The Hidden Battle

In his last blog post dealing with tension, Ben stated the following: “The idea shouldn’t be to make the tension disappear but to learn how to harness its generated power and aim it together instead of at each other. The only way that happens is if we keep our eyes on Jesus, submit ourselves to the Spirit, and strive together towards making Jesus known; that’s what we were made for.”

As I thought about what Ben was calling us to think through, I was reminded of the age-old adage that the absence of conflict doesn’t necessarily equate to the presence of peace.  Our goal when tension and conflict are present should not be to simply make it all disappear; rather, we should be willing to work through it together to bring about true Biblical peace and unity.  

With that said, I think that I often look at conflict as something that happens on the outside.  I think of conflict as an entity that someone else brings to the table.  My typical response when I’m angry, irritated or frustrated is to explain those things by looking outside of myself.  My response is usually to justify my anger by pointing somewhere other than to myself.  Could it really be possible that I play a role in the tension around me?  

James 4:1-3 states the following:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (ESV)

In this passage, James rips away the curtains on our hearts and purposefully reminds us that conflict and tension are actually spiritual issues.  They are issues that are directly connected to our hearts and to our desires.  More directly put, conflict and tension often result from who or what rules our hearts in place of Jesus.  There is a battle for control of our hearts that is fought in every situation and relationship in our lives.  To better deal with conflict and tension, we must understand what role our hearts play in these situations.

According to Romans 1, my heart will either be ruled by Jesus or by some created entity (an idol).  When my heart longs for anything other than Jesus, I will undoubtedly experience regular conflicts with others.  I will love you to the end if you’re helping me get what I want, but you will just be an obstacle for me to overcome if you stand in my way.  When my heart is ruled by my own desires, I’m judging you and holding you accountable to my standards and your ability to deliver the desires of my heart.  

When my heart is ruled by Jesus, I fully understand the wickedness of my own heart and the immeasurable grace extended to me by Jesus.  People who understand their own need for grace are really the only ones capable of extending it to others.  When I find myself to be frustrated with those around me, when I sense tension and conflict from the outside in, or when I become aggravated at the experiences and viewpoints of others, I need to look inward at the desires of my heart and see if they properly align with the truths of the Gospel and the reality of grace offered to me through Jesus.  

Consider this  quote from Paul David Tripp that can be found on his website:

“You see, God’s grace is not just a past grace–the grace of your salvation; God’s grace is not just a future grace–the grace of eternity. God’s grace is a present grace–it’s a grace for what you face in the struggles of life in a fallen world, right here, right now. And what this means is–you don’t have to live controlled by conflict any longer; your relationships can change; reconciliation is possible; peace is possible! Why? Not because of your strength and wisdom, but because the God of grace has given you grace that is form-fit for just what you are going through in your relationships today, right here, right now.”

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says the following:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (ESV)

As we face conflict and tension that we think is coming from external places, Jesus’ words here should push us towards examining our own hearts to see what idols or desires or anything else are actually taking the place of Jesus.  The problem may actually be internal to our hearts rather than external with the people around us.  I pray that we will surrender the desires of our hearts to Jesus before we are quick to lash out at others.

Thoughts Before the 2017 Presidential Inauguration

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.  Without a doubt, he is unlike any President I have encountered in my lifetime.  In times like these, it is natural to look backwards into our history to see how Presidents from the past have handled times of great transition and division.  At the onset of Abraham Lincoln’s second term as President of the United States in the midst of a Civil War that had not yet come to an end, Lincoln is quoted as ending his inaugural address with these words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The election cycle of 2016 was in and of itself a time of division and contention.  While we have certainly not been in a season of conflict like Abraham Lincoln was in when he uttered those words, we must without a doubt acknowledge the division that has bubbled to the surface of our society as a result of this election cycle.  It has been reported that upwards of 80% of people who identify as Evangelical Christians voted for Trump.  We also know that very few Minority Christians voted for Trump, thus exposing that Christians themselves were divided in this election not unlike our nation as a whole.  Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I think many Evangelical voters were hoping to restore some sense of Christian values back into our society inasmuch as President-Elect Trump promised to make America great again.  

I’m incredibly grateful to have been born in the United States of America.  I have been afforded a lifestyle and myriad opportunities that many people in our world will never experience.  We live in a nation that is undoubtedly prosperous, and the freedoms we enjoy are unbelievable when compared to much of the world. In Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV), we find these words:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

With all of that said, we as American Christians sometimes miss this truth: God doesn’t love political nations – He loves people.  When the word “Nation” is used here in Revelation and throughout the New Testament, it’s not referring to a specific political entity.  It is referring to people where they gather with specific cultural and linguistic identities.  

Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save the nation of America: He died on the cross to save the people who live in America.  God doesn’t make covenants with nations any longer.  With the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, God established a new covenant and created a new entity.  The new covenant is made with the people He saves, and the new entity He created was not a nation – it was the Church.  It is time for the Church to embrace the fact that our standing in the world is not based on any power, prestige, or influence we wield in our societies and cultures and states and nations.  Our standing in the world is based on the fact that Jesus died to set apart His people as a called-out group empowered, not to create Christian nations, but to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

In this linked article from Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer states the following:

“It is time for us to stop asking how we get our collective foot into our culture, and instead begin to ask God how we can be faithful to Him and our call to show and share the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world. We need to remember, quoting an old preacher phrase, that “what happens in the church house is far more important than what happens in the White House.”

Jesus is not coming back on a donkey or an elephant. He is coming back on a white horse to bring victory. I, for one, just want to keep showing and sharing the love of Jesus in the midst of a changing culture until that moment comes. Do you?”

While we should be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and while we should endeavor to be model citizens inasmuch as we do so to glorify our Father in Heaven (1 Cor. 10:31), let us not forget that we live in a deeply divided, deeply fallen, and deeply hurting nation.  As Christians, we hold the answer to division, sin, and pain.  The work ahead of us is incredibly difficult.  Only Jesus can bring the peace and unity that Abraham Lincoln spoke about at his second inauguration.  

Here’s the kicker for me though: it’s the church that has the obligation to steward the Gospel for the well-being of our city and state and nation.  As God’s people were sent into exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah uttered these words to the exiles from Israel in 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  The welfare of our city and state and nation will only be found as the Gospel advances and people become part of God’s kingdom.

Church, our nation needs the Gospel.  Church, our nation needs us to proclaim the truth of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.  Church, our nation needs Jesus.  Church, let’s get busy with things that will matter for eternity.  America will one day cease to exist, but Jesus and His bride will not.  Let me leave you with this reminder from Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

Check out this related 3 part series of blog posts: After the 2016 Presidential Election

After the 2016 Presidential Election (Part 1)

American Flag

The 2016 Presidential Election is over.  I think very few people could have ever imagined or predicted the events of the last year.  I have some very real and very deep differences with our new President.  If I’m honest, I could have written that same sentence in reference to either of the major party candidates after the election.  However, this post (and the follow-up posts to the discussion below) is not really about any Presidential candidate: It’s about where we go from here.  As a Christian in the United States of America in 2016 – As a member of Redemption Church in Augusta, Georgia in 2016 – How is it that I should respond to the state of our society and culture now that this election is complete?

When I evaluate the state of our nation and the severe divisions that have arisen over the last year, I am deeply saddened.  The day after the election, I came across a social media post from a friend who said something similar to this (and I’m paraphrasing): if this election has shown me anything……it’s that misogyny and racism aren’t a deal breaker for most people.  My heart broke as I read those words.  Those words confronted me once again with the fact that we live in a lost and broken world.  We must not turn a blind eye to the fact that some will see the results of this election as an opportunity to promote ideologies of hate, racism, and misogyny.  Where those ideologies arise we must confront them as sin, and we must call for repentance.  There are people in our nation who are genuinely frightened over what the next four years will bring their way.  At the same time, there are people who are genuinely hopeful about the prospects of the next four years.  Wherever you and I might fall on that spectrum, I know that the following statements should be true of anyone who follows Jesus.  What must I do – what must we do – moving forward?            

First, I must pray.  1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV) reads this way:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Second, I must remind myself that the church has been given the ministry of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (ESV) reads this way:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Russell Moore, in this linked article, states this: “Moreover, no matter what the racial and ethnic divisions in America, we can be churches that demonstrate and embody the reconciliation of the kingdom of God. After all, we are not just part of a coalition but part of a Body—a Body that is white and black and Latino and Asian, male and female, rich and poor. We are part of a Body joined to a Head who is an Aramaic-speaking Middle-easterner. What affects black and Hispanic and Asian Christians ought to affect white Christians. And the sorts of poverty and social unraveling among the white working class ought to affect black and Hispanic and Asian Christians. We belong to each other because we belong to Christ.”

Third, I must recognize that God is sovereign, and His Kingdom is far greater and far different than any earthly kingdom, country, or political leader.  Hear these words from Psalm 2:1-6 (ESV):  

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

One day, America and all her Presidents will just be a footnote in History – a kingdom that lasted for just a moment in time.  When that day comes, Jesus will still be reigning supreme.  One day, King Jesus will return, and the only Great King that has ever existed will rule this earth with the kind of glory that earthly kings can only dream of possessing.  Church, let me remind you of what King David said in Psalm 20:7 (ESV): “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Church – don’t put your hope in earthly kings. Likewise, don’t despair over earthly kings. Instead – remember your true king!