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The Climate of the Era

January 11, 2017

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For many years, I have been concerned (at times frustrated and at times weeping) for the state of the (mostly white) evangelical church in America.  It seems, at times, that the church believes that God can get voted in and out of power; that He wins and loses elections.

I was in Kansas City when Bill Clinton won his second term, my friends from church were so upset, they said “not even Jesus could have won if He had run”.

I answered, “He never would have run.”

I remember finding that statement so odd.  The concept of the One who within Himself holds all authority in Heaven and on Earth, seeking legitimacy for His position from an electorate, and then the electorate could in some odd sense give Him a mandate seemed ludicrous.  It was such an incongruent concept that I could not even wrap my mind around it.

God does not take sides in the affairs of man.  Even if we look at the theophany in Joshua 5:13-15, when the Commander of the Lord’s Army appears, Joshua asks Him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  The Commander answers, “Neither,” even though He clearly been assigned a job to do.

God has only one side and that is His own; He asks us (all humanity, but especially the church) to join Him on His side.  When, as His people, we fail to grasp this concept, we begin seeking authority and power that comes from humans instead of using the authority and power that we have in Christ to change the society in which we live.

As God’s people, we have been saddened by the secularization of our society, the amount of lostness of our friends and neighbors, and the hostility which this society is showing the church.  We have wept for the decisions that have come out of our Government, but since we have a poor understanding of the way things work. We have battled incorrectly and ineffectively.

Even in this election season it was stated that the greatest enemy of our society was secularism and progressives.  No, the greatest enemy of our society was and always will be “the powers, the principalities and the rulers of this dark age.”  (Our society is no more secular than Rome was when the church began.)

The territory that we must win is the hearts and minds of people who are lost, which include the liberals, the progressives, the Muslims, the agnostics, the homosexuals, the abortionists, the unbelieving church goers, and so on. The battle is always between God’s people and the powers and principalities.  I would like us to look at this much more closely.

In an interview on NPR Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a very interesting observation, which we need to understand to effectively understand the state of this nation today.  Here she is speaking about the cases she litigated to get women equal protection under the law.

 NPR: And you were responsible for so many decisions that changed discrimination law for women. I’m wondering for a woman or a lawyer starting out today, how one should look at changes they see around them, unfairness they see around them, and how that can translate to actually changing the Constitution in the way that you did in the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s.

RBG: I didn’t change the Constitution; the equality principle was there from the start. I just was an advocate for seeing its full realization. Where we started out, even the Declaration of Independence starts out all men are created equal, so I see my advocacy as part of an effort to make the equality principle everything the founders would have wanted it to be if they weren’t held back by the society in which they lived and particularly the shame of slavery. I don’t think my efforts would have succeeded had it not been for the women’s movement that was reviving in the United States and more or less all over the world at the time. And the Court was certainly aware of that sea change in what the public thought women ought to be doing.

 A great constitutional scholar Paul Freund once said “the Court should never be influenced by the weather of the day but inevitably they will be influenced by the climate of the era,” and that’s what happened in the 1970’s. Judges had daughters and granddaughters and they began to recognize that some of, some of the so-called favors for women were not favors at all, but they were locking women into a small piece of man’s wide world. So it was the change in society that opened the Court’s eyes and made my arguments palatable when they would not have been a generation before.

http://www.wnyc.org/story/transcript-interview-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg/

What Ruth Bader Ginsburg is saying is that first the attitude of the society changes, then the laws change.  Paul Freund calls this “the climate of the era.”   So if we don’t like the way the laws are changing, we need to look at the “climate of the era” not at a specific law.  Laws follow they don’t lead.

This is also true for politics, votes, the media’s orientation, etc.  The powers, the principalities and the rulers of this dark age will always try to pull the climate of the era to their side. It is our job as His people to establish God’s Kingdom (His rule and reign) on the earth.  He has given us His authority and His weapons to make this happen.

If the powers, the principalities and the rulers of this dark age are winning the battle then the question is:  What are we doing wrong that we as His People are losing ground?  It is probably a good sign that we, as His church, need to repent about something.  The evidence that we are losing the battle is that society is becoming more secular; the laws are being changed to approve things of which God does not approve.  God’s heart for the widow, the orphan, and the alien is being lost, and the things that everybody knows to be true no longer reflect God’s heart.

In Acts 19, Ephesus is in a huge riot.  People are shouting for two hours and finally (vs. 35-36): The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash.

From the Ephesian’s perspective, the whole world knew they were the guardians of Artemis, and that these facts were undeniable.  As the church took over that area, these things were no longer known.  Wikipedia  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephesus) shows that by the time the crusades came through, no one even remembered that the temple of Artemis ever existed and much of the marble from the temple was used to build other things.

Fifty years ago, everyone knew that if you had same sex attractions you needed therapy, now everyone knows if you have same sex attractions you were born that way, even though there is very little scientific evidence for that.  If this is taken as fact, then it must be understood that all people are equal before the law and therefore there must be marriage equality.  Naturally, no one should discriminate and so, of course, wedding cakes must be made.

So which came first, the law or the change in the climate of the era?  When we get the answer to this question wrong, we battle incorrectly. Look at the illustration above, the church is constantly trying to pull the flags of the tug-o-war instead of the rope.

Look at Prop 8 in California. It was a ballot initiative to recognize “only marriage between a man and a woman” in California.  There was a tremendous amount of prayer put in to get Prop 8 passed and since prayer is effective, it was passed.  The problem was that the climate of the era hadn’t changed at all, so it was immediately challenged in court and was quickly deemed unconstitutional.

Laws follow the climate of the era they do not lead.  The question I ask is, “What would have happened if that much effort would have been spent pulling on the rope, praying that the heart of the people would change and that we would repent first as a church and then as a nation?”  Think about this, if the climate of the era changes, there would be no same sex marriages no matter what laws are on the books.

An interesting observation is that same sex marriage was approved by a conservative court.  Also, note that the church interceded Trump into power (notice also that whenever the church intercedes an event into existence against the will of the people, the media is completely confused about what happened.) out of concern for the make-up of the court and the laws that court will pass. Yet, by the end of the week on 60 Minutes, Trump says he believes the issue of same sex marriage has been settled by the Supreme Court so he’s not going to worry about it.

The questions we must ask ourselves are, “What is going on? Why is the church losing this battle, when by all rights, we should be winning?”  In Colossians 2:15, it says that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”  So, Jesus has already won the war against the powers and authorities but here in the natural we are losing this battle.

Here is the problem, Jesus will only pull on the climate of the era rope as hard as the “my people who are called by my name” will allow him to.  Jesus has tied the exercise of His authority to His people.  In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus says

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

He ties His authority and our disciple making together.  For this reason prayer is so important and so effective.

Some observations of “my people who are called by my name” in America:

The problem of “Might and Power”:

Zechariah 4:6, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

What are might and power? What are horses and chariots?  In today’s world those who have power are those who have a voice in Washington; i.e., voting blocs, super PACS, lobbyists, and so on.  Somewhere along the way, the church began looking to the vote to get God’s agenda done in Washington.

God’s agenda is not achieved by voting, it is done because His Spirit moves and changes the hearts and minds of people.  This in turn changes the climate of the era and then the votes, the laws, the courts, the atmosphere changes.  So, when “my people who are called by my name” seek political power they are exchanging their birthright for pottage.

By the right of birth into the family of God, by the blood of the Lamb, we have access to call His will down onto the earth so what is done in Heaven will be done on Earth.  His will is that His Kingdom be expanded upon the earth in the hearts and minds of people and that “the powers, the principalities, and the rulers of this dark age” be defeated.

This is a spiritual reality that will never be achieved by natural means.  When His People try to achieve this by voting for this or that agenda into earthly power, they are relying on “horse and chariot,” “might and power,” instead of God’s Spirit.  Since the war is a spiritual war that manifests itself in the natural, fighting it in the natural becomes a fool’s mission and in turn gives territory to “the powers, the principalities and the rulers of this dark age.”

The Problem of Choosing a Side

Both sides of the political spectrum in this country have things that somewhat reflect the heart of God and things that are an anathema to Him. As His people, we need to be the “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” just as John the Baptist was.

We need to be able to speak to the “Herrods” of this world, no matter which side of the aisle they sit on, and say, “it is wrong that you married your sister-in-law, Herodias, and all your other evils are wrong as well” (Luke 3:19).  When we sell our birthright for the pottage of the vote, we lose our voice in society, because we justify things that God does not justify and compromise with things that God is against.

It seems as if “my people who are called by my name” are like deer in the headlights.  We are staring so hard at the headlights of abortion and same sex marriage that we miss the truck behind the headlights, or worse, we justify the truck behind the headlights.  This results in things like: just 12% of evangelical Christians say their views on the arrival of refugees and other immigrants are primarily informed by the Bible (http://www.zwemercenter.com/why-the-church-must-love-the-refugee/).

That is a pretty shocking statistic, considering how often the Bible speaks about how “my people who are called by my name” should treat the foreigner, e.g. Deuteronomy 10:17-19: 

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

So, if the “climate of the era” is informing His people on how to treat refugees, who is going to win the battle, the powers and principalities or His church?  There are many more examples like this, such as the recent article in Christianity Today, by Ed Stetzer: Evangelicals: This Is What It Looks Like When You Sell Your Soul For A Bowl Of Trump.

Church, we can never win this battle if we sell our souls to a political party.  I’m not saying don’t vote, but “my people who are called by my name” must never become a voting bloc that political parties and candidates think they can court for votes.  We must push both sides to walk in godliness.

The Problem of Looking like the World

On most of these issues the church is not that different from the society around them.  There is a large amount of abortions in the church. As a Christian counselor, I get to hear about this all the time.  Don’t be shocked.  Think about it.

What if your 16 year old came home and said she was pregnant.  You will need to go to church with her with a big belly, she is going to be seriously struggling with school as she cares for a baby, or maybe the burden will be on you, the judgment you will receive from friends and family, I mean you’re a good Christian Family everyone always admired how stable you were.  All this goes away with a simple procedure.

Believe me, this is the same issue Peter faced when he denied Christ.  Will you stand up for Christ and have this baby in your family, take on the reproach, stand with your daughter in this difficult time? Don’t be shocked that many people don’t make that decision.  In my church, more than once, when I found out a young girl was pregnant, the very first thing I did was say to her, “your baby is welcome in this Church.”

What does the reality of abortions among ”my people who are called by my name” do to our right to move the “climate of the era” to a place where abortion won’t be acceptable anymore.  We can say the same about divorce, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, and so on.

Don’t be confused, the enemy is working hard to get the church to fall in these areas because he knows what that does to her authority.  If “my people who are called by my name” are not living in the opposite spirit of what the world lives in and participating in her sin, she cannot expect to win the battle for the “climate of the era” of this nation.  And you think a vote is going to change this?

Dear church, I fear that this election has caused a lurch to the side of “the powers, the principalities and the rulers of this dark age.”  Scripture states that we will know the tree by its fruit.  This is the fruit that I have observed:  I live in Queens, NY, which is the most diverse place on earth.  Picture a place where people from more than 190 countries are represented and more than 180 languages are spoken in the public schools (http://www.thenyic.org/sites/default/files/NYIC%20Ed%20Collab_TI%20Survey%20Report%206.16.15.pdf).  Where people from closed access countries (where missionaries are forbidden to go) live next to followers of Jesus and have an opportunity to hear the gospel for the first time. When they (including Muslims) accept the Good News, they take the Gospel back to their closed access countries through phone calls, Skype and visits.

The following events are happening within this context.   I have a friend who is an assistant principal at one of the best regarded High Schools in NYC.  She told me that within 48 hours of the election results, she had a Muslim student have her Hijab pulled off, a Sikh student was spit on, the white students’ attitudes changed.  They were walking around saying, “This is Trump’s America now,” some Muslim students who were part of a bake sale were told that no one would ever eat food they had touched, etc.  Do you get my point?

I really hope I’m wrong, but it feels to me as though there there has been a shift in the “climate of the era” to accepting racism in ways we haven’t seen in decades.  Oh church, do not fall for the wily schemes of the enemy.  Do not exchange your birthright for a bowl of pottage.  Don’t you know Jesus is the only hope for this nation and you are His hands and feet?  If you give up your birthright to bring His Kingdom to this earth, what hope is there?

A Lament for America

Oh America, America, weep and wail, because the people of God within you have lost their way.
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for the people of God to humble themselves and pray.
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for the people of God to seek His face.
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for the people of God to turn from their wicked ways and repent.
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for without the people of God, the mercy of God is lifted.
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for how will God hear from heaven and forgive?
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for how will your land be healed?
Oh America, America, weep and wail, for how can God continue to shed His grace on you?
Oh America, America.

(I began writing this about 2 years ago long before the current political situation came about.  I didn’t finish it because I don’t have the ability to draw and felt that there really needs to be an illustration to fully explain the concept I wanted to convey.  A few weeks ago, I asked my neighbor, Edith Alvarez, who is an artist, if she would be able to put the picture in my head on paper.  Step by step, she was able to take what was in my head and put it on paper.)

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