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Life

Day 4: The True King

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
     and the government shall be upon his shoulder. (Isaiah 9:6)

Every four years in the United States we are reminded that no one leader will rule forever. Even in countries where there are dictators or monarchs, they eventually die and someone else comes into power. Human government, while good and ordained by God, is not ultimate. It’s easy to forget this. Sometimes, here in America, we think if we only had the right president, then we’d be able to stop terrorism. Then we’d solve racial tension. Then the economy will bounce back.

Human government, at its best, does bring safety, security, and enjoyment of freedom. But government can never bring us ultimate safety, security, and freedom from the enemies we fear most: sin, death, and Satan himself. When we put too much confidence in human government, we find ourselves devastated that our country and world are not what we hoped for. Israel wasn’t what it hoped. So they asked God for a human king (1 Sam. 8). Eventually what they found is that all those men failed. And Isaiah promised God’s people that, one day, a son would be born who would be a true king, a forever-king. This son, of course, is God’s own Son. Jesus is the only King who can bring this world into order and conquer the only enemies can really harm us.

It’s not hard to discern if we trust in human government or Jesus government. A few simple questions can help. Do you often find yourself tuning into your favorite cable news program with angst or anger? Do most of your conversations turn political? Do you most of your social media posts have to do with defending or lambasting a particular political ideology? Do you feel devastated or crushed thinking about what would happen if the “other” party wins? If you answered “yes” to those perhaps you have your eyes on the wrong king.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Isaiah 9:1-7 and Psalm 2

  1. When are you tempted to put your trust in human leaders?
  2. What do you think your desire for justice and righteousness in nations and world leaders says about your need for a true King?
  3. Read Psalm 2:8-9. How can Jesus simultaneously be a king who both draws all people to himself and conquers the nations? What does this say about his character and mission?
  4. How does being a citizen of a kingdom that will never end impact the way you live in this world?
  5. Is Jesus your Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace? How might you trust him today and this Advent to be these things for you?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

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Life

Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 2)

In this second post on gender and sexuality, I want to address what gospel-driven and Scripture-based principles give us a foundation for practicing a life of love and truth in the midst of cultural opposition when it comes to gender and sexuality (and many other issues, mind you). The general culture is quickly becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. While people’s values (i.e. what their heart truly loves and desires) in the culture have always varied and, typically, been opposed to the gospel, the norms (i.e. accepted behaviors) have not. We have had Christian norms for many decades. How do we respond now that our culture is not as favorable to Christian norms as it once was?

Our current cultural situation gives Christians an opportunity to not just tell a better story of gender and sexuality (that was the point of my first post), but to live a better story. To do this, we need to listen to a first century pastor who wrote to his beloved churches when they lived in a time of fierce opposition (much more fierce than what we are experiencing today). The pastors name is Peter, and his first epistle is all about holiness, submission, and suffering. It’s as instructive for us in the 21st century as it was for Christians in the first century.

There are probably dozens of themes and principles we can extrapolate from this letter which would help us develop wise and winsome gospel-centered practices. But I’ll pull out just three of them. 

  1. Holiness in exile. Peter shows his readers that the gospel makes you a new people who live in a new way (1 Pet. 1:15). Because we have been saved by a holy God, we are called to live exemplary lives even while we are surrounded by people who are not following and obeying God.
  2. Submission in suffering. Peter shows his readers that the gospel frees you to model the submission of Christ and suffer with him because you are the people of a better nation (1 Pet. 2:1-12, 13-17). Even if human governments do not honor God, we are still called to honor the government. This doesn’t mean we disobey God, of course. But it means that even in suffering, we are called to submit, not disparage, slander, or overthrow our leaders.
  3. Expect trials and respond graciously. Peter shows his readers that the gospel reveals that if we belong to Christ, we should expect suffering and be gentle and respectful of opponents (1 Pet. 3:8-22; 4:12-19). In Peter’s words, it is not strange when hard things come! What is strange is that biblical norms were accepted for so long.  We should have expected the kinds of things we are seeing in the culture to have happened much sooner than they did. And while this decline happens and continues to worsen, our job is not necessarily to change the circumstances but point people to true hope in Jesus.

If these truths sink down deep it will lead to a radically different way of approaching the issues of gender and sexuality and, more importantly relating to the people who hold views which are at odds with the Scriptures. That will be our final post.

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Life

To what extent should churches and pastors engage in politics?

Each day, I have a short (“short” is relative) discussion with the junior high pastor (Jack) at my church about any topic related to theology, culture, or practical living. We rotate who chooses the question every day. Today, the question was the title to this post. I plan on posting one or two takeaways from the better discussions we have.

The posts will be abbreviated, and I realize I risk oversimplifying the answers to these tough questions in a 500-word-or-less post. But I hope these short blogs are an appetizer to fruitful debate that can happen in the comments section.

Jack and I agree on most subjects.  Hopefully we won’t someday and it will turn into a swashbuckling bar-brawl, Indiana Jones-esque fight scene.  Okay, maybe not.  Nevertheless, when we disagree, I hope to faithfully represent the other side of the debate here.

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Life

Union Building (Pretoria)

Series Index

  1. Union Building (Pretoria)
  2. Staff Conference in Durban
  3. Jesus Film
  4. Table Mountain
  5. Robben Island Prison
  6. Stellenbosch Vineyards
  7. BEAM Africa
  8. Joburg Summer Project
  9. Campus Crusade Leadership at UJ
  10. South African Hodge-Podge

Part 1 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.


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Life

How Should Christians Respond to Obama’s Education Speech?

Obama’s speech on education, which he will give today, has caused quite a stir among Christians, most notably on the Desiring God blog.  There, John Piper expressed his excitment over what the President said.  Basically, Obama challenges students to work hard, be responsible, and have a positive attitude with school.  He said that students need to turn off the TV and get off the Xbox.  I couldn’t agree more.

Some Christians try to find a devil behind everything Obama says.  Some Christians will not give “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7).  I think that’s wrong.  I don’t agree with most of Obama’s policies, but I can commend a man when he speaks truth.

With that in mind, I think if you are one of the Christians who believes you cannot applaud something that Obama says because of his other policies/ideas (which very well may be moral failures), then you are ignoring an important theme in Scripture:

  • Remember that King Cyrus was a pagan ruler of a pagan nation, yet he was the Lord’s “anointed,” who was used to redeem his people. God said, “I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me…I equip you, though you do not know me” (Isa. 45:1-13). It is clear that God can do good through people who don’t know him personally.
  • Remember that God has common grace on all of creation: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). This includes Obama and all the unsaved teachers who teach our children.
  • Remember that God loves justice wherever he finds it because God is just: “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” (Pr. 11:1). And “A just balance and scales are the LORD’s; all the weights in the bag are his work” (Pr. 16:11). This applies even to Obama and education in the United States.
  • Remember that Obama is a “servant for your good” if you are a believer (Rom. 13:4), whether you agree with him or not. Are some of his policies bad? Yes. Was there anything wrong with what he said in this speech? If there was, it was minimal.  Would you fault your non-Christian employer who demands his employees to work harder instead of showing up late, leaving early, and taking an extra long lunch because he didn’t mention Jesus? I doubt it.
  • Remember, finally, that Paul quoted pagan religions in evangelism and teaching (Acts 17:22-34; Titus 1:12). There are commonalities that we can share with non-believers in order to point them to Jesus. Obama can’t point people to Jesus if he’s not a believer, so we can’t expect him to do that. The job falls on us Christians to find common ground in order to tell him (and others), “Look there! That’s Jesus. He made hard work. He created math and science and English and history. And he gives us strength to learn and write papers and do science projects!  To know this Jesus, that is what our children need the most.”

So we pray for Obama and beg God to let light shine in his heart. But we also give honor to whom honor is due. We don’t encourage our children to be like Obama or a teacher or anyone else (not even John Piper!!!). We point them to the cross, teaching them to be conformed to and led by Jesus. As we do that, we tell them to rejoice in truth wherever it is found because all objective truth is God’s truth. Education is good. Hard work is good. Addiction to TV and Xbox or anything else is bad. We praise God for these truths. He is the author of them.

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