Is There No Balm in Washington?

Last week marked another tragedy in our country—more children dead at the hands of a peer. The story is all too familiar and it reflects how desperately sick we are as a people. The chaos, strife, and anger in our hearts have flooded into our streets, our schools, and our discourse. As a people, few of us would say we are healthy and are heading in the right direction. Our trajectory is clear, yet we are blind, or unwilling, to admit it. The latest tragedy is just that, the latest one. There will surely be more of the same.

Evils like this do not happen in a vacuum. There are a lot of contributing factors which have led to such tragedies being commonplace. Mass shootings are not the disease, they are the painful symptoms a society which has been declining in health for some time. What is the illness? Sin. Specifically, high rebellion against God in every area of a life. The disease of unbelief has spread like malicious cancer into every corner of our society and its fruit is evident for anyone observing from a Christian worldview.

The driving ethic of our sin is replacing God with lesser things. We have told ourselves and our children that life is all about me. My goal in life is to seek myself, to be true to myself, to do what makes me happy. The problem is we cannot satisfy ourselves, let alone make ourselves happy. When we turn inward to replace God with ourselves we always come back dissatisfied. The further down this path we go the worse it gets. In order to justify our pursuit of the self, we have told our children there is no right and wrong. Do what is right for you.

This pursuit of the self is killing us. We have convinced ourselves we are descended from animals, and then we are shocked when our kids act like animals. We have held survival of the fittest as the ethic by which the universe moves forward and then we are dismayed when people live like its true. If it isn’t wrong for a lion, gorilla, or shark to kill his adversaries, then why would it be wrong for us? Ideas are important. They have consequences. We cannot teach these things to entire generations and expect it to not bear its fruit. To reject God always leads to death. 

In response to the latest tragedy, Christians have rightly offered prayer. They have turned to the God who hears and who saves.  The response of many has been to attack prayer as useless to our problem and with this we go further down the rabbit hole. What would the secularists then offer as hope? They turn to their god, the government. They plead with Washington D.C., “Save us! Do something!” In the vacuum we have created by rejecting God something always takes his place.  The problem is the government not only can’t stop our current downward spiral, turning to the government instead of God is just another step toward death, chaos, and strife. Things will only worsen because there is no power in Washington to heal our wounds. 

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In Jeremiah 8 the prophet laments the state of his people, Israel. They had rejected God in favor ofidols and the wisdom of the world. The result was the same as it is for us today—chaos, strife, discord, and violence. The people were falling apart. Their sin was consuming them. This always what sin does. This is God's world and if you reject him, it will not go well for you. 

In Jeremiah 8.21-22 the prophet says, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

Jeremiah weeps for his people and their current suffering, just as we do. Then he asks the important question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Israel had turned to Gilead time and again to fix their problems, but it wasn’t working. They turned to the wisdom of their age, to the medicine of their day, the doctors of their day to fix what was ultimately a spiritual problem. The point Jeremiah is making is obvious, “Why do you keep hitting your head on the wall and expect a different result? Why do you keep going after that which is killing you expecting it to save you?” If there was actual power in Gilead to save, then Israel would have been already been healed. Instead, it was Gilead who had taken the place of God in their hearts.The pursuit of healing from Gilead was killing them.  

This is us. We turn to our politicians, our government, and our rebellious ways of thinking expecting it will bring healing. The problem is: the farther we go on this road the worse our illness gets. Is there no physician in Washington to heal us? Is there no balm there? If there is, then why are we getting worse? 
The solution for Israel and for us is the same—turn in repentance to God.

I am not advocating for belief in a general god. Most Americans profess belief in a god (who happens to look a lot like us). What we need to do is turn to the God who is there, the one who created everything. The one who has revealed himself in Scripture and through his Son Jesus Christ. This is the only way for healing to ever truly come. 

As a people, we need to do an about-face, a full 180. We must walk the long road of repentance in all areas of life and it must start now by acknowledging our sinful rebellion against our Creator and his Son. The truth is there is healing available, but we must humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes. I am not calling for the mere mental belief that God exists, but genuine faith which is marked by hearts broken over sin and a humble obedience to the commands of God.

This must pervade every area of our thinking. Man is not an animal, but he is made in the image of God. There is a universal moral standard of right and wrong. Life is not about pursuing ourselves, but about dying to ourselves and following Christ. Parents are to raise their kids, not to look to schools to replace them. Ideas have consequences. If we will walk this road of repentance, then we can find the healing eluding us. There is power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is power to heal and to change hearts, but first, our sinful hearts must be replaced with hearts of flesh by repentance and faith.

So I will continue to pray. To pray for widespread repentance and faith. This is our only hope, and it is a glorious hope because unlike Washington it has the power to heal the wounded, forgive sinners, restore families, and bring people into right relation with God and others. To this end, the church of Christ must labor by preaching the gospel of Christ's sacrificial death and his victorious resurrection. 
 

What Tolkien Can Teach Christians About Our Current Moment

One of the great things about JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is his uncanny ability to relate truth about the human condition through his made-up fantasy world. This is what brings me back to the books again and again. Of late the evangelical community in America has been in turmoil, almost as if it is at war with itself. As I have watched this unfold, I keep coming back to Tolkien’s great work. There is a section in Tolkien’s work which offers us guidance with our current issues—the Scouring of the Shire.

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At the end of the major conflict in The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits return home. They expect to find it as they left it—peaceful. Sadly this is not the case. Despite having experienced victory, their homeland is overrun and their people are oppressed. This reality shocks our heroes, yet they are prepared to handle this challenge precisely because of what they just went through. Their experience showed them the cost of denying reality and compromising with evil-- it only makes matters worse. For the Hobbits, the worst part is not the actions of their enemies, but the state of their own people.

There are three groups of Hobbits living under the new order who all have responded differently. It is these groups which illustrate the various camps within evangelicalism today as secularism, Cultural Marxism, and progressivism assault the church. Like the different groups of Hobbits living under oppression, evangelicals have responded to our new found reality in different ways. Here are the groups in Tolkien’s work:

  1. The Peasants- The majority of the Hobbits fall into this group. They lived in constant fear of their oppressors and what they might do next. This fear did not drive them to resist, but to submit even more to those who were actively destroying them.  When Frodo and his friends return, they are unaware of all the new rules they are supposed to obey. So they start accidentally breaking rules, which causes the peasants to tell them to “Stop!” The philosophy of the peasants can be summed up as: “Don’t rock the boat, you are only going to make matters worse. If we obey, things will at least be better than if we don’t.” The problem is things were already terrible. It is their ongoing inaction and cowardice which led them to this oppression. Eventually, Frodo and company begin to intentionally break the rules. More on that later.
  2. The Shirriffs- This group of Hobbits embraced the new order. Their job was to carry out the will of their oppressors, making sure their own people followed the rules. They are turn-coats, who either love power or who actually prefer the new way of life to the old freedom they once had. It is this group which saddens Frodo and company the most—how can someone turn on their own people and side with those who are seeking the destruction of their people? The Shirriffs turn out to be weapons of the enemy, and not really Hobbits at all in any meaningful way. 
  3. The Resistance- This group is smallest of the three groups. They wised up to what was occurring and revolted against the new order. This led to most of them being locked away. There are too few people in this group to launch any meaningful resistance. So they wait for their fellow countrymen to wake-up. Eventually, because of the leadership and rule-breaking of the returning Hobbits, most of the prior two camps join in the resistance and retake the Shire. This only happened because people were moved to active resistance. 

So what does all this have to do with us today? The evangelical movement is in a time of identity crisis. As the secular world increases its hostility to faithful Christianity we are all faced with a choice—to resist by remaining faithful or to compromise. Compromise can look like that of the peasants, who do so by remaining silent and submissive to the new overlords, or it can come by outright betrayal. We are currently seeing both.

There are also evangelicals striving to remain faithful, but whenever they sound the alarm, others tell them to knock-it-off—If we keep talking like this, it will only make matters worse.  It is here that we should hear the echoes of how Frodo and company were greeted when they returned, “You can’t do that! It’s against the rules!” The problem is we are already at a terrible place from where we once were. The boat needs to be rocked more, not less. Whose rules are we going to follow anyway? This camp in evangelical is marked by the same cowardice and shortsightedness of the peasants.

Cowardice is one thing, but betrayal is far more demoralizing. There are many today who call themselves evangelical who are nothing more than Secular-Shirriffs. They see their job as having to enforce the new ways of thinking and the new moral order of our day on evangelicalism. Whether it is in the guise of social justice (which rejects the basics of biblical justice) or the pursuit of supposed relevancy, we see on a daily basis an increase of the ranks of the Secular-Shirriffs. The problem is not only their presence but that they are exerting  influenceon the camp of peasants.

So what shall we do? What can we do? The same answer we are always are given in Scripture, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself bent toward cowardice, you need to repent. Trust in the power of God to conquer the progressivism of our day. Jesus is King of Kings and he is currently ruling from on high. Refuse to convert to the new morality of our day and join the resistance—this is what repenting and believing will look like. We must come to terms with the reality that compromise and appeasement has led us to where we are today. It would be insanity to return to that vomit thinking it will taste better this time.  We need resistance, not appeasement. 

If you find yourself promoting the ways of the world as good, let me ask you this, “Do you love the Church as your people, or are you ashamed of the bride of Christ? Do you love Christ, or do you love the world?” You cannot love both. If you truly agree with the trajectory of our culture, then fully embrace it. Leave evangelicalism behind, as you already have in practice. Stop wagging your head at those of us who are loyal to Christ. If though you really want Christ and his kingdom, then return to his teaching and show allegiance to him and his people. Repent of your double-mindedness and throw yourself upon the mercy of God. Above all else and stop doing the job of those who are anti-Christ, and join the resistance.   

Tolkien’s work reminds us of our tendency toward both cowardice and betrayal when faced with persecution. He reminds us we can only overcome our current challenges by honestly identifying our enemies, working together as one people, and refusing to submit to the new order. Open defiance is not only the best strategy but the only one. This requires courage, a strong moral vision, perseverance, and a humble dependence on the grace of God. It also means we need to stop fighting among ourselves. Like the Hobbits, we too know the King has already won, and his Kingdom is coming. Now all we have to do stand and fight for that kingdom. 

Ecclesiastes, Easter, & Finding Gain

This Sunday I finished teaching through Ecclesiastes, which has been my favorite study to date. It is an oddly perfect time, the start of Holy Week, to conclude this study. This book is difficult to understand and has on more than one occasion left me scratching my head. Despite that, I have benefited greatly from wrestling with this book. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon struggles with the frustrations of living in a world which is broken. Since Genesis 3 mankind has lived under the curse of God. This brokenness is the righteous judgment of God upon mankind’s sinfulness, and we run head first into this frustration daily whether it is car trouble, problems at work, or drama at home. Life in this world is marked by sin and death. Ecclesiastes reminds us of the ever-present impact of sin and death on life.

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In Ecclesiastes, Solomon stares down the reality of death and the short-comings of life in a way that makes many of us in modern evangelicalism uncomfortable. It makes us so uncomfortable some scholars try to explain away the unity of the book. Yet any serious study demonstrates the unflinching unity and honesty of this book as it deals with the difficulties and tragedies of life. Solomon took the world as it was, and then he offers us wisdom on how to live in light of the vanity. His advice: trust God in the darkness. Live as creatures before the Creator knowing our limitations and his perfections.

It is here that Ecclesiastes helps us to better understand the beauty of Christ’s work. The main enemy in Ecclesiastes and all of life is death. It is death which drives the vanity of this life. It is death which darkens all of our pursuits. In Ecclesiastes, as in life, we cannot escape this great foe. Solomon searches for a way out, a way to beat death, but he cannot. He writes, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” There is no hope found within ourselves, or in the world at large.  We are nothing in comparison to death. There is no gain at all in this life for death eventually overpowers all of us.

It is here the good news of Christ’s work resounds with unbridled hope. Christ has overpowered death. He has destroyed death by dying. That which defeats us, he has defeated.  Paul writes of this in Philippians 1.21, “ For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When Paul wrote these words he was facing the possibility of execution. He knew that if spared he would continue to live for Christ, but if he were to die he would gain. I do not believe that word is an accident.  Paul knew his Old Testament backward and forward. I think he has Ecclesiastes in mind here. Where Solomon saw only defeat before Christ, Paul sees gain through Christ. By the work of Christ's death, that which has frustrated and defeated mankind since fall, has been overthrown.

In studying Ecclesiastes my joy has increased precisely because it shows me my limitations and my need for someone greater than me. It shows the world as it is, which highlights my need.  It has taught me to be gracious for the gifts of God, to trust in his sovereignty, and to come to terms with the frustrations of life in a fallen world. But above all of that, it points me to my need for Jesus Christ. It shows me that gain in this life is only found in dying with Christ so that I may rise again as he has. There is gain, not by my work, but by his work. For this reason, and many more, we should all take the message of Ecclesiastes to heart. 

Believing in God is not Enough

Belief is central to the Christian faith. Christianity teaches individuals can only be saved by repenting and believing.  The act of believing itself is a gift from God showing us no works we do can save. These are truths found in scripture and as is often the case, such truths are twisted and misunderstood. Many individuals today believe in belief they place their faith in faith.  Yet the Christian faith is directed at someone specific—the Triune God of Scripture. He saves through our faith in him. True belief must be directed at the proper object—Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Triune God. 

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The importance of this distinction hit me like a three-hundred pound defensive linemen when reading a recent study which says 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God. Now we may read that and take heart. Yet this study really is a sign of the confusion of our age. If 80 percent of Americans truly believed in the God of Scripture, then would this country would look very different. Eighty percent of Americans may believe in a god, but this is not the God found in Scripture and revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. 

The question becomes, “What god do Americans believe in?” The answer is as diverse as our country, yet most people believe in a god which reflects what the person desires most. You want to be affirmed in your choices? You probably believe in an affirming god. You want a god who will help you feel better about life? Then you probably worship a god who resembles a therapist. While we may scoff at ancient peoples who chiseled their gods out of wood and stone, we do the exact same thing thing in our minds--we fashion a view of god which suits us best. No god constructed by our desires is actually god, for we are creating him.  Our modern idols look every bit as silly as the ones of ancient times.

As Christians, we must remember that belief in some god is not enough. In fact, belief in any god who is not the true God revealed to us in Scripture is damnable. The God who is there, the one who exists, has revealed himself both in his Word and through the life of Jesus Christ. He has told who he is and what his character is. He is chiefly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ—the God-man who became one of us to die for us. This is the God Christians place faith in. It is he and he alone who saves. Belief in any other god is as empty as the Vikings’ Super Bowl case. 

Losing Our Soul

Yesterday marked yet another school shooting. There are many natural questions in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, but the one that resounds in my mind is, “When did we lose our soul as a people?” This is the just the latest tragedy in a long line of mass shooting that highlights our lack of virtue as a people. We see in every area of public life, but tragedies like this amplify our condition.  And while it is true history has always been filled with violence, we cannot help but notice the ever-increasing reality in our day of mass shootings. So common in fact are these types of event that the shooting in Florida is sure to fade in our minds rather quickly—how did we get to such a place? Societal trends like this do not occur in a vacuum overnight. Ideas always have consequences, and the ideas we have built our identity on are bringing about rotten fruit. 

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While pundits and politicians are quick to offer their diagnosis of our problems and their supposed solutions, they all rightly ring hollow in our ears. We know laws will not fix the problem, they may help, but no law has ever changed individual hearts. As a people we are desperately sick, so where did it all go off course?

We, mankind, are the problem. The entire identity and desires of our age are thoroughly wicked. We have replaced God with the idol of the self. You cannot idealize the self as the highest end and highest virtue of life without first severing mankind from God. When your God (the self), is threatened you can justify any and all actions. By turning to the self we have lost all standards for morality, we simply do not teach right and wrong in any meaningful way. Instead, we trumpet, “Follow your heart!” This shooter followed his heart and it lead to the death of seventeen people. How can we look such evil in the face and call it evil when everything is relative and life is all about identity politics? How can we call it evil without a God above?

We have replaced God with our own wicked selves and the results are predictable—chaos and death. As we reject God, who is light, we show that we love darkness. The more we turn inward to look for answers the darker it gets. The insanity of it all is we are convinced we can see better now than ever before! Our own foolishness is breathtaking. We are blind guides claiming sight as we repeatedly run head-first into the same wall over and over again.

There is a way out from this, but it means turning to God in repentance. It requires we teach our children they do not belong to themselves; life is not all about them. Life is found when you intentionally lose yourself in pursuit of Christ. Life is not about self-esteem and self-fulfillment, it is about picking up your instrument of death and following Him. The radical message of Christ, self-denial and faith in him, is the only hope the world has ever had—but we are convinced we know better! The more we cut ourselves off from the fountain of life, the more death we will see. This cycle will not end until many, including the church, start to believe Christ is preeminent in all things.  

I wish I could say things will get better, but that would require u-turn as a society. This is of course possible, God could send his Spirit to break our hearts of stone and bring life where death currently reigns. It is here Christians must admit our failure. We have neglected offering life to our world. All too often we underestimate and under-communicate the gospel. If we want tragedies like this to lessen, Christians should turn to God in humble prayer—repenting of our laziness and pleading with him to bring about widespread repentance. He can do it, but first we must humble ourselves and set ours about to praying and declaring the kingdom. He gives sight to the blind, he brings life from death, and it is to him we must turn. We need to hear the call not victimhood and self-pursuit, but to self-denial and humble pursuit of obedience through faith in Christ Jesus. We have lost our soul as a society, but Christ is greater and he can bring new life. 

Come Lord Jesus!