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“Thou Shall Not Covet” Is Not a Defense of Capitalism

“Thou Shall Not Covet” Is Not a Defense of Capitalism (It’s Actually an Indictment of It.)

(Note: For those who are new to my website, when I critique capitalism, I am in no way suggesting we should embrace the wicked economic/political system known as socialism.)

I recently saw a tweet admonishing Christians not to engage in the politics of envy (which the author ascribed to socialists) because to do so violates the 10th Commandment. I saw another that said God is the ultimate capitalist. These sentiments are not disconnected. In fact, those who think capitalism is “God’s ordained economic system” usually attribute envy (as the primary motivation) to anyone who challenges their worship of capitalism.

Does every Christian who uses the “envy card” to defend capitalism worship capitalism? Of course not, but some do. I make this bold charge of worshiping capitalism because some Christians ascribe to capitalism qualities and purposes reserved solely for God, forgetting that God does not give his glory to another person or thing. I’ve heard some speak of a capitalist paradise; others describe capitalism as the only moral system. In their world, it seems, wealth inequality always occurs as a natural consequence of laziness versus hard work or because of government intervention into the economy and never occurs as a natural consequence of sinners operating in a free market. In their world, wealth accumulation should be one’s goal, the more the better. So anyone who mentions inequality or who challenges capitalism engages in the politics of envy and acts wickedly. And, according to them, the 10th Commandment proves their point.

Here is what the 10th Commandment says:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. —Exodus 20:17

Words Matter

We should be suspicious of any claim that envy violates the 10th commandment when the word doesn’t appear in the verse. The KJV, NIV, NASB and ESV all use the English word covet to translate the Hebrew word chamad which means to desire or to delight in something.1 So we must ask, why didn’t the translators use the word envy?

The English word envy comes from the latin word invidere which literally means “’to look askance at,’ or ‘to have hatred or ill will toward another’ because of their possessions or advantages.”2 If Bible translators thought this was the meaning of chamad, they would have used the word envy instead of the word covet when translating the 10th Commandment into English. But they didn’t.

The Hebrew word chamad, used in the 10th Commandment, means to desire intensely anything that becomes a substitute for love and devotion due to God. The intensity of this desire overpowers the moral demands of the law so that the coveted object must be attained by any means.3

When Jewish scholars produced a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint) they used the Greek word epithumeo for the Hebrew word chamad when translating Exodus 20:17. Epithumeo means to set your heart upon, long for, covet, desire.4 It can be used to express evil desires opposed to the will of God. Exodus 20:17 forbids this kind of desire because it represents a heart not fully devoted to God.5 Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Covetousness ≠ Envy

Well, you might say, the 10th Commandment does refer to envy because the English words envy and covet are synonyms and are interchangeable in common usage. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the meaning of the biblical text in the original language. What matters is what sin does the 10th Commandment prohibit.

The problem with using envy and covetousness interchangeably is that the Hebrew words translated into covet and envy do not have the same meaning. As noted above, covetousness is the desire for something in place of God while envy is the resentful dislike (or hatred) of another who has something we desire. Envy seems to describe socialists very well, problem is, that’s not the word used in the 10th commandment.

Covetousness = Idolatry

Both Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5 label covetousness as idolatry:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

—Colossians 3:5 (ESV)

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

—Ephesians 5:5 (ESV)

Covetousness fits well within these lists because, in the Bible, idolatry is often compared to sexual immorality. See Ezekiel 6:9; Jeremiah 3:6-10, 19:5; Isaiah 57:5-8; Ezekiel 16:15-19; Hosea 3:1-5.

So we see that the 10th commandment prohibits desiring the things of the world to the point of being unfaithful to God. Those who violate the 10th Commandment fail to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and instead lust after the things of the world, thereby becoming enemies of God (James 4:4).

An Indictment of Capitalism

Whenever we don’t make a distinction that the Bible makes, we will miss something important. And that “something” will likely convict us of our own sin rather than bolster our argument about someone else’s sin.

The Hebrew Bible uses the word qana to denote the concept of the English word envy. Qana denotes jealousy or to blush from strong emotion.6 As previously noted it is not used in the 10th Commandment. Proverbs uses qana to warn against envy of evil men (not righteous rich capitalists!) (Proverbs 3:31; 23:17; 24:1,19. See also Psalms 37:1 and 73:3).

Inserting the concept of envying the rich into the 10th Commandment to argue for the morality of capitalism is both tragic and wicked. It is tragic because it blinds those who do it to their idolatrous love affair with capitalism. It is wicked because it seeks to persuade others to follow them into their sin.

It is wicked, because instead of warning others to flee the world system and to not envy evil men, it encourages others to remain in the world system and admonishes them to not envy the rich.

The 10th Commandment stands as an indictment against any world system that seeks to make us unfaithful to God (1 John 2:15-17). Capitalism is one such system. Christians are called to come out of the world system (Revelation 18:4-5) not to defend it.

 

Did you like this article? For more on economics and the Bible, check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

 

Notes:

  1. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
  2. S. Barabas, “Envy,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:314.
  3. W. White, Jr., “Covet, Covetousness,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 1:1016-1017.
  4. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
  5. H. Schonweiss, “Desire, Lust, Pleasure,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1:456-458.
  6. V. Cruz, “Envy,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 357.

America’s Fight for Freedom

Whatever happened to America’s fight for freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. Americans still fight for freedom, but for many people it’s a different kind of freedom than previous generations fought for.

Yesterday morning, a day after celebrating our Fourth of July holiday, I wondered if my memory was accurate. It seemed to me that, during the Cold War, most Americans believed that the battle was between God-fearing nations and God-denying nations. Those who wanted to preserve individual freedom fought those who wanted to enslave individuals under collectivistic communism. The most effective pejoratives against communism were that it was godless and would take away our freedoms. It seemed clear—the Cold War pitted those who believed in a sovereign God and in the right of individuals to serve Him or to reject Him against atheists who demanded service only to the state. For Christians who knew their Bible, which system was good and which system was evil was easily discernible.

That was a major reason why the United States was determined to halt communism’s advance, even if it entailed great sacrifice.

But did we win the war?

Who Won the Cold War?

During the Cold War, the majority of Americans believed that communism was evil. Fast forward to today. Why do so many people in the U.S. believe socialism, which shares many of communism’s evils, is good?

I believe our secular society no longer cares much if we adopt a godless ideology, because in practice, most people already live as if God doesn’t exist. Thus, a call to fight godless ideologies will not have the effect it had on previous generations.

I also believe it is because we live in a secular society in which most people want to do what is right in their own eyes. Many Americans want freedom from religion so they can do whatever they want in their personal lives, including behaviors prohibited by Holy Writ. Many Americans want nearly unlimited freedom from government interference, believing the Bible imposes few if any restrictions on their economic activity.

Instead of fighting for freedom from a godless communism bent on taking away our freedom to serve God, too many of us fight for the freedom to serve our self. Now that our society has chucked God overboard on its journey to progressivism’s imaginary man-made nirvana, the argument has turned to economics.

Now, in what seems to me to be a capitulation to our culture’s dominant worldview, the main weapon many Christians use to fight socialism is a zealous promotion of capitalism, claiming it to be the only moral economic system.

What happened to God? Have Christians really come to believe that God will give his glory to another? Is it capitalism that will save us and demand our service?

Who won the battle for the hearts and minds of humanity that was fought in the Cold War? The West may have halted the geopolitical boundary expansion of communism, we may have won the battle against flesh and blood, but how did we fare “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?” (Ephesians 6:12)

The Task Ahead

It is sad that many Christians now fight against godless ideologies, not by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, but by proclaiming the gospel of capitalism. What message do we send to unbelievers when we are so ashamed of the gospel and the freedom it gives that we promote with all our might the freedom to pursue great wealth via capitalism? Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38 ought to sober up any Christian inclined to fight evil by employing the very weapons the enemy uses to destroy him (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Our task hasn’t changed. Our mission is the same. True freedom comes from Christ (John 8:36). The pearl of great price cannot be obtained via capitalism or by voting into power a certain political party. Our job is to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.

 

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

My Kingdom Is Not of This World

Heavenly Image Rapture Left Behind

Many Christians say that Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) and cultural marxism pose the greatest ideological threat to the gospel in our day. They may be right. Others fear that the spread of these ideas will lead to full-blown socialism in our nation.

Another concern some Christians share is that these ideas have infiltrated the Church thus diluting or even destroying its ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel.

This raises some interesting questions:

  • Are today’s false doctrines any more dangerous than those faced by previous generations?
  • Has Satan come up with a new strategy or has he merely recycled old lies?
  • Is our battle against flesh and blood (politicians, leftists and deceived church leaders) or is our battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?”

Those sounding the alarm correctly surmise that we are responsible to fight for truth and to proclaim a biblical gospel. But whom do we fight and how do we wage war?

Suppose the heretofore unthinkable happens and the United States slips into the evil of socialism/marxism. Is the Kingdom of God threatened by an economic system?

Let’s keep these questions in mind as we look at the threat posed by cultural Marxism.

Critical Theory

Ideas such as social justice, identity politics, radical feminism, intersectionality, classism and white privilege fall under the umbrella of critical theory. Neil Shenvi (a Christian apologist) defines critical theory this way—“Critical theory is an ideology that divides the world into oppressed groups and their oppressors and aims to liberate the oppressed.”1

The oppressed groups are not confined to economic status as in traditional marxism or Liberation Theology. Women are also oppressed, as are people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Lots of people are oppressed, and of course, the only people left to play the role of oppressor are white males, especially Christian white males.

So how is the gospel threatened? The most common response I have read is that social justice warriors confuse justice and mercy, two concepts that are very clear and very distinct in the Bible. Sinners deserve justice for their sin, but God in his mercy “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” SJWs affirm a different idea—that somehow the oppressed deserve mercy in the same way they deserve justice, that they are two sides of the same coin. If that be the case, then we deserve our salvation.

My first reaction to reading Shenvi’s definition of critical theory was to recall Jesus’ words in Luke 4:18–19:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Indeed, this passage refers to both spiritual and literal freedom, poverty, blindness, and oppression. But critical theory ignores the spiritual component. Jesus sets us free from sin’s oppression and Satan. Critical theory doesn’t see sin as the problem or Christ as the solution because it focuses on real and imagined oppression by other people. They proclaim moral superiority over their oppressors and exhibit a hubris that excludes them from the moral requirements that the Bible applies equally to every human. It perpetuates Satan’s lie that someone else (perhaps even God) is withholding something from us.

Thus, critical theory doesn’t allow us to identify with Adam so that Christ, the second Adam can free us. Instead, we must belong to an oppressed group (or repent of our wrongs as a member of an oppressor group) and fight for liberation. The gospel is unnecessary as critical theorists virtue signal their way into hell. Tragic.

Critical theory ups the ante on post-modernism’s disdain for objective truth by claiming objective truth acts only as a cover for the evil perpetrated by oppressors. Subjective experiences trump objective facts.2 So, in critical theory, Satan’s lie —“has God said” takes on a form that refuses to consider any appeal to the Bible.

At Odds With the Gospel

We are either in Adam or in Christ. We are lost or we are found. We travel the road to destruction or we travel the road to eternal life. These are the only two identities that matter. Critical theory ignores the gospel and divides people into two groups—the oppressed and their oppressors. In the worldview of critical theory there is neither room for good in the oppressor group nor evil in the oppressed group. But our identity (and certainly our virtue) does not lie in our gender, skin color or oppressed status.

Christians are commanded “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Critical theory promotes strife and conflict between groups while denying that we are all born into the same sinking boat. It is contrary to Christianity because the Bible teaches we are all separated from God by our sin, and need a solution that can only be provided by God. They don’t need Jesus or his gospel because they have substituted oppression for sin as mankind’s biggest problem. And, they believe they can solve the problem themselves.

Critical theory is at odds with Christianity because it makes distinctions between people that the Bible doesn’t consider as important as the distinction between those in Adam and those in Christ:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

So those who are alarmed are correct – we have to preach the true gospel. To do so requires us to identify and reject any false gospel.

Will the Social Justice Movement Lead to Socialism?

The Social Justice Movement is currently a hot topic in the Church. You may have heard the phrase “Woke Church.” It refers to churches and their members who embrace the idea that racism and injustice are systemic in America. For some, righting this wrong becomes the main mission of the church instead of preaching the gospel.

For secular critical theorists and SJWs to reach their objectives, the existing power structures must be overturned. Thus, many people fear that this ideology will lead to socialism. The social justice movement is more likely to result in socialism than simple class warfare because so many more people can be incited to rise up against the status quo.

Marxism and socialism destroy individual freedom and private ownership of the means of production. Thus they undermine biblical principles of reaping what you sow and stewardship. Capitalism must have freedom and private ownership in order to operate so it preserves them.

Does Jesus’ Kingdom Depend On an Economic System?

But herein lies a trap. Instead of defending the gospel, some Christians are tempted to spend much of their time defending capitalism rather than simply fighting against biblical heresy and the horrors of socialism.

Most Christians would probably agree with the statement that capitalism is better than socialism because evil men can do the least harm under capitalism. But is it really capitalism that restrains evil or is it individual freedom, the rule of law and the preservation property rights that cause a society to flourish?3 The fact that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom should alert us to the fact that capitalism’s prosperity may hinder the gospel as well. Capitalism may only encourage a weak faith. Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is more important to Christians than their material prosperity suggests that our priority must be to defend the gospel, not capitalism:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Let’s not promote capitalism (a system that preserves market freedom yet easily diverts us from God’s purposes) over God’s economy in which Christians steward their resources to promote the kingdom of God. Let’s defend freedom, property rights and the rule of law, but let’s not promote a capitalism that encourages and depends on debt and covetousness to enslave its participants.

And, let’s not make the same mistake as the critical theorists. They are not the enemy we must ultimately overcome. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by the consideration that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan. While we are employed in destroying those darts, we lay ourselves open to be wounded on all sides. To wrestle with flesh and blood will not only be useless, but highly pernicious. We must go straight to the enemy, who attacks and wounds us from his concealment, — who slays before he appears. (From Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians.)

This is a battle that we can’t win on our own. We must spend time praying before any encounter with the lies of Satan (including lies we believe unawares) and we must keep ourselves unstained by the world as we proclaim the truth. Christ will establish his church and his kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

But Isn’t Oppression a Problem the Church Should Address?

Yes! The Bible condemns oppression whether it occurs in ancient Israel, in America’s slave trade, in South Africa’s apartheid or in today’s society. Christians must defend the rights of the weak and vulnerable. We must soberly examine our society against Scripture and root out any evil practices (and laws that abet them) without compromising the main point of the gospel—we are all born sinners in need of Jesus Christ.

(To learn more about economic oppression in our modern world and the ways in which capitalism and socialism compete against God’s economy for the hearts and souls of humanity, look for my book, The Narrow Road, available on Amazon later this month.)

Notes:

  1. Neil Shenvi, “Critical Theory Quotes” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-quotes/
  2. Neil Shenvi, “Christianity and Critical Theory” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-and-christianity-part-1/
  3. These three principles distinguish capitalism from socialism, but they don’t sufficiently define capitalism. These principles can exist outside of capitalism.

 

Suffering and the Prosperity Gospel

Resort Hotel

False teachers typically turn Bible doctrine on its head. They take passages out of their context and apply them to whatever point they want to make. Of course, in the process, they ignore many Bible passages that assert reality and disprove their message. The doctrine of suffering is an easy target for these charlatans because, simply put, no one wants to suffer.

The prosperity gospel has spread across the globe because it appeals to our natural desire for health, wealth and happiness (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In other words, it focuses on man’s purposes instead of God’s purposes. It focuses on this world instead of the next.

It is a false gospel because it proclaims that mankind’s biggest problem is the effect of sin, not sin itself. This false gospel proclaims the good news that you can have your best life now in the midst of this fallen world. Christians need not wait for eternity. Who needs a redeemed creation when we can have now the same world Satan offered Jesus?

Prosperity teachers need to learn the lesson Jesus taught Peter in Matthew 16:21-28. They do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. God’s plan included the suffering of Jesus. It includes suffering for all who follow him. Prosperity teachers want us to believe we can gain the whole world while assuring us we are in no danger of losing our soul. Instead of Jesus being worth more than our worldly possessions (Matthew 13:44-46), prosperity teachers see him as a means to obtain them.

As they quote Psalm 35:27, prosperity teachers like to talk about how it pleases God to give us wealth. This shouldn’t surprise us because God is a good father who gives good gifts to his children. But good fathers don’t spoil their children by giving them only what they want. Good fathers also discipline their children (Hebrews 12:4-11). God disciplines his children so that we may share in his holiness. Suffering produces in us something prosperity cannot—it produces a person who seeks the will of God instead of evil human desires (1 Peter 4:1-2).

God created everything good. Since, all human suffering is the result of sin, we should hate sin more than the suffering that results from it. Since, everything that is good is from God, we should love God more than his gifts. But the prosperity gospel teaches that it is more important to avoid suffering than to deal with sin and it is more important to obtain God’s gifts than to treasure him.

Suffering teaches us that we are totally dependent upon God. Without suffering we might never know whether we truly hate sin or whether we truly love God. Without suffering we might never know whether Satan’s charge against Job applies to us:


“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”                                                       Job 1:9-11

It seems that prosperity teachers don’t even want to find out.

Maybe they already know.

Why I Don’t Envy the Rich

Big house class envy

If you don’t subscribe to the idea that capitalism is the only moral economic system, an idea boldly proclaimed by Christians infatuated with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and you dare mention inequality, you will probably be accused of class envy. Or, you will be labeled a socialist. It matters not to these ideologues that you reject socialism outright.

By almost any standard of measure, I am rich when compared to the vast majority of humans who have ever lived. And so are most Americans. So, when anyone accuses me of class envy, they must be referring to an envy of those richer than I am.

But I don’t envy people who have more wealth than me because the Bible gives me many reasons not to. I will mention only a few.

Perhaps the most obvious reason is the Bible’s prohibition of covetousness (Exodus 20:17). Riches can become an idol.

Seeking riches will often wear us out so that we have little time or energy to pursue God’s will (Proverbs 23:4,5). Wisdom bids us to spend our time wisely, storing up treasure in heaven instead of storing up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).

Why would any Christian envy those richer than themselves given the potential risk described in 1 Timothy 6:9-10?

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

I don’t envy people who are richer than me because I already am tempted to depend on wealth rather than God for my security:

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall (Proverbs 18:11).

I don’t envy the rich because, unless I have been rich toward God, any treasure stored on earth is useless on the night my life is demanded from me (Luke 12:13-21).

I don’t envy the rich because, often, the fortunes of the rich and the poor are reversed in eternity.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26

Jesus provides convincing evidence of the power of wealth to turn hearts away from God. The beatitudes and woes are specific genres in the Greek and Jewish worlds. Beatitudes and woes function as congratulations and condolences in the present for certain outcomes in the future.1

Though it is possible with God for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:26), Jesus clearly states that wealth becomes an obstacle for many a rich man or woman (Matthew 19:21-25).

The rich don’t merit our envy, but some rich people deserve our pity.

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

Notes:

  1. Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke, (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 69-70.

The Speck In Our Brother’s Eye

Money creates problems for many people. Too much of it and we may disown God, too little of it and we may dishonor his name:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God

(Proverbs 30:8-9).

It also creates lots of confusion. We need look no further than our political divisions to see the problem.

For instance, progressives and conservatives have different explanations for the cause of poverty and thus offer different solutions.

American progressivism, born out of a commitment to “dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics” (1912 Progressive Party Platform), desired a political party more responsive to the people it governed. Many of the reforms they proposed in 1912 are now part of American life: prohibition of child labor, minimum wages, one day’s rest in seven, eight-hour work days, compensation for occupational injury, organized labor and social security.

Progressives tend to blame poverty primarily on a corrupt system of power. Correcting the resulting oppression of the poor by the rich, behavior condemned throughout the Bible, becomes the focal point for progressive policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the oppressors but may, in the process, ignore the sins of the oppressed when devising solutions to poverty. The resulting government policy seeks to change the system and change the environment of the oppressed but leave the individual unchanged.

Conservatives tend to blame poverty on the poor. Lack of personal responsibility and a victim mentality prevent the poor from advancing in an economic system in which anyone can become rich. Conservatives can also use the Bible to support their idea that each person is responsible for the economic well-being of his or her family. Individual responsibility and providing freedom to choose become the focal points for conservative policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the poor, but may in the process ignore the sins of those in control of an economic system that favors some people over others. The resulting government policy seeks to leave unchanged a system they consider good and force individuals, via consequences, to become active agents in changing their economic environment.

So, why can’t progressives and conservatives come to agreement if both are championing causes supported by biblical principles? Why must their points of emphasis be mutually exclusive?

War of the Worldviews

Consider the connection between poverty and increased crime rates.

That poverty and crime go together is difficult to refute. Even people who would argue against this idea prove they really believe it when they won’t go to a poor area for fear of being a victim of crime. Progressives conclude that if poverty were abolished the crime rate would be reduced dramatically. For the progressive, environmental factors play a more prominent role than does human nature in determining whether an individual will commit a crime. This reasoning is consistent with a naturalistic worldview that believes people are basically good and can solve their problems apart from God.

We also know that most poor people are law-abiding. Conservatives therefore conclude that poverty does not play the prominent role in an individual’s decision to commit a crime.

Progressivism seeks to create a utopia for all in which humanity will no longer steal. Place unredeemed humanity back into this man-made Garden of Eden and all will be well.

Conservatism, oddly enough, also places too much faith in humanity. Give people the freedoms afforded in the Constitution and they will achieve their highest ends. Conservatism, having enjoyed freedom and prosperity, forgets God, relying instead on a man-made system called capitalism to determine a person’s wealth or lack thereof.

Not only do progressives and conservatives share an undeserved faith in humanity; they share a propensity to focus on the sins of other people. In doing so, progressives overlook individual evil when formulating policy and conservatives overlook systemic evil.

Why We Can’t Get Along

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

Christians believe Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoner, to give sight to the blind, and to release the oppressed. Jesus saves.

Progressives believe with equal fervor that with their insight they can construct government that will provide the needs of humanity. Government saves.

Conservatives believe freedom to operate within an economic system designed to maximize self-interest will provide the needs of humanity, one person at a time. Capitalism saves.

Perhaps the reason we can’t get along is not so much the differences between progressives and conservatives but the similarities.

Maybe we can’t get along because neither side can see its own sin clearly enough to be able to show their brother his sin.

We won’t get along until someone takes the plank out of his own eye. Who will be the adult in the room and go first?

Let Your Collection of Idols Save You!

In the wake of cruise missile strikes in response to Sarin gas attacks in Syria, the U.S. dropping the largest conventional weapon in history on an ISIS target, and U.S. warships sailing toward North Korea, internet searches for World War 3 on Google have reached an all time high. Other people, especially those who believe this show of strength will deter aggression from other nations, show considerably less concern.  

Such news though, when combined with an awareness of various armed conflicts and economic troubles around the world, cannot be dismissed as inconsequential. As one would expect after witnessing our contentious presidential election, Americans disagree about the best way to avoid war. However, a majority of Americans probably do agree that our leaders’ actions will be the primary, if not sole, reason for the fate we encounter.

Isn’t it ironic? While many Christians in America look to politicians to save them from the woeful state our nation is in, their leader’s proposed solutions don’t impress God.

Dumb Dogs Unable to Bark

Israel’s leaders failed the people. Described as greedy dreamers who sought unjust gain, they were blind to the real source of Israel’s problems and therefore unable to alert the nation, let alone lead them to safety (Isaiah 56:10).

Despite a deepening awareness of the failings of our current day leaders to solve our nation’s problems, many people, instead of turning to God, merely placed their trust in a different kind of leader. Having rejected the status quo of Washington elites, populist candidates gained great support.

Collectively, we didn’t really turn to leaders per se. We turned to people who convinced us they would appease our idols so that everyone would benefit, not just the elite. Whether we worshipped at the altar of free markets or big government, military might or progressive dreams of global cooperation, candidates stood ready to lead us to the Promised Land.

But, just like in Isaiah’s day, our undiscerning leaders are dumb dogs unable to bark.

Let Your Collection of Idols Save You

It’s not just our political leaders who have failed us. Some of our religious leaders have as well. But like their political counterparts, they merely tell people what they want to hear.

If we want to justify our sexual sin, we can find a church to accommodate us. If we want to substitute subjective truth for God-revealed truth we can find a church for that. If we are unwilling to lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we can find a church that teaches we can serve both God and money and gain the whole world without losing our soul because God’s main job is to shower us with prosperity. Too often, we want to live contrary to God’s revealed will yet convince ourselves we remain in his favor.

On a national level, America’s political, military and economic interests supersede God’s interests in the minds of many Christians. How many of us would rather sit through a patriotic Fourth of July church service than listen to a sermon confronting our pursuit of personal wealth and security with little regard to how American policy affects the poor of the earth?

Whom or what do we fear? Do we seek to please God or to protect our idols?

Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have not been true to me,
and have neither remembered me nor taken this to heart?
Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?

I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you.

When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you!
The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.
But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain. – Isaiah 57:11-13

No Peace for the Wicked

Outward appearances matter little to God. Christians who only worship God in a manner that cannot intrude on their desires and pleasures (Isaiah 58:3) reveal the same hypocrisy and deadness of soul of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:27).

How strange the following words of Jesus sound to human ears, sometimes even to the ears of Christians living in our affluent, comfort-seeking, security-obsessed culture:

The last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16).

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Mathew 23:12).

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).

Trust in God and rejection of self-promotion, self-sufficiency and self-gratification results in our ultimate good. When we do things God’s way, we loosen the bonds of wickedness we have slapped on our fellow-man. We divide our bread with the hungry, share our homes with the homeless and cover the naked. It is then that our light breaks out like the dawn. It is then that our righteousness goes before us and the Lord answers our call (Isaiah 58:2-10).

America’s leaders, its institutions and its form of government can harm us or serve us. To place our trust in them and forget God and his ways is foolish. Our collection of idols cannot save us.

As international tensions mount and economies falter, many people fear our world is falling apart. Uncertainty and strife raise anxiety levels for both believers and unbelievers. But, Christians find the answer to fear and worry written throughout the pages of the Bible.

There is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21), but there is refuge in our God (Isaiah 57:13).

No Rules

sign that says no rules

Last Monday morning the social media world was in a huff because United Airlines denied boarding to teenage girls on one of their flights because of inappropriate attire. All the major news outlets reported the story.

How dare anyone tell us, the paying public, what to wear?

Well, as it turns out, no one did. The airline, like most companies, has a dress code for employees. The girls in question flew as “pass riders” – a term used for those flying for free or at heavily discounted fares as a perk offered to United Airlines employees and their dependents. Since they represent the company, United says they must abide by the dress code.

Increasingly, more people demand that society cease imposing rules that infringe on their personal freedom. Decorum, good manners and adherence to socially accepted practices, though still important to a dwindling majority, are an anathema to those who envision the only acceptable society to be one that doesn’t interfere with their personal desires.

Many want to live in a society where the only rule is – there are no rules, at least none that conflict with what they want to do. That means, for them, these rules aren’t really rules at all. By removing all but the rules they want to obey, they can be righteous in their own eyes. This is as true for libertarians as it is for liberals.

But make no mistake; they want rules for everyone else.

When this concept is applied to the society at large, the result is chaos. In an effort to build what they believe to be a better society they actually demolish it.

Lawlessness Will Greatly Increase

Christians shouldn’t be surprised. The oft-repeated pattern of a society’s rejection of God’s truth followed by everyone attempting to do what is right in his own eyes is playing out before us.

We see in America today a consistent march toward lawlessness. By that, I don’t mean more people are breaking laws. That would be less serious than the problem we have. No, in America, many want to get rid of rules – specifically, God’s law as revealed in the Bible. By becoming increasingly law-less, or without the law, our nation loses the protection God’s law gives to those who acknowledge Him.

The divisive issues of our time – abortion, same-sex marriage and inequality, to name a few – all result from the deception that humanity can make its own rules. Of course, if God does not exist or if we have sufficiently tamed him or made him into a god of our own imagination, then making our own rules makes perfect sense.

Facing Persecution

Not only should we expect conflict with the unbelieving world, Jesus told his disciples to expect betrayal and hatred from other professing believers (Matthew 24:10). As persecution gets worse, we will be sorely tempted to give up or give in. As wickedness increases many Christians will forego doing good works, including preaching the gospel. Jesus, however, tells us to stand firm to the end.

Some Christians have given in to society’s rules by embracing the idea of a seeker-friendly church. This past Sunday, my home church participated in the Dallas Pulpit Swap. These swaps are done in the hope they will help break down racial barriers in the community. Our guest preacher emphasized the important task of getting out into the community to serve other people. He highlighted the fact that Jesus sought out his disciples; they did not come to him. I was particularly struck by his application of this principle to show the folly of seeker-friendly churches.

Jesus Models the Way

It seems to me that seeker-friendly churches acquiesce to the world’s desire to change the rules so that unbelievers can avoid the rules they don’t want to obey. Whenever efforts to attract unbelievers compromise God’s standards in the process, that church, instead of being relevant to the culture, becomes irrelevant to God’s purpose and encourages unbelievers to accept a faith and a god of their own making.

Jesus told us he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Seeker friendly churches cater to people who don’t exist for no one seeks God (Romans 3:11).  We only seek and love God after he has first loved us and drawn us to himself (1 John 4:19; John 6:44).

Jesus set the pattern we should follow – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

It cost Jesus much to seek and save us. It will cost us much to go and make disciples of all nations, even if our mission field is in our own city.

The lost, when they seek freedom from God’s authority so they may do as they please, lose the freedom to consider others first in any decisions they make. Instead, they become enslaved to a selfishness in which self-given rights trump those granted by God.

But Christians, trying to preserve America’s way of life, exhibit their own brand of selfishness. Too often we resist the culture from the safety and comfort of our fortified Christian bunkers. We expect to win the battle without directly engaging the real enemy. We place our hope in politics or government leaders. We expect to win a spiritual battle by warring against flesh and blood opponents.

Jesus came to free us from sin and selfish desires. Jesus came to free us to do good works. People who resist God, substitute their rules for His. They place Satan’s chains on their own limbs and insist we join them.

I say we, standing firm in the full armor of God, strong in the Lord and in his mighty power and fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, go and unlock their chains instead.

What do you say?

Dawn of a New Day or Midnight In America?

Dawn of a New Day or Midnight in America

Some on Christian radio proclaim Donald Trump’s victory as an act of God’s mercy, giving our nation a second chance. I suggested in a previous article that we should consider the choices we had for president this election as judgment from God.

So, is this a fresh start for America? Or, have we applied the brakes too late or not at all?

It really shouldn’t matter to Christians, at least not when considering what our next step should be. Is not our immediate task in any case to draw nearer to God?

Defining a Nation’s Greatness

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

A return to economic prosperity won’t result in righteousness. In fact, prosperity is probably a major source of our problems.

Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die:

 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; 

give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

 and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ 

Or I may become poor and steal,

 and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

Evangelical Christians have rightly stood against abortion and sexual sin. But, I’m afraid we have acquiesced to greed and covetousness, turning a blind eye to our economic sins. Too often we link prosperity with God’s approval regardless of how we attain our wealth.

Midnight in America

Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t specifically state how much money is too much or how much is too little. But, as we see from Proverbs 30:8-9, having too much is as perilous as having too little, at least from a spiritual standpoint. Furthermore, either extreme may reveal our true heart condition. Here and in the Lord’s Prayer no more than one’s daily provision is requested implying we can be content with that. Perhaps an examination of our hearts and our present actions will reveal to us how we might respond to the following:

  • If we lose everything will we still praise God as did Job?
  • If we lose everything will we resort to dishonest gain in any form?
  • If we prosper, will we trust in our portfolio or in God for our future?
  • If we prosper, will we consider our wealth to be ours to do with as we please?

If we place our hope in our leaders to make America great again while we whistle past the graveyard of our sins without forsaking our idols, then it is indeed midnight in America.

What About Consequences?

God doesn’t have a blind eye.

If we think a fresh start means that we won’t suffer the consequences of past sin, we err. God is not mocked.

Our nation will suffer the consequences from decades of abortion, covetousness, greed and all manner of evil. We will reap what we have sown. But of one thing we can be certain –we won’t get a better result by continuing to disobey God.

A repeal of immoral and unjust laws whether Roe v Wade, laws redefining marriage or laws governing our economy will unquestionably be good. Doing so will restrain evil. There is, however, something more fundamental to address.

Dawn of a New Day

It is the dawn of a new day for Christians in America. We will at some point have to live out our faith in circumstances we would rather avoid. Even so, we will be much richer in faith if, in response to our plight, we trust God and not in our wealth.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:8-10

Let’s pray that by God’s grace we emerge from this present darkness – having renounced our friendship with the world, having mourned our sin and having been humbled by sin’s consequences – into the presence of the Lord and into a comfort that exceeds any that can be attained by earthly treasure. (Mt. 5:4)

A Look In the Mirror

I found the widespread description of this past presidential election as a choice between the lesser of two evils perplexing. From an issues standpoint, I considered nearly every presidential election in my voting lifetime to be such a choice. Why were people in such turmoil over this election and not the previous ones?

For many people, what set this past election apart from others was the realization that neither candidate had the personal integrity required to be president of the United States.

This election was different. In past elections we evaluated candidates mostly on the positions they held, not by their personal character. Perhaps in trying to make this election seem like those in days gone by, many Donald Trump supporters urged others to ignore personal character and to vote for him on the basis of his political platform. Some Christians implored us to vote for Trump and to pray for him hoping God will change him. One wonders if these Christians employ the same reasoning to champion the marriage of their son or daughter to an unbeliever.

The Lesser of Two Evils Fallacy

It shouldn’t be hard for Christians to see through the lesser of two evils fallacy, but evidently it is. Christians can ask themselves which of the following biblical truths become invalid so that they can justify a vote for the lesser of two evils:

  • People groan under a wicked ruler. (Proverbs 29:2)
  • You reap what you sow. (Job 4:7-8; Galatians 6:7-8)
  • Have nothing to do with evil but instead expose it. (Proverbs 4:14-15; Ephesians 5:11)
  • Do not seek political saviors. (Psalm 146:3; 118:8)

Perhaps the worst part of voting for the lesser of two evils is that it is often done in the name of good. One theologian even suggested it was a sin not to vote for Donald Trump! Of course, as you have probably heard more than once, a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

If Christians truly believed that both major party candidates were evil (as evidenced by their proclamation that they voted for the lesser of two evils) and they falsely believed that to not vote for one candidate was in fact a vote for the other, then, in my opinion, they mislabeled their dilemma. The choice before them was not for the lesser of two evils because they could have voted for a third-party candidate or not voted at all. This election was instead, an opportunity for them to pick their poison.

A Look In the Mirror

American Evangelicalism is at a crossroads. Our Christian subculture has devolved to the point that we declare one evil to be good simply because we believe another evil is worse. Too often, we have jettisoned the notion that we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness in favor of pragmatic and expedient solutions we believe will allow us to maintain our comfortable lifestyle.

The fact that our nation has come to the place it has, on the brink of moral and economic collapse, is an indictment against the American Church. Christian virtue remains, but it has been drowned in a sea of Christian accommodation of the culture. Up until now, we have averted persecution by avoiding spiritual warfare. Too few have been on the front lines and too many are non-combatants. The proof is in our lack of battle scars. We have looked too much like the world and therefore posed no threat to the powers of darkness. Collectively, our light has been engulfed by the darkness and we have become salt thrown out and trampled by men. It happened on our watch.

This election was a mirror held up to the Church so that we can see who we really are. I pray we will not go away and immediately forget what we look like.

This Election Is a Test of Our National Motto – In God We Trust

election and the american flag

Many Christians are in a quandary about who to vote for in the upcoming election in the United States.

Both major party candidates are denounced for having a lack of personal character, un-American attitudes, and destructive policies. Unfortunately, one result is that Christians are mostly discussing which candidate is the lesser of two evils. But as we see our nation crumbling around us, is this really the most important choice we, as Christians, are facing?

The Choice Before Us

Maybe our choice for president is a secondary issue. What if the critical choice before us is whether we place our hope and trust in elected officials or in God to deliver us from the condition our nation is in?

American Christians have good reason to believe that neither candidate trusts in God for our nation’s future but instead trust in themselves and their ideology. We should not follow them in their folly.

Making the “right” choice in this election won’t change the direction our country is headed if, on a personal level, American Christians cannot honestly say – In God I Trust. Making the “wrong” choice won’t either.

Opportunity Is Knocking

Most Christians would probably agree that we live in evil times. In these coming months until the election, perhaps more so than ever, it is important to:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

In Ephesians chapter 5, believers are called to holy living, told to expose evil, commanded to give thanks to God in everything and encouraged to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

How do we apply Ephesians 5:15-17 to our current situation – what is the opportunity we have and what is the Lord’s will? Is the presidential election an opportunity to head off disaster by political means or is the time we are in now an opportunity to deepen our resolve to live holy lives so that our light exposes the darkness?

Since God is the one who “deposes kings and raises up others” to accomplish his purposes, then perhaps the lamentable choices we have for president are not a warning to us to head off disaster by electing the candidate with the least destructive ideology or character. The fact that our options for president are limited and unsatisfactory may be, in itself, a judgment from God and a warning to turn toward him and perhaps even a warning to be prepared spiritually to live in exile in our own land.

Priorities Matched to God’s Will

If we read our Bibles we know what the will of God is (Romans 12:2). Our priority should be to do the will of God, not to look for a political savior. Exercising our right to vote so that we can elect the lesser of two evils or cast a vote for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning has much less positive impact on our future than doing God’s will. Here are a few commands from Scripture that are particularly relevant to this discussion:

  • Do not worry about your life or about what tomorrow may bring but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Matthew 6:25-34
  • Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God. Micah 6:8
  • “Be imitators of God”, “live a life of love”, “find out what pleases the Lord” and “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Eph 5:1,2,10,11
  • “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-16
  • Spread the Gospel. Matthew 28:19
  • Silence the talk of foolish men by doing good. 1 Peter 2:15
Born to Trouble

Our natural inclination is to bemoan our nation’s decline because we will suffer as a consequence. Our nation, our economy and our way of life are changing dramatically for the worse. However, God is more concerned about the spiritual condition of his children than their comfort. God’s will is not for us to avoid hardship at any cost. Jesus prayed that God would not remove his disciples from the world when the world persecutes them but to protect them from the evil one who would oppose their sanctification. John 17:13-20

Even if we are growing in our faith, even if sanctification and becoming like Jesus are at the top of our list of priorities, remember that men of faith such as Daniel and Ezekiel were carted off into exile when their nation was judged. Yet they were faithful witnesses.

Is the American Church ready for the challenges that lie ahead? What if our worst fears become reality? We may not be carted off to a foreign land, as were the Israelites, but we may find ourselves in a land we don’t recognize, one as godless as Babylon. Indeed, we may already be in it.

Will we praise God in the midst of suffering and persecution? Will we hold fast to our faith in the face of a fiery furnace or a lion’s den? Do we even have the courage to witness to our neighbor now?

Redeem the Time

Our time is better spent seeking God and his holiness than debating which political candidate will save us from ruin. Making the most of every opportunity to become more like Jesus is time better spent. Our time is better spent if our actions reveal to our unbelieving friends, family and neighbors that we live according to our nation’s motto – In God We Trust.

Should I Vote in the Election?

I am not saying that if either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected president that they won’t lead us into ruin. They might. That is why so many Christians are concerned. This election will have consequences. But, our future isn’t in the hands of politicians. It never has been.

As our nation becomes more like the Babylon of old, let us do what the exiles of Israel were told to do. Let’s seek the peace and prosperity of our nation (Jeremiah 29:5) and live life as normally as possible. Let’s vote prayerfully and wisely, but don’t fret over it – we cannot add a single hour to our life by doing so.

However Christians choose to vote in November, may each of us continually cast votes for God’s kingdom with our love, our light, our good works and our winsome presentation of the gospel of the Kingdom. If God be for us who can be against us?

 

 

 

 

Does America Have An Incurable Wound? – Part 2

Micah denounced Israel not only for their sins against God in the form of idolatry, but also for their sins against each other. There is no doubt about their guilt, as it is God himself who testifies against Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:2).

Israel Was Judged for its Oppression of the Weak

In both Israel and Judah, idolatry was accompanied by covetousness, fraud and oppression. Some, simply because they had the power to do so, made themselves rich by seizing the homes of their fellow-man, devastating families as they took their inheritance (Micah 2:1,2). Their punishment fit the crime as those in power saw their land and their children’s inheritance taken from them (Micah 2:4,5).

These kinds of practices were echoed on a very large-scale in the United States as big banks and Wall Street made huge fees selling packaged sub-prime mortgages to unsuspecting investors and then foreclosed on homes, often taking a family’s life savings in the process. Adding insult to injury, those who were guilty of these practices were rewarded with hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Israel’s Leaders Did Not Believe They Would Be Held Accountable

While false prophets proclaimed that disgrace would not overtake them they sought to silence Micah and other prophets of God (2:6). Not fearing judgment, sure that God would never do such a thing to his people (2:7; 3:11), they took comfort believing that God would keep his promises of salvation to the people of Israel all the while ignoring the promises of judgment for disobedience that were part of the conditional covenant with Moses (Deut. 28).

Meanwhile, in this atmosphere promoted by these false prophets, the rich in Israel were emboldened to evict widows from their houses and sell their children into slavery to finance their lifestyles (Micah 2:9; Amos 8:6). God does not tolerate those who perform or condone such wickedness: they will come to ruin as God evicts the evictors (Micah 2:10). But the warnings are ignored and visions of prosperity are just what the people want to hear (Micah 2:11; Jeremiah. 5:31).

Prosperity Gospel and the Poor

Many religious leaders today preach a gospel of prosperity that not only believes God will not judge those who weary themselves to gain wealth (Proverb 23:4) but that God is obligated to make us wealthy if we have enough faith. They strip God of his sovereignty and make their faith sovereign (2 Peter 2:1). Devoid of any doctrine of suffering, their message appeals to those who would rather skip the experiences of the saints listed in Hebrews 11’s “hall of faith” (Hebrews 11:36-40) (2 Timothy 4:3,4).

They disparage the poor man for his lack of faith instead of showing compassion toward him. They deceive the poor to obtain their money (Titus 1:11) and are seemingly unaware that they will be judged for preaching to satisfy their greed (2 Peter 2:3,14,15). It is certainly not to our credit but to our shame that this false message has spread from its origins in the United States into many parts of the world.

Perhaps there are even American Christians who, believing we are somehow better than the rest of the world, think God will overlook our sins because he cannot do without America’s mission agencies, mega-churches and seminaries!

Israel’s Leaders Did Not Restrain Evil, but Instead Loved It

The leaders, who should have known better and who should have known what God expected of them, hated good and loved evil (Micah 3:1). Instead of restraining evil they devoured the poor for personal gain (Micah 3:2,3). When their fortunes turn for the worse they will cry out and not be heard (Micah 3:4; Proverbs 21:13).

The professional prophets waged war against those who wouldn’t pay for their prophecies but would tell those who paid them what they wanted to hear. Therefore these false prophets will not hear from God. In contrast, Micah, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared to the people their sin (Micah 3:5-8).

The leaders judged for a bribe and the prophets taught for a price, denying that disaster was near as they clung to their belief that God would never judge his people (Micah 3:11). But judgment from God would come (Micah 3:12).

Are we guilty when we place our faith in a free market economy to police itself as many are wont to do? When we say that there is too much regulation and we need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit are we ignoring what God has to say about fallen humanity and its propensity to act wickedly? Christians should know better.

What difference is there between Israel’s leaders who judged for a bribe and our politicians who pander to special interest groups?

Israel’s Trial

Before getting into Israel’s trial, Micah devotes two chapters mainly to future hope and blessing – namely the coming kingdom of Messiah, perhaps to show that he is faithful even though his people are not. God will keep his promises even as he exacts judgment.

When God brings his case against them he again states they should have known better. God has shown Israel what is good – acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with him (Micah 6:8) (Deut 10:12). When God makes his case against Israel he emphasizes the kind of sins that, instead of helping his weaker neighbor, harms him – gaining wealth at the expense of others by employing wicked methods (6:10), using dishonest weights and scales to defraud him (v 11), and threatening those who challenged their ways (6:12).  But ill-gotten gain is not safe, and those who obtain it will be brought to ruin (6:13-16).

Does America Fit This Pattern?

Does any of this sound familiar? To many, the answer will be no. They will say that corruption and oppression is much worse in other nations and that the opposite is true in America – we coddle our poor with “entitlements”. Besides, many of the poor in America would be considered rich in some countries.

They will say everyone has opportunity to succeed if they try. They will say too many people have a victim mentality and are just envious of the rich.

So, according to this line of thinking, God was wrong. He didn’t need to include commandments for economic interaction in the law he gave to Moses. If only God had known about free markets! Now that we have them, we need not be concerned.

Let me ask this. Is it possible that America has gained its great wealth solely because its people work harder than the people of other nations and because of our freedoms? Is a nation’s wealth always a sign of God’s favor? Have all rich individuals in our nation gained their wealth because they worked harder, utilized their freedom of choice and were blessed by God accordingly? Of course not! It wasn’t true in Israel’s time either.

We cannot hide behind a belief that our economic system has somehow overcome the problem of human sin when it comes to gaining wealth. People will still take from each other through trickery and oppression and people will still be lazy. It seems we, as a nation, hold neither person accountable.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is this. Does the way our economic system operates indicate to us a dependence on God as protector and provider and judge of our behavior?

I think the answer is no.

What Is the Proper Christian Response?

Micah, seeing the fate that awaits his people, mourns for Samaria with weeping and wailing, going barefoot and naked, howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl (Micah 1:8,9). Indeed, the northern kingdom would go into exile under Sargon II in 721 B.C. Twenty years later, his successor, Sennacherib invaded Judah taking many captive with Jerusalem escaping only because of God’s miraculous intervention (2 Kings 19:35).

We don’t know for sure (as did Micah) that we have an incurable wound. Only God knows. But should we not recognize our sins and mourn for our nation?

As we see our nation’s moral and economic decline accelerate, should we not be praying for a return to God rather than for a return to prosperity? Shouldn’t we know better than to chase after riches? We too know what is good – to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Our task, as Christians living in America, is not to place our trust in our leaders, our economic system, our national ideals, our military or in American exceptionalism. If we have misplaced our trust, then our task is to stop digging broken cisterns and return to the wellspring of life (Jeremiah 2:13).

 

 

 

 

Does America Have An Incurable Wound? – Part 1

Israel Had An Incurable Wound

In the book of Micah we learn that Samaria (the capital of Israel) had an incurable wound and like untreated gangrene it had spread to Jerusalem (the capital of Judah). What was the wound that was so loathsome to God?  The northern kingdom’s idolatry had reached a level from which judgment would no longer be withheld. As a result, God proclaims to the whole earth that he will make Samaria a heap of rubble.

A Portrait of National Decline

What was it like living in Israel prior to their judgment? The Israelites, for the most part, ignored God’s warnings delivered through the prophets. Though unconcerned about their own wickedness, they were certainly aware of the threat that lurked to the northeast. Towers built with the heads of conquered soldiers and rows of captives impaled on stakes outside of captured cities served as a warning to others who might resist the advancing Assyrians.

Everyday life in Israel wasn’t much different from that in surrounding pagan nations. They worshipped Baal, sold debtors into slavery and practiced divination and sorcery. They even sacrificed their children, burning them in the arms of Molech (2 Kings 17:15c-17).

Though God had disciplined Israel so they would return to him (Amos 4:6-11), he remained a stranger to them, so much so that he declares they will become re-acquainted with their God through judgment (Amos 4:12,13)! It was too late to avoid disaster. Having reached the point of no return, God raised up a nation that would destroy them. Though its kings boasted of their conquest of Israel, it was not Assyria from whom Israel would not escape; it was God (Micah 2:3)(Isaiah 10:5-15).

By What Standard Will Our Nation Be Judged?

We live in evil times.

Many American Christians fear that we, as a nation, may be nearing a time of God’s judgment. Human nature, being the way it is, leads us to point fingers at each other and blame our impending judgment on others whose sins are more heinous than ours. Of course, it is not wrong to confront sin and evil wherever it lies, but we do well when we heed Jesus’ rebuke to first take the log out of our own eye.

The Old Testament prophets chronicle what led to God’s judgment of Israel and surrounding nations. When trying to discern how the lessons from these scriptures might apply to our nation, we must be careful not to make comparisons or draw parallels to Israel that do not exist. For example, the United States does not have a national covenant relationship with God, as did Israel. Therefore, we must be careful not to cling to promises God made specifically to Israel as if he made them to the United States.

Nevertheless, we can see for which sins God judged Israel and know that He has not changed. It is still true that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

America’s Problem with Idolatry
The Idol of Money

Money has long been identified as an idol in American life. Christians are aware of the danger, knowing that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and that we cannot serve both God and money. But how does that actually play out in our lives? It is easy to let cultural influences drown such knowledge in a pool of worry about our future. It is easy to let misguided concepts of stewardship lead us to the conclusion that we serve God best by focusing on multiplication of our resources so we can give from our excess. How many of us make an idol out of work, filling our emptiness with inner praise for our abilities, abilities that God reminds us come from him? In short, how many ways do we forget God, his faithfulness, his kindness, and his providence and settle for a substitute?

The Idol of Entertainment

Consider our infatuation with entertainment. One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, made astute observations about this form of idolatry in The Great God Entertainment. He said the essence of sin is the abuse of a harmless thing. Entertainment can be relaxing and refreshing. But, it can also be a waste of time and distract us from considering our life before God.

Our entertainment competes with God for our time and money. Many of us grab our cell phones first thing in the morning to check our email or favorite social media. Thanking God for the new day can wait. After a hard day of work, if we don’t go out for dinner or a movie, we may escape from the realities of our life by spending whatever free time we have watching television. Instead of serving God with our money, we redouble our work efforts so we can afford our next dose of entertainment.

The Idol of Self

Our economy is based on discontent. In our society, there is almost no concept of having “enough”. This is true for many Christians, too. God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet until we can’t get what we want. Then, unsatisfied with our “daily bread”, we succumb to society’s call to buy a bigger house, the newest model car or the latest fashion. The problem, at least according to our culture, is that God isn’t a good provider. Ever ready to rescue us from our stingy God, creditors entice us to borrow so we can obtain what we want on our own timetable. Some of us never think of waiting on God and trusting him to provide as long as we have the option of going into debt to get what we covet.

This kind of idolatry, often accompanied by an ungrateful and fiercely independent spirit, focuses on gaining the whole world with little concern for losing one’s soul. The covetous and greedy man may say he doesn’t agree with the philosophy that he is captain of his own soul, but his actions say otherwise.

Many in America, having discarded any notion of a God to whom they are accountable, imagine themselves to be a god, making their own rules and doing as they please. Postmodern thought that truth is relative is really just a warmed over restatement of Judges 17:6 – “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” NASB

When we do right in our own eyes, we do evil in the eyes of the Lord and serve a false god (Judges 2:11). Our clever, enlightened worldview calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20,21). Drug usage is common; pornography and sexual sin provoke no shame unless children are exploited. At least we protect our children, right?

How different is sacrificing children to idols in Israel’s day to gain economic favor with the gods and choosing abortion because we want to maintain our selfish, indulgent lifestyle and cannot be bothered with the expense or inconvenience of a child? Is burning a baby any worse than dismembering one and crushing its head so it can be removed from the womb? Those who protect the practice of abortion draw the same ire from God as those who perform them (Leviticus 20:4,5).

The Idol of Power

Thinking our own power can deliver us (Judges 7:2) and imagining that our wealth is an impenetrably high wall (Proverbs 18:11), our nation trusts in its military might and economic strength, seemingly unaware that it is useless against God when he brings judgment.

The Severity of America’s Wound?

Only God decides when a nation’s wound is incurable (Genesis 15:16). Our next president, our military might or our level of prosperity won’t determine our fate as a nation. We must not place our hope in them. Our task, as Christians, is to trust God and seek healing of our wound, however severe, with the balm of repentance before it’s too late (Jeremiah 8:6,22).

This portrait of America’s decline, already grim, is not yet finished. Does America Have an Incurable Wound, Part 2 further explores Micah’s description of Israel’s incurable wound and the possible judgment our own nation faces.