Respectfully, Mr. President… America is not “God’s People”

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:9-13

Today, our nation completed something that is rare in our world. A peaceful transfer of power from one presidential administration to another. There will surely be disagreements, protests and difficulties over the next four years, ­but as always, for all intents and purposes, Friday was peaceful. Admittedly, it was possibly the first inauguration I’d watched outside of doing so in school while growing up. I’m glad I watched. As a fan of history, I was able to watch the inauguration of arguably one of the most controversial presidents, at least in my lifetime.

“The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
– President Donald J. Trump, Jan 20. 2017

As I watched, and listened intently to President Trump’s inaugural address, I caught a scripture reference (quoted from the speech above) and immediately, my hand went to my forehead, followed quickly by my fingers to the keyboard. President Trump referenced Psalm 133:1, which reads in the ESV, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The president seemingly quoted from the NIV which replaces “brothers” with “God’s People.” The president used this verse to infer that America is “God’s People” and as such, that God will protect America. I’d like to take the remainder of my article and your time to briefly address the fallacy of this.

First, the word “brother” used in every translation I could cross-reference, except the NIV. The Hebrew term used is “אָח” literally “brother”. It carries definitions of brother (sharing same parents), half-brother (sharing same father), & blood-relative (kinship, same tribe). The term itself does not carry the definition of “God’s People,” but it possibly could be inferred from the context of the poem. Verse 2 refers to anointing oil. Some scholars believe David penned this Psalm in response to the unity of the tribes who came together to make him their king. And you may think… “Oh, well that sort of ties into a new president.” Not so fast… The key is that if the term “brother” means “God’s People” then it is referring to the tribes of Israel, who were God’s People when the Psalm was written. That term cannot be used today as a blanket statement for another nation, especially now that we live in the latter days, the days of the Messiah’s Kingdom. Jesus opened the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven and gave the opportunity to become a “Child of God (Jn 1:12)” to all who would receive him and follow His commands. “God’s People” and “Child of God” are interchangeable. The church is considered “God’s People” because it is made up of His children. America as a whole, however, is not, nor has it ever been.

John 1:9-13 (at the start of the article) shows us that only those who have received Christ and have been born of God (through the commanded “rebirth” or baptism laid out by Christ in John 3:1-21) have the right to become “Children of God.” Romans 6:1-14 outlines the necessity of baptism and how it unites us with Christ, becoming co-heirs to the inheritance of Heaven (Rom 8:16-17). We are co-heirs with Christ because through our baptism and uniting ourselves to Jesus, we are now God’s children, just as Jesus is. Romans 6 also teaches us that the protection which God provides is not from persecution, ill-doing, political scuffles, foreign invasion, etc., rather that God protects His children from sin and ultimately death. And I’m not talking about death of the flesh. Rather this protection is spiritual (cf. Mt. 10:28).

We are saved, because of Christ and our obedience to His commands (Mark 16:16). This salvation is not a salvation from pain and suffering in this world. The Son of God, His apostles and disciples were not freed from pain, suffering, persecution and even the killing of their body, so how could we ever assume that we would be spared these things? Revelation paints a clear picture to the contrary. God’s protection for His children is from eternal damnation. That protection was made possible through His son Jesus Christ. How? Because through Christ, and the following steps, sin is wiped away. Sin is what separates man from God (Is 59:2). Only those who believe in Christ, repent of their sinful ways, and are baptized for the remission of their sins, uniting themselves to Christ in the waters of baptism, becoming co-heirs and a Child of God… Only they receive this protection from death. Instead of death, they receive life eternal. So long as they continue in humble obedience to His will.

Therefore, with respect, Mr. President, America is not God’s People. America hasn’t been “chosen by God” according to what scripture tells us. Those who are “God’s People,” those that are the “brothers” even within Psalm 133, are those who belong to God, and as such we should live in unity with one another. If the term “brother” is used to mean those of the same nation, then again… Yes! All American’s should live in unity with one another; how good and pleasant that would be. However, unification will not come from Washington, elected officials, pundits or the voting booth. The unity of a nation will not come from man, but from a uniting of the hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. It is only through Christ that true peace and unity can be accomplished.

Washington cannot save America from destruction of body and soul. Only the church bringing the Gospel message to America can accomplish that. Be the light in this dark world, dear church. Be the salt that brings flavor and preservation to a dying world.

As always, if you have any questions about this, or if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Christian (a child of God), feel free to email me at derek@duckdisciple.com.

— DD —

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Burned Out? Find Comfort in the Growth to Come!

The news continues to roll out of Gatlinburg. Stories of families searching for missing members only to find out they’re a part of the growing number of fatalities. Over 1,000 structures were damaged in the fire, one of which was the Gatlinburg church of Christ. Several members lost their homes as well. Thankfully, we haven’t heard of any lives lost among the brethren in Tennessee, but there are many in the area who cannot say the same.

For those who have visited the Smoky Mountains — particularly the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area — the beauty and majesty of the surrounding landscape is something that one rarely forgets. Seeing the images of fire ravaging the hillsides, entire cliffs glowing orange in the night, and the ashy aftermath is beyond words. “How could God allow this to happen to such a beautiful area,” a woman asked on one of the news reports I watched. The irony in her question is that God designed the forest ecosystem to benefit from fire. In fact, forests are made stronger and flourish in the aftermath of a fire. Through prayer and support from their community, businesses and families will heal as well. The emotional healing will likely take the longest.

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A small gallery of images from around the Gatlinburg area as fires swept through the area. At the time of this writing, the fires lead to the deaths of 13 people, injuring more than 100, destroying more than 1,000 structures and several acres of forest.

A small gallery of images from around the Gatlinburg area as fires raged, killing 13, injuring more than 100 and destroying more than 1,000 structures (at the time of this writing) and several acres of forest.

A person with experience in forestry and forest firefighting said that in 2-5 years, it will be hard for the untrained eye to tell the Gatlinburg area experienced such a blaze. It’s how the ecology works, apparently. According to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, fires are essential to the survival of such a large forest. “In the 1970s scientists started to notice that keeping the Great Smoky Mountains National Park completely fire free was having some unintended consequences. There are at least 12 native species of plants and animals in the Smokies that benefit from routine fires. For instance, the Table Mountain pine depends on the powerful heat of ground fires to open its sealed cones, which is how the tree spreads its seeds. Without periodic fires, the Table Mountain pine and other species would disappear from the park.”

Hearing that, I’m reminded of James 1:2-4 which reads, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Just like the forest fires, the trials and temptations we meet in life may be devastating at the time. They may cause our faith to be stretched. The true test comes in whether one allows the trial or temptation to stretch their faith to make it stronger, or allow it to break their faith.

Nature has God ruling over it, allowing and orchestrating the regrowth and build up after a fire. Man requires assistance to not allow their faith to be completely broken. That’s where the church comes in. As we’ll cover in our final lesson of the “Scripture Salad” sermon series this morning, our assembling together serves to encourage and stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). God’s perfect design for nature allows for regrowth and a thriving ecosystem after the “trial/temptation” of a fire. Christ’s perfect design for His church allows for the body to support and edify one another so the body can continue working together in perfect harmony (Eph. 4:16).

A Christian needs that encouragement and edification in order to mature spiritually. It cannot be done alone. Just like the Table Mountain pine relies on fires to flourish, the Christian needs to rely on the church and proper, biblical teaching to be the light they’re called to be in this dark world.

As always, if you have any questions about this, or if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Christian, feel free to email me at derek@duckdisciple.com.

–DD–

Are you a pumpkin or a Christ-o-lantern?

A few years ago I heard the comparison made between making a jack-o-lantern and becoming a child of God. My wife reminded me a few weeks ago as I was tossing around topics for bulletin articles, so I thought this would be a good week to share my take on the comparison.

The journey to take a pumpkin and change it into a jack-o-lantern begins at the pumpkin patch. A whole field of pumpkins waiting to be chosen, waiting to serve a purpose. Then someone comes along and takes the time to inspect the fruit and pick it. Most freshly picked pumpkins will be a little dirty on the outside from the mud they’d been surrounded by in the field. Separating the pumpkin from the field, one must clean the dirt from the outside, truly separating the last remnants of the field from the pumpkin. When we repent of our sins, we separate ourselves from our life of sin and turn toward a clean walk of life in Christ. We’re “picked from the field” when we hear and believe the Gospel.

People and pumpkins have a lot in common. We both have an inside and an outside. The outside is what everyone sees – how we act, what we say and do, etc. The inside of a pumpkin is like our heart and soul. If a pumpkin is left in the field, it will slowly rot and die. The same thing goes for us. If we remain in the world, we eventually will die, with the hope of eternal life gone.

As you cut eyes into a pumpkin, you can see into the “heart and soul” of the pumpkin and it’s a mess. Just like our hearts and souls. “…the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead (Ecc. 9:3b).” So how do we get rid of the mess in our hearts?

God is the only one who can clean out our hearts, and the only way that can happen is if we humble ourselves with a child-like obedience to open ourselves up to His will. When we have heard the Gospel and believe, we confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God and open ourselves to His will. We then go down into the waters of baptism, and as Colossians 2:11-12, Paul details that in the waters of baptism God completes an operation separating the sinful man from the world and joining him with Christ. In this act God, through Christ’s sacrifice, reaches in and scoops out all the yucky stuff. This is my least favorite part of pumpkin carving, because I get messy as well. Jesus got messy for us. He took on our sins on the cross, and was beaten and humiliated, so that we could be reconciled to the Father. He got messy, so we could be clean.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27

If we did nothing after cleaning out the pumpkin, it would be hollow and empty. But as detailed in the verse above, the old is removed and the Spirit is placed inside. The carved pumpkin needs light to bring it to life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).” When we allow the light of Christ to dwell in us, it shines through into our life. Lighting a dark world, guiding them to the narrow path.

So you see, becoming a child of God is like becoming a jack-o-lantern. One who hears and believes the gospel that has been shared with them in some way has been picked from the field. Through repentance we change from a sinful life to a life for God’s purpose. We confess our belief and open ourselves to God’s will, allowing Him – through the waters of baptism – to clean out the mess of our hearts, filling us with the Spirit and the light of Christ, the light that we shine into all the world. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:16).”

If you have any questions, or desire to learn more about becoming a child of God according to the scriptures, please feel free to reach out to me here: derek@duckdisciple.com

Are you standing for Christian principles or politics?

Every four years debate becomes the most prolific thing going on in our country. I’m not even talking about the nationally-televised school-yard brawls we’ve seen this month. Today, with the ever-growing popularity of social media, debates and disagreements have taken on a whole new life.

Everybody today is a keyboard jockey, it seems. Setting up on their high-and-mighty digital soapbox ready to change the world one hashtag at a time. Social media gives too many the ability and opportunity to write things with the false sense of no consequences. I’m seeing too many of these types of things from those who are not Christians as well as with brethren around the country. It’s painting a very negative picture of the church and the Gospel message when we act and react in the ways I’ve seen.

Elephant in the ‘locker room’

In the last few days an audio clip was released of one presidential candidate making disparaging remarks about women. The comments were disgusting and vile, to say the least. To be completely fair and honest, the other candidate is not without faults either. Not by a long-shot. However, with the comments that were made — both in the leaked footage and before — I find it incredibly disheartening and confusing to see a number of brethren supporting said candidate, willing to readily excuse these things, while standing on their digital soapbox speaking out against the faults of the other candidate (or that candidate’s spouse). Forget Pride & Prejudice. This is Pride & Politics and it’s blinding too many. Politics are trumping our responsibility to achieve and maintain a righteousness greater than the Pharisees and scribes, which Jesus calls us to pursue.

Our Christian principles, our love of God and the love for our neighbor should come well before any political affiliation, vote, or pointless Facebook debate. If you feel compelled to excuse the comments that were made, without the one who made the comments truly seeking forgiveness and repenting, then are you putting your politics before your Christian principles? What does it do to the message of the Gospel you’re supposed to be sharing by abandoning your principles for an earthly election? Consider this from Jesus as documented in Mark’s Gospel account:

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:36-38 (ESV)

Ask yourself this… By sticking up for, supporting or excusing the sinful actions of any candidate in order to justify your vote for them, are you shaming the Son of Man? By excusing these things and standing by an unapologetic person are you not “becoming a partner” with them in their darkness? I’ve read these words from Paul to the church in Ephesus many times over the past few days, and I believe many need to do the same:

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” – Ephesians 5:3-12 (ESV)

When we publicly stand in support of someone who matches the description Paul lays out in Ephesians 5, we announce our allegiance to them; our partnership with them, if you will.

How we represent ourselves

Brother Wes McAdams (RadicallyChristian.com) wrote an article concerning these things as well, and his point was too good to not include. He points to this verse from the book of James:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:17-18 (ESV)

When we take to social media (or in any other way) to voice support or displeasure politically, are we doing so with purity, peace and gentleness? Are we sincere? Are we open to reason? Meaning when someone offers a reasonable counter defense, are we willing to change our mind? Or are we being the opposite: hard-headed and stubborn?

Whether you want to believe this or not, both candidates are humans, made in God’s image, just like you and me. Both have the ability to be reconciled to God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I’ll leave you with this verse from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free [democrat, republican, libertarian, conscientious objector, etc.]; but Christ is all, and in all.” – Colossians 3:8-11 (ESV) [contents added for my point]

Just because someone is running for office, is a politician, has a different opinion than you, etc. doesn’t give you the right to attack, speak with malice or malign someone. That’s not the light or the salt Jesus calls us to be. If you’re guilty of these things, then are you any better than the candidate who made disparaging remarks against women? Are you any better than the other candidate who made disparaging comments against those who support the competition?

Ultimately… Be a light in the world, standing for Christian principles, not a hypocrite lost in political polarity.

— DD —