Politics, Religion, and "Polite" Conversation
“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. Jude 17-19
Google the words “politics and religion and you will find enough advice to sink a battleship on why “polite conversation avoids these two topics at all costs! Strength for the Day has pretty much avoided politics (though that is never perfectly possible); our focus is religion; that is, religion as understood in its root meaning: “a binding back to God. It has always been our purpose for our readers to be more closely bound to the God of their salvation, to increase in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; and if you do not know Him personally, to seek Him. At the Paul Anderson Youth Home we have found in 49 years of experience that success in our mission with troubled young men is directly related to the transformation of their lives through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and their Heavenly Father; and keeping that commitment in all seriousness as they face life’s challenges and temptations.
Though the NT book of Jude was written almost 2000 years ago, its prophetic words of warning could not be more relevant in our world today. There have always been scoffers and mockers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the defense of which is Jude’s proclaimed call. Now, it may just be the all-invasive communications technology of the 21st century, but don’t you think, as I do, that scoffing and mocking have risen to new heights today? Whether such is true or not, the air waves are now filled with the most cynical, vile, scurrilous mocking of the gospel and its followers, as well as any with whom these mockers disagree. Talk about division; not only in America, but division in every nation of the world where free thought and speech is allowed! Polls ad nauseum (costing billions of dollars) in this election year show one thing very clearly: people are divided! And division always revolves around the two “no-no topics: religion and politics; the soil out of which everything else sprouts. How can these two topics ever be avoided, unless you constrict your conversation to the weather, sports, gossip, or how your body feels? And if that is the extent of your conversation how will you ever advance the communication of the gospel into your world?
Three major “players in our lives demanding your attention jump out of Jude’s warning: ungodly desires, mere natural instincts, and the Spirit. All three are essential in determining where you stand in religion and politics. These three are vague, contradictory, murky concepts apart from the Word of God; they come into focus only under the microscope of God’s Word. Unfortunately, many professing Christians are ignorant of the Word or simply deny its authority. Ungodly desires and mere natural instincts always lead you away from truth in religion and politics. But the Spirit, Jesus promised, “will lead you into all truth. (John 16:13) Consider the issues of the nation and of true religion in light of the Word without attempting to explain away some “unacceptable portions with mere natural instincts or ungodly desires, as many do to justify their choices. God’s Word declares economic principles, the sanctity of life, the vocation and necessity of work, sexual identity and practice, the definition of marriage, the nature of discipline and sacrifice and character, what constitutes justice for all, our responsibility of care for the poor, widows and orphans, the evil of prejudice, et cetera, et cetera. You cannot accept part of the Word and reject selected passages. The Word of God stands together, not in segments. But it can never be understood or believed apart from the Spirit who guided its writers and alone opens the mind and heart of its readers. (2 Timothy 3:15)
In faith and in politics the Word of God and the Spirit of the Word must be your guide, remembering that each of us must one day give account for our words, choices and deeds. Ungodly desires and mere natural instincts will not stand in the judgment. Those who are led by the Spirit of God will.
“Thy love divine hath led us in the past; In this free land by thee our lot is cast; Be thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide, and Stay; Thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.
(2nd verse of Daniel Roberts’ hymn, “God of Our Fathers, 1876)
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GOING ALL IN
“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt….. Jude 21-22
Doubters are common and complex. The practice and process of doubting the sensibleness of faith, believing in the God who is, is certainly difficult to critique with broad, indiscriminate strokes as though all doubters can be lumped into one bundle. Since I have not personally experienced severe doubt in my own life, that is, doubt in the foundational belief that there is a God who has revealed Himself in creation and in His Son, Jesus Christ, I am unwilling to presume an intimate understanding of the personalized struggle doubters experience, especially of those who have once “known faith and the message of the Gospel before doubting it. I know there are those who doubt out of sheer mental laziness; they simply shut their eyes to seeking answers to the challenges and difficulties of life. Blaise Pascal described such this way: “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. Many others doubt because of the evil they experience or observe in our fallen world. Some doubt because they cannot see what faith postulates or on their own terms verifiably test its veracity to their satisfaction; the supernatural for them is beyond human reason, and therefore irrational or unbelievable.
C.S. Lewis wrote in one of his letters: “I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence; but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don’t think so—the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so. However, there is nothing to do but peg away. One falls so often that it hardly seems worth while picking oneself up and going through the farce of starting over again as if you could ever hope to walk. Still, this seeming absurdity is the only sensible thing I do, so I must continue it. Lewis is expressing obedience to Jude’s admonition, “Be merciful to those who doubt, in writing to another and admitting his own not-to-uncommon struggle with feelings and his response of sheer faith. In grieving the untimely death of his wife, with whom he had a joyful and too short marriage, he wrote about its impact on his faith: “Bridge-players [you could substitute poker as the current rage] tell me that there must be some money on the game “or else some people won’t take it seriously. Apparently it’s like that. Your bid—for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or non-entity—will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. The non-serious doubter is a fool. The one who doubts had better be “all-in in seeking answers or else his struggle is not credible. Too many are only playing games with themselves, with God, and thus with eternity.
I have recently been rereading Jacques Ellul’s The Judgment of Jonah . Jonah being delivered from the depths of the sea by a great fish is a biblical account that has been attributed to inciting doubt for some in the truth of God’s Word. Though I do not find agreement with Ellul in everything he projects, many brilliant points he makes are worthy of meditation; especially in those like me who do not think they are as impacted by doubt as others. He claims we miss the point in believing, as I do, or not believing in “the great fish rescue as though that is the supreme point in the history of Jonah. If we miss the message of Jonah’s story as our Savior’s chosen illustration of His own redemptive work for us on the cross; his truly dying and going down into hell to show his power over that terrible place, followed by His breaking the bonds of death in rising from the grave on our behalf; if we miss the primary message, then believing in the historicity of the great fish rescue is neither here nor there. Too often we claim not to doubt, yet somehow miss the application to our own sinful lives of the powerful truth the Lord wants us to see and experience; the message which is able to completely transform a person. There is always danger in “believing what is found in the Bible in terms of facts, the supernatural, the miracles, and the like, and yet not being personally “put to death by the Word; knowing the terrors of death and hell even as Jonah did going down into the deep, both experiencing and signifying death and hell itself; standing in utter awe of the Gospel, and being made new by it. There are many ways to express doubt, and thus every believer should daily assimilate David’s prayer as his or her own: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 23-24) As Lewis says we doubters need to go “all in.
“Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?
(3rd verse of Isaac Watts hymn, “How Sweet and Awful is the Place, 1707)
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“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6
Most of us come into the world doubting. We are doubting creatures. Such is the rule not the exception. Mom or Dad says, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot, but we have to find out for ourselves. “OUCH! The examples are far too numerous to count, stretching throughout childhood into adulthood. If we question our parents or those in authority, as we are wont to do, isn’t it pretty much a given that we will question or doubt God at some time? Doubting God is much more the norm for the human race, both believer and unbeliever, than trusting Him and always taking Him at His word. There are all kinds of “provocations in this life to inspire or motivate doubting God, whether doubt in His existence, or doubt in who He is, what He has done, or what He has said.
One very talented and bright young lady once said, “Doubt indulged soon becomes doubt realized. She died at the age of 42. She suffered ill health most of her short life which gave her exceptional pain, especially in dying. She lost her closest friend and earliest confidant at the age of 6 and her dearly loved mother at 11. She was reading by the age of 3. She was convincingly convicted of her sin when only six. She wrote her first of many hymns at seven. While still a girl she began a Society for the clothing of poor children. In her education she mastered Latin, Greek, French, German, and Hebrew, in addition to her native tongue, English. She could fluently read the Bible in its original languages. She was able to quote the Gospels, Epistles, Revelation, The Psalms and Isaiah from memory. She had a number of proposals of marriage which she declined. The one she loved deeply did not share her faith in Christ, so she obeyed her King by denying herself and not marrying an unbeliever. This woman had more provocations than most to indulge in doubt, and knew the subject well as she penned the quote above. Francis Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was best known for her many hymns still sung today and for her consecration to the One of whom she wrote so beautifully; “Like a River Glorious, “Take My Life and Let it Be, “Who is on the Lord’s Side?, “Thy Life Was Given for Me, are but a few of her well-loved hymns.
The most renowned of all doubters became universally known as “Doubting Thomas. I am sure he would like to have that moment in his life back, except for what insight it has afforded millions of doubters since. How many today fall into the same category, yet unlike Thomas come to no hopeful resolution because they indulge their doubting until it truly is realized? Thomas doubted the eyewitness accounts of his closest friends and confidants for those three remarkable years of amazing experiences with Christ. He ignored or was simply ignorant of centuries of prophetic Scripture able to answer his doubt before the infamous demand for evidence on his terms. His longsuffering Savior tenderly granted his demand, but gave an enduring promise and warning to centuries of doubters yet to follow: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed! (John 20:29) Or, in fair warning, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25)
Job doubted in the extreme severity of his anguish, questioning why he should ever have been allowed to see the light of day; yet never lost sight of this first truth: it is God alone with whom we have to do and absolutely no one or nothing else! If you are wrestling with doubt, never forsake wrestling with God to wrestle with something or someone else as though God neither exists or is not who Scripture says He is. The latter will prove you a fool; the former offers hope. Do not let Him go until you have your answer!
“And though the world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us, The Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
(3rd verse of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God, 1529)
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Sunday Morning Coming Down: Part Two
[Jesus said], “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” John 16:32
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
Kristopherson focused on it as he wrote “Sunday Morning Coming Down”: that familiar, palpable loneliness which in one way, place, or time or another everyone experiences. Just consider how much of your life, even in a large city, in a family, in a marriage, wherever, you spend alone. That in itself doesn’t make you a lonely person, but it does remind you of your distinct “separateness,” your own inner world; some shared with another or others, much private. And yet there are times when you do experience genuine loneliness, if only a glimpse, or in other cases, much, much more. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” starts off with a sense of physical loneliness, but its burden becomes the heaviest when the awareness of spiritual loneliness kicks in. In his song Kristopherson senses there is something he lost somewhere along the way. In a few longed for moments of his past, he remembers the drawing of his spirit in another direction, but other things always took preference in his choices.
It is spiritual loneliness that most haunts the atheist or agnostic, even as it compels the seeker. In the solely material universe of the atheist, a universe seen through his own presuppositions while ignoring certain glaring evidences, a universe without any external influence or power, without creator or designer, a sense of loneliness eventually engulfs him; deep within there is something, something crucial, something essential that is missing. He isn’t satisfied; he cannot find rest; he is incomplete. Augustine called this unsatisfied, restless, imperfection a God shaped vacuum within every person; a vacuum producing infinite restlessness until it finds rest in the One whose imprint is all over our DNA.
Sent by His Father, Jesus was unambiguous in proclaiming His identity and His mission. “I and the Father are One.” “No man can come to the Father except through me.” And in the Gospels He reveals a singular habit in His life: conversation and fellowship alone with His Father! A close friend of mine frequently ministers to career missionaries. One of the common elements he found in them was that their demanding schedule in meeting the needs of those they served precluded them from time alone with God; that is, consistent, significant, and contiguous time alone with the One who called them to be His missionaries in the first place. And since it was not a habit they had ever cut out and protected from the busyness that inundates us all, where to begin and how to use the time? Consider Jesus’ schedule as the needs of the people pressed in upon Him constantly, yet He always found time to get to “lonely places” for conversation and fellowship with His Father. We do not expect the atheist or the agnostic to pursue such a habit, or understand it; nor the seeker to be at such a point. But what of the professing and committed believer? What of the person who professes to be a life-long follower of Christ? If we claim to be imitators of Him, how do we continue to neglect such a prominent habit of His life in ours? Loneliness is not just an experience of the atheist or agnostic, believers know it as well. And it will invade our lives if we do not nurture the habit of time alone with our Father and Savior in places where we cannot be distracted; filling the God shaped vacuum!
There are places where the King James Bible remains superior to the best modern translations and where it conveys a hidden nugget of truth the up-to-date English vocabulary may miss. Thus Philippians 3:20 reads in the KJV, “For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “citizenship” may not at first glance lead us to the thought. While your life is still in this world, how much of your conversation is in heaven. In other words, when you converse and fellowship with the Father and the Lord alone in a “lonely place,” such may be a conversation in heaven. Jesus chose to make it happen regularly. You can as well, if you choose. We do not want the words of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to be true of us when we can do something about it now: “And it took me back to somethin’, that I’d lost somehow somewhere along the way.”
“I need thy presence every passing hour; What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like thyself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.”
(3rd verse of Henry Lyte’s hymn, “Abide with Me”, 1847)
Read Sunday Morning Coming Down: Part 1
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