Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How To Not Waste Your Vote

Last week I was having a conversation with some friends about the current political cycle and all of the craziness that has come with it.  During the course of our conversation it was mentioned that to not vote for Candidate A was to inherently vote for Candidate B, and furthermore, that to consider voting for Candidate C from a third party was to "waste" your vote, and was likewise a vote for the "other side."  Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans use the same rhetoric with their constituents: "If you don't vote for Trump, then it's a vote for Hillary," say the Republicans.  "If you don't vote for Hillary, you're electing Trump," warn the Democrats.  Well which one is it?  And is it really a waste of a vote to consider a third party?  As in all things, the Bible guides us in answering these questions.  Note: it is not my intention in this post to persuade you to vote in a certain way or to endorse any candidate.  Rather, I'd like to challenge the notion that a vote can be wasted and instead make a case that it is impossible to "waste" your vote if you are informing your vote with biblical wisdom and making an effort to vote intentionally for the glory of God.

The Bible makes it clear that God reigns as the Supreme Ruler over the nations (Psalm 47.7-8).  He sets up kings and puts down kings (Daniel 2.21, Psalm 75.7).  The king's heart is as a stream of water in the hand of God (Proverbs 21.1).  God has foreseen and ordained the results of this election - and every election - from before the foundation of the world (Isaiah 46.9-10).  Put simply, my vote isn't going to thwart his plan, and he won't be surprised by the way I or anyone else votes.  God's vote is the only one that holds any real authority.

If this is true, then it should reshape the way that we think about voting.  In our form of government - a representative republic - the people hold the power to elect their leaders, and sometimes it can be tempting to think that the buck starts and stops with us, and that we are sovereign over our collective destiny.  While this is the way it appears, it is not the whole story: God ultimately decides what will happen.

Some might ask in response, "Then what is the point in voting at all?  If God decides what will happen, then why doesn't he just do it?  Why does he need me?"  He doesn't need you or me to accomplish his purposes in the world, but that fact does not absolve us from operating in ways that are in accordance with biblical wisdom and in ways that honor him.  God uses people to accomplish his purposes in the world - including through voting.  God uses voting and elections to "remove kings and set up kings" (Daniel 2.21).  Since God is in control of our elections, voting, then, becomes not so much determining the course of our country, but participating in God's foreordained plan for our country.  Instead of determining what we want or our political party wants, we should put our time and effort into discerning what God wants and vote accordingly.  A good question to ask yourself is: "Which candidate, if elected, will move us closer to the righteousness God has revealed in the Bible?"  And if we will be faithful to use biblical wisdom to vote in accordance with biblical principles, our vote will never be wasted, regardless of whom we are led to vote for (2 Timothy 2.15).

For this reason, the notion that to not vote for Trump is to, in effect, vote for Clinton (and vice versa), is erroneous.  God doesn't need me to vote for a particular candidate in order to get him or her elected.  If God has ordained that Hillary Clinton should be president, all the Trump votes in the world won't make a hill of beans worth of difference.  Instead, what God wants me to do is go to his word, know his heart, and vote in a way that is faithful to who he is and what he has said in the Bible.    Regardless of the outcome, I will have been faithful to God, which is really the only thing that matters.

This process is what brings meaning to your vote.  This is what gives you a voice - not voting for Democrats or Republicans, but voting in light of what God has said in his word.  Learn to view the fulfillment of your civic (and biblical) responsibility as an act of service to your Lord, bowing in reverence and humility to his Lordship as you do so.  In this sense, you're not voting for Candidates A, B, or C - you're voting for God, and trusting in his sovereign will to determine the course of our country for his eternal purposes.

Vote using biblical wisdom in accordance with biblical principles and for the glory of God, and your vote will never be wasted.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Take a Knee

So apparently our country can't stop talking about athletes that are taking a knee or protesting in some way during the national anthem at their various sporting events.  It all began when Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the National Anthem about three weeks ago, as a way to protest alleged police brutality and racial injustice.  After a social media firestorm, more players took part by going to one knee during the Anthem.  A further social media firestorm erupted, as backers and detractors began to comment and create memes (I hate memes) either supporting or decrying what some athletes have begun to do on what appears to be a regular basis (some say they plan to go to one knee during the Anthem for the rest of their seasons) before their games during the National Anthem.

My time and attention given to social and political issues on this blog has waned in recent years, and I actually hope to keep it that way for the most part.  But there have been a few thoughts swimming around in my head as I hear about more and more athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, so I'm going to write them down here.

1. First and foremost, this protest is mostly based on lies.  Of his protest, Kaepernick has said, "I'm not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.  There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."  How noble of Mr. Kaepernick.  The only problem is that there is no evidence that backs up anything he says.  He says that this country "oppresses black people and people of color."  All evidence points to the contrary (including Kaepernick himself, who has aspired and risen to the position of a very wealthy professional footballer).  Furthermore, he says that "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."  Again, there is no evidence that this statement is true.  In fact, many who have been accused of such things have been exonerated, much to the chagrin of people like Kaepernick.  At the very least, it has yet to be proven that any police officer involved in recent shootings committed murder, so at best Kaepernick and others have significantly jumped the gun.  I realize that facts don't matter to most people nowadays, but they still matter to me.  And if Kaepernick and his ilk have integrity at all, they should consider the facts of what they're actually taking a stand for.  In fact, to accuse people of serious crimes with no proof - and to slander them for the same - is, in itself, a serious injustice.  Colin, you're taking a stand for a lie, and fracturing the very justice that you claim to love and uphold.

2. Many have rightly pointed out that our brave men in uniform who died in service to their country, and who are particularly honored by a rendering of the National Anthem, did so to preserve freedoms such as the freedom to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem.  I agree entirely.  I am so very grateful for the freedom to take a knee during the National Anthem in protest.  However, those same men also died to preserve my freedom to regard you as an ignorant fool for partaking in such a protest.  Yes, you have the right to protest, and I likewise have the right to call you out on your foolishness.  The knife cuts both ways.

3. The protests started with Colin Kaepernick sitting on the bench while his teammates stood.  It has since morphed into taking a knee on the sidelines in and amongst other standing teammates.  The purpose of this evolution has been to "show that they still had respect for the anthem and military, while still bringing awareness to racial inequality and police brutality."  More likely, this change was brought about by the natural (and appropriate) backlash that occurred from such a show of disrespect, so the protesting athletes had to capitulate to some more tolerable form of protest.  I find this ironic:  A protest occurred and it was met with a negative backlash, so the protesters changed their protest to something that was more culturally palatable (albeit, barely).  Doesn't that completely defeat the purpose of the protest?  Isn't the protest supposed to make people uncomfortable?  Mission accomplished.  So why change it?  I understand that it was to still show respect to the flag and military, but I don't buy that.  If you're going to protest, protest.  Don't let "The Man" tell you how to protest, or else it ceases to be the protest you intended.  Be a man and sit on the bench.  Don't take a knee.  Take responsibility for your actions.  If you're going to make a statement, make it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hamstring the Horses and Burn the Chariots - Revisited

Jabin was a bad dude.  He was the king of a city-state called Hazor in northern Canaan.  As the largest city in the region, Jabin was the strongest king in the region, and all the other kings and cities bowed to his will.  When Jabin heard about the success that Joshua and the Israelites were having in conquering the southern region of Canaan, he called in his banners and all of the kings of the northern region prepared for war against Israel.  "And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots." (Joshua 11.4, emphasis mine)  God grants Israel the victory, however, and after the battle they controlled the lion's share of Canaan.  

But although Israel has enjoyed several military victories there was still more land to be conquered.  Sure, Israel had established itself as a military force to be reckoned with, and their strength was only increasing,  With a few more tools, they would be unstoppable.  This is why, after the battle with Jabin and the northern kings, it would seem only natural that Israel would acquire the spoils of war - the "very many horses and chariots" of their enemies.  Surely having horses and chariots would be very helpful in the completion of their conquest of the Promised Land, and would only serve  to make them an even more formidable force for their enemies to reckon with.  

But this is not what they do.  Instead, God gives them an instruction in verse 6: "You shall hamstring (cripple) their horses and burn their chariots with fire."  On its face, this command doesn't seem to make any sense at all: why get rid of something so valuable like horses and chariots, especially when there was still more land to conquer and battles to fight?  After all, horse-drawn chariots were the pinnacle of military technology at the time, and they would certainly have come in handy as the Israelites continued to sweep through the land.  Why, God?  Why disable and destroy such valuable tools of warfare?  Regardless of these unanswered questions, Joshua does as he's told: "And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire." (verse 9)  Although the command may have been confusing to Israel at the time, as we look back on this story, there are at least two clear reasons why God instructed the Israelites not to use horses and chariots in their military endeavors. 

1. To remind Israel that God alone is sovereign over the battle.  
If the Israelites had horses and chariots to fight their battles, it could be very easy for them to be tempted to think that their might and victory came from horses and chariots and not from God.  And that is not something that God will allow to happen to them.  In fact, it seems that God wants his people to engage in their battles from what appears to be a position of weakness so that it will be clear to them - and to their enemies - that the only reason they are successful is because 
God is fighting for them.  And so, in order to drive that point home, God tells them to cripple the horses so they will never pull another chariots, and burn the chariots so they will never again be used in battle.  The message is this: God is sovereign over the battle, and victory comes from him.  Not from horses; not from chariots; not from strategy; not from strength; not from superior weaponry; not from anything but from God.  

Recovering alcoholics will commonly go to great lengths to avoid settings and locations that contain alcohol.  This means they stop going to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and they might even stop hanging out with friends who drink.  Put simply, they know that even being in the presence of alcohol will be a strong temptation to relapse into their old behaviors.  This is similar to how God is dealing with the Israelites: he knows that if they have horses and chariots they will be tempted to put their trust in horses and chariots rather than in him.  So to keep that from happening, he has them remove the temptation altogether.  

2. To show Israel that the best that man has to offer amounts to nothing.  
The horse-drawn chariot was the heigh of military technology in Joshua's day.  All of the best and strongest armies employed horses and chariots in their conquests, and the army with the most chariots had the decisive advantage on the battlefield.  So then, in telling his people to get rid of all the horses and chariots, God is showing them that the best that mankind has to offer to help them in their endeavors amounts to nothing when compared to the sovereign power and action of God fighting on your behalf.  Imagine walking onto a modern battlefield where guns, bombs, mortars, and every other type of deadly weapon is aimed right at you, and you've only been given a rubber band to shoot with your thumbs.  The power of God is so immense that horses and chariots amount to the tactical advantage of of a rubber band in comparison. 

21st century horses and chariots
Unlike Israel, you and I are not engaged in a campaign to claim the Promised Land, and we're not fighting armies and inheriting horses and chariots as the spoils of war.  But, like Israel, you and I certainly have things in our lives that can tempt us to take our focus off of trusting in God and his provision and sovereignty in our lives.  Imagine the security that having horses and chariots would have brought the Israelites.  They probably would have slept better at night knowing they had horses and chariots; they probably would have felt more confident and bold and encouraged if they had horses and chariots.  But the security of horses and chariots is nothing compared to the security of trusting the sovereign Lord of the universe.  Israel didn't need horses and chariots.  They needed God. 

We likewise struggle with putting our trust and hope in things rather than God.  But the reality is that those things have no power compared to the sovereign rule and reign of the Creator of the universe.  Maybe you think if you just get ahead at work and get that promotion and salary increase that things will finally start turning around for you.  That's not true.  If you think that money will solve your problems, then you're trusting in horses and chariots.  You need to burn that chariot, because it's keeping you from realizing that God is sovereign over your life and that your hope is in him, not in your paycheck.  Every time you trust in something for your security over and above the sovereign Lord of the universe, you're keeping a hors and chariot for yourself.  But God wants you to burn those chariots and hamstring those horses.  You don't need those things; you need God.  

Psalm 33.17: The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.  So is anything in which you put your trust, because the best the world or you can offer amounts to nothing when compared to God's abilities.  Your status or wealth or power or good works are false hopes for salvation - by their great might they cannot rescue.  Only God rescues.  

Psalm 20.7: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Jacob Wetterling Story: How to Pray

Pray for the Wetterling family
I was nine years old when news of Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping broke.  It was the lead of every news story for a long time, and it was used as a cautionary tale for us kids not to talk to strangers or accept rides from anyone.  Jacob’s example even served as training for us in elementary school as to what we should do if we were ever approached by someone we didn’t know.  We would go through drills as to how we should respond or what we should say if we were ever approached.  Since Jacob was only two years older than me, the story of his kidnapping had a profound effect on my young mind.  Each year since, his story has resurfaced in the news as his family and the media passed year after year of his disappearance. 

All of that changed this past week, however, as Danny Heinrich, the man suspected of his kidnapping, led authorities to his remains.  The remains were confirmed as being Jacob’s, and Heinrich copped to the horrible crimes.  Tuesday, as part of a plea deal, Heinrich gave a detailed account of the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.  Not only was it bad enough for the Wetterling family to have to finally come to grips with the murder of their son, but they had to listen to Heinrich describe – in explicit detail – just how he kidnapped and abused young Jacob before ultimately murdering him in a horrible, merciless way.  Heinrich’s description of the events is despicably wicked and utterly unnerving.  If you haven’t read his statement, don’t – it is a description of evil incarnate, and is hard to shake.  My heart goes out to the Wetterling family today, and I pray that God gives them some sense of peace, even as they have looked pure evil in the face and felt its devastating effects.

Pray that Jesus would come quickly
Soon after his statement was released, many in my social media feeds began to express their anger toward Heinrich: “[He]…needs to be tortured every second till he dies,” said one.  “Special delivery for this sicko [picture of a firing gun]” posted another.  “I’m afraid that the words ‘May God have mercy on your soul’ may be too good for this…evil.”  It’s easy to come to a place of deep hatred in the face of such bottomless evil, and I found myself identifying with those calling for vengeance for Jacob.  I found myself wondering what I would do if I were in the Wetterlings’ shoes – if I had to listen to a detailed account of how a man kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered my 9-year old son.  There is a part of me that feels that no amount of punishment toward that person would be enough to satisfy me, as a father, if such a crime were perpetrated against one of my children.

But rather than focus on hate, the Bible would have me put my trust in the Lord and his promise that justice will be served: 
“…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (1 Thessalonians 1.6-9).  
An Avenger is coming to take revenge for Jacob Wetterling, and all those who are unjustly treated and killed.  

We currently live in a world where horrible people do horrible things to one another, but there is an Avenger coming one day to seek and destroy his enemies.  Whatever awful things have been done, he will make right as he judges sinners and deals with them accordingly.  In fact, “those who do not know God and…who do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus” will beg to have the mountains fall on them rather than face him: 
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6.15-17)  
God is coming to deal with liars, kidnappers, child molesters, murderers, thieves, and anyone who does not know him and his Son.  God has seen the wicked things that were done to Jacob Wetterling – he has tolerated them and allowed them to happen – but he has not forgotten them.  He has recorded those events in his book, and he will come back to judge the wicked.  And when he comes he will establish a kingdom of peace where sin no longer reigns, and its effects are no longer felt.  Where there will be no crying, no weeping, no pain, no kidnappings, no murders, no sexual abuse.  It is in this sense that the events surrounding the Jacob Wetterling case should cause us to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Pray for Danny Heinrich’s salvation
As it stands, Danny Heinrich will face justice in the here and now, albeit minimally.  As part of his plea deal, he will be in prison for the next 20 years and, as I understand it, parole is not an option for sex offenders.  We look at this sentence and say that it’s not enough – the punishment does not fit the crime.  But one day it will.  Left in his sin, Danny Heinrich will one day face the full wrath of God for his sins, and all creation will rejoice that justice has been satisfied. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Justice has also been satisfied on the cross.  Rather than punish sinners in hell, God would rather settle their accounts through the cross.  On the cross, God poured out his wrath against sin onto his Son, so that all those who would repent and trust in him might have their sin-debt canceled and instead receive eternal life – even for Danny Heinrich.  This is the scandal of grace: that the worst of sinners might escape the wrath they deserve and instead receive the life they don’t. 

This doesn’t jibe with our human sensibilities: how can someone so evil receive something so wonderful?  Why should he escape judgment?  But before I can answer those questions for Danny Heinrich, I first have to answer them for myself.  Although God’s common grace has kept me from reaching the level of evil that Heinrich did in 1989 (and continues to reach at the present day), I have likewise committed my own evil acts, and I likewise deserve the wrath and justice of God: 
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  (Revelation 21.8) 
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3.10-18, 23)

Danny Heinrich and I, and you, are in the same boat: regardless of our specific sins, we have all offended a holy God, and he is coming back to judge the quick and the dead.  But he would rather take care of my sin, and Heinrich’s sin, and your sin on the cross.  If we will repent and turn to him in faith he has promised that we will be spared from his judgment and vengeance.  God’s justice will be satisfied for you, for me, and Danny Heinrich either in hell or on the cross.  Knowing what I know about God’s judgment, I don’t want Danny Heinrich to face it, even in light of what he has done.  It is in this sense that we can and should pray for Danny Heinrich: that he would come to know the depth of his sin and the judgment that it incurs, and that he would come to know the great Savior who calls him to repent and trust.  There is enough grace, even for Danny Heinrich and even for me, and even for you. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Believing the Unbelievable

Joshua 10 contains an account of what has to be one of the most incredible miracles in the entire Bible: “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (v. 13b).  Joshua and the Israelites were in the midst of a battle with five Canaanite kings and their armies.  After Joshua caught them off guard, the enemy armies begin to retreat to their home cities.  But wanting to strike while the iron is hot – and knowing that the cover of darkness will greatly aid the enemy in his retreat and necessitate further battles in the future – Joshua prays and asks God to extend the daylight hours so that Israel can hunt down her enemies and gain complete victory.  God obliges Joshua’s request, and the sun stands still in the sky (implying that the earth’s spinning either stopped or was significantly slowed), and Israel gained the victory, “for the Lord fought for Israel.”

Because of its scope, this is not only one of the most incredible miracles recorded in the Bible, but it is also one of the most disputed.  Christians and skeptics alike have doubted the veracity of what is described in Joshua 10.13: “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.”  Such a thing is impossible, say some, because of the drastic consequences that would result from the stoppage or slowing of the earth’s rotation.  After all, the earth weighs 1000 trillion tons.  How does that much rock and water simply stop or slow down without falling apart?  What about life on earth?  How could it survive if the earth stopped spinning?  What about gravitational forces?  The moon?  Clearly there are a myriad of scientific reasons why the miracle described in Joshua 10 can’t have actually happened, making the whole account unbelievable.  Unfortunately, some Christians have taken up the task of trying to “prove” this miracle by insisting that NASA computers have detected a “lost day” when tracking the orbits of planets and moons in our solar system, stating that the orbital patterns over the centuries are off by approximately 23 hours.  While this sounds nice, it’s completely false.  No study was done by NASA that found such a time gap. 

In some scholarly circles, Christian scholars have attempted to explain this miracle by stating that it is actually no miracle at all, and that Joshua’s declaration of the sun and moon standing still is just a poetic pronouncement of the dominant Israelite victory over the five kings noted in chapter 10, as though he were saying, “All of our enemies – from the sun, to the moon and back – have been defeated.”  No doubt this has become an increasingly popular position to take due to pressure from skeptics who insist that the notion that the earth stopped spinning for a period of time amounts to scientific buffoonery.  Interestingly, however, those same Christian scholars who balk at the sun standing still on the basis of scientific improbability reportedly have no problem with the lethal, divinely aimed and guided hailstones of verse 11.  Apparently the notion of God acting as a sniper with hailstones as bullets isn’t out of the question, but the sun standing still is. 

But we need not cook up stories about “lost days” or try to prove scientifically how this miracle could have happened in order for us to believe that “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.”  Instead, we simply need to answer the questions of who God is and what he is able to do. 

During the 18th century, an Anglican minister named Bishop Watson said this: “The machine of the universe is in the hand of God; he can stop the motion of any part, or of the whole, with less trouble than any of us can stop a watch.”  This statement reveals two important presuppositions that informed Bishop Watson’s thinking: 1) God is the creator of the universe; 2) God is sovereign over the universe.  If these two presuppositions are true, the notion that God either stopped or slowed the spinning of the earth in order to aid in Joshua’s military actions is not only reasonable, but very believable. 

Consider, for example, a car moving at 70 miles per hour down the highway: all the driver needs to do to stop the car is apply a few pounds of pressure to the brake pedal with his foot, and within a matter of yards a thousand pounds of steel will be brought to a halt, all because the driver moved his leg a few inches and applied minimal pressure with his foot.  Now, to be sure, there is a lot more that happens to bring a car to a full stop than just stepping on a pedal: brake fluid moves a cylinder, which pushes the brake pads, which press against the rotors, and all do so with just the right amount of force to allow for a controlled reduction in the speed of the car.  But the point is that the driver is the master of the system: he instigates all of this action with his sovereign activity of pushing on a pedal with his foot. 

Isn’t it reasonable to posit that the universe works in a similar way, with God as the “driver,” the sovereign master of the system?  If God created the universe, and if he rules over it with absolute authority, then it is entirely reasonable that he can “step on the break pedal” of the earth’s rotation and bring it to a halt.  But what about all of the scientific repercussions of a stoppage of the earth’s rotation?  I don’t know, nor will I pretend to be smart enough to understand, let alone explain how the halting of the earth’s rotation can accord with the laws of physics.  I imagine there are several moving parts “behind the break pedal.”  But the “how” of the miracle isn’t important.  If God is the creator of the universe, and if he rules over it with complete sovereignty, he can and he did. 

But let’s not miss the forest for the trees: the point of this miracle is not to give us a miraculous riddle to solve or a science experiment to conduct, but to show us the awesome power of God and how he acts on behalf of his people.