopelessness surely played a role in him taking his own life. So today I mourn his loss, I pray for his family, and I lament that the world is not as it should be. But I do not do so as one without hope, for God is there, he does exist, and he has revealed his love and mercy through Christ Jesus. In the end there is more than just a cold bed in the quiet earth--there is eternity.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Politics and the Pulpit

Last week President Trump signed an executive order on "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty."  This order, among other things, states that the Trump Administration will not enforce the Johnson Amendment that forbids non-profit organizations from endorsing political parties and candidates.  In short, churches and pastors now have the legal freedom to endorse a political candidate in local, state, and national elections (although this Order does not guarantee that they will not be prosecuted for doing so in the future - see here).  Joe Carter has written a very helpful piece that explains in more detail what is accomplished by this Executive Order.

Although this Order gives churches and pastors the freedom to become more visibly and publicly involved in the process of political campaigns, as a pastor, I have no intention of endorsing a political candidate or backing a particular party as part of my ministry, and nor will Riverview Baptist Church do so as a non-profit entity.  There are at least three very clear reasons why:

1. It might be a stumbling block.
We live in a polarized political world where most people are clearly on one side of an issue or the other, and support either this candidate or the other, and never between the two shall meet.  In other words, everyone has their opinion and is sticking to it - no matter what.  It would seem unwise to me, then, when in the position to be a minister of the gospel, that I would cloud that message with an endorsement of a political candidate.  Such an endorsement may hinder someone who disagrees with my candidate of preference from hearing the message that I really want to declare: the gospel.  In other words, if I endorse a republican candidate from the pulpit, it's going to be hard for democrats to hear the gospel, and vice versa.  If there will be a stumbling block in front of a person, it will be the word of God, not the pastor's political persuasions.  I don't want to put any stumbling block of my own creation that does not come from the Bible in front of a person who needs to hear the greatest news ever given.  For this reason, I will gladly sacrifice my right to endorse a candidate from the pulpit.

2. The marriage between the church and politics has largely left the church weak and ineffective.
In my opinion, much of the present weakness in the American church is the result of its close association with political parties.  Far too many Christians have put their hope in the government for their salvation, believing that elected officials have the power to enact biblical change.  This is not true, nor is it the role that God intends for government to perform.  Additionally, far too many Christians have abdicated the work that the Bible clearly calls the church to accomplish, and has left that work up to the government.  The church has given up much of its authority to the government, and has looked to government programs to achieve change instead of the gospel, leaving it weak and ineffective.  The results of this marriage have been tragic.  Since the church has abdicated its work to the government, many of America's 300,000+ protestant churches have become entertainment centers that focus on life-enhancement rather than the gospel.  The endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit would only further this weakness.

3. The church is a divine entity created by God - not a political party. 
The church is distinct from all other institutions in the history of the world.  We are the called-out-ones; the disparate band of sinners redeemed by a great Savior.  We come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, political persuasions, and every other qualifier imaginable.  We are to partner with God in his mission to bring the gospel to every corner of the earth.  In this process we are to call all people to repentance and faith - from the lowliest peasant to the highest king or president.  We are to call all politicians and political parties to repentance - not to get into bed with the party we prefer and call the other one to repentance.  To endorse a candidate or party would muddy the waters of knowing what the church is and its purpose in the world.

All of this being said, the church is still bound by God to address topics and issues that are often political in nature in our culture.  We will still talk about moral issues, and we will do our best to speak clearly where the Bible speaks clearly.  The influence of the gospel permeates all areas of life - including our engagement with politics.  But make no mistake: we don't speak about these issues and take the stances we do because of an allegiance to a political party, but to God.  We are ambassadors of God's kingdom, not ambassadors for the kingdoms of the democrat and republican parties.  We will endorse the King of kings, and no one else.

As Christians who follow King Jesus, we understand that there are times when we may be called to sacrifice our earthly rights for the sake of the gospel.  I, for one, feel that sacrificing the right to endorse a political candidate for the sake of the gospel is a good one to make.