July 4, 1837

(portions of President John Quincy Adam’s Independence Day speech in 1837 as quoted in Our Presidents and Their Prayers)

Why is it, friends and fellow citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it, next to the birthday of the savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day? – And why is it that, among the swarming myriads of our population, thousands and tens of thousands among us, abstaining, under the dictate of religious principle, from the commemoration of that birth-day of Him, who brought life and immortality to light, yet unite with all their brethren of this community, year after year, in celebrating this, the birth-day of the nation? Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?

…the Declaration of Independence announced the One People, assuming their station among the powers of the earth, as a civilized, religious, and Christian People, – acknowledging themselves bound by the obligations, and claiming the rights, to which they were entitled by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

…A moral Ruler of the universe, the Governor and Controller of all human power, is the only unlimited sovereign acknowledged by the Declaration of Independence; and it claims for the United States of America, when assuming their equal station among the nations of the earth, only the power to do all that may be done of right.

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Polititainment & The Gospel

Huh?

Exactly. What is that and how do they go together? Let’s see if I can answer that question.

In Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them, he coined the term polititainment defining the work of journalism that combines coverage of politics while providing entertainment. He states the result is “we have a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up…The pressure to belong, the desire to belong, makes people forget the Golden Rule.” 

Americans are addicted to it. And we are paying the price. I observed this just a few blocks from our church office this past Monday while driving by 2020 presidential campaigners on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Yes, you read that right-2020 campaigners. Maybe I’m clueless, but surely I can’t be the only person thinking that’s worse than walking by Christmas items on Walmart shelves before Labor Day. 

Much like writing a rare political blog post, I left a “what in the world” voicemail with the affiliated party’s local office. To their credit, they called me back to explain those campaigners were rogues unlawfully using the party name. In so many words, the party V.P. agreed we’re all paying the price of polititainment. 

And sadly, even our churches are included in the gouging. And the roaring lion seeking to devour loves it. He loves the division between believers, the distraction from purpose, and the disengagement of the gospel. Some of the loudest “Amens!” and thunderest congregational applauds given over the last ten years have followed politically charged statements about abortion, marriage, or homosexuality. Inside I’ve cringed because it felt like I was temporarily transported away from a gospel gathering and dumped into a party rally. Some believers have gone so far as to leave their local congregation over disputes concerning the placement of flags in the worship center. The lion roars while the gospel leaves the building.

American Christians, let’s learn from our brothers and sisters in other countries who may be without A/C, lyrics on a screen, padded seats, cars in the parking lot, bulletins, or carpet. Yet they gather underground, under trees, or in very crowded spaces hungry to hear the gospel because they don’t have a personal copy of it, in some cases because it’s not available in print. They would be quite confused by our mixture of politics and the gospel.

If you are curious how mixed these two things are in your own life, here’s a suggested exercise:

  • Compare the amount of time and avenues in which polititainment and the gospel are infused into your day. Those avenues could include social media, TV, books, music, emails, texts, etc. Keep a track of this for a week. Talk with God along the way, and by the end of the week see what you glean from your observations of your time engaged in these avenues.

Frankly, we American Christians should prioritize the Gospel over whether our church has a flag on the stage or not, whether our congregation is red or blue, which network personality to watch, or which party primary registration includes my name. The Gospel supersedes polititainment. Let’s die on the right hill.

Is this a shame post? To some degree, yes. But it’s meant to be more of a reality post. The American church is the frog in the pan of polititainment. It’s heating up. It’s time to leap out of that pan and into the one where the Holy Spirit has freedom, the Son is lifted high, and the Father’s name is hallowed.

Watch “No Other King” on YouTube

This song is one of ten originals on my soon-to-be released album “In the Shadows.”

Question: if the video weren’t shot at Christmas and you only heard the lyrics, would you think Easter or Christmas?

If you leave your answer, I will reply with my original inspiration for writing “No Other King.”

Don’t Be Afraid

An interesting connection seemed whispered to me in last night’s Christmas Eve service that I’ll take a few lines to unpack.

Many times in scripture someone was told not to be afraid. Sometimes it was from a leader to his people; sometimes it was from a writer to his reader. In the scenes of the Christmas story (Matthew 1, Luke 1-2), Joseph and Mary and the shepherds were are told this same message.

After Joseph was told not to be afraid in Matthew 1, Isaiah is quoted that “they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.'” Interesting. If God is with us, do we need to be afraid? Is it possible that we get afraid because we believe God isn’t with us? Or at least we get our eyes on something huge like the unexplainable pregnancy of a fiancé and forget that God is with us?

Some have endured the holidays being afraid. And humanly speaking, who can blame them? A recent widower, a confused parent, a lonely senior couple. Pray for them that they experience God is with them.

As you look into 2019, what might you be afraid of? Finances, health, relationships, job security, looming transition? How could you remind yourself that Jesus’ coming made it possible for God to always be with you? 

You don’t have to be afraid. Immanuel came. God is with you.

Fruity Fridays: Possessing Joy

by Danny Bote 

As we are full-fledged into the Christmas season, I believe there is no other season that brings so much joy for some and so much emptiness and heartache for others. As a father of three younger children, we are still in the incredible excitement phase with Christmas. The anticipation of Christmas morning is truly great, and I love it as a father (I’m usually the first one up on Christmas morning). I truly am trying to soak up these moments and Christmas mornings as time speeds by and the kids grow up. Why? Because one day we will wake up Christmas morning to our kids being all grown and out of the house with them potentially having their own families and their own family Christmas traditions. That season will also bring me much joy, but there will also be an aspect of sadness and mourning as we no longer have a house of small children anticipating Christmas morning.

As I sit and think about joy and the Christmas season, I wonder, what does the culture define as joy? Merriam Webster dictionary defines joy as “a state of happiness” or “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” If you dig a little deeper, Webster defines happiness as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.” What do we learn from this definition of joy and happiness? That joy is based upon our feelings of pleasure, or our circumstances. If that is true, isn’t that worrisome to you? Because you and I both know how quickly those can and do change. 

As I read the Webster definition, the part that struck me the most was “the prospect of possessing what one desires.” This opens the door to answering how you and I can have true joy. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states: “He(God) has put eternity into man’s heart…” You see, God has placed the prospect of possessing eternity into our hearts. We desire to possess eternity and true joy, but we try to fill that desire with things that are only temporary. Every single one of us is taken by this desire. We believe that if we just possess that car, that person, that relationship, that job, that number in our bank account, that child, that spouse, that house… if we just get that(fill-in-the-blank), we will have joy forever! And let’s be honest, when we get that temporal thing it does bring us a momentary feeling of pleasure and enjoyment, but what happens when that feeling or circumstance is gone? Usually, we continue to try and fill that void with the next temporal thing, which leads to more fleeting moments of joy and pleasure. And over and over we go, trying to grasp something that we just can’t seem to get. What a desperate cycle, isn’t it? We have all experienced this personally and continue to see it in our culture today. So, what is the answer to this never-ending cycle? 

Galatians 5:22 states: “But the fruit of the Spirit is joy…” Stop, read that again. Did you catch it? Joy comes from having the Holy Spirit! Possessing God himself in our hearts! If we have the Spirit of God, then that means we have the righteousness of Christ! Joy is not based on an emotion, or success, or good fortune, but on the possession of the eternal! If you received the grace and mercy that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ, then you have that which brings true joy, no matter the circumstance! Yes, it’s ok and even healthy to have feelings of joy and happiness or feelings of sadness and mourn, cry, and be upset by circumstances, but through the changing circumstances of life you can have true joy! Why? Because it’s based on filling that eternal void with a righteousness the eternal, unchanging God only provides through His Son Jesus Christ. That which truly satisfies the soul.

No matter how great or how hard the Christmas season may be for you, if you have the righteousness of Christ, you can truly say, or even sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” 

And if you have Christ, you have the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is joy.

Introducing Fruity Fridays

One of the best passages of the Gospels is John 14-17. Some of Jesus’ most memorable statements and promises are included in these chapters. 

Some of those statements probably didn’t register with his audience right away, but certainly within a few decades they did. One thing he wanted them to know was that he would soon be leaving but that they wouldn’t be alone. He promised to send them the Helper, the Spirit of Truth; he promised that the Helper would come from the Father just like he did. That truth alone would take on greater significance after he would show them his power over death and the grave.

One of the main reasons the Helper was coming was to continue and expand the work Jesus had begun. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.” His followers were to be part of this work, bearing fruit in the physical absence of the Vine. That’s where the Helper comes in. And that’s why Paul writes about walking in the Spirit in Galatians 5. 

Without the Holy Spirit, we are on our own to fight off sinful temptations. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we allow him to guide us, we can then live supernaturally because we have given him control of our minds and actions. That’s what Paul is describing in Galatians 5 – Christians who go beyond buying fire insurance. Fruit-producing Christians do things that make others stand in awe, not in awe of them but in the God they say they follow.

By choosing to follow the Holy Spirit rather than yourself, you can supernaturally…

  • …love that unneighborly neighbor
  • …exude joy during chemo treatments
  • …bring peace to the family Christmas table
  • …be longsuffering with your addicted child
  • …offer kindness to your overbearing boss
  • …model goodness to your child’s bully
  • …exhibit faithfulness as you move toward retirement
  • …gift gentleness to your aging parent
  • …control yourself selecting your items in Publix

Starting this Friday, you’ll see postings called Fruity Friday. I’ve invited some guest bloggers to join me in writing about all nine of the fruits of the Spirit Paul mentions in Galatians 5. We hope you are encouraged in your walk, in your fruit producing. Welcome to Fruity Fridays.