Thursday, November 10, 2016

What do Christians do now?

No matter what your personal feelings are about our recent election results, we cannot deny that in our nation frustrations abound, emotions are confused and conflicted, confusion is rampant, and division is evident. Facebook is full of individuals trying to express to the world how they feel, one way or another. Peaceful demonstrations and rioting are happening in many cities throughout the US. America is divided by the celebration of some and deep fear and anger of others. And, Christians might be wondering, "What do we do? How do we respond?"

Well, I cannot tell you everything that you need to do to respond, but here are several biblical guidelines to help us process what is running through our heads and help those around us in our sphere of influence.

Pray for our nation, President-elect, and other government officials: Christians are called to be in submission to the governments under which we live and to pray for our leaders. As difficult as it may be for some to hear this right now, that is what we are called to do by God, and no matter your feelings about this election, you cannot deny that we are a deeply divided nation and prayer is desperately needed. You may be confused, you may be hurting, you may be angry, or you may be celebrating but none of that exempts us from the call to prayer. If you do not know how to pray for our nation, I would recommend reading this article by my senior pastor on eleven ways to pray for the new President-elect and the nation. Pay particular attention to the last way. And, note also that, while in this article he does express some of his emotions about our current situation, he does so in a way that fears God and is honoring to our leaders (see below), as well as brings us back to praying for the good of our leaders and nation.

Take seriously God's Word through Paul and Peter in Ro. 13:1-7 and 1 Pt. 2:12-17: Christian, this may be hard to hear for you right now or it might be too easy for you to hear, but we are called to be subject to and honor the governing authorities. Please take a moment and reread Paul and Peter's words in these passages, and, in fact, if you do that and do not come back to this post: fine, for they will do you more good than anything else I can say. I want to highlight in particular Peter's final command in that section in v. 17: "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." We need to take that very seriously, for as Peter says in the beginning of the passage, "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." So, what does that verse mean? Well, let's look at the couplets:
  • "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood." First, this means in our interactions in person or on social media, we need to honor everyone, even if we disagree with them. We may feel compelled to speak truth, but we should always speak the truth in love, which means at least that we are "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger"; we do not berate; we do not mock; we do not antagonize; we do not resort to name-calling; we do not gloat; and we also seek peace, not quarrels. The tongue is a dangerous tool that sets ablaze a world of unrighteousness, and we can do that by gloating or by being angry. Second, this means we need to be especially careful with how we interact with other believers. All of the above still applies, and we need to remember that the world knows we are Christians by our love for one another. The other side of that is that when the world sees us fighting among ourselves, the gospel and cause of Christ is maligned. Please, remember we are to glorify God in all we do and not give unnecessary offense.
  • "Fear God. Honor the emperor." First, remember that both Paul and Peter wrote under the rule of Nero when they composed these works of God's Word, and both remind us that we should honor the rulers. I know for some that is hard to hear right now, but we need to bring our emotions into submission to God's Word and honor the rulers who are taking office. That means that we can disagree with them and we can even point out their immorality (we will get to that in just a moment), but, like above, we do not berate, we do not mock, we do not resort to name-calling, we speak in love and not anger, and we do not join with those who do. We show them the respect and honor their office is due. Second, do not gloss over the command to fear God. Fearing God means being subject to authorities, but it does not mean covering up their sins, making light of their sins, or defending their sins. Sin is sin, and Christians are never to cover up, condone, make light of, or defend sinfulness. We are "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God." Part of honoring our leaders and everyone is not letting sinfulness and injustice prevail and loving those who are needy, persecuted, and have no voice.
Remember that God is in control of all this: Christian, we know something that the non-believers in this world do not: God is in sovereign control of all that is happening right now, the leaders are in His hands and He does with them as He wishes, all kingship truly belongs to Him, and He has placed all authorities in their places. And, even though we may not be able to figure out why, we can know He has done it for the good of His people. These are His promises from His Word, so we need to keep them close to heart and walk by faith; not by sight in times of confusion, pain, and fear. And, even in times of celebration, we are not to place our faith in our leaders, for they are just tools of God; not any time of savior for this nation.  

Remember that this nation is not our true home or our true hope: Christian, while yours and my earthly home may be in America and we may even be citizens of this nation, our true citizenship is in heaven because when we were united to Christ, He transferred us from kingdoms of this world into His eternal Kingdom. Now we are spiritual exiles in our physical homes. So, while we do want our nation to prosper (see below), we can also know that this nation is not really our home or our hope, and the like the great "cloud of witnesses" of Christians past, we are looking forward to a heavenly city "whose designer and builder is God." We do care about our nation, its people, and we grieve injustice, division, and conflict, but our hope should never be here or in any nation for all of this will one day pass away. Our hope should be in the new heavens and new earth that Jesus has secured for us. The world desperately needs to see that hope right now because it is what causes them to ask questions and gives us the chance the share the gospel. 

Seek the welfare of our nation: Christian, while this nation is not our home and we really are citizens of God's Kingdom, we are still here right now, and He calls us to seek the welfare of this nation. In fact, the passage to which I just alluded deserves full quotation:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 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.
Our spiritual exile currently in whatever nation we occupy is mirrored in the physical exile that Israel experienced in Babylon, and that is actually why Peter calls us exiles in the first place in 1 Pt. 1:1, so God's commands to them apply to us as well. We need to conduct ourselves, live our lives, use social media, work our jobs, communicate with politicians and leaders, and do whatever else we do in this life in such a way that it contributes to the welfare of our nation. It does not matter how we feel about our nation or the government, we are called to seek its welfare. As Paul says in Ro. 13:2, "Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." Now, that does not mean we cannot peacefully protest or call out the sins and injustice of our leaders, for those can be ways of actually seeking the welfare of our nation, but we should not be involved in or condone activity that undermines peace, safety, justice, and the welfare of our nation. We also need to do it in such a way that we continue to honor our leaders, as mentioned above.

Be careful how you conduct yourself at times like this: Christian, there are a lot of emotions rolling around right now. Some are celebrating, and others are hurting, angry, and fearful. When such emotional ups and downs run unchecked, it creates conflict, division, and even some violence, as the recent news has shown. Christians are ambassadors for Christ, are called to be instruments of reconciliation, should have gracious speech, and need to be careful never to add to that strife, unrest, division, or quarreling in the way we conduct ourselves in our conversations and especially on social media. (Here is a great post about general rules for posting on social media.) Let me try to give some guidelines that might be helpful:
  • If you are angry, confused, or even celebrating, take that to the Lord first, just as the psalmists did with life's ups and downs. If you are celebrating, remember that no mere man is a savior who will solve your problems. We have only one Savior and Shepherd who can solve our problems, and it is Jesus Christ. All other men are fallen and will disappoint us, so keep your celebration moderate, always looking to God alone for your peace, hope, and confidence. If you are angry, hurting, or confused, again, take those to God first, using the psalms of lament as your guide. A few examples are Ps. 44; 60; 74, and note in particular that, while these psalms express deep feelings of pain to God, they never accuse God of wrong-doing and they move to praise for His goodness even in the midst of hardship. That should be our pattern. 
  • If you have spent time in prayer, and you still need "to get it out," start with personal conversations with friends or family first, please! This will help you process whatever you are feeling and get a handle on your emotions.
  • If, after all that, you still feel like you need to say something publicly on social media or in some other fashion, speak only the truth and do it in love and let "your speech always be gracious." If you are celebrating (and with how much pain there is out there right now, I honestly cannot imagine a good reason to celebrate publicly but perhaps you have one), do not "rub it in," especially when you know others are hurting, for that is provoking and pride at its ugliest, and, again, do not elevate a mere man to the position of a savior. Jesus is our only Savior, and all our leaders in this world are fallen instruments in the hands of God. If you are hurting, make sure that your grief is not the grief of a world that has no hope but the grief of a Christian who has certain hope in Christ. And, if you are angry too, be angry but do not sin, as Paul commands us. An example of sinful anger might be if we do not follow the above guidelines from Paul and Peter about honoring our leaders and everyone, as well as not loving our brothers and sisters and Christ as we should. Hopefully, if you have expressed your pain and anger to God first and close friends and/or family second, by the time you get here, you will be ready to be angry without sin. 
  • No matter how you feel about this election, remember that we are called to "weep with those who weep." If you are celebrating, the Christ-like and loving thing to do would be to set aside your celebration and acknowledge that there are those who are hurting around you, validate that, and weep with them. In that pain, you can offer them the hope of the gospel, but validate their pain, enter into it, and uphold them through it. If you are hurting too, it seems hardly needful to tell you to weep with those who weep, but perhaps you need to hear that in your weeping, you need to weep as one who has hope in the gospel and pass that on to others. Sometimes in our emotions, we can forget that our hope is not in this world or in the leaders of this world but in God's sovereign control of it (see above) and in the new heavens and new earth (see above). Remember that and lead others who are mourning to that hope.
Keep the first things first: Christian, at the end of the day, we are called to be salt and light in this world, make disciples of Christ, work our jobs as to Christ, love God and our neighbors, worship together, etc.; all so the gospel can spread because God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." And, Christian, we can do that no matter what government we have. As Paul says in 1 Co. 15:3-5, what is of absolute first importance is the good news of Christ's death and resurrection. At this time and at all times, the world needs the gospel more than anything else. Please, bring the world back to that over and over again. There is only one Savior, one Lord, one Master, and one Hope, and that is Jesus Christ. The world needs to see Him always but especially in hard times. Display that hope before the world, keep the gospel central, and then be ready to explain that hope to those who see it in you.

By His Grace,

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