By / May 21

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Dr. Moore resignation from the ERLC along with his move to Christianity Today, views on masks guidance, the latest on Israel and Hamas, Texas signing a six-week abortion ban, and SCOTUS taking up Mississippi case. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “How do we make sense of modern culture? An interview with Carl Trueman about The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” Ethan and Michaela Holsteen with “The importance of the church when dealing with disability and grief: How one family leaned into community after their child’s diagnosis with Cri du chat Syndrome,” and Jared Kennedy with “3 subtle sins to warn your kids about: Any why it matters when wrestling with sexual temptation.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Russell Moore to Join Christianity Today to Lead New Public Theology Project
  2. Onward.
  3. Mask guidance
  4. Latest on Israel and Hamas
  5. Texas governor signs into law bill banning abortions at six weeks
  6. SCOTUS takes up MS case

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By / Apr 8

As 2020 ended, many anticipated that the turning of the New Year would bring with it a fresh dose of hope and a reprieve from the hardships that marked the last year. And, in some ways, it has. COVID-19, at least in America, seems to be trending in a promising direction, vaccinations continue at a rapid pace, and life is slowly beginning to look more normal. But while one pandemic seems keen on abating, another more insidious pathogen continues to intensify. 

I’m speaking of our “outrage culture” and the anger that fuels it. Outrage culture, sadly, is a phenomenon that has enticed us far and wide, even within the church. And, based on Tim Kreider’s commentary, “enticed” is the exact right word. He says, “Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure” (emphasis added). Pete Ross calls our anger and outrage an “acceptable and addictive drug of society” which convinces us that we’re smart, we’re right, and “we have the necessary ideas to fix everything. That we’re the ones that need to be in charge.” We apparently can’t help but participate in outrage culture because doing so feeds a Pharisaical self-righteousness that feels good. It coddles the pride that, unless God grants repentance, will result in disgrace and, ultimately, our destruction.

Proverbs and the way of wisdom

Sadly, among the Christian community, our outrage and self-righteous Pharisaism is often aimed toward one another. Dan Darling calls this “a kind of performative self-flagellation incentivized by a social media environment that rewards hot-takes, shaming, and appealing to tribes,” all of which spills out of a heart angered by the internet controversy of the day. And day after day, Christians, with unbefitting outrage, continue to “rhetorically sacrifice” their own brothers and sisters in the faith. 

If our anger and outrage—forms of self-righteous pleasure-seeking—are rooted in pride, then the book of Proverbs shows us a better way. Proverbs 11:12 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” The way of outrage culture is the way of belligerence, the way lacking in self-control, the way of slander and self-righteousness; it is the way of pride. But the way of wisdom is the way of humility and charity, of compassion, of patience and long-suffering; it is the way of holiness. 

But, the question remains, can Christians resist the enticements of outrage culture? From the Proverbs of Solomon to the book of James, the Bible answers this contemporary question with a resounding yes. By the power of the Spirit, humility and charity are the first two steps forward. 

  1. Humility

Rick Warren, in his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less,” which is generally a fair statement. But, in the case of outrage culture, where the tendency is to lambaste our opponents because “we’re right and we need to be in charge,” thinking less of ourselves and the primacy of our expertise is an effective place to begin. Biblical humility, though, does not advocate for a self-deprecating view of oneself. Rather, it advocates for a right view of oneself, recognizing that we are creatures, recipients of God’s common grace who are offered God’s saving grace found in Christ, just like those we’re raging against.

Further, because we know that “pride goes before destruction,” as Solomon warns, we can be sure that if we practice the ethic of the outrage culture, with its furious fits and spats, any authority that we possess or hope to possess will ultimately be taken from us. In so doing, we will have proven ourselves unqualified. There is no attribute or behavior more unbefitting of the kingdom of God than the sin of pride.

Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Unimaginable honor and authority await those who have humbled themselves before God. We will not show ourselves capable of entering God’s kingdom or exercising the rule he promises to entrust us with until humility becomes our fundamental orientation toward our Father in Heaven, our brothers and sisters, and our neighbors, whether online or in-person.

  1. Charity

Scrolling down a Twitter feed or a Facebook timeline, it’s often hard to imagine that Christians take Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Though he was clear on the mountainside that day that he expects his followers to love not only our neighbors but our enemies, this has proven to be an elusive standard. Even the most intuitive act of charity, “loving those who love you,” often seems too ambitious for the people of God in our online interactions.

But, Jesus and, later, the Apostle Paul, were not offering quips or suggestions to be implemented at our discretion. They were showing us the way of righteousness, the narrow way of the kingdom, the way of the children of God. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says, “For he (God) is gracious to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:35). “Charity is kind,” says Paul, “it doth not behave itself unseemly . . . is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil . . . beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5, 7, KJV). “This is the way,” God is telling us. “Walk in it” (Isa.30:21).

God the Father, through God the Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit has commanded and empowered us to live our lives with a charity that is other-worldly and that we learn from him. Thus, as we seek to resist the lure of outrage culture and embody the way of Christ, let us take seriously these words of Andrew Murray: “Let our temper be under the rule of the love of Jesus. He alone can make us gentle and patient. Let the vow that not an unkind word about others will ever be heard from our lips (or read in our writing) be laid trustingly at His feet. Let the gentleness that refuses to take offense, that is always ready to excuse, to think and hope the best, mark our dealings with all.”

Outrage toward indwelling sin

Not all outrage is off-limits for the children of God, though. A Christian ought to be appalled at the lingering depravity and brokenness of the world; it is our native response. In fact, to pray “thy kingdom come,” as Jesus taught us, is itself a statement of outrage against the world’s fallenness. But woe to us if we believe it right to do violence against God’s image-bearers with uncharitable and outrageous words.

There is a place where the full force of our outrage can be levied: Toward indwelling sin. John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Rather than adopting the ethic of outrage culture and spewing rage at one another, and taking pleasure in it, we would do well to redirect our attention inward, toward the indwelling sin “waiting to destroy everything we love,” as Matt Chandler has said. The Apostle Paul says, “if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Life and death are before us. Shall we yield to the pride of our flesh and join the carnal chorus of outrage culture, a culture that loves its sin and hates its neighbor? Or shall we aim our outrage inward and, by the Spirit, put to death these self-righteous deeds of the body?

Brothers and sisters, may we be a people who embody the ethic of God’s kingdom, not that of outrage culture. May we be a people who keep the commands of Jesus, all of them. And, humbly, may we begin by loving our neighbors and hating our sin.  

By / Nov 18

One of the most discouraging things in my walk with Jesus has been seeing Christian leaders fall. At this point in my life, I’ve seen it happen so many times that it is hardly surprising anymore. In fact, at times I feel numb to it. It seems like every year, and sometimes every week, there is news of a different Christian leader, on some level, who has fallen into moral failure. Most recently, it was the lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who was dismissed from the church earlier this month due to an extramarital affair. Following the news of his firing, social media was filled with a range of responses. Some mocked Lentz for his brand of cool Christianity. Others expressed their disapproval and regret to see another Christian leader fall. But many who had been influenced by Lentz expressed emotions of hurt and confusion. 

Moral failure

Seeing some of those responses, particularly those reflecting pain and doubt in the wake of seeing a spiritual leader fall, made me think again about the issue of moral failure. Moral failure brings about a great deal of fallout. It marks the end of ministries. It marks the end of marriages. It devastates families. As the apostle Paul said it “makes shipwreck” of faith, but not only of the faith of the one who fell (1 Tim. 1:19). 

In the aftermath of a leader’s moral failure, great damage is done to those who looked to that person for guidance. This is because Christian leaders have much more than benign influence. For those under their spiritual care, such leaders are living pictures of Jesus. In their lives, words, and actions, they model what it means to follow Christ. And whether they intend to or not, their lives serve as a sort of validation of the gospel. Seeing some live in a way that demonstrates the authenticity of conversion and new birth verifies that Christianity itself is based upon something real and true.

It’s no wonder seeing a spiritual leader fall is so painful. At the very least, as a result of their fall, many begin to second-guess the things you learned from them. Were those things really true? Or were they simply expedient in some way you didn’t recognize before because you never thought to question them? And sometimes the result is much worse, leading not merely to doubts about the lessons that person taught but the faith he or she represented. Few things are more jarring than seeing someone who has shown Jesus to you fall into sins that repudiate the very things you most admired about them. 

Christian faithfulness

I’ve seen Christian leaders try to hedge against this problem by speaking regularly about their own brokenness. Reminding those under your care about your own humanity and fallenness is, in general, a good practice. A Christian leader who never admits to struggling with sin isn’t doing any favors to those they are leading for a number of reasons. All of us are broken and struggle with sin. And inevitably, even the most faithful among us will still fall short in ways that disappoint and cause pain to those around us. But simply reminding others of our own sinfulness is neither a remedy for our sin nor a bulwark against its effects. 

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness.

There is a reason the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was an apostle. He was not a superhero. By instructing those believers to follow him, he was not setting up a precedent that the rest of us are just supposed to ignore. Instead, he was showing us what it looks like to follow the example of Jesus who instructed us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a follower. And though we are all called to be followers of Jesus, we learn what that looks like through the example of believers who are ahead of us in the faith.

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness. Christian leadership is a burden. This is the reason that James says that “not many of you should be teachers” (3:1). But those who assume the burden of Christian leadership really are expected to walk in a manner worthy of imitation. Our sinful nature does not lessen that burden. And knowing that, we should commit to memory the words of Hebrews 12, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Keep watch

If the stories I know of Christian leaders guilty of significant moral failure are any example, none of us should assume that we are safe from future sin because our lives seem to be on track right now. The Scriptures are filled with warnings about the insidious nature of sin. Peter tells us that the devil prowls as a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul not only tells us to keep a close watch over our lives and doctrine, but admonishes us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:12). The point could not be more apparent: we are always in danger of falling into sin.

You might be tempted to explain away the moral failure of others. But what happened to Carl Lentz can just as easily happen to you. It may come in a different form, but temptation is coming for you all the same (Gen. 4:7). Sin is no respecter of persons. And the devil seeks your destruction. I’ve had to remind myself that numbness is not the answer to revelations of moral failure among believers. Nor is judgement. Instead, I have resolved that each time I hear about another leader’s failure, I will pray for them and pray for me. I will not ask how they could do such a thing, but ask that God would protect me from that which most tempts me. 

It is a weighty thing that the lives and faith of many believers are bound up with a leader’s ability to fight against sin. But they are. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders owe it to Jesus and to his people to fight against sin with all they have.

By / Sep 16

Over the weekend, news broke that two law enforcement officers in Los Angeles were targeted, seemingly at random, as a gunman ran up to their parked vehicle and opened fire. Sustaining life-threatening injuries, the two officers were transported to a nearby hospital. And following the shooting, reports surfaced that a crowd of protestors had gathered outside of the hospital’s emergency room. The crowd apparently blocked the entrance to the emergency room as at least some present screamed and chanted obscenities, including vile expressions of their desire that the officers involved would perish. 

The news was chilling, but the heinous and wicked nature of the attack was solidified after video of the shooting began to circulate online. It was unquestionably a senseless act of violence. But the insanity of the moment was further compounded by the reports that others, with actual knowledge of the incident, then called for the death of the two victims of such brutality. Those actions reflect, in a staggering fashion, the moral cancer infecting American culture today. 

Devastating brokenness

Sadly, this was hardly the only reminder of our world’s devastating brokenness in recent days. For several weeks, much attention and criticism has been directed toward “Cuties,” a new film acquired by Netflix telling the story of a young Sengalese girl torn between two worlds–her family with its traditional Muslim culture and her dance troupe of preteen girls. Originally released in France and highly acclaimed, the film won an award from the Sundance Institute in February. And according to its defenders, “Cuties” aims to reflect the pressures on young women growing up in a hyper-sexualized culture. 

But ahead of releasing the film on its streaming platform, Netflix advertised “Cuties” in a way that played-up and glamorized the sexuality of young adolescent girls. The promotion of the film was obscene. It not only objectified the young women featured, but made an illicit spectacle of underage girls that was tantamount to soft core pornography. Whatever the film’s supposed virtues, the sensual and provocative images of children “dancing” across the screen was rightly met with public (and bipartisan) outcry. Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz condemned the film along with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who claimed “Cuties” would “certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles.”

To return to California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a controversial bill, Senate Bill 145, into law. That bill updated certain statutes related to offenders convicted of sex crimes in the state, specifically of statutory rape. Under the new law, judges in the state may now exercise discretion as to whether or not an offender must go on the sex offender registry in certain cases involving same-sex sexual activity. Defenders of the bill argued that it merely ended a form of discrimination in California’s judicial system by allowing judges to exercise the same kind of discretion regardless of the sex of the victims and perpetrators. But entirely overlooked by supporters of the new law was the fact that the legal “parity” created by this law simply extended the bad law already on the books in California. Expanding protections for adults to sexually exploit and prey upon children is no kind of justice.

These are but a few examples of the moral decay on display all around us. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter what direction you look. The effects of sin and signs of brokenness are everywhere. So how are Christians supposed to live faithfully in a world that celebrates violence and sanctions the sexual exploitation of children? Each day Christians in the United States face myriad problems of unbelievable complexity. What are we to do when the problems are overwhelming and solutions are hard to come by?

Spiritual maturity

Learning to live faithfully in a fallen world requires the development of spiritual maturity. And this is where we find some good news. Through Jesus, God is in the business of redeeming this fallen and broken world. Not only that, but living in this time between the times is not a new problem for the people of God. Since Jesus ascended into heaven, his people have been left with the task of bearing witness to him through our lives, words, and deeds. But each generation of Christians has had to fight to faithfully bear witness amid all kinds of pressures and circumstances–amid every kind of sin and brokenness and evil. And if we are to face these problems, we must prioritize the work of spiritual formation.

Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

It isn’t always clear what the best response is to any particular manifestation of evil. When Disney partnered with China’s communist government to film the movie Mulan–a government which is actively persecuting and potentially perpetrating genocide against Uighur Muslims–after the same company threatened to cease filming operations in the state of Georgia over a pro-life law being considered there, Christians were rightly outraged. But what is the best response? Refuse to see the film? Boycott Disney? What about Netflix? Is ignoring “Cuties” enough? Should we also cancel our subscriptions? And what if our government is itself perpetrating evil?

The point is, answers aren’t always easy or obvious. Addressing such matters requires tremendous wisdom and spiritual maturity. But God has equipped us to prepare for these moments. This is part of the reason Christians have the church, the Scriptures, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the new covenant, we don’t face any of these difficult issues alone. 

For believers, the Spirit of God lives within us and guides us through these challenges. Not only that, but God has not left us to guess by what kind of standard we are to live. He has provided us with the written Word as a revelation of himself, his work, his nature, and his plan of redemption. He has also brought us into his body, the church. As believers, we belong to something much bigger than ourselves. We are children of God and we stand together not only with our brothers and sisters in this age but in every age. We not only learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of our contemporaries, but throughout church history we see a long line of Christian witnesses from whom we can learn so much about navigating life in a world that is under a curse.

None of us can solve every problem. Nor will we ever successfully eradicate the presence of evil from our world. Only Christ can do that– and has promised to do so upon his return. But until then, we can still work to oppose evil and injustice. We can speak against acts of violence and oppression. And we can speak up for the vulnerable and for those without a voice. Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

By / Jul 23

It is a strange time when you are able to reference Lord of the Rings and prophetic signs (a symbolic demonstration meant to release the power of God in the Word of Faith tradition) in the same sentence. But such are the times in which we live. Recently, a clip from a church service began to circulate online in which members of the church performed a prophetic sign that was said to bar racism from the church (You can watch the full section here starting at 2:05:00). These types of signs are common in charismatic movements. For example, Kenneth Copeland performed a similar act when he declared in April that COVID-19 would soon end

However, what was unique about this event was that it involved not the words of Scripture or a sign of the cross, but a quote from Gandalf the Gray, the wizard from Tolkien’s trilogy, and a replica of his staff. In a reenactment of the infamous scene where he fights off a fire demon, the church leaders declared that the spirit of racism “shall not pass.” 

A few caveats

First, this is not the place to get into a discussion of apostolic authority, the spiritual gifts that are most often associated with the movement, and the differences between evangelicals and the charismatic movement. There are historical and theological differences for separating them, as scholars such as Grant Wacker and Thomas Kidd have noted, but that is not the point here. Also, it should be noted that Pentecostalism and its offshoots have traditionally been more racially integrated than most traditions within American Christianity (The moment at the church in this article involved leadership who were African American, Korean, and Caucasian). 

The leaders correctly affirm that combatting racism is an act of spiritual warfare against demonic forces. They are correct to call out this form of satanic worship of the flesh. But there is also a need to recognize that it is not through movie quotes, but through the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit that we combat this spiritual darkness.

The power of a word

To return to the event, where church members gathered onstage to dramatically portray the scene from Lord of the Rings, let us consider what this means. What took place there hinges on their collective declaration and the sealing of the prophetic sign. And as Christians, we recognize the power of a word. James tells Christians that they should control their tongues (3:1-12), and the Proverbs tell us that life and death are in the tongue (18:21). But are the words of a movie, inspiring as the scene is, sufficient to drive out racism—or any sin—from the church? As Christians, do we not have a better word to offer than a declaration that “You shall not pass!”?

Sadly, the white American church has frequently offered no word better than that. And in the past our words have in many instances not stopped racism but actively supported it. While there were many who fought and worked against the culture around them, all too often it was not the unity of a multiethnic kingdom that guided us but the cultural norms of prejudice and superiority.  For this, only a word of lament and repentance is the appropriate response. 

But there is more to say. The word that we offer to the world is not a declaration alone, but a person, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). And this God-man did not just destroy the wall between God and man, but he also destroyed the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). The moment of the Incarnation, when God took on flesh and entered the world, gives hope and shape to the command from James that faith must be evidenced in works. For God was not content to merely declare that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, but he took on flesh and made true the promise (Gen. 22:18; John 1:14). 

The promises of Scripture find life and form in the actions of Christ and the church. So we have a better promise to declare to the world than shouting from a stage that racism will not pass. We have a promise, evidenced in the life of a Middle Eastern Jewish man who befriended Roman centurions and Jewish rabbis, fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots, that the kingdom of God is not limited to one ethnicity, and that God will be glorified by those of every skin color and language. 

Rather than looking to a vision of a wizard facing down a fire demon, we look to the vision given to an apostle on a Roman island: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9). Rather than the declaration from a character in a book that “You shall not pass!” we have the cry from the Savior that “It is finished” (John 19:30). And more than a fictional monster defeated only within the confines of a novel, we know that the great serpent has been crushed and defeated in reality (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 20:10). 

A time such as this

The fight against racism is a fight against demonic forces and an act of spiritual warfare. In this way, it is fitting to compare it to Gandalf’s fight against the monstrosity in Tolkien’s novel. But the act of war against racism is not something that will end because of simple words or a reenacting of a moving scene. It will end because the people of God, empowered by the Spirit and driven by the Word, recognize the truth of their own story and work to make “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It will happen when the unity between ethnicities in the church is a sign—and a better sign than anything drawn from fiction—of the future kingdom of God. It will happen when all of us repent of the way that we have overlooked injustice against our neighbor and seek to make it right. 

In one conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, Frodo says that he wishes the calamity would not have come during his lifetime. Gandalf responds that all have the same desire, “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Even today, the American church is offered that opportunity to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as we serve all our neighbors and seek their welfare (Micah 6:8)—not by our own might or power, but by the work of the Spirit through the Word (Zech. 4:6). 

By / Aug 5

Amid all of the cultural conversations surrounding the role of technology in our society, Facebook has been at the top of the headlines. From issues over privacy and a recently announced crypto-currency, public opinion of the platform has shifted in recent years. But Facebook has also been working behind the scenes to collect feedback and put together an external oversight board to advise and guide the company on how it deals with content moderation on its platform. When CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the creation of the board in November 2018, he stated the purpose of the board is to create a mechanism for the public to appeal content decisions through an independent body.

With Facebook having over 2.38 billion active users in the first quarter of 2019, the reach and influence of this company is one of the greatest the world has ever seen. With all of this connectivity and influence, the company has entered into an age-old debate about what constitutes free speech and expression as it tries to manage its global online communication platforms. While there are varying opinions on how this board should function or if it should even exist, the fundamental questions of free speech and the role of corporations and government are paramount as we continue through our social media age. The important thing for believers to ask is: how should Christians approach issues of free speech? 

A polarized world

A quick scroll through your newsfeed or timeline shows the deep scars and pain that exist in today’s polarized public discourse. We see cultural divides over political affiliation, specific issues like race and immigration, and even religious understandings. These divides play out each day online and through our media consumption. We have our preferred TV networks, news sources, and online communities that cater directly to our personal beliefs. We lack a shared moral consensus as a society, but our division did not begin with the rise of social media and other technologies.

The U.S. is truly a democratic experiment made up of people from various backgrounds and beliefs. Our history makes this clear, from canings in the U.S. Congress and the murder of a representive on the floor of the Arkansas State House before the Civil War to deep divisions over Civil Rights and U.S. foreign policy in the 20th century. Even though our society has been frayed and strained at times, the current debates and lack of civility are not a new phenomena but are symptomatic of deeper, long-term issues.

Technology has opened new possibilities for us to communicate with each other in ways that have never been possible in the history of the world. We now have instant access to limitless information, but also the ability to express our opinions and thoughts online to anyone that will listen or read. We seem to be more connected than any time in history but also more divided over fundamental beliefs, quick to demonize those that disagree with us on any issue, and hasty to make those things known.

Our broken hearts

While it is easy to blame big tech for our societal issues surrounding privacy, free speech, and a lack of civil discourse, we must remember that we are the ones engaging in these behaviors online. The tools do expand our moral horizons and open up the opportunity for us to act in these defaming ways, but those are mere symptoms of the larger issues surrounding our broken hearts and distorted minds. While it is good that we are having public discourse about the role of technology in our society and the power that these tools have on individuals and families, we must not look to corporations or even government to fix the brokenness that we see all around.

While corporations and government have their place in society (Rom.13:4-6), Christians rightly see that the root cause of many of our social and personal issues is due to the fact that we have rebelled against our Creator (Rom. 3:23). Rather than love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39), we treat God as a nice addition to our own lives and our neighbor as a burden or barrier second to our own desires.

As Christians move forward in our digital age and in a world that lacks basic civil discourse, we can model for our families and neighbors what it means to live as Christ’s ambassadors in between the times. Hate speech and bullying are not becoming of the people of God. Our conduct online is not hidden because our God knows all things and will judge us for every careless thought, action, and click. We need to be the first to admit that the ways we have engaged online are not honoring to our Lord or our neighbor. But the good news of the gospel is that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

We need open and honest conversations about the tools we use each day and the effects they have on our public discourse. Facebook is having extremely complicated discussions that require input from multiple sources. Above all, the issues regarding privacy, accountability, and free speech need to be addressed in light of the understanding that all people, even our enemies, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity, respect, and honor. While our society is broken and frayed, nothing will change the root cause of our prideful hearts other than the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

By / Apr 20

Did you know that every time a lion pride hunts together it is a lightly organized operation? They do not test their potential prey for weakness like other predators do. The only weakness they are looking for is isolation. If they can remove a single animal from it’s herd, lunch is easily delivered, even if the animal they are hunting is much larger or faster than the lions themselves.

Knowing our place

We are much like a lion’s unsuspecting prey, because we are all made weak and vulnerable by isolation. We may be living life, oblivious to the threat, but the threat is there, and it is real.

First Peter 5:8 puts it this way, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Staying disconnected has the power to do much more than simply make us feel lonely. It may be what the enemy uses to prey upon you and bring you down.

Back to the Garden

Let’s head back to the Garden of Eden to take a look at exactly how isolation led to the fall of all mankind.

In Genesis 3:2-5, the serpent, who likely had been lurking in the grass for a while, sees his opportunity to deceive God’s children and moves in for the kill.

“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

I believe Satan was hunting Eve. He waited for a moment when she was not surrounded by her community. Verse six tells us that Adam was nearby, but maybe he was just slightly out of earshot. And even if he wasn’t, Eve apparently didn’t take the time to talk to him about what was happening. We see in her the first woman with an independent streak as she determined that she would process the information Satan was giving her and make the decision all on her own.

Would things have turned out differently for Eve if she had simply said, “Let me talk to my husband about it,” before taking a bite of that rotten fruit? Certainly, she would have been even more protected against this attack if she had talked to her husband and consulted with God. God had given her a double-layered safety net through a relationship with him and a relationship with Adam, but she cut right through the net and put herself in grave danger by deciding to go at it alone. What happened next reminds us that we are all daughters of Eve.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:7-8)

Isolation set Eve up to sin. Then, her shame led to an even deeper isolation and feeling of loneliness.

Here’s the big takeaway: When we step outside of community, we become infinitely more susceptible to temptation and sin. In this way, loneliness is less of an emotion and more of a military strategy effectively used by our enemy. Our shame then lies to us and tells us that isolation is the only way to regain control. In this way, loneliness and shame become a two-edged sword that is very effective at takings us out at the knees.

A church at the stadium

Researchers recently surveyed those who regularly attend church services to get a feel for their experiences. Sixty-six percent of the people they talked to said they feel they have a “real and personal connection” with God while attending church.

However, the study also revealed that more than a quarter of those surveyed agreed with the statement that church feels “like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event but who are not connected in a real way.” Another nine percent of those surveyed weren’t sure if they were connecting to others in their church or not. I have to wonder if the people in this group know what connectedness feels like if or they’ve settled for a synthetic substitute.

What people were saying is that for them church feels like going to a football game. They stadium is packed. They are surrounded by people who all want the same thing. The mood is light, but they are not really connected. At the end of the day, the sermon, the service, the game, they will go back home to their lonely lives with the same sense they could never tell what’s really going on.

I think this trend is less a reflection on the state of our churches, and more evidence of a personal problem. To start, many of us have a bad theology of the church. We don’t get that God’s clear vision for the church is that it be our family—the unit in which we become more like Christ— and the hub of the gospel. Instead we think of it more as a social club. What’s more, as individuals we refuse to get real about our sin. We want to keep up appearances. We want people to think we’re really good people. We prefer to think of church as a country club where we wear our best clothes, including a pretty mask, instead of a hospital where we can get bound up and healed through the loving care of others.

Are you lonely? If so, is it possible that sin is the root cause? Can you look back and see that Satan waited for moments when you were outside your community? He attacked, and then he lied to you and told you shame should banish you to the bushes, making you feel even more alone.

It’s time to fall into your safety net. Seek God, and ask him to reveal the sin in your life. Confess it to him right then and there. Don’t hide yourself or your junk. But don’t stop there. Tell your Christian friends. Tell your pastor. Tell your mentor. Tell your family. Keep telling until you see the lion pride slink away and set their sights in a different direction.

By / Apr 2

I struggle with the celebration of Easter. I’m a child of late 20th century Southern evangelicalism, which feeds off the narrative of the Second Great Awakening—that movement that placed great emphasis on emotion. So I want to muster up some emotion as we approach Good Friday and the celebration of the resurrection. I want it to feel more special than it does. Shouldn’t the resurrection inspire us to heights of joy that no other day of the year does? Isn’t that appropriate?

A word-driven approach to Easter

I’m prone to let my feelings dictate my actions, but over the last few weeks I’ve been seeking a different approach to Easter. I’ve been reading the story of the first Passover in Exodus 12 as well as in the gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper. And I’ve been taking the themes that are common to both as a call to action, not just to muster up some emotion for Easter, but to work a change in my life.

One of the themes common to both Passover and the Lord’s Supper is God starting something new. For the Israelites, it is a brand new beginning. They even received a new calendar (Exod. 12:2), which is appropriate for a newly formed, independent people. Jesus also inaugurates something new: a new covenant. While the Passover initiates the Exodus that eventually leads the Israelites to Mt. Sinai and the Mosaic Covenant, Jesus fulfills this covenant and then offers his perfection to us in a new covenant sealed in his blood.

Yet perfection seems downright illusive for Christians. The writers of the New Testament are aware of that tension as they call us to continual repentance and renewal. So how do we strive toward perfection? Chiefly, we renew ourselves through time in God’s Word, not as an activity or item on the to-do list, but as a means of seeing and recognizing God’s glory and our own humanity. Recognizing the difference between the two and the extent of God’s mercy to reconcile that difference is overwhelming. I need to be reminded of that because I too often forget.

Assumptions can get in the way of this reality. Despite what is obvious on almost every page of God’s chronicle of Israel’s history, I often think of the Israelites as the “good guys” and the Egyptians as the “bad guys.” God struck the Egyptians (Exod. 12:29) and executed judgment on their gods (Exod. 12:12). So, they were the “bad guys” because the Israelites were spared, right?

The Egyptians, Israelites and me

Why were the Israelites spared? Was it because God was not going to judge them? No, it was because God chose to be gracious to them and give them a way to avoid the judgment. The Israelites would have undergone the same judgment as the Egyptians had they not applied the blood to their doors. And afterward, God made this plain to them as he claimed all firstborn as his (Exod. 13:1–2). No one in Egypt was the “good guy.” Both Israelite and Egyptian were stubborn and hard hearted. Both deserved punishment.

I, too, deserve punishment. But since I’m not considered a “bad guy”—at least in the evangelical circles I spend time in—it can be easy to forget that I daily need God’s transforming grace. The gods of my life need to be judged. My stubbornness needs to be rooted out and dealt with. I need my mind renewed and washed clean by God’s Word. I need to recognize that I have received an offer of grace.

This renewing of my mind by spending time in God’s Word sets me on the firm ground of wonder at God’s glory and mercy. This renewing of my mind in God’s Word reveals to me that I am an “Egyptian.” But I get to walk out of slavery with the people of God into hope. This allows me to look forward to the Celebration of the Resurrection, not with any more or less “emotion,” but with a greater gratitude and hunger for the one who saved me and a greater longing for others to know how they, too, can avoid God’s judgment.

I may not be any more emotional on Easter morning, but I do see God and his heart for my neighbors more clearly. Because of this, I can celebrate Christ more deeply.

By / Mar 5

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

We are all from the same root racially. God’s agenda for us is that we live in unity with one another, both in the kingdom and in the culture at large.

But when God’s truth is given to sinful men, they distort it. That is true in the area of race relations, which has led to the suppression of some races by other races who believe themselves superior.

Racism is the discrimination of people based on skin color or ethnic origin. It involves the unrighteous use of power against people toward whom we harbor prejudice, which is the emotional foundation of discrimination. Racism is equally unrighteous whether practiced by whites toward blacks, blacks toward Hispanics, Hispanics toward Asians, or any other combination thereof. It is an affront to the character of God, and His answer to racism is never racism in reverse.

Like a cancer, the problem of racism has metastasized and invaded the very structures of American life, making the source almost impossible to trace and deal with.

Every attempt to address this evil leads to the frustration of seeing it pop up somewhere else. Countless workshops, seminars, and symposia have not led to a cure for this cultural cancer.

Why has this evil been so difficult to eradicate? Because racism is not first and foremost a skin problem. It is a sin problem. See, when you believe that racism is a skin problem, you can take three hundred years of slavery, court decisions, marches, and the federal government involvement and still not get it fixed right.

But once you admit that racism is a sin problem, you are obligated as a believer to deal with it right away. As long as the issue of race is social and not spiritual, it will never be dealt with in any ultimate sense.

Verse: “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” 1 John 2:9

Prayer: Father, create in me a heart of love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, and help me to show that love to them in ways that reflect Your glory and bring You pleasure.

This was originally posted here.

By / Dec 4

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

Confusion and dismay barely express the emotions of people everywhere as news spread that a grand jury in New York did not bring any charges against the police officer after his confrontation with a man resulted in the man’s death. That man was Eric Garner, and his apparent crime was selling unlicensed cigarettes. Garner was an unarmed African American male who was surrounded by officers, did not pose any threat, and was eventually placed in a choke-hold and strangled to death (read the story and watch the video of the incident here).

All is Not Well in America

This case, along with Ferguson, is yet another reminder that all is not well in America. It’s a reminder that racial tensions and divisions are high. It’s a reminder that there is a glaring racial disparity in our justice system.

There comes a point when excuses of not knowing or caring become just that—excuses.  All people must care. As Russell Moore has said, “For those of us in Christ, we need to recognize that when one part of the Body of Christ hurts, the whole Body of Christ hurts.”

Now is not the time to hope this will go away.

Now is the time to engage in conversation about race and how we view others.

Now is the time to ask the hard questions about racism.

The Hard Truth of Racism

Racism is a painful word. Nobody wants to be labeled as such. Many actually believe that because we are 50 years past the Civil Rights era, we are somehow magically past racism. Racism is painful because, by definition, it’s another human being who hates another human being based on the God-given color of their skin. Yet, in God’s economy, we are all created equal. In the beginning, God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). So why would fellow image bearers hate one another based on something like skin? Because after creation, sin entered the world and distorted our view of humanity (Genesis 3).

Racism is the result of sin. In order to fight it we have to find the root—we have to do some heart surgery and look for the real problem. For many, I believe racism is rooted in pride. We can often believe that we are greater than others and think they are not worthy of existence. We can be partial and sinfully prefer those like us over those who are unlike ourselves (James 2: 1-13). And at times, the display of racism is not blatant—it doesn’t manifest itself through racial slurs. It can be hidden away in the heart.

The hard truth is that racism and the way it strips man of his dignity will be with us until the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. This is why the Church must be a safe place for difficult discussions about race. We must not only be unafraid to discuss it, but acknowledging that it still exists in many places in our country and can often be hidden away in our own hearts. We cannot be passive. Just like all temptations, pride and arrogance toward others must be confronted and fought with the truth of God’s Word. Don’t make the assumption that it is something you or your friends or your congregations can ignore.

Tragedies like what we’ve seen in the Garner case are a reminder of the presence of injustice in the world. It’s a call to speak, listen and pray. Because we are the Body of Christ, we must learn to mourn with those who mourn.  So I ask you, are you ready to join arms with your fellow brothers and sisters to pursue true racial reconciliation that can only be achieved through the cross of Christ?

The Good News of the Gospel

If you’ve realized, as various news stories have unfolded, that you do struggle with racism, that is God’s kindness to you. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom.  2:4). If we confess our sin, He is faithful to forgive us and to purify us (1 John 1:9). The good news is that our struggle with sin is not a fight we have to fight on our own. Like with all struggles, God provided a way of escape and a rescue from that sin. He provided His son, Jesus, who gave his life for the racist. God’s love is great for His children, and He does not withhold good things, including continued, transformational forgiveness.

This is the good news for you and for all of us—God provides a way of escape through His son (1 Cor. 13:10).  A beautiful aspect of the gospel is that it doesn’t stop giving with salvation. God continues to work in our hearts until we are glorified and with Christ. By His grace and His spirit we can ask the Lord for help during our battle with pride and racial prejudice. We can ask the Lord to forgive those who have sinned against us through racist words as well.  Can we pursue one another in love, and can we fight against racism? Yes, because we have the Spirit of God. Is racial reconciliation possible? Yes, and it’s a must because we are the Body of Christ. Let’s pursue it.