Church

We're Citizens of a Better Country

Political unrest somehow fuels a kind of fear unlike any other. Every four years (sometimes more or less), our country faces a struggle within itself as different political factions vie for the privilege of serving as president of the United States. Our collective unrest is growing toward a crescendo on November 8, when we will learn who will lead our country for the next four years.

Everyone has an opinion on what’s going to happen, and whether our lives will be better or worse because of it. Depending on who you talk to, the end is nigh—stock up on bottled water and spam while you can. Politics is important, but it is a small thing to a Creator who can turn a king’s heart as easily as he can turn a stream (Proverbs 21:1).

God is still reigning

But here’s the truth: no matter who our president is, he or she cannot sustain our country, not even for a second. God establishes and removes leaders (Colossians 1:16-17, Daniel 2:37). He tosses his head back to laugh at anyone who thinks they have power that he doesn’t (Psalm 2). Moment by moment he upholds the entire universe (Hebrews 1:3). The God who created the world and everything in it doesn’t depend on us to vote in the “right” leader (Acts 17:24-25). We are citizens of the United States, yes, and as such, we have the right and privilege of voting, but even more than that, we are citizens of a better kingdom, in which God rules as a good, perfect king (Hebrews 11:13-16, Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:19-20). 

Our current political climate exposes political idolatry in which we’re prouder to be Americans than we are to be called children of God. When our primary allegiance is to a nation—which, remember, has only existed for 240 years—we misplace our hope, thereby missing out on a better kingdom in which God reigns forever in perfect love and perfect justice (Revelation 1:4-6).

God is not surprised

God knows each day of our lives–not one escapes his notice and involvement. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t hear the praises and cries of his children. Never once in all of history has God been surprised at anything that has occurred. 

But every day is a brand new day to us. We wake up without knowing what a day holds. Sure, we keep calendars and planners, but the God who numbers the hairs on our heads ordains everything (Matthew 10:26-31). 

The God who knows what has been, what is, and what will come is the God that we trust (Revelation 1:8). “In God we trust” is printed on our currency, and it’s our only hope for Election Day and Inauguration Day and every other day. God’s plan for the world cannot be thwarted by such a small thing as an election (Isaiah 46:8-10).

While we’re surprised and often fearful, we can find peace in the midst of turmoil knowing that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we can live without fear of tomorrow (John 14:16-17, 26-27). 

Our mission doesn’t change

For thousands of years, the people of God have had one mission: to proclaim the excellencies of God to those who do not know him (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are called to make disciples in all the world (Matthew 28:28-30), regardless of who takes the presidential oath in January. 

The mission of God transcends political agendas and party platforms. Politicians change. Public opinions change. God remains the same (Hebrews 13:8), and he calls his people to live with a heart on mission in a world that’s lost in the darkness of sin. The same God who cares for us is rescuing a people for himself, from every nation, tribe, and tongue throughout the world.

We are united by something stronger than a candidate

The biggest loss for the church in our political climate is if we try to figure out whether people are with us or against us based on how they voted. What’s beginning to look like frayed friendships and disunity now could grow into division unless we remember our unity in Christ. A year from now, when the election and inauguration have come and gone, when the dust has settled on the most contentious and ridiculous election of our lifetimes, will you still be friends with people who voted differently from you? 

Voting is good. Taking a stand against abortion, misogyny, racism, and abuse is good. But we must do so knowing that the kingdom of God isn’t pro-Trump or pro-Clinton. It’s pro-Jesus, whose work in the world is accomplished by his Spirit using his people, regardless of who serves as president.

As such, we must work to maintain love and unity in the church and in our friendships (Romans 12:16-18, Romans 15:5-6). God is writing each of our stories differently. The things that are most important to me may not be most important to you, and that’s fine. But no matter what happens on November 8, we must remember that because of Jesus, we have more in common than we have differences (Ephesians 4:1-7). Because of Jesus, we can truly love one another (Ephesians 5:2, 1 Timothy 1:5), we can think of each other more highly than ourselves (Romans 12:3), and we can seek the good of one another rather than seeking the pride of being right.

So on November 8, vote (or don’t—whatever gives you a clean conscience) and trust God, knowing that he won’t be surprised by the outcome, and his plans cannot be thwarted by a politician. Regardless of who serves as our 45th President, we have God, we have each other, and we have a job to do. 

Review: United: Captured by God’s Design for Diversity

I was more excited than I expected to be when I picked up United: Captured by God’s Design for Diversity by Trillia Newbell. Recent events in the news (specifically, the incidents in Ferguson, MO, and the case surrounding Eric Garner, among others as they come) have opened the door to curiosity regarding diversity and how we as believers ought to respond.

If you’re looking for a book offering instruction about what to think, what to do, and how to do it in regards to ethnic diversity, you would probably be better served by reading Bloodlines by John Piper or looking into Thabiti Anyabwile’s positions. (Newbell refers to both often throughout the book. I haven't read Bloodlines, and I have only a cursory understanding of Anyabwile's views.)

However, if you’re looking for a conversation with a friend about diversity and ethnicity, this is the book for you. Newbell is black, married to a white man, mother of two biracial kids, a believer in Christ, and maybe the only female voice I’ve come across in diversity talks. She writes of her experiences growing up in the South, about coming to know Christ, and of digging in at a church where she was close to the only black woman (if not the only one). She speaks passionately about her desire for her own church to grow in diversity, and how she worked to “be the change.” As I read it, it felt like I was getting to know my friend Trillia (whom I've never met) and her experiences, convictions, and encouragements for believers and the Church. All of this comes across as one who cares deeply and wants to help others care about this important issue, without blaming or preachiness.

Newbell clearly knows the answer to the question of “Why diversity?”, but refuses to answer with a theological treatise. Instead, she asks, “How can we fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations if we all seek only churches in which we are comfortable? Does God call me to be uncomfortable and fulfill all my needs?” (116). She subtly helps readers see that diversity is about missions. “The pursuit of diversity is important, yes, but not because it’s trendy, this generation’s ‘hip thing.’ It’s important because the nations fill God’s world” (127). Additionally, diversity is about loving other people made in the image of God. “Diversity is worth having because diversity is about people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be (Psalm 8:3-4)?” (135).

Newbell spends much of the book talking about her relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity. She discusses how she came to be discipled by a white girl alongside a Chinese girl, and how they experience the family of God together despite their differences. She encourages churches to foster diversity, and exhorts readers to pray, evangelize, show hospitality, go (and support churches building multiethnic congregations), and stay (“We can stay in situations that may be uncomfortable yet are good, because we believe the Lord has us there for the purpose of building His church, even if we are lonely snowflakes” [124].)

United is a helpful book for believers wondering how to have a conversation about ethnicity in a time where the issue is charged. Newbell encourages us to seek diversity in our lives and in our churches, to the glory of God.

Review: Women of the Word

I just finished Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. Having grown up in the church and Christian schools, I was curious to see how much of it would be helpful for me. And the answer? Yes.

Wilkin writes as one who has worked to study the Bible. She doesn't ask readers to do anything she doesn't demonstrate. A book about studying the Bible could very easily have read like a textbook, but Women of the Word is more about knowing and loving God with both our hearts and our heads.

"We live in a time when the Bible is largely regarded as a book for our own edification, through which the Holy Spirit will simply reveal truth to those willing to give it a few minutes' attention a day."

We often come to God's word asking it to tell us who we are or what we should do, and expecting emotional gratification out of it. But if, as Wilkin argues, the Bible is about God (not us), and we are commanded to love God with both our hearts and our minds, then it's no wonder that we don't get exactly what we want out of reading the word of God.

The book presents five P's to guide our time in Scripture, with practical ideas of how to accomplish each:

  • Purpose

  • Perspective

  • Patience

  • Process

  • Prayer

Wilkin spotlights our desire for ease and simplicity in reading God's word, which often takes us to devotionals. It seems that women like to substitute devotionals for the Bible because we resign ourselves to the idea that the author knows more than we ever will, and we justify it by telling ourselves that it has a little Scripture in it. But fair-weather devotional reading will never result in Bible literacy. As she notes, false teachers count on their followers knowing just a little bit of the Bible, because they can turn those few verses into a seemingly consistent message that is antithetical to the gospel, God's word, and God Himself. (Think of the prosperity gospel, which essentially says that God will do good for me if I do good for Him. You can find a few verses that support that theory, but it falls to pieces with even the slightest reading of the verses before and after.)

"The preponderance of devotional material available to us bears evidence to our love for the neatly-wrapped package: a spiritual insight paired with a few verses and an application point or two. We approach our 'time in the Word' like the drive-through at McDonald's: 'I've only got a few minutes. Give me something quick and easy to fill me up.'"

The book's approach to helping us grow in Bible literacy by studying Scripture helps us do a few very important things:

  • It puts God at the center of the story;

  • It takes a 30,000 foot view to see how the Bible tells one story;

  • It helps us understand the original context of a particular passage;

  • All these things put together help us apply it to both the overall purpose and the nitty-gritty of our lives.

"What if the passage of Scripture you are fighting to understand today suddenly makes sense to you when you need it most, ten years from now?"

I am surprised at how helpful the book is for me, and I'm starting to put some of her ideas to work. Most of them aren't new to me, but everything put together helps me see how I can know God's word and God Himself better.

In short, I highly recommend Women of the Word to every Christian woman - new believers and longtime Christians alike. In fact, I highly recommend grabbing a few friends and reading the book together, then putting it into practice by studying the Bible together.

Review: Rid of My Disgrace

I read a lot of books dealing with counseling in the church. One of the most helpful and accessible books I've read is Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. I prefer to post a more in-depth review, but Crossway is offering the ebook for $0.99 right now, so go for it!

Rid of My Disgrace is narrow in focus -- it's geared toward victims of sexual assault (and toward those who are trying to help). The book drips with grace as the Holcombs seek to recover those who have been so violently exposed as a result of the heinous acts against them. Since this is a less comprehensive post, I'll list a few quotes as further encouragement to add this to your library. (I'd post page numbers but I doubt my ebook corresponds to the physical copy.)

To your experience of one-way violence, God brings one-way love.... One way love does not avoid you, but comes near, not because of personal merit but because of your need. It is the lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. One-way love is the change agent you need for the pain you are experiencing.

What victims need are not self-produced positive statements but God's statements about his response to their pain.... Grace transforms and heals; and healing comes by hearing God's statements to you, not speaking your own statements to yourself.

(God) already sees, hears, and knows your suffering and is facing it in its fullness even before you cried out. Now he is inviting you to face it with him, not alone.

Victims often fail to realize that God's own sorrow for what has happened is deep and profound. Mourn. Grieve. Cry. God is grieved by and angry at what happened to you. He is even more grieved and angry than you are, so you are invited to participate with God in his grief and anger.

If you are in Christ, your identity is deeper than any of your wounds.

Self-love and self-help do not work because we'll never peel back enough layers of ourselves to find the true self at the core that is pure and lovable. We need a bigger love to rescue us, one that overcomes the effects of the fall and restores to us the dignity that has been lost.

Belonging to God means that you are valuable to God, that God is concerned about you, that God sees and knows you, and that God cares about you more than you do.

*All quotes are taken from Rid of My Disgrace.