Is it Idolatry or Passion?

Bible and hands

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted what the writer, Michael Gerson, believed was commonplace among Christians, that of bowing to the golden calf of the extreme political right. He made this claim in his article entitled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles.’

Because this accusation that Christians worship conservative politicians is common on the left, I have decided to respond to Gerson’s article. I do this both with the purpose of helping you defend your faith against such an allegation as well as a reminder of the importance of keeping your passion centered on Jesus and His Word.

Although I am not saying that Christians are immune to carrying their political support too far, I believe what Gerson regards as idolatry from his vantage point within the confines of Washington, D.C. is nothing more than passion for what we hold dear out here in the heartland. Let me explain.

The Danger of Identifying with a Political Movement

Although I disagree with almost all of what Michael Gerson wrote, he is correct about the dangers of Christians identifying too strongly with any political movement. This can lead to unwelcome results for us and if anything of what Gerson writes is true, he is correct in regard to this warning.

However, the believers I know do not fall into Gerson’s characterization as being “foot soldiers of Bannon;” the majority do not even know anything about him. In fact, many of these so called “foot soldiers” strongly dislike both Bannon and President Trump (although they could never have voted for Hilary Clinton because of her pro-abortion stand). The sharpest criticism I faced for my support of President Trump last year came from fellow believers, not from supporters of Hillary.

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

The numbers simply do not support Christians blindly adapting “Fox News values” (whatever that means) as Gerson claims. If one assumes that everyone who watches Fox News is a Christian (and such is definitely not the case), this would amount to about 3 percent of everyone who claims to be an evangelical. How can he claim we all receive our values from a source so very few of us even watch?

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

Instead, I see a passion to core beliefs, to Scripture, rather than any idolatry to a person or political movement.

Core Beliefs

We are not “panting and begging” to be part of someone else’s political movement as the writer asserts. That is patently absurd. For the vast majority us, we do “confidently and persistently” represent a core set of “distinctive beliefs” but not those Gerson describes. It’s Scripture; this is the basis for what we passionately believe and seek to uphold.

First in order of importance, for both those of us believers who like President Trump and for most of those who despise him, is the sanctity of life. Many of us turned against the Republican establishment when they refused to remove funding for Planned Parenthood from the budget after they gained a majority in the Senate. In spite of the proven allegations that Planned Parenthood actively harvested and sold body parts from the precious babies they murdered, the Republican leadership refused to take a stand against this organization and continued to fund them with our money.

If you want to know why so many people applauded when Bannon said “it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment,” that is it. This in no way signifies any blind allegiance to Bannon as the writer suggests, but rather a rejection of an establishment that blatantly betrayed the prolife values of those who voted for them. Because of this, I would have also cheered loudly when he said that.

The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Scripture teaches that life begins at conception and biblically based Christians have actively opposed abortion since the inception of the church. Followers of Christ rescued babies that were being aborted in the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the church. The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Human Dignity Does Not Equal the New World Order

I am confused by why Gerson believes that “economic nationalism” is contrary to our vision of “human dignity” and “social justice.” We strongly believe in legal immigration and in giving people an equal opportunity to come to America and prosper. Our views on immigration are totally consistent with what President Clinton repeatedly advocated when he was president. It’s the left that has changed their opinion of what “social justice” signifies in regard to immigration, not us. Is it a crime against “human dignity” to want to ensure that those coming to our nation do not drive trucks into large groups of pedestrians and bikers or attack people with a knife in a mall?

Gerson also appears to believe “social justice” can only be accomplished through a New World Order. Why else would he contrast “economic nationalism” with supporting “human dignity?”

Gerson fails to establish why this assertion is true. History has repeatedly shown that Socialism, the darling of the New World Order advocates, inflicts the most damage on “human dignity.” Venezuela provides a prime example of the tremendous suffering that results when Socialism is fully implemented.

Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s claim that the “religious right” has ties to “alt-right leaders” and flirts “with white identity politics” could not be further from the truth. The pastor of my church, on the Sunday after the violence in Charlottesville, angrily denounced and condemned white supremacy along with all forms of racism. Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s remarks here constitute a cheap shot at the Christian community and one for which he should be ashamed. His comments represent a blatantly false and worn out claim that no longer has any merit. He should be ashamed of himself for making this claim against us.

The believers I know value human dignity and strongly uphold the Judeo-Christian belief in the “inherent value and dignity of every life.” This is the reason we so passionately oppose abortion, which constitutes nothing less than murder of the innocent.

The fact that we pursue a different approach to protecting the “dignity of every life” does not mean this goal is any less important to us. Gerson condemns us without understanding our point of view.

The Common Good

Gerson upholds the “common good” as the ultimate standard. What does his use of this phrase signify? Is it not another way of saying that right and wrong are determined by the needs of the moment or by common consensus? But who determines the “common good?”

The Nazis convinced millions of Germans in the last century that the “common good” signified the elimination of all Jews. Can we trust any system of ethics that relies on the “common good?” The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter. Should others condemn Christians because we rely on the changeless Judeo-Christian values of Scripture rather than ever-changing standards put forward as the “common good?”

The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter.

Gerson claimed that the Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare failed because the party could not show why it was in the interest of the “common good” to do so. Really? Is it in the public interest to impose penalties on people who cannot afford to pay ridiculously high premiums for their health insurance, which in some cases have doubled in spite of sky high deductibles?

I also question Gerson’s reference to Jesus as a “globalist.” Why did he say that? Is he suggesting that Jesus would somehow support the New World Order he seems to advocate?

Yes, Jesus commanded His followers to take the Gospel to all nations. He did this on the basis of His authority as God so that all people would hear the good news of salvation. He sent out His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to a world perishing in its sins and subject to God’s wrath unless they repent. I believe it is a huge leap to go from that to claiming that Jesus is a globalist in the modern usage of this term.

Gerson’s identification of Christians as the foot soldiers of Steve Bannon could not be further from the truth. It’s a faulty attempt to identify all followers of Jesus based on the actions and beliefs of a tiny group at a conference who may or may not even represent true believers of Jesus. And, who says that applauding for a speaker equals idolatry to him?

Yes, there is a danger in believers identifying themselves closely with any political movement and we must be wary of this. Loving and serving Jesus while upholding the truths of Scripture is our first priority as we take the Gospel to a perishing world.

As followers of Christ, we seek to provide relief to the suffering and persecuted throughout the world through such organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse that spends $800 million each year in this regard. The believers I know also contribute much personally to help those around them as well as to organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse. We care very much about the hurting in this world and seek to uphold human dignity whenever we can.

We will not escape criticism for our beliefs; this is a given. All we can do is uphold the timeless truths of Scripture, express our enduring beliefs in the most loving way possible, and reach out to those in need around us with the good news that a far better day that is coming in which justice and righteousness will reign supreme as Jesus rules over the nations of the world.

Jesus and His words must always be the basis for our passion. If this is mistaken for idolatry then so be it. We will follow Jesus.

 

Are These the Days of Noah?

ark-in-morning-sun
Photo from Ark Encounter Website

No, I am not suggesting that we start building ships or that we rush to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky hoping that the recreation of Noah’s ark will actually float. I am referring to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 where He said this, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

What characterized the “days of Noah?” Back in Genesis 6, God complained about two things regarding the people of that day. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of heart was only evil continually.” Besides the extreme wickedness of the time, this expression appears twice, “the earth was filled with violence” (6:11, 13).

For the past couple weeks I have been contemplating a post on violence in our world, but the recent shooting of Steve Scalise and others pushed this to the forefront of my thinking. I believe that the violence we see in our world is a sign we are truly living in the last days of human history.

Violence Fills the Earth

In 2016, there were 2,478 Islamic terror attacks in 59 countries in which 21,237 people were killed and 26,680 people were injured. In just the past 30 days there have been 174 attacks by Islamic Jihadists in which 1,659 people were killed (source for these numbers is thereligionofpeace.com, which chronicles each such attack). These statistics do not include the thousands of Christians whom ISIS beheaded or crucified during the past few years.

During the bloody civil war in Syria over 500,000 people have been killed, according the last numbers I saw on this, and the bloodshed and killing continues unabated in this horrible conflict.

The greatest source of deadly violence in our world continues to be abortion. In our nation alone, over 50 million babies have been murdered since 1973 and worldwide, this number is much higher. Is not God just as grieved by this senseless bloodshed as He is by the bombings and killing also prevalent in our world? I absolutely believe He is.

Wikipedia lists fourteen current and ongoing wars in our world, including the civil war in Syria, with 1,000 or more deaths each year. The Mexican drug war has claimed the lives of 138,000 people since 2006 with over 12,000 dying because of this violence in 2016 alone.

Does violence fill the earth at this time? Absolutely! We do not know the statistics of violence during the days of Noah, but I have to think what we see around us certainly qualifies as an apt comparison.

The Acceptance of Violence

What’s also disturbing to me is the growing acceptance of violence in our nation. The popularity of the play currently running in New York City portraying the assassination of President Trump demonstrates this growing acceptance of violence. This play is not sponsored, as you might suspect, by some lunatic fringe group, but by the New York Times and other well-known companies. I would condemn such a play regardless of who was president; it would sicken me just as much.

More people have been arrested for violence and for threats of violence in the past six months than in the prior ten years.

Illinois State Senator David Syverson recently posted this on his Facebook page about the growing acceptance of violence, “What’s different about the few random threats made in the past vs today is usually they were made by lone wolves or individuals with no credibility. Their actions were soundly criticized and shut down from all fronts. Today these individuals who are inciting violence are ‘credible’ leaders, in their circles. They have followers and their actions and statements are covered respectfully by the media.”

Senator Syverson also stated that more people have been arrested for violence and for threats of violence in the past six months than in the prior ten years.

The shooting of Steve Scalise was not some random or isolated event; it predictively grew out the frenzied hatred and vitriol by many on the left and in the media toward President Trump and toward Republicans by virtue of their association with him.

Granted, the vast majority of people who oppose President Trump do not advocate violence against him, but the standing ovations at the end of the play advocating his assassination and the often repeated calls for violence against our President sadly testify to the growing acceptance of violence in our culture.

Legitimate protests are a treasured part of our national heritage; it’s those that turn violent or promote violence that not only show a growing acceptance of violence but also cause much harm to our nation.

However, there is overwhelmingly great news for those of us who know the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

A Day Like Any Other

In comparing the days leading up to His coming to the days of Noah, the Lord also made this interesting statement, “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:38). The flood came on a day that started out just like any other day for those who rejected the warnings of Noah.

For us who know Jesus, it will be a day glorious beyond anything we have ever experienced.

Until the moment Jesus returns for His church, life will proceed on earth pretty much as normal as well; there will likely not be any great sign or worldwide catastrophe signaling His appearing to take His church home. Just as in the days of Noah, life will seem normal. It will be a day like any other, that is, until Jesus takes us away to be with Him.

For us who know Jesus, it will be a day glorious beyond anything we have ever experienced.

Please pray for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. I believe it is vital that we pray for their safety as well as all those around them in the Whitehouse and in the leadership of Congress. If anything, the shooting of Steve Scalise has intensified my prayers for our President and for his wellbeing.

Pray also for the continued and full recovery of Representative Scalise; we need his principled leadership in Congress. He is leading the fight in Congress against the growing problem of sex trafficking. (Update: Steve Scalise continues to improve; God is answering our prayers).

 

A Confusion of Roles

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The anti-Trump sentiment has hit a fever pitch in recent weeks over his immigration policies. Even though President Trump’s initiatives differ little from the policies of other recent presidents, this has not stopped the fierce condemnation of his executive orders. Many forget that President Obama stopped all immigration from Iraq for six months in 2011 citing similar reasons for his travel ban that President Trump is giving for his actions.

I saw that over 100 evangelical leaders recently joined together in posting an advertisement in the Washington Post condemning President Trump’s temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven countries where terrorist activity is high.

On the other side, many other Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham and prophecy pastor JD Farag are voicing strong support for the temporary travel ban mandated by the President’s executive order.

Why is the Christian community so divided on immigration? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints?

What is going on here? Why is the Christian community so divided on this issue? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints? I believe it does.

The Role of Government in the New Testament

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV). Since my early years of attending Awana, this verse has always stuck with me. In the original, the idea of “rightly dividing” Scripture is that of making a “straight cut.” It signifies handling God’s Word accurately.

I believe that the leaders siding with the opponents of Trump are not “rightly dividing” God’s word in that they are not separating the role of the government from that of us as followers of Jesus. They are confusing the role of civil authority with that of believers. Let me explain.

The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). God entrusts human government with the responsibility of intervening when a crime is committed and gives it the right to punish the wrongdoer.

Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

When government does it job correctly, its citizens enjoy a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Is this not why we are commanded to pray for our leaders? Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Government is chiefly responsible for protecting its citizens.  National borders are not some evil invention of humanity, they originate in God’s sovereign purposes for the nations of the world (see Acts 17:26).

Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has provided relief for refugees in most of the nations listed on the travel ban. Their hospital outside Mosul in Iraq even cares for wounded ISIS fighters. But as he pointed out in a recent Facebook post, caring for them in Iraq is far different than allowing them to migrate to our nation.

Graham went on to also say this, “Taking time to vet who we’re allowing to enter America isn’t too much to ask—we need to know who they are. God does tell us to help the stranger and those in need; but God doesn’t tell us to expose our cities, homes, and lives to hostile people.”

The primary role of Government is to protect its citizens. The Lord calls believers to a far different task.

The Role of New Testament Believers

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to welcome strangers as well as show mercy and compassion to the hurting. We do not take our own revenge when wronged or if a crime is committed against us or someone we love. Instead, we forgive and place any resolution of justice in the hands of God alone and then with the civil authorities.

The evangelical leaders criticizing the immigration policies of President Trump cited the parable of the Good Samaritan as proof of their argument that we should welcome Muslim refugees to our nation.

The parable, however, speaks to our responsibility to minister for those we encounter in our daily walk. It says nothing about the function of government. Jesus’ words here speak solely to our duty as believers to care for the needs of the hurting that He brings our way. It’s a mistake to apply this to our government that has far different responsibilities.

I applaud the efforts of evangelicals who are ministering in Jesus’ name to the needs of the refugees who have reached our shores. They are acting as “Good Samaritans” to these people. They, along with Samaritan’s Purse, are obeying Jesus’ call to minister to the hurting both here and the Middle East. Many have come to know Jesus as their Savior as a result of these initiatives.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

Are we as followers of Christ commanded to be welcoming to strangers and aliens? Are we to help those in need? Absolutely! This is what Jesus taught through the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This does not, however, imply that our government should open its borders to those who intend to harm us. Its first responsibility is to protect those within its God-ordained borders.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

The Need for Further Discernment

As believers, we must also be discerning of what we hear even though such wisdom is increasingly difficult amidst the avalanche of “fake news.” It’s prevalent everywhere we look. I have all too often become agitated by something I read only later to find out that the story was false or misleading.

There are several things, however, that I believe are well-supported.

We know that refugees from those nations on President Trump’s travel ban have joined in terror attacks in France and Belgium. ISIS has made it clear it intends to enter our country posing as needy refugees. The FBI has already arrested several refugees in our country for their association with ISIS.

Many of the Muslims already here are seeking to impose Sharia Law upon us rather than accept the laws of our land. Sharia Law denies all the rights we currently enjoy because of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The treatment of women under Sharia Law is both abominable and demonic.

The threat is real and we do need good measures for vetting immigrants who seek refuge in our country.

We are a nation of immigrants and we have derived tremendous strength from those who have come to our shores from other nations. This, however, has come about from those who have come lawfully to our country and then submitted to our laws.

Is our government really fulfilling its God-given purpose if it lets in those who seek to harm us and subvert our laws? Are we really wise to let in strangers who shout “death to America” and make no secret about their hatred for us? I do not believe so.

President Trump’s purpose in the travel ban is meant to accomplish two stated purposes. First, he is seeking to improve the current vetting process, which even the FBI director appointed by President Obama said was insufficient and not capable of keeping out the bad guys. Secondly, the President is seeking to make the process fair for Christians, who are by far the most persecuted group in the Middle East.

During the last year of President Obama, Christian refugees made up about one half of one percent of all the refugees from nations such as Syria. Why the shameful discrimination against persecuted believers? I am happy to hear that our President intends to correct this serious injustice.

Conclusion

Does Scripture place the same responsibility upon government and its leaders as it does upon us as followers of Christ? No. While our leaders in government do not escape responsibility for the justness of their actions, their primary purpose is to punish evil and thereby protect its citizens.

We may disagree on whether President Trump’s policies are necessary for our security and that is fine. Based on what I see here and in Europe, I believe his temporary travel ban is both wise and necessary. I pray it will result in a safer vetting process as well as the acceptance of many more Christian refugees seeking to avoid the brutality of ISIS.

Whatever the outcome of the debate, it’s comforting to know that our hope is solely in Jesus and in His return to take us home. My hope is certainly not based on the government always getting its policies correct nor my ability to always do what’s right in showing mercy to others. My hope is solely in Christ who died in my place that I might have eternal life. I would have no hope apart from Jesus.

Jesus will not fail us regardless of the turmoil we see around us every day. Even when everything we see disappoints us, we can know for sure that Jesus will remain faithful to His own forever and ever.

Never forget that He alone is our hope. He is coming soon to take us home! In the meantime, He will never leave nor forsake us. It does not get much better than that.

If you have never put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, please do so before it is too late.

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!