Where Should our Loyalty Be?

Today is Independence Day in the United States and there will be a lot of celebrating along with hemming and hawing about what the Founding Fathers would think of our country today.  There has been nearly endless discussion over what flags are appropriate to fly and what our Constitution says about free speech and marriage.

Perhaps though, we take far too much of our identity from the nation and/or state that we were born in.  This is not to imply that I would want to live somewhere else.  It’s just the fact that we should identify ourselves as Christians first and foremost.  If the laws and morals of our land do or don’t match up with our biblically defined values is almost secondary.  We must obey God rather than men.

The author of Hebrews shows us where our loyalty should be.  Hebrews 11:13-16:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

No matter how much you believe in your country, the fact remains that we are citizens of something greater.  We can discuss all we want about how the country was founded on Christian values and it is getting away from them.  An earthly kingdom – even one founded on Christian values – still pales in comparison to the heavenly kingdom we await.

Each of us may have a certain responsibility to stand up for our beliefs and hold fast to what God teaches us rather than what man says we should or shouldn’t do.  In the end though, we are surrounded by people who are not Christians and they will act as non-Christians act.  While there are good Christian men and women in government, there are many non-Christians in government as well and they will pass laws that are not in line with our values.

Our nature is to despair over the laws of our country changing and moving away from how we understand the Bible.  And certainly there is some reason to despair and be concerned over the moral decay that we see around us.  On the other hand though, we must keep things in perspective.  Whatever nation or state we pledge allegiance to is not the one that God intended for us.  True Christians long for a better country – a heavenly one.

Whatever you do today, whether it is celebrate the founding of a country or despair over the loss of the values it once had, remember that this home is only temporary.  We are strangers and foreigners in this land.  Our citizenship lies elsewhere in a place that is perfect.  We are awaiting that place.  Jesus has gone ahead to prepare that place for us according to John 14:2-3:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

While we may disdain over what our earthly nation has become, let us keep in mind that this is not our true home.  Our true home is being made ready for us.  And with that in mind, the best we can say is “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

Where is the Victory?

Another tragedy has rocked our country and has left pundits scrambling to be heard the loudest for their cause in order to take advantage of it.  While racism and guns will be blamed – and may be part of the problem – the root of this is sin.  Racism does not exist without sin.  Gun violence does not exist without sin.  If we fix the sin problem we won’t have these tragedies any more.

And that’s the biggest problem.  Even if Christianity is wildly successful at taking people who are full of hate and filling them with the love of Jesus, all it takes is one person for such events to happen again.  But more to the point, does the church appear to be the least bit successful in reaching our culture and turning people from hate to love?  Certainly there are grand stories to be shared but overall it seems as though we are losing the battle.  And this is not just an issue in the United States.  In many places that were once predominantly Christian, it appears as though the battle has already been lost.  Grand cathedrals are no longer places of worship but are tourist attractions and markers of history of a bygone era.

From the perspective of most people, society seems to be getting worse, not better.  If that is the case, the broader question is why.  Why has the church lost ground in society?  Why has sin become so predominant everywhere we look?  And more importantly, why wasn’t sin defeated at the cross?

There are no easy answers to these questions and how a person responds to them will vary widely on the theology they’ve been taught to believe.  It wasn’t that long ago – a hundred years or so – that the predominant theology said the world would keep improving until the gospel reached everywhere and it would usher in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Now, many people believe just the opposite.  The world is getting worse and worse and it will only be fixed when Jesus returns with a sword to strike down His enemies.  Regardless of the interpretation or how literally one takes it, the book of Revelation certainly depicts a lot of calamity before peace is achieved.

This still begs the question of why though.  Why has the devil not been defeated?  It’s certainly a very hard argument to make that he is not present and active in the world today.  Where is the victory over sin and death that we were promised?  Are all of the promises of the cross only valid at the end of this age?

I don’t have all of the answers but I do have a few thoughts.  For starters, Satan has definitely been defeated already.  In our limited ability, we often depict a battle between God and Satan; I still use such metaphors myself.  That gives far too much credit to Satan and not nearly enough credit to God.  This was never a battle because that would imply that Satan ever had a chance at winning.  Satan has led a rebellion and that rebellion has been thwarted because it never stood a chance to begin with against an all-powerful God.

What we experience today is the effects of the rebellion.  The world is currently Satan’s domain.  He is the prince of this world.  To depict things in a modern context, Satan is holed up in a little house with the full force of the military outside of his door.  He currently has full reign over the things in that house but there is no way that he is getting away.  His rule is not absolute nor is it eternal.  While he holds sway over humanity now and he holds us hostage, it is only temporary and he has not usurped God’s power.

Satan has been defeated at the cross but we still see the effects of sin and death because we are incapable of viewing time from God’s perspective.  Two thousand years and counting since the time of Jesus is a very long time to us but it is the blink of an eye to God.  The rebellion has been crushed but Satan is still going to take as many people with him as he can.

We live in “the end of this age.”  Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, every generation has had people who were convinced that He would return in their lifetime.  No matter the signs that people see, we don’t know when His return will be.  The end of the age can end tomorrow or it can stretch on for another two thousand years.  That seems unlikely to us but it certainly seemed unlikely to many in the early church who also expected Jesus’ immediate return.

The victory that we experience now is not the victory that we long for.  We long for a time when there will be no more sin or death.  We long for a time when all things will be perfect.  That is not this time.  There will be a day when that is realized however.  It has already been accomplished but it has not been put into effect yet.

We do see parts of the victory in the world around us though.  Amidst the kind of horror that we can only hope and pray we never experience, we can see Christians who respond with love and forgiveness.  This does not mean that there is not also sorrow and anger but I believe that it is only through the power of God that any kind of peace can be given in this kind of situation.

Compare the response of Christians to tragedy to that of non-Christians.  While I can’t say that it is universal, in general there is certainly a greater amount of love and forgiveness that surrounds a tragedy.  That is the victory of the cross that we experience today.  It is the ability to handle the worst of what life has to offer and still awake the next day and say “God is good.”  It doesn’t mean that a Christian is happy about the circumstances but they can still have a peace that passes understanding knowing that God still has the victory despite the evidence that sin is alive and well today.

In the end, we still long for the day when all sin is eradicated and Satan has no power over us.  While we wait, we will endure the effects of a broken world that is in rebellion against God.  But we do so knowing that it is temporary.  We will see the full effects of victory and we can experience the partial effects of it now.

The end has come for Harold Camping but it’s not the end of the world

You might not know or remember the name Harold Camping but you probably are familiar with his work.  He was the man who had convinced many of his followers that the end of the world was coming in May 2011.  When this didn’t come about as predicted, rather than learn his lesson he stated that he misinterpreted what the rapture was but still called for the end of the world in October of 2011.  This was undoubtedly little comfort for his followers who had sold their homes and toured around in RV’s touting the end of the world.  It probably also didn’t make the people happy who had given his ministry $80 million over a five year span.

Harold Camping died at the age of 92 on December 15, 2013.  I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead but I must question whether Camping’s contributions to Christianity were undone by the embarrassment that he caused.  I never followed Camping’s teachings and even if I did, only God can judge the heart of a man.  I truly hope that he was a genuine Christian who was just misguided in a particular belief and not a man who led many astray under the guise of Christianity.

I get very frustrated when Christian leaders cause an embarrassment to Christianity.  I’m not talking about getting caught in affairs and scandals, those are bad obviously but that is different than what I’m talking about.  I get mad when Christian leaders claim to speak for God when it doesn’t appear as if God has spoken.  We have lots of revelation from the Lord, it’s called the Bible.  What the Bible declares to be sin, we should boldly proclaim to be sin.  But too many leaders take things a step further and declare things that the Bible does not say.

God does punish sin but He doesn’t always bring disaster upon cities or nations because of their sins.  Unless God has spoken directly to an individual to proclaim this as truth, they should parse their words.  Boldly speak the truth about sin but don’t make sweeping proclamations about what God is doing in response to that sin.  God will judge sin, it just might not be here on earth.

Likewise, we know that one day “the end” is coming.  I can definitively say that we are one day closer today than we were the day before.  Beyond that, we simply don’t know.  Jesus gave us signs of the end and we do see them in the world today.  However, every generation has looked around them and has seen those signs.  And perhaps this is the point – Jesus could return at any moment because the signs have always been there and always will be.

Of further embarrassment on the end of the world front though, Jesus said that no one knew the day or hour of His return – not even Him!  There is no secret Bible code that Jesus couldn’t figure out but math whizzes today can crack.  In short, I can’t think of any way to say it other than the fact that people who want to declare they know more than Jesus that they reek of arrogance and ignorance.

Unfortunately Christians sometimes adopt an “end justifies the means” mentality that does more harm than good.  In an effort to prevent sin, broad proclamations about judgment are made which may make Biblical sense but are not Biblically supported because frankly the Bible just doesn’t tell us that a hurricane today is indisputably the judgment of God for a particular sin.  It could be, but not every disaster is the judgment of God.  Jesus made that clear when He discussed the tower of Siloam killing 18 people in Luke 13:4.

Perhaps Camping’s great fault was that he was overzealous to warn people about the judgment that awaits unrepentant sinners.  I can’t claim to know what his true motivations were.  If this were it, he could be excused for wanting to get the gospel out.  But I will never excuse the methods that involve misinterpreted scripture, no matter what the intended result was.

In the end Harold Camping went to meet his maker about 2 1/2 years later than he expected.  I can only hope that the word he receives from the Lord is a “well done” to a well intentioned but misguided man and not a “depart from me, I never knew you.”