This week, our Congress convened to officialize the results of November’s presidential election. But the session was interrupted by protesters-turned-rioters who crossed barriers, assaulted officers, broke into the Capitol Building, destroyed and stole federal property, and threatened innocent people, all while arrogantly justifying their actions. Dozens of people were injured and at least 5 people are dead. Some of these rioters claim that God prompted their actions.
What does it mean to be a Christian in America?
I am a believer in God Almighty, the Creator, the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the second Person of the Trinity, who willingly humbled Himself to become a Man, who suffered and died an innocent and sacrificial death for me and all of humanity, and who triumphed over death by His resurrection. He offers every person eternal life.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, who indwells me and overflows from me to minister to others, who bestows supernatural gifts and cultivates my own soul, producing the fruit of godly character, so that I look, talk, and act more like Jesus as I humble myself to His work in me.
I believe that God is the definition and expression of selfless love, that He alone defines truth and sets the boundaries of morality, that He is as merciful as He is just, and that He alone is to be revered and worshipped because He alone is God.
So, what does it mean to be a Christian in America?
God did not incite the cruel, destructive behavior that occurred on Capitol Hill this week. Oh, yes – God was there, but not stirring up a riot. God was there with a congresswoman who prayed and declared divine protection over her colleagues and her nation. God was there because true Christians all over the nation went to prayer as soon as we heard the horrifying news. God was there because people were hurting.
The heart of God is never reflected in things like hatred, racism, or the devaluing of human life – whether that life is black, or that life is an officer, or that life is yet unborn. Neither is God’s heart reflected by rioting, rebellion, and arrogance. God doesn’t force His way into Capitol Buildings any more than He would force His way into any person’s life.
I have grown increasingly weary of and deeply concerned over the moral posturing of men and women whose religion has more to do with nationalism, politics, and social-media influence than it is about the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a cheap badge to flash in an attempt to justify a mob. Christianity is not a cloak worn to disguise hypocrisy and malevolence. God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. In fact, God is not even an American. We belittle the Almighty when we assume He is on our side.
Jesus was never a politician. He didn’t protest Herod, barge in on the Sanhedrin, or attempt to overthrow Rome. In fact, the only house He judged was the House of God.
Jesus’ own followers urged Him to set up an earthly kingdom, but He would not. When the crowds sought to crown Him as king, Jesus refused. Why? No earthly, human government is fit for the King of Kings. His kingdom is eternal and universal. His kingdom is not limited to a person, a nation, or a political party.
Why do we feel so compelled to demonize one politician and deify the other? Why do we use God, His Word, and “prophetic utterances” for our own agendas? It’s still political activism even when it wears church clothes. The truth is, Jesus did not vote for outgoing President Donald Trump. Nor did He vote for President-Elect Joe Biden. We the people did that. Our decisions are on us.
Our nation will not be reformed by political activism (as worthy as that may be in its rightful place), but by a sweeping move of God’s Spirit among people who daily choose to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and who also choose to love their neighbors as themselves.
If you are a Christian, please consider my admonishment:
- Now is not the time for prideful posturing, but for humble repentance and honest refection.
- Now is not the time for political protests, but for intercession and prayer. It is a sad, pitiful Christian who believes that protests outperform prayers.
- Now is not the time for excuses, but for change. We must do justly. We must love mercy. We must walk humbly before our God.
If you are not a Christian, please consider my sincere requests:
- Please do not judge all of Christianity by those who have abused it for their own gain. True Christians are appalled and embarrassed by those who do evil in the name of our Savior.
- Please, if you want to judge the validity of our faith, look to our Christ, not merely at our Christianity. Where Christianity has faltered, Christ never did. Where Christians fail, Christ never has. Christians cannot claim to be perfect – or even better than anyone else. What we are assured of is that Jesus Christ saves and redeems honest, penitent people.
I am an American, a grateful one at that. This week I was reminded that not every American accurately represents America’s values.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This week I was reminded that not every “christian” accurately represents the person of Jesus.
So I pray.
Our Father, in heaven,
Hallowed be Your Name.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)
The book of James is a direct, straightforward call for believers in Jesus to demonstrate our faith.
Like most “books” in the New Testament, James is actually a letter (epistle) written by the Apostle James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and also the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). This James is not to be confused with either of Jesus’ two disciples (James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus). Historical data indicate that James did not believe Jesus was anything more than a mere human, much less the Messiah/Son of God – that is, until Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:7). Nothing like a good resurrection to change your theology!
Despite his apostolic role in the early church and his direct, lifelong familial relationship with Jesus, James does not even mention his position or his pedigree, but refers to himself simply as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). His humility notwithstanding, James uncompromisingly speaks with boldness and authority, calling true believers to express their faith through practical means of ministry to others. “Faith without works is dead” (2:26)!
So focused is James’ letter on the “works” of the believer that a few later theologians questioned whether or not the book of James ought to have been canonized (recognized as inspired Scripture). James’ insistence for us to demonstrate our faith by our works should not be seen as a threat to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. James knew that our works do not save us; however, he also knew that, if we are truly saved, our salvation is proven by our works.
So, what can we learn from James?
- Jesus loves to reveal Himself to those who are critical, skeptical, and cynical. In fact, Jesus transforms non-believers (like James and Saul/Paul), often entrusting them to build the very kingdom they once sought to disprove.
- Doctrine without demonstration is worthless.
- Following Jesus is not merely a matter of personal growth, but of social impact.
As you read the words of James, ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to demonstrate your faith!
Imagine what Stranger Things would be like without the techno music pulsating in the background. Or Full House without “Everywhere You Look”. Or SpongeBob without “Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea”!? Or Jaws without “duuuun dunnn…”! Or Rocky without the “Eye of the Tiger”!?!
Whether you realize it or not, music is one of the most powerful forces in the world. The right music can pump up an athlete for a hardcore workout while a lullaby can calm a child into a peaceful sleep. Music can feed a person’s rage or help them focus on their studies.
When I was a young teenager I went to my very first concert. Several hundred people, mostly teenagers and young adults, were jammed in a small venue. The neon colors so prevalent in the 80’s were muted by the haze from the fog machines. The energy level went through the roof as Mylon Lefevre and Broken Heart came out on the stage. These guys were some of the first to bridge the gap between rock music and Christianity.
Partway through the concert one of the band members went off on a nasty guitar solo (I mean that in a good way). The room went nuts. Then, an acoustic guitar began playing a song I had never heard before. I listened as Mylon began to sing what was really a prayer put to music:
Break my heart and change my mind
Cut me loose from ties that bind
Lead me as I follow You
Give me strength to follow through
Oh, more, more, I want to be more like Jesus
Suddenly, amidst the haze and the lights and the crowd, I felt the presence of God. He became very real to me. Tears welled up in my eyes. I raised my hands to the heavens and cried out to God. I wanted to be more like Jesus. (Listen to More, by Mylon LeFevre.)
That song became a sort of anthem for me. I remember being in my bedroom on many occasions, burdened by the hypocrisy in my life, dropping to my knees, hands in the air, tears streaming, while I sang “more of Jesus, less of me.” God met me in those moments.
Today begins a long-standing church tradition called Lent. The 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday are a time for reflection, repentance, soul-searching, and preparation leading up to the celebration of the most significant event in history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many believers choose to fast some type of food or deny themselves in some way in order to give focused attention to Jesus. While I don’t think the observation of Lent is mandated by Scripture, I have found it to be valuable.
What would it look like if you, for the next 40 days, devoted yourself to listen only to music that makes you more like Jesus? Imagine the benefits on your mind, your emotions, your attitude, and your relationships.
Sometimes “more of Jesus” requires “less of me.”
Today you will be tempted. I will, too. If we choose that which is forbidden, the repercussions of our decisions can range from “no big deal” to “long-term destruction.”
Where is the line? What, exactly, makes something a sin? Clearly, cheating on my diet is not the same thing as cheating on my taxes or cheating on my wife. How then should I view temptation, and, more importantly, how can I overcome it when I face it?
A deeply significant account of temptation is told of Jesus Himself, who, after fasting for 40 days, was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan (see Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4).
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 4:1–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
If temptation is merely defined as an allurement toward sin, we are only viewing one side of the coin. Properly understood, temptation involves not merely a turning toward sin, but a turning from God. In other words, the actual temptation is to distrust God to be all-sufficient in our lives. Temptation, then, is not so much about what we are drawn to, but who we are drawn away from.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent and ate that which was forbidden. But why? Because they, in that moment, trusted their own judgment more than trusted God.
When faced with temptations, our consciences often alert us that something is not right, but we often override the warnings and justify our actions. In essence, we choose to be god, defining good and evil for ourselves. This is, in fact, the ultimate sin of humanity, it is the iniquity that resides in us – to define good and evil for ourselves and to be our own gods.
Today you will be tempted to be god. You will want to justify an action, an attitude, or a thought. Ask yourself, why am I not trusting God right now? Why am I listening to the voice of the enemy? Why am I entertaining the idea of being my own god?
The enemy overpromises and underdelivers.
- Satan promised provision (if Jesus would turn rocks into bread).
- Satan promised protection (if Jesus would jump from the pinnacle of the Temple).
- Satan promised power (if Jesus would bow and worship him, Satan would give Him the kingdoms of the world).
Jesus, however, knew the limitations and manipulations of Satan’s offers.
- Only God can truly provide for our deepest needs.
- Only God can truly protect us from the enemy of our souls.
- Only God can truly empower us with eternal glory and authority.
Temptation, once properly analyzed, begins to lose its luster and loosen its grip. Why would I trust the enemy of my soul, who is a master deceiver? Why would I trust my own human judgment, enthroning myself as the god of my life, defining good and evil for myself? Why would I follow the ways and wisdom of the world, which leads to utter destruction?
Why wouldn’t I trust God? Has He ever been unfaithful to His Word, or to me?
I met Tommy at a local coffee shop. He was playing solitaire – like, with an actual deck of cards. I sat down at a table next to him. He asked me what time it was. Then he asked what day it was.
At one point he leaned over and asked if I had a calculator. I pulled out my phone and asked him what equation he needed to be solved. He said, “I want to know the exact amount of B25.” I thought to myself, “I’m gonna need to turn my calculator sideways for this one.” I asked him what number B represented, but he wasn’t sure.
Tommy told me he slept in the bushes last night. The temperature dropped close to the freezing point. I can’t imagine how cold he must have been.
I asked Tommy if he was hungry, then walked with him to the counter and let him order whatever he wanted. I paid for his meal and then gave him some cash so he could have a few more meals. He thanked me and then he gave me a hug.
When you meet someone’s immediate needs, you are that much closer to meeting their deepest need.
I didn’t meet Tommy’s deepest need today, but I met an immediate need. The truth is, only Jesus can meet a person’s deepest need, but one thing I can do is give people Hope.
In his famous “sermon on the mount” Jesus revealed the kind of conversation that will one day occur between Him and His faithful followers.
The King will say, “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Mt. 25:35-40, NKJV).
Do you want to give somebody Hope today?
- Engage your hands. Look for opportunities to minister to people in practical ways.
- Engage your heart. Live an authentic life for Jesus.
- Engage your head. Learn how to answer life’s questions by studying God’s word and compassionately applying it to real life.
You are most fulfilled when you give yourself to others. Today is a good day to give somebody Hope!