Real World

“Perfect Love Drives Out Fear,” but Whose, of What?

1 John may win the prize for the most quotable single letter in the New Testament.  “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:6);If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9); “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1); “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (2:20); “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (2:23); “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2); “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1); “We love, because he first loved us” (4:19); “everyone born of God overcomes the world” (5:4), are just a few of the often-quoted verses.  You could almost read the letter as the “greatest hits” of pastoral maxims developed over a lifetime.

And among these quotable quotes is the simple phrase, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  I have quoted this myself many times, and often heard it quoted.  But it occurred to me recently to ask, for the first time, whose love?  Love of what, or whom?  And for that matter, fear of what, or whom? (more…)

On “Throwing Your Vote Away”: The Strategy of Third-Party Voting

In a famous episode of The Simpsons, Homer exposes both presidential candidates as in fact space aliens conspiring to take over the earth and enslave humanity.  Among the watching crowd, one person proposes voting for a third-party candidate, and one of the aliens responds, “Go ahead!  Throw your vote away!” after which Ross Perot in frustration punches through his hat.  The episode ends showing that one of the aliens has in fact won the election.

Ross Perot’s 1992 independent campaign for US president received 18.9% of the popular vote, a larger percentage of the vote than any other candidate outside the two-party system since Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 bid to derail William Howard Taft’s reelection campaign (resulting in the election of Woodrow Wilson).  Yet despite his success attracting individual voters, Ross Perot received no votes in the electoral college.  Not since 1968 has any third-party candidate received any electoral college votes, apart from individual faithless electors who have not changed the outcome of the election.  It is easy to see why many people consider voting for anyone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate is simply “throwing you vote away.”  I would like to suggest a more nuanced analysis. (more…)

Is Donald Trump God’s “Chosen One”? An Advent Reflection on God in Politics

There has been a lot of discussion over the past week of Rick Perry’s claim that President Trump is God’s “chosen one” to be president.  Obscure points of Christian theology have spilled over into mainstream media, and political commentators have felt obliged to weigh in on doctrines of predestination and election.  The two most common talking positions seem to be shaping up as “God has nothing to do with politics” and “Of course God chose our president; get over it.”  But the analysis has focused primarily on politics, and I think reflecting on the theology may be more helpful.  In particular, what the Bible says about God’s involvement in selecting leadership may be useful for adding the nuance lacking in the public discussion, and may serve as a useful reminder of what Advent is about. (more…)

Psalm 131: A Confession of Humility

Moses gets a bit of flack sometimes for writing, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).  Indeed, some people even make that into an argument that Moses could not have written this verse, although the argument presumes a surprisingly narrow realm of psychological possibility.  I’ve often thought that if God tells you to write something, the humble thing to do is to write it.

Humility is not often praised in American churches, not often held up as a model to emulate.  And this is despite the explicit blessing of our Lord Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).  Most sermons I have heard on this text take great pains to assure the audience that “meek” doesn’t mean “doormat.”  That is an accurate observation, but when the caveat dominates the message more than the positive meaning of the text, perhaps it is indicative of a vitamin deficiency in the churches with whom I have worshiped.  Humility is a virtue that we need more of. (more…)

An Open Letter to President Trump From an Evangelical

Mr. President:

I do not write to you today about politics, because you know more about politics than I do.  Instead I write about something much more important: your future, and where you will find yourself within thirty years.

The God who created the skies and the ground also created humans, so that they might worship him and enjoy everything good thing with him forever.  This includes you.

But humanity, from our first ancestors onward, rejected God and rejected his promise of eternal enjoyment.  We humans have set ourselves up as our own gods, and the result of this sin is separation from God, now and forever.  Separation from God is what causes our death, both our physical death and our eternal spiritual death deprived from the source of our life.  This includes you.

But God loved the world so much that he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become one of us, to live a sinless life in poverty, to die a blameless death on a Cross, to rise again to new life since it was impossible for death to hold him, so that everyone who puts their faith in Jesus should have eternal life, not eternal death.  This is not automatic, but is an opportunity available to everyone, including you.

But do not be deceived; God is not mocked.  The free gift of forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ requires only that each sinner acknowledge their sins and turn away from them to the powerful gracious love of Jesus.  But it does require turning away from sins; any attempt to claim the forgiveness of Jesus without acknowledging the sins committed is doomed to failure.

I expect you know your sins better than anyone, but you said in 2016 that you do not ask for God’s forgiveness.  That made me worried that you were deceiving yourself, since all of us need God’s forgiveness every day.  As I have watched your presidency, it has become increasingly clear that you are in the bondage of deceit, ceaselessly peddling lies about yourself and your enemies, so that I fear you have even come to believe these baseless falsehoods yourself.  To pick examples only from the last six months, your deliberate deceptions include insisting that the Mueller report exonerated you, when in fact the Mueller report explicitly stated that it did not exonerate you (vol. II, p.8).  You have claimed your July 25 phone call to the Ukrainian president was “perfect” and legal, when you obviously set up the withholding of military aid for the sole purpose of pressuring him to help you in your reelection campaign, which is illegal.  In order to distract the news media, you ordered a poorly considered withdrawal from Syria in order to allow the Turkish armed forces to attack the Kurds, at the cost of hundreds of lives.  Just as David killed Uriah by the sword of the Ammonites (2 Sam 12:9), you have murdered Syrian Kurds by the shells of the Turkish military, all for the sake of your political benefit.  You have not saved lives; you have destroyed them.  No doubt you have other sins, but these sins are obvious, and they will be condemned by God who is righteous and accomplishes justice.  Your only hope to escape eternal condemnation is the forgiveness offered by Jesus.

It is claimed that you are a Christian.  That is a good name which I am glad to wear myself, but the label alone does not get you anything.  What matters is not what men call you, but what you are in the sight of God.  The benefits of Christ are not for those who call themselves Christians (Matt. 7:21-23), but for those who trust in Jesus, follow him, serve him, and love him.  You must ask yourself if this is what you are doing.  The Lord Jesus said, “You will know them by your fruits…  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:16, 19).  Lying, corruption, and murder are not good fruits, but the fruits of the devil which lead to death.

Even now you have the opportunity to escape from the damnation that your sins deserve, if you will turn away from your sins to Jesus and place your trust in him for forgiveness.  If you do so, he will take command of your life, fill you with his Holy Spirit, and guide you along the path to eternal joy.  The Lord Jesus Christ, in command of your life, will lead you to apologize to those you have wronged and to begin to live rightly, which is better for you and for everyone.

There is no other way.  You may be able to escape human punishments for your crimes, and you may be able to continue spreading lies, but you will not be able to escape God’s judgment.  He cannot be tricked.  He cannot be manipulated.  He will not “make a deal.”  God has made known the only opportunity for salvation, available to you and to everyone, in his son Jesus Christ.  Be warned: Jesus himself said, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).  The apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Your name and your wealth will not help you on the day of judgment (Psalm 49:16-20), only humbly acknowledging your sins, renouncing them, and turning to Jesus in submission.

You may not have many more opportunities.  You are already seventy-three years old, and none of us knows how long he will live.  You might have a heart attack and die tomorrow, or you might live for another twenty-five years; we do not know.  But we do know that when you die, whenever that might be, it will be too late then to seek forgiveness.  The opportunity to renounce sin and run to Jesus is an opportunity only in this life, and your time is running short.  Within thirty years, less than half of the length of time you have already lived, your eternal judgment will be determined.  I encourage you, by the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, not to let this opportunity go by; you may not have another.  Repent and believe in the good news!  Be cleansed from your sins, and live!

I pray for you to recognize the truth, and that the truth would set you free from the deception and lies which you perpetuate, which now bind you.  I pray for your repentance from sins, for you to accept the eternal well-being in the forgiveness which only Jesus Christ provides.  I pray for the evil you have done to be struck down and overcome by the goodness of God, who loves truth and justice, and he is merciful to you, giving you the opportunity even now to leave behind the deceit and death you have worked, and turn to his light and his life.

There is nothing more important than this.  The Lord Jesus himself said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  Don’t be a tough guy.  Don’t be a fool.

May the Lord have mercy on your soul.

Theophiletos

Contentment in Christ, Not Settling for Less

I have often heard Christians say that we ought to be content in Christ, and not ask for anything outside of Christ.  I think they are on to something important, but I worry that they might be misunderstood.  Yes, Paul “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12), and the letter to the Hebrews commands, “be content with what you have,” linking that to God’s presence: “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5).  But if this is the case, why do some people hear “you should be content in Christ” as a disappointment? (more…)

Israel and the Church

Last month’s decision by the US president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought out the full range of responses, as usual.  Such responses always dismay me as to how poorly both sides understand what the Bible says about Israel, land, and the Church today.  Here are some notes for a discussion I led on the subject, specifically for Christians; the notes have been somewhat edited since the original version. (more…)

The Holy Family in American Politics

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do not play very visible roles in US politics.  “For God and Country” is a slogan that makes the rounds in some circles, but the nature of that God is left unspecified (perhaps beyond typically excluding Muslims).  The dearth of direct appeal to Jesus even in conservative American politics, to say nothing of the silence about his mother and step-father, makes it all the more surprising that the Holy Family has been dragged into political debates twice in one month.  The nature of those invocations, and their historical and theological confusion, reveals the cynical pragmatic secularism driving the use of these religious ideas at this political juncture.  Christian complicity in these invocations threatens the intelligibility of the gospel message to outsiders. (more…)

Still Crazy After All These Years: A Reformation Scorecard at 500

Amid the commemorations and celebrations of Martin Luther nailing several Latin points for disputation upon his local bulletin board, there has been some discussion about whether the Reformation “failed” or “succeeded.”  The answer, of course, depends on what you think the Reformation’s goal was.  But to enable you to reach your own conclusions, I thought a scorecard might be helpful. (more…)

What Do You Do With Faith vs. Facts?

I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information.  I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways.  My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict.  But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring.  Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)