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the real lessons from the 2012 election

Al Mohler, whom I greatly respect, posted some lessons from the 2012 election that he learned. His basic conclusion is that America is becoming more liberal, less moral, and more anti-Christian, and that the Republican Party and Christians need to consider a way to “winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions.”

Really?

I understand that during elections we can sometimes see trends and patterns that aren’t as objectively visible during non-election season, but this election told me very little about non-Christian America. I already knew the unbelieving world was morally bankrupt, anti-Christian, hostile to the gospel, against traditional marriage, consumed with self-interest, etc. Read Paul’s Spirit-inspired description of the non-believing world back in his day: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:2-5).

Paul wrote those words 2,000 years ago. America didn’t become like this suddenly the past 4 years. This is the way unbelievers have been for millennia. Maybe the religious heritage of our nation prevented these sins from being especially visible, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there, hidden beneath the surface of religious or social pretense.

Are we worse off spiritually as a nation now than we were 15 or 20 years ago? Perhaps, but that’s not because unbelieving society is becoming more liberal or morally bankrupt. It’s because Christians haven’t spread the gospel or showed the love of Christ to unbelievers, and now we find ourselves as a shrinking minority. Or to say it another way, there are less Christians in America than there used to be and so America is literally becoming un-Christian. What do you think happens when the salt of the earth loses its flavor or the light of the world is put under a basket? We’re seeing it before our very eyes.

The only way for Christians to “winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions” is by helping said Americans to see their need for Christ and come to Him for salvation. Then the Holy Spirit will do the work of showing them where their moral convictions need to be. We can’t make America Christian from the outside in. The Spirit’s work of sanctification (i.e., “setting apart”) can only be done from the inside out. We must start with the hearts of individual people in order to reach the moral backbone of our nation. But we already knew all that, right?

That’s why I said that this election told me very little about non-Christian America. It did, however, tell me a great deal about Christians and the American Church. Let’s look at some of the lessons I learned about Christianity from this election.

I learned that Christians associate their missional identity far too closely with their political one. For the Christian, there is only one agenda on this earth – to glorify God by helping people (including ourselves) become disciples of Christ. That’s it. Our agenda isn’t to moralize society. It’s not to make America conservative. It’s not even to attack sinful patterns that we see in society. Discipleship is first, last, and only on the list of things Christians should be accomplishing.

Now here’s the irony of what we’re seeing the Church today – the emphasis on social politics as a (or the)  mission of the Church has actually done the exact opposite of our true mission. The “Moral Majority” mindset hasn’t led our nation to desire to follow Christ – it’s turned people away from Christ! And even if we were successful at making our nation more moral, that still hasn’t made them more Christian. God isn’t glorified by a bunch of sinners who try not to sin. He’s glorified by sinners who recognize their sinfulness and turn to Him for rescue from it. There is very little that we can do to distract from that more than focusing our efforts on social issues in our society.

But there is another issue here – that Christians are measuring their success by what happens at the polls. The mood yesterday among many Christians was one of doom and gloom. We failed. The total secularization of America is coming. Christians are about to be eradicated. The end is near.

God doesn’t measure our success by whomever is elected into our government. If so, then Jesus’ whole concept of  “the Church” has been an utter failure. When has there ever been a time that the Church has found a way to bring perfect people into the leadership of a country? And while we’re at it, when in the OT theocracy did God ever set up a perfect person to lead Israel? Or how about the Israelite Monarchy? I’m pretty sure that King Saul for most of his reign was a more godless man than Barack Obama has ever been. Do you know who “elected” him? Yahweh.

God is doing something much bigger here that cannot be measured by how godly or godless our government officials are. His assessment is based on His people’s heart and, in particular, on whether or not they love Him with everything they are and whether or not they love their neighbors as themselves. And sometimes believers do love as God desires them to and strive for discipleship, and yet their efforts have no discernible effect on their surroundings (See: Jeremiah, Book of). That doesn’t mean that they have failed in their mission. It just means that God has chosen to bless them in a way that remains to be seen.

I learned that Christians identify too closely with the Republican Party. I already knew this to be the case, but boy do I know it now. Christians were willing to compromise a tremendous amount of their faith in order to try to get Mitt Romney into office.

How do I know this to be the case? Because the vast majority of Al Mohler’s article could have been written by an unsaved Republican politician, and it wouldn’t have seriously altered its message. Because Billy Graham met with Mitt Romney before the election and immediately took his website’s statement against Mormonism off of the internet so that it wouldn’t hinder the Republican cause. Because Christians are willing to rally against liberals to “support life”, but then in the same breath support the ruthless and unconstitutional killing of leaders, civilizations, and fellow Christians abroad. Why? Because that’s what Republicans do, and Christians are Republicans; so it’s what we do too.

Listen, when the world associates Christians with the Republican Party, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing to be associated with any party, because they all have major flaws that dishonor God. Christ wasn’t a Republican, and if a Christian has good reasons to be a Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party member, or what have you, they are free to, but they should all hold their political party loosely, so as to not bring their party’s baggage onto the name of Christ.

I learned that Christians looked to the Republican candidate as a sort of savior of our nation who, after losing the election, also lost our nation along with him. There was literal weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that I saw and heard from the evangelical community. Why? I’m not even sure that those who were so upset knew. I know that some were concerned about Obama’s economic and foreign policies, but I think the majority are scared to death about what his social policy could entail the next 4 years.

Four more years of a liberal President!? The world may end during that time! At least 2 more liberal Supreme Court Justices! Permanent abortion! Gay marriage federally legalized! Contraceptives required to be funded by churches! The 10 Commandments kicked out of schools! Christian liberties abolished!

Let’s be honest with ourselves here – Obama probably will not be able to do everything evangelicals fear he will (even if he wants to). But even if he does, we can be certain that Romney would not have been able to undo it all. How would he undo the laws on abortion? It’s not as simple as just appointing a couple of conservative justices and having them overturn Roe v Wade. Not to mention, Romney flip-flopped on the issue of abortion anyway, and we don’t even know what he truly believes on it. What about Obamacare (which is the cause of the contraceptives dispute that the Catholic Church has with the government)? Romney already said he liked parts of Obamacare and that he wouldn’t get rid of them. But the parts he wanted to keep would have not have been possible without keeping the most controversial parts of the bill. Plus Romney passed Romneycare in Massachusetts, which is basically Obamacare on the state level.

But the bigger picture here is that Christians have only one Savior – Jesus. What if our country becomes totalitarian and starts persecuting Christians? For us, nothing significant has changed. Our hope lies in Jesus, both for our spiritual needs and for our physical ones. We should still vote and be passionate about improving our country, but if “our guy” doesn’t get elected we have to shrug our shoulders and move on. Our citizenship is in heaven, and ultimately our Supreme King determines who rules us during our time on earth.

I learned that Christians did not focus on God the way they should have leading up to the elections. Social media among Christians exploded yesterday with a host of theological cliches aimed at making them feel better about their defeat – “God is still in control,” “This world is not my home,” “God’s wrath is coming on this country,” etc. Now I’m aware that some people posted these things to console others about the election outcome, but a great deal of what I saw was Christians clearly consoling themselves.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify that if we console ourselves or others when discouraged, it should be in truth about God, specifically the truth of the gospel. But something about what I kept seeing after this election made it feel disingenuous. Specifically, I noticed a lot of people who acted like they could care less about God’s sovereignty leading up to the election, who suddenly became bold preachers of God’s sovereignty after Obama won. Were they directing their thoughts that way prior to the election? And if so, why did they only start talking about it after the election was lost?

My hunch, and I admit that this is a guess on my part, is that many Christians were not thinking much about God in the days leading up to the election. Their thoughts going into the election wasn’t, “This world isn’t my eternal dwelling place. Ultimately, these elections will have no bearing on my soul. But God is in control, and even if I don’t like who our president is, God will sustain and protect me in the way He sees fit.”

The great chagrin that Christians demonstrated once Obama was reelected suggests to me that their pre-election thought process went more like this: “If we can just get Romney into the White House, he’ll be able to turn around this mess that Obama got us into.” Once Obama was reelected and hope of that turn-around was out of the question, suddenly God enters the picture. So they console themselves with thoughts that “God is in control,” which is really just a way of saying, “I have no clue what God is doing right now, but I sure hope He does.”

Maybe I’m being a bit judgmental here, but how else can you describe the evangelical response to the election? If you were meditating on God’s sovereignty and on the eternal state prior to the elections, how could you possibly be outraged, depressed, or anxious following the election results? I could understand feeling a bit of frustration with the direction our country is heading in, but in general those emotional responses aren’t fruit of the Spirit, and they don’t come from God. Neither did the bulk of the response that came out of evangelicalism following the election.

I learned that Christians have a very elementary understanding of government and how it relates to their faith. This needs to be broken down into subpoints.

1. Confusion on how large the government should be

Liberal America wants the federal government to pass gay marriage. Conservative America wants the federal government to ban gay marriage. Liberal America wants the federal government to maintain abortion. Conservative America wants the federal government to ban abortion. Liberal America wants the federal government to put up a wall of separation between religion and state. Conservative America wants the federal government to allow a blending of religion and state (but only if that means the state doesn’t interfere with religion and that it only allows Christian things to be involved in the government, not other religious elements).

What’s the similarity between all of these illustrations of the stark difference between liberal and conservative politics? They all rely on the federal government to control social issues as they’d like. But there’s a problem here – America is a huge nation. We have literally hundreds of governments in states, counties, and cities that operate under our federal government. If the federal government messes up, we all suffer for it. And, guess what? The federal government messes up a lot.

The reason why Christians have lost the war over abortion is because the federal government got involved. Yet they want to use the federal government to outlaw abortion. How foolish is that? We’re going to give one government that wields its power over 300,000,000+ people the ability with one stroke of the pen to determine who lives and who doesn’t? And do you really want the federal government to determine who can get married and who can’t? Do you realize how great of a risk you’re taking giving that kind of power to our central government?

Christians will continue to lose political victories if they keep giving the federal government power over social issues. Why? Because all it takes is a handful of men in the federal government to change everything. The best answer is to limit federal power and give more authority to the states. Then Christians can have more influence in legislation that affects them and elect someone closer to their worldview. But even then, it will never be perfect. As I stated before, the ultimate solution to our country’s problems is the gospel, not the government.

2. Confusion on whether our government should be a theocracy or not

Most Christians would say they aren’t trying to make America into a theocracy. But practically speaking, this often doesn’t appear to be the case.

Let’s talk about gay marriage again. Why do Christians want to outlaw gay marriage? The quick answer is, “Because it’s a sin!” But if you actually read what the Bible says about marriage, you’ll find that it never addresses gay marriage at all. What it does address is homosexuality, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Even if gay marriage were banned, homosexuality, which is the real sin issue, would still continue in America. So should Christians lobby for banning homosexuality? What about premarital sex? Divorce? Covetousness? Deceit?

Pretty soon you go down the slippery slope and find yourself creating a government based on the rules of the Bible. You might even call it a theocracy. But that’s a good thing, right?

Wrong. For starters, the Bible is not a government handbook. But more importantly, people should have the right to choose to sin or to turn away from their sin to Christ. God gave us free will for a reason, and it’s not the government’s job to decide our morality for us. The government’s primary responsibility is to protect and sustain its citizens. There are some sins that inhibit a person’s protection or sustenance and those should be outlawed, but it’s outside the bounds of a government’s responsibility to tell people that they can’t sin. That’s God’s job, not the government.

3. Confusion on what significance Christian symbols really have

Most Christians feel threatened by the government when it does things like outlawing the Ten Commandments from being in schools and courthouses, outlawing public prayer in government buildings, eliminating crosses from public parks, etc. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to fight for religious freedom, but our fight should be done properly and intelligently, not angrily and defensively. And our fight for freedom should come second to our expression of our freedom – namely our efforts to make people into disciples of Christ.

Furthermore, much of the fight over “freedom” is more of a fight over the symbols of Christianity than it is over real freedom. I could go on with this point, but it has already been articulated quite well.

I learned that Christians want religious entitlements. “Liberals” allegedly want social entitlements from the government; so Christians expect the government to provide what I’m going to call “religious entitlements,” and ultimately this is exactly what the Republican Party has promised to evangelicals in order to get their vote.

What do I mean by “religious entitlements?” I mean that we think that we shouldn’t have to make difficult decisions between obeying God and obeying the the government. We think that people should be forced to have the same worldview as us. We think that we should be able to be hateful toward those who disagree with us, without consequences. We think that we should be able to hold to our Christian beliefs while still pursuing the American Dream. We think that the government should give precedence to Christianity over other religions. We think that we have the right to be Christian and have it easy.

The majority of our brothers and sisters in Christ who live overseas would have no idea what we’re talking about. Nor would they desire to.

I’m not saying that religious freedom is bad. I’m just saying that we aren’t entitled to it and we shouldn’t tell the world that we are. That turns them off to Christ all the more, just like it turns us off when we see people mooching off the government for entitlements that we don’t think they deserve. We should be grateful when given religious freedoms, respectful when they’re taken away, and resolute when the absence of religious freedom forces us to practice civil disobedience.

Do you know what happened when the Christians of the Early Church had their “religious entitlements” taken away? They rejoiced. They didn’t cry about it. They didn’t talk about God bringing judgment on their country. They didn’t run away, scared. They thanked God for being able to share, in a small way, in the sufferings of Christ and of the believers who went before them.

The Republican Party appears, in a lot of ways, to be a dying breed. Either Christians can go down with the Republican ship, fighting for air after every wave of opposition comes crashing down, or they can cut the cord once and for all and be followers of Christ, as our true King commands them to us. Christians haven’t had any problem following God in a country full of religious liberties. The question is, whether that commitment to God will remain when the social conservatism that the Republican Party has kept alive ceases to exist.

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why watching basketball made me thankful of the cross

I love sports. I love basketball. I love watching the Los Angeles Lakers lose. And so, last night when they choked to the Dallas Mavericks to go down in the best of seven series 0-3, I was overjoyed. In fact, I was giddy. Very little in that moment could have made me happier than watching the Lakers team stomp off the court in disappointment.

But as I was getting ready to go to bed, I started thinking about my feelings of happiness. After all, all of our glorying is to be in the cross (Gal 6:14), right? What is happening when I glory in something other than the cross like a basketball game or my family or a good book or my job or a fun time with friends? Clearly it is not wrong to enjoy non-spiritual things in life – this defies both logic and the direct teaching of Scripture (Eccl. 5:18-20; 1 Tim. 6:17b). But what do these seemingly worldly pleasures have to do with the cross, from which all our glory is to come?

The answer, rooted in the gospel, is both simple and profound – without the cross, I can have no worldly pleasure. The cross, the gospel is what enables me to enjoy the world, for it satisfies and squelches those things in life that prevent true and lasting happiness and provides a joyful foundation upon which all other happiness can be built.

Of course, there is a very obvious objection here: non-Christians can enjoy things in life too, and if a non-Christian is able to experience happiness without the cross, doesn’t that mean that the cross really has nothing to do with it?  The short answer to that question is: yes, a non-Christian can experience happiness, but this happiness is only because God originally created the world as a good place for man to enjoy. As a result, there is some enjoyment to be had, regardless of whether or not you’re a Christian, that is a natural byproduct of living in the world God created.

To put it another way, the world isn’t a bad/miserable place to live in that somehow becomes a good/enjoyable place only for Christians. On the contrary, the world is a good place created by a good God, but when sin came, it corrupted the world so that was once totally good is now good* [with an asterisk]. Sin didn’t eradicate life completely, but it made life, which was intended to be eternal, something that is temporary. Sin didn’t destroy pleasure, but it instituted pain as the default human experience, making pleasure difficult to find and transient. Sin didn’t destroy relationships, but it fraught them with frustration, pain, and heartache. Yes, there is still good and happiness in this world that any man can experience regardless of whether or not he is a Christian, but that good is fleeting, incomplete, and difficult to find and keep. Only the cross can neutralize the effects of sin and restore man’s soul to give him lasting joy and happiness.

But again, we must bring this back down to reality, to the practical realm, otherwise it is nothing but idle philosophy. So consider: if a stranger put a gun to your head and sat you in front of your favorite TV show or movie, how much would you be able to enjoy the show? Or if you were given an exquisite meal at a five star restaurant but had heard that some of their food had recently been found to have E. coli,  how much would you enjoy the meal? Or if you were given a newly built beach house that was right in the path of a massive hurricane,  how much would you be able to enjoy your new property?

There are two possible responses to these questions. On the one hand you may say, “There is a significant element of risk to all of those scenarios, but I would be able to put it in the back of mind and enjoy what I was given without worrying about the possibility of pain, suffering, or death.” Or you may say, “I would not be able to enjoy any of those scenarios because I would not be able to get over the fact that I have something much more significant and dangerous hanging over my head, threatening to replace my pleasure with instant pain or death.” Very few honest people, if any, would be able to give the first response. The vast majority of us – probably all of us – would have to agree with the latter of the two.

Whereas these scenarios of trying to be happy while your life is at risk might seem ridiculous, in reality the non-Christian faces something very similar everyday. There is certain pleasure to be found in entertainment, in food, in relationships, etc., but the pleasure will be lost in a heartbeat if only the stock market crashes or he has a stroke during the basketball game or chokes on his food at the restaurant or his loved one is permanently disabled in a car accident. He must spend his life protecting his assets from disaster and his health from decline, for if he loses any of the things in his life (or life itself), then he has nothing. He has no control over any freak accident that could suddenly bring his kingdom crashing down on his head, and he can only do his best to preserve what he has, enjoy the fleeting moments of pleasure those things bring, and try to ignore the inevitable great loss that he will suffer when he loses it all at death (or some sooner event). Life is a merciless ticking time bomb set to explode at the most inopportune time with no bias for anyone based on their race, sex, education, or wealth.

However, in addition to the inevitability of losing everything, there is yet one more problem that prevents the non-Christian from finding complete, lasting happiness: the afterlife. The best case scenario for him is that he views the afterlife as a big unknown over which he has very little control and for which he will have very little preparation prior to getting there. Maybe his loved ones will be there; maybe they won’t. Maybe there will be pain; maybe there won’t. Maybe he’ll be able to come and go as he pleases; maybe he won’t. The sheer enormity of possibilities is both staggering and terrifying. It’s like running off a cliff with your eyes closed, not knowing if the drop on the other side is a few inches or half a mile, overrun by ravenous wolves or harmless sheep, made of jagged rocks or filled with water. From a non-Christian perspective, that is the best scenario for the afterlife, and it’s fearful.

The worst case scenario is that he recognizes and/or fears that there is a final judgment in the afterlife and that there is a good possibility he will face hell for eternity. It’s a dreaded reality that he’s continually forced to shove into the back of his mind, hoping that it’s not true, trying to convince himself that maybe all those religions and churches and preachers and apostles got it wrong.

And so, here’s his predicament: he tries to enjoy life and find happiness all the while recognizing that in a second it could all be taken away from him, and that, after it is taken from him, it will be replaced with something unknown and uncontrollable – possibly an eternity of separation from all things good in hell. It really isn’t much of a stretch to compare it to trying to have fun while a loaded gun is pointed at your head or while standing in the path of a killer hurricane. There may be moments of happiness but these moments are built on a foundation of gloom and fear of the uncontrollable future, for no matter how much happiness you heap up, you can die at any moment, and when you do, you will not be able to bring with you the things from this life into the next. Death and loss may come at any moment.

This is where the cross comes in. As a Christian, the gospel teaches me that this world is not a random assortment of events that could turn on me at any moment, but that God has orchestrated a story of redemption from the very beginning and that my life is just a very small piece of that much greater work of salvation that God accomplished on the cross. It teaches me that, even though difficult circumstances may arise and I may suffer great loss, nothing can ever separate me from the love of God.  It teaches me that because God has forgiven my sin and I’m not under wrath, I do not have to fear death or the coming judgment, for I will serve my Lord in heaven forever.

Yes, the cross working through the power of the gospel has liberated my soul to enjoy life, for I know that my future is in the hands of the loving God who sent His Son to save me! What then do I have to fear? Loss of possessions? No, because God is in control and has promised me a hundredfold in the next life. Death? No, because Christ has already conquered death and will raise my body from the grave to live eternally. The afterlife? No, because that simply means that I will be absent from this body of pain and present with my great Savior.

And so, as I watch a basketball game, eat good food, enjoy time with family, or do anything else that brings happiness, there is nothing to hold me back from enjoying those things supremely, because Christ on the cross has settled the score with heaven once and for all. My future, in Christ, is secure. I have no fear, no doubt, no dread in my mind, because to live is Christ and to die is gain. True and lasting love, joy, and peace is there for me to experience every day as I live knowing that Christ on the cross has saved my sinful soul eternally.