Senator Ben Sasse’s Speech at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference

Take a minute to watch this short address given by Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference a few weeks ago in Indianapolis.

Sasse is a graduate of Yale and studied in Oxford. He is a Christian and in this address he sounds more like a pastor than a politician. He has served as an elder in his church and on the board of trustees of Westminster Seminary California.

Here’s an article about him and his faith that was published in World Magazine: Ben Sasse: a Reformed reformer.

Here’s the video of his session: “What Does Washington Have to Do with Jerusalem?”:

Politics and Identity

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Over the past few weeks, I, like many of you, have been following the political developments in the U.S. In such a caustic and antagonistic climate, I would much rather be known for my stance on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel than for my personal convictions about political matters. That is the drum that I will beat and the hill I will be willing to die on.

Why is it that the political climate is so caustic and people are so divided? According to many sociologists, philosophers and theologians, the issue is one of identity: namely, that one of the most common ways that people create identity is through “the exclusion of the Other.”

According to Zygmunt Bauman, “We can’t create ‘Us’ without also creating ‘Them.’ Social belonging happens only as some other contrasting group is labeled as the Different or the Other. We bolster our identity by seeing others in a negative light and by excluding them in some way.” (Modernity and Ambivalence, p. 8)

In other words: I can feel I am one of the good people because I know I am not one of the bad people. Therefore the “Other” must be degraded, excluded and/or vilified in order for me to have a sense of self-worth.

Croatian theologian and professor at Yale University, Miroslav Wolf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that the reason we indulge in these attitudes and practices is that by denouncing and blaming the Other it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.”

One great example of this, Timothy Keller points out, is: “If I find my identity in working for liberal political and social causes, it is inevitable that I will scorn conservatives, and the same goes for conservatives regarding liberals. In fact, if the feelings of loathing toward the opposition are not there, it might be concluded that my political position is not very close to the core of who I am.” (Making Sense of God, p. 145)

In order to do this, Wolf says, we must “over-bind” and “over-separate”: To over-separate means to fail to recognize what we do have in common, and to over-bind means to refuse other people the right to be different from us.

This practice is common in many areas, not just in regard to politics.

Keller goes on to say: “If my identity rests to a great degree in being moral and religious, then I will disdain those people I think of as immoral. If my self-worth is bound up with being a hardworking person, I will look down on those whom I consider lazy. As the postmodernists rightly point out, this condescending attitude toward the Other is part of how identity works, how we feel good and significant.” (Ibid.)

Jesus himself gave an example of this:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 ESV

Jesus is describing people who excluded, degraded and vilified others for the purpose of bolstering their own sense of self-worth, value and identity. However, much to their surprise, Jesus tells them that God does not play this game – in fact, he is very much opposed to it, because it is rooted in pride and self-justification rather than humility.

What then is the solution?

The solution is this: we must find our identity not in being better than others, but in who we are in God’s eyes, because of what Jesus has done for us. We need an identity which is centered on the Cross.

The fact that Jesus went to the cross to die for our salvation is both a profound statement of our sin and failure, and at the same time the greatest expression of love and of our value to God. In this sense, my identity and value is not based on me being better than other people – rather it does not allow me to see myself as better than others. I, like them, have sinned and fallen short. My value, according to the gospel, is that God loves me so much that he was willing to pay the greatest cost and hold nothing back; he is that devoted and committed to me.

May we be those who find our identity in Christ, rather than in our political or other affiliations, and may the way Christians express their political views not be a hindrance to the message of the gospel.

Five Scriptures to Read on Inauguration Day

  1. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

  2. Jeremiah 29:7

    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.

  3. Romans 13:1

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

  4. Philippians 3:20

    But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Psalm 47:6-9

    Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
    For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
    God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
    The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
    For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

4 Strategies for Families Divided by Politics

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We live in a highly charged political climate, where many people see those on the opposite side of the political divide as being “what’s wrong with America.”

But what about when this touches your family? How can you have a family get-together without it deteriorating into arguments, awkwardness, alienation and hurt feelings? Is the only solution to just ignore the “elephant in the room” and not talk about politics?

This week I did an interview for the Longmont Times-Call newspaper on this subject. The article will come out on November 20. At the same time, a family I’m connected to is dealing with this exact scenario: their family is divided politically and it is straining their relationships.

Here are 4 simple strategies that can help families divided by politics:

1. Establish ground rules

In almost any mediation situation, the mediator will begin by establishing some ground rules for the discussion. This can be done in a family setting as well.

Here are some examples:

– No accusations allowed, only perception-based statements.

Rather than, “You people are ________” say something like, “This stance comes across to me as __________”.

– Discuss issues, not identities.

Rather than “Trump supporters are  ________” say, “I disagree with this policy because __________”.

– When it starts to feel negative, stop.

Take a break. Politicians come and go, and even they are willing to work together. Don’t let politics divide your family. It’s not worth it.

2. Zoom out to see the big picture

A political campaign is a marketing campaign. Each side is trying to get you to buy what they’re selling. To do this, they employ many strategies, particularly hyperbole and portraying the other side as dangerous and evil. But as soon as the campaign is over, they change their tone drastically. Why? Because they understand the nature of political campaigns. The problem is, many people don’t understand this the way politicians themselves do.

For example: In the final weeks of the campaign, President Obama said that Donald Trump was “very dangerous” and “a threat to democracy.” Trump called Obama “a disaster”, “the founder of ISIS” and “the most ignorant president in our history.” But then this week, the tone changed completely. Obama said Trump will be his president, that they were on the same team and that he was committed to helping Trump succeed. Trump said of Obama that “he is a very good man”.

It’s a game, a contest – and each side wants to win. But when it’s over, they know how to turn off the personas and work together.
It’s similar to a football game: for 60 minutes the players on each side try to crush each other. They use intimidation tactics, they hit each other as hard as they can – but when the game is over, they exchange jerseys and hug.

It’s often been noted that in congress, after heated partisan discussions, they all go eat lunch together in the cafeteria, and people from different parties who were at each other’s throats in the negotiating room, sit down and eat together.

Here’s the point: Politicians themselves understand campaigns for what they are. It would help us to do the same.

3. Affirm the noble values of the other person’s position

People who care about politics generally do so because they genuinely care about other people. They want to make things better. They’re passionate, interested and thoughtful. Most people who hold political views consider themselves to be heroic and compassionate. In other words, people all across the political spectrum believe that they are opposing evil and advocating for the good of others. In the end, we all want many of the same things, we just differ on how we believe those things can be achieved.

To take the teeth and the animosity out of a political discussion, it helps to affirm the noble values inherent to the other person’s position, and acknowledge that you hold those same values yourself.

For example: someone might say, “I support this political party because I care about the poor” or “…because I believe that all people are created equal” or “…because I consider life sacred.” Rather than take that as an insinuation that people who differ from them politically don’t care about those things, simply affirm that you do. Affirm all of the noble values that the other person cares about – and explain that you also want those same end goals. Then you can begin talking about strategies to achieve those goals, having taken many of the accusations and value judgments out of the equation and creating a less emotional, more rational discussion, because you’ve shown that you’re both interested in achieving the same ultimate goals.

4. Diffuse the tension by inviting the other person to tell you their views without argument

Love, the Bible teaches, is not a feeling, it is an action: a self-sacrifical, giving action. Because people love to talk about themselves, one of the greatest expressions of love you can give a person is to invite them to explain their views to you, and you only listen. No arguing. No interrupting. Just listening.

Maybe that would feel like a small death to you, and it may very well be an exercise in dying to yourself – but that is how God expressed His love for us: by suffering and dying for our sake.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. So, in the end, there was something in it for him, but it wasn’t a selfish motive – it was for the sake of us (him and us together) that he did it. He subjected himself to suffering for the sake of repairing our broken relationship with him — which was, by the way, our fault alone. But yet, he reached out, he offered to suffer and die for the sake of the joy of a restored relationship with us.

Even if it feels like a small death, or you suffer through listening to your family member share their views with you – one of the greatest acts of love you can give them is to listen intently without saying a word, then affirming the good values and principles in their views. You might just find that the other person is so surprised and honored that you took the time to hear them out that they are most open to listening to you in return. And rather than being toxic and divisive, your discussion can be healthy and amiable – even if you still agree to disagree on the methods and strategies.

Have you experienced a similar situation?  Do you have any other suggestions or strategies?
Leave a comment below!

2 Thoughts for U.S. Christians in the Wake of the Election

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Someone needs to take 2016’s keys away, because it’s not acting normal.

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl without an offense. Brexit happened. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. And now Donald Trump just won the presidential election. What kind of bizarro world are we living in?

Here are 2 thoughts for Christians to consider in light of the election:

1. Our country is divided and we are called to be peacemakers

Here in Boulder County, voters overwhelmingly voted Democrat. 71% voted for Hillary Clinton. The majority of the City of Longmont went for Hillary. Republicans took control of the House and Senate nationally, but Democratic candidates won almost every seat they ran for here in this area.

Nationally, as of right now Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Right before the election 61% of people said that they considered Donald Trump unfit to hold the office of president, which means that most people in our country are deeply concerned with the results, including some of the people who voted for Trump themselves.

Furthermore, this election was very divisive. I read a post on social media from a young woman today that said, “Every vote for Trump was a direct assault against me, my friends and my loved ones. I will not forget it.”

For Christians, no matter what your political stance, I think we must avoid the “us and them” mentality. Such a mentality encourages people to make value judgments about other people which are often not fair, such as “Liberals think that __________” or “Trump supporters condone __________.” Those generalizations are often, if not usually, untrue, and the reason for a person’s decision for how they vote is usually much more nuanced than people on the other side make it out to be.

I liked what President Obama said during his speech today, “This was an intramural scrimmage; we are all on the same team.”

Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed (literally: “Happy”) are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Helping people make peace with God is at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. An “us and them” mentality which divides people over political issues will only hinder that from happening.

Whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:21

Furthermore, resentment towards others hinders people from having a relationship with God. 1 John 4:20-21 says: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Yes, even someone who holds different political views than you.

We are called to be peacemakers, between God and people and between people and people. Let us not be those who perpetuate divisions, but those who encourage reconciliation.

2. Getting caught up in politics can hinder your true mission

President Obama said to the nation today, “Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we are all Americans first.” As Christians, we go one very big step beyond that: We are not Americans first, we are Christians first.

As Christians, we have a calling to be ministers of the gospel. Jesus said to his disciples, “Just as the Father sent me, so I also send you.” (John 20:21) When people think of Christians, we don’t want them to associate us with a politician or a political affiliation or party, we want them to associate us with Jesus and the gospel message of the love and grace of God.

In a country as divided as ours is right now, it is very possible for politics to become a stumbling block and a hindrance to people being willing to hear the message of the gospel from those they disagree with politically. We can’t allow that. Our mission is so much more important.

Christians need to strive to be known not for alignment with a particular party or stances on economic policy or gun rights, but for our concentrated focus on the mission of God and the message of the gospel. This is not to say that Christians should not have opinions on such matters, it is to say that we must not allow these things to be associated with what it means to be a Christian.

May God bless our nation and help us who call ourselves Christians to faithfully follow Jesus, communicate his heart and carry out his mission.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

The US Election and Some Reasons to be Hopeful

This past weekend I went with the elders of White Fields Church to Allenspark, where we had a marathon of meetings, but in such a beautiful spot that we could also enjoy some hiking and the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

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Sunrise on Mt. Meeker
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We happened upon this mama bear and her 2 cubs in a tree near Lyons

We had a great time together, but I was surprised how exhausted I felt at the end of it. However, I feel very encouraged about where our church is at and where we are going.

Speaking of exhaustion and encouragement: the US election is coming up in 3 days.

I’m exhausted by the campaigns, by the division it causes, I’m exhausted because both of the major party candidates have major character flaws and neither of them are someone I can be excited to vote for.

However, I am also hopeful. Yesterday I ran across an article by Carey Nieuwhof that was a breath of fresh air. True, he’s a Canadian, so he doesn’t really have any skin in the game, but then on the other hand, they have Justin Trudeau and pretty much all of the things conservative Americans are concerned about happening in the US have already happened in Canada – so maybe a Canadian is the exact person who can speak into our situation.

Here’s the article: Despairing about the US Presidential election? 5 predictions that point toward hope.

Here are the 5 predictions he gives:

  1. There will be renewed interest in the sovereignty of God
  2. The church will look to Christ more and to the state less
  3. Living out your values will become more important than ever
  4. The tone of public discourse will get worse…or better
  5. The work of the local church will be more important than ever

Carey expounds on each of these in his post – it’s worth reading, but the tone of what he is saying is something I have found curiously lacking from Christian leaders during this election season.

I, for one, cannot lose hope – because as a Christian I know that 1) God is sovereign and 2) the best is yet to come.

Hungary Becomes the First Country to Officially Defend Christians Persecuted by ISIS

Some good news coming out of my former home, Hungary, this week:

This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe.

“Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Catholic News Agency (CNA) quoted Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog, as saying. “In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.”

I’m glad to see someone standing up for these persecuted Christians in the Middle East. It’s about time. Good on you, Hungary!

For the article about it in Christianity Today, click here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/september/first-country-to-officially-defend-christians-persecuted-by.html

Evangelism and Street Witnessing Now Illegal in Russia

From Assemblies of God and Christianity Today:

Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.

The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.

This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.

Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.

If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.

Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.

Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.

“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.

Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!

Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.

When You Can’t Decide Who to Vote For

This week this obituary appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

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It seems like something from the Onion, but it’s not.
From CNN:
Her husband Jim Noland told NBC12 that one of her sons wrote the obituary and it was meant as a joke, a way for her family to continue her sense of humor.
“This isn’t the first time a paid death notice has been used to send a personal message to the world,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch said in a statement.
For the rest of us who are still here, well – I guess we just have to pray and trust God. Good thing is: He’s sovereign.