Holy Choices

NOTE: This message was delivered at VCC on 10/23/16.

Disclaimer:

Before I begin, I need to offer a disclaimer.  Some of what we’ll talk about today could make you uncomfortable.  A number of you will find yourselves disagreeing at points.  With that in mind, I’d like to ask for two things: First, I ask that you hold up what I say to Scripture.  Let us each rely on His Word as the arbiter of truth.  Second, If, after the service, you find yourself angry or upset, I hope you’ll talk with me.  Or, you’ll at least share those feelings with one of the elders or the staff. 

Introduction:

Last week, Pastor Mike introduced our new series on Church Revolution.  Today we’re going to talk about revolution in the context of issues often classified as politics. 
Growing up, I was a bit of a rebel.  I wasn’t the type of rebel to go out and break the law.  I wasn’t the James Dean type of rebel.  No, I was more of a nerdy rebel.  I rebelled in school and in my classes.  If a teacher asked a question and offered me choices A or B, I would think of a reason why C was a better answer.  A little bit like these kids…

<Show Pictures>
Apparently, I haven’t outgrown this character.  You see, I can tend to be a news junkie.  A few months back, I don’t remember what I was reading at the time, but I do remember being bothered.  The headlines assumed readers held one of two positions.  You either believed in A or, if not, then you must believe in B.  And I remember thinking, “What if I don’t agree with either of those positions?” 
I started noticing it more and more with other issues.  Whether we talking about Abortion, Immigration, Racism – I felt like we’ve been conditioned to choose between two sides. 
Many of us have been conditioned to look at life as multiple choice questions.  We’ve been pigeonholed so that if we’re not A, then we must automatically be Option B.  There are some issues that are important enough that we need to stop and consider whether our position is consistent with God’s greater purpose for us.  Does our choice align with our mission to Know Jesus and Make Him Know? 

Scripture:

So realizing we were being pigeonholed into non-Biblical positions, I felt stuck.  I found myself not wanting to talk about some of these issues, which seemed like a better option than picking from two bad choices. 
Until one day, as I’m reading my Bible…  Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re reading the Bible and all of a sudden the angels start singing, blinding bright lights shine down, and a passage a Scripture lights up?  Yeah, me neither.  But one day, as I was reading, I came across a passage that showed me how we’re supposed to handle feeling trapped by these issues.
Turn with me to Matthew Chapter 22 starting at verse 15.  While you’re turning there, let me set the stage.  By this point in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ ministry had been going on long enough that the Jewish leaders felt threatened.  They were ready to get rid of Jesus.  The problem they faced was that Jesus had a large following.  Even those who didn’t follow Jesus tended to agree that He was righteous.  So the Jewish leaders couldn’t just arrest Jesus without cause or they’d risk a riot.  So they had to find a way to discredit him.
Matthew 22:15–22 (NLT)
15 Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 16 They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Let’s pause here and see what’s going on.  Pay taxes to Caesar or not….sounds pretty straightforward, right?  What’s the harm in answering?  To understand this context, we have to rewind a few years.  In 42 BC, Julius Caesar had been declared a Roman God.  For many Jews, paying taxes to their Roman overloads wasn’t just acceptance of their rule, it was actually viewed as acceptance of a foreign God.  So if Jesus said they should pay taxes, He would be accused of violating the first commandment, to have no other God before Me.  (Ex 20:3)  However, if Jesus said they should not pay taxes, the Herodians stood ready to have him arrested.

Let’s see how Jesus handled being pigeonholed and trapped:

18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
22 His reply amazed them, and they went away.

How does Jesus respond?  First, notice he doesn’t just accept the question the way it’s been framed.  He takes it at a literal level and says based on the image that’s on the coin, it belongs to Caesar.  He’s not falling for their trap.  He’s not allowing them to dictate what his answers mean.  But notice Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He answers a question they haven’t asked by reminding them (AND US!) that we’re to render unto God what is God’s. Now, here’s the interesting part.  If we apply the same logic Jesus used to conclude what’s Caesar’s, namely whatever has the image of Caesar…  <PAUSE>  Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made us in His image.  Since you and I are created in His image, we’re to render ourselves and each other unto God.  When we step back and consider the whole of God’s story and what God has been up to since Creation.  The story of Mankind is the story of Redemption.  God wants us, as His beloved creation, to return to Him.  So this answer that Jesus slips in there unprompted is the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all the world.  Share the Gospel! 
So when we’re presented with choices, rather than looking at two choices horizontally, two worldly choices, He directs us to be heaven-minded or God-minded in our choices.  Our choices, oftentimes, will be holy choices, choices that set us apart from the crowd.  So when we’re confronted with A and B, we need to stop and ask whether there’s a choice that’s honoring God and rendering unto God what is God’s.
Oooookay, that sounds like a bunch of Church-speak.  But how do we really apply that to politics and issues of the day?

Applying to Issues:

Religious Liberty or Civil Rights?

Let’s start with what should be an easy one.  About a month ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report that took three years in the making.  The headline in the Washington Post on the day it came out read, “Civil rights or religious liberty — what’s on top?”
So we have to choose, right?  Which is more important: A) Civil Rights or B) Religious Liberty?  If we choose B, Religious Liberty, does that put us at odds with civil rights?
Our religion, Our God teaches us to love our neighbor without regard for religion, race, creed…just as He loves us.  Acts 10:34 tells us that “God doesn’t show favoritism.”
The problem I have with this kind of headline and these types of news stories is that we’re led to believe that there’s this inherent conflict between the two.  That’s simply not the case.  99 times out of 100, if we’re truly following Christ, our religion is in perfect alignment with the civil rights movement. 
So what’s the answer?  Religious Liberty or Civil Rights?
A: We have the inalienable right to practice a religion that demands that we love our neighbors.  That love, modeled after God’s own love, is what will tear down those barriers of inequality. 

Same Sex Marriage: Support or Anti-Gay

One of the areas where there has been a conflict between religious liberty and civil rights is in the realm of gay marriage.  We see headlines of county clerks refusing to sign marriage certificates.  Bakers being sued for refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. 
Marriage is such a blessing.  I start each day knowing my best friend is by my side.  I end each day knowing I have a partner and will never have to face life alone.  Marriage means I have someone with whom I can enjoy life, whether that’s watching a concert, running along the beach or eating a good meal.  I wish everyone could be blessed in such a way. 
But no matter how much I may wish it, I can’t just define marriage for the sake of allowing everyone to enjoy it.
As Christians, we know that marriage isn’t just a contract between two parties.  Scripture tells us that it’s divinely designed from the beginning (Genesis 2:24, This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.).   But even more, God uses marriage to illustrate for us the covenant that He desires with us.  The entire book of Hosea equates a promiscuous wife with an unfaithful people.  In 2nd Corinthians 11:2, Paul tells us, “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ.”
So this covenant of marriage isn’t just something we can redefine.  Rather, Marriage is to be held up to the highest standards, standards created by God Himself.
But then, if we truly believe that marriage is to be honored and protected, that we’re to treat it as this holy creation, shouldn’t we be consistent in preserving the sanctity of marriage?  Shouldn’t we be as passionate when marriage is threatened by divorce, adultery, pornography, sexual addition?  Should we be interested in fixing these shortcomings first within the church lest we’re accused of being hypocrites for finding faults outside the church before addressing our own faults?  You see, here’s the thing.  If we’re not consistently upholding the sanctity of marriage but only choose to uphold it in the context of gay marriage, can you understand why someone would view us as anti-gay?
So should we Support Gay Marriage or continue to be accused of being Anti-Gay?
A: We should be PRO-MARRIAGE as God view it.  We should uphold and honor marriage as God’s design.  It’s not about denying someone a right.  Rather, we should make people desire to have this type of holy and covenantal relationship just as God wants with us.

Abortion: Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life

One of the most contentious issues over the last 50 years is abortion.  Scripture tells us that life is to be cherished.  Psalm 8:5 tells us that we were created just a little less than God and given glory and honor.  Job 31 and Psalm 139 tell us that God knit us together while we’re in our mother’s womb.  What God has created, in the womb, let us not destroy.
So does that then mean that we’re not pro-choice?  Should we not care how a baby affects the life of the mother and father?
We should care about choice.  Our Father in Heaven, who’s all powerful and completely just has every right to demand our love and our lives.  And yet, after leading Israelites out of Egypt, He offered them a choice whether they would serve God or the false gods of the land where they’re about to live.  (Joshua 24:15)  And, yet, though His Son died for us, even then, He allows us a choice.  So don’t tell me that Christians are anti-choice!
No we should care about the mother and how this new life affects her.  We should care so much about her choices that we offer her more choices.  The choice shouldn’t be whether she preserves or ends life?  No woman should have to make that choice.  Rather we should offer to help the mother through pregnancy, we should offer to care for the child after birth, we should be involved in programs like Safe Families that offer temporary solutions while they get their lives in order.  And we should be the first to be willing to accept these babies as our own if the parents choose not to care for the child. 
And we should be adamantly pro-life, not just while the baby is in the womb but beyond.  Do we care about what happens to the baby after birth or do we only care that the baby is born?  Do we also care about the lives of the mother?  Of the father?
So does that make us Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?
A: Adamantly BOTH!

Racial Tension: Police Shootings

These days, we can’t seem to go for long without hearing of some shooting involving the police.  One day, the media is reporting of a black man shot by a police officer.  The next day, police officers are killed.  I think we can all agree that, one way or another, these shootings need to stop.
Years ago, after one of these shootings, a movement began.  This movement was a plea for recognition that Black Lives Matter. Often there will be protest and demonstrations.  A segment of our community wants to know: Do their lives matter as much?  Our answer should come easily.  But, I think because it’s become a politicized issue, we can become reticent to support such a cause.  Maybe we’re asking ourselves, “If I support BLM, does that mean that I’m anti-police?  Does it mean that I support some of the violence done in the name of BLM?”
Maybe I should declare myself a supporter of Blue Lives Matter and recognize that our peace officers put their lives on the line each day for our safety.  Here in Southern California, three deputies have lost their lives.  Three families have lost their loved ones.  Each day, police continue to be questioned and scrutinized for the decisions they’re forced to make.  Unless we’ve been in that position, we can’t know how hard it is to make split second judgments that could lead to life or death, theirs, ours or others’. 
Let me read you part of a letter written by an officer:
I have a confession to make.
I don't want to go to work tonight.
I don't want to roll into an apartment complex on a disturbance call and have every resident out in the street filming me.
I don't want to make that traffic stop and have it go badly.
<snip>
I don't want to be vilified, called part of an epidemic of violence, described as racist by those that do not know my heart, or potentially become part of another impassioned political speech, another war cry - for a decision I make under the worst of circumstances and with the best of intentions.
I don't want to hesitate if the moment comes again. I don't want my wife worrying as she goes to bed alone on another Friday night.
I don't want to go to work tonight.
But I will. <snip>
I'll be there.
<snip>
For Dallas. For Baton Rouge. For Charlotte. For Tulsa.
<snip>
For Black. For white. For blue.
I don't want to go to work tonight.
I'll be there.
For you.

A few weeks ago, an officer in Chicago was severely beaten.  She was punched and slammed to the ground until she passed out.  When asked why she didn’t draw her gun, she answered, “she didn’t want her family or the department to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.”  Shouldn’t her blue life matter?  But maybe we avoid saying Blue Lives Matter out of fear that we’ll be misunderstood as supporting the aberrations, those who’ve taken their powers too far?

Or, to be safe, maybe we declare a universal truth, All Lives Matter.  Certainly that shouldn’t offend anyone, right?  Imagine if Bella came to me crying.  Maybe she had a hard day at school.  A classmate made her feel bad about herself.  So, being a good, loving father….I bend down and pick her up.  And then I try to comfort her by saying, “Oh baby, don’t be sad.  I love you and your brother just the same.  You both matter to me.”  How would she feel?  She would be hurt.  She would feel like I haven’t heard her at all.  That I’m just saying things to appease her.
Each of these statements (Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter) have merit but each can be misunderstood.  But here’s the thing.  While we need to be concerned about how our actions and words are understood, we also need to realize that silence also speaks volumes.  As Christians, we should care about life.  We ought to care that there are people who feel as if their lives matter less.  We ought to be willing to declare that black lives do matter.  And, even as we do, we ought to declare our undying gratitude for blue lives who allow us the very opportunity to say that black lives matter.  And yes, we need to trust officers to use their training in those critical situations.
So, while we may be asked to choose between Black Lives Matter and Blue Live Matter, we must choose both.  We must choose in such a way that it’s not words alone.





A few weeks ago, the Chairman of AT&T, Randall Stephenson spoke of this issue.  He spoke of how he’s been humbled after learning the trials that his friend, who’s African American, has faced his entire life.  He concluded the speech with this, “Tolerance is for cowards.   Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged.  Do not tolerate each other.  Work hard.  Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”
Shouldn’t we, as Christ’s body, be at the forefront of that type of community?  That type of dialogue?  In January, we hosted Breaking Barriers United here at church.  Shouldn’t we do more of that?  Are there other things we can do to encourage dialogue and community?
So, Black Lives Matter?  Blue Lives Matter?  All Lives Matter?
A: Each Life Matters, all the time.  Not just when there’s a tragedy.  When there’s been a tragedy, we make sure they know that we mourn with them and stand with them.  Not necessarily against someone else but with them. When there hasn’t been a tragedy, let’s seek to continue a dialogue.  Let us be the peacemakers who bring disparate groups together. 

Immigration

Let’s talk about immigration.  Pretty straightforward, right?  Legal: good, Illegal: bad.
But how should we treat those who have entered the country illegally?
Consider the man who left his family in his native country.  He risked his life and his paltry savings to have strangers sneak him across the border.  He now takes jobs that nobody else seems to want.  He collects junk and makes what money from salvaging or selling.  He works as many hours as his body allows and sends most of his money home to his family.  He knows he’s entered illegally, but he would do it again.  He’s doing what he feels he must to support his family.
Now this man has been arrested.  He’s not happy but he understands.  It’s part of the risk he took when he came.  But he has a question.  In his hometown, he’d met missionaries who shared the Gospel with him.  This loving God intrigued him.  These missionaries also told him about this great Christian nation they came from.
So this man wants to know why these Christians he’s met want to deport him.  He understands why the government would but why Christians?
Even if we say he should be deported, shouldn’t we care and love him enough to understand what drove him to take such desperate measures?  Shouldn’t we even pursue him across the border to see if there’s something we can do to make life better with his family so that he couldn’t have to cross the border illegally?
So where do we stand on the question of immigrants?  A) Ship illegals back or B) Let them become citizens.
So the answer on the immigration issue is to be vocally Pro-Immigrant.  Love our neighbors, however near or far they may be!

Reflection During and After Election

In just over two weeks, we’ll head to the polls and decide the direction of our cities, our state, our country. 
I’m not here to tell you who to vote for.  But I do have a few points to make here:
First, I don’t remember a time when this country has been so divided.  So polarized.  There’s a lot of anger, doubt…darkness.  There’s seems to be a general sense of despair that the country is heading downhill.  I think this is a great opportunity for Christians to REFLECT HOPE.  Let me predict the outcome of the election this year….You ready?  Jesus will be the LORD.  We have that assurance.  And because we have that assurance, we can have hope.  So let’s stop worrying and wringing out hands, we already know who’s going to win. 
Second, whomever you back will make mistakes and will do things that are unworthy of Christians.  Call them on it.  If we don’t, we look no different than other partisan politicians.  There are times and places and issues on which we should stand out, be set aside, be HOLY.  People should know that our only ABSOLUTE LOYALTY belongs to God.  And, if they want our support, they’ll have to grow closer to God themselves.
Which brings me to the final point.  Let’s REFLECT RIGHTEOUSNESS.  In the end, the election isn’t going to change our country’s value system.  Over the last decade or two, we’ve all seen the moral decline of this great nation.  If we hope to reverse that, it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s certainly not going to happen by electing the right people.  No, if we want to turn the country around, the revolution starts with each of us.  As we learn in 1st Peter 2:12, the world will view our good works, our conduct, our values and glorify God!

Conclusion

We’ve reviewed just a few issues here.  There are certain many others and we can’t cover them all.  Whether it’s with family, friends, coworkers – that Oikos that will be our focus in upcoming years – issues will arise.  Issues that make people passionate.  Should we just stay quiet to risk saying the wrong things?  Should we just let the world take care of the world’s problems while we keep our thoughts on Heaven?  Certainly not.  We need to be engaged.  Be Courageous.  We need to be the light to the world.  As Jesus instructs us in Matthew Chapter 5: “[WE] are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Before we pray, let me offer up two questions to consider whenever we’re having a conversation on politics:
1.       Are we so focused on being right that we lose sight of reflecting Christ?
2.       Do we genuinely love the person with whom we disagree?

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