Stand with me at the foot of the cross. Come close. So close that when we look up, all we can see is that face. The arms outstretched, the hands barely visible in our peripheral vision.
What do we see?
If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you no doubt took away indelible images of the physical pain and agony of Jesus’ death on a Roman cross. In our imaginations we see the nails and the stretching, hanging, and suffocating, and we are astonished that anyone would willingly give up a throne to submit to such excruciating torture.
On the day he died, Jesus endured so much physical pain; yet the Scriptures say he didn’t open his mouth. Like a lamb going to the slaughter, he endured silently the scourging, mocking, spitting, slapping, nailing, the struggle to breathe.
But at the crucial juncture, Gibson’s movie could not show us, nor can we even imagine the greater pain of being cursed—being totally removed from the presence of God. Around noon something beyond all imagination began to happen.
The world went dark, and Christ became sin.
Raise your hand if you feel like you live in a time where people love empty words and seek after lies. Where the honor of seeking to follow Jesus and listen to his Word is turned to shame. That’s exactly how King David felt in Psalm 4. So he gives himself some good advice: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.”
David urges himself to begin with deep reflection alone on his bed in silence. We can benefit from the same advice. Here’s a prompt for our reflection: What does it mean to be a person of truth and grace in a culture of lies?
The ninth commandment, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor,” gives us a good place to begin: And the Westminster Catechism offers us a great little test to help us take the measure of our own commitment to truth. After all, we can’t do nearly as much about changing others as we can about changing ourselves:
- Are we committed to “preserving and promoting truth between man and man?
- Are we committed to “preserving and protecting the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own”? (What if our neighbor is on the other political side? What if we are engaged on social media?)
We’ve hit the post-2020 election wall of reality pretty hard lately— Amazon banned the thoughtful and science-based When Harry Became Sally, singer Demi Lovato declared that gender-reveal parties were transphobic, and Mr. Potato Head came out as gender fluid.
Even Dr. Suess’s books have been cancelled from their featured spotlight at Read Across America Day.
To cap it off, at the confirmation hearing for Biden’s nominee to be #2 at the Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Rand Paul could not get him/her to admit that children should not be able to make their own decisions to make sex changes with hormone blockers or surgery without parental involvement.
The outrage has lit up social media.
Virgin River is a down comforter on a cold pandemic night kind of TV series that invites you to find a cozy spot and wrap the warmth and softness of its love story and small town around you.
Unlike a comforter, it has some serious edges and romantic tension, but nothing that seems headed over a cliff. Even so, as the Netflix writers take Robyn Carr’s 20+ book series and elevate it to be as appealing as possible to a general audience of non-romance readers, they inevitably enfold some of God’s greatest lessons about love into their script.
Some reviewers accuse the show of being too traditional and cliched–too “Hallmarky.” I disagree. Yes it’s kinda soapy, but still in a different class. And to my mind it’s success simply proves that Jesus has the best information on how to have good relationships. When the second season was released last November it zoomed to #1, displacing both The Crown and Queen’s Gambit.
President Biden has signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Behind the order lie deep tensions that are erupting in competing visions of compassion, agonizing struggles of conscience and courtroom battles across our country. (full text of the Order)
It sounds reasonable. No one should abuse LGBTQs or shame them as less than human because of their identity or sexual orientation. And no one should lightly gloss over that statement. They are made in God’s image and we should take seriously bullying that turns into battering, disgust that turns into assault, or violence triggered by “gay panic” over unwanted same-sex advances. They are not “deformed” or “diseased.” They do not “deserve to die.”
When we see LGBTQ’s through the eyes of Jesus, who loves them and gave himself for them, we see their brokenness and know that we too are sexually broken. We show them true compassion as fellow travelers–all of us needing the redeeming, restoring love and forgiveness of Christ.
But there is a difference between the compassion of Christ for sinners and the compassionate statements in President Biden’s order. To understand what is truly at stake, let’s ask some hard questions of its meaning, line by line, and look for hidden assumptions.
“Destruction,” from The Course of Empire by Robert Coles
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
–from “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats, 1919
What a sad, hard week for America; the People’s House breached, lives taken, pandemic ratcheting up and up. Never in my lifetime have the words of Yeats’ most famous poem felt so achingly true. Words written in the wake of the “blood-dimmed tide” of World War I when the Spanish flu was rising, infecting Yeats’ own pregnant wife.
Big decisions are being made today, tomorrow and in the next four years about the future of our country, and the results may permanently change America. I’ve included how I’m praying about these issues, sometimes fasting, and encourage you to do the same. Especially this week. You’ll find one time-sensitive action step recommendation at the end.
#1 Will we be able to have free and fair elections in the future?
In a December post I wrote about the danger of the media’s suppression of the evidence of fraud in our November elections.
We will be alone this Christmas. Eleven hundred miles from any family. Distanced from friends who will take the risk to be with their grandchildren (as I would if we had them), but it means we won’t be visiting them either. Ah, Covid. You are such a joy stealer. Such a prime example of the curse of sin in a fallen world.
This week I wake up thinking of the distance and the empty calendar ahead. Today, as I play my Christmas music, I’m fighting back a few tears. Maybe you’re fighting for joy too. How can we reclaim the joy of this Advent season?
I’ve been surprised how our fall Bible study of the book of Revelation has helped. As I’ve reflected on the first and second advents together it has lifted my spirits so much.
The angel’s announcement of the first Advent, “He has come!” invites us into a story of great joy, but also great sorrow. An almost-divorce over an out of wedlock pregnancy, no room in the inn, Herod’s slaughter of babies in his search to destroy Jesus, Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many and his postscript to Mary that “a sword will pierce her heart” certainly proved true. What a reflection of our own Covid Christmas–celebration fraught with sorrow.
But expanding our Advent celebration to Jesus’ second advent taps into our future sorrow-free joy. Jesus’ second advent stands in stark contrast to his first. Consider how they are similar but wildly different, and how the second advent magnifies our joy:
In his essay, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis went on record snorting at “the cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone” of his own age. And yet, if a Christian felt called to journalism and broadcasting, I think he would say, as he said of philosophy, “Good [journalism] must exist [because] bad [journalism] needs to be answered.”
And bad journalism is multiplying exponentially, er, algorhithmically, out there. The election of 2016 changed journalism. The line between reporting and advocacy has all but disappeared.
The New York Times vs the Truth
Not long after the 2016 election The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”
How do you respond to that pitch?
When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, I could hardly believe I would to have to choose one of them in order to make my vote count. I know, many people made a vote in principle for a third party candidate. But I couldn’t do that.
I believe that casting a vote that helps determine the outcome is being the best steward of my citizenship and my vote. Even now, in 2020, I know people who will not vote for either candidate on principle. And yet the candidate they are backing is not even on the ballot in my state.
That is a political statement. A theological statement. Not a truly meaningful vote. I respect them and know that this is their choice in good conscience before the Lord. But in my opinion there is too much at stake in this election to cast a vote that is meaningless to the outcome.
This is a worldview election. We are voting to strengthen one worldview and weaken another. How so?
Courtesy of Story Block
The LBGT community has asked hard questions of us in its struggle for acceptance: “Why do you care what we do in our own bedrooms?” So state courts struck down laws against sodomy.
“Why can’t we have the civil right to marry whom we please?” In 2014 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.
“Why should any employer be able to fire us because of our sexual orientation or gender identity?” In June 2020 the Supreme Court ruled they cannot. One of the cases litigated was that of a funeral home whose biological male employee transitioned to a woman. The court insists that bereaved clients should not discriminate against him/her, even if they feel uncomfortable.
Now, in this run up to our election, is a good time for Christians to ask hard questions about the LGBT community and our vote.
No woman I know wants to look unattractive. As fall ushers in sweater weather, we’re in the stores seeking styles and colors that make us feel good. For many of us that means finding clothes that are new and trendy. (Long cardigans!) Or comfortable. (Joggers for millions who never jog!) Or even beautiful, although beautiful is more elusive.
Of all the places we might expect to find beauty, we’ve come to expect less and less of it at fashion shows. Or the pages of fashion mags. Watch the shows online or pick up a copy of Vogue magazine and I have rarely seen pictures of so many women who look like they absolutely do not feel good.
They look bored. Depressed. Starving. Androgynous. They look like Dr. Oz has diagnosed them with anhedonia– the inability to experience pleasure.
But then, if I had to wear what they had to wear, I would probably feel (or not feel) the same way. What is going on?
Now that it looks like another conservative justice will be appointed to the Supreme Court, does it matter so much if my vote for President is pro-life? Why is a candidate being pro-choice such a deal breaker for some Christians? Can’t we put aside our belief about abortion for the sake of unity?
(Note: this is a frank discussion and depiction of abortion) I wish that every election season each voter would take the time to watch or re-watch the movie Unplanned. It begins with real empathy for those who seek abortion and those who help them. It’s the true story of Abby Johnson who joined the staff of Planned Parenthood to help women in crisis—the women who called and walked through their doors–tender, upset, weeping. Having experienced two abortions of her own, she wanted to offer support to those women who didn’t think they could care for their child.
The next two months until the election will be full on cultural and political war. How can we engage in that conflict, especially as we respond to the our political opponents, and still follow Jesus, living with his love for people? Here are three good questions to consider as we check our motives and make our choices…
- Will we choose retribution?
Suppose you are a salon owner and one of your independent stylists wants to bring in a high-profile official for a shampoo and blow dry. Suppose this official is your political enemy. Not just any enemy, but the highest official of the enemy party. The party responsible for shutting your salon down.
Protesters set fire to County office in Portland, August 18, 2020
America is hurting. Angry. Burning. As we watched George Floyd die under the knee of Officer Chauvin, the outrage in the Black community finally reached the tipping point. Demonstrations spread across the country. The outrage has been deeply felt in the White community too. In this unique moment of our cultural history, both sides seem united in empathy for George Floyd and a desire to see change.
Why are we hearing a new vocabulary of “white fragility,” “whiteness,” “intersectionality,” etc? Why are we seeing peaceful protests continue weeks after George Floyd’s death; police, their precincts, courthouses, monuments and now churches still targeted by rioters and looters, and people losing their jobs if they don’t adhere to a new race-oriented orthodoxy? The short answer is…because we are seeing a shift at the worldview level. A view of oppressors and victims that originated in (and has been percolating in) the Academy for decades is reaching the tipping point. Rising into the mainstream with surprising speed.
Jefferson statue toppled in Oregon
The wrenching death of George Floyd has energized the cancel culture to the tipping point. Statues of Confederate generals, even our Founding Fathers have tumbled down while police stand down from “sanctioned” protests.
The leader of one grass-roots group, Take-em-Down NOLA, said after the Charlottesville protest, “We recognize the original sin was the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the Africans. People bring up the fact that [slave masters] were Founding Fathers. That’s people’s opinions, but for us what disqualifies you is the slave-owning.”
Now, after Floyd’s death, this claim is boiling into action and in blue states and cities critical masses are embracing this perspective: slavery and racism are the “original” and unforgivable sins of America. As we recently heard over the July 4th holiday, many protesters cannot join in the celebration of the founding of what they believe to be a racist state. As followers of Jesus, how should we respond to this claim?
It’s easy to lose your mojo. It’s summer…when we normally downshift anyway. But more than that, we are weary of life with masks and distancing and non-stop news of the heart-breaking injustice, violence and loss in our cities. The stock market goes up and our hopes rise, only to plummet again.
To make matters worse, our election-aggravated culture war is starting to ramp up for five long months of political assault on our hearts. Hopes of returning to an economic or daily “normal” are sinking and for many a feeling of low to high-grade anxiety is settling in. Or perhaps a roller coaster of both.
There is much talk of how to cope. That is not what this post is about. Coping with all the issues mentioned above carries the idea that we are using strategies and methods to merely survive. Riding the roller coaster of news, events and emotions, but managing our fear and anxiety enough to stay on the rails and not launch into the abyss or crash at the bottom.
But interestingly, the word “cope” is not used in the Bible.
Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s and reading what the book of Revelation says about the persecution of Christians in the end times, I could only imagine that such apocalyptic scenarios must be way, way off in the future. Surely beyond my lifetime. We didn’t know anyone who didn’t go to church. I couldn’t fathom how our culture could change that deeply and rapidly.